THE Ministry of Aircraft Production had a major problem on its hands after German bombs ripped into Kent workshops producing Sunderland Flying Boats.

Rochester was too near the coast, too vulnerable. A safer site had to be found for the war workhorses, which were to make their mark in coastline and convoy protection.

Windermere, it seemed, offered a perfect solution. Deep water, protected by mountains in a rural northern enclave, Short Brothers lost no time in turning the swampy area around White Cross Bay into a vast construction site.

Two giant buildings quickly emerged in a frantic race against time.

"It was a controversial decision," explained Allan King, who has spent the last 11 years researching the phenomenon and has a 48,000-word book nearing completion.

Friends of the Lake District vehemently opposed the move, forcing government assurance that the site would be dismantled post hostilities.

"People were very concerned that this was a prime area for evacuation. Suddenly, a new target was appearing in the middle of it," said Allan.

Although many of the workers were women, Shorts brought in a corps of skilled men from factories across Britain and, on September 16, 1942, the first Windermere flying boat was ready for the air.

Short Brothers' chief pilot John Lankaster-Parker, who had learned to fly in Windermere during the Great War, arrived to take the controls.

Ecstatic cheers shot through the late summer day, as DP 176 became air bound. The 1,500 workforce was given the day off in celebration.

Sadly, the aircraft was later to fall victim to engine failure and crashed, with three fatalities. Nothing to do its Windermere construction, stressed Allan.

In all, 35 Short Sunderlands were created at White Cross Bay. They served in the North and South Atlantic, across Britain, Northern Ireland and even got to the Indian Ocean.

"One sank a German U-boat in the Bay of Biscay," said Allan.

Three completed Sunderlands came out of the sheds every two months.

"To get something up and running like that in the heart of the Lake District was truly remarkable," said Allan.

By 1944, the emphasis had changed and the base became a specialist in repairing battle- damaged aircraft. Five were brought in that year to be scrapped, said Allan.

"Workers talked of them being broken up and parts re-used. This was the time when even frying pans were being donated to the war effort.

"At the end of the war there were seven aircraft on the lake. Six were converted to more powerful engines and went elsewhere, one went to Wig Bay, in Stranraer, to be scrapped.

"Stories of scuttling don't tally. One ex-airman might say he brought a Sunderland to Windermere to be scuttled while others in the same crew suggest it went on to see service in the French Air Force."

Record keeping at the end of the war was poor. The RAF struggled to keep up and there was great confusion, according to Allan. No surviving records of Windermere operations exit.

"Possibly one did get through the net and is lying on the lake bed, but it doesn't seem likely, sadly. I would love to think there was one down there."

Ambleside resident Judith Shingler has studied the village oral history group's transcripts from Short's Windermere workers and gives talks on the subject.

She said early workers from Rochester were billeted locally. Some had such a frosty reception that police protection was offered.

A new village of around 350 bungalows plus school - had to built to accommodate the influx at Calgarth, Troutbeck Bridge, where The Lakes School now stands. The homes stayed until the 1960s, replaced by Windermere's Droomer Estate.

Women were bussed into the factory by Ribble from across the district, earning wages three times higher than rates paid anywhere else.

Conditions were years ahead of their time, with canteens, piped music, and "bosses who understood", according to Derek Milburn, who joined the production line straight from school.

He worked on gun turrets, floats and tail-pins for two years, before leaving to join up.

"Because I was the smallest, I had to crawl through the wings for riveting at the far end. I never had conditions as good as that for the rest of my working life," said the retired Windermere bus driver.

"They were marvellous, beautiful aircraft, with a very good record of success. When they came in for repair, we had to hose blood out of them. It wasn't very nice, but had to be done.

"I wasn't there at the end, but people were saying they hadn't seen the last of them fly off. I don't know if any were sunk."

Former policeman Harry Kissack headed security when White Cross Bay became a caravan park and set up the Sunderland Bar.

He came across a collection of old photographs, destined for the tip, and salvaged them. Painstakingly putting them on to slides, Harry now has a precious story in pictures, from first days of construction through to full-scale production and launchings.

There are no speculations about scuttled aircraft from him. This ex-cop says he only deals in hard facts.