Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

Infobox Aircraft
name=A.W.38 Whitley
type=Night bomber
national origin=United Kingdom
manufacturer=Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft

caption=Whitley Mk.V
designer=John Lloyd
first flight=17 March 1936
introduction= 1937
retired= 1945
primary user= Royal Air Force
more users=
number built= 1,814
unit cost=
developed from = Armstrong Whitworth AW.23
variants with their own articles =
The Armstrong Whitworth A.W.38 Whitley was one of three British twin-engine, front line medium bomber types in service with the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of the Second World War. It took part in the first RAF bombing raid on German territory, Crosby 2007, p. 48–49.] and remained an integral part of the early British bomber offensive until the introduction of four-engine "heavies". Its front line service included performing maritime reconnaissance duties with Coastal Command, while also being employed in the second line roles of glider-tug, trainer and transport aircraft.

The aircraft was named after Whitley, a suburb of Coventry where one of Armstrong Whitworth's plants was located.

Design and development

The Whitley was developed by John Lloyd, the chief designer of Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft from the Armstrong Whitworth AW.23 bomber-transport to meet Air Ministry Specification B.3/34 issued in 1934 for a heavy night bomber. The Whitley carried a crew of five and was the first aircraft serving with the RAF to have a monocoque (stressed skin) fuselage, which resulted in a slab-sided structure and eased production. As Lloyd was unfamiliar with the use of flaps on a large heavy monoplane, they were initially omitted. To compensate, the mid-set wings were set at a high angle of incidence (8.5 deg) to confer good takeoff and landing performance. Although flaps were included late in the design stage, the wing remained unaltered. As a result, the Whitley flew with a pronounced nose-down attitude,Gunston, Bill. "Classic World War II Aircraft Cutaways". London: Osprey, 1995. ISBN 1-85532-526-8] resulting in considerable drag. This "nose down" attitude was first seen in the design of the Armstrong Whitworth Ensign pre-war airliner.

The first prototype Whitley Mk.I ("K4586") flew from Baginton airfield on 17 March 1936, piloted by Armstrong Whitworth's chief test pilot Campbell Orde and was powered by two convert|795|hp|kW Armstrong Siddeley Tiger IX radial engines.Mason, Francis K. "The British Bomber since 1914". London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1994. ISBN 0-85177-861-5] Owing to the urgent need to replace biplane heavy bombers still in service with the RAF, an order for 160 aircraft had been placed in 1935, before the Whitley had first flown. After the first 34 aircraft had been built, the engines were replaced with more reliable two-stage supercharged Tiger VIIIs, resulting in the Whitley Mk.II. The addition of a retractable two-gun ventral "dustbin" turret resulted in the Whitley Mk.III.

While the Tiger VIIIs used in the Whitley II and III were more reliable than those used in early aircraft, the Whitley was re-engined with Rolls Royce Merlin engines in 1938 giving rise to the Whitley Mk.IV.

Early marks of the Whitley had bomb bay doors that were kept closed by bungee cords, and opened by the weight of the released bombs falling on them. The Mk.III introduced hydraulically actuated doors which greatly improved bombing accuracy. To aim bombs, the bombardier opened a hatch in the nose of the aircraft which extended the bombsight out of the fuselage, but to everyone's comfort, the Mk.IV replaced this hatch with a slightly extended transparency.

Operational history

The Whitley first entered service with No. 10 Squadron in March 1937, replacing Handley Page Heyford biplanes, and by the outbreak of the Second World War, seven squadrons were operational with the Whitley. The majority were flying Whitley IIIs or IVs as the Whitley V had only just been introduced.Thetford, Owen. "Aircraft of the Royal Aircraft 1918-57". London: Putnam & Co., 1957.]

Along with the Handley Page Hampden and the Vickers Wellington, Whitleys bore the brunt of the early fighting, and saw action on the first night of the war when they dropped leaflets over Germany. Green and Swanborough "Air Enthusiast" 1979, p.22.] Amongst the many aircrew who flew the Whitley in operations over Germany was the later to be famous Leonard Cheshire who spent most of his first three years at war flying Whitleys. However, unlike the Hampden and Wellington – which met specification B.9/32 for a day bomber – the Whitley was always intended for night operations, and so did not share the early heavy losses received in attempted daylight raids on German shipping early in the war. Along with Hampdens, the Whitley made the first bombing raid on German soil on the night of 19/20 March 1940, attacking the Hornum seaplane base on the Island of Sylt. Whitleys also carried out the first RAF raid on Italy in 11/12 June 1940.

As the oldest of the three bombers, the Whitley was obsolete by the start of the war, yet over 1,000 more were produced before a suitable replacement was found. A particular problem with the twin-engined aircraft was that it could not maintain altitude on one engine. With Bomber Command, Whitleys flew 8,996 operations, dropped 9,845 tons of bombs with 269 aircraft lost in action. The Whitley was retired from all front line service in late 1942 but it continued to operate as a transport for troops and freight, as well as for paratroop training and towing gliders. No. 100 Group RAF used Whitleys to carry airborne radar and electronic counter-measures. The British Overseas Airways Corporation operated 15 Whitley Mk Vs converted into freighters in 1942. Running night supply flights from Gibraltar to Malta, they took seven hours to reach the island, often landing during air attacks. They used large quantities of fuel for a small payload and were replaced in August 1942 by the Lockheed Hudson, Jackson, A.J. "British Civil Aircraft since 1919 (Volume 1)". London: Putnam, 1973. ISBN 0-370-10006-9.] with the 14 surviving examples being returned to the Royal Air Force.

The long-range Coastal Command Mk VII variants were among the last to see front line service, with the first kill attributed to them being the sinking of the German U-boat U-751, on 17 July 1942 in combination with a Lancaster heavy bomber. [ [ U-206] ] [ [ U-751] , ] Having evaluated the Whitley in 1942, the Fleet Air Arm operated a number of modified ex-RAF Mk VIIs from 1944–46 to train aircrew in Merlin engine management and fuel transfer procedures.


Following the two prototypes ("K4586" and "K4587"), at the outbreak of the war the RAF had 207 Whitleys in service ranging from Mk I to Mk IV types, with improved versions following:

;Mk.I:Powered by convert|795|hp|kW Armstrong Siddeley Tiger IX air-cooled radial engines: 34 built

;Mk.II:Powered by convert|920|hp|kW two-stage supercharged Tiger VIII engines: 46 built

;Mk.III:Powered by Tiger VIII engines, retractable "dustbin" ventral turret fitted aft of the wing root armed with two .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns, hydraulically operated bomb bay doors and ability to carry larger bombs: 80 built

;Mk.IV:Powered by convert|1030|hp|kW Rolls Royce Merlin IV inline liquid-cooled engines, increased fuel capacity, extended bomb-aimer's transparency, produced from 1938: 33 built

;Mk.IVA:Powered by convert|1145|hp|kW Merlin X engines: 7 built

;Mk.V:The main wartime production version based on the Mk IV, modified fins, leading edge de-icing, manually operated tail and retractable ventral turrets replaced with a Nash & Thompson powered turret equipped with four .303 in (7.7 mm) Browining machine guns, tail fuselage extended by 15 in (381 mm) to improve the field of fire. First flew in December 1938, production ceased in June 1943: 1,466 built

;Mk.VI:Proposed Pratt & Whitney- or Merlin XX-powered version: none built

;Mk.VII:Designed for service with Coastal Command and carried a sixth crew member, capable of longer-range flights [2,300 miles (3,700 km) compared to the early version's 1,250 miles (2,011 km)] having additional fuel tanks fitted in the bomb bay and fuselage, equipped with Air to Surface Vessel (ASV) radar for anti-shipping patrols with an additional four dorsal radar masts and other antennae: 146 built


Military operators

*Royal Air Force
**No. 7 Squadron RAF between March 1938 and May 1939.
**No. 10 Squadron RAF between March 1937 and December 1941.
**No. 51 Squadron RAF between February 1938 and October 1942.
**No. 53 Squadron RAF between February 1943 and May 1943.
**No. 58 Squadron RAF between October 1937 and January 1943.
**No. 76 Squadron RAF
**No. 77 Squadron RAF between November 1938 and October 1942.
**No. 78 Squadron RAF between July 1937 and March 1942.
**No. 97 Squadron RAF between February 1939 and May 1940.
**No. 102 Squadron RAF between October 1938 and February 1942.
**No. 105 Squadron RAF
**No. 109 Squadron RAF operated only one aircraft (P5047).
**No. 138 Squadron RAF between August 1941 and October 1942.
**No. 161 Squadron RAF between February 1942 and December 1942.
**No. 166 Squadron RAF between July 1938 and April 1940.
**No. 201 Squadron RAF
**No. 295 Squadron RAF between August 1942 and November 1943.
**No. 296 Squadron RAF between June 1943 and March 1943.
**No. 297 Squadron RAF between February 1942 and February 1944.
**No. 298 Squadron RAF between August 1942 and October 1942.
**No. 502 Squadron RAF between October 1940 and February 1943.
**No. 612 Squadron RAF between November 1940 and June 1943.
** No. 1478 Flight RAF

*Fleet Air Arm
**No. 734 Naval Air Squadron operated Whitleys between February 1944 and February 1946.

Civil Operators

*British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC)


Of the 1,737 Whitleys produced, there are no surviving complete aircraft in existence; however, The Whitley Project are rebuilding an example from salvaged remains and a fuselage section is displayed at the Midland Air Museum (MAM) whose site is located adjacent to the airfield from where the Whitley's maiden flight took place.

Specifications (Whitley Mk.V)

aircraft specifications
plane or copter?=plane
jet or prop?=prop
ref=Fact|date=February 2008
length main=70 ft 6 in
length alt=21.49 m
span main=84 ft
span alt=25.60 m
height main=15 ft
height alt=4.57 m
area main=1,137 ft²
area alt=106 m²
empty weight main=19,300 lb
empty weight alt=8,768 kg
loaded weight main=
loaded weight alt=
max takeoff weight main=33,500 lb
max takeoff weight alt=15,196 kg

engine (prop)=Rolls-Royce Merlin X
type of prop=liquid-cooled V12 engine
number of props=2
power main=1,145 hp
power alt=855 kW

max speed main=200 knots
max speed alt=230 mph, 370 km/h
max speed more=at 16,400 ft (5,000 m)
combat radius main=1,430 nm
combat radius alt=1,650 mi, 2,650 km
ferry range main=2,100 nm
ferry range alt=2,400 mi, 3,900 km
ceiling main=26,000 ft
ceiling alt=7,900 m
climb rate main=800 ft/min
climb rate alt=4.1 m/s
max loading main=29.5 lb/ft²
max loading alt=143 kg/m²
max power/mass main=0.684 hp/lb
max power/mass alt=112 W/kg


** 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 (110 kg) "and"
** 2× 500 lb (230 kg) bombs
** Bombs as heavy as 2,000 lb (907 kg) could be carried

ee also



similar aircraft=
* Handley Page Hampden
* Vickers Wellington
*Handley Page H.P.54 Harrow

* List of aircraft of the RAF




* Cheshire, Leonard. "Leonard Cheshire V.C. Bomber Pilot". St. Albans, Herts, UK: Mayflower, 1975 (reprint of 1943 edition). ISBN 0-583-12541-7.
* Crosby, Francis. "The World Encyclopedia of Bombers". London: Anness Publishing Ltd., 2007. ISBN 1-84477-511-9.
* Donald, David and Lake, Jon. "Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft". London: AIRtime Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-880588-24-2.
* Green, William. "Famous Bombers of the Second World War". London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1959, (third revised edition 1975). ISBN 0-356-08333-0.
* Green, William and Swanborough, Gordon. "Armstrong Whitworth's Willing Whitley" "Air Enthusiast". No. 9, February-May 1979. Bromley, Kent, UK. pp.10—25.
* Green, William and Swanborough, Gordon. "WW2 Aircraft Fact Files: RAF Bombers, Part 1". London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1979. ISBN 0-354-01230-4.
* Moyes, Philip J.R. "The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley". London: Profile Publications Ltd., 1967.
* Moyes, Philip J.R. "Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and Their Aircraft". London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1964, revised edition 1976. ISBN 0-354-01027-1.
* Roberts, R.N. "The Whitley File". Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1986.
* Wixey, Ken. "Armstrong Whitworth Whitley" (Warpaint Series No. 21). Denbigh East, Bletchley, UK: Hall Park Books Ltd., 1999. ISBN 0-99990-021-7.

External links

* [ Whitley Bomber Crews and Their Experiences]
* [ Norwegian article about the Whitley bomber]

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