Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (10201)Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (10201)

Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (10201) [@ RAF Duxford]

In August 1935 the Air Ministry issued Specification B28/35, covering the conversion of the Bristol Type 142, a fast eight seat passenger aircraft developed as a private venture which first flew on the 12th April 1935 at Filton, Gloucestershire, to the bomber role under the designation Type 142M.   Some major modifications were necessary, including raising the wing from the low to mid wing position to make room for an internal bomb bay, and widening the nose section to accommodate both pilot and observer/bomb aimer.   Defensive armament comprised a single 7.7mm (0.303in) Lewis machine gun in a power-operated dorsal turret; the thinking was that the aircraft was fast enough to out-run any contemporary fighter.  A Browning 7.7mm (0.303in) was also installed in the port wing leading edge and fired by the pilot.  Powered by two Bristol Mercury VIII radial piston engines it was claimed to be able to reach 280 mph, however when carrying bombs (maximum bomb-load 450 kg) the top speed was significantly reduced.  Pending the arrival of the Bristol Beaufighter in 1940-1941 the type was also adapted for the long-range fighter and night fighter roles and as the basis for the Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber.

Delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as a Bolingbroke IV-T (a navigation and gunnery crew trainer) 10201 entered RCAF service on the 18th May 1943.  Struck off Charge on the 15th May 1946 and sold to the civilian market, 10201eventaully arrived at the Aircraft Restoration Co, RAF Duxford, for restoration.  The first flight came in May 1987 but 10201 was tragically wrecked only four weeks after its return to the air.  The restoration team was determined that a Blenheim would fly again and the decision was taken to resurrect a new Blenheim.  Five years later 10201 flew again on the 18th May 1993 and again tragedy struck 10 years later in August 2003 when 10201 was significant damaged during a landing accident at Duxford.  Restoration is again underway and 10201 will return to the air as a Blenheim Mk I.  Of the thirteen Blenheims known to be in museum collections around the world 10201, at the time of the photographs, was the only one in airworthy condition.  The colour scheme represents a Blenheim Mk IV of 82 Squadron RAF. 

Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (10201)Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (10201) 

Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke (10201) [@ RAF Duxford]

In September 1935 the Air Ministry placed an initial order for 150 aircraft under the service designation Blenheim Mk I, a second order for 434 aircraft following on completion of the trials programme in December 1936.  The first production model served as the only prototype and first flew on the 25th June 1936.  The first Blenheims were delivered to 114 Squadron on the 10th March 1937 at RAF Wyton, Cambridgeshire; 1500 Mk Is were built in total and of these 1007 were on RAF charge at the outbreak of World War II in September 1939.  These included 147 completed to the Blenheim Mk IF fighter standard, fitted with a ventral gun pack containing four Browning machine guns; some of these were later equipped with Al radar and served as interim night fighters in the autumn of 1940.  Unfortunately by early 1938 it was becoming evident that the Blenheim I was already obsolescent and by the time war broke out most of the Mk I bombers were serving in the Middle and Far East, the home-based squadrons having rearmed with the improved Blenheim Mk IV.

Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (9895)Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (9895)

Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (9895)  [@ Koninklijk Leger Museum, Brussels]

During the early stages of development of the Blenheim, the Bristol Company designed a derivative of the Type 142 in response to an Air Ministry request for a coastal reconnaissance and light bomber aircraft to replace the Avro Anson.  The Type 149 was a Blenheim with greater fuel capacity and a lengthened nose for an observer and his gear.  However, the Air Ministry then began to worry that this new aircraft would interfere with the production of the Blenheim I which was already underway so the prototype was shipped to Canada to help start the production lines at Fairchild Aircraft Ltd of Quebec.  The Type 149 would enter production in the UK as the Blenheim Mk IV

The Blenheim Mk IV was basically a Mk I airframe with two Mercury XV radials driving de Havilland three blade variable pitch propellers, extra fuel tankage and a much redesigned, lengthened nose.  In total 1930 Mk IVs were built and the variant entered RAF service with 53 Squadron based at RAF Odiham, Hampshire, in January 1939.  By the 3rd September 1939 the RAF had 197 Blenheim IVs on strength and N6215, a Blenheim IV, became first RAF aircraft to fly over Germany during WW2 when Flying Officer A Macpherson of 139 Squadron carried out an armed reconnaissance over Wilhelmshaven.   On the second day of the war a total of 10 Blenheim IVs of 107 and 110 Squadrons from RAF Marham, Norfolk, carried out the RAFís first offensive operation when they unsuccessfully attacked units of the German Navy in the Elbe Estuary.  Blenheims were used in the defence and support of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).  The inadequacy of the Blenheimís defensive armament became apparent in the battles of Norway and France, when Blenheims engaged in anti-shipping operations in the North Sea suffered appalling losses.  The armament was subsequently increased to five machine guns.

Delivered to the RCAF as a Bolingbroke IV-T (a multi-purpose trainer), 9895 entered service on the 9th June 1942.  Struck off charge on the 15th May 1946 and was sold at RCAF MacDonald, Manitoba, to a farmer for parts later in the year.  Rebuilt using parts from 10038 of the RCAF, 9895 is shown in the photographs in the livery of L9416/XD-A a Blenheim Mk1 from 139 Squadron.   Tasked to bomb and strafe German troop columns advancing out of the Dutch city of Maastricht (Limburg) and advancing towards Tongeren (Limburg), Belgium, L9416/XD-A made a crash landing on the 12th May 1940 near the village of Hoepertingen in Belgium.

Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (9895)

Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (9895)  [@ Koninklijk Leger Museum, Brussels]

Blenheims were also heavily involved in the Middle and Far East as well as the Mediterranean where 84 and 211 Squadrons participated in the abortive Greek campaign of 1941.  In these regions the Blenheim soldiered on with fighter escort until 1943.  By 1941 most of the RAFís home based Blenheim IVs were under the control of 2 Group, based in East Anglia, from where they carried out on-going anti-shipping patrols (Operation Channel Stop) and attacks on targets in France and the Low Countries.  2 Group often carried out dangerous daylight attacks.   On the 4th July 1941Wing Commander Edwards carried out such a raid when he led 12 aircraft from 105 and 107 Squadrons to Bremen.  The attack was pressed home at less than 100ft and subsequently 7 aircraft failed to return home and Edwards was awarded the Victoria Cross.  The Blenheims were eventually replaced in 2 Group by the Douglas Boston and the de Havilland Mosquito.

Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (10001)Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (10001)

Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (10001)  [@ RAF Hendon]

The final British built version of the Blenheim was the Bristol Mercury XV or XXV radial powered Mk V, of which 942 were produced during 1942, mostly the VD tropical version for service in North Africa.  With extra armour and weapons, but the same engines, meant that the combat losses of the variant were very heavy and the type was soon replaced by US Baltimores and Venturas.

In Canada, Fairchild Aircraft Ltd.  built 676 Blenheims for the RCAF, designated Bolingbroke Mks I to IV, and were used in the anti-submarine and training roles.   The Mk 1 (18 built) was a maritime patrol bomber aircraft, powered by Bristol Mercury VIII radials, and fitted with British equipment.  Subsequent variants were fitted with either American or Canadian equipment.  16 Bolingbroke Mk Is were modified into floatplanes and re-designated Bolingbroke Mk IIIs.  The most numerous were the Bolingbroke Mk IVs.

Delivered to the RCAF as an IV-T on the 20th October 1942 10001 was allocated to the 3 Bombing & Gunnery School based at RCAF McDonald, Manitoba, during November 1942.  Struck off Charge on the 15th May 1946 and sold in the same year to a farmer for parts.  Purchased by the museum on the 25th April 1966, from the same farmer, 10001 arrived in the UK in 1968 and was placed into storage.  The deal involved an exchange of a Beaufighter (RD867) with the RCAF since the RCAF had provided assistance with dismantling and packing.  After a very long restoration period 10001 was finally placed on display in August 1978.  In the photographs 10001 is in the livery of L8756/XD-E of 139 Squadron.

Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke IV-T (9940)  [@ RAF East Fortune]

Over 200 Mk I bombers were modified into Blenheim Mk IF long-range fighters and were operated by both Bomber and Fighter Commands.  The variant entered RAF service with 600 (Auxiliary Air Force) Squadron base at RAF Hendon in September 1938 and by 1939 at least seven squadrons were operating the type.   slower and less nimble than expected and with daylight Blenheim losses  causing concern for Fighter Command it was then decided by June 1940 that the Mk IF would be relegated mainly to night fighter duties.   Some Mk IFs were equipped with AI Mk III radar and flew alongside 23 Squadron who had already operated the type under night time conditions with some success.   About 60 Blenheim Mk IVs were converted into Mk IVF fighter standard.

Built in Canada, 9940 entered service with the Royal Canadian Air Force as a gunnery trainer on the 8th August 1942.  Following a category B crash on the 21st February 1943 9940 was placed into storage and was then later used as target tug.  Struck off Charge on the 21st August 1946 9940 sold to the private market.  After some restoration in Canada, 9940 was bought over to the UK by Sir William Roberts as an exhibit his Strathallan Aircraft Collection at Auchterader, Scotland, in late 1972.  Purchased from the Strathallan Collection auction in 1981 by the Museum of Flight, 9940 is shown in the photograph undergoing restoration. Intended for static display 9940 as so far been restored using the wings from 9059 and is also fitted with restored Mercury engines.

Twelve Blenheims were supplied to Finland (which built an additional 55 between 1941 and 1944 under licence), 13 to Romania and 22 to Yugoslavia, where a further 48 were built under licence.