Vickers Wellington X/T.10 (MF628)

Vickers Wellington X/T.10 (MF628) [@ RAF Hendon]

Introduced into service in late 1938 Wellingtons (of 9 and 149 Squadrons) and  Bristol Blenheims shared the honour of being the first RAF aircraft to attack Germany when they bombed ships at Brunsbüttel on 4th September 1939 During this raid two Wellingtons became the first aircraft to be shot down on the Western Front.  Even with its power-operated turrets the Wellington was unable to defend itself adequately in daylight and had to switch to night operations to survive the German defences.  Wellingtons participated in the first night raid on Berlin on the 25th August 1940 and in the first 1000 aircraft raid on Cologne on the 30th May ,1942 (599 out of 1046 aircraft were Wellingtons - 101 of them were flown by Polish aircrew).

Like its predecessor, the Vickers Wellesley, the aircraft featured Barnes Wallis’s geodetic construction.  Designed in the mid-1930s at Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey, the Wellington, nicknamed the “Wimpy” by its crews (after J.  Wellington Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons), was immensely strong and could take large amounts of damage and still return safely to base.  Built in greater numbers than any other British bomber, the Wellington formed the backbone of Bomber Command operations until the widespread introduction of the four-engine Halifax and Lancaster bombers in 1941.  The adaptability of the basic design resulted in the aircraft being used for a number of early experiments in duties we take for granted today, airborne minesweeping, electronic counter-measures, and high altitude flying with pressurised cabins.  On the other hand it took considerably longer to complete a Wellington than for other designs using monocoque construction techniques.  Also, it was not possible to cut holes into the fuselage to provide additional access or equipment fixtures.  For example, the fitting of the Leigh light for surface submarine detection at night required the removal of the ventral turret.  Nevertheless, in the late 1930s Vickers succeeded in building Wellingtons at a rate of one per day at Weybridge and 50 per month at Chester.  Peak wartime production in 1942 saw monthly rates of 70 achieved at Weybridge, 130 at Chester and 102 at Blackpool.  In 1944 Wellingtons of Coastal Command were deployed to Greece to perform various support duties during the RAF involvement in the Greek Civil War.  The Wellington remained in operational service for much of the war in the Middle East and the Far East.  It was particularly effective with the South African Air Force in North Africa, where it could fly faster than most of the Italian fighter aircraft even with a heavier bomb load.  In total, 11,461 Wellingtons were built.

Vickers Wellington X/T.10 (MF628)

Vickers Wellington X/T.10 (MF628) [@ RAF Hendon]

In December 1933 Vickers was awarded a contract for the construction of a single prototype (K4049) under the designation Type 271, this aircraft flying on 15th June 1936 (initially the type was named Crecy).  K4049 was lost on the 19th April 1937 when it broke up during an involuntary high-speed dive, the cause being determined as elevator imbalance.  As a result, the production prototype Wellington B.I and subsequent aircraft were fitted with a revised fin, rudder and elevator adapted from a parallel project, the Vickers B.1/35, which would enter service later as the Warwick.  The fuselage also underwent considerable modification, so that production Wellingtons, ordered to Specification 29/36, bore little resemblance to the ill-fated prototype.  The first Wellington B.I flew on 23rd December 1937 powered by two Bristol Pegasus X radial engines and the first Bomber Command squadron to rearm, No 9, began receiving its aircraft in December 1938.

The Wellingtons in RAF service at the outbreak of World War 2 were the Pegasus engined B.Is and B.IAs, the latter having a very slight increase in wingspan and length.  The most numerous early model, however, was the B.IC, which had Pegasus XVIII engines.  Differing little from the B.IA, the fuselage of the Wellington B.IC was slightly cut down behind the nose turret and reshaped in order to allow the turret a greater traverse.  The aircraft was also fitted with beam gun positions in place of the ventral gun turret, which caused too much drag, and self-sealing fuel tanks.  The B.IC had a crew of six; a pilot, radio operator, navigator/bomb aimer, observer/nose gunner, tail gunner and waist gunner.  In all, 2685 Wellington B.ICs were built.

The Wellington B.II was identical to the 1C except it was powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin X engine.  400 Wellington B.IIs were produced at Weybridge.  Prototypes of the B.II and the B.III were fitted with two 1500 hp Bristol Hercules III or XI radial engines and it was this power plant that would be generally adopted (the Bristol Hercules engine was more reliable than the Pegasus).  With its four-gun tail turret, instead of two-gun, the B.III became the backbone of Bomber Command through 1941.  A total of 1,519 B.IIIs were built.  Four squadrons, including two Polish squadrons, used the B.IV (220 built) which was identical to the Wellington B.III but powered by two 1200 hp American Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasps.

Powered by turbocharged Hercules VIII engines three pressurised Vs were built for high altitude operations.  One high altitude VI prototype was built with 2 VIG production variants.  A single VII was built as a test-bed for the 40 mm Vickers S machine gun turret while the IX was used as a test bed.  One IX, a B.IC conversion, was used as a troop transport prototype while two more were used as prototypes for testing ASV.Mk II and ASV.Mk III radars.  They were powered by Bristol Hercules VI or XVI engines.

The last bomber version of the Wellington was the B.X, of which 3803 were built, accounting for more than 30% of all Wellington production.  Similar to the B.III except it was powered by two Hercules VI or XVI engines and a fuselage made of light alloy, instead of steel.  Its career with Bomber Command was brief, but it was used in the Middle East from September 1940 and in the Far East from1942 until the end of the WW2.

Vickers Wellington X/T.10 (MF628)

Vickers Wellington X/T.10 (MF628) [@ RAF Hendon]

MF628 was ordered from Vickers Armstrong at Blackpool/Squires Gates as an Mk X.  Powered by Bristol Hercules XVI radial engines, MF628 was first flown during May 1944 and entered RAF with 18 MU based at RAF Tinwald Downs, Dumfries, a short time later.  Placed into storage MF628 was converted to T.10 standard by Boulton Paul at Wolverhampton from the 28th March 1948.  After conversion MF628 was allocated to 1 Air Navigation School based at RAF Hullavington, Wiltshire, on the 13th April 1949 and used for navigation training and bombing practice.  With the type being replaced by Vickers Varsity T.1s, MF628 was transferred on the 28th October 1952 to 19 MU based at RAF St Athan, Glamorgan, for storage.  Used for a number of displays during 1953 MF628 was used during 1954 in the making of “The Dambusters” film as a camera aircraft as well as an “extra”.  On the 24th January 1955 MF628 was sold to at Vickers Ltd, Weybridge, and was flown from St Athan to Wisley, Surrey. This flight was probably the last flight ever by a Wellington.  In 1956 MF628 was presented by Vickers to the Royal Aeronautical Society Collection which in turn was transferred to RAF Hendon in late 1957.  The Collection was eventually purchased from the Society in March 1992 by the Ministry of Defence and gifted to the Royal Air Force Museum in September 2004.

Coastal Command also found its uses for the versatile Wellington.  The first general reconnaissance version of the aircraft, which made its appearance in the spring of 1942, was the GR.III (271 being converted from standard B.IC airframes).  The aircraft were fitted with ASV Mk II radar and adapted to carry torpedoes.  Use of the GR.III torpedo-bomber was mainly confined to the Mediterranean, where squadrons operating from the island of Malta preyed on the Axis convoys plying between Europe and North Africa.  Fifty-eight more GR.IIIs were equipped as anti-submarine aircraft, being fitted with a powerful Leigh Light searchlight to illuminate U-boats travelling on the surface.  Based upon the B.X the GR.XI and GR.XIII were specifically intended for the torpedo-bomber role, while the GR.XII and GR.XIV were anti-submarine variants.

The C.XV was a B.IA conversion into an unarmed transport aircraft which was capable of carrying up to 18 troops while the C.XVI was the B.IC equivalent.  Trainer variants of the Wellington were mainly bomber conversions.  The T.XVIIs and T.XVII were powered by two Hercules XVII or Hercules XVI engines respectively (although 80 of the latter were not conversions) while the T.XIX was the conversion of the B.X for navigation training.  This variant remained in use as a trainer until 1953.  Post-war bomber conversions into training aircraft were designated as T.10s.

One interesting variant was the DWI Wellington which stood for “Directional Wireless Installation” to try and disguise the purpose of the 51ft diameter coil suspended beneath it.  As a result of passing a current of 310A through a coil made up of strips of aluminium a very strong downward magnetic field was created, sufficient to trigger a magnetic mine.  The current was a produced via a Ford V8 petrol engine and 35KW Maudsley electrical generator.  The prototype P2516, a converted B.1A but with a solid nose, was fitted with a coil streamlined by a balsa wood fairing and attached to brackets at the nose, near the rear fuselage and at the wings, outboard of the engines.  The first operational trail flight was made in early January 1940 over the Medway and almost immediately a mine blew up.  A total of 4 B.1As were converted to the DWI.I standard.  The variant was upgraded to the DWI.II standard (11 built) by installing a de Havilland Gipsy Six engine and hence a more powerful generator which enabled a slightly smaller ring to be used.  Although copied by the Germans using Ju52s this method of magnetic minesweeping was only a stop gap until more viable methods like the double longitudinal (Double L) sweep became available.  A DWI could only “sweep” out a narrow channel and an unmarked one at that.  Several were employed in the Middle East to “sweep” the Suez Canal and small harbours.  One of the DWI Wellingtons was used in the first Leigh Light experiments to illumined surfaced U boats which had been previously detected using airborne centimetre radar.