If you lived in Pembroke Dock during World War Two, you would have heard the deafening roar of engines in the sky.
The town’s dockyards and waterways were crammed with aircraft. During the 1940s, Pembroke Dock was the world’s largest base for flying boats.
The jewel in the crown was the Sunderland: a massive aircraft that could take off and land on water.
It was an icon of the skies, playing a vital role during wartime.
“The RAF’s Sunderland planes would go out far into the Atlantic to protect merchant vessels,” explains military historian John Evans.
“If we hadn’t been able to continue the maritime trade, we would never have been able to win the Second World War, because we needed the munitions, the fuel, the food and the troops coming across the Atlantic.”
The days of the flying boats are long gone. But there’s one Sunderland left in Pembroke Dock. It’s a time capsule and it lies at the bottom of the Milford Haven Waterway.
On the seabed are the remains of T9044. It was a Sunderland that sank in the waters off Pembroke Dock in 1940 during a storm.
Thanks to volunteer divers and local heritage groups, a vast array of artefacts from the plane have been brought up to the surface. They include two of the aircraft’s engines, its propellers and even the original gun turret and machine gun.
Rik Saldanha is one of the divers who has been sifting through the wreckage.
“It is a very challenging dive and the visibility can be extremely poor. On a bad day, I can’t even see my instruments. As somebody once said to me, it’s like diving by braille.”
It’s a Herculean task, but this is no ordinary aircraft. T9044 is one of a kind.
“In the world, there are only three known whole Sunderland aircraft left,” Rik explains. “And they’re all Mark Fives: that was the last version that was built.
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“We have a Mark One. The fact that it’s in situ is unique throughout the world.”
Over time, Rik and his fellow volunteers plan to recover more artefacts from the sunken Sunderland and put them on permanent display in the town.
The plane is a precious link to the past. A reminder of the key role played by Pembroke Dock during the dark days of World War Two.
You can see more on this story in Vanished Wales. Friday 10th June at 7pm on ITV Cymru Wales. You can also catch up with the series here.