Best early war RAF 'heavy' bomber

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by yulzari, Jul 22, 2013.

  1. yulzari

    yulzari Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2010
    Messages:
    777
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Occupation:
    Gentleman
    Location:
    Limousin
    In 1939 the RAF had 3 twin engined 'heavy' bombers in production.

    Whilst the Vickers Wellington continued into production to the end of the war and the Handley Page Hampden went on to be a torpedo bomber the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley gets little notice. Yet the published figures suggest it could carry more bombs further than either.

    If you had to choose only one as the RAF 'heavy' bomber which would you choose?
     
  2. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2009
    Messages:
    9,769
    Likes Received:
    800
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    retired Firefighter
    Location:
    Central Florida Highlands
    For how long?

    The Hampden is out.

    That leaves the Whitley and Welly. I think the Whitley is under appreciated but it may have had less potential. Sticking Hercules engines on it may not have offered the same improvement that the Wellington showed.

    for 1939/40 my choice would be the Whitley but once the Wellington III shows up (and the Mark X) the choice gets a lot harder.
     
  3. OldSkeptic

    OldSkeptic Active Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2010
    Messages:
    509
    Likes Received:
    36
    Trophy Points:
    28
    None, they were all useless.
     
  4. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2009
    Messages:
    9,769
    Likes Received:
    800
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    retired Firefighter
    Location:
    Central Florida Highlands
    Compared to what?

    And useless why?

    defects in the aircraft, lack of performance or lack of training, doctrine and target selection?
     
  5. Kryten

    Kryten Member

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    436
    Likes Received:
    11
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Location:
    Llantrisant
    Nonsense!

    Would have to be the Wellington, very reliable, capable of absorbing significant damage and extremely versatile, from level bomber to maritime patrol to ASV radar equipped torpedo bomber!
    up to 4500lb's of bombs or other ordinance,
    Apparently easy to fly, quite quick and reasonably cheap to build, served well late into the war!
     
  6. yulzari

    yulzari Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2010
    Messages:
    777
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Occupation:
    Gentleman
    Location:
    Limousin
    I dare say the number jugglers will argue over the detail but a MkV Whitley can carry 7,500lb of bombs while the contemporary (same engined) Wellington could 4,500-6,000 whilst having a range of less than 1400 miles as against the Whitley's near 1,700.

    The Whitley could be made in dispersed factories being designed in sections whilst the Wellington needed a single complete factory. What the Whitley seemed to suffer from was doing it all slower. They were removed from Malta resupply runs as they could not complete the task in darkness.

    Myself. I suspect that Whitley production was stopped because the various factories could make heavier 4 engined stressed skin types just as easily, whereas the Wellington factories did not have the tools and skills to so easily change. But we have discussed this here before.

    Whatever virtues the Hampden may, or may not, have had; the Halifax could be built by the same people/factories and so they were.
     
  7. Kryten

    Kryten Member

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    436
    Likes Received:
    11
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Location:
    Llantrisant
    Good points, Wellington still gets my nod over the Whitley (early war) entirely because of it's versatility , I believe whitley had a higher ceiling as well though?
     
  8. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2009
    Messages:
    9,769
    Likes Received:
    800
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    retired Firefighter
    Location:
    Central Florida Highlands
    Somewhere we had some actual numbers kindly provided by Neal Stirling (hope I spelled it right).

    Basically a Whitley could fly a bit over 1600 miles with 4500lbs of bombs or 1360/1370 with 5500lbs. Early Wellingtons could do about 1200 miles with 4500lbs. Hamptons could do 775 miles with 5000lbs or 1820 miles with 3000lbs but Hamptons had a problem with the bomb-bay. Those loads are with a 500lb bomb under each wing. The Hampton bomb bay could carry two 2000lbs, four 500lb bombs or six 250lb bombs. The Hampton could not mix and match very well.

    It was possible to stuff 8000lbs in a Whitley but the range was 630 miles. Ranges and loads are from RAF data sheets. Ceiling is hard to pick, the Wellington and Whitley being between 15-21,000 ft depending on load. at mean weight ceiling was several thousand feet higher than at max load so weight over target has some bearing. Neither was any great shakes.
     
  9. Greyman

    Greyman Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2009
    Messages:
    711
    Likes Received:
    130
    Trophy Points:
    43
    If I may juggle numbers ...

    Whitley V
    8,000 lb - 630 miles
    4,500 lb - 1,650 miles

    Wellington II
    4,500 lb - 1,400 miles

    Not a massive difference at the same load, but keep in mind the Wellington makes the trip 20-30 mph faster, and climbs to altitude 5-10 minutes faster.

    The Wellington had a ceiling 2,000-3,000 feet higher than the Whitley, depending on the loadings.

    Another major plus of the Wellington was that it's bomb bay was much more versatile. The payload weight advantage the Whitley has over the Wellington comes in the form of the bombs in the wings - which as I understand it can be no larger than 250 pounders.
     
  10. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2009
    Messages:
    9,769
    Likes Received:
    800
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    retired Firefighter
    Location:
    Central Florida Highlands
    The Whitley may not be able to hold a 4000lb bomb although it will hold two 2000lb bombs but the Early Wellingtons will not hold a 4000lb bomb either. That came with the MK III with Hercules engines in the Spring of 1941.

    when in the early part of the war is important for this question.
     
  11. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2009
    Messages:
    6,418
    Likes Received:
    64
    Trophy Points:
    48
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    Halifax was noteworthy for poor handling characteristics which are reflected in the high number of operational accidents. Building that bomber may have been a mistake.

    6,176 produced.
    3,504 lost.
    1,421 of lost aircraft were due to operational accidents.
     
  12. tyrodtom

    tyrodtom Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2010
    Messages:
    2,483
    Likes Received:
    108
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Occupation:
    auto body repair
    Location:
    pound va
    Those figures by themselves don't tell us much.
    A good comparision for instance would be overall Luftwaffe bomber loses Jan-Oct 1941, 1154 aircraft lost due to enemy action, 644 lost, not due to enemy action.
    or Luftwaffe bomber loses Jan-Oct 1942, 1101 aircraft lost due to enemy action, 648 lost, not due to enemy action.

    Seems like the Halifax is well ahead of the Luftwaffe's average. You can't blame all or a portion of operational loses on any one fault without a detailed breakdown of causes of those loses.
     
  13. yulzari

    yulzari Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2010
    Messages:
    777
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Occupation:
    Gentleman
    Location:
    Limousin
    And even before the war began the RAF were looking to move to larger 4 engined types so the early war 'heavies' were already scheduled for replacement. With a 1936 requirement and a pre war 1939 first flight for the Stirling.

    BTW the 8,000lb Whitley bomb load presumed a sortie from an airfield in France so the range of 630 miles was a useable one.
     
  14. pattle

    pattle Member

    Joined:
    May 11, 2013
    Messages:
    692
    Likes Received:
    14
    Trophy Points:
    18
    I think the Wellington, Whitley and Hampden were all decent aircraft but like a lot of other aircraft of pre-war design they were just not good enough for the job they were originally intended to do by the time the fighting started. All three planes found other uses but the Hampden was far less versatile than the Wellington or the Whitley because of it's small narrow fuselage. All three (I think) were designed as day bombers and all three were useless as day bombers, as night bombers I think the Wellington and Whitley were on a par with one another but the biggest problem all three planes suffered by night was the simply finding the target. I think the Wellington may have been better suited to warmer climates than the Whitley due to it's radial engines.
     
  15. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2009
    Messages:
    9,769
    Likes Received:
    800
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    retired Firefighter
    Location:
    Central Florida Highlands
    The Whitley was always a night bomber.

    With better trained crews and a better target selection/ campaign plan these aircraft could have done a lot more damage than they did. Too many times it seems that penny packets of aircraft were sent on raids for propaganda purposes or so the RAF would be seen as "doing something" rather than the realistic expectation they were actually going to accomplish anything.
    Whitleys bombed both Turin Italy and Czechoslovakia in 1940. What they actually hit I don't know but the ability to cover a very large part of Europe was there as far as range and some sort of bomb load goes. The ability to navigate to a particular target and then actually aim the bombs was what was lacking.
     
  16. pattle

    pattle Member

    Joined:
    May 11, 2013
    Messages:
    692
    Likes Received:
    14
    Trophy Points:
    18
    I think the Whitleys visited Italy on quite a few occasions. If the Whitley was always a night bomber then I would just put it ahead of the Wellington as an actual bomber.
     
  17. yulzari

    yulzari Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2010
    Messages:
    777
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Occupation:
    Gentleman
    Location:
    Limousin
    The RAF had intended to bomb Germany from the beginning of the war but France insisted that this did not happen so as to avoid provoking Germany into bombing France.
     
  18. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2008
    Messages:
    47,674
    Likes Received:
    1,417
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Retired
    Location:
    Cheshire, UK
    The handling problems were partly cured by the introduction of the larger, 'rectangular' fins and larger, mass balanced rudders. This prevented the sudden, and fatal, rudder swing.
    With the introduction of the longer span wing, combined with re-designed ailerons and the 'new' tail assembly, from the MkIII on the Halifax no longer had the problems associated with the earlier Marks, particularly the Mk1 and Mk1 srs ii., and went on to be a very effective and successful weapon, despite the stigma which still lingered, and remains to this day.
    Many Halifax pilots (and crew), who have flown both Lancaster and Halifax, have stated that they believe the latter was a better aircraft than the more publicised (and produced) Lancaster.
     
  19. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,743
    Likes Received:
    439
    Trophy Points:
    83
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Aircraft Engineer
    Location:
    Nelson
    #19 nuuumannn, Jul 25, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2013
    When examining the Hampden, Wellington and Whitley it is worth making comparisons with their foreign contemporaries to get a better idea of where they stood in relation to the status quo. When doing this the criticisms of inadequate defensive armament etc don't really stand up. Performance and bombload wise all three compare well with other countries' bombers, possessing good range/load carrying capability. Defensive armament wise, again, they compare well and in the Wellington and Whitley, were the only front line heavy bombers fitted with power operated turrets by 1939 - 1940. Defensive armament in pre-war bomber designs as a whole was inadequate once the shooting started; the Luftwaffe bombers attacking the UK were found to have very poor defensive armament by comparison.

    As for night bombing, accuracy, finding the way to the target etc, apart from the Luftwaffe, there was no other bomber force in the world that could do it any better than the RAF in 1939 to 1941. The Luftwaffe was the only bomber force that had adopted radio navigation aids specifically to the needs of night bombing in terms of finding the way to the target and delivering a load with reasonable accuracy for the expectations of the time.

    To summerise, the Hampden, Whitley and Wellington rank as among the best bombers in the world in front line service in 1939 - 1940. Ultimately better designs, more sophisticated equipment etc overshadowed their achievements, but at the time they entered service and the war began, there was little better.
     
  20. OldSkeptic

    OldSkeptic Active Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2010
    Messages:
    509
    Likes Received:
    36
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Not a single one of those was even close to a Ju-88 and barely (at best) the equal of a He-111.

    The best was the Wellington, but even after many changes and re-engining, it was (at best) a good workhorse for lots of purposes ...except for bombing.
    It did far better work in Coastal Command. It's unusual structure (for the time and copied from airships) did mean that it was quite easy to make changes on it, such as adding ASV and the Leigh Light.
    Many, many useful versions through the war in all sorts of roles (not bombing though), including being the World's first AWAC in '44.

    The trouble with all those early British (and American) bombers was the fundamental strategic idea ('theology')was wrong, therefore the designs were wrong.
    The real (and well recorded) resistance to the Mosquito (which probably delayed its introduction into service for a year) came from the fact that it challenged the established RAF (and US) theology of the time.
    That is 'the bomber is king', 'the bomber will always get through', 'the bomber will destroy the enemies moral and force them to surrender' ... and all that tosh. All completely wrong.

    The Luftwaffe was far more pragmatic in those early days (later they fell victim to ideology as well, plus became victims of a creative but unbelievably incompetent manufacturing sector) and their 'weapons of war' were designed to compliment their Army, albeit with an independent and supportive role as well. Combined arms basically.
    Their theology was 'put a tank and infantry on their land and airpower is indispensable in achieving it'.

    History shows that they were right.

    Therefore, overall, they designed and built far better and appropriate equipment in the early days. Though they had some failures too in the beginning, their greatest failures came much later.

    I use the term 'theology' advisedly, because we are talking about beliefs totally unsupported (often contradicted) by facts.
    The RAF (and the USSAF) were full of it, except for Dowding. He set the (correct) doctrine "the ultimate deterence of the bomber is fear of the fighter'.

    But theological beliefs die hard, usually over the bones of other people. I, in another thread, have gone n about Portal (head of the RAF from 1941) and his unending opposition to long range fighters.
    Even as late as Oct 1943 (when the first P-51Bs were just arriving in the UK) he was fighting against the USAAF and Churchill telling them that a LR fighter was impossible.

    So the RAF had its theology and set the specifications, ordered and got rubbish planes that achieved just about nothing in those early days, by luck they got one that became useful in other areas later on.
     
Loading...

Share This Page