AN IMPROMPTU visit to a charity shop on Merseyside transported retired journalist Robin Bird to the Gareloch and Helensburgh of April 26 1940.
For there was a large scale plastic model kit of an Arado 196 A floatplane, the same type of floatplane that crashed that fateful day.
The story of the captured Arado has previously been told on the Helensburgh Heritage Trust website, but since then new information has come to light.
So the model kit offered an opportunity to revisit the scene and complete it not as an enemy aircraft but with the markings of the Royal Norwegian Air Force.
Boffins at RAF Helensburgh, home of the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment, were frustrated when the first captured Arado 196 came into their hands and then crashed.
They salvaged some parts but the opportunity to test the Arado and study it in detail was lost. It would not be until the end of World War Two that MAEE would get another.
The boxed model in the charity shop offered a challenge. It was sold as seen, unbuilt with no guarantee that all the parts were there.
The previous owner was either deceased, or had given up on the detailed construction kit.
The Arado 196 was a better and more sophisticated aircraft than the Blackburn Roc floatplane that the MAEE was testing at the time.
The Arado 196 was purpose built for marine reconnaissance. The Blackburn Roc was basically a land based aircraft fitted with floats.
MAEE had already lost the prototype Roc floatplane in November 1939. Roc L3059 had proved dangerously unstable. Replacement Roc L3057 was no better despite modifications. It, too, crashed as a result.
MAEE was under pressure at the time to develop a mono winged floatplane suitable for the Norwegian campaign.
The Arado handled well in comparison besides having numerous novel features.
The loss of the Arado was a double blow to the MAEE as after trials it was to join the German Heinkel 115 floatplanes already at Helensburgh for clandestine operations.
The captured Arado had already proven its worth in battle after being launched off the Hipper when attacked by the destroyer HMS Glow Worm in a David and Goliath encounter during which the out gunned Glow Worm rammed the Hipper but then sank.
The seized Arado 196 was towed to Kristiansund for the German markings to be painted over and replaced by Norwegian ones.
A British Walrus seaplane pilot, Lt Bush RN, teamed up with the Kjos brothers of the Norwegian Air Service and flew the Arado for a few days, using it against the German invaders.
News of the ‘war prize’ soon reached Britain, and orders were issued to fly it to Helensburgh.
On April 17 1940 the Arado with two RN Walrus seaplanes and a Norwegian MF11 bi-plane headed in convoy for the Shetlands. The flight was not without incident.
Even as the Arado approached the Shetlands it was about to be shot down. A previously unpublished first hand account tells how ground crews on the Shetlands reacted.
It reads: “There was a peculiar drone in our ears. This was no returning Hudson and it did not sound like a Heinkel’s twin Jumos.
“Lewis guns were manned and swung in unison towards the North Sea. Jock was good at aircraft recognition — good heavens, he said, it is an Arado!
“Surely the Gerry is not dumb enough to approach us.
“Then a Black Watch sergeant shouted ‘hold your fire’ as the Arado landed on the water. It was then learned that two Norwegians had nicked the Arado and headquarters was expecting it.
“This was classified information, too secret for us ground crew erks!”
After being refuelled the Arado took off from Sullom Voe airbase on the Shetlands on route for Inverkeithing, but made a forced landing before being ferried from Leuchars to Helensburgh, where it crashed.
Retired Merseyside newspaper editor Robin, author of two books about MAEE, is currently researching the background to the Arado crash.
Meanwhile the completed Arado model has been given a well used look with Norwegian tail markings to resemble the aircraft that reached Helensburgh