The author has an impressive portfolio of military aviation history books to his name and this is a worthy addition to the list. Part of a series of books that feature comment from former pilots, there is a blend of interview and research material that produces a review of an aircraft with real depth. Illustration is by photo-plate sections with monochrome images. There are some familiar images, but most are rare and some have not appeared in print before. The author writes with affection for his subject and has produced an enjoyable and informative book. Not to be missed, strongly recommended.
NAME: Voices in Flight, The Wellington Bomber
AUTHOR: Martin W Bowman
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War Two, Second World War, Wellington, Wimpy, Vickers, Barns Wallace, geodetic, medium bomber, Bomber Command, Coastal Command, maritime patrol, maritime attack, radar
DESCRIPTION: The author has an impressive portfolio of military aviation history books to his name and this is a worthy addition to the list. Part of a series of books that feature comment from former pilots, there is a blend of interview and research material that produces a review of an aircraft with real depth. Illustration is by photo-plate sections with monochrome images. There are some familiar images, but most are rare and some have not appeared in print before. The author writes with affection for his subject and has produced an enjoyable and informative book. Not to be missed, strongly recommended.
When WWII broke out, the RAF was still desperately trying to re-equip with modern aircraft. Priority went to Bomber Command in the European theatre. That resulted in the obsolete aircraft being shipped to North Africa and then on to the Far East as more modern equipment became available for North Africa. Within the European theatre, next priority went to Fighter Command and if there was anything left over, to Coastal Command. Even within the European theatre much equipment was obsolescent which was partly due to the rapid development of military aircraft designs. In 1939, the hope was that the RAF could become a monoplane air force with metal aeroplanes, and real heavy bombers. However that was hope rather than realistic expectation. Fighter Command still had Gloster Gladiator biplanes with front line squadrons and the even more historic Hawker Furies that just scraped over the 200 mph barrier with open cockpits and two rifle calibre machine guns, little advance on the best 1918 vintage biplane fighters.
With the exception of the Short Stirling, that was making a slow appearance due to teething problems with some very advanced technology as the first four engine heavy bomber, Bomber Command was a twin engine medium bomber force, short on the range needed to hit targets across Germany. Bomb bays were equipped to carry the smaller ordinance and this made the 1,000 pounder iron bomb a big boy. Aircrew were grouped close together in a similar manner to their German counterparts and an equally weak defensive armament of rifle calibre machine guns, mostly single manual mounts, provided inadequate protection from enemy fighters. The one notable exception was the Vickers Wellington which looked even older because it was fabric covered. However it was an amazing and unique machine from the design board of Barnes Wallace who is perhaps best known as the designer of the bouncing bombs used on a single raid against the dams of the Ruhr, but also remembered for his design of the 5 ton and 10 ton earthquake bombs which were used to great effect on targets of high value in the second half of the war.
Barnes Wallace was an airship specialist in his early days and the idea for the structural system employed for the Wellington grew from his work to provide stronger, lighter rigid framework for large airships, such as the R100. He applied this approach to the Vickers Wellesley which was not produced in large numbers before WWII, intended as a bomber and flying over Mt Everest. It was a single engine aircraft with bomb-load contained in panniers and although at least obsolescent, if not actually obsolete, by 1939, the RAF was forced to operate a number of these machines because it was so desperately short of anything better.
The Wellington employed geodetic construction that has also been called a space frame – as some wags would have it, “a lot of frame, but not much space”. The structure was very strong and relatively light, Weight was also saved by the canvas skin. The bomb bay was unusually large and unobstructed which allowed the Wellington to carry the 4,000 pound bomb and a wide mixture of other sizes and types of ordinance. Defensive armament was also much stronger than other bomber types. The tail turret carried four machine guns and two for the nose turret, both turrets being power operated and enclosed. In addition there was provision for a single waist gun to each side, although these were often not carried. In action, the Wellington demonstrated the capacity to absorb immense damage and still make it home, where metal bombers crashed. The geodetic structure could lose an amazing number of struts without compromising the aircraft and the fabric covering could be shredded by shrapnel.
Not surprisingly, the aircraft was held in great affection by its crews and was most commonly referred to by an affectionate nickname, ‘Wimpy’.
Any aircraft that could reach Berlin, drop 4,000 pounders, and bring its crew home safely was much desired by bomber command. That was what the Wimpy delivered, but it also had another great advantage. It could be built very much faster than other designs and the record build time was 24 hours, including the check flight, before being signed over to the RAF. The intention was to follow the Wellington with the more powerful Warwick, but by the time the Warwick was ready for mass production, Bomber command was already receiving the solid Handley Page Halifax and the superlative Lancaster which were built in metal, equipped with four engines and able to carry very large bomb loads across Germany. As a result, the Wimpy became the only highly successful geodetic bomber to enter service for any country.
As the new four engine heavy bombers started to enter squadron service in large numbers, the Wellington was far from being replaced. It found new duties, notably in maritime warfare. One variant was equipped with a huge radiating loop that could be used to explode German magnetic sea mines. Many Wimpy bombers were equipped with marine search radar and sent out against German surface ships and submarines. The large bomb bay also leant itself to new and different ordinance, including torpedoes. Inevitably, Wellingtons followed the route East as Bomber Command was able to release them to service in North Africa, Italy and India. In Europe and in the Far East, the Wimpy was used as a flying truck to drop agents and supplies to resistance groups and special forces operating behind enemy lines.
The author has produced a detailed, comprehensive review of the Wimpy and its use in operations. There are some graphic descriptions of operations and this amazing and under appreciated aircraft is presented for what it was – a vital weapon system at the time of greatest need, surviving where others could not thanks to its inspired design and construction.