Documenting a newly discovered World War II aircraft with underwater drones

Sunday, October 15, 2017 / Hommelvika / Trondheim / Norway

This summer, during testing of new sonar equipment, the Norwegian Geological Survey (NGU) discovered an anomaly on the seabed. The shape of the anomaly on the sonar images suggested that they had found a small aircraft. Neither the Norwegian University of Science and Technology or the Norwegian Aviation Museum had any plane wrecks on these coordinates in their records. Blueye was asked to help NGU with our underwater drones to document and identify the wreck.

On 14th of October, we took two underwater drones down to the wreck, and could film and photograph what turned out to be the an Arado AR 196 aircraft from World War 2.

Locating the wreck was easy, as NGU had provided us with accurate GPS coordinates. We confirmed the location with the echo sounder on our boat before anchoring. Once we got the drones down on the wreck, NGUs suspicion of a small aircraft was quickly confirmed. The body of the aircraft was intact, with wings, engine and propeller still attached. The skeleton of the plane was exposed, and the canvas that had once covered the body had corroded away after more than 70 years on the seabed.

We spent close to two hours exploring and documenting the wreck from all angles with two underwater drones, trying to cover as many details as possible and to ensure we had enough images to use for identifying the wreck.

After completing the dive, the Blueye team was super excited about the new find, and eager to identify the aircraft and its history. Based on the size of the aircraft the alternatives were quickly narrowed down, and by comparing images of the wreck with different airplanes, we concluded that this was most likely a German AR 196.

Image showing the enginge covers on an AR 196, compared to the pictures of the wreck
The enginge cover of the Arado AR 196. Picture of aircraft compared with pictures of wreck taken by the Blueye Pioneer underwater drone.

Further research led us to a document about the activity of Luftwaffe (only available in Norwegian) in the Trondheim region, written by local history enthusiast Hans Olav Løkken. In this document, Hans Olav writes that allied forces, during the post-war cleanup, dragged three Arado AR 196 out on the fjord and sunk them on the 11. September 1945.

In the digitalized newspaper archives hosted by the National Library, we found short note in the local newsletter Adresseavisen mentioning this event on the 13th of September 1945:

Note from newspaper Adressa on 13th of September 1945 mentioning the sinking of German aircrafts
Translation: German aircrafts sunk to the bottom of the sea. On the fjord, a quaint sermony took place yesterday. A couple, possible more, German aircrafts where sent to the bottom of the sea by allied soliders. It was most likely outdated stuff, that one could not find any use for. Local newspaper Adresseavisen, 13th of September 1945

With the identity and faith of the aircraft uncovered, some questions still remains:

  • What is the primary source for the information about the sinking of three AR 196 in the Trondheim fjord? Do any reports from the sinking exist?

  • If three aircrafts where sunk, then what is the location of the other two?

  • What purpouse did the aircraft serve while stationed in Trondheim?

  • What configuration of AR 196 is this (the plane came in multiple configuration with different recognizance and weapon systems)?

I'm sure this will not be the last time we dive the Arado AR 196 in the Trondheim fjord...