Handley Page Halifax "B.2 Series 1 (HR792)"Handley Page Halifax "B.2 Series 1 (HR792)"

Handley Page Halifax "B.2 Series 1 (HR792)" [@ RAF Elvington]

Rarely mentioned in the same context as the celebrated Avro Lancaster as a great aeroplane, the Halifax through successive improvements to the basic design became a very able support aircraft to the Lancaster and was the second of the RAF's four-engined “heavies” into service, being preceded by the Short Stirling by three months.   To answer the RAF’s Specifications B.l/35 and P.13/36 the Handley Page design team, led by G R Volkert, proposed two twin-engined bomber aircraft HP.55 and HP.56 respectively.  Powered by two Rolls Royce Vulture engines neither was built.  Handley Page foresaw problems with the supply of these engines, which had not yet been flown, and was allowed to alter the aircraft design to incorporate four Merlin engines.  The substitution of the eventual unreliable Vultures with four 1,280 hp Merlin Xs, with increased dimensions and weights, resulted in HP.57 - the first Halifax prototype.  The potential of the Halifax was such that the RAF placed its first order for 100 B.1 Series 1 Halifaxes "off the drawing board" to Specification 32/37 in January 1938 before the first prototype even flew.  HP57 flew for the first time at RAF Bicester on 25th October 1939 and eventually, in total, 84 were delivered as 50 B.1s Series 1, 25 B.1s Series 2 and 9 B.1s Series 3.  The first prototype was quickly followed by a second in August 1940.  L7244 was borrowed from the Ministry of Aircraft Production and flown to RAF Leeming in Yorkshire to be used for training by 35 Squadron which was forming as the first Halifax B.1 squadron in Bomber Command.  In December the squadron moved to Linton-on-Ouse, near York, and it was from there on the night of 10/11th March 1941 that six of its Halifaxes made the type’s first operational sortie - an attack on Le Havre.  One Halifax was shot down in error by an RAF night fighter while on its way home.  The following night saw the debut of the Halifax over Germany when two aircraft joined an attack on Hamburg.  In June of 1941, 76 Squadron became the second Halifax unit and within a year a further ten squadrons (all in No 4 Group) had converted to the type.

Handley Page Halifax "B.2 Series 1 (HR792)"

Production of the Halifax began at English Electric's site at Samlesbury, Lancashire, with over 2,000 bombers being built at the factory during the war.  The first production Series 1 flew on 11th October 1940 and deliveries to 35 Squadron began in November 1940.  The B.1 had a 22 ft long bomb bay as well as six bomb cells in the wings, enabling it to carry 13,000 lb (5,897 kg) of bombs.  Defensive armament consisted of two 0.303in Browning machine guns in the nose, four in a tail turret and, in some aircraft, two waist guns.  Following on was the Series 2 with an higher gross weight (from 58,000 lb to 60,000 lb) and the Series 3 with increased fuel tankage.  The B.1 series had a serious flaw in the design of its tail units that caused it to go into a steep, uncontrollable spin if the aircraft was flung about vigorously.  This fault undoubtedly caused a number of fatal crashes.

Handley Page Halifax "B.2 Series 1 (HR792)"

Although a composite aircraft HR792 is one of only two fully restored Halifax bombers in the world.  The other Halifax, RCAF NA337, was retrieved from the bottom of Lake Mjøsa in Norway in 1995 after being shot down in April 1945.  NA337 was shipped to Canada and restoration was completed in 2005.  NA337 is a A.7 Special Duties aircraft built by Rootes Motors, Liverpool and resides at the RCAF Memorial Museum at Trenton, Ontario.  HR792 is based on a 25ft section of the rear fuselage of HR792 which carried out an emergency belly-landing at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis on 13th January 1945 while serving with 58 Squadron.  In April 1942, 58 Squadron was transferred back to Coastal Command, based at RAF St Eval Cornwall as apart of 19 Group RAF, as a general reconnaissance unit and converted from the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley V to the Halifax from December1942.  The Squadron later moved to RAF Stornoway in Scotland as a part of 18 Group RAF.  In October 1944 the squadron switched from anti-submarine duties to anti-shipping duties, carrying out attacks on German shipping off the coast of Norway and in the Skaggerak.  Parts of HR792 have also been used in the rebuild of NA337.  The wings came from TG536, an ex T.5 Handley Page Hastings, which was Struck Off Charge (SOC) in 1976.  The reconstruction is named "Friday 13th" in honour of Halifax LV907 which completed 128 operational missions with 158 Squadron.

The first major modification appeared in the B.2 Series 1 which had a two-gun (.303) dorsal turret instead of waist guns, larger oil coolers, larger wing fuel capacity and 1,390 hp Merlin XX engines.  The prototype, a B.1 conversion, flew for the first time on 3rd July 1941.  Following on was the B.2 Series 1 (Special) which achieved improved performance by removing the nose and dorsal turrets and omitting the engine exhaust muffs.  First flown on 15th August 1942 and operated initially for the SOE (Special Operations Executive) sorties by 138 Squadron and later by bomber squadrons in 4 Group using kit-modified Series 1 aircraft.  For SOE use the aircraft was a fitted with a parachute exit cone in the rear fuselage and a retracting tail-wheel; many of these aircraft were operated by 148 Squadron from Brindisi to support Warsaw uprising July 1944.  Later production B.2 Series 1A with more streamlined and was the first variant to introduce the drag reducing moulded perspex nose that was a feature of all subsequent Halifaxes, a four-gun Defiant-type dorsal turret and Merlin 22 engines.  The B.2 Series 1A also had large rectangular vertical tail surfaces which solved control deficiencies (rudder-stall) in the B.1s.  H2S radar was first flown on an Halifax B.2 on 27th March 1942.  Production of the B.2 was shared between Handley Page (615), London Aircraft Production Group (450) at Leavesden, Rootes Securities (12) at Speke and English Electric (900) at Samlesbury. 

Bristol HerculesIn 1943 the Merlin engines were replaced by Bristol Hercules [photograph - left] VI or XVI radial engines in the B.3 and this variant remained in front line service with the RAF up to the end of WW2.  The B.3 was the most numerous Halifax variant and featured the perspex nose and modified tail of the B.2 Series 1A.  Other changes included de Havilland hydromatic propellers, retractable tail-wheel, D-type enlarged fins and rounded wing tips.  The prototype was converted from the first B.2 Series 1 (Special) and was flown for the first time on 12th October 1942 with the first production B.3 flying on 29th August 1943.  Deliveries began in November 1943 to 433 Squadron (RCAF) and 466 Squadron (RAAF).  By 1944/45 the B.3 was used by 41 operational squadrons, principally in 4 and 6 Groups.  Production totalled 326 by Handley Page at Radlett, 900 by English Electric at Samlesbury, 260 by LAPG at Leavesden, 280 by Rootes Securities at Speke and 326 by Fairey Aviation at Stockport.

Thirty Rootes Securities built B.3s were converted to A.3 standard to serve as an interim Airborne Forces glider tug and paratroop transport pending production of the A.7 and was used to tow Horsa and Hamilcar gliders in airborne assaults on European targets after D-Day.  In fact the Halifax was the only aircraft capable of towing the massive Hamilcar glider which was used to deliver heavy vehicles to the battlefront (thanks John H for that fact).

The B.4 was a non-production design and intended as a development of the B.2 with Merlin 60 engines.  The design incorporated totally enclosed wheel bays, enlarged fins and rudders, enlarged bomb-doors for 8,000 lb (3,632 kg) block-busters and extended span.  One B.2 Series 2 was tested in March 1943 with Merlin 60 power-plants and was later used as a test-bed for Merlin 61s and 65s.

Developed from the B.3 the B.5 was fitted with Dowty landing gear and hydraulics instead of the standard Messier gear.  Variants followed the B.2 format of Series 1, Series 1 (Special) and Series 1A types.  The prototype, a B.2 conversion, first flew in October 1941 and production totalled 658 by Rootes Securities and 246 by Fairey Aviation at Stockport.  Principally used by squadrons of 6 Group RCAF, other B.5s were converted to GR.5 and Met.5 standard for Coastal Command.  Modified B.5s were the first Halifaxes to serve with Airborne Forces as tugs for Horsa and Hamilcar gliders and to carry paratroops.  The first three modified B.5s went to 38 Group in October 1942 for operation “Freshman”, the first British glider-borne attack.  295 Squadron was the first one in 38 Group to be equipped with B.5s in February 1943.

Handley Page Halifax B.2 Series 1 (W1048)

Handley Page Halifax B.2 Series 1 (W1048) [@ RAF Hendon]

“Freshman” was mounted during the night of 19th/20th November 1942, using two Horsa gliders and Royal Engineer commandos.  The purpose of the raid was to destroy the heavy water making Norak Hydro Plant at Rjukan in Norway.  The operations against this heavy water plant formed the basis of the Hollywood film "The Heroes of Telemark".  The first operation, in November 1942, ended in disaster.  A four-man team of the Norwegian SOE had been dropped successfully in October with the task to select and prepare landing sites for the two gliders.  Both gliders crashed in bad weather and the survivors were captured and executed.  A second operation, carried out by a six-man team of the Norwegian SOE parachuted on to the Hardanger Vidda in February 1943, was completely successful by putting the heavy water producing plant out of action without the loss of a Norwegian life.  During training the modified B.5s developed defects due to the towing of the Horsa guilders, particularly in the cooling system.  Fortunately these and other troubles were discovered during the practice tows and were remedied, so that on the night of the operation two Halifaxes were serviceable, the third held in reserve could not be flown.  One Halifax kept low, seeking to fly beneath the cloud and then to gain height on nearing the Norwegian coast, where the pilot hoped for clear weather.  What happened is not exactly known, but at some moment the tug hit the side of a mountain, crashed, and all its crew were killed.  The violence of the shock freed the glider which made a very heavy landing close by, killing and injuring several of its occupants.  The other Halifax was more fortunate.  It flew high and approached the Norwegian coast at 10,000 feet.  The pilot made every effort to find the right spot, until, with petrol running low he was forced to turn for home.  The glider was still at the end of the rope but on crossing the coast the combination ran into heavy cloud and icing conditions, the air became very bumpy, and the two parted.  This glider, too, made land and crashed not very far from the other.  The survivors of both gliders were captured and almost immediately fell into the hands of the Gestapo.

Handley Page Halifax B.2 Series 1 (W1048)Handley Page Halifax B.2 Series 1 (W1048)

Handley Page Halifax B.2 Series 1 (W1048) [@ RAF Hendon]

Powered by Merlin XX engines, W1048 was built by English Electric as a B.2 Series 1 at Samlesbury, Lancashire, and entered RAF service with 102 Squadron on the 27th March 1942.  The squadron was at the time in the process of converting from Whitley Vs to Halifaxes.  On the 9th April 1942 six Halifax IIs, including W1048, were transferred to 35 Squadron base at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire, and exchanged for six 35 Squadron aircraft fitted with the Gee radio navigation aid.  Since the forthcoming operation would be outside the range of Gee stations it was decided not to risk the loss of sets.  On the 23rd April W1048, now TL-S "Sugar" of 35 Squadron, and ten other Halifaxes flew to RAF Kinloss on the North East coast of Scotland.  On the 27th April W1048 took off at 2030 hrs with the rest of the Halifaxes to take part in an attack, which involved a total force of thirty-one Halifaxes, on the German Battleship Tirpitz at Fættenfjord, Norway.   W1048 was the 8th aircraft to attack and as a result of AA fire during the mine laying attack W1048 caught fire and crash landed on the frozen surface of Lake Hoklingen, about seven miles inland from Fættenfjord with only thirteen hours flying in the logbook.  The crew managed to escape from the crash landing, however, one of the crew was later taken POW and hospitalised by the Germans while the rest of the crew, aided by Norwegian resistance, reached neutral Sweden three-days later.  Approximately twelve hours after the crash W1048 sank through the ice in the southern corner of the lake.  On the 30th June 1973 W1048 was raised from the depths of Lake Hoklingen and in 1983 was placed on display at the museum.

The next operational variants were the B.6s and B.7s, the former powered by 1675 hp Hercules 100 engines and the latter using the B.3s Hercules XVI as airframe production outpaced engine availability.  The prototype flew for the first time on 19th December 1943, with the first production aircraft flying on 10th October 1944.  The types included extended fuel capacity (including a three-tank bomb-bay option), extended wing-tips, Series 1A nose, rectangular fins and rudders as standard.  These were the ultimate bomber versions and were produced in relatively small numbers.  Handley Page built 132 B.6s with 325 being built by English Electric.  Only 12 B.7s were built by Handley Page and 90 by Fairey.  Most of the B.7s went to the RCAF of 6 Group.

Various marks of Halifax also served with four squadrons of RAF Coastal Command as long-range maritime patrol aircraft supplementing VLR (Very Long Range) aircraft such as the Consolidated Liberator and Boeing B-17 Fortress in the anti submarine warfare, reconnaissance and meteorological roles.  Converted by Cunliffe-Owen from mostly of Rootes built aircraft from late 1942 onwards.  Predominantly to B.2 Series 1A standard with F.N.64 two-gun ventral turret and extra fuel in three bomb-bay tanks.  Later a single 0.50 in (12.7 mm) Browning on a Preston-Green mount replaced the-ventral F.N.64.

Halifaxes C.2, C.6 and C.7 were bombers converted to carry to carry freight, eight passengers or nine stretchers, plus six passengers in crew rest bunks.  All guns, dorsal turret, H2S scanner, radome and some radio equipment were removed.  The C.8, HP70, which entered RAF service just before the end of the war was a transport version with faired-over gun positions and a detachable 3624 Kg (8000 lbs) freight pannier instead of a bomb bay and space for 10 stretchers, 11 passengers or paratroops (with ventral exit cone).  Based upon the B.6 it had a crew of five and dual controls and was powered by Hercules 100 engines.  It first flew in June 1945 and 100 were ordered from Handley Page together with 304 panniers.  Post-war the variant served with five RAF squadrons.  The Handley Page Halton was the name given to the civilian version and a Mk.2 was produced as a VIP transport aircraft for the Maharajah Gaekwar of Baroda.

Handley Page Halifax B.7 (PN323)

Handley Page Halifax B.7 (PN323) [@ Imperial War Museum]

The A.7 was a variant of the B.7 and was produced for 38 Group Airborne Forces as a glider tug and paratrooper transport (with ventral dropping hatch).  It operated from the UK, Middle East and Far East bases to August 1945 and beyond.  A total of 49 were built by Handley Page together with 120 by Rootes, 69 by Fairey and 8 by English Electric.  Following on should have been the the A.9 with Hercules XVI and the A.10 with Hercules 100.  In fact the A.9, H.P.71, was the final version and produced after the war.  It had space for 16 paratroopers and gear.

PN323 was built as a B.7 by Fairey Aviation at Manchester and placed into storage with 29 MU at RAF High Ercall, Shropshire during September 1945.  On the 28th May 1948 PN323 was officially struck off RAF charge.  Saved from being scrapped when in 1950 PN323 was acquired by Handley Page based at Radlett Aerodrome, Hertfordshire, as a ground instructional airframe for radio trials until 1961 when PN323 became the last Halifax to be scrapped.  The airframe was complete except for engines and fin - what an opportunity wasted.  The nose and forward fuselage was salvaged in 1962 and later donated to the Skyfame Aircraft Museum based at Staverton, Gloucestershire, in 1965.  With the closure of the museum in 1978 the nose of PN323 was purchased by the Imperial War Museum.

Although overshadowed by the Lancaster the Halifax proved to be a far more versatile aircraft in that it could be adapted to many different roles including electronic countermeasures.  The final Halifax Bomber Command operation took place during the night of 2nd /3rd May 1945 when aircraft from 171 and 199 Squadrons raided Kiel.  Immediately after the war the Halifax was withdrawn from Bomber Command and declared obsolete at the start of 1946.  With Coastal Command the Halifax soldiered on until March 1952 when 224 Squadron finally retired its last aircraft.  The total Halifax production of 6,176 aircraft included 2,050 B.1s and 2s, 2,060 B.3s, 916 B.5s, 480 B.6s, 395 B.7s, 100 C.8s and the rest were 9s.  During WW2 Halifaxes flew a total of 75,532 sorties, dropping 231,263 tonnes (227,610 tons) of bombs.  Post WW2 Halifaxes remained in service with the Armée de l'Air until early 1952 and the Pakistan Air Force, which inherited the planes from the RAF, continued to use the type until 1961.  Halifaxes also served with the Royal Australian Air Force (462 and 466 Squadrons), the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Egyptian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Polish Air Force.