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Rocket Rails on Bristol Beaufighter

Rocket Rails on Bristol Beaufighter

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Bristol Beaufighter, Jerry Scutts (Crowood Aviation). A detailed look at the development and service career of the Bristol Beaufighter, the first dedicated night fighter to enter RAF Service. Superceded by the Mosquito in that role, the Beaufighter went on to serve as a deadly anti-shipping weapon, and to earn the nickname "whispering death" over the jungles of Burma.

1/48 Scale DAP Mk 21 Beaufighter A8-20, 31 Squadron RAAF

Model DAP Beaufighter Mk21 depicting aircraft A8-20 of No.31 Squadron RAAF. The model is painted overall foliage green with black propellers and yellow propeller tips. Each side of the rear fuselage has Squadron code 'EH-M' and aircraft serial number A8-20. There are three pairs of standard RAAF Pacifc war roundels on the upper and lower wings and fuselage sides. The nose of the aircraft has the hand painted face of a tiger. A pilot and navigator figure are inside the model in their respective crew positions. The model is fitted with four rockets and rocket rails under each wing.

The DAP Beaufighter Mark 21 was an Australian made version of the successful British designed and made Bristol Beaufighter attack aircraft. The aircraft depicted in this model is A9-20, which bore the codes EH-M and served with No.31 Squadron RAAF from 9 October 1944 until 18 February 1945, when it was written off after a crash landing. The base kit of this model is a 1/48 scale Tamiya Beaufighter MkVI kit.

Ten-gun Terror The Bristol Beaufighter

I became aware of the Bristol Beaufighter because of the story I wrote on Sgt Francis Joseph Tearle, whose name I found on the Battle of Britain memorial outside Westminster tube station in London. As a post-WW2 child I grew up on stories of Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mosquitoes and Wellington bombers, but until this year (2016) I had never once heard the name Beaufighter. During my research for this article, and in my travels on the trail of Sgt FJ Tearle, who flew the plane in Malta, I have developed an affection for this beautiful, destructive and highly dangerous airborne weapon. My source for all things technical is Jerry Scutt’s Bristol Beaufighter and in the introduction he says “To many eyes the aircraft deserved the accolade ‘If it looks right, it is right’. The Beaufighter, designed solely for combat, had a deadly beauty.” (JS, Introduction)

Note: If you do not have a sailing or flying background, then it might be confusing when I use the words port or starboard to refer to one side or the other of an aeroplane or ship. Here is the way to fix it in your mind. When you are at the controls, facing the way the vessel is going – port is left, which is red.

Dennis Gosling DFC, in his book Night Fighter Navigator said � Squadron was equipped with the new sensational Beaufighter … twice the size of a Blenheim with massive 1,600hp Hercules radial engines and it weighed over ten tons…. Its top speed enabled it to catch any German aircraft of the time, without diving…. fast, aggressive, powerful, awesome, brutal…” (DG p48/49).

And further described his delight at being posted to a Beaufighter squadron “… I was going to be entrusted with the latest, fastest, most heavily armed twin-seat, twin engined fighter, not only in the RAF, but in the world!” (DG p50)

The list of countries which owned and flew Beaufighters is quite impressive:
Australia (which built them as DAP Beaufighters)
America (it was said they had “joined the Stars and Bars”)
Dominican Republic
They flew in the skies of Britain for 20 years, until 1960. (JS, blurb) The engines were always made by Bristol and shipped to the assembly factories.

To give an idea as to how radical this design was, compare it to a modern airliner such as the Beech 1900D, a regional passenger plane in Nepal, New Zealand and Australia, as well as a freight and personnel carrier for the US military, manufactured in America. It was being built 40 years after the Beaufighter was withdrawn from service. The wingspan is identical at 17.63m (57ft 11in) but the fuselage is longer (17.63m). It is a twin turbo-prop with a maximum speed of 313mph and carries 19 passengers, to a ceiling of 25,000ft. The maximum take-off weight for a B1900D is 7,500kg, but for the Beaufighter it was 9,500kg, with a maximum speed of 330mph (450mph in a dive) to a ceiling of 30,000ft. The world of twin-engine propeller-driven aviation had gone backwards in 40 years.

Of all the aeroplanes ever built, the Beaufighter was produced in great numbers, 5500 of them, with engine production in excess of 57,000, and yet not one is flight-capable anywhere in the world today. I found that the main reason is because the Bristol Hercules engine that powered them are very difficult to find, and while other Bristol radial engines were used in, for instance, the post-war Bristol Freighter (a very common, and very large aeroplane, lumbering across the skies when I was young) they do not fit on the Beaufighter wing. This short blog on the progress towards that goal, points to a possible solution. Having opened the blog, scroll down a little to get to the Beaufighter article.

While we are discussing the engine, watch this video of a Bristol Hercules engine being test run. Maximum revs are only 2,900rpm, but look at the way it disperses the crowd behind the operator. It blows up a fierce storm. As you can see, the Hercules is a 14-cylinder radial engine, with an inner ring of seven cylinders matched with an equal number of outer cylinders, and once it warms up, it becomes surprisingly quiet. Here is a graphic of how it works. The early engines in development Beaufighters were the under-powered MkII (1100hp) and MkIII Hercules at 1400hp but good enough to give a flavour of how the plane would fly. (JS p9) The first production Beaufighters had to work with the MkIII engine, and the plane was delivered to 600 (City of London) Squadron at Tangmere on 12 August 1940. (JS p18) The Beaufighter was too late for the Battle of Britain but performed well during the London Blitz, operating as a night fighter, hunting bombers.

The Bristol Beaufighter was descended from the Bristol Blenheim, which was itself the fastest fighter-bomber in the world before 1940. Production started in 1937 (JS p8). A variant, heavier bomber, the Beaufort, was the Blenheim’s immediate descendant, but the Beaufort was never going to be a fighter given its relatively slow speed and high weight when fully laden. Production started in 1939 (JS p8). Bristol designers used the Beaufort frame, particularly the entire area behind the wings, and redesigned the wings and forward fuselage to allow a crew of two, the radar, and to accommodate the heavy 20mm Hispano cannon (all four of them) and their ammunition. (JS p9) The design also enabled the factories to re-use the jigs and tools already in use. This meant that Beaufighters could be produced quickly, and there was no need to develop new parts or processes in many areas of the continuing development of the aircraft.

The Beaufighter was second in speed only to the Mosquito, and then by just 30mph, and that in turn came about in the last two years of the war. But the Beaufighter was never retired from the fray. With its four cannons and six Browning .303″ machine guns, four on the starboard wing and two on the port wing, it was sometimes known as the “Ten-gun Terror”, and at other times “Whispering Death.” When the Australians started making the plane, they used .5″ Browning machine guns – to devastating effect. They scorned rifle-calibre weapons in aircraft.

The last flying Bristol Blenheim at home in Duxford.

We went to Duxford to see if we could find a Blenheim, and there was one sitting near the fence waiting for a chance to stretch its wings. In flight it was very quiet, especially in comparison with its fighter escorts.

Blenheim and fighter escort over Duxford 2016.

The type suffered badly during the Battle of France because even the Mk V (the latest version) had a Bristol Mercury engine with only 950hp. It was much too slow to be seen by German fighters in daytime and they were punished brutally. The hugely depleted Blenheim squadrons were withdrawn to Britain, to be used as night fighters and bombers. We chanced our luck to see if Duxford also had a Beaufighter, and a chap in grey overalls carrying some rather battered lengths of crumpled aluminium said there were bits of one in Hanger 2. And there was it was labelled “a long term project” to turn an Australian Air Force Bristol Beaufighter back into a flying machine. A young Kiwi called Lawrence escorted us around the project.

Bristol Beaufighter at Duxford – the engine was a 14-cylinder radial motor.

Cannon bay and undercarriage.

Nacelles for the 20mm Hispano MkIII cannon. Two were tucked into the bay on each side.

A quick look inside the cockpit – there is a lot more instrumentation and control equipment to be fitted yet.

Elaine and I visited the Beaufighter at the National Museum of Flight in East Fortune, Scotland. The plane was in very basic condition but did give us lots of clues into the construction of the parts.

Above: Fuselage section. Below: end of wing cross-section.

Above: Probably the engine mounting. Below: Main part of the wing, the dihedral tail wing can be seen attached to the fuselage.

And then, on the last weekend before the exhibit was closed until 2018, we inspected the Beaufighter in the Historic Hangers of the RAF Museum, Hendon. The first photo of the exhibit heads this article.

Bristol Hercules XVIII engine for the Beaufighter.

This is the black object under the port wing in the first photo of this article. You can see clearly in the photo above the two rings of cylinders. Below is the information board that accompanies the exhibit:

It might be worth noting that to the Coastal Command Beaufighter pilots, who were renowned for their bravery, low altitude (as in “low altitude work”, above) was called “dot feet.” Meaning sea level. The plane would be carrying a torpedo, and to stay under the radar and release a torpedo that would enter the water about 200m from the ship, the plane would fly literally at wave-top level. On dropping the torpedo, the Beau would open up with its cannons and machine guns on the ship – especially the bridge – targeting anti-aircraft guns and key decision-makers. Other Beaufighters in the attack would be firing rockets and possibly dropping two 113kg bombs in addition. They did not carry the torpedo with bombs, nor with rockets. The flight characteristics of each different type of weapon was quite different. The amount of venom the Beaufighter had was truly incredible.

There were two early marks of the Beaufighter – the Mk1F, denoting a fighter, and the Mk1C, which went to Coastal Command. The particular machine that is on display at Hendon is a TF.X, meaning it could carry a torpedo, or rockets and bombs – in addition to the cannons and six machine guns.

In the view above you can clearly see the 12 degrees of dihedral for the tail fins. This was an attempt – which had some effect – to prevent a savage yaw to starboard as the plane became airborne. Pilots were advised to keep the wheels on the ground until it reached in excess of 150mph, and to ensure that both engines had the same revs at take-off. (SC p15 & 17) You can also see the navigator/observer’s perspex bubble. You should note that it looks backwards.

Gosling says: “Although I had a marvelous view astern and to the sides, I had no view forwards, and obviously a navigator wants to see where he was going – not where he has just been! With practice I adapted to this back-to-front navigating, but it was never easy.” (GS p50)

The proboscis protruding above the engine is the air filter to the carburetors. The front wheels were fully retracted in flight, with fairings over them to reduce drag, however, the rear wheel when retracted still protruded a little and did not have a fairing.

Beaufighter TF.X at Hendon.

This view of the port side of the Beaufighter at Hendon tells us quite a lot. Firstly, you can see its size in comparison with the visitors nearby. One blade of the propeller is almost as long as an adult is tall. Secondly, you can see that the nose is tucked well inside the swing of the propellers, but it was still big enough to accommodate the bulky WW2 radar equipment. The little white drop-down object under the wing, close to the nearside edge of the photograph, is the pitot tube to tell the pilot how fast he is flying relative to the wind speed. You can also see the port wing landing light, and along from that on the leading edge of the wing are the holes of the blast tubes that contain the two machine guns. There are another four on the starboard wing. Along a little from the machine guns is the “bullet housing” for the oil cooler. Now, a little subtly, there are four small black marks on the underside of the wing on the same white streak as that occupied by the machine guns. These are mounting points for the rails that would have held the rockets, had she not been prepared for a torpedo mission. They are not in sight, and neither are the rockets in this view, but each rocket was covered by a blast shield to protect the wing when fired, and on many pictures of Beaufighters in flight, you can see the rockets protruding from the underside of the wings. Four on each side.

In one configuration it could carry rockets and bombs, or torpedoes and might operate with a crew of three, but in its usual configuration as a heavy fighter, it would have a crew of just two. The observer/gunner, so-called to disguise the highly secret radar the aeroplane was using, was actually the navigator and in our case he was Sgt FJ Tearle. The navigator would guide the pilot to a place about 300 yards behind and 100 yards below his target and after confirming the type of aircraft as a bandit, the pilot would give it just a 2-second blast of cannon and machine guns. The enemy plane would fall out of the sky. The cannons, machine guns and rockets were just as effective against E-Boats, U-boats and ships off the coast of Malta, as they were in Egypt destroying Rommel’s tanks and in the South Pacific harassing Japanese truck convoys and ground-straffing aerodromes and troop encampments. After the conversion of many Beaufighter squadrons to Mosquitoes, late in the war, the remaining Beaufighters were used by RAF Coastal Command to weaken and destroy enemy convoys in the North Sea.

Make no mistake, this is a thoroughbred fighter.

View over the starboard wing.

There are a few things worth noting in the photo above:

  • you can just see the 3 degrees of dihedral in the wing, outside of the motor
  • you can see the fairing that closes over the front wheels when they are retracted
  • the rocket is held in place by one of its fins. The rails to which it and its three companions would have been tethered are not here, but they were heavily protected to avoid damage to the wing
  • the four blast tubes for the machine guns can be seen on the leading edge of the wing there was not enough room on the port wing between the oil cooler housing and the landing light for four machine guns
  • the crocodile skin pattern of the exhaust pipe tail is to help prevent flare when the plane slows down in preparation for firing at a bandit. You can understand that at night, if your engines made a significant splash of colour, that would alert the pilot of the enemy plane and he would immediately take evasive action. In seconds he would be lost in the night.
  • there is a bullet housing on the leading edge of this wing, too – for oil cooling. There are some photos here of details and interior views of this magnificent plane.

The Beaufighter Mark II

We can spend a moment on the Mk II. There was some worry at Whitehall that Bristol might not be able to maintain the production of their Hercules engines, so Rolls Royce was asked to supply Merlin engines to the Beaufighter production line, and Bristol agreed to try to make the mark work. The plane looks nose-heavy because the engines are fitted to the wing from their rear, and project well forward of the nose. In flight, the engines, Merlin Mk XX at 1280hp, were not powerful enough for the size, weight and required airspeed (they could fly only 301mph) of the planes to which they were fitted. The project had some Mk II production planes delivered to 600 Squadron in April 1941, but they were replaced by Beaufighter Mk VI with Hercules engines in May 1942. This was about the time when Mk II production finished. The Navy liked them because they had Merlin engines so Naval engineers did not have to get used to a new technology, but in the end few of the Merlin Beaufighters saw active service, and it was Merlin engines that suffered production shortages. All the Merlin Beaus – Mk II, Mk III, Mk IV and Mk V – none of which looked like a Beaufighter, and were difficult to fly, with an even more alarming starboard yaw on take-off – ceased production. The last word goes to an RAF accident inspector: “Every effort should be made to re-equip Beaufighter squadrons with Mk V1s. Hercules engines are more reliable.” (JS pp24-35)

My brother Graeme and I went to the Shuttleworth Collection at the Old Warden aerodrome, and we found this:

Hispano cannon and Browning machine gun, Shuttleworth Collection.

The round object, like an electric motor on top of the cannon, is the belt feed mechanism that loaded shells into the breach.

Hispano 20mm cannon muzzle.

The photo above is just to keep you awake at night… It is a mighty weapon.

Comparative bullet and shell sizes

This picture shows the different types of shell that could be loaded into the Hispano cannon belt – all the same type, or a mixture – depending on the target the plane was hunting. Two cannon were fitted into each of the bays I pointed out in the Duxford Beau, above, and the area around the bays had to be greatly reinforced, with the barrels contained in heavy-duty blast tubes. The pilot alone controlled the firing of the plane’s armament, and during night patrols relied wholly on the navigator putting him in the right place and at the right speed to launch an attack. You can see how comparatively small the .303″ Browning machine gun is. It was developed for ground-based battlefield conditions against approaching soldiers it seems a very small bullet to be using to attempt to bring down an aeroplane.

There is a moot point we could discuss at this moment how does a ten-ton monster get such a turn of speed? My flight instructor, Malcolm Campbell of the Eagle Flying Academy, while we sat in a little Piper Cherokee and waited for take-off clearance from the tower, summed it up like this. “What do you think keeps this plane up in the air?” he asked me.

“The wings,” I said. “Air flows over them and because the wind over the top of the wing has to go further than the wind under the wing, that causes lift, and we can fly.”

“Not bad,” he said, nodding at my 5th-form science. “But consider the rocket, it has no wings. What makes it fly is the rocket engine. There are unbelievable amounts of energy and power released when the motor is turned on. Without power, the rocket is a large metal cylinder, going nowhere. So what keeps us up in the air?”

His foot tapped on the firewall that curled up from the floor to the windscreen in front of us. “This motor it generates power, and up we go. If it had enough power, a brick could fly.”

“Foxtrot Papa, you are cleared for takeoff,” said the voice in my headphones.

“Push the throttle all the way forward and hold the plane on the ground until you have reached 80mph,” said Malcolm, “then gently, very gently, ease the control stick towards you and the plane will rise. Let the motor do all the work. Once the plane is rising, hold the nose at that attitude and wait while the airspeed increases until it is over 110mph, then you can let it rise as it wants to, until we get to 5000ft.”

He looked out the window as the aerodrome retreated below us and the Rukuhia countryside unfolded its rural splendour in a glorious summer panorama of green paddocks dotted with houses and milking sheds, and ribbons of black roads winding through undulating hills framing the sparkling blue waters of the mighty Waikato River. “Without the power of this motor, you’d still be on the ground.”

Those nicknames

“Ten-gun Terror”
I can live with this name because it was so obviously dreamed up by a focus group in the War Office and thereafter used extensively in propaganda. It has such a nice alliteration, it rolls off the tongue so sweetly, it makes the aeroplane sound really tough, and it is a simple description of the Beaufighter’s most important asset. WW2 movie-goers would have thrilled at the name when they watched newsreels of this plane swooping down with all guns blazing.

“Whispering Death”
I wondered about the origin of this name when I first heard it in one of the newsreels. “The Japanese call it the Whispering Death!” bellows the commentator, but it sounds like propaganda, and it seems unlikely that the Japanese would have thought up the phrase, and then handed it to the War Office to use against them.
Dennis Gosling mentions it:
“… the Beau was almost noiseless when making a ground attack and it later became known as the “Whispering Death” for by the time the sound reached you the plane had already gone.” (DS, p64)

However, Jerry Scutts has the definitive version:
“It was actually British pilots who dreamed up the enduring name for the Beaufighter, after a Mess party where someone with fake newspaper headlines in mind christened it Whispering Death.” He goes on to describe the attack of a single Beaufighter on a Japanese parade ground in Burma celebrating the emperor’s birthday on 29 April 1943. The Japanese had not heard the low approach of the Beaufighter, which, as it overflew the parade killed a number of troops, frightened the horses and split the flagpole, symbolically bringing down the Rising Sun. “The most dramatic and enduring nickname has been associated with the Beaufighter ever since.” (JS, p136)

There is a lot to be said about Malta and the Siege of Malta, and I intend to do so in another post. Suffice it to say that all these stories came to notice because of Sgt FJ Tearle. Here he is with 89 Squadron in the burning sands of Abu Sueir, and he looks at the noticeboard in the Sergeants Mess. Dennis Gosling has the list:
󈭉 Squadron crews posted to 1435 Flight Detachment Malta
Flight Lt Hayton and PO Josling
PO Daniel and Sgt Gosling
PO Oakes and Sgt Walsh
Sgt Miller and Sgt Tearle.
…. no matter that we were on our way to the most bombed place on Earth, this was the adventure we had craved.” They flew four Beaufighter aircraft to Malta and landed at Takali, “a grass airstrip without any night flying facilities.” (DG, pp74-75)
He calls them “Eight little Night Fighter Boys of Malta Night Fighter Unit No. 1435.” (DG p77).

The conditions on Malta were very serious. They were in the middle of a siege with the Germans and the Italians bombing Malta constantly, with little food because the convoys seldom made it to Malta, and what they had becoming scarcer with every passing day. These four Beaufighters were the night defenders. The Beau crews cycled from Valletta to Takali where their planes were, and they were sent up in pairs to patrol the night sky. If the control tower, using very early and primitive radar (called AI for “Aircraft Interception”) sees “trade” as it was called, they would “vector” (assist) the nearest Beau onto the object. Once the navigator (Tearle, in this instance) had seen the unknown aircraft, he would inch the Beaufighter below the intruder so they could see it against the night sky and he and the pilot would check for signs that it was friendly, or a “bandit”. Friendly planes should have a light of the correct colour for any particular day, and they would also check the outline to see if they could recognise it as a known aircraft type. If it was definitely one of the enemy, the Beaufighter was allowed to attack. “Dusty” Miller and Sgt Tearle notched up 1435 Flight’s first kill on 8 March 1942, by downing a Ju 88 and damaging an He 111, which was not destroyed because the gun jammed. (DG, p78)

There was an ongoing problem with the gun jamming (more accurately, the cannon) and reasons for it doing so are many. It was a serious matter, because neither the pilot nor the navigator could re-arm the gun in flight. The Hispano was not, in its own right, an unreliable gun, since it was widely used in many military situations, but Gosling would test-fire the cannon of 1435’s Beaus each time there was a new shipment, because he thought there were good batches and poor batches. As a result, it would appear, gun jammings were reduced in number.

Once the Siege of Malta was over, other squadrons could come and go more or less as they pleased, and in due course, Malta was used as one of the jumping-off places for the invasion of Italy. Here is a Beaufighter of 272 Sqn taxiing near Mdina.

Wrapping it all up:

No-one can say the Beaufighter is pretty it is too short from nose to tail, it looks ungainly at rest, the cockpit sticks out of the body incongruously – and the motors are huge, like bulging eyeballs. But beauty is more than just pretty – there is an organic synthesis of form and function that Jerry Scutts referred to in my introduction. Everything about this plane speaks of intent. In action, they were hazardous at take-off, but the pilots who flew them say that everything after that was delicious. They also floated well after landing in water, and often both crew members would survive a ditching. Furthermore, it was well known in RAF Beaufighter squadrons that the best way to land a wounded Beau was with the undercarriage retracted. Broken propellers and some scuffing of the underside of the plane would be fixed, and the aeroplane could be ready to fly again in two days. (JS p105)

Jerry Scutts says: “Although the Beaufighter was capable of destroying enemy fighters if its pilot was able to bring its formidable armament to bear, but in a disadvantaged position to an Fw 90 or a Bf 109, it would be hard-put to outmanoeuvre a well-flown plane.” (JS p20) The enemy planes were not faster, but because they were lighter, they could turn inside the Beau’s turning circle, and start firing at it before the pilot could get a bead on the little fighter.

Which is why the Beaufighter was a night fighter, a tank-buster, a ground-strafer and a ship-destroyer. What the Beaufighters had was a built-in grace in the air, and a very fast turn of speed they could reach 450mph in a dive, but the pilot had to have plenty of room between the plane and the ground to pull up so that all the weight of the plane could be re-directed. They were quiet in flight, they could stay in the air for over five hours and their armament made them an enemy from which any man would be best advised to stay well clear. When you look through some of the videos I have assembled for you below, you will see just how fast, and how gracefully the Beaufighter flew and you will also see how deadly and destructive was its firepower.

It was a warhorse of quiet power and deadly beauty, and it has a history in combat of which all of us can be thoroughly proud.

Graeme asked the Airforce Museum of New Zealand if they knew anything of Beaufighters in New Zealand. Research Officer Tony Moody replied:
“No. 489 (NZ) Squadron was formed in the UK and only ever served there. We are not aware of any Beaufighters being on the RNZAF register in New Zealand at any time and the ones employed by No. 489 Squadron were definitely RAF and stayed over there. As you say, it is possible Aussie “Beaus” could have staged through New Zealand or Norfolk Island. We did get Mosquitos here in New Zealand post war though.”
This is why New Zealand is not listed in the section on Beaufighter owners.

There is a chance that a Beaufighter (or rather the forward section of one) has found its way to the Warbirds Museum on Ardmore aerodrome in Auckland. Graeme is investigating.

Gosling, Dennis Night Fighter Navigator: Beaufighters and Mosquitos in World War II. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2010. ISBN: 978 184884 1888

Scutts, Jerry: Bristol Beaufighter. The Crowood Press, 2004, ISBN: 1 86126 666 9

Rocket Rails on Bristol Beaufighter - History

Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter Mark X

The pugnacious Beaufighter derived closely from the Beaufort design, and more distantly from Blenheim antecedents. Equally at home over land or sea, the Beaufighter was highly successful as a heavy strike fighter, as a night fighter, in reconnaissance or in the torpedo attack role. A very great deal has been written and published about this aircraft, with many titles readily available through libraries, bookshops and on-line. Only the barest summary of the Beaufighter story is presented here.

Although unsuccessful in tendering a number of cannon-armed fighter designs in the late 1930s, and despite the loss of Frank Barnwell in an aircraft accident in August 1938, late that year Bristols were well-placed to meet emerging recognition of the need for a long-range heavy fighter. With Air Ministry support, the Type 156 Beaufighter prototype first flew in July 1939, just six months after the layout drawings had been agreed.

The prototype was met with an order for 300 aircraft under Specification F.17/39. While the original design had much in common with the Beaufort, another year of development time and many thousands of revised and detail drawings were needed to arrive at the final operational form.

By April 1940, the first two production-standard prototypes were delivered to the RAF. After final acceptance testing with full operational equipment at Boscombe Down, Beaufighters entered RAF Squadron service in late July 1940. Robust, versatile and heavily armed, the Bristol Beaufighter operated in many roles and theatres, remaining in RAF service (albeit as target tugs) until 1960.

Beaufighter Mark X
The Mark X derived from the Mark VI version, initially built for Coastal Command duties with ASV AI Mark VIII scanning radar in the nose and torpedo release gear. Mark X aircraft saw service as long range reconnaissance and strike fighters, equipped with rockets, cannon and machine guns, a nose-mounted camera replacing the ASV scanner.

Long-range strike fighter. Twin-engine, mid-wing cantilever stressed-skin monoplane.

Pilot Navigator/Wireless Operator/Rear Gunner.

2xBristol Hercules XVII radials of 1735hp, single speed supercharging, 100/130 grade fuel, maximum boost +10lb on take-off or 5 minute combat limit.

Four 20mm cannon, fuselage mounted.
Four .303in Browning machine guns in starboard wing, two in port wing.
8 rocket projectiles, 25lb AP or semi-AP, 60lb HE.

Empty variously quoted and depending on “fit”: 14,069lb
All-up variously quoted as above: 22,100lb
Overload (maximum take-off): 25,000lb

1,470 miles (at 200mph with full load), endurance well in excess of 7 hours.
2x188 gallon inner-wing tanks, 2x 87gallon outer wing tanks.

Stalling speed
Safety speed
Maximum speed

Flaps & undercarriage up: 104mph. Flaps and undercarriage down: 80mph
Preliminary 160mph final 115mph
Variously quoted 330mph
Vne (without external stores) 400mph (with 8x60lb RP) 345mph

Far East Service
In the Burma theatre, the firepower of the rocket-equipped Mark X was put to effective use in the strike fighter role, on long-range intruder operations against Japanese transport and communications. Recognition and friendly fire incidents saw aircraft markings evolve in the theatre, starting with suppression of the inner red of the RAF roundel, replaced firstly by white and later by light blue.

From a slow start in early 1943, held back somewhat by lack of spares, aircraft and aircrew, Beaufighter operations against Japanese transport and airfields in Burma steadily stepped up in scale. By early 1944 the several Squadrons were fully effective, gaining the attention of not only the Japanese but of story-hungry Allied war-correspondents.

Whispering Death
About this time, the Beaufighter nickname Whispering Death started to appear in booklets and the media. Reporting on this period, the 1949 HMSO history of the Burma Air War Wings Of the Phoenix , Ch 4 discusses the 1943 Monsoon (June to September) offensive. From the original context, the remarks that follow would seem to relate to a 27 Squadron operation around September 1943:

“Beaufighters too were now coming into prominence, setting fire to the huge oil tanks at Yenangyaung and yet further reducing Japanese freedom of movement on their rain-soaked roads and broken railways. The twin-engined Bristol Beaufighter carried a crew of two and, until it was later fitted for rockets or bombs, was equipped with four 20-mm cannon and five machine-guns, one of them in the navigator's turret. As a jest at a mess party, where pilots liked to mock what they thought were newspaper clichés, someone invented for Beaufighters the name of Whispering Death , for the Beaufighter has a trick of remaining silent at low level until it is almost on its target.

In just such a way a Beaufighter had come across a full-dress parade of Japanese soldiers at Myitkyina on the birthday of Emperor Hirohito. Myitkyina was now the largest enemy air base in North Burma, and high-ranking samurai officers were sitting stiffly on their chargers, fronting a hollow square of rigid troops around a flagpole bearing the Rising Sun of Nippon, when they were toppled from their saddles. By its silent approach the Beaufighter caught the parade unprepared and left the square with riderless horses galloping among the bodies, the flagpole broken and the Rising Sun sinking. The name Whispering Death stayed on.”

Curiously, the “Emperor's Birthday” as reason for the Myitkyina parade seems to be another myth. In Hirohito’s time the celebration was held on 29 April, some weeks before the South-West monsoon breaks over Burma around late May to last until September. In Beaufighters Over Burma (Blandford 1985) on No 27 Squadron from 1942 to 1945, Innes declares emphatically "Throughout April [1943] no sorties were flown in Northern Burma" (and Myitkyina is certainly that).

However, Bowyer in Flying Elephants (also on 27 Squadron) remarks that 22 sorties were flown by the Squadron that month and goes on to mention the Myitkyina “Emperor's birthday” raid in summarising operations for the period January 1943 to September 1943, but without date. The same event is again recorded by Bowyer in closely similar terms in Beaufighter (Kimber 1987 p148) and from context apparently sometime in the period to September 1943. Notably, however, Innes went on to make these further remarks:

“During March 1944, one operation of four Beaufighters led by Pilot Officer Clegg, an Australian, was mounted to strafe a Japanese camp at Lemyethna, west of Henzada, in Southern Burma. Accompanying Clegg as an observer was Mr Paul Chadburn, a reporter of the Parade magazine, whose three page story entitled Death Whispers over Burma with photographs of the briefing, the attacks, and the post-operational activities, does full justice to the operation as would be expected of a war-time journalist.”

The British forces Parade Middle East Weekly may be the magazine Innes refers to, though perhaps there was a Far East edition. Innes goes on to quote Chadburn’s article in full. The opening paragraph remarked of the Beaufighter:

“But the Japs have a name for it all right: They call it Whispering Death .”

This seems to be the first published report of a supposed Japanese origin for the nickname—an account so appealing that it was soon taken up by others (in the 1944 booklet Beaufighter for example). Indeed, the legend is still told, despite the 1949 HMSO account and the efforts of Bowyer, Innes, and Scutts ( Bristol Beaufighter, Crowood 2004, p135) at intervals ever since. Let Bowyer, then, have the final say on this famous nickname and its origins:

“And it was in Burma that the Beaufighter acquired its legendary nickname, Whispering Death— a soubriquet which, despite the many versions of its origin published in the past, actually originated as the whimsy of an RAF officers Mess in India.”
Bowyer: Beaufighter at War (Ian Allan 1976) p90 and Beaufighter (Kimber 1987 p144).

Beaufighters in 211 Squadron service
Starting in October 1943, 211 Squadron took their Beaufighters on charge at Phaphamau in Uttar Pradesh, the first two arriving on the 15th of the month. By 8 November 1943 they were moving to Ranchi in Bihar, fully equipped with 16 Beaufighters (and two Bisleys for use as Squadron hacks). The average personnel strength of the Squadron that November was 324 personnel.

After a period working up and training with the then-novel rockets (RPs or rocket projectiles), the Squadron resumed operational status in January 1944 with 24 two-man Beaufighter crews for their establishment of 16 operational aircraft. Moving forward firstly to Bhatpara (south of Dacca), from July they took post at Chiringa in the North of the Arakan peninsula.

211 Squadron Beaufighters, Chiringa, 7 December 1944 ( AWM image SEA0051)
Aircraft ‘X’ in the background. Open air servicing of the aircraft. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Australian War Memorial , where a number of 211 Squadron images are held in the on-line photographic collection, searchable through the Collection Database.

For much of the period of operations over Burma, the 211 Squadron Operations Record Book records aircraft only by individual letter rather than by serial no. However, it has been possible to fully identify a number of the Squadron’s aircraft by matching information from the ORB, from the Squadron OpReps (the sortie reports held in TNA AIR 27/1305 to AIR 27/1310), from aircrew Log Book entries and from the late Cpl Arthur Goodinson’s diary, in which he recorded their Beaufighter operations and losses in some detail from January 1944 onwards.

In time it may be yet be possible to firmly identify more aircraft losses. All the currently known official and personal records are incomplete to some degree. The mass of detail, of sometimes indifferent image quality, will take some considerable time yet to examine in full.

In the meantime, the following list has been extended to include all known aircrew losses. The aircraft listed, whether fully identified or not, are shown by date and serial no where known. A full table of aircrew lost is shown on the India & Burma page.

Undated allocations
The LX and LZ serialled aircraft were all of the batch of 480 Mark X machines built by the Bristol Aeroplane Co shadow factory at Weston-super-Mare, delivered between May and November 1943.

The NE series were from a batch of 500 Mark X aircraft delivered from Bristol’s Weston-super-Mare factory between November 1943 and April 1944. Aircraft in the NT and NV series were part of a further batch of 500 Mark X Beaufighters built by Bristols and delivered to the RAF between April 1944 and September 1944.

NE291, NE526, NE534, NE602, NE721? NV260, NV512, NV585

October to December 1943
The ORB for this early period, thought by some to be lost, turned out to be lodged in AIR 27/1302 with the Middle East pages. Eleven of the Squadron’s initial allocation of 16 Beaufighter X aircraft have now been identified from the Operations Record Book. In the working up period they suffered a spate of accidents, damaging three aircraft and destroying three others with the loss of five aircrew.

Taken on Squadron charge from 308 MU 2 November 1943, having been flown out to India from 304 FTU Port Ellen. Struck off charge 31 July 1944.

LZ113 ‘V’, LZ123, LZ223, LZ270.

LZ122 ‘R’
Damaged on landing at Ranchi 8 November .

F/Sgt D Grant and Sgt D Bendall crashed south of the airfield at Ranchi on 15 December while returning from range practice. Grant was killed instantly and Bendall died of his injuries two days later.

LZ137 ‘N’
Swung on landing 23 December 1943, undercarriage written off, Sgt Pilot Davies and passenger unhurt.

J8141 F/O JR Edgar RCAF killed 27 December 1943 attempting a wheels-up forced landing 3 miles E of the airfield with one airscrew feathered. The aircraft burst into flames on impact.

Crash-landed 28 October 1943 due to hydraulic failure, seriously damaged, with but slight injury to F/O Bovier and F/Sgt Seeley

Crashed on low-flying exercise, Madaripur, 1 November 1943, 1331765 F/Sgt AG Oliver and 131887 Sgt RL Small both killed. Buried in Allahabad, today they rest in Delhi War Cemetery.

January to March 1944
From January 1944, the Squadron Operations Record Book pages were allotted a fresh item number by Archives staff, becoming AIR 27/1303, with Sortie Reports (OpReps) lodged in running sequence from AIR 27/1305 (from January to February 1944) to AIR 27/1310 (March 1945 to May 1945). For a period in March and early April, the Squadron record of aircraft identities is particularly complete. Those mentioned by Cpl Goodinson are linked to his diary.

On resumption of operations in early January 1944, the authorised establishment of the Squadron was 16 operational aircraft. Of the Beaufighter Xs taken on charge over the next three months, 24 have now been fully identified from Squadron and personal records, right down to callsign. Ten crews failed to return from operations during this period.

LZ113 ‘V’
Missing from operations 27 March 1944 with J16291 F/O Waddell RCAF and F/O Woodall. They had taken off just before 0700 in company with Gamlin and Lightfoot in ‘X’, who last saw them on return patrol five miles North of Taungup at 09:50hrs, at 2,000ft heading due North. No movement was seen in the Tanugup Pass target area, although there was intense if inaccurate light AA and Bofors fire.

LZ114 ‘P’
Lost on operations 13 January 1944, on a Rhubarb road and railway sortie, Sibingyi—Namtu. The aircraft was last seen S of Mandalay. F/O Bovier died a prisoner in Rangoon Gaol. His Nav/W Sgt Anderson was shot dead in the aircraft on capture.

LZ122 ‘R’
15 February 1944: 128590 F/O AJ Sharpe and 1381981 F/Sgt Pottinger PoW baled out, taken prisoner and later released from Rangoon Gaol.

LZ130 ‘S’
One of four aircraft led by S/Ldr Muller-Rowland on an afternoon Rhubarb sortie in the Meza-Pinwe-Indaw area on 22 January 1944, crew F/Sgt Seeley and Sgt Short.

The other aircraft heard ‘S’ report starboard engine failing. Muller-Rowland then directed Seeley to land at Indaw, where he would pick them up. Before this could be done, the other aircraft all saw a column of smoke some four to seven miles North of Lake Indaw, Muller-Rowland himself spotting a burnt out aircraft with no survivors in the trees some six miles from the lake.

LZ136 ‘O’
Missing from operations 24 March 1944 with Canadian pilot W/O Bill Adamson and F/Sgt John Moss RAF. Four aircraft took off at intervals from 08:25hrs for targets at Kalawa and on the Thazi-Myingyan railway. Two of the crews were attacked enemy fighters but shook them off.

LZ227 ‘K’
R122381 W/O Thomson RCAF wounded by ground fire, flying this aircraft on 16 February 1944 with F/Sgt Butcher as his Nav/W. While making a rocket attack on a railway bridge at Swa, their aicraft was hit by heavy machine gun fire, wounding Thomson in the leg and rendering the air-speed indicator unserviceable. Thomson jettisoned the remaining RP rounds and was able to return safely to base.

Three weeks later, 6 March 1944, this same aircraft failed to return from operations. Reported missing near Zayatkwin after A404741 F/O K Fuller RAAF with Navigator 1396062 Sgt SC Cook shot up an enemy fighter on the airfield. Possibly shot down by flak their aircraft was seen to crash and explode by George Manderson . Long after the war, the Far East Graves Service was able to identify the site of their crash but their graves had been washed away in later floods. The pair are commemorated among the missing of the Singapore Memorial and Fuller on the panels of the Australian War Memorial Honour Roll.

LZ237 ‘S’
Lost in action 14 March 1944, J12883 F/O DI Cruickshank RCAF and 134713 F/O D McKenzie.

LZ263 ‘P’
Failed to return from operations 11 March 1944 with J86437 P/O Depew RACF and 1198789 F/Sgt Woolley killed. In LZ237 ‘S’, the Canadian pilot Cruickshank and his Navigator McKenzie had seen ‘P’ crash while attacking the target, reporting the aircraft in flames (exploded, Goodinson was told).

LZ363 ‘R’
24 Feb 1944 778767 F/Sgt Donaldson (South Africa) and 1042107 F/Sgt Bewsher RAFVR hit by ground fire and crashed. Their remains were never recovered. The Squadron Form 540 incorrectly recorded LZ113 ‘V’ for this loss, but Cpl Goodinson noted both correctly.

LZ364 ‘R’
Missing in action 8 March with F/Lt Luing and F/O White taken PoW. Both died in captivity in Rangoon Gaol.

LZ381 ’P’
Undershot landing and tore off undercarriage, Bhatpara 24 March 1944, Sgt Lowcock and F/Sgt Carruthers uninjured.

April to June 1944
No less than 32 of the Squadron’s aircraft in this busy period have now been identified from the Squadron Operations Record Book & Sortie Reports, from Cpl Goodinson’s diary and from Dennis Spencer’s log. In these three months, the crew of one aircraft died in a training accident, while on operations, the crew of one aircraft were picked up after ditching, while seven crews failed to return.

LZ131 ‘W’
After successful attack on a 100ft river craft near Elephant Point on 6 April, ‘W’ was returning to base when hit by flak over Myohaung. Hit in the port oil tank, oil pressure failed at 3,000ft and the propeller declined to feather. ‘W’ headed for Hove but was forced to ditch six miles from the tip of Naf Peninsula (modern Teknaf). S/Ldr JSR Muller Rowland DFC and his Nav/W F/Sgt R Gilley, both uninjured, were picked up shortly after ditching. Gilley was subsequently awarded the DFM .

LZ153 ‘K’
Missing from operations 28 May 1944. Pilot A401785 W/O JW Goddard RAAF and 1233069 W/O EM Boon Nav/W in ‘K’ were one of a “fluid pair” taking off at about 08:00hrs to patrol the railway line from Kawlin through Indaw and on to Mawlu, reaching the target area a little before 09:15hrs. Cuddy and Tomlinson in ‘A’ arrived soon after, to see smoking buildings that may have been attacked by Goddard in ‘K’. The aircraft was last seen heading North by Cuddy and Tomlinson at 09:23hrs. At 09:45, Tomlinson heard Boon warning his pilot by intercom of fighters, probably three, in the area. In ‘A’, Cuddy now sought cloud cover and started on the homeward leg, their repeated calls to ‘K’ going unanswered.

It later transpired that Goddard and Boon had been shot down by American 311th Fighter Group P51-A Mustangs. Arthur Goodinson recorded the loss as due to P38 Lightnings, with an apposite remark . The Sortie Report for this day is one of a number where the archive copy is incomplete, lacking the second page which might have recorded some further detail. The pair remained missing and are commemorated on the Singapore Memorial and, for Goddard, at the Australian War Memorial .

LZ268 ‘G’
In the small hours of 11 June, two aircraft took off just after 03:30hrs to attack communications and targets of opportunity in Central Burma shortly after dawn. At about 06:30hrs the pair attacked a South-bound train some three miles North of Letpadan. In ‘X’, the first aircraft to strike, Gamlin and Mearns saw J14842 F/O Jackson RCAF and F/Sgt Jones in ‘G’ follow with a rocket salvo, which undershot. Their aircraft was then seen to bank from a height of about 100ft and turn over before flying into the ground about 50 yards West of the railway. The aircraft immediately burst into flames. Bill Jackson and Ron Jones were posted missing believed killed. Their remains were later recovered and they rest in a joint grave in Taukkyan War Cemetery.

LZ270 ‘L’
Lost on operations 3 June 1944. F/Lt PF Lockyer 116427 (Pilot), F/Sgt HW McCormick 1264075 (Nav/W), F/O HFPGS Bishop 112244 (Squadron IO), passenger. Sortie abandoned in bad weather. Attempted to land at Chittagong airfield but crashed in sea at 22.15 North 91.47 East at 4.35 hours. McCormick was subsequently picked up, but Lockyer and Bishop could not be found. Lockyer's body was recovered on 6 June, a poignant coincidence. Bishop remained missing. Recorded as F/O GS Bishop in the Squadron records, he appears in the rolls of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as Gabriel Sheldon-Bishop, and is so commemorated among the missing on the Singapore Memorial.

LZ360 ‘T’
LZ360 had been damaged in an incident at Ramu on 6 April and returned to service. On 9 June , while seeking the target area, F/Sgt PS Reavill and F/Sgt NS Heywood unintentionally overflew Shwebo airfield. Their aircraft was hit by light AA fire wounding the pilot, Reavill, and damaging the hydraulics. Reavill nevertheless managed to take evasive action and ultimately bring the damaged aircraft back to base, where he made a good landing without flaps or brakes.

LZ383 ‘N’
On 17 April 1944 Sgt RA Chambers and Sgt CW Lovell were, with three other Beaufighters, to attack beach defences from Mazin to Andrew Bay and return via Ramree Is. They were last seen at 10:28hrs, having attacked a jetty at Lontha, heading North between Ramree and Cheduba at very low level. The Operations Record Book accounts and Cpl Goodinson agree that this aircraft was ‘N’. Chambers and Lovell are commemorated among the missing on the CWGC Singapore Memorial.

LZ479 ‘O’
Missing from operations 6 May 1944 with 1369740 F/Sgt PL Bell and 1497952 F/Sgt AE Nash. Between 08:20 and 08:59hrs, Nash was able to transmit several radio messages but these were received only faintly and with some difficulty by receiving stations at Feni and Chittagong, such that the resulting fixes were in conflict (Sortie Report No 15). The next afternoon, Cuddy, O’Mara and Haakenson and their navigators carried out a parallel search for three hours but found nothing. It later transpired that the Beaufighter had crashed, fatally, inside the British forward lines. The bodies of Peter Lindsay Bell and his navigator Albert Edward Nash were found about 12 May and recovered, buried together in a joint grave in the Chittagong War Cemetery.

LZ515 ‘X’
Four aircraft of ‘A’ Flight attacked Chienmai airfield and railway siding in the late afternoon of 10 April 1944. Returning to Ramu at 20:30hrs, well over 2 hours after sunset, Mal Haakenson undershot on landing and hit a bund wall (eg an irrigation or padi dyke), tearing off the undercarriage. The aircraft was destroyed in the subsequent fire but Haakenson and his Navigator Jock Ferguson were unhurt.

Lost in a flying accident at SLAIS Ranchi on 18 April 1944. 1048291 F/Sgt Carr and 1078671 F/Sgt Clelland killed.

NE300 ‘N’
Lost in action 29 April with F/Sgt GP Davies and F/Sgt I Gilmore , the aircraft was seen to crash and explode by Bell and Lightfoot in ‘V’.

NE317 ‘X’
After a successful sortie along the Irrawaddy on 15 June, Geoff Vardigans and Dennis Spencer found the weather had so deteriorated as they returned over the Hill country that Feni and other local airfields were closed. Diverting to Chittagong, Vardigans groped his way down through the cloud for an emergency landing, only to find the strip partly flooded, wrenching off one undercarriage leg and ending in a paddy field. The pair were unhurt, though it was a close shave: they narrowly missed an American B25 Mitchell making an unauthorised landing “against the sock”.

NE401 ‘K’ On night operations 10 May, swung on take-off, Cat II damage.

NE516 ‘Y’
During the night of 12/13 June two aircraft set out to attack communications in central Burma, including the Mandalay—Rangoon railway. The aircraft sent a VHF distress call at 0610 hours and bearings were sent by Feni, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar but nothing further was heard. J12845 F/Lt MJC Haakenson RCAF and his Nav/W 1321315 F/Sgt AO Ferguson were taken PoW and held at Rangoon Gaol. Both survived.

NE539 ‘Z’
Lost in action 7 May 1944. J86974 P/O Hall RCAF shot dead resisting capture, 176397 P/O Parker taken PoW but died of dysentery in captivity at Rangoon Gaol.

July and August 1944
From the Log Books of DA Spencer and EL Wood , Cpl Goodinson’s diary and loss table, and Squadron records including sortie reports, most of the aircraft on Squadron charge over these two months have been identified down to callsign. Four crews failed to return over these two months.

NE288 ‘K’, NE321 ‘L’, NE414 ‘A’, NE464 ‘V’, NE540 ‘Z’, NE646 ‘V’, NE736 ‘E’, NE721, NE752 ‘X’, NE762 ‘E’.
All the NE series aircraft were part of the batch of 500 Mark X Beaufighters built by Bristols Weston-super-Mare, delivered to the RAF between November 1943 and April 1944.

LX953 ‘G’
Lost in action 1 August 1944 with J88656 W/O Vaughan RCAF and F/Sgt Lightfoot, so recorded in OpRep 224 Sortie Report No 1. While RAF Aircraft LA100—LZ999 records that aircraft as struck off 177 Squadron charge 29 March 1945, no other serial variations seem valid.

LZ232 ‘D’
On the morning of 27 August, four aircraft set out on a six hour operation to attack railway targets on the Moulmein—Thanbyuzayat—Anaukwin line as far South as possible. The weather was difficult with rain and low cloud. J16295 P/O Cuddy RCAF and 133807 W/O Tomlinson RAF were seen leaving the target area with port engine smoking. Although the CO (M-R in ‘X’) made VHF contact and attempted to offer escort, he was unable to find Cuddy. Seven minutes after their attack, Cuddy reported he was about to ditch. Both men were taken captive, they too survived Rangoon Gaol.

LZ324 ( LZ524 ) ‘B’
LZ324 according to the 27 July Sortie Report: a serial known to have been of a batch transferred to the RAAF and in Australia in December 1943. Likely to be LZ524, whose allocation after 304 FTU was recorded only as “FE” and SOC 11 October 1944.

One of four aircraft attacking communications and targets of opportunity in the morning and afternoon of 27 July 1944, in ‘B’ and on their fourth operation, F/Sgt John Birch and his Navigator F/O Alan Carter attacked and damaged a train just North of Thazi station, during which Carter thought he might have heard the sound of gunfire. Continuing the patrol to the North, they attacked and damaged another larger train. On landing at Chiringa, the aircraft swung to starboard and the undercarriage collapsed. The starboard tyre had been punctured and the rudder struck by ground fire. The crew escaped unhurt.

NE298 ‘V’
Damaged by ground fire 8 July 1944 near Letpadan, hydraulics lost. Returned safely to Feni and force-landed without flaps or undercart, F/O GV Vardigans and F/Sgt D Spencer safe. Dennis gave a very full account of this sortie from start to finish: it was their narrowest escape .

NE488 ‘W’
On 27 July 1944 , 1235518 F/Sgt WA Williams, 23, and his navigator 1522557 F/Sgt R Gollop, aged 29, were on the afternoon operation to attack communications targets, one of four aircraft active that day as “fluid pairs”. In cloudy weather they were not sighted after take-off by Birch and Carter in ‘B’ , nor did they respond to radio calls once overdue. Their aircraft did not return and the two men were posted missing. In 1955 the families were informed that the men’s remains had at last been found and recovered. They lie together in Taukkyan War Cemetery.

NE713 ‘Z’
One of six aircraft to attack Pyinmana railway station with rockets on the afternoon of 12 August in a successful strike before proceeding on solo patrols, P/O F Gamlin and his Nav/W W/O BB Mearns did not return. They were taken captive, held at Rangoon Gaol, and survived.

‘B’ ( LZ524 ?)
On the night of 5/6 August two Beaufighters attacked Thazi railway station despite intense flak. Pilot 990198 F/Sgt ES Leach was wounded in shoulder and chest by light machine gun fire. With the help of Navigator/W F/O JD Callaghan he flew back to base and landed safely. Leach was admitted to 31 West African Casualty Clearing Station. None of the Squadron records give the aircraft serial, just the aircraft letter ‘B’, which had earlier been allotted to LZ324 ( LZ524 ). However, that aircraft had suffered a collapsed undercarriage 10 days earlier: whether that was sufficient time for repair of the Cat II damage is not recorded.

September to December 1944
Unfortunately, Sortie Reports for September, October and November apparently did not reach the UK National Archives. However, from the Log Books of F/O AMJ Kent, W/O DA Spencer , F/Lt Wood , Cpl Go odinson’s diary and loss table, and Squadron records, it has now been possible to list the identities of 34 of the Squadron’s Beaufighters in late 1944, with the call-sign for 26 of them.

Five crews failed to return from operations in the four months to the end of the year. One crew ditched and were recovered safely. Early in this period, aircrew tour lengths were reduced from 300 operational flying hours on operations to 200.

The KW Mark X machines were part of a Rootes Securities mixed batch of 500 Mark VI and Mark X aircraft ordered in February 1942.

KW381 ‘H’
Ditched on the sea shore after rocket firing practice, 11:50hrs 27 November 1944 P/O FM Bruckshaw 132623 (pilot) and F/Sgt RF Watling 1585330 uninjured.

LZ343 ‘L’
Lost in a flying accident 17 December 1944 with 1334151 F/Sgt Bell and 574199 Sgt Lawrence.

NE288 ‘O’
Previously ‘K’, apparently. On their first operation together, F/Sgt HH Hipperson and his Navigator/W F/Sgt JHCH Harvey took off with two other aircraft around 13:30hrs on 14 October to attack road and rail targets in the Thazi—Pyinmana area. On the homeward leg, near the Irrawaddy, P/O Thompson RCAF with W/O Butcher observed a column of smoke to the rear. Returning to investigate, they observed Hipperson’s aircraft burning furiously.

NE540 ‘Z’
On 18 October 1944, six aircraft led by S/Ldr Martineau attacked Mingaladon airfield. Five miles out, they observed aircraft above the target but pressed their attack home. 41553 F/Lt RM Coles and F/O 152568 RS Painter were last seen breaking off to the South-East having completed a run over the airfield, by F/Sgt A Begg and F/Sgt JD Rowan flying as their No 2 in ‘W’. Japanese Ki 43 Oscars gave chase to all the Beaufighters but failed to make contact. However, Coles and Painter did not return. They were posted missing and were not found by the post-war RAFMES search parties. Their loss is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial, Kranji.

NE702 ‘T’
Ditched successfully off Elephant Point on 17 September 1944, after an engine fire following an Irrawaddy Delta sortie. F/O Mitchell and F/Sgt Palmer took to the dinghy. MacDonald and Freeman in ‘L’ observed the plight of their colleagues and reported their position, where-upon the CO Muller-Rowland took-off in support with his Nav/W F/Sgt R Gilley DFM. Finding the ditched crew, M-R loitered overhead while calling up the ASR launch, which picked up both men. Mitchell was awarded the DFC for his coolness.

NE720 ‘Z’
Engine cut and bellylanded on approach, Chiringa, 2 September 1944.

NE762 ‘E’
Following up on earlier rail attacks on 27 September, F/O Shippin and Sgt JH Oblein suffered engine failure, having taken heavy ground-fire after striking Chaukpadang railhead. They force-landed, both being taken PoW and surviving to be released from Rangoon Gaol in May 1945.

NE808 ‘T’
Four aircraft sortied on the afternoon of 24 September 1944 to attack railway targets, Mandalay—Rangoon—Prome. In ‘T’, W/O AE England and W/O AW Blaxall failed to return. Posted missing in action, they were never found. Recorded only as ‘T’ on the Squadron Form 541 for 24 September, there are no Sortie Reports for this period to add detail. Cpl Goodinson’s loss list recorded the aircraft as NV808, but that serial is from a cancelled block for GA Hamilcar gliders. The nearest practical Beaufighter match is NE808, recorded as allocated to FE and lost on 26 September 1944. Differences of a day or so in recorded date are not unknown.

NV210 ‘W’
Written off 17 December, when KW318 ‘Z’ of 27 Squadron had an accident on take-off, colliding with ‘W’ which was parked. No injuries.

NV368 ‘F’
Operating alone in the third of the morning’s sorties on 11 December, J26409 F/O Barlow RCAF with 1418377 F/Sgt Quaintance were to attack targets of opportunity from Sittang Bridge to Martaban. They did not return. A later sortie in the area saw the still burning remains of an aircraft near Paung railway station.

NV384 ‘M’
Crashed on take-off after the starboard engine cut on 9 November 1944.
Beaufighter prang NV384 ‘M’ 9 November 1944 ( Goodinson collection)
Other than a cut above the eye for the Navigator, no casualties to crew or passengers, incl Cpl Goodinson, whose own print is a cracker. A little (understandable!) camera shake and RAF lettering style initially made it difficult to be quite certain of the serial, which could be read as either NV364 or NV384, the latter turning out to be correct from the Squadron record.

Further, there later turned out to be an almost identical photograph, plainly taken within moments of this one, in which the serial number was clear: NV384, the same as the Form 540 entry (Thomas, Beaufighter Aces of World War II , p73, credited to W Smith).

With damage classed as Cat B (beyond repair on site, repairable at a Maintenance Unit or at a contractor's works), the aircraft remained on the Squadron roster until May 1945.
See also NV364 ‘J’ on 20 February 1945, below.

January to March 1945
From the Operations Record Book & Sortie Reports, Log Books of F/O AMJ Kent, DA Spencer , T Taylor , EL Wood , Cpl Go odinson’s diary and Halley’s RAF Aircraft LA100—LZ999 and RAF Aircraft NA—LZ999, it has been possible to identify 35 of the Squadron’s aircraft (24 with callsigns) in the first quarter of 1945. During this time four crews were posted missing. The Squadron establishment remained at 16 aircraft.

KW316 ‘H’
Sgt Webster and F/Sgt Hopes had been hit by AA fire over Thayetmyo but belly-landed safely on return, with Cat III damage to the aircraft: damaged beyond repair.

“After Beaufighter LX948 had twice attacked a train on the Martaban-Mokpalin line, it was severely hit by probable 20mm and LMG fire, which put out of action all controls (except ailerons) and the lights, VHF and intercom. The crew (F/Lt Smith and W/O Webber) prepared to abandon the aircraft but the pilot was able to maintain control with engines and ailerons [!] and set a rather erratic course for the Bassein delta. The Navigator repaired the intercom & established contact with base which was held until at 01:23 he and the pilot baled out over the North part of Ramree Island. They landed safely in the mangrove swamps, were helped by natives and made their way individually to Kyaukpyu Road, where they contacted RAF personnel. This was the first known bale-out since the Squadron re-formed in 1943.”

A very considerable feat on the part of both crew, who then returned safely to the Squadron in a Sea Otter on 4 March.]

LZ399 ‘V’
Lost in action 8 February 1945 R168763 W/O JE Fitzpatrick RCAF (pilot) and 1549317 F/Sgt S Lock (navigator). Took off at 0215 hours to attack communications between Taunouf and Frowein southern Burma. They did not return. Best evidence later was that it was strafing a Japanese car on the main road but hit a tree. Their remains were buried by local villagers.

LZ372 ‘W’
Lost in action 9 February 1945 with F/Sgt Purnell and F/Sgt Grimsdell, attacking rail targets between Prome and Taikkyi.

NE496 ‘H’
Swung on take-off and undercarriage raised to stop, 9 March 1945. The aircraft still ran into the trees opposite flying control and was written-off but the crew W/Os Thompson and Whale escaped unharmed.

NE603 ‘O’
On Saturday 13 January, S/Ldr RN Dagnall and F/O Stenning took off at 1010 hours, tasked to take over the earlier patrolling of the rail line from Taikkyi to Iniwa and attack any targets of opportunity. The aircraft failed to return and no signals were heard. A later aircraft searched without result. The remains of the missing crew were recovered in 1953 and are buried in Taukkyan War Cemetery.

NE646 ‘Z’
Returned from a sortie on 31 January with ground-fire damage that prevented pilot F/Lt PN Stacey RAAF from lowering either the undercarriage or the flaps. In an excellent wheels-up landing back at Chiringa, the only injury was a cut finger for Nav/W P/O Carruthers . Stacey’s action on this occasion was mentioned in the recommendation for his DFC in October 1945.

NV202 ‘P’
On 12 March 1945, W/Cdr Lovelock returned with one engine suffering oil pressure failure, to make a good single-engine landing.

NV364 ‘J’
Wood’s Log Book records a number of sorties in NV364 ‘J’ from 18 November 1944 and on through December and January 1945. On 20 February 1945, F/Sgt FTN White RCAF and his navigator, Sgt Bennett returned on one engine from the River Irrawaddy only to find a Hudson on the strip as they landed. The aircraft was written off in White’s swing to avoid collision, he and his navigator uninjured.

NV553 ‘G’
Missing from operations 12 February 1945: Pilot 990198 W/O Leach and Nav/W 138079 F/O Callaghan taken PoW and later released from Rangoon Gaol.

NV605 'F'
On 20 February 1945, S/Ldr Martineau with Navigator P/O Lacey and their passenger Major Prentice returned safely from a successful attack on a group of road tankers, during which their aircraft sustained small-arms fire damage to both wings and starboard propeller before Martineau, ammunition exhausted, turned for base.

RD271 ‘L’
Damaged beyond repair 21 March 1945 in a belly-landing after hydraulic failure, without injury to pilot F/O Montague Browne and his Nav/W F/Sgt Price.

RD281 ‘X’
Returned safely with Cat II damage 24 March with F/Sgts Taylor and Broome, damaged by AA fire at Namhpe.

April and May 1945
For the final two months of Beaufighter operations, ten aircraft of the Squadron have been identified from Goodinson’s diary, the Log Books of JS Mitchell DFC and EL Wood , and the Operations Record Book. The Squadron’s last operational loss of the war came on 7 May.

NE688 ‘R’
Damaged by own RP debris, 2 May, F/Lt Strumbos RCAF.

NT984 ‘R’
Hit by groundfire over Schwelaung 11 April 1945 and returned to Chiringa where the navigator P/O Palmer and then the pilot F/O JS Mitchell parachuted to safety within a few miles of the airstrip.

NV202 ‘P’
Six aircraft on offensive patrol down the Bassien River on Saturday 5 May. Again flying in ‘P’, the CO W/Cdr Lovelock DFC and his Nav/W F/O Horton were at 700ft over Myaungmya when they encountered meagre but accurate 0.5” fire from the ground, scoring hits through rudder, port aileron and Horton’s radio transmitter. The aircraft returned safely, damage noted as Cat I.

NV526 ‘M’
Flown by AB Wythe DFM. Frequently illustrated, yet all too often erroneously described with a completely spurious serial no. Existing photographs show no visible serial. � certainly went straight from 1 Ferry Unit to the Far East and survived to be struck off charge on 14 February 1946.

NV603 ‘G’
Missing from operations 7 May 1945. Pilot 187554 F/O Anderson and navigator 187915 F/O Davies failed to return from attacking river craft near Bassein, in the Squadron’s last operational loss of the war. Here, too the boys were long missing in action, but in 1954 their remains were recovered by one of the British war grave search parties and they lie at rest with other comrades of the Squadron in Taukkyan War Cemetery.

NV607 ‘K’
Patrolling the Tavoy-Ye road on the morning of 5 April, hit by accurate groundfire over Kaleinaung Bridge in the port engine and wing. F/Sgt ME Walters and his Nav/W F/Sgt RC Kemp returned safely after 7hrs 15min in the air. Initially assessed as Cat II damage, the aircraft was struck off charge at the end of May.

On 13 May 1945, 211 Squadron stood down from operational readiness to withdraw to Yelahanka and conversion to the de Havilland Mosquito .

From October 1943 to May 1945, the Squadron had borne the loss of 35 Beaufighters on operations and a further 6 in accidents resulting in casualties. In the 17 months from January 1944 they had flown 1790 operational sorties in a total of 7425 flying hours, for the loss on operations of 76 aircrew: 58 killed or missing in action and 18 taken PoW (12 surviving). In fatal flying accidents over the period from mid-October 1943, a further 14 aircrew and other personnel died.

211 Squadron Operations Record Book TNA AIR 27/1302, AIR 27/1303
211 Squadron Operations Reports/Sortie Reports TNA AIR 27/1305 to AIR 27/1310
211 Squadron narrative report and loss table Dec 1945 by F/Lt PA Spooner
Australian War Memorial Photograph Collection

Barrass M Air of Authority personal correspondence with the author
Carruthers (Nav/BW) Observer’s and Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book 1944󈟽
Goodinson Personal Diary
Kent Pilot’s Flying Log Book 1944, 1945
Marsh-Collis Photograph Collection
Mitchell DFC Pilot’s Flying Log Book 1945
Spencer DFC Observer’s and Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book 1944
Taylor Pilot’s Flying Log Book 1945󈟾
Wood Pilot’s Flying Log Book 1944󈟽

J Halley RAF Aircraft LA100-LZ999 (Air Britain 1991)
J Halley RAF Aircraft NA100-NZ999 (Air Britain 1992)
J Halley RAF Aircraft RA100-RZ999 (Air Britain 1992)
Air Ministry Pilot’s Notes Beaufighter TFX AP 1721N (AM 1946)
Bowyer Beaufighter at War (Ian Allan 1976)
Bowyer Beaufighter (Kimber 1987)
Bowyer Flying Elephants: History of No 27 Squadron RAF 1915� (Macdonald 1972)
HMSO Wings Of the Phoenix (1949)
Innes Beaufighters Over Burma: No 27 Squadron RAF 1942� (Blandford 1985)
Sutherland Brown Silently Into the Midst of Things: 177 Squadron RAF 1943� (Trafford 2001)
Thomas Beaufighter Aces of World War II (Osprey 2005)

Rocket Rails on Bristol Beaufighter - History

The Bristol Beaufighter was born of a need for a heavily armed fighter in a short period of time and Bristol Aircraft's proposal to create one using many common parts from their Beaufort medium bomber. It proved to be a successful conversion although there were a number of initial teething problems. The Mk VI introduced the dihedral and increased span of the tailplane which improved instability problems with the earlier marks. Although intended as a heavy fighter the Beaufighter proved to be the ideal platform to mount the airborne radar needed for night fighting. The AI Mk IV radar being the first airborne intercept radar to become reliable enough for volume usage. Combining the two lead to success in the night sky's over Britain. Until replaced by the Mosquito the Beaufighter was Britain's premiere night fighter.

When I decided to build a night fighter version of the Beau I wanted to paint and mark it for one of the US night fighter groups that used the aircraft. Over the years I had heard that the US used them but never found much information on the subject until I started doing research for this kit. The book listed in the reference section "Queen of the Midnight Skies" gives a great many details on the US Night Fighter Squadrons which were assigned Beaufighters. After four and a half months of training with the P-70 they were sent to England to transition to the Beaufighter. Although it wasn't totally unanimous, most of the experienced aviators, veterans of the Battle of Britain, who were doing the transition training admitted that the Beaufighter was the most difficult of all British aircraft to fly. So not only did they need to unlearn all the habits they learned flying the docile P-70 but needed to learn new engine control systems, thumb controlled brakes, and handling characteristics of a large conventionally geared aircraft. After conversion training they were sent to the Mediterranean theater, North Africa to be specific. They were given war weary Battle of Britain Beaufighters and ended up losing as many crews to mechanical failures and the fussy handling characteristics of the Beaufighter than to the enemy. They operated under harsh conditions with little in the way of spares and spent most of the war waiting for the P-61. Of four groups only one was re-equipped with P-61's just in time for VE day and their mounts were promptly sent to the Pacific. There are relatively few published photo's of these planes and the ones that have been show very weathered aircraft. Between the sand blasting the finish and the sun these were some sorry looking aircraft. I decided that I would do one as a tribute to those who served in these squadrons.

The Tamiya kit comes in at two part top open box with nice artwork of a Beaufighter putting to an end a German night fighter. Inside the box are four bags, three with parts molded in black plastic and one with clear parts. The plastic has a smooth shiny surface and I could find no sink marks or other defects in the major parts which were virtually flash free. The smaller parts exhibit a small parting line that should be easy to clean up. The panel lines and surface detail is recessed and pretty typical for Tamiya kits. Most of the ejector pin marks are where they won't be seen after assembly but there are some on the inside of the gear doors and a few on the undercarriage parts as well. There is a fair amount of interior detail which covers the area from the cockpit back to the radar operators position and interior structure is molded on the inside of the fuselage along with some ejector pin marks. The kit comes with two fair crew members but they are both identical. The wheels are not weighted and the engines are only two dimensional. The wings are a five piece affair but there is no wing spar utilized. All of the control surfaces are molded in position. There are a number of parts included from other Beaufighter versions including rocket rails with rockets, and two different noses. Altogether there are 118 black parts. The clear parts are thin and clear and include two different dorsal glazings, landing light lens, gun sight and wing tip light lenses. Total for clear parts is 11 for a grand total of 129 parts. Note two of the sprues are identical and only one is shown. See below.

The decals include markings for two aircraft, both in an all black scheme. The decals appear a bit on the thick side and are in register. They includes some stenciling, harnesses for both positions and instruments for the control panel. See below.

The instructions follow the typical Tamiya format. One page 10 1/4" x 27" folded to form 8 pages. Page one has history in several languages, half of page two lists tools, safety warnings and paint colors by name and Tamiya numbers, the second half starts the assembly section which continues for the next four pages and the last two contain painting and decal diagrams.

While for the most part the detail level internally isn't bad it could be better and with that in mind I opted for some after market items.

True Details resin cockpit set (TD49001)

This set includes a new pilots section, a seat with molded in harness, side wall detail, instrument panel with better detail,throttle quadrant, gun sight and lots of other goodies to enhance the cockpit. The parts are molded in a tan resin. All were cleanly molded with little flash and I found no surface defects or pin holes. None of the parts were broken when received. With the exception of the main pit casting all parts should be easily removed from their pour blocks. The pit itself will be a challenge requiring some care. The instructions are printed on a 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" sheet printed on one side and should be adequate for the job. See below.

I recently acquired the Cutting Edge Beaufighter cockpit set [CEC 48096] which will now become an option in place of the true details set. I will decide when it comes time which set I'll use or perhaps use parts from both sets. The Cutting Edge set has more parts for the radar operator's area. The parts are cleanly molded in two different shades of gray resin with no short shots or pin holes. The instructions include some small photo's of the prototypes interior but a better reference is the Modelers Datafile listed in the references at the bottom of the page. The instrument panel supplied has raised detail in the instruments but no film or decal supplied for it. See photo below.

Cutting Edge replacement engine set (CEC48416)

OK you say, AMS time, well yes, I couldn't help myself but this is a really nice set. It consists of two engines with a crankcase and 14 cylinders each, two replacement hedgehog exhausts, four replacement landing gear doors and two replacement oil cooler intakes. The engine, unlike some of the made to scale engines is actually made to fit without major modifications to the cowlings or engines. The Bristol Hercules engines were sleeve valve engines and lacked the push rods normally seen on radial engines. The instructions also include details on how to simulate the exhaust manifold connections to the front cowl collector ring. The hedgehog exhausts are far superior to the halfhearted attempts provided in the kit. The replacement oil cooler intakes include the operating rod for the cooler shutters and better captures the look of the honeycomb radiator which is quite amazing considering how deep into the casting it is. The replacement gear doors have a better depth of detail plus some detail not included in the kit parts plus have the bonus of no ejector pin marks. The parts are molded in a gray resin and are superb. Little to no flash, no pinholes and only one small defect near the top of the gear doors. I certainly feel that this set is well worth the money and will enhance the kit considerably. The instructions are printed on an 8 1/2" x 11" page printed on both sides and includes some detailing photos of an actual engine. See photo below.

Eduard photoetch detail set (EU4164)

Another item us AMS modelers can't do without. This is actually a rather small set similar to there newer Zoom sets but without the color parts and consists of harnesses, levers and trim wheels and a few other odds and ends for the cockpit. Not all of the parts may be needed with the new parts from the set described above. The backing for the instrument panel is just printed on light card stock instead of a film that needs a coat of white paint behind it. I'm not sure how well that will work. See below.

Squadron makes a vacuform canopy set but I was happy with the kit parts. True Details also makes a flat tire set with smooth tread wheels. I did decide however to go with a set of Aries wheel [4198] they are weighted as well but not bulged as bad as the True Details set, includes two different styles of tail wheel struts and wheels and includes a paint mask set. See below.

As I mentioned at the end of the history portion, it's my plan to build this as an aircraft used by an American night fighter squadron so I won't be using the kit decals and may need to make some of my own.

Its hard to find fault with Tamiya kits. While some areas could benefit from additional detail they certainly are good enough to satisfy a large percentage of those that build them. The kit should go together with a minimum of problems and issues

Links to kit build or reviews

A review / build can be found here.

Main reference was "Bristol Beaufighter" by Jerry Scutts with addition information about US night fighter units from "Queen of the Midnight Skies" by Garry R. Pape and Ronald C. Harrison

A most valuable resource which is packed with info of the different variants, internal detailing diagrams, photos and renditions is the Modelers Datafile #6 titled The Bristol Beaufighter A comprehensive Guide for the Modeler by Richard Franks and published by SAM Publications

Following the declaration of war on 3 September 1939, the training units were transferred elsewhere, and No. 2 Recruit Training Pool was formed at the airfield, followed by the Ground Defence Gunnery School in November. In February 1940 the station was transferred to No. 16 Group, Coastal Command, and was first occupied by No.'s 235, 236 and 248 Squadrons, flying the Blenheim in both bomber and long-range fighter variants, until April 1940. North Coates was then occupied by a number of Coastal Command squadrons over the next two years, mostly RAF, but including Fleet Air Arm and Royal Canadian Air Force units, flying a variety of aircraft, mainly Beaufort and Hudson light bombers, but also Hampden and Swordfish torpedo bombers, Avro Anson reconnaissance aircraft and Maryland light bombers. Ώ]

North Coates Strike Wing [ edit | edit source ]

A Beaufighter TF Mark X of No. 236 Squadron RAF based at North Coates, showing the rocket rails. The aircraft is painted with invasion stripes.

In September 1942 it became the base for the North Coates Strike Wing Ώ] formed from No.'s 143, 236 and 254 Squadrons, flying the Beaufighter in the heavy fighter, bomber, and "Torbeau" torpedo bomber variants, tasked with attacking enemy shipping in the North Sea. ΐ] The first operation of the Strike Wing took place on 20 November 1942 when Beaufighters from No's. 236 and 254 Squadrons took off to attack a convoy of twelve to sixteen ships heading towards Rotterdam. The weather was poor, the squadrons lost contact with each other, and the convoy was protected by Fw 190 fighters. As a result, only three enemy ships were damaged, but three Beaufighters were shot down and four so badly damaged that they crashed or made forced landings. Α] The Strike Wing was promptly withdrawn from service for intensive training, ΐ] during which time, between November 1942 and early 1943, the east-west concrete runway was laid. Ώ]

It was not until 18 April 1943 that the Wing launched its second operation, when nine "Torbeaus" of No. 254 Squadron, six Beaufighter bombers of No. 236 Squadron, and six Beaufighter heavy fighters of No. 143 Squadron, with Spitfires and Mustangs providing air cover, attacked a heavily escorted convoy off the Dutch coast. While the Beaufighters attacked the escort vessels with bombs, machine gun and cannon fire, the "Torbeaus" attacked the largest merchant vessel. In the attack two M-class minesweepers were set on fire, and an armed trawler was also damaged. Two confirmed torpedo strikes were made on the merchant vessel, which was left listing and on fire. The co-ordinated attack lasted only 15 minutes, and only slight damage was sustained by two or three aircraft. Another operation at the end of the month resulted in the sinking of two merchant vessels and a trawler, with damage to several escort ships, for the loss of one Beaufighter. Α] In June the Strike Wing began to utilize the RP-3 rocket projectile, and by the middle of the year had, along with the minelayers of Bomber Command and the Royal Navy's Nore Flotilla, rendered the Port of Rotterdam almost unusable. Ship captains bringing in iron ore from Sweden began to demand bonuses of up to 300 per cent for risking their ships. By the end of the year the Strike Wing had sunk thirteen ships totalling 34,076 gross tons, ΐ] and by the end of the war in May 1945 had sunk over 150,000 tons of shipping, Β] as well as two U-boats U-418 in the Bay of Biscay on 1 June 1943, and U-2338 off the Danish coast on 5 May 1945. Γ] They had also lost 120 aircraft and 241 aircrew. Β]

Rocket Rails on Bristol Beaufighter - History

Bristol Beaufighter

Data current to 18 April 2021.

Bristol Beaufighter

(IWM Photo, CH13180)

Bristol Beaufighter-Mk. X, coded 2G, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, coded EE, being fitted with 3-inch 25 lb rockets.

The Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter (often referred to simply as the "Beau") was a multi-role aircraft developed during the Second World War in the UK. It was originally conceived as a heavy fighter variant of the Bristol Beaufort bomber. Upon its entry to service, the Beaufighter proved to be well suited to the night fighter role, for which the RAF initially deployed the type during the height of the Battle of Britain, in part due to its large size allowing it to accommodate both heavy armaments and early airborne interception radar without major performance penalties.

As its wartime service continued, the Beaufighter was used in many different roles receiving the nicknames Rockbeau for its use as a rocket-armed ground attack aircraft, and Torbeau in its role as a torpedo bomber against Axis shipping, in which it came to replace the Beaufort which had preceded it. In later operations, it served mainly as a maritime strike/ground attack aircraft, RAF Coastal Command having operated the largest number of Beaufighters amongst all other commands at one point.

The Beaufighter saw extensive service during the war with the RAF (59 squadrons), Fleet Air Arm (15 squadrons), RAAF (seven squadrons), RCAF (four squadrons), USAAF (four squadrons), RNZAF (two squadrons), SAAF (two squadrons) and the Free Polish Air Force (one squadron). In addition, variants of the Beaufighter were also manufactured in Australia by the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP), often called the DAP Beaufighter.

The unit codes for RCAF aircraft overseas, 1940 to 1946, indicate 9G or G9 stands for No. 441 Squadron (which did not fly Beaufighters). Four RCAF squadrons flew Beaufighters using these codes: EE is for No. 404 Squadron, HU is for No. 406 Squadron, KP is for No. 409 Squadron, RA is for No. 410 Squadron.

In the fall of 1940, Luftwaffe bombers, unable to escape Allied fighters by day, started flying night missions, where they would encounter much less opposition. Immediately, the Allies prepared their response: the improvement of interception radars used in ground controls, the use of twin-engine Bristol Beaufighters as night-fighter aircraft, and the development of the Mk. IV airborne interception radar. Faster than a Junkers Ju 88, the Beaufighter displayed impressive firepower. Three RCAF squadrons were involved in night fighter operations, Nos. 406, 409 and 410, created in the spring and summer of 1941.

"At approximately 2209 hrs, at about 9,000 ft. and about 45 miles East of Tynemouth Beaufighter attacked from level and dead astern. Pilot saw flashes in enemy aircraft fuselage. One flash very brilliant." (Wing Commander D.G. Morris, No. 406 Squadron, RCAF, Combat Report, 30 Sep 1941).

(RCAF Photo via Chris Charland)

Bristol Beaufighter T.F. Mk. XC nicknamed the 'Torbeau'. No. 404 'Buffalo' (CF) Squadron, RCAF, operated the type from Sep 1943 to Mar 1945 when they were replaced by the de Havilland Mosquito P.R. Mk. VIC.

(RCAF Photo via Chris Charland)

Bristol Beaufighter T.F. Mk. XC nicknamed the 'Torbeau'. No. 404 'Buffalo' (CF) Squadron, RCAF, operated the type from Sep 1943 to Mar 1945 when they were replaced by the de Havilland Mosquito P.R. Mk. VIC.

(IWM Photo, CH 17873)

Bristol 156 Beaufighter TF Mk.X (Serial No. NV427), coded EO-L, of RCAF No. 404 Squadron based at Dallachy, Morayshire, England, breaking formation during a flight along the Scottish coast, 17 Feb 1945.

No. 404 Squadron was formed at Thorney Island in Sussex, England, on 15 April 1941 under RAF operational control. Tasked with coastal patrol and attack, the squadron initially flew the Bristol Blenheim Mk. IV & later the Bristol Beaufighter. From May 1944 to September 1944 they were based at RAF Davidstow Moor in Cornwall, England.

As part of the RAF Dallachy strike wing of four Beaufighter-equipped squadrons, they took part in an attack on German ships on the Norwegian coast on 9 February 1945. The ships included a destroyer and "flak" ships as well as merchantmen. The ships were located in a fjord and German fighter aircraft scrambled in defence. As a result of the heavy losses to the Dallachy Wing the attack was subsequently called "Black Friday". The squadron disbanded on 25 May 1945.

(IWM Photos, CH 17873)

Bristol 156 Beaufighter TF Mk.X (Serial No. NV427), coded EO-L, of RCAF No. 404 Squadron based at Dallachy, Morayshire, England, breaking formation during a flight along the Scottish coast, 17 Feb 1945.

(IWM Photo, CH 13179)

Armourers attaching 3-inch rocket projectiles fitted with 60-lb warheads to the starboard wing rails of a Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk. X, RCAF No. 404 Squadron, coded 2-G, at Davidstow Moor, Cornwall in the UK, ca 1944.

(IWM Photo, CH 13183)

Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk. X of No. 404 Squadron RCAF, based at Davidstow Moor, Cornwall, firing a pair of 3-inch rocket projectiles on a range off the Cornish coast.

(Ces Ashman Photo, Vince Elmer Memorial Library)

Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk. X of No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, at Tain, E-5 Scotland.

(IWM Photo, C4546)

On 12 August 1944, Bristol Beaufighters with No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, and No. 236 Squadron, RAF, both operating from Davidstow Moor in the UK, attacked the Sauerland, a German heavily armed Sperrbrecher (mine-detector ship) off La Pallice, France. The ship was left floundering and later was finished off by the Royal Navy. The aircraft flying overhead in this photograph is reportedly that of Wing Commander Ken Gatward, the CO of No. 404 Squadron, one of the leading anti-shipping 'aces' at that time.

(RCAF Photo)

Bristol 156 Beaufighter TF Mk. X (Serial No. NE255), coded EE-H, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, Banff, Scotland, 21 Aug 1944. The aircraft is carrying rocket projectiles (RP) with 25 lb. warheads for anti-shipping operations.

(Umeyou Photo)

Colorized version. Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk. X (Serial No. NE255), coded EE-H, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, Banff, Scotland, 21 Aug 1944. The aircraft is carrying rocket projectiles (RP) with 25 lb. warheads for anti-shipping operations.

(IWM Photo, MH7465)

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X (Serial No. NE355), coded 2H, later EE-H, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, at Wick or Sumburgh, UK, 1944.

Early in 1941, German bombers were increasingly using the night to make many small raids. This decreased their chances of detection and reduced the need for fighter escort. No. 406 "Lynx" (NF) Squadron RCAF, was formed at RAF Acklington in the UK on 5 May 1941, to meet this threat. Armed with four 20-millimetre cannons and up to six .303 machine guns, at a time when fighters were armed with only four to eight .303 calibre machine guns, the Beaufighter had devastating firepower. Its twin-engine reliability ensured many a crew returned home safely that otherwise would have been lost. Two crewmen meant a dedicated radar operator who handled navigation and interception, leaving the pilot to focus solely on flying the aircraft and engaging the enemy once visually sighted. It was a deadly combination. The squadron expanded its role as attacks on England diminished, and they took the fight to Europe, conducting Night Ranger missions, essentially flying up and down the French coast, looking for trouble.

No. 406 Squadron RCAF was formed at RAF Acklington in the UK on 5 May 1941, as part of No. 12 Group of Fighter Command to operate as night fighters. The squadron was equipped with Bristol Blenheim Mk. IF heavy fighters, re-equipping with the improved Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IIF the next month. They operated out of several airfields in the United Kingdom, changing to the Beaufighter Mk. VIF in mid-1942, and receiving the de Havilland Mosquito Mk. XII night-fighter during April 1944. They upgraded to the Mosquito Mk. XXX in July 1944, and operated this aircraft for the remainder of the war. In November 1944 it was renamed No. 406 (Intruder) Squadron, to carry out daylight offensive operations over mainland Europe. In June 1945 the squadron was posted to RAF Predannack in Cornwall, where it disbanded in August 1945.

(IWM Photo, MH 4560)

Bristol 156 Beaufighter Mk. IIF (Serial No. R2270), No. 406 "Lynx" (NF) Squadron RCAF, based at RAF Station Aklington, Northumberland, Jan 1942. R2270 was the first production model, fitted with dihedral tailplanes and equipped with AI Mk. IV radar.

(IWM Photo, ATP 10603B)

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IIF night fighter, (Serial No. R2402), coded YD-G, of No. 255 Squadron RAF, on the ground at Hibaldstow, Lincolnshire. This aircraft features AI Mk. IV interception radar, and the unmodified flat tailplanes characteristic of early Beaufighter models. Subsequently, R2402 also served with No. 410 Squadron RCAF and with No, 54 Operational Training Unit.

(IWM Photo)

Bristol 156 Beaufighter Mk. IIF (Serial No. T3037), B Flight of No. 409 Squadron, RCAF, based at RAF Station Aklington, Northumberland, Jan 1942. No 409 Squadron was Fighter Command's first Canadian night-fighter unit. Members are shown here posing for a formal portrait with one of their Merlin-engined Beaufighter Mk. IIFs.

No. 409 Squadron, RCAF, was formed at RAF Digby in the UK in June 1941 for night operations with Boulton-Paul Defiants, moving in July to RAF Coleby Grange, where, in August, it was re-equipped with Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IIf aircraft, allowing detachments to be maintained elsewhere. Two victories were claimed during the early days of the squadron's existence, but in June 1942 Beaufighter Mk. VI aircraft were received, and a greater degree of success was achieved. In February 1943 a move was made to Acklington, with detachments maintained in at least four other locations. In December a return to Coleby Grange was made, with the various detachments continuing their separate existences. Little was seen during the year, but in March 1944 the squadron moved to Hunsdon, converting to the de Havilland Mosquito Mk. XII and joined No. 85 Group of the Second Tactical Air Force. Intruder and offensive patrols commenced, and much action was seen over the Normandy beachhead in June 11 victories were claimed during this month. After some action against V-1 Flying Bombs, operations over Europe recommenced, and late in August the unit moved to Carpiquet in France, the first night fighters to be based on the mainland. By mid-October, the squadron had settled in the Lille area, where it was to remain until April 1945. On 19 April, a move was made to the Rhine in Germany, and from here the unit was able to claim six victories in a single night. Shortly after this the war ended with the total victories at 61 1 ⁄2 claimed. The squadron's code letters during this period were KP.

No. 410 Squadron, RCAF, was formed during the Second World War and was based at RAF Ayr near Prestwick, Scotland. Th squadrons's first official sortie was from RAF Drem, East Lothian, Scotland, on the night of 4 June 1942, when twelve Bristol Beaufighter crews took off, and it went on to become the top-scoring night fighter squadron in the RAF Second Tactical Air Force during the period between D-Day and VE-Day.

No. 410 Squadron supported the Allied forces during the Normandy Landings and the Battle of the Bulge, flew nightly patrols during this time and many of its pilots gained ace status. Two members of No. 410 Squadron, Flight Lieutenant (F/L) Currie and Flying Officer (F/O) Rose, were the first members of the RCAF to see the German V-2 rocket in flight. The squadron was disbanded in 1964 but reformed again in 1968.

(IWM Photo, CH 3149)

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IF, RAF (Serial No. R2198), coded PN-B, of No. 252 Squadron RAF, based at Chivenor, Devon, in flight over the snow-covered West Country.

(RAF Photo)

Bristol Beaufighter, coded PN-B.

(RCAF Photo, PL18853, via Mike Kaehler)

RCAF, RAF and USAAF aircraft at an airfield likely in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations. USAAF Bristol Beaufighter undergoing maintenance in the foreground, RAF Beaufighters, RAF Douglas Bostons, USAAF Douglas A-20 Havocs, RAF Martin Baltimores, USAAF Martin B-26 Marauders (upper right).

(IWM Photo, CH9769)

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, coded 2-G, later EE, being rearmed with a torpedo.

(IWM Photo, CH9767)

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, coded 2-G, carrying a torpedo fitted with a woden tail stabiser.

(IWM Photo, CH9768)

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, coded 2-G, being rearmed with a torpedo.

(Alain Rioux Photo)

Bristol Beaufighter TF. Mk. X (Serial No. RD867), coded BQ-L, being restored at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, 8 May 2005. It is a semi-complete RAF restoration but lacks engines, cowlings or internal components. It was received from the RAF Museum in exchange for a Bristol Bolingbroke in 1969.

(Author Photo)

Bristol Beaufighter TF. Mk. X (Serial No. RD867), coded BQ-L, being restored at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.

Jaguar XJR-9 IMSA (Daytona Type) Limited Edition

From Hasegawa's website: Designed specifically for taking the racing world by storm, the XJR-9 was the eighties Jaguar that finally cracked the iron grip Porsche had on the 24 Hours of Le Mans and brought Jaguar its first Le Mans win since 1957. In America, the type also brought home the win at the 24 Hours of Daytona and took third in the overall Constructor's Championship. This limited edition kit features markings for three IMSA-GTP class Daytona Sunbank 24 hours racers: Car No. 60 (the winner), Car No. 61, and Car No. 66 (third place).

Hasegawa originally released this kit in 1989, shortly after Jaguar had won at Daytona the previous year. This limited edition version is the same kit with new box art. (Limited Edition usually means that this will be the last release of these molds.) What is under that new box art are sixty seven parts molded in white plastic, clear parts for the windscreen and headlamp covers, four rubber tires as well as decals for all three cars (#60, #61, #66) that entered the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1988.

Bristol Beaufighter in profile

The following profiles illustrate some important moments of the Beaufighter’s operational career.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IF, 25 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Ser. no. R2069, North Weald, Essex, September 1940

25 Sqn were the first RAF front-line unit to get the Beau, in September 1940, replacing Blenheim IF’s in the (night) fighter role, though these early aircraft didn’t have any radar. They were, as you can see, painted in the standard day fighter finish of the time – the all black night fighter colour scheme wasn’t introduced until December 1940. Also they had the spinners fitted on the propellers, as did all early Beaus – but these were often removed later on. My advice to any modeller making a particular Beau Mk. I would be to work from a photograph of the actual aircraft concerned whenever possible. Some Mk. I’s were even fitted with the dihedral tailplanes later in life.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IF, 604 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Ser. no. R2101, Middle Wallop, Hampshire, December 1940

The overall matt black finish was introduced for night fighters in December 1940. This aircraft is still retaining the underwing markings and also Medium Sea Grey code letters and serial number (these were later changed to dull red). This aircraft is equipped with the early ”bow & arrow” type of radar – you can see the receiving aerials on the wing leading edge, the transmitting aerials are on the nose hidden behind the engine. 604 Sqn received its first Beau in September 1940 but re-equipment from the Blenheim IF was quite slow. However in 1941 it soon became the top-scoring night fighter squadron in the RAF – one of its pilots was the famous John ”Cat’s Eyes” Cunningham.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IC, 252 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Ser. no. T4828, Idku, Egypt, December 1941

This Beaufighter carries an interesting colour scheme – I think you would agree. This aircraft has obviously suffered severe damage to the tail and rear fuselage, which have been replaced from another – hence the different camouflage undersides and non-standard serial number (6 inches high as opposed to the regulation 8 inches, and also the gap between the prefix letter ”T” and the rest of the number).

Many RAF a/c in North Africa, although repainted in the desert colours on top, retained the original sky colouring on the undersurfaces, and did not have the azure blue as officially specified – hence this one has had a rear section from a blue one put on to it but the main part remains in sky.

252 Sqn were the first Coastal Command unit to get the Beau in the UK in December 1940 and at that time had the code letters ”PN”. They were transferred to Egypt via Malta in May 1941 to operate in the ground attack role and also anti-shipping in the Mediterranean. When first in Egypt they retained the PN letters, but these were deleted for a time, then replaced with ”BT”, which in turn was also fairly soon deleted.

The main differences between the Mk IF (”F” for Fighter) and Mk IC (”C” for Coastal) were that the C’s had the additional six .303 machine guns in the wings – two in the port, four in the starboard wing – and increased internal fuel tanks. Or to put it the other way round, the fighter versions only had the four 20mm cannon in the nose – the wing space being occupied by radar equipment.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IC, 236 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Ser. no. T4800, Wattisham, Suffolk, June 1942

This Beaufighter is probably the most famous of them all. On 12th June, 1942, crewed by Flight Lieutenant A.K. Gatward (Pilot) & Sergeant G. Fern (Observer), this aircraft dropped a French Tricolore on the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, and then strafed the nearby Headquarters of the Kriegsmarine.

As you can see, by this time the spinners had been removed from the propellers, and the Direction Finding (D/F) Loop added behind the cockpit.

Also the standard Coastal Command camouflage of Extra Dark Sea Grey, Dark Slate Grey and Sky had been introduced – but still with roundels underwing and very pale grey code letters. There is a well-known photo of this aircraft, showing it at least one month later as it has the Type C1 (narrow white & yellow) roundels and narrow white fin flash stripe but the original type A1 (equal width circles) were not replaced until July 1942 – hence my drawing shows the earlier type.

Flt Lt Gatward went on to command a whole Beau Coastal Strike Wing later in the war with the Mk.X (and also, of course, higher in rank).

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IIF, 456 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, Ser. no. T3370, Valley, Anglesey, September 1942

A Merlin-engined Mk.IIF night fighter, which shows the later form of all-black finish with dull red code letters and serial number, and also the early interception radar. Also it’s an Australian Squadron, based in Valley, Anglesey in Wales.

The Beaufighter always had something of a problem with ”swing” on take-off due to the twin-engine power with both props rotating in the same direction – the Merlin-engined version was even more powerful than the Hercules-powered aircraft and hence was somewhat disliked by its pilots.

456 Sqn began re-equipment from Defiants in September 1941 and used the Mk.IIF until January 1943, having started to replace them with Mk.VIF in July 1942. They were based at Valley throughout their time with the Mk.II.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. VIF, 256 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Ser. no. V8443, Woodvale, Lancashire, February 1943

The above 256 Sqn Mk. VIF nightfighter shows the standard colour scheme introduced in October/November 1942 – overall Medium Sea Grey with Dark Green camouflaging on the upper surfaces, and dull red code letters with black serial numbers.

This aircraft still has the early type radar (receiving aerials under and over the wing) but with the dihedral tailplane – early Mk VI’s still had the flat type. The housing on top of the fuselage just behind the cockpit is the camera-gun.

In case you wonder, the small pipe that comes out of the lower fuselage below the observer’s position is the fuel-dump pipe.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. VIF, 255 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Ser. no. MM924, Bo Rizzo, Sicily, August 1943

Another Mk VIF night fighter but with the centimetric radar in the ”Thimble Nose” radome, and also based in Italy rather than the UK. Note that the aerials on the wing leading edge are no longer applicable, but the sloping ones on the right wing were still there.

255 Sqn originally received Beau Mk IIF (Merlin-engined and all black finish) in July 1941 as replacements for the Defiant and some Hurricanes in the UK. They moved to North Africa (Maison Blanche) in November 1942, and on to Sicily in August 1943 – after that they were based on the Italian mainland until September 1945, having re-equipped with Mosquito night fighters from January 1945. The Sqn was disbanded on 30th April 1946 at Gianaclis, Egypt, and has never been reformed since.

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. VIF, 415th Night Fighter Squadron, 12th U.S. Army Air Force, Ser. no. KW147, La Vailon, Southern France, September 1944

The 12th USAAF in the Mediterranean Theatre had several squadrons of Beau night fighters – I think Ken Rust in his book on the 12th says four in total. These aircraft were supplied on reverse lend-lease from Britain. They were not organised into any Group, but operated on an independent Squadron basis. As you can see they retained the standard RAF night fighter scheme but with US markings.

Barney Barnato’s legendary grand-daughter

As South Africans many of us are familiar with Barney Barnato, the diamond and gold mining tycoon made rich in South Africa. His legacy carries with it a rags to riches story in Kimberley, when he joined the diamond rush with barely a penny, he was so broke he had to walk the last leg to get to Kimberley.

What follows is a stella consolidation of mining plots, and he was best known for his competition with Cecil John Rhodes for overall control and consolidation of all the Kimberley diamond mines. Rhodes’ cheque to Barnato to buy him out is in the economic history annuals as the biggest single instrument to settle a purchase, it made him a mining tycoon, and he was again at it making millions on the Rand’s Gold Mines in the Transvaal. He even had enough financial clout to threaten Paul Kruger and his Transvaal government not to execute members of Rhodes’ failed Jameson Raid for treason, and won the day.

His mysterious death on the 14 June 1897 whilst on passage from South Africa to the United Kingdom carries with it all the intrigue of murder versus suicide, he ‘fell overboard’ and his body was later recovered. The interesting part for this story is where his millions went.

So how was this great personal wealth generated by South African gold and diamonds spent, how do we as humanity benefit from Barnato’s legacy today?

Woolf Barnato

Happily some of this financial legacy ends well, a significant part of the Barney Bernato estate went to his son, Woolf Barnato, who used part of the multimillion-pound fortune he inherited at the age of two, to become a pioneer racing driver in the 1920s.

Woolf was one of the so-called Bentley Boys he pioneered racing engineering and speed. He even went on to achieve three consecutive wins out of three entries in the 24 Hours Le Mans race.

During the war, from 1940 to 1945, Woolf Barnato was a Wing-Commander with the Royal Air Force responsible for the protection of aircraft factories against Nazi Luftwaffe bombing raids.

This racing fuelled jet setting son of Barney, transferred his passion for pushing speed limits, record-breaking and the fearlessness needed to do it to his daughter, Diana – and it is here, in the grand-daughter of Barney that the Bernato legacy really shines through.

Diana Barnato Walker MBE FRAeS

Diana Barnato was born on 15 January 1918, she was destined to become a pioneering female aviator. Diana Barnato and her sister, Virginia, enjoyed the pleasures of high society, though Woolf separated from their mother when Diana was four.

While their mother brought the girls up she maintained an amicable relationship with their father. Diana was educated at Queen’s College in Harley Street, London, until 1936, when she came out as a débutante and ‘did the season’ having been presented to King Edward VIII at Buckingham Palace.

From an early age, she became interested in aircraft and at age 20 she decided to become a pilot. Her initial training was in Tiger Moths at the Brooklands Flying Club, the aerodrome being located within the famous motor racing circuit in Surrey. She showed a natural aptitude for flying and made her first solo flight after only six hours of dual instruction.

In terms of family she had some legacy, as we know Diana’s father was Woolf Barnato (1895-1948), he eventually became the Chairman of Bentley Motors and his first wife was Dorothy Maitland Falk (1893-1961), an American from White Plains, New York, who were married at the Ritz Carlton in London.

As we know her paternal grandfather was Barney Barnato (1851–1897) and her maternal grandparents were American stockbroker Herbert Valentine Falk and Florence Maude Whittaker. While married from 1915-1933, her parents had two children, Virginia Barnato (1916-1980) and Diana.

Red Cross Service during World War 2

Soon after the outbreak of World War II, Diana volunteered to become a Red Cross nurse. In 1940 she was serving as a nurse in France before the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk and later drove ambulances in London during the Blitz.

One of the ‘female few’: ATA Service

In early 1941 she applied to become one of the first women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) and successfully took her initial assessment flying test at their headquarters at White Waltham, Berkshire, on 9 March 1941 with the ATA’s Chief Flying Instructor, A.R.O. Macmillan, in the Tiger Moth’s rear seat.

Diana was admitted to the ATA’s Elementary Flying Training School at White Waltham on 2 November 1941. After a lengthy period of intensive flight instruction and tests in primary training aircraft, she joined her first ATA Ferry Pool (FP), No.15 FP at RAF Hamble, Hampshire, on 9 May 1942. She soon began to deliver low-powered single engine aircraft from factory or repair base to storage units and RAF and Naval flying units.

Further advanced training permitted her to deliver several hundred Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mustangs, Tempests and other high performance fighter aircraft. After yet further training, Diana became eligible to deliver twin-engined aircraft and delivered Whitleys, Blenheims, Mosquitos, Mitchells and Wellingtons, normally flying solo when doing so. She continued intensive flying with the ATA until the organisation was disbanded in late 1945. By that time she had flown 80 types of aircraft and had delivered 260 Spitfires.

The ATA’s pilots ferried all types of military aircraft, from trainers to bombers, from factories to RAF stations or from maintenance units to squadrons. They had minimal pilot’s notes and no radios, and often flew in marginal weather conditions.

Diana had her share of incidents. While flying a Supermarine Walrus air-sea-rescue amphibian, her least-liked aeroplane, from Cosford to Eastleigh on 19 September 1944, the windscreen was obscured by oil from the failing engine as she approached the Southampton balloon barrage at 1500 feet. Without power she could only push down the nose to prevent a stall and make a steep descent into the sea fog. Luckily she missed the balloon cables and emerged from the cloud a few feet above Eastleigh’s grass airfield.

Three weeks after Barnato first met the battle of Britain fighter ace Squadron Leader Humphrey Trench Gilbert in 1942 they became engaged, but days later he died in a flying accident. Two years later, on 6 May 1944, she married another pilot, Wing Commander Derek Ronald Walker, and was docked three months’ pay for making an unauthorized honeymoon flight to Brussels four months later in a Spitfire, accompanied by her husband in another. Derek Walker was killed in a flying accident shortly after the war’s end, on 14 November 1945.

Diana vowed never to marry again. For 30 years she was the lover of Whitney Straight, also a pilot and a pre-war champion racing driver, like her father. In 1947, the couple had a son and named him after his great-grandfather on his mother’s side: Barney Barnato Walker.

As part of the ATA Diana would have stood shoulder to shoulder with another famous and remarkable South African pioneer aviator Jackie Moggridge, for more on her, follow this link South African Battle of Britain Heroine -Jackie Moggridge

Women’s Junior Air Corps

After the war’s end, Diana continued to fly and gained her commercial flying licence. For many years she was a volunteer pilot with the Women’s Junior Air Corps (WJAC), later the Girls Venture Corps Air Cadets (GVCAC), giving flights to air-minded teenage girls to encourage them to enter the aviation industry. Here she accumulated many happy hours in the corps’ Fairchild Argus and Auster aircraft.

On 11 July 1948, at White Waltham aerodrome in England, s he had just taken off in a newly acquired Argus aircraft for the Air Corps when it burst into flames. Rather than bale out and lose a valuable aeroplane, she switched off the fuel and glided back to the airfield, where the flames were put out.

Diana Barnato Walker receiving the Lennox Trophy from Lord Brabazon, 1963

In 1963, for her work with the corps, she was awarded the Jean Lennox Bird trophy, presented annually to a British woman pilot.

Air Speed Record

On 26 August 1963 she flew a Royal Air Force English Electric Lightning T4 to Mach 1.6 (1,262 mph or 2,031 km/h) after convincing the Air Minister to let her fly it with Squadron Leader Ken Goodwin as her check pilot, and so became the first British woman to break the sound barrier. She also established by this flight a world air speed record for women.

Shortly after her record-breaking flight in 1963, Diana was found to have cancer, and subsequently had three operations, ultimately winning the battle against the ‘Big C’.

Diana Barnato Walker was awarded the MBE in 1965 for services to aviation, and was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. In later years Diana Barnato Walker took up sheep farming and was master of the Old Surrey and Burstow foxhounds for thirteen seasons, while continuing to fly for the Women’s Junior Air Corps (renamed in 1964 the Girls’ Venture Corps). She also became commodore of the Air Transport Auxiliary Association. She died of pneumonia on 28 April 2008 aged 90 in a hospital near her sheep farm in Surrey, and was survived by her son, Barney.

There you have it, Barney’s decision to break the family poverty cycle and make his fortunes in South Africa has ultimately left us with a person who pioneered female equality and has become an icon for many women, especially those who have entered the field of aviation – what a wonderful journey we weave.

Watch the video: RAAF Beaufighters (June 2022).