Westland Lysander (V9552) IIIA

Westland Lysander (V9367) IIIA  [@ Shuttleworth Collection]

Originating in a 1934 requirement for battlefield army cooperation and reconnaissance aircraft, the Westland Lysander prototype first flew in June 1936 and entered RAF service in June 1938.  It was built to specification A.39/34 which called for a rugged, short-take-off-and-landing (STOL) aircraft for low-level reconnaissance and observation.  Arthur Davenport, under the direction of "Teddy" Petter, designed and built a rugged high wing monoplane with a fixed spatted undercarriage.  It had an exceptional field of view for both pilot and observer and was armed with two forward firing 0.303 in Browning machine guns and a Lewis or Vickers K machine gun that could be fired from the rear cockpit.  Powered by a Bristol Mercury air-cooled radial engine the Lysander or "Lizzie" as it was known, despite its appearance, was aerodynamically advanced which gave the type a stalling speed of only 65 mph (104 km/h).  In addition, the wings could carry 500 lb of bombs and four 20lb bombs could be carried under the rear fuselage.

Westland Lysander (V9552) IIIA

Westland Lysander (V9552) IIIA  [@ Shuttleworth Collection]

The Air Ministry issued a contract in September 1936 and the Mk I entered service with the RAF as an army co-operation aircraft, replacing Hawker Audaxes and Hectors, during 1938.  The Lysander Mk II had a 905hp Bristol Perseus radial engine while the Mk III was fitted with the Mercury XX or XXX radial engine and twin 0.303 in Browning guns in the rear cockpit.  The type was in widespread use in the early years of WW2, particularly in France and North Africa.  Seventy Mk IIIs were converted to Mk IIIA standard for target towing and air-sea rescue, 100 new aircraft being built with the designation TT Mk IIIA for the target tugging role, and the Mk III SCW variant was used to infiltrate Allied agents into enemy occupied territory and bring them out again.  This variant carried no armament, a fixed port side external ladder,  extra oil tank, rear bench seat and the easily reconisable long-range 150 gallon ventral fuel tank.  Many Mk Is, Mk IIs and Mk IIIs were converted into target tugs and designated TT Mk I, TT Mk II and TT Mk III respectively.

V9552 is the last airworthy example of this historic type.  Built by Westland for the RAF V9552 was converted to target tug standard in Canada and entered service with the RCAF as 1582 on the 17th February 1942.  Struck off Charge on the 22nd August 1946 V9552 purchased by a former RCAF instructor and airplane collector.  Purchased by the The Strathallan Collection in Scotland V9552 arrived in the UK in October 1971.  Work commenced on restoring V9552 to a flying condition but it was not until December 1979 that V9552 (G-AZWT) flew again painted as V9441, a Lysander operated by 309 (Polish) Squadron.  Grounded in 1986 and withdrawn from use V9552 during March 1987 and placed into storage until 1997.   Delivered from Strathallen to Duxford for restoration on the 12th October1997 V9552 was purchased in 1998 by its present owners the Shuttleworth Collection.  Fully restored to a flying condition V9552 took to the sky again on the 10th August 2001.  Repainted and fitted with a dummy long range fuel tank and a ladder V9552 in the photographs represent V9367 / MA-B an aircraft of 161 Squadron based RAF Tempsford and flown by Pilot Officer Peter Vaughan-Fowler on operation Apollo to Corrèze, France, on the 25th November 1942, to rescue three people (Xavier Piani, Mathiu Rutali and Reverbel) who had helped in the escape of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade.

Marie-Madeleine had been running a group concentrating on obtaining intelligence information about the German armed forces and sending it to Britain from May 1941.  Betrayed a double agent wireless operator who had been sent to France from Britain in August 1941, Marie-Madeleine was arrested by the Gestapo.  Having escaped Marie-Madeleine concentrated on helping to develop a network for returning shot down airmen to Britain.  During early July 1943 it was decided that it was too dangerous for Marie-Madeleine (alias “Hedgehog”) to remain in France so on the 17th July an RAF Lysander from 161 Squadron piloted by Pilot Officer Peter Vaughan-Fowler landed at Oise, France, on operation Renoir.  Marie-Madeleine and 2 airmen (Lucien Poulard and Andre Liess) embarked while 3 agents disembarked (George Lamarque alias Pétrel, Pierre Bocher and Michel Gaveau alias Tatou).  In England Marie-Madeleine continued to run the network from a house in Chelsea.  On the 5th July 1944 Marie-Madeleine together with 7 other passengers returned to France in a 161 Squadron Lockheed Hudson.  Unfortunately Marie-Madeleine was soon captured by the Gestapo but once again managed to escape and get back to Allied lines.  Sadly 438 members of Marie-Madeleine's network were executed during the war.  Marie-Madeleine Fourcade died on the 20th July 1989.

Westland Lysander III (R9125)Westland Lysander III (R9125)

Westland Lysander III (R9125)  [@ RAF Hendon]

Four Lysander equipped squadrons were attached to the British Expeditionary Force to France in October 1939 with an additional squadron joining in early in 1940.  Following the invasion of the Low Countries on the 10th May 1940 the BEF Lysanders were put into action as spotters and light bombers.  Unfortunately even when escorted by Hawker Hurricanes the Lysander proved too vulnerable to survive modern warfare and suffered some terrible losses.  Withdrawn from France during the Dunkirk evacuation the type continued in the supply dropping role, despite heavy losses, to Allied from bases in England.  Out of a total of 175 deployed, a 118 Lysanders were lost in or over France and Belgium in May and June 1940. 

After 1940 Lysanders were used by Coastal Command on search-and-rescue missions dropping dinghies to downed RAF aircrew in the English Channel.  By 1941fourteen squadrons and flights were formed for this role.  From 1941 fighters such as the Curtiss Tomahawk and North American Mustang progressively substituted the reconnaissance duties of the Lysander in the army co-operation role while light aircraft such as the Taylorcraft Auster were used to direct artillery.

Westland Lysander III (R9125)

Westland Lysander III (R9125)  [@ RAF Hendon]

Lysanders were also built under licence in Canada from October 1938 by National Steel Car at Malton, Ontario.  Although the RCAF principally operated the type in the Army Co-operation role many of the aircraft were used as targets tugs at the overseas training bases.  RCAF Squadrons 2, 110 and 414 although trained to operate Lysanders were withheld from active service and gradually given replacement aircraft due to the high losses encountered by the RAF Lysanders.  RCAF Squadrons 118 and 122 operated the Lysander in the anti-submarine and the search and rescue roles while 121 Squadron used the Lysander for Target Towing.  By late 1944 all RCAF Lysanders had been withdrawn from flying duties.  In addition the Lysander was operated by the Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres (Free French Air Force) who operated 24 of the type in North Africa.

R9125 was built at Yeovil by Westland Aircraft and entered RAF service with 5 MU who were based at RAF Kemble, Gloucestershire, on the 2nd August 1940.  Initially delivered with Bristol Mercury XVA engine but R9125 was later re-engined with a Mercury XX engine.  On the 29th September 1940 R9125 together with 12 other Mk IIIs were transferred to 225 (Army Co-operation) Squadron who based at RAF Tilshead, Wiltshire.  Reequipping from the Mk II variant the squadron was one of 13 squadrons forming 71 (Army Co-operation) Group.  Since German landings were expected the squadron was tasked to fly reconnaissance patrols along a section of the south coast.  On the 18th September 1941 R9125 was sent back to Westlands via 5 MU and 44 MU for modification to TT Mk III standard and then to the Central Gunnery School at RAF Chelveston, Northamptonshire, on the 24th December 1941.  R9125 was then transferred on the 18th June 1942 to 7 (Coastal) OTU based at Limavady, Northern Ireland, for target towing duties.  The role of 7 OUT was to train Wellington crews for Coastal Command including torpedo training.  At the end of the year R9125 was transferred to the Central Navigation School then based at RAF Cranage, Cheshire, until being returned on the 25th May 1944 to Westlands for repair and modification via 5 MU.  On the 15th October 1944 R9125 was transferred to 161 (Special Duties) Squadron who were based at RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshire.  Unfortunately there is no documental evidence to indicate that R9125 was involved with the operational activities of this squadron.  However, R9125 was almost certainly used in the filming of “Now it can be told” which was produced by the RAF Film Production Unit for the British Government in 1946 and premiered in February 1947.  Airframe evidence confirms that R9125 did at some stage carry the special duties ventral tank and ladder and R9125still retains the Special Duties type bench seat and luggage space in the rear cockpit.

Having been allocated to the Air Historical Branch R9125 was flown from RAF Tempsford on the 19th November 1945 and into storage at RAF Stanmore Park, Middlesex, and later at RAF Cosford.  During the subsequent years R9125 appeared at a number of displays and in the 1963 BBC TV series “Moonstrike” about the RAF’s wartime special duties Squadrons.  Following restoration work and a repaint in early 1968 as LX-L of 225 Squadron R9125 continued to be displayed at various venues until entering the RAF museum at Hendon on the 30th November 1971.  225 Squadron was not operational during the Battle of France but became active from June 1940 when tasked to fly patrols along the coast of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight watching for the expected German invasion fleet.  Mainly used in Army exercises 225 Squadron did provide Air-Sea Rescue cover from 6th May 1941.  By January 1942 the squadron started to converted to the Hawker Hurricane and these were joined by the North American Mustang from May 1942 with the last Lysander leaving in July.  

Westland Lysander IIIA (V9300)Westland Lysander IIIA (V9300)

Westland Lysander IIIA (V9300)  [@ RAF Duxford]

The role that the Lysander is best remembered for is as a 'spy taxi', picking up and dropping secret agents behind enemy lines, or for retrieving Allied aircrew that had been shot down over occupied territory and had evaded capture.  The unidentified passengers were known as "Joes" by the pilots.  For these operations, the aircraft were painted black and fitted with a long-range fuel tank beneath the fuselage and a ladder fixed to the side of the aircraft to allow the agent to enter and exit quickly.  Designed to carry one passenger in the rear cockpit but in case of urgent necessity three could be carried in extreme discomfort.  In August 1941 a new squadron, 138 (Special Duties), was formed to undertake such missions.  Flying from “secret” airfields at RAF Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, and from 1942 RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshire, but refuelling at “regular” airfields e.g.  RAF Tangmere these missions were undertaken without any navigation equipment other than a map and compass.  Hence operations almost always took place within a week of a full moon as moonlight was essential for the navigation.  The Lysanders would use their STOL capability and rugged construction to a maximum and land on short rough “airstrips”, such as fields, marked out only by four or five torches.  The pilots of 138 and, from early 1942, 161 Squadron ferried 101 agents to and recovered 128 agents from Nazi occupied Europe.  These operations continued until the liberation of France in 1944 with the last operational RAF Lysander mission taking place on the night of the 5/6th August 1944.  After which the remaining Lysanders were used for ferry and communications work including non-operational special transport services to liberated France and Belgium.  The Lysander Flight was finally disbanded in the November.

Westland Lysander III (V9300)

Westland Lysander IIIA (V9300)  [@ RAF Duxford]

V9300 was built by Westland and entered RAF service with 39 MU on the 13th December 1940.  Transferred on the 31st December 1941 to the 3 Packed Aircraft Transit Pool (PATP) for shipment to Canada.  Despatched to Canada on the 5th January 1942 V9300 was Taken on Charge by the RCAF on the 27th January 1942 as Lysander 1558 with the serial number Y1351.  Converted to Target Tug standard V9300 was transferred on the 18th August 1942 to the 2 Bombing and Gunnery School at Mossbank, Saskatchewan.  Struck off Charge on the 1st October 1946 V9300 entered the private market.  Recovered from a Saskatchewan farm during 1973 V9300 arrived in the UK in a dismantled state during November 1982 to be restored by the Aircraft Restoration Company based at RAF Duxford.  Obtained by the IWM in 1991 and after restoration went on display in 1993 as Lysander Mk 111A V9673/MA-J of 161 Squadron (Special Duties) as flown by Hugh Verity from RAF Tempsford.  V9673 carried the identity letters JC and below the cockpit a small representation of the Disney character Jiminy Cricket.

Hugh Verity entered the war flying in a reconnaissance squadron; he later served in a night fighter Bristol Beaufighter squadron and then at Fighter Command HQ at Bentley Priory.  In November 1942 he was transferred to 161 Squadron as commander of 'A' Flight's six Lysanders.  During his stay with 161 Squadron Hugh Verity undertook 36 night flights (possibly more than any other RAF Special Duty pilot) from 1942 and into 1943.  Most of these flights were in Lysanders.  Later in the war Hugh Verity supervised clandestine air operations in South East Asia.

The total production was 1593 aircraft, comprising 131 Mk Is, 433 Mk IIs and 804 Mk IIIs built in Great Britain and 225 built in Canada.  By 1946 all British Lysanders were declared obsolete and were withdrawn from service including the 18 that were used by the Fleet Air Arm.  A number of Lysanders were exported to Finland, Ireland, Turkey, Portugal, India, Egypt and even 25 were exported to the USA.  In fact the Egyptian Lysanders were the last to see active service when deployed in 1948 against Israel in the War of Independence.