Whitley aircraft in the air

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

From the outset, the Whitley was utilised by Bomber Command as a night bomber, complementing the daylight missions of the Wellington and Hampden, the type was the RAF's first 'heavy' bomber.

The Whitley was designed in response to Specification B3/34 issued in July 1934 and within two years the first Whitley had made its maiden flight and the first orders -sided fuselage and prominent, jutting chin and a very distinctive nose-down flying attitude. It was however, capable of carrying a very impressive bombload of 7,000lb.

Whitley aircraft

One feature which dogged the Whitley during its early career was the unreliability of its two Armstrong Siddeley Tiger engines and later marks were fitted with the ubiquitous Rolls Royce Merlin.

Initial aircraft were delivered to Dishforth-based No 10 Squadron in a year after the maiden flight of the prototype, with sister squadron No 78 following in July and No 58 at Boscombe Down in October. These Whitley Is and the subsequent Mark IIs, fitted with Improved Tiger engines, had left front-line squadrons by the outbreak of war and the Mark III (improved armament and minor design tweaks) was the standard version in service with Bomber Command. These, in turn, were being replaced by the first Merlin-powered version the Mark IV and then the definitive Mark V with later model Merlins.

The Whitley's first operations of the war ironically were not to drop bombs on German targets, but leaflets, and these duties continued well into 1940. The first bombing raids on Germany were made in May by Nos 77 and 102 Squadron from Driffield. Following Italy's entry into the war in the following month, 36 Whitleys from 5 squadrons in No 4 Group, visited Turin and Genoa, but many encountered bad weather over the Alps and were forced to turn back due to icing - another problem that was never cured with the aircraft.

During the Spring of 1940, the Wellingtons and Hampdens had been withdrawn from daylight operations after a series of heavy losses and the three different types now took the war to Germany by night and aircraft of all three types made the first raid on Berlin in August.

Because of its better range, the Whitleys were used on some of the longest-range sorties in the early years, with the raid on the Skoda factory in Czechoslovakia (a return trip of almost 1,500 miles, much of the outward leg being flown over enemy territory in daylight). Many famous bomber pilots cut their teeth on ops with Whitleys including Leonard Cheshire (later awarded the VC whilst serving with No 617 Squadron), Don Bennett (commanded the Pathfinders) and James Tait (commanded 617 Squadron and awarded 4 DSOs).

As the Command slowly moved across to four-engined operations with the arrival of the Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster, the Whitleys were gradually withdrawn from the Main Force, although a number did participate in the first 1,000-bomber raids in May 1942. The last Whitley operational sorties had been flown some 4 weeks previously against Ostend.

After Bomber Command, Whitleys equipped a number of Coastal Command units, their long range being an advantage for the extended patrols over the Atlantic, and the first U-boat was sunk by an aircraft from No 502 Squadron in November 1941. Other Whitleys made the first paratroop drops during Operation Colossus, the failed attack on the Tragino viaduct in Italy and also on the daring raid to seize German radar equipment from Bruneval in the Channel coast. A small number of Whitleys also served with Nos 138 and 166 (Special Duties) Squadrons into 1943.

Whitley aircraft

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Specifications

Details for Whitley V

Length:72ft 6in (22.09m)
Wingspan:84ft 0in (25.59m)
Height:15ft 0in (4.57m)
Maximum Speed:222mph (358kmh)
Cruising Speed:185mph (298kmh)
Ceiling:17,600ft (5363m)
Range:1,650 miles (2,661km) with 4,000lb (1,816kg) bombload
Powerplant:Two Rolls Royce Merlin Xs of 1,145hp each
Payload:7,000lbs (3,178kg)
Defensive Armament:One x .303in Browning machine guns in nose turret, 4 x .303in Browning machine guns in tail turret.
Recognition:Square, tapered fuselage with prominent 'chin' jutting out at nose of the aircraft for the bomb aimer's position. Two small, triangular fins mounted on horizontal surfaces at rear fuselage. Pronounced nose-down attitude in level flight.

Whitley 3-angle view

  • Rate this page:

Text size: