Bomber Command Aircraft Inter-War Medium/Heavy Bombers
Inter-War Medium/Heavy Bombers
The Aldershot was one of the first dedicated bombers designed for the RAF after the First World War. Only it only had a single engine, the Aldershot could carry a bombload equal to that of twin-engined bombers and was officially classed as a heavy bomber. After making its first flight in October 1921, 15 aircraft were ordered for the RAF and these were flown by No 99 Squadron between mid-1924 and early 1926 when, after the RAF abandoned its single-engined bomber policy, they were replaced by Hyderabads.
Length: 45ft 0in (13.72m) Span: 68ft 0in (20.73m) Height: 15ft 3in (4.65m) Max Speed: 110mph (177km/h) Engine: One 650hp RR Condor III Bombload: 2,200lb (999kg) Armament: One fixed forward-facing Lewis gun, one manual Lewis gun in mid-upper and occasional mid-lower position.
The Virginia was the epitome of RAF night-bombers during the Inter-War period. Having commenced service trials with No 7 Squadron in May 1922, the aircraft underwent a series of refurbishments and improvements to the airframe and engines until 1929 (during Trenchard's term as CAS), but where then virtually untouched until their eventual retirement in 1938! The aircraft displayed no particularly remarkable qualities (3,000lb bombload, 108mph top speed without bombs on later versions) and no defensive armament in early aircraft, it is a testament to the absence of strategic policy-making by the Air Ministry and lack of investment by the successive governments that the Virginia lasted as long as it did. Nor was the aircraft particularly safe - the 124 airframes constructed suffered a total of 81 accidents.
Length: 52ft 3in (15.93m) Span: 87ft 8in (26.77m) Height: 18ft 2in (5.54m) Max Speed: 108mph (173km/h) Engines: Two 580hp Napier Lion VB Bombload: 3,000lb (1,362kg) Armament: Up to 3 Lewis guns in nose and tail positions.
Handley Page Hyderabad
The Hyderabad was designed to meet a specification issued in 1922 for a Vimy replacement. The aircraft itself was a bomber development of a Handley Page commercial airliner, the W8, and took to the air on its maiden flight in October 1923. Fifteen production aircraft were ordered and these entered service with No 99 Squadron in late 1925. A second order for Hyderabads was placed to equip No 10 Squadron and these began to arrive from January 1928 onwards. Retired from front-line service by March 1931, the aircraft did fly with two Special Reserve Squadrons (Nos 502 (Ulster) and 503 (County of Lincoln)) until 1933.
Length: 59ft 2in (18.03m) Span: 75ft 0in (22.86m) Height: 16ft 9in (5.11m) Max Speed: 109mph (175km/h) Engines: Two 500hp Napier Lion V Bombload: 1,100lb (499kg) Armament: Three .303in Lewis guns (one each in nose, mid-upper and -lower positions).
Boulton and Paul Sidestrand
Designed to Specification 9/24, the Sidestrand made its maiden flight in 1926. Surprisingly agile for a bomber due to the power of the two 460hp Jupiter engines, the aircraft looped, spun and role with ease - properties which impressed watchers at the annual Hendon air displays in mock combats with RAF fighters. The type flew with No 101 Squadron based at Bircham Newton in Norfolk between March 1929 and January 1935 in the medium day bomber role. The aircraft was a tremendous success with No 101 and the squadron set many bombing and air gunnery records with the Sidestrand.
Length: 46ft 0in (14.02m) Span: 71ft 11in (21.92m) Height: 14ft 9½in (4.51m) Max Speed: 140mph (225km/h) Engines: Two 460hp Bristol Jupiter VIIIF Bombload: 1,050lb (477kg) Armament: One .303in Lewis gun in each of forward, mid-upper and -lower positions.
Handley Page Hinaidi
The Hinaidi was a development of the Hyderabad heavy night-bomber - the Mark II version being of all-metal construction (the first RAF heavy bomber to be so built). The original prototype Hinaidi (a re-engined Hyderabad) made its maiden flight in March 1927 and ten were ordered, the first reaching No 99 Squadron in September 1928. A switch to all-metal construction had been taken in an effort to prolong the aircraft's life, and the se were known as the Hinaidi Mark II. The first of these aircraft reached No 99 Squadron from late 1929 onwards. Other Hinaidis served with Nos 10 and 503 (Special Reserve) Squadrons until October 1935.
Length: 59ft 3in (18.06m) Span: 75ft 0in (22.86m) Height: 17ft 4in (5.28m) Max Speed: 115mph (185km/h) Engines: Two 450hp Bristol Jupiter VIII Bombload: 1,568lb (712kg) Armament: Three Lewis guns (one each in nose, mid-upper and -lower positions).
Notable as the RAF's first all-metal monoplane night-bomber, the Hendon first flew in November 1930 but, after a prolonged series of trials, was not ordered into production until the spring of 1934. Even then, only 14 Hendons were ordered and they served with No 38 Squadron between 1936 and January 1939. The Hendon also featured and internal bomb-bay capable carrying one of the new 1,000lb bombs then being produced and carried a crew of five.
Length: 60ft 9in (18.52m) Span: 101ft 9in (31.01m) Height: 18ft 8in (5.69m) Max Speed: 152mph (244km/h) Engines: Two 600hp Rolls Royce Kestrel VI Bombload: 1,660lb (754kg) Armament: Single Lewis gun in each of nose, mid-upper, -lower and tail positions.
Handley Page Heyford
The Heyford marked the end of biplane bombers with the RAF. Three prototypes were ordered in 1927 and the first of the flew for the first time in June 1930. The most striking feature of the Heyfords was the mounting of the fuselage on the upper wing. This gave the pilot and gunners an excellent field of vision, and provision was made for a gun position in a retractable 'dustbin' under the rear fuselage. But, as armourers testified at the time, this meant that to load the wing-mounted bomb cells, they had to lie on the grass. A total of 144 Heyfords in three versions were built, serving with 11 bomber squadrons between November 1933 and (amazingly, with No 166 Squadron) September 1939.
Length: 58ft 0in (17.68m) Span: 75ft 0in (22.86m) Height: 17ft 6in (5.33m) Max Speed: 154mph (247km/h) Engines: Two 640hp Rolls Royce Kestrel VI Bombload: 2,000lb (908kg) Armament: Three Lewis guns in nose, mid-upper and -lower (retractable 'dustbin') positions.
Boulton and Paul Overstrand
At a passing glance, the Overstrand was visually similar to its older brother, the Sidestrand but featured improved engines in the shape of Bristol Pegasus engines which gave better performance and bomb-carrying capability, an autopilot, enclosed cockpit with heating and (a first for the RAF) powered gun turrets. The gun turrets allowed the air gunners to improve their accuracy five-fold! The Overstrand made its maiden flight in October 1933 and 24 were ordered. The first deliveries to No 101 Squadron (where they replaced the Sidestrand) commenced in 1936 and served until 1938 with the advent of Blenheim monoplane bombers. Some did survive into 1940 as gunnery trainers.
Length: 46ft 0in (14.02m) Span: 72ft 0in (21.95m) Height: 15ft 6in (4.72m) Max Speed: 153mph (246km/h) Engines: Two 580hp Bristol Pegasus IIM3 Bombload: 1,600lb (726kg) Armament: One .303in Lewis gun in each of forward (turret), mid-upper and -lower positions.
The Wellesley initially started out as a private venture monoplane development of an earlier Vickers type and was designed by the legendary Barnes Wallis. Perhaps the most striking feature of the Wellesley was its 'geodetic' construction. This used small, light metal strips, 'woven' together to give tremendous strength and low weight. One design compromise was the carriage of the bombs in wing panniers as nobody knew how the structure of the aircraft would suffer if an internal bomb-bay was accommodated in the fuselage. Ninety-six aircraft were ordered in September 1935 and the first production aircraft took to the air in January 1937. Three months later, the aircraft started to re-equip No 7 Squadron and then Nos 76, 35, 77, 148 and 207 Squadrons before the year's end. One major flaw with the design was a lack of defensive firepower and its life with the home-based squadrons was cut short in April 1939 and a decision made to transfer the Wellesleys to Middle East units where they saw action in the East African campaign. The aircraft did achieve a very notable feat in November 1938 when two specially modified aircraft successfully carried out a record-breaking non-stop flight from Ismailia in Egypt to Darwin in Australia. The 7,157-mile (11,494km) flight took just over 48 hours.
Length: 39ft 3in (11.97m) Span: 74ft 7in (22.73m) Height: 12ft 4in (3.73m) Max Speed: 206mph (331km/h) Engine: One 925hp Bristol Pegasus XX Bombload: 2,000lb (908kg) Armament: One forward-facing and one aft-facing machine guns.
Handley Page Harrow
The Harrow was an interim, expansion-period bomber, that had an unusual clause written into its specification - that it could easily revert to transport duties once its career as a bomber was finished. Indeed, it was in the ambulance role that Harrows served with the RAF until the end of World War II. The aircraft itself was an adaptation of an earlier design (the Handley Page HP43) and its first flight was in October 1936. The gunners' positions were extremely cramped and unheated, and on a number of long training flights, conditions were very bad indeed in the nose and tail turrets. A total of 100 Harrows were built (all in 1937) and they served with Nos 214, 37, 75, 115 and 215 Bomber Squadrons between January 1937 and December 1939.
Length: 82ft 2in (25.04m) Span: 88ft 5in (26.95m) Height: 19ft 5in (5.92m) Max Speed: 197mph (316km/h) Engines: Two 920hp Bristol Pegasus XX Bombload: 3,000lb (1,362kg) Armament: Single .303in guns in nose turret and mid-lower position and twin machine guns in tail turret.