“C.B. Collett’s Air Force” comprised not a fleet of aeroplanes but members of the “Castle” class of 4-6-0 steam locomotive that Charles Baker Collett designed as Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Western Railway from 1921 to 1941.
As a quick look at the names detailed in the Railspot Reloaded article on the express passenger 4-6-0s of the Great Western Railway will reveal, not all “Stars” were named after stars or “Castles” named after Castles.
As can be seen, Royalty and Nobility, the British Empire, birds and the works of Sir Walter Scott were recurring themes in locomotive naming as, it would seem, were aircraft. However, the LNER A3 version of “Blenheim” was more likely a racehorse rather than a twin engined Bristol bomber and the name “Comet” had been carried by an earlier Great Western 2-2-2 as opposed to either the De Havilland twin-engined ancestor of the Mosquito bomber or indeed the pioneering four-jet airliner.
Just as it had displaced “proper” Castle names from its 4073 Class to accomodate the names of aristocratic directors that would otherwise have trundled round on the splashers of more humble 4-4-0s, so the Great Western Railway, famous for its retro styling, stole a march on the air-smoothed works of Mr Bulleid by naming ten of its “Castles” after Battle of Britain and early Second World War era aircraft from September 1940. 5077 “Fairey Battle” is seen above at Cardiff Canton depot in 1960.
Below I have taken a further look at the aircraft behind those ten names, many of whom are also represented in the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection.
Originally designed as a private venture by Southampton based Supermarine ( which had become a part of Vickers-Armstrong in 1928 ), the Spitfire was the brainchild of Stoke on Trent born Reginald J. Mitchell and was based on his racing S6 and S6B seaplanes built to compete for Britain in the Schneider Trophy competitions. The prototype Spitfire – K5054 – first flew on 5 March 1936 and Reginald Mitchell continued to refine the design until his death from cancer in 1937 after which his colleague Joseph Smith became chief designer. The first Spitfires entered Royal Air Force service on 4 August 1938.
The single seat Supermarine Spitfire – powered by Rolls Royce Merlin and Griffon V-12 in-line liquid cooled engines – was also the only Allied fighter in production throughout World War II and produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft. It continued in use with the RAF until the late 1950s in a high altitude meterological role and still flies today in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight as well as with a small band of private collectors.
During 1940’s Battle of Britain there was a public perception that the Spitfire was the RAF’s only fighter aircraft and even Luftwaffe pilots would claim to have been shot down by a Spitfire even if the nearest one was miles away. In fact Sydney Camm’s more numerous Hawker Hurricane accounted for more British victories during this particular part of the wider conflict than all the Spitfires and anti-aircraft guns combined, but Mitchell’s Spitfire, with its distinctive thin cross section elliptical wing, was faster and had arguably greater potential for development.
Indeed, while Hawker Hurricanes were tasked against incoming formations of Dornier, Junkers and Heinkel bombers, Spitfires would engage in dogfights with escorting twin engined Messerschmitt 110 and single engined Messerschmitt 109 fighters.
As the War progressed, Spitfires of ever-advancing marks would operate all over the World in roles as varied as interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter bomber and trainer.
The earliest 1/72 scale Spitfire in the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection is Mark 1a N3277 built from the still-available Airfix kit. It has a three bladed propeller attached to its 1030 bhp Rolls Royce Merlin II engine, is armed with eight Browning .303″ machine guns ( covered with red adhesive tape prior to combat to keep airfield mud out of the barrels ) and is painted in brown and green camouflage optimised for fighting over land.
The Mark 1a Spitfire would also have had a wingspan of 36′ 10″, length of 29′ 11″, maximum height of 11′ 5″, wing area of 242 square feet and would have weighed 4 332 lb empty and 5 750 lb loaded. With a maximum speed of 362 mph the Spitfire 1a would have been able to climb at 2 300′ per minute to a ceiling of 31 900′ and have a range of 395 mph.
As well as being familar to generations of boys as “the Airfix Spitfire”, N3277 – issued to 234 Squadron RAF as AZ – H – had the unusual distinction of flying with both the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe. On 18 August 1940 N3277 was flown by Pilot Oficer Richard Hardy from 234 Squadron’s base at Middle Wallop in Hampshire ( later home of the Army Air Corps ) and at 1830 engaged in combat with a Messerschmitt Bf 109 near Swanage but was later forced to land on a beach near Cherbourg. Hardy became a prisoner of war but N3277 – captured almost intact – was flying again a few weeks later with a Mercedes-Benz DB601 engine and the numbers 5 and 2 either side of a Luftwaffe cross on each side of the fuselage.
During its production life some 40 variants of the Spitfire were built, including the Mark IX – intended as an interim type until the Mark VIII became available – basically a strengthened Mark Vc airframe wedded to a Mark 60 Rolls Royce Merlin engine turning a four bladed propeller. With a top speed of 402 mph, a total of 5 600 Mark IXs were produced, making it the most widely used Spitfire variant. Trainer versions were also produced by the USSR and in Britain as the TR9 after 1945.
The Spitfire Mark IX entered service with 64 Squadron in July 1941 with 64 Squadron RAF and the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection is proud to own two examples – one “wheels up” and the other with undercarriage deployed – of this particular Mark IX , serial EN 398, the personal mount of the British flying ace with the most “kills” during the World War II. Air Vice Marshal James Edgar “Johnnie” Johnson CB, CBE, DSO and two Bars, DFC and Bar (9 March 1915 – 30 January 2001) accounted for 38 Luftwaffe machines and flew EN 398 with his personalised JE- J markings as Officer Commanding the Kenley Wing of Fighter Command in 1943.
Note that both Jet Age Reserve Model Collection versions of EN 398 have canon rather than machine gun armament and are painted grey and green to facilitate fighting over water or even over enemy held territory.
The “wheels up” version of EN 398 was first displayed with Britains Lost Flying Boats at the Cheltenham GWR Modeller’s Exhibition in October 2008.
The third Spitfire variant in the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection is a Mark VIII in Royal Australian Air Force markings. The Mark VIII was essentially a low altitude, unpressurized Mk VII, with a 1565 bhp Merlin 61 or a 1710 HP Merlin 63 driving a 4-bladed airscrew. Changes to the carburettor allowed negative “g” manoeuvring – never a problem for the fuel injection BMW engine fitted to the Messerchmitt Bf 109.
Although the Spitfire Mk VIII was intended as the major development line for the Spitfire, it was overtaken when the highly successful Mk IX was hurried into service and only 1652 were eventually produced, many modified for tropical climates. A single airframe was converted into the first official two seat Spitfire -the TR8- but no great interest was shown and it was not followed up during the War.
457 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force – the ultimate operators of A58-606, seen above, was formed at Baginton, near Coventry, England on 16 June 1941 in accordance with Article XV of the Empire Air Training Scheme. Initially, the squadron’s ground crew were provided by the Royal Air Force, while the majority of the pilots were Australian. An Australian ground crew was raised at Williamtown, New South Wales, however, and joined the squadron on 30 October 1941. 457 was equipped with Supermarine Spitfires and became part of 9 Group of Fighter Command. From 8 April 1941 to 23 March 1942, 457 Squadron RAAF aircraft were allocated the recognition letters BP.
Based on the Isle of Man, first at Jurby (7 August – 2 October 1941) and then Andreas (3 October 1941 – 21 March 1942), the squadron had a slow introduction to active operations. Declared operational on 7 August 1941, it escorted convoys and patrolled over the seas to Britain’s west but much of its time was devoted to training. The squadron effectively became an operational training unit, preparing Spitfire pilots for other squadrons, particularly 452 Squadron RAAF, that were more actively engaged.
With the imminent return of 452 Squadron RAAF to Australia, 457 Squadron was redeployed for more active service with 11 Group at Redhill, just south of London, on 22 March 1942. For the next two months it conducted patrols over south-east England and the English Channel, and escorted bombing raids and conducted sweeps to engage enemy aircraft in the skies above occupied France and Belgium.
Under orders to return to Australia, 457 Squadron withdrew from operations in Britain on 28 May 1942. It sailed for home on 21 June, arrived in Melbourne on 13 August, and re-assembled at Richmond on 6 September. The squadron began refresher training at Richmond with a motley collection of aircraft, its Spitfires having being commandeered in transit by the Royal Air Force in the Middle East.
457 Squadron returned to front-line service on 31 January 1943, now allocated the aircraft recognition letters ZP. Re-equipped with Spitfires, it was based at Batchelor in the Northern Territory and joined 1 Fighter Wing, defending Darwin. The squadron relocated to Livingstone on 31 January where it remained until it transferred to the newly-formed 80 Wing and moved to Sattler on 13 May 1944. During the squadron’s time as part of Darwin’s air garrison it detached aircraft on several occasions to Milingimbi, Drysdale, Perth and Exmouth. While at Livingstone, the squadron was re-equipped with the Mark VIII Spitfire, imported from Britain, which arrived in a grey and green camouflage scheme. This led to the squadron nicknaming itself the “Grey Nurse Squadron” and adorning its aircraft with a distinctive shark’s mouth on the nose. In common with all Pacific Theatre Allied aircraft by this time, red elements had been deleted from all national markings to avoid confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru.
By early July 1944, the air defence of Darwin had been handed over to several Royal Air Force squadrons, allowing 457 Squadron to be employed in ground attack, and occasionally maritime attack roles for the rest of the war.
Supermarine Spitfire A58-606 arrived in Australia aboard the SS Chandra on 12 September 1944 and was coded as ZP-W on 20 December 1944.
Initially, the squadron operated against targets in the Dutch East Indies from Sattler but, as part of the 1st Tactical Air Force, it was deployed to Morotai in the Indies in early 1945. Beginning on 10 February, operations continued at a high intensity for the next three months, during which ZP-W was damaged by shrapnel when a Consolidated Liberator exploded on takeoff at Morotai on 24 February 1945. The damage was repaired by 457 Squadron.
The squadron relocated again, commencing operations from the island of Labuan, of the Borneo coast, on 19 June, primarily in support of the Australian land campaign in British North Borneo. During this time – on 14 July 1945 – A58-606 was damaged when Squadron Leader B.D. Watson belly landed the Spitfire at Labuan following damage from anti-aircraft fire over Keningau. ZP-W was then stored unserviceable an finally struck off charge on 15 November 1948.
457 Squadron mounted its last operational sorties on 13 August, two days before the Japanese surrender, then disbanded on 7 November 1945.
Another Gloucestershire connection with the Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIII is that a number of them passed through 6 Maintenance Unit at RAF Little Rissington en route to service with the Royal Australian Air Force, including JG 668 – now being restored to flying condition at The Welsh Spitfire Museum, Haverfordwest.
The destruction of the Supermarine factory at Southampton by German bombing brought Spitfire production to a stand still and Westland Aircraft at Yeovil was one of the factories selected to recover this serious situation. Within three months Spitfires were rolling off the line supported by a network of small local shadow factories which had been hastily set up in the Yeovil area. Westland played a major part in the design of the Seafire and by the end of the war over 2000 Spitfire/ Seafires had been produced in the Westland factories at Yeovil and Ilchester.
Spitfire Mark XVI of which serial RW 396 / F-JWL ( seen above) was an example was the last major Spitfire variant to be fitted with a Merlin engine, made either by Rolls Royce in Britain or Packard in the United States. Based on the Mark IX discussed above, the Mark XVI came into service in October 1944 and 1 054 were delivered to the Royal Air Force. As a ground attack machine with the 2nd Tactical Air Force and four Fighter Command squadrons the clipped-wing Mark XVI would see extensive service in the closing stages of World War II.
RW 396 was built at Castle Bromwich – the famous Midlands shadow factory – and was assigned to 29 Maintenance Unit RAF on 24 July 1945. On 2 April 1946 it was transferred to the Number 25 Group Central Gunnery School at RAF Catfoss just north of Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The Central Gunnery School used the offshore gunnery range at West Skipsea east of Catfoss and aircraft involved in gunnery training would have taken off from RAF Leconfield to the north.
Unfortunately RW 396 suffered engine failure on 6 January 1949 and its pilot had to make a forced landing on the shoreline at West Skipsea, writing the Spitfire off.
RAF Leconfield later became the RAF’s Central Gunnery School – with the responsibility for training the air gunners of Avro Lincoln bombers – and later the Fighter Weapons School when it converted to Gloster Meteor F8s. Leconfield is now the Defence School of Transport, Europe’s largest driver training establishment, but has two Sea King helicopters based there in a search and rescue role.
Designed by Sydney Camm – already famous for his biplane fighters – the Hawker Hurricane was the World’s first eight-gun monoplane fighter capable of surpassing 300 mph in level flight with a full war load. The first prototype flew on 6 November 1935 and production examples began to equip 111 Squadron in January 1938. More Hawker Hurricanes were used in the Battle of Britain than any other RAF fighter type and their pilots claimed 75 % of all victories. The Hawker Hurricane continued in use until the end of World War II and its rugged design lent itself to the ground attack role with rockets, bombs and even 40mm tank-busting canon.
The first Gloster-built Hawker Hurricane appeared on 27 October 1939 and the 1 000 th example exactly a year later. A total of 2 750 Hurricanes were built by Glosters up to March 1942 with as many as five aircraft being completed each day.
Rolls Royce Merlin powered Hawker Hurricanes fought in the Battle of France in a colour scheme combining brown and green camouflage – ideally suited for combat over land – with the half-black half-white underside used by the RAF early in World War Two. N2358 – as modelled above – was flown in these markings by 73 Squadron RAF Berry-au-Bac, France in May 1940 although the same machine – with the same prominent letter Z – had been flown by Pilot Officer C.D. “Pussy” Palmer of 1 Squadron at Vassincourt in November 1939 with lighter shades of brown and green camouflage and a light grey underside.
The Bristol Blenheim was based on the civilian Type 142: built by Bristol in 1935 for Lord Rothermere – proprieter of the “Daily Mail” newspaper – and named “Britain First”. Powered by two 840hp Bristol Mercury VIII radial engines, the first chisel-nosed Blenheim 1 flew on 25 June 1936 and the type was exported to Finland, Yugoslavia, Turkey and Romania. A Mk 1F night fighter version followed, as did the Mark IV bomber version with the distinctive long scalloped nose and 920hp Mercury powerplants.
77373 (14) – displayed at Cheltenham in October 2006 and also pictured above- is in Free French Air Force markings and desert camouflage, reflecting the widespread use of the type in North Africa from 1941. Another distinctive feature of the Blenheim IV was the pair of rear-facing machine guns mounted under the nose. Despite this however the Blenheim was by1943 to slow and poorly defended to attack without fighter escort and was from then on replaced by De Havilland Mosquitos and Douglas Bostons.
The Handley Page Hampden was the last of the twin engined bombers to go into Royal Air Force service prior to the Second World War. Together with the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and Vickers Wellington, the Handley page Hampden bore the brunt of the early raids on Germany. Although the design – with a similar format to the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 – showed promise, the Hampden lacked adequate defensive armament and bomb load and in September 1942 transferred from RAF Bomber Command (led by Cheltenham born Marshal of the Air Force Sir Arthur Harris) to Coastal Command as a torpedo bomber. More than half of the Hampdens built were assembled by English Electric at Samlesbury, with 80 Hampdens rolling off the production line at its peak in 1944.
The Vickers Wellington was the most important British bomber of the initial war period and a total of 11 461 of all variants were built – more than any other British bomber design. It was also the only British bomber type to be in production for the whole of World War II. Built to meet the requirements of Air Ministry specification B.9/32 , the prototype – designed by R.K. Pierson – first flew in June 1936 and deliveries to RAF bomber squadrons began in 1939. The name Wellington referred to Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington and vanquisher of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. In fact Vickers had already used the name Wellesley for a single engined long range bomber which, like the Wellington, was built from geodetic lattice work – first used by Barnes Wallis on his R100 airship.
Geodetic construction meant that the Wellington often survived battle damage which would have destroyed other aircraft – a definite asset by 1942 when, despite its modern appearance, the twin engined bomber was considered slow with a limited ceiling and payload and ready to be replaced by such four engined “heavies” as the Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax.
Commonly named “Wimpy” by its crews (after J. Wellington Wimpy, Popeye’s friend), the Wellington remained in service as a land bomber for five and a half years. Its first operation was an attack on German warships at Wilhelmshaven on the day after war declared and its last a raid on Previsio in Northern Italy in April 1945. During World War II Vickers Wellingtons operated from bases in Great Britain, India, the Middle East, North Africa and Italy.
Vickers Wellingtons flew their last offensive sortie in Northern Europe against Hannover on 8 October 1943 by which time Coastal Command Wellingtons were busy sinking U-boats and exploding magnetic mines with a 48′ diameter metal hoop secured below their fuselages.
In late 1944, a radar-equipped Wellington was modified for use by the RAF’s Fighter Interception Unit as what would now be described as an Airbourne Early Warning and Control aircraft. It operated at an altitude of some 4,000 ft over the North Sea to control De Havilland Mosquito fighters intercepting Heinkel He 111 bombers flying from Dutch airbases and carrying out airborne launches of V1 flying bombs.
Vickers Wellingtons continued to be used by the RAF as trainer until 1953 and became the ancestor the Vickers Viking and Valetta twin engined transport aircraft
The Gloster Gladiator was both the last biplane fighter used by the RAF and also the first with a fully enclosed cockpit. First flown as the Gloster SS37 in September 1934, 72 Squadron RAF was the first to equip with the type at Tangmere in February 1937. By September 1939, Gloster Gladiators were widely spread across the Mediterranean and Middle East and this example – Sea Gladiator N5531 – has a special story to tell.
At the start of World War II total air power on the strategic British-held island of Malta consisted of four Gloster Gladiators. These were packed in crates and left at Kalafrana flying boat base on the island by the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious that left to join the Norwegian campaign. In fact there were enough parts to make up eight biplanes but the Royal Navy wanted four back to join the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle. The remaining four were assembled. Three were to be used operationally with one kept in reserve. Flying Officer John Waters named the operational Gladiators “Faith”, “Hope” and “Charity”.
Their first scramble came at 0649 on 11 June 1940 when 10 Italian Savoia Marchetti 79 bombers attacked Malta’s Grand Harbour, although on the seventh Fascist raid of that day a Gladiator was able to shoot down a Macchi 200 fighter – the slower biplanes being more manoeuvrable than their foes. Three bladed propellers rather than the standard two bladed components were fitted to improve the rate of climb although excessive use of superchargers to rapidly gain altitude led to blown pistons on the Bristol Mercury radial engines. As a result, the three Gladiators were fitted with similar powerplants from Bristol Blenheim bombers and fought on for 17 days without relief, fooling Italian intelligence into thinking that Malta had a substantial air defence force. Sea Gladiator N5531 had been assigned to 802 Naval Air Squadron from June 1939 to January 1940 and was named “Hope” as part of the Hal Far Flight on 19 April 1940. She was destroyed in an air raid on 4 February 1941.
5077 “FAIREY BATTLE”
The Fairey Battle was designed to met Air Ministry specification P27/32 for a Hawker Hart light bomber replacement capable of carrying two crew and a 1 000 lb bomb load for 1 000 miles at 200 mph.
First flown on 10 March 1936, the Fairey Battle carried the pilot and air gunner/ radio operator in a long “glasshouse” cockpit and a bomb aimer/ observer in a prone position in the bottom of the fuselage. The Battle had very limited defensive armament, carrying one 0.303″ Browning machine gun on a mounting in the back of the cockpit.
On 20 September 1939 a Fairey Battle of 88 Squadron shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 – the first RAF kill of the war. However, during 1940 the Battle was to prove incredibly vulnerable when attacked by German fighters.
Just how vulnerable the Battle was would become tragically clear after the start of the German Blitzkrieg in the West. Battles would make desperate low level attacks on the advancing German troops. This reduced its vulnerability to German fighters but massively increased the numbers being shot down by anti-aircraft – and even small arms – fire.
Like the German Stuka, the Battle could only safely operate in areas where it was protected by local air superiority. Unlike the Stuka, it was almost never to operate under such conditions.
The Bristol Beaufort – a heavier development of the Blenheim with a crew of four – was the only monoplane produced for the Royal Air Force that was designed from the start to satisfy the dual role of general reconnaissance and torpedo bomber.
Designed under Air Ministry specifications G.24/35 and M.15/35, the first prototype flew on 15 October 1938, production began in 1939 and the Beaufort entered service with 22 Squadron RAF in November of that year.
The Bristol Beaufort was the standard RAF Coastal Command torpedo bomber from 1940 until 1943. A total of 1 380 aircraft were built, including 700 in Australia. The Australian version was built from 1939 with 1 200 bhp Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engines.
The Beaufort operated very successfully as a torpedo bomber, but also carried out the essential role of mine layer. In the spring of 1940 they began dropping magnetic mines in enemy coastal waters and continued to do so until mid-1943.
While operating in Coastal Command, Beauforts saw action over the North Sea, the English Channel and the Atlantic. In 1942, all Beaufort squadrons were deployed to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean to meet a changing enemy threat. Malta-based aircraft were particularly successful in attacks on Axis shipping at a critical time in the war in North Africa.
A total of 104 Beaufort IA, IIA and IIA trainers were transferred from the RAF to the Fleet Air Arm and all went to second line squadrons, mainly numbers 798 and 728. The FAA Beauforts were delivered mainly to Fayid, Dekheila, Ta kali, Safi, and Coimbatore and served as trainers in 762 squadron at Dale until as late as 1946
The Westland Lysander was a two-seat artillery-spotting and reconnaissance monoplane defined by Specification A.39/34 in response to Operational Requirement OR. 18.
Like its German counterpart the Fieseler Storch, the Lysander had a remarkable performance which allowed it to get into and out of extremely small fields whilst the spatted undercarriage – containing Dowty internally sprung wheels – also contained spotlights and machine guns. However, a radical change in Army co-operation tactics meant that it found lasting fame as a Special Duties aircraft ferrying Allied agents in and out of enemy occupied Europe.
Four Lysander squadrons went to France in 1939. On 10 May 1940 the Germans began their Blitzkrieg in France and the Low Countries and the Lysanders were soon heavily committed. Despite some notable successes the Army Co-operation units suffered extremely high casualties. Over 170 Lysanders were sent to France; only fifty came back.
After the fall of France, Lysanders patrolled the coastal areas of south and east England at dawn and dusk as an anti-invasion reconnaissance measure. It was planned that in the event of an invasion the Lysanders would bomb and machine gun German troops on the beaches.
Late in 1940 Lysanders began air-sea rescue duties in the Channel and North Sea. Not only could the Lysander fly slow and low enough to spot airmen in the sea and bring surface vessels to them, it was able to drop a life saving dinghy and supplies.
Other squadrons were operational during1938-39 in Egypt, Palestine and India and the Westland Lysander later served in Greece, North Africa and Western Desert, and Gibraltar
Often maligned as a failure, the Boulton Paul Defiant found a successful niche as a night-fighter during the German ‘Blitz’ on London, scoring a significant number of combat kills before being relegated to training and support roles.
The Boulton Paul company first became interested in powered gun turrets when it pioneered the use of a pneumatic-powered enclosed nose turret in the Boulton Paul Overstrand biplane bomber. The company subsequently brought the rights to a French-designed electro-hydraulic powered turret and soon became the UK leaders in turret design.
On 26 June 1935, the Air Ministry issued Specification F.9/35 calling for a two-seat fighter with all its armament concentrated in a turret. Peformance was to be similar to that of the single-seat monoplane fighters then being developed. It was envisioned that the new fighter would be employed as destroyer of unescorted enemy bomber formations. Protected from the slipstream, the turret gunner would be able to bring much greater firepower to bear on rapidly moving targets than was previously possible.
Boulton Paul tendered the P.82 design, featuring an 4-gun turret developed from the French design, and was rewarded with an order for two prototypes. On 28 April 1937, the name Defiant was allocated to the project and an initial production order for 87 aircraft was placed before the prototype had even flown.
The first prototype – K8310 – made its maiden flight on 11 August 1937, with the turret position faired over as the first turret wasn’t ready for installation. Without the drag of the turret, the aircraft was found to handle extremely well in the air.
With these promising results, a further production contract was awarded in February 1938. Performance with the turret fitted was somewhat disappointing, but still considered worthwhile. In May 1938, the second prototype – K8620 – was ready for testing. This aircraft was much closer to the final production standard. Development and testing of the aircraft and turret combination proved somewhat protracted, and delivery to the Royal Air Force was delayed until December 1939, when No.264 Squadron received its first aircraft. Numerous engine and hydraulic problems were not finally resolved until early in 1940.
The A. Mk IID turret used on the Defiant was a self-contained ‘drop-in’ unit with its own hydraulic pump. To reduce drag two aerodynamic fairings, one fore and one aft of the turret, were included in the design. Rectraction of these fairings by means of pneumatic jacks allowed the turret to traverse. To allow the turret a clear field of fire, two rather large radio masts were located on the underside of the fuselage. These masts retracted when the undercarriage was extended. The overall aircraft was of modern stressed skin construction, designed in easy-to-build sub-assemblies which greatly facilitated the rapid build-up in production rates.
Previously, a single-seat fighter unit, 264 Sqn spent some time working out the new tactics required by the type. Good co-ordination was required between the pilot and gunner in order to get into the best position to open fire on a target. A second day fighter unit, 141 Sqn, began converting to the Defiant in April 1940. The Defiant undertook it first operational sortie on 12 May 1940, when 264 Sqn flew a patrol over the beaches of Dunkirk and a Junkers Ju 88 was claimed.
However, the unit suffered its first losses the following day, when five out of six aircraft were shot down by Bf 109s in large dogfight. The Defiant was never designed to dogfight with single-seat fighters and losses soon mounted. By the end of May 1940, it had become very clear that the Defiant was no match for the Bf 109 and the two squadrons were moved to airfields away from the south coast of England. At the same time, interception of unescorted German bombers often proved successful, with several kills being made.
In the summer of 1940, flight testing commenced with N1550, an improved version of the Defiant fitted with a Merlin XX engine featuring a two-speed supercharger. The resultant changes included a longer engine cowling, deeper radiator and increased fuel capacity. Performance increases were small. Nevertheless, the new version was ordered into production as the Defiant Mk II.
The limitations on the Defiant’s manoeuvrability forced its eventual withdrawal from daylight operations in late August 1940 when 264 and 141 squadrons became dedicated night-fighter units. The Defiant night fighters were painted all-black and fitted with flame damper exhausts.
Success came quickly, with the first night kill being claimed on 15 September 1940. From November 1940, an increasing number of new night fighter squadrons were formed on the Defiant. Units operating the Defiant shot down more enemy aircraft than any other night-fighter during the German ‘Blitz’ on London in the winter of 1940-41.
Initial operations were conducted without the benefit of radar but from the autumn of 1941, AI Mk 4 radar units began to be fitted to the Defiant. An arrow type aerial was fitted on each wing, and a small H-shaped aerial added on the starboard fuselage side, just in front of the cockpit. The transmitter unit was located behind the turret, with the receiver and display screen in the pilot’s cockpit. The addition of radar brought a change in designation for the Mk I to N.F. Mk IA, but the designation of the Mk II version did not change. By February 1942, the Defiant was obviously too slow to catch the latest German night intruders and the night fighter units completely re-equipped in the period April-September 1942.
From March 1942 many of the remaining aircraft were transferred to Air-Sea Rescue (ASR) units. The aircraft was modified to carry a M-type dinghy in a cylindrical container under each wing. Both Mk I and Mk II versions were used for this task, but the Defiant proved less useful than originally anticipated, and all examples were replaced in this role during the first half of 1943.
A specialised Target-tug version of the Defiant was first ordered in July 1941, designated the T.T. Mk I. The new version was based on the Mk II airframe, with the Merlin XX engine, but with space formerly occupied by the turret now taken up with an observers station with a small canopy. A fairing under the rear fuselage housed the target banner, and a large windmill was fitted on the starboard fuselage side to power the winch.
The first prototype Target-tug aircraft – DR863 – was delivered on 31 January 1942. 150 Mk II aircraft were also converted to Target-tugs, under the designation T.T. Mk I. A similar conversion of the Mk I was carried out by Reid & Sigrist from early 1942 under the designated T.T. Mk III. Nearly all the Target-tugs were withdrawn from service during 1945, although one example lasted until 27 February 1947.
Another, less publicised, task of the Defiant was in the radar jamming role. 515 Squadron operated at least nine Defiants fitted with ‘Moonshine’ or ‘Mandrel’ radar jamming equipment in support of USAAF 8th Air Force daylight bombing raids on Germany between May 1942 and July 1943, before replacing them with larger aircraft types.
One Defiant T.T. Mk I – DR944 – was seconded to Martin Baker on 11 December 1944. It was fitted with the first ever Martin Baker ejection seat in the observers station, and commenced dummy ejection trials on 11 May 1945. Another Defiant – AA292 – was later used for similar trials by the Air Ministry until March 1947. Martin Baker retained their Defiant until 31 May 1948.
5081 “LOCKHEED HUDSON”
The Hudson’s ancestry can be traced back to the Lockheed’s Model 10 Electra, a ten-passenger civil airliner designed by Hall Hibbard, Richard von Hake, Lloyd Stearman, and Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. First flown on 23 February 1934, the Electra was Lockheed’s first twin engine aircraft and the twin tail configuration, which would be a Lockheed trademark for many years, came from Johnson.
Lockheed built 148 production Electras (plus the prototype), the most famous of which was flown almost around the world by Amelia Earhart. An interesting development of the Model 10 was the XC-35, which flew with a pressurized cabin in 1937.
The Model 10 was the immediate parent of the somewhat smaller Model 12 Electra Junior, a six-passenger executive transport. Lockheed built 114 examples of the Model 12 and 16 of a bomber version for the Netherlands East Indies. The latter aircraft later saw combat against the Japanese in late 1941 and early 1942. The Model 12 also served as military cargo aircraft and two, one purchased by France and one by Britain, served as clandestine photo-reconnaissance aircraft over Germany, Italy, and North Africa before the war.
Lockheed followed these with the larger Model 14 Super Electra, a 12-passenger civil airliner. First flown on 29 July, 1937, this aircraft had engines more powerful than those of her predecessors and featured Fowler flaps and a wing designed for higher speeds. Competing against the legendary Douglas DC-3, a larger and more economical aircraft, the relatively advanced Model 14 was not a big success, and only 112 were sold. One of these aircraft, piloted by Howard Hughes, flew around the world in less than 4 days, averaging 206.1 mph. It was a Model 14 that flew Neville Chamberlain to Munich to meet with Adolf Hitler in September 1938 and brought him back, waving his famous piece of paper declaring “Peace in Our Time”.
In February 1938, Lockheed’s design team learned of an impending visit of the British Purchasing Commission and, after five days and nights of rushed design work, proposed the B-14L, a reconnaissance bomber based on the Model 14. The British requested changes which were incorporated within 24 hours. Because the British were already impressed with the Model 14, and because the proposed Lockheed aircraft was cheaper than its competitors and could be delivered in quantity more quickly, on 23 June 1938 the British Purchasing Commission placed an order for Lockheed’s proposed patrol bomber. This order specified 200 aircraft to be delivered by 31 December 1939, plus up to 50 additional aircraft if these could also be delivered by that date.
All 250 were delivered well before that date (plus one replacement for an aircraft which was lost before delivery), at a price of about $100,000 each. The outbreak of war interrupted delivery because of a 1935 law which put an embargo on arms sales to belligerents. The Neutrality Act, signed by Roosevelt on 4 November, 1939, allowed the British and French to buy weapons on a “cash and carry” basis.
The Hudson was a mid-wing monoplane with all-metal stressed-skin construction. The fuselage was elliptical in cross-section, with a transparent nose to facilitate bomb aiming. The wing tapered toward the wingtips, and had a high loading for its day. To reduce the length of take-off and landing runs, Fowler flaps of generous size were fitted. The Hudson was built with a choice of engines, all around the 30 litre and 1 100 to 1 200 bhp mark.. The nine-cylinder Wright R-1820 Cyclone was the lighter of the two, while the 14-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp ran a little smoother and, because of its double-row layout, had a little less wind resistance. The crew was normally a pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, radio operator, and gunner.
The first 351 aircraft, known as Hudson Mk I, had Wright Cyclone GR-1820-102A engines of 1,100 hp, giving a maximum speed of 246 mph at 6,500 feet – a performance comparable with that of the contemporary Heinkel 111H-2 bomber.
The Hudson spanned 65′ 6″ and weighed 17 500 pounds loaded. Weapons included 1 400 pounds of bombs in an internal weapons bay, two fixed forward-firing .303 machine guns in the nose and two similar machine guns in a Boulton-Paul dorsal turret. Range was a respectable 1 960 miles at a 220 mph cruise. The first flight of the first production aircraft (there was no prototype) was on 10 December, 1938, and this arrived in Liverpool in February 1939.
The Mk I was followed by 20 of the Mk II with a stronger airframe and constant-speed propellers instead of the two-position propellers of the Mk I (a small but important change), 429 of the Mk III with 1,200 hp GR-1820-G-205A engines and a ventral .303 machine gun, 130 of the Mk IV with 14-cylinder Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engines, and 409 of the Mk V with detail improvements (207 were built with larger fuel tanks).
After the Lend-Lease Act of March 1941, aircraft were delivered under USAAF designations. The A-28 (52 built) and A-28A (450 built) both had 1,200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines, but the A-28A had an interior that could be converted to a troop transport configuration. The A-29 (416 built) and A-29A (384 built) had 1,200 hp Wright R-1820-87 engines, but the A-29A had a convertible interior. These aircraft were delivered to the RAF, RCAF, RAAF, RNZAF, USAAF, and US Navy (who accepted the first 20 A-29s under the designation PBO-1), China, Brazil, and Portugal. Additionally, 300 advanced trainers were built for the USAAF as the AT-18 and AT-18A. This brought total production to 2,941 Hudsons before production ended in May, 1943.
Performance improved so that the Hudson Mk IV (similar to the A-28) was capable of 284 mph at 15 000 feet, and had a range of 2 160 miles at a cruising speed of 224 mph. Loaded weight was 18 500 pounds.
The Hudson Mk I began squadron service with the RAF Coastal Command’s No. 224 Squadron in the Summer of 1939. By September, No. 233 Squadron was similarly equipped, while No. 220 Squadron had begun to replace its Avro Ansons with the Hudson Mk III. Not long after war broke out, Hudsons also equipped No. 206 and 269 Squadrons. These squadrons all flew maritime patrol and anti-shipping sorties from the British Isles. Additional squadrons were formed during the war until the RAF saw a peak of 17 Hudson squadrons. Other Hudsons flew reconnaissance missions over Germany, occupied Europe, and (in civil registration) southern parts of the Soviet Union.
The Hudson was considered a “hot ship”, and was not an easy aircraft to master compared to the docile Avro Anson it replaced. There were many accidents during conversion training, mainly due to the Hudson’s propensity to swing off of the runway during take-off and landing. Pilots also found the cockpit layout inconvenient although in flight the Hudson was well-behaved and comfortable.
The Hudson’s first combat success was on 8 October 1939, when a Hudson Mk I of No. 224 Squadron shot down a Dornier Do-18D off Jutland. In a famous incident, a Hudson Mk III of No. 220 Squadron guided a British destroyer to the prison-ship Altmark in Norwegian waters, freeing many British sailors. Hudsons assisted in the Norwegian campaign and in the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Hudsons began to receive Air to Surface Vessel (ASV) in early 1940, and were assigned specifically to antisubmarine duty beginning in August of 1940 from Aldergrove, Northern Ireland. In March, 1941 No. 269 Squadron began operations from Iceland. One of the Hudson’s first successes against U-boats was on 27 August 1941, when an Iceland-based Hudson bombed and damaged U-570 and, after repeated strafing passes, observed the U-boat crew surrender. The Hudson circled the U-boat and called additional aircraft and ships to the scene. U-570 was then captured intact, and although the crew had thrown the Enigma machine and codebooks overboard it was renamed HMS Graph and yielded many engineering secrets to the Royal Navy. Hudsons went on to achieve two dozen additional successes against U-boats while an Africa-based RAF Hudson of No. 608 Squadron was the first aircraft to sink a U-boat with rockets.
The Hudson was also used by the RAF as a strategic bomber, some 35 taking part in the RAF’s second “thousand bomber” raid. Hudsons flown by the RAF, RCAF, RAAF, and RNZAF fought in virtually every maritime theatre of the war, including the Mediterranean, South Pacific, Indian Ocean, North Atlantic, Caribbean, and even the East Coast of the United States in support of US forces. Hudsons of No. 161 Squadron were used in clandestine operations, landing in open fields of occupied Europe at night to deliver or retrieve agents or to provide weapons or information to partisans. Many nations used the Hudson to train the crews of bombers and patrol aircraft. Many also served as transport aircraft.
The first two U-boat sinkings achieved by American forces were both achieved by US Navy Hudsons, and the first sinking by the USAAF was also by a Hudson. The first submarine sinkings by Brazilian and RNZAF forces were also by Hudsons (the former assisted by a PBY Catalina).
In service, the Hudson was practical, popular, and surprisingly effective for a converted civil aircraft. Its reliability earned it the nickname “Old Boomerang” because it always came back. The long series of Lockheed maritime patrol aircraft started with the quickly improvised Hudson.
The legendary ‘Stringbag’ Fairey Swordfish, was a Torpedo Spotter Reconnaissance biplane which went into service with the Fleet Air Arm in 1936 and could carry an unlikely combination of loads. The Swordfish remained operational until the end of the war, gaining the distinction of being the last biplane to see active service.
In September 1939 the Fleet Air Arm had 13 squadrons equipped with Swordfishes, most of them based on the six fleet carriers, and three flights of Swordfishes with floats, that operated from catapult-equipped warships.
After 1942 the Swordfish was replaced in its torpedo-bombing role by the Fairey Albacore,Fairey Barracuda and Grumman Avenger, and was employed in anti-submarine missions and was provided with a anti surface vessel radar ( between the landing legs) and air-to-surface rockets. Swordfishes also operated from 14 escort carriers and 18 MAC (Merchant Aircraft Carrier) ships. MAC ships were converted oil tankers or grain ships, with a flight deck but minimal maintenance facilities, and the aircraft were continuously exposed to the often Arctic weather conditions. For operations from small flight decks with heavy loads, rocket-assisted take-offs were necessary.