Improved AW Whitley

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Aside from the B-17, I do not think there was anything better at the time. But the first turbo equipped B-17B did not go ~operational until late-1939, and I do not think more than 30(?) of the B-17 of all marks through the B model were delivered before the war started, with the first large order (for the C model?) placed in mid-1940. There were 7 operational Whitley squadrons as of the start of WWII (Sept 1939), and 0(?) operational B-17 squadrons.

AW = Armstrong Whitworth
Going right back to the original question...surely the answer is why try and improve this mediocre aircraft when new four engine machines with far greater performance are scheduled to appear.

If nothing else, the Whitley could prove useful as a maritime patrol aircraft, as its range was quite good. With improved performance its range should be extended further.

Bomber Command were reluctant to release their 4 engine heavies for Coastal Command, and it would be 1942 or 1943 when they would be available in any sort of quantity that would allow them to do that role.

I exclude the Manchester of course.

Which was not a 4 engine bomber in any case.
Define good.

As has been noted in another Thread Whitley MK Vs managed to reach Warsaw from England in 1939. Their most famous raid was in the summer of 1940 when they bombed Turin Italy from England and returned. Granted they used the Channel Islands as a jump off point.

Not very many other bombers could have done that at the time.

It was a great feat of airmanship but a bit lacking as a military operation. bad weather severely affected the operation with almost 2/3s of the force of 36 planes forced to turn back due to icing when trying to cross the Alps.
surely the answer is why try and improve this mediocre aircraft when new four engine machines with far greater performance are scheduled to appear.

It's a good question, but as Snautzer stated, the Whitley airframe was responsive to upgrade and putting Merlins into Mk.IIIs powered by an unreliable engine only makes sense, improving defensive armament with the advent of power turrets etc, etc. Look at the Manchester, lots of problems even outside its engines, but put a couple of Merlins on it, shake and bake and voila! Lancaster devoid of those niggling issues that made the Manchester so unreliable.

Terrible losses included.

All with the benefit of hindsight that no one could have predicted before the war, not least in 1934 when the Whitley specification was released.

Is there any AW aircraft that was any good?

The Whitley IV and V! No, seriously, it had good performance for a pre-war bomber, armed with superior defensive armament to everything else, good range, good load-carrying capability and good performance for their weight class. Compare them with other pre-war bombers (both the Whitley IV and V scrape in as 'pre-war' service entry), and they come out with favourable results. What exactly are we comparing the Whitley to if we think it's rubbish or obsolete or so forth?
Does that cancel out the Armstrong Whitworth's next fail, the Albemarle?
Again, context, my man. The Albemarle did exactly what it was designed to do, be a fallback option if the UK ran out of strategic materials as it was made of wood. It was never supposed to compete directly with existing types and production was delayed, which meant its performance lagged even more behind contemporaries. It made a good glider tug, which the production count was the most numerous variant. So, not a great bomber, but it fulfilled the objective of the specification and it made a good glider tug, a role for which the RAF introduced it into service in January 1943.
So here's the thing. There's a lot of talk that the Whitley was not a good bomber. I disagree because my argument is what is it being compared to that makes it so? Let's look at the Whitley IV and V compared to other pre-war twin-engined bombers in service in 1939. Why 1939? well, we are looking at 1930s bombers and the Whitley went to war that year, where its faults were exposed in an operational context, so how would other pre-war bombers that didn't go to war in 1939 stack up under the same conditions? For this, we are going to look at standard yardsticks like range, ceiling, bomb load, speeds, max and cruise, and defensive armament.

I'm not going to list specifications of the various aircraft the Whitley is being compared to as I simply don't have time (I should be watching a university lecture!), so I'll be making generalised comparisons and you guys can look up the details yourselves.

The information will be presented lazily, for example, against the B-18A Bolo the premier bomber in USAAC service in 1939 the Whitley is faster in max and cruise speeds, it has a heavier bomb load and better ceiling, as well as better defensive armament, but had a shorter maximum range.

My information comes from various sources, predominantly Putnam books including Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft since 1913, German Aircraft of the Second World War, McDonnell Douglas Aircraft, Japanese Aircraft 1910-1941, also Italian Civil and Military Aircraft and Encyclopaedia of Russian Aircraft, with a few other sources thrown in.

The idea is simply to prove that in context the Whitley was actually very good at what it was designed to do compared to its contemporaries, which should really be the yardstick.

A few given parameters, for example, the majority of bombers prior to 1939 had cruise and maximum speeds within 150 to 230-250 mph, which is quite a broad spectrum, but the majority were around the middle in cruise speed to upper level of this range in maximum speed. At the 250 end, there are a few and anything capable of 250 mph and over in a bomber in the 1930s was considered very fast.

Bomb loads were around 2,000 to 4,500 lbs, some had less, a few had more.

Ceilings varied between 15,000 ft and 28-30,000 feet, which again is a broad cross-section and most averaged out in the middle to upper end.

Range varies across the board, from 500 miles to 1,500 miles, with a few with greater ranges than that.

As for defensive armament, four to six machine guns in flexible mounts seems to be an average. Bear in mind that in 1939 Britain was the only country in the world with bombers fitted with power-operated turrets as defensive armament.

so, let's begin...
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Comparing the Whitley IV and V with its contemporaries.

We begin in Europe and start with Germany and the He 111, specifically the 'E, which was the most numerous variant of the type in Luftwaffe service in 1939 and the 'P, which entered service in 1939 and from which came the standard production H model. The Whitley is slower than all versions of the He 111. It has a greater range and better ceiling than the He 111s represented here. The Whitley carries a heavier bomb load than the He 111s here and has better defensive armament. The Heinkel looks snazzier :D

Compared to the Do 17Z, the Whitley is slower and has a lower ceiling, it has a greater range and a heavier bomb load and has better defensive armament. The Do 17Z is one of those that breaches the upper end of the speed range I posted earlier.

Compared to the Ju 88A-1 (the A-4 model entered service in 1940), the Whitley is slower and has a lower ceiling. The Whitley has a bigger bomb load and longer nominal range, and better defensive armament. The Ju 88 is the fastest bomber here, but it's worth noting that the type was in service in very small numbers in 1939, around 30 or so by the end of the year. I'm not including the Ju 86 since by September 1939 the type had been relegated to a training role and the high altitude Ju 86P did not enter service until 1940.

Italy now, with the understanding that Italian bombers were not available in the same numbers as other countries' bombers, production and service numbers were not high compared to Britain and Germany. We start with the Fiat BR.20, which was faster, had a longer nominal range, but a lower maximum range and ceiling than the Whitley, it also had a smaller bomb load, less than half that of the Whitley and poorer defensive armament.

Onto the Italian racehorse the SM.79, which was faster and is one of the fastest here, along with the Ju 88. It had a lower ceiling, less than half the bomb load and shorter range than the Whitley, as well as poorer defensive armament.

Now the CANT Z.1007, which was faster and had a greater range than the Whitley, but had a lower ceiling, a smaller bomb load and poorer defensive armament, and by the end of 1939 not many had entered service.

France next, and I will turn to this site for accurate information on its aircraft compared to the likes of wiki. The sources for the information presented here are listed at the foot of each page.

Firstly, France's big bomber and one of only a few four-engined machines in service in the 1930s, the F.220 series. The Whitley was faster and had a bigger bomb load, more than twice its size, but had a lower ceiling and shorter range, but with better defensive armament, the Farman was equipped with a pitiful 3 machine guns. In 1939 only a handful were in service.

The old Amiot 143 was still in French service by 1939 and compares rather poorly to the Whitley, possessing a greater ceiling as its only redeeming feature, in fact, at around 31,000 feet it had a spectacular ceiling for this group, but don't expect operational usefulness at this height.

The Bloch MB.200 and MB.210 next, the former is sub-par to the Whitley in every respect, and the latter fares a little better, with lower speeds, bomb load, defensive armament and range, but it has an impressive ceiling of over 9,000 metres, or 32,000 feet.

Finally the Potez 540, which the page in question is missing, so over to wiki and our French ugly duckling is poor all-round compared to the Whitley with the exception of ceiling, which beats even the Bloch MB.210, at 33,000 feet.

To Poland and the neat PZL.37, which compares favourably to the Whitley with greater speeds, better nominal range but lower maximum range, lower ceiling, smaller bomb load and fewer defensive guns. The Zubr is not really worthy of comparison since it was largely relegated to training by the time Poland went to war in 1939 and there was only a small number built.

Now the Fokker T.V from the Netherlands, which has a faster maximum speed but lower cruise speed and better ceiling, but lower range, bomb load and defensive armament.

Finally, for context in Europe we turn to Britain and the Handley Page Hampden, which was faster than the Whitley, but had a lower ceiling, maximum range, bomb load and defensive armament. The Handley Page Harrow was still in service in 1939 but was no longer operational, being progressively replaced by the Wellington.

The Vickers Wellington I was faster than the Whitley, but had a lower ceiling and a lighter bomb load, but a longer maximum range. In the Wellington I, the defensive armament was the Vickers powered gun installation in the nose and tail and flexible mounts amidships, but it did not have turrets at this stage, these were introduced with the Wellington IC, which brought the type's defensive armament on a par with the Whitley.

Out of interest's sake since the Bristol Blenheim was used as a strategic bomber in the opening years of the war, the Whitley was slower and had a lower ceiling, the Blenheim being one of the fastest in this group, but the former had a longer range and a bigger bomb load and better defensive armament, although the Blenheim was the only other bomber in 1939 that was fitted with a power turret until the Wellington IC makes an appearance.

Next, we go further afield to Japan, the Soviet Union and the United States.
And the B-17s and B-24s were not available in that period.

In small numbers only. The RAF did not receive its first Fortresses until June 1941 and they were in Bomber Command, Coastal Command received its first ones, surplus Fortress Is in January 1942. The first Liberators in RAF service arrived in early 1941 but equipped Ferry Command, with the first Liberator Is going to Coastal Command in June 1941, around a handful of them. It wasn't until mid-1942 before the floodgates opened for these types in Coastal Command, so Whitleys and Wellingtons provided the backbone of the long-range land-based patrol aircraft until that time.
In small numbers only. The RAF did not receive its first Fortresses until June 1941 and they were in Bomber Command, Coastal Command received its first ones, surplus Fortress Is in January 1942.
It seems that the Germans operated more B-17s than RAF Coastal Command, Captured B-17 Bombers in World War II

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