ID: ML2021_002_059

TitleTyphoon aircraft down in the River
AbstractTyphoon aircraft down in the River Blackwater

The New Year brought a very interesting Email to Mersea Museum, from Mark Pottinger. The name was not familiar, until Mark explained that his father was the pilot of the Hawker Typhoon fighter aircraft that had to ditch in the River Blackwater on the night of 22 March 1944 - and that his father will be 102 in April.

3 Squadron RAF was based at Bradwell Bay. Flt. Sgt. R.W. (Ron) Pottinger took Typhoon R8895 up for night flying practice at midnight. However, the engine over-revved on take-off, he could not make height and was forced to ditch in the Blackwater. This was done successfully, but then he had difficulty in working his dinghy owing to the cold.

Ron was able to radio that he was going to ditch, and aircraft were soon searching for him. A naval launch from Brightlingsea was about two miles away and had heard him crash. They found him and rescued him - he was very cold by this time - and took him the the Naval Hospital at Brightlingsea where he stayed the night. Ron rejoined his Squadron at Bradwell the following day, little the worse for his adventure.

Ron Pottinger and Typhoon aircraft at Manston, 1943

The Typhoon was largely forgotten by most, except local fishermen who kept getting fast on the wreck. In 2005 Brian Jay wrote an article for West Mersea Town Regatta Programme.

"During early summer of 1971, after losing a complete fishing trawl on an obstruction in the local river, Mike Lungley asked me if I would dive and identify the obstruction and hopefully recover his fishing trawl. The obstruction, which had claimed many local fishermen's nets, was believed to be a plane. I decided to enlist the help of two buddy divers, Trevor Hamblion from Colchester and the late Captain Bill King from Harwich. The position of the obstruction was on the south side of the Nass and had been marked with a buoy. Mike organised with the boatyard owner, Bert Carter, to use the workboat SCEPTRE and any other equipment needed for the operation.

An initial dive confirmed the wreckage of the plane, and they returned two weeks later with a barge. The huge 24 cylinder engine was first lifted and secured to the bow of the barge. Strops were fastened to the wings and fuselage, and the incoming tide lifted the barge with the plane - the wreckage was deposited in a position near the Tollesbury shore where it was exposed at low tide. Inspection showed that the wings had broken away and the tail end was missing. Boxes of live ammunition were still in the wings and with the four 20mm cannons were removed by Army bomb disposal teams before the remainder was dispersed with explosives. Four more dives were needed to locate the tail section.

Salvaging the engine

Most of the wreckage was left on the Tollesbury shore. Some pieces went to the East Essex Aviation Museum at Point Clear. The Napier Sabre engine was sold to a farmer in Tolleshunt Knights who subseqently gave it to Duxford Museum.
In 2016 two independent groups were both building replica Typhoon aircraft, and wanted to look for the wreckage - particularly the wings as they had no plans. But neither group came back to say they had found anything.

Ron Pottinger, Christmas Day 2020.
At the age of 101 Ron still goes over the crash in his mind and wonders what exactly went wrong.

Ron Pottinger wrote a detailed diary of the events of the night and it is available on Mersea Museum website. Brian Jay's 2005 Regatta Article is also there - go to Home Page and look for the list of recent articles.

Article appeared in Mersea Life February 2021.

Ron died in 2021 at the age of 102.

Read More
Ron Pottinger's Diary 22 March 1944
Typhoon salvage - River Blackwater - Regatta Programme
Typhoon aircraft salvaged from Blackwater Colchester Diving Club

PublishedFebruary 2021
SourceMersea Museum