One fateful night in May 1944, the Canadian Halifax bomber LW 682 was shot down over Belgium. With help from Hydro’s plants in Norway, aluminium from the aircraft is on its way to becoming part of a war memorial in London.
Hydro entered the story last year when approached by a group in the U.K. that wanted to transform 390 kilograms of aluminium ingots into coated ceiling tiles for a very special building. Hydro agreed to donate the work to a good cause.
In early January 2012, aluminium from the plane was melted into a sheet ingot at Hydro's aluminium in Sunndal. Hydro's rolling mill in Holmestrand then turned the metal into coated plates.
The aluminium will be used in ceiling components for a memorial building honoring soldiers who died during World War II. The memorial, in Green Park in London, is to be unveiled June 28.
Preparing for D-Day
The story begins in Canada during World War II, when the Royal Canadian Air Force acquired several four-engine Halifax bombers.
The liberation of France – D-Day, June 6, 1944 – was being planned. A massive military force was being assembled in Great Britain – soldiers, aircraft, ships and equipment.
The Canadians moved several bombers to a military air base in Yorkshire, England. Allied air attacks against military targets in Belgium, the Netherlands and France were critically important in the spring of 1944.
But German planes hunted the Allied bombers as they raided night after night. During 16 attacks, 75 Halifax and Lancaster bombers were shot down. On the night of May 12-13, 1944, Halifax bomber LW 682 from 426 Squadron was shot down and landed in a deep swamp near the city of Schedelbeke, six kilometers west of Brussels.
The aircraft's eight Canadian crew members were killed. Five were found and received a military funeral at the Geraadsbergen cemetery in Belgium. In 1947, the flight crew was posthumously awarded the Belgian war medal Croix de Guerre with palm leaves.
Discovery, burial and reconciliation
In 1997, the Halifax bomber was found in Belgium. That September, a major excavation project was started with over fifty volunteers from Belgium and Canada. In the plane's wreckage, the remains of the three crew members missing in 1944 were also found. On November 10, 1997, the three were buried alongside their fellow crewmen in the same cemetery, Geraadsbergen, with military honors and the participation of 90 Canadian soldiers, family members of the crew, politicians and others.
An older, grey-haired man was among the participants. He remained anonymous until he introduced himself to Jay Hammond, nephew of the deceased pilot. His name was Martin Drewes and he was the pilot who shot down the Halifax in May of 1944. He had come all the way from Brazil to honor his former enemies. The time for reconciliation was long overdue.
The wreck ended up in France. Some of the remelted aluminium from the plane became part of a monument in Canada in memory of soldiers who lost their lives during World War II.
Fast-forward to 2012
The Bomber Command Association in the U.K. is committed to erecting a memorial in London's Green Park to honor the 55,573 men of Bomber Command who died during World War II. One of those involved is the musician Robin Gibb from the pop group the Bee Gees. The official opening scheduled for June 28, is to be attended by a representative from the British royal family and official representatives from a host of other countries.
The rest of the aluminium from the Halifax, 390 kg of ingots, was flown to the U.K., fittingly, by the Royal Canadian Air Force. An agreement was reached with Hydro’s rolling mill in Holmestrand to roll the metal into two-millimeter-thick plates and then apply a special bronze-like coating to preserve the metal as much as possible.
Before this could happen the metal had to be "thinned out" and cast as a sheet ingot with the correct alloys for further processing. This metal has taken a long journey, first from a swamp in Belgium in 1997, via France to Canada, back across the Atlantic to England and on to Sunndal in Norway in January this year. Then on to England.
Department manager Åge Strømsvåg and his staff at the Reference Center in Sunndal got the job of casting the sheet ingot. The first step was a test cast, using casting equipment from Holmestrand. Next, the 390 kg of aluminium from Canada was melted down and mixed with other metals. The result was about 5 metric tons of the correct aluminium alloy.
Following rolling and coating the "bomber metal" will be transported the U.K., so that everything will be ready for the big ceremony in London on June 28.
"A special assignment," says Jon Dag Evensen, development manager at Hydro’s Rolled Products plant in Holmestrand, responsible for the metal ending up as ceiling tiles.
- Between 1939 and 1946, about 6,000 Handley Page Halifax aircraft were produced. This aircraft served right up until 1961 in the Pakistan Air Force.
- Today there are only two fully restored Halifax bombers in the world. One is in the Yorkshire Air Museum at the RAF's World War II airbase in Elvington. The other, built on the remains of a Halifax that was shot down and sank in Norway's Lake Mjøsa in April 1945, stands at the RCAF Memorial Museum in Trenton, Ontario, Canada.
- Another Halifax bomber was on its first mission in late April 1942, in pursuit of the German battleship "Tirpitz" that lay anchored in the Åsen Fjord. The journey ended with a crash landing on the ice of Hoklingenvannet in Levanger, North Trøndelag. The plane sank, while the crew made it to Sweden, with the help of Norwegian resistance fighters. In 1973, British and Norwegian divers located the plane. This Halifax is today on display, as it was found, at the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon, London.