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Bristol Bombay bomber

Ref: HLSS/001


The Bombay was a high-wing, monoplane bomber with fixed landing gear. Although it was first built in 1935, it did not enter service until 1939, by which time it was already a rather antiquated aircraft for the time (the other bombers then in use were the more advanced aircraft Short Stirling and Vickers Wellington). It was used as a bomber only in North Africa, and then only at night or for unusual circumstances, such as the bombing of Italian forts with 20lb anti-personnel mines. As each Bombay could carry 200 bombs, two-man teams would work in sequence to first arm and then toss the bombs out of the fuselage door. They kept this up all night alternating planes and forts, an action that was reported to have lowered the Italians’ morale even further. Apparently it was also quite noisy, a feature that was used to good effect by Air Commodore Collishaw during Operations Compass in North Africa where he used Bristol Bombays to drown out the sound of the advancing tanks and armoured cars. Only about 50 Bombays were ever built by the Bristol Company and it was declared obsolete in 1944.

On 6 July 1941, a P/O R. Anderson was piloting the Bombay that now lies off the South Mole, when it developed engine trouble and was ditched into the sea. The crew escaped, but the aircraft sank to the bottom, only to be discovered in 1982 by a visiting expedition. In 1983 one of the engines was raised by locally-based diver Fred Short as a First Class Diver project. A more detailed survey of this area is currently underway by the Underwater Research Unit of the Gibraltar Museum (of which both of us are members). Shortly before publication the aircraft’s hand-bearing compass was discovered and is presently undergoing conservation treatment at the Gibraltar Museum.

Diving the Wreck

At around 40 m, this is a deep dive, but an enjoyable one for experienced divers. Visibility can be good and in general, the currents tend not to be too strong.

Regrettably, the aircraft is now very broken up, but there is always the chance of finding more pieces of wreck in the vicinity. Notable elements are parts of the wing struts and the instrument console.

Use a shot line, preferably with a distance line, and have spare air for the decompression stop as well as for the dive. Take a delayed SMB just in case.

Extract courtesy of D. Fa.  & P. Smith: Underwater Gibraltar - A Guide to the Rocks Submerged Sites.