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THE ROYAL AIR FORCE IN THE 1930S

 
     
 

PART TWO : HAWKER TO WESTLAND

 
     
  The two decades between the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 have been described as the locust years of the Royal Air Force (RAF). With aircraft becoming ever more complex and expensive, successive British governments were unwilling to spend scarce resources on re-armament if immediate benefits - such as the cost-effective policing of the more rugged and volatile parts of the British Empire - could not be accrued.

This outlook was to be more firmly entrenched after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 but - during the resultant Depression - the rise of fascism in Europe made the modernisation of Britain's armed forces imperative.

This article uses photographs taken by Warrant Officer James Marshall - the father of Gloucestershire Message Board contributor Valerie Wiersema who kindly donated them - to give an impression of the Royal Air Force during these impoverished yet turbulent times.

The aircraft are arranged in alphabetical order by manufacturer and type and the pictures in chronological order wherever possible.

 
     
 

CLICK HERE FOR PART ONE: ARMSTRONG WHITWORTH TO GLOSTER

 
     
  HANDLEY PAGE HYDERABAD  
     
  Originally titled the Handley Page W8d in response to an Air Ministry Specification for a replacement for the DH 10 and Vickers Vimy, the four crew Hyderabad prototype first flew in October 1923 and production variants went to 99 Squadron RAF in December 1925. Two years later 10 Squadron also equipped with the type. Superior in performance to the Vickers Virginia III and Avro Aldershot, the Hyderabad was the RAF's last wooden heavy bomber and none of its crashes ever proved fatal. it was superceded in front line service by 1931.  
     
  Powerplant Two 450 hp Napier Lion IIB/V  
  Dimensions Wingspan 75 ', length 52' 9", height 16' 9"  
  Weights Empty 8 900 lb, loaded 13 600 lb  
  Performance Maximum speed 109 mph at ground level, initial rate of climb 800' per minute, service ceiling 14 000', range 500 miles.  
  Armament Three 0.303" Lewis machine guns in nose, dorsal and ventral locations, 1 100 lb bombs.  
     
  Handley Page Hyderabad  
     
 

Handley Page Hyderabad

 
     
  HAWKER HART  
     
  The Hawker Hart deserves mention as the origin of the Audax, Demon and Osprey two seat and Fury and Nimrod single seat aircraft described and pictured below.

Of all the Hawker types designed by Sir Sydney Camm in the 1930s, the two seat light day bomber Hart proved one of the most adaptable after its performance was found to be superior to RAF fighters of the day.

It first equipped 33 Squadron RAF at Eastchurch in January 1930 ( resulting in a Hart's Head becoming the official squadron badge ) while 12 Squadron became the second Hart unit at Kenley in 1931. By the end of that year too, India versions of the Hart had re-equipped 11 and 39 Squadrons for use patrolling India's North West Frontier with Afghanistan. Hart Trainers were introduced in 1933 and most RAF stations had at least one Hart as a fast communications aircraft. Harts were replaced by more powerful Hind bombers from 1935 onwards.

 
     
  Powerplant 525 hp Rolls Royce Kestrel IB  
  Dimensions Wingspan 37' 3", length 29' 4", height 10' 4"  
  Weights Empty 2 530 lb, loaded 4554 lb  
  Performance Maximum speed 184 mph at 5 000', climdb to 10 000' in 8 minutes 20 seconds, service ceiling 21 350', endurance 3 hours.  
  Armament One fixed 0.303" Vickers machine gun forward, one 0.303" machine gun in the rear cockpit, up to 520 lb bombs under wings.  
     
 

Hawker Hart

 
     
 

Hawker Hart

 
     
 

For more on Sir Sydney Camm's postwar swept wing jets click here

 
     
  HAWKER AUDAX  
     
  The obvious potential for adaptation to other roles of Sydney Camm's Hawker Hart led to the Audax army co-operation design, intended to replace the ageing Armstrong Whitworth Atlas. The first production Audax - K 1995 - flew in December 1931 and apart from extended exhaust manifolds and a message pick-up hook was essentially a standard Hart. Number 4 ( Army Co-operation ) Squadron became the first Audax unit in February 1932 and a further eight RAF squadrons were similarly equipped. Production ceased in 1937 after 618 units had been produced, 34 and 56 radial engined variants being exported to Iraq and Persia ( today Iran ) respectively. The final RAF Audaxes were retired from the Middle East in 1941.  
     
  Powerplant 530 hp Rolls Royce Kestrel IB  
  Dimensions Wingspan 37' 3", length 29' 7", height 10' 5"  
  Weights Empty 2 938 lb, loaded 4 386 lb  
  Performance Maximum speed 170 mph at 2 400', climb to 10 00' in 8.65 minutes, service ceiling 21 500', endurance 3 1/2 hours.  
  Armament One fixed 0.303" Vickers machine gun forward, one 0.303" machine gun in the rear cockpit, four 20 or 25 lb or two 112 lb bombs under wings.  
     
 

This Hawker Audax crashed during night flying at Catfoss in 1934. Unfortunaely the crew -Flight Lieutanant Hillard and Flying Officer Vincent were injured.

 
     
 

This Hawker Audax crashed during night flying at Catfoss in 1934. Unfortunately the crew -Flight Lieutanant Hillard and Flying Officer Vincent - were injured.

 
     
  HAWKER DEMON  
     
  The superior speed of the Hawker Hart over contemporary RAF fighters upon its service debut quickly led to the conception of a Hart Fighter ( as it was originally known ) or as designer Sydney Camm put it "A Hart to catch a Hart". Air Ministry Specification 15/30 was issued for this purpose and Hart J9933 was suitably modified and then tested in this context. A small batch of production Hart Fighters was issued to 23 Squadron RAF in early 1931 for evaluation and in early 1932 further production was undertaken: the name Demon being used from July 1932. Thus the RAF's first two seat fighter since 1918 entered full squadron service.. By late 1934 the prototype Hart Fighter J9933 - which had also been the first production Hart - had been further modified to accept the first Frazer Nash hydraulic operated gun turret in the rear cockpit, incorporating a "turtle back" shield for the air gunner. from mid 1936 all Boulton & Paul built Demons featured this type of turret. Boulton & Paul were later to build the ill fated Defiant turret fighter monoplane of World War II. Demons eventually equipped 12 RAF and Auxilliary Air Force squadrons in Britain and the Middle East, with some serving in minor roles up to 1944. A total production run of 298 Demons included 64 sent to Australia in March 1935, the first 18 of which replaced Westland Wapitis in 1 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force.  
     
  Powerplant 485 hp Rolls Royce Kestrel IIS or 584 hp Kestrel VDR in turret fighter.  
  Dimensions Wingspan 37' 2", length 29' 7", height 10' 5"  
  Weights Empty 3 067 lb ( 3 336 lb turret fighter ), loaded 4 464 lb ( 4 668 lb turret fighter)  
  Performance (Kestrel IIS) Maximum speed 182 mph at 13 000', climb to 10 000' in 7 minutes 25 seconds, service ceiling 24 500'  
  Armament Two fixed 0.303" Vickers Mark III machine guns forward. One 0.303 Lewis machine gun in rear cockpit, mounted on either No. 15 gun ring or in Frazer Nash turret.  
     
 

Hawker Demon of 41 Squadron at Catterick in September 1934

 
     
 

Hawker Demon of 41 Squadron at Catterick in September 1934

 
     
  Hawker Demon K 3985 of 29 Squadron after its starboard wheel hit a pothole. Sergeant Soutar was the pilot at El Amriya, Egypt, in November 1935.  
     
  Hawker Demon K 3985 of 29 Squadron after its starboard wheel hit a pothole. Sergeant Soutar was the pilot at El Amriya, Egypt, in November 1935.  
     
  Hawker Demon K3773  
     
 

Hawker Demon K3773

 
     
  HAWKER FURY  
     
  The Hawker Fury was the RAF's first-ever operational fighter to exceed 200 mph in level flight. It was also the RAF's most aesthetically pleasing biplane fighter of all time, its elegance being equalled by superb aerobatic qualities and and highly sensitive controls. The first production Fury I made its maiden flight on 25 March 1931 and in May that year 43 Squadron became the first to receive the type. Part of the Fury's rationale was fast interception of bombers and the design's initial climb rate of almost 2 400' per minute fulfilled this requirement. By May 1932 1 and 25 Squadrons had also been equipped with Fury Is while the improved Fury II yielded a 20% increase in power, a greater rate of climb and a higher top speed. Five RAF squadrons received Fury IIs in 1936-37 and several foreign air forces ordered the type - three of the fighters even seeing service in the Spanish Civil War. These Spanish Furies were fitted with cantilever undercarriages and reached a type record speed of 242 mph. However, by 1939 all RAF Fury squadrons had re-equipped with Gloster Gladiators, Hawker Hurricanes and other designs.  
     
  Powerplant 525 hp Rolls Royce Kestrel IIS ( Fury I ) 640 hp Kestrel VI ( Fury II )  
  Dimensions Wingspan 30', length 26' 8" ( 26' 9" Fury II ), height 10' 2"  
  Weights Empty 2 623 lb ( 2 734 lb Fury II ) loaded 3 490 lb ( 3 609' Fury II )  
  Performance Maximum speed 207 mph at 14 000' (223 mph at 16 500' Fury II ) climb to 10 000' in 4 minutes 25 seconds ( 3 minutes 50 seconds Fury II ), service ceiling 28 000' ( 29 500' Fury II )  
  Armament Two fixed 0.303" Vickers Mark III ( Mark V Fury II ) machine guns forward. provision for light bomb racks under wings.  
     
 

A Hawker Fury at Grantham in 1932

 
     
 

A Hawker Fury at Grantham in 1932

 
     
  Hawker Furies of 25 Squadron line up for a Royal review at Mildenhall in July 1935  
     
  Hawker Furies of 25 Squadron line up for a Royal review at Mildenhall in July 1935  
     
  Hawker Fury K1936  
     
 

Hawker Fury K1936

 
     
  HAWKER NIMROD  
     
  Although bearing an obvious resemblance to its stablemate the Fury, the Hawker Nimrod - originally known as the Norn - was a private venture design of 1929-30 around which Air Ministry Specification 16/30 was written. The first production Nimrod ( S 1577 ) was first flown in October 1931 and commenced re-equipment of 408 Flight of the Fleet Air Arm in the autumn of 1932. Production Mark IIs incorporating arrester gear and interchangeable wheels and floats were first delivered in March 1934 while from early 1935 Kestrel II engines were gradually upgraded to Mark V standard. 87 Hawker Nimrods were built and were replaced by Gloster Sea Gladiators and Blackburn Skuas from May 1939.  
     
  Powerplant 477 hp Rolls Royce Kestrel IIS, 608 hp Kestrel VFP  
  Dimensions Wingspan 33' 6 3/4", length 26' 6 1/2", height 9' 10"  
  Weights Empty 3115 lb, loaded 4 059 lb  
  Performance Maximum speed 196 mph 18 000' ( Kestrel IIS ) 193 mph at 14 000' ( Kestrel VFP ) climb to 10 000' in 6 minutes 8 seconds ( IIS ) 5 minutes ( VFP ) service ceiling 26 900' ( IIS ) 28 800' ( VFP )  
  Armament Two fixed 0.303 Vickers Mark III machine guns forward and provision for four 20 or 25 lb bombs if required.  
     
 

Hawker Nimrod at El Amriya in 1936

 
     
 

Hawker Nimrod at El Amriya, Egypt in 1936

 
     
  HAWKER OSPREY  
     
  With folding wings, flotation and arrester gear and interchangeable wheel or float undercarriage, the Hawker Osprey was in effect a navalised Hart. Indeed Hart J9052 was the basis for the prototype Osprey, modified to fit Air Ministry Specification 0.22/26. Production Ospreys first appeared in 1932 and had spread throughout the Fleet Air Arm by the following year - some Naval squadrons flying a mixture of Ospreys and single seat Hawker Nimrods. The final production Mark IV was outshopped in 1935 with a Kestrel V engine but by 1938 Ospreys were being replaced in the Home Fleet.  
     
  Powerplant 630 hp Rolls Royce Kestrel II MS  
  Dimensions Wingspan 37', length 29' 4" (31 ' 10 1/4" with floats), height 10'5" (12' 5" with floats )  
  Weights Empty 3 045 lb, loaded 4 950 lb (5 570 with floats )  
  Performance Maximum speed ( landplane ) 168 mph at 5 000', climb to 10 000' in 7 minutes 40 seconds, service ceiling 23 500'  
  Armament One fixed 0.303" Vickers Mark III machine gun forward, one 0.303" Lewis machine gun in rear cockpit. Eight 20 or 25 lb or two 112 lb bombs under wings.  
     
 

Hawker Osprey S1684 of the Fleet Air Arm at Catterick in September1934

 
     
 

Hawker Osprey S1684 of the Fleet Air Arm at Catterick in September1934

 
     
  HAWKER TOMTIT  
     
  Due to the success of the Avro 504 series the RAF had no requirement for a new two seat trainer for twelve years after the end of World War I. The Tomtit was designed as a replacement and became the first Hawker biplane to enter service with the RAF. The Tomtit - first flown in November 1928 - was one of the pace-setters in the change-over from wooden to metal construction, with a steel tube fuselage of a pattern that became the Hawker norm.

In 1929 Tomtits were issued to No.3 Flying Training School at Grantham and to the Central Flying School at Wittering. A Tomtit on the strength of No.24 (Communications) Squadron at Northolt was flown regularly by the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII. The type was withdrawn from service in 1935 and several were sold to civilian owners. Six Tomtits were flying at the outbreak of the WW2 and all became camouflaged but kept on the civil register for use on communications duties.

K1786 was the last Hawker Tomtit to be built and is the only survivor. It was retired from the RAF service before WW2 and was registered as G-AFTA. During World War 2 it was flown by test pilot Alex Henshaw to commute to the Spitfire production facilities at Castle Bromwich and had a headrest and Spitfire windscreen fitted. After World War 2, the Tomtit was used to tow gliders before being purchased by Hawkers chief test pilot, Neville Duke - later to claim the World Air Speed Record in a Hawker Hunter. During this period the Tomtit was a familiar participant in many races and air displays.

It was then purchased by Hawker Aircraft in 1950 to form the Hawker House trio, with a Hurricane and Hart, and was painted in a smart dark blue and gold paint scheme. Hawkers donated the Tomtit to the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden Aerodrone in Bedfordshire in 1956 and in 1967 Hawker-Siddeley repainted the aircraft into its original service markings. Following a landing accident due to rough ground at Mildenhall in May 1985, there was considerable difficulty in obtaining the correct engine/propeller harmonisation. Several propellers were made and tested but were not suitable. However, Hoffman propellers from Germany designed a special high-rigidity propeller using composite woods and carbon fibre. The Tomtit flew again on 25th June 1992.

 
     
  Powerplant 150 hp Armstrong Siddeley Mongoose IIIC five cylinder radial engine  
  Dimensions Wingspan 28 ' 7", length 23' 8", height 8' 4"  
  Weights Empty 1,100 lb loaded 1,750 lb  
  Performance Max speed 124 mph, climb to 10 000' in 14 minutes 30 seconds, service ceiling 19,500'  
  Armaments None  
     
  Hawker Tomtits with Rolls Royce Mongoose engines  
     
  Hawker Tomtits with Rolls Royce Mongoose engines  
     
  SARO CLOUD  
     
  Only the third monoplane - and first flying boat - that we have encountered on our alphabetical journey through the RAF types of the 1930s, the Saro Cloud entrered service in August 1933 at Calshot. A scaled up version of the civilian Saro Cutty Sark, the Cloud was an advanced trainer for flying boat crews and provided full navigational and wireless instruction. Seventeen of the rare enclosed-cockpit amphibians were built by Saunders Roe and remained in service until early 1939.  
     
  Powerplant Two 340 hp Armstrong Siddeley Serval III or V engines  
  Dimensions Wingspan 64', length 50' 1 1/2" height 16' 5"  
  Weights Empty 6 800 lb, loaded 9 500 lb  
  Performance Maximum speed 118 mph at sea level, initial rate of climb 750' per minute, service ceiling 14 000, endurance 4 hours  
  Armament Two 0.303" Lewis machine guns in dorsal locations, up to 200 lb of bombs under the wings if required.  
     
  Saro Cloud biplane amphibian at Catterick in July 1934. Note the open port engine cover.  
     
 

Saro Cloud biplane amphibian at Catterick in July 1934. Note the open port engine cover.

 
     
  VICKERS VICTORIA  
     
  The Victoria was a high commonality variant of Vickers' Virginia bomber. The first Victoria - J6860 - was first flown in August 1922 and the first 15 production Victorias - designated Mark III - were ordered in May 1925. The winter of 1928-29 saw several Victoria IIIs evacuate civilians from Kabul, Afghanistan. Later Mark IV and V variants were built of metal rather than wood with more powerful Bristol Pegasus engines replacing the original Napier Lions on the Mark VI. The Mark VI Victoria was then renamed the Vickers Valentia to avoid confusion with earlier variants and remained in service into the early days of World War II  
     
  Powerplant Two 570 hp Napier Lion XIB ( Mark V ) Two 660 hp Bristol Pegasus ( Mark VI)  
  Dimensions Wingspan 87' 4", length 59' 6", height 17'9"  
  Weights Empty 10 030 lb Mark V ( 9 806 Mark VI ) loaded 17 760 lb Mark V ( 17 600 lb Mark VI )  
  Performance Maximum speed 110 mph at sea level ( Mark V ) 130 mph at 5 000' ( Mark VI ) climb to 5 000' in 11 minutes ( Mark V ) 8 minutes 30 seconds ( Mark VI ) Service ceiling 16 200, range 770 miles ( Mark V ) 800 miles ( Mark VI )  
  Armament Nil  
     
  Vickers Victoria troop transport at Cranwell September 1933  
     
 

Vickers Victoria troop transport at Cranwell September 1933

 
     
  VICKERS VIRGINIA  
     
  Envisaged in 1920 as a stretched version of the Vickers Vimy - as used by Alcock and Brown to fly the Atlantic - the "Ginnie" first flew in November 1922 and eventually evolved by way of many other versions and modifications to the metal winged Mark X ( see table below for specifications ). The Vickers Virginia remained in front line RAF use until 1937 - with 7 Squadron Virginias winning the Minot bombing trophy 8 times - and examples were used for parachute training at RAF Henlow until 1941.  
     
  Powerplant Two 580 hp Napier Lion VB  
  Dimensions Wingspan 87' 6", length 62' 3", height 18' 2"  
  Weights Empty 9 650 lb, loaded 17 600 lb  
  Performance Maximum speed 108 mph at 5 000', climb to 5 000' in 10 minutes, service ceiling 15 530', range 985 miles  
  Armament One 0.303" Lewis machine gun in nose cockpit, one or two 0.303" Lewis machine guns in tail cockpit. Up to 3 000 lb of bombs.  
     
  Vickers Virginia with Napier engines  
     
 

Vickers Virginia with Napier engines

 
     
  Vickers Virginia  
     
 

Vickers Virginia

 
     
  VICKERS VILDEBEEST  
     
  The Vildebeest I first entered service with 100 Squadron RAF at Donibristle in 1932 and was intended to replace the Hawker Horsley as the principal coastal defence aircraft of the Royal Air Force. A re -engined version, the Vildebeest Mark II, was ordered in 1933. The Air Ministry then requested a redesigned rear cockpit to accomodate a third crew member, resulting in the Mark II version, entering service with 36 Squadron in 1934 and 22 Squadron in 1935. The final Mark IV version was fitted with the sleeve valve radial Perseus engine ( ancestor of the later Bristol Hercules and Centaurus engines ) and this variant first equipped 42 Squadron in 1937. In 1939 30 Vildebeests represented RAF Coastal Command's sole torpedo bombing force in the UK while at the same time 36 and 100 Squadrons were based in Malaya.  
     
  Powerplant 600 hp Bristol Pegasus IM3 ( Mk I ) 635 hp Pegasus IIM3 ( Mk III ) 825 hp Perseus VIII ( Mk IV )  
  Dimensions Wingspan 49', length 36' 8" ( 37' 8" Mk IV ) height 14' 8"  
  Weights Empty 4 229 lb ( 4 773 lb Mk III, 4 724 lb Mk IV ) loaded 8 100 lb ( 8 500 lb later Mks )  
  Performance Maximum speed at 5 000' 143 mph ( Mk III ) ( 156 mph Mk IV ) climb to 5 000' 7 minutes 30 seconds ( 6 minutes Mk IV ) service ceiling 17 000', range 1250 miles (Mk III ) (1625 miles Mk IV )  
  Armament One fixed 0.303" Vickers machine gun forward, one 0.303" machine gun in the rear cockpit, one 18 inch torpedo or up to 1 200 lb of bombs..  
     
  Vickers Vildebeest  
     
  Vickers Vildebeest  
     
  WESTLAND WALLACE  
     
  The Wallace, first flown on 31 october 1931 was the last of the inter-war general purpose biplanes and was also used by a number of Auxiliary Air Force Squadrons. The pace of aeronautical development caused its rapid replacement in front line service, but its useful life was extended, with many being converted into target tugs and wireless trainers. In 1931 Westland produced a private development of its successful Wapiti. This machine embodied a number of improvements including a lengthened fuselage, brakes and wheel spats on the under carriage, and a new engine. By this time both the appearance and performance differed considerably from the standard Wapiti, so the company designated it the PV6. In 1932, following successful service trials, the type was put into production for the Royal Air Force and named Wallace. Three years later, Westland designed an improved version fitted with a more powerful engine and the then novel idea of an enclosed canopy over both crew positions. This offered greater comfort for the crew and improved the rear gunner's aim by protecting him from the slipstream.

 
     
  Powerplant 665 hp Bristol Pegasus IV  
  Dimensions Wingspan 46 ft 5 in, length 34 ft 2 in, height: 11 ft 6 in  
  Weights Empty 3,680 lb loaded 5,750 lb  
  Performance Maximum speed 158 mph, initial climb 1 350' per minute, service ceiling 24 100', range 470 miles  
  Armament One fixed 0.303" Vickers machine gun forward, one 0.303" machine gun in the rear cockpit, 580 lb of bombs..  
     
  Westland Wallace  
     
 

Westland Wallace

 
     
  Westland Wallace K3672  
     
 

Westland Wallace K3672

 
     
  WESTLAND WAPITI  
     
  From 1928 to 1942 the rugged Westland Wapiti bomber saw highly active service with the RAF all over the British Empire. Intended as a replacement for the de Havilland DH 9 and Bristol F2B, the Mark II Wapiti was built entirely of metal. In 1933 the Indian Air Force was created with just four Westland Wapitis.  
     
  Powerplant 480 hp Bristol Jupiter VIII or 500 hp Jupiter XFA  
  Dimensions Wingspan 46' 5", length 34' 2", height 11' 10"  
  Weights Empty 3 810 lb ( Jupiter VIII ) 3 320 lb ( XFA ) loaded 5 400 lb ( VIII ) 5 400 lb (XFA)  
  Performance Maximum speed 140 mph at 5 000' ( 160 mph at 12 000' XFA ) climb to 10 000' in 9 minutes 30 seconds ( 8 minutes 12 seconds XFA ) service ceiling 20 600' ( 27 000' XFA ) range 530 miles ( 310 miles XFA )  
  Armament One fixed 0.303" Vickers machine gun forward, one 0.303" Lewis machine gun in rear cockpit, up to 500 lb of bombs.  
     
  Westland Wapiti with Bristol Jupiter engines at Grantham in October 1932  
     
 

Westland Wapiti with Bristol Jupiter engines at Grantham in October 1932