War Machine, Volume 4

UK Bristol Blenheim Mk IF The Bristol Blenheim entered RAF ser­vice as alight bomber in 1937 and, despite great hopes for the type it was becoming outmoded from the day it arrived being under-armed and therefore capable of carrying moreno than a puny bombload by later stan­dards. It was a neat and compact sign however and lent itself to development as a bomber the Blenheim Mk IV with lengthened nose joining the RAF in 1939. In the realiza­tion that the Blenheim Mk I would quickly be superseded plans were putin hand to introduce it as a night- fighter for service with Fighter Com­mand and in December 1938 four squadrons (Nos 232529 and 64) started taking deliveries. Most of these early aircraft were ex-Bomber Com­mand aircraft with sealed bomb doors and bomb gear removed their arma­ment remained a single fixed forward- firing 7.7-mm (0.303-in) Browning gun and a Vickers 'K' gas-operated gun of the same calibre in the dorsal turret. These four regular squadrons, together with Nos 600601 and 604 of the Auxiliary Air Force (re-equipped in the following month) were em­ployed principally to workup and cali­brate the new CH coastal radar chain being built at top speed along the UK's south and east coasts Early in 1939, however there became available the first of 200 gun packs each containing four Browning guns and manufactured by the Southern Railway's depot at Ashford Kent and by the outbreak of war in September 1939 most con­verted Blenheim Mk I (now termed Blenheim Mk IF) aircraft had been modified to have such a pack fitted under the fuselage nose. Meanwhile one flight from No. 25 Squadron had had its Blenheims modified with the first 'breadboard' examples of air­borne interception radar and these were undergoing faltering trials over the Thames Estuary in collaboration with the Bawdsey Manor CH coastal radar when war broke out. Indue course this radar was standardized to become AI Mk III and was fitted in about two dozen Blenheims most of the remainder being flown by the Fighter Interception Unit (FIU). Sever­al other Blenheim night-fighter squad­rons (among them Nos 68145219 and 222) were formed but they were most­ The nose transmitter and wing receiver aerials (antennas) of the early AI Mk III radar can be seen on this Blenheim Mk IF which in 1941 was training crews at No. 54 Operational Training Unit RAF. ly short-lived. At the time of the Battle of Britain night-fighter Blenheims sol­diered on in search of the small num­bers of German night raiders and on 21/22 July 1940 an aircraft of the FIU made history when it became the first employing AI radar to destroy an enemy raider (a Dornier Do 17) at night. Possessing very pedestrian capabilities the Blenheim could scarcely catch any of the modern air­craft of 1940 and although it achieved further victories during the German night Blitz of 1940-1 (indeed formed the backbone of the UK's night de­ fence) it was gradually phased out of service with the arrival of the powerful Bristol Beaufighter. Specification Blenheim Mk IF Type: three-seat night-fighter Powerplant: two 840-hp (626-kW) Bristol Mercury VIII nine-cylinder air- cooled radial piston engines Performance: maximum speed 418 km/h (260 mph) at 4265 m (14000 ft) initial climb rate 488 m (1600 ft)per minute service ceiling 8230 m (27000 ft) normal range 1770 km (1100 miles) Weights: empty 3651 kg (8050 lb) maximum take-off 5489 kg (12100 lb) Dimensions: span 1717 m (56 ft 4 in) length 12.45 m (40 ft 10 in) height 3.00 m (9 ft 10 in) wing area 43.57 m2 (469 sq ft) Armament: four 7-mm 7 (0,303-in) machine-guns in ventral tray firing forward and one 7.7-mm (0,303-in) machine-gun in dorsal turret UK Bristol Beaufighter This Beaufighter Mk II served with one of the RAF s Polish squadrons No. 307, from August 1941 until about mid-1942 when theHercules-engined Beaufighter MkVlF began to replace this Merlin-engined version. 2968141153219256600 and 604. First flown in prototype form on 17 July 1939 the Bristol Beaufighter overtook the task of night-fighter defence from the makeshift Bristol Blenheim Mk IF fighter during the German night Blitz of the winter of 1940-1. Powered initially by 400-hp 1 (1044-kW) Bristol Her­cules III sleeve-valve radials the Beaufighter Mk IF was equipped with AI Mk IV radar (characterized by a 'broad-arrow' transmitter aerial on the aircraft's nose) and having undergone initial operational trials with the Fight­er Interception Unit during the latter stages of the Battle of Britain started delivery to RAF night-fighter squad­rons in September 1940 Lack of fami­liarity with AI radar resulted in few combat successes during 1940 but in the last three months of the Blitz the Beaufighter began taking an increas­ing toll of German bombers. Home night-fighter squadrons equipped with Beaufighter Mk IFs included Nos 25 Production was stepped up and in­cluded 1000 aircraft ordered from the 'shadow' factories the 51st and subse­quent aircraft being armed with six wing-mounted 7.7 mm (0.303-in) machine-guns in addition to the four belly-mounted 20-mm cannon to guard. Delays with improved Hercules radials resulted in the Rolls-Royce Merlin XX V-12 engine being selected to power the Beaufighter Mk II the first production example of which was flown at Filton on 22 March 1941 the type entered Fighter Command ser­vice with No. 255 Squadron in July fol­lowed by the Polish-manned No. 307 Squadron in August and Nos 96 and 125 Squadrons in 1942. The Beaufighter Mk III (a lightened version) and the Beaufighter Mk IV (with Rolls-Royce Griffon engines) did not materialize as such although a Beaufighter Mk II was experimentally flown with Griffon IIB Three AI MklV-equipped Beaufighter Mk Is of No. 600Sqn are seen hereon a mission from Colerne during the winter of 1940-1.722
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