Two Hampden aircraft in the air

Handley Page Hampden

Handley Page Hampden

Like the Wellington, the Hampden was designed as a medium day-bomber and was the last of the trio of front-line twin-engined bombers to enter service with Bomber Command. The Hampden suffered greatly due to a lack of manoeuvrability and defensive firepower (it was not fitted with powered gun turrets) at the hands of the German fighters during the early daylight bomber raids of the 'Phoney War'.

The Hampden was designed to meet Specification B9/32 (as was the Wellington) issued in September 1932. Handley Page designed the aircraft with a very slim, deep fuselage to decrease drag although, as crews later found out on extended operations, its cramped interior did increase fatigue somewhat. Extending back from the forward fuselage was a very slim tailboom and it was not long before the Hampden was christened the 'Flying Panhandle' by those who flew it.

The prototype made its first flight on 21 June 1936, six days after the Wellington, and the most obvious difference from production aircraft was the angular nose profile as a final design had not yet been settled on. Part of the problem was trying to marry the fuselage to existing powered turrets, a problem which was solved by deleting the requirement in favour of a glazed nose with fixed-position gun.

Shortly after the first Hampden's maiden flight, the Air Ministry placed an order for 180 aircraft and the first of these began to enter service with No 49 Squadron at Scampton in August 1938 replacing Hawker Hind biplane day-bombers. As was the practice of the time, entire groups concentrated on a single aircraft and No 5 Group's complement of 8 front-line squadrons were operational on Hampdens by September 1939.

At the same time as the order for 180 production Hampdens was placed, a further 100 aircraft powered by different engines, Napier Daggers in place of Bristol Pegasus', were ordered. These re-engined aircraft were known as Herefords, but no further orders were forthcoming and the Herefords served only in the training role.

Hampdens joined the first Bomber Command daylight operation of the war when aircraft of No 83 Squadron (one of which was piloted by Guy Gibson) joined an attack on German naval vessels in the Schillig Roads along with Wellingtons and Blenheims. Unlike their counterparts, the Hampdens failed to locate their targets and returned to Scampton after releasing their loads over the North Sea. Daylight operations continued - but at a price. It was noted that German Me110s would formate on the Hampdens, out of reach of the gun positions (just forward and off to one side), for some time before the enemy gunners would strafe the bombers and send them earthwards.

The Hampdens were then modified with additional guns (but still on fixed mountings) and armour-plating but the losses to both Hampdens and Wellingtons on daylight operations continued to be unacceptable and both types were eventually switched to the night offensive.

The aircraft did find a niche for itself in Bomber Command as an ideal platform for carrying aerial mines. Many 'Gardening' sorties were flown in enemy waters by Hampdens and they continued in this role for the remainder of its bomber service.

The first two VCs awarded to Bomber Command personnel were to Hampden crew-members. The first was to Flight Lieutenant RAB Learoyd of No 49 Squadron in August 1940 for his leadership of a successful attack on a viaduct on the important Dortmund-Ems canal during the night of 12th/13th August 1940. The second was, unusually, not to a pilot but a wireless operator/gunner. Sergeant John Hannah was awarded the medal for extinguishing a fire in a Hampden of No 83 Squadron he was flying in which had been badly damaged during an attack on Antwerp during the night of 15th/16th September 1940.

By the time of the 1,000-bomber raids of May/June 1942, the Hampden was nearing the end of its service with Bomber Command and the final operation by Hampdens took place in mid-September 1942 when No 408 Squadron RCAF were in action over Wilhelmshaven.

Hampdens had found a new lease of life as torpedo-bombers with Coastal Command and operated as such until the end of 1943. These were the last operations of the 1,453 Hampdens to serve with the RAF.

Two Handley Page Hampden aircraft flying over fields

Handley Page Hampden Specifications

Details for Handley Page HP.52 Hampden

Length:51ft 7in (16.33m)
Wingspan:69ft 2in (21.08m)
Height:14ft 4in (4.37m)
Maximum Speed:265mph at 15,000ft (140kmh at 4,724m)
Ceiling:19,000ft (5,790m)
Range:1,095 miles (1,792km) with max bombload
Powerplant:2x Bristol Pegasus XVIII 9-cyclinder radial engine, 980hp (730 kW) each
Payload:11,780lbs (5,344kg)
Defensive Armament:4 to 6 x .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K machine guns. one flexible and one fixed in the nose, one or two each in dorsal and ventral positions
4,000 lb (1,814 kg) bombs or 1 x 18 in torpedo or mines

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