Warplanes / Great Britain
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

It is unlikely that any other operational aeroplane of World War II came near to matching the austere, angular appearance of the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, or to emulating its curious nose-down gait when flying 'straight and level'. Developed from the Armstrong Whitworth A.W.23 bomber/transport, the Whitley was designed to Specification B.3/34 and was first flown on 17 March 1936. That year it was selected to become the new Bomber Command's standard heavy bomber, replacing the Handley Page Heyford biplane. A total of 80 aircraft had been ordered, and these materialized as 34 Whitley Mk I bombers with two 682-kW (920-hp) Armstrong Siddeley Tiger IX radiais, and 46 Whitley Mk II bombers with Tiger VIIIs, Early Whitley Mk Is possessed no dihedral on their outer wings. First squadron to receive Whitley Mk Is was No. 10 at Dishforth in March 1937.

The Whitley Mk I was already disappearing from front line service when war broke out (although the last examples did not leave No. 166 Squadron until April 1940). In the meantime the Whitley Mk III (also with Tiger VIIIs) had appeared; this version, of which 60 were produced, featured a retractable 'dustbin' ventral gun position. It served on Nos 7, 51, 58, 77, 97, 102 and 166 Squadrons, entering RAF service in August 1938. Also introduced that year was the Whitley Mk IV with 768-kW (1,030-hp) Rolls-Royce Merlin IV V-12 engines and the Whitley Mk IVA with 854-kW (1,145-hp) Merlin Xs; only 40 were produced, but they served to introduce a new power-operated fourgun Nash and Thompson tail turret (the 'dustbin' being abandoned).

The main production version was the Whitley Mk V, whose delivery started to Nos 77 and 78 Squadrons in September 1939, and of which 1,476 were built before June 1943, when production was halted. Also powered by Merlin Xs, the Whitley Mk V featured a 38-cm (15-in) longer fuselage and straight leading edges to the fins.

Although it was the Tiger-powered Mk III that performed almost all the early leaflet-dropping sorties of the first six months of the war (including the first sortie over Germany on the night of 3-4 September 1939 by 10 Whitleys of Nos 51 and 58 Squadrons), it was the Whitley Mk V that assumed the bombing role from March 1940 onwards; and on 11-12 May, immediately after the German attack in the West, Whitleys and Handley Page Hampdens dropped the first RAF bombs on the German mainland in an attack on railway targets near München Gladbach.

The following month Whitleys were the first RAF bombers to attack targets in Italy, flying from the UK and refuelling in the Channel Islands to attack Turin and Genoa. Though never to achieve fame for outstanding exploits, the immensely rugged Whitley gave yeoman service with Bomber Command despite being obviously slow and vulnerable in the face of fast improving enemy night defences. They were for instance among the aircraft that first raided Berlin on the night of 25-26 August 1940, and it was as the pilot of a Whitley during a raid on Cologne on 12-13 November that year that Leonard Cheshire (later Group Captain, VC) was awarded the DSO. Wing Commander P. C. Pickard (later to achieve fame as the Mosquito leader in the raid on Amiens gaol) led Whitleys of No. 51 Squadron in the airborne raid on the radar installation at Bruneval on 27-28 February 1942.

Whitleys flew their last raid with Bomber Command during an attack on Ostend on the night of 29-30 April 1942.

Specification Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk V

Type: five-man bomber 
Powerplant: two 854-kW (1,145-hp) Rolls-Royce Merlin X V-12 piston engines
Performance: maximum speed 370 km/h (230 mph) at 5000 m (16,400 ft); climb to 4570 m (15,000 ft) m 16 minutes; service ceiling 7925 m (26,000 ft); range 2415 km (1,500 miles) with normal tankage
Weights: empty 8777 kg (19,350 lb); maximum take-off 15196 kg (33,500 lb)
Dimensions: span 25.60m (84 ft); length 21.11 m (69 ft 3 in); height 4.57 m (15 ft); wing area 105.63 m2 (1,137.00 sq ft)
Armament: one 7.7-mm (0.303-m) machine-gun in the nose turret and four 7.7-mm (0,303-in) machine-guns in the tail turret, plus a maximum bombload of 3175 kg (7,000 lb)
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