The Armstrong Whitworth A.W.38 Whitley was one of three British twin-engined, front line medium bomber types that were in service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) at the outbreak of the Second World War.
Alongside the Vickers Wellington and the Handley Page Hampden, the Whitley was developed during the mid-1930s according to Air Ministry Specification B.3/34, which it was subsequently selected to meet.
In 1937, the Whitley formally entered into RAF squadron service; it was the first of the three medium bombers to be introduced.
Following the outbreak of war in September 1939, the Whitley participated in the first RAF bombing raid upon German territory and remained an integral part of the early British bomber offensive.
In 1942 it was superseded as a bomber by the larger four-engined “heavies” such as the Avro Lancaster.
Its front line service included maritime reconnaissance with Coastal Command and the second line roles of glider-tug, trainer and transport aircraft.
The type was also procured by British Overseas Airways Corporation as a civilian freighter aircraft.
The aircraft was named after Whitley, a suburb of Coventry, home of one of Armstrong Whitworth’s plants.
At the start of the war, No. 4 Group, equipped with the Whitley, was the only trained night bomber force in the world.
Alongside the Handley Page Hampden and the Vickers Wellington, the Whitley bore the brunt of the early fighting and saw action during the first night of the war, when they dropped propaganda leaflets over Germany.
The propaganda flight made the Whitley the first aircraft of RAF Bomber Command to penetrate into Germany.
Further propaganda flights would travel as far as Berlin, Prague, and Warsaw.
On the night of 19/20 March 1940, in conjunction with multiple Hampdens, the Whitley conducted the first bombing raid on German soil, attacking the Hörnum seaplane base on the Island of Sylt.
Following the Hörnum raid, Whitleys routinely patrolled the Frisian Islands, targeting shipping and seaplane activity.
On the night of 11/12 June 1940, the Whitley carried out Operation Haddock, the first RAF bombing raid on Italy, only a few hours after Italy’s declaration of war, the Whitley’s bombed Turin and Genoa, reaching Northern Italy via a refuelling stop in the Channel Islands.
Many leading World War II bomber pilots of the RAF flew Whitleys at some point in their career, including Don Bennett, James Brian Tait, and Leonard Cheshire.
Unlike the Hampden and Wellington, which had met Specification B.9/32 for a day bomber, the Whitley was always intended for night operations alone and thus escaped the early heavy losses received during daylight raids carried out upon German shipping.
As the oldest of the three bombers, the Whitley was effectively obsolete by the start of the war, yet over 1,000 more aircraft were produced before a suitable replacement was found.
A particular problem with the radar-equipped Mk VII, with the addition of the drag-producing aerials, was that it could not maintain altitude on one engine.
Whitleys flew a total of 8,996 operations with Bomber Command, dropped 9,845 tons (8,931 tonnes) of bombs, and 269 aircraft were lost in action.
On the night of 29/30 April 1942 No. 58 Squadron flying Whitleys bombed the Port of Ostend in Belgium. This was the last operational mission by a Whitley equipped bomber squadron.
In late 1942, the Whitley was retired from service as a frontline aircraft for bomber squadrons and was shifted to other roles.
The type continued to operate delivering supplies and agents in the Special Duties squadrons until December 1942, as well as serving as a transport for troops and freight, a carrier for paratroopers and a tow aircraft for gliders.
In 1940, the Whitley had been selected as the standard paratrooper transport, in this role, the ventral turret aperture was commonly modified to be used for the egress of paratroopers.
No. 100 Group RAF used Whitleys as an airborne platform to carry airborne radar and electronic counter-measures.
In February 1942, Whitleys were used to carry the paratroopers who participated in the Bruneval raid, code named Operation Biting, in which German radar technology was captured from a German base on the coast of France.
Long-range Coastal Command Mk VII variants, were among the last Whitleys remaining in front-line service, remaining in service until early 1943.
The first U-boat kill attributed to the Whitley Mk VII was the sinking of the German submarine U-751 on 17 July 1942, which was achieved in combination with a Lancaster heavy bomber.
Having evaluated the Whitley in 1942, the Fleet Air Arm operated a number of modified ex-RAF Mk VIIs from 1944 to 1946, to train aircrew in Merlin engine management and fuel transfer procedures.
Length: 70 ft 6 in (21.49 m)
Wingspan: 84 ft 0 in (25.60 m)
Height: 15 ft 0 in (4.57 m)
Wing area: 1,137 sq ft (105.6 m2)
Empty weight: 19,300 lb (8,754 kg)
Max take off weight: 33,500 lb (15,195 kg)
Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Merlin X liquid-cooled V12 engines, 1,145 hp (854 kW) each
Maximum speed: 230 mph (370 km/h, 200 kn) at 16,400 ft (5,000 m)
Range: 1,650 mi (2,660 km, 1,430 nmi)
Ferry range: 2,400 mi (3,900 km, 2,100 nmi)
Service ceiling: 26,000 ft (7,900 m)
Rate of climb: 800 ft/min (4.1 m/s)
1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K machine gun in nose turret
4 × .303 in Browning machine guns in tail turret
Bombs: Up to 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) of bombs in the fuselage and 14 individual cells in the wings, typically including
12 × 250 lb (113 kg) and
2 × 500 lb (227 kg) bombs
Bombs as heavy as 2,000 lb (907 kg) could be carried