Battle of Britain: The Wellington Bomber

WellingtonBomberThe Wellington Bomber, named after the Duke of Wellington (of Waterloo fame), was a twin engine, medium range bomber, designed in the mid-1930’2 by Barnes-Wallis and manufactured by Vickers Armstrong at Weybridge, Surrey. It was intended as both a daylight and night bomber and also saw service as an anti-submarine aircraft. The Wellington was the main defence platform for carrying the war into Germany before it was possible for the Allies to land armies on the European mainland.

Barnes-Wallis had worked on airship design, and utilised this experience to design a unique fuselage built from 1650 different elements, using aluminium alloy and wooden battens covered with chemically treated linen as the outer skin of the airframe. If hit by enemy cannon fire, the outer skin would peel off and prevent fire spreading into the interior of the aircraft. The inner skin of the airframe was made of metal lattice work to add strength. It had the advantage that a punctured aircraft with even large holes had a good chance of returning to base, surviving even after intensive damage.

In one engagement, a German Bf 110 night-fighter attacked a Wellington on its home run from bombing Munster in Germany, causing a fire in the starboard engine. Sergeant James Allen Ward climbed out of the fuselage in-flight, kicked holes in the linen fabric of the wing to create hand-holes so he could reach the burning engine, and smothered the burning upper-wing covering. He and his crew returned safely, and Ward received the Victoria Cross for his actions.

Coastal Command, meanwhile, used the Wellington in its anti-submarine capacity, fitting a 48 ft. diameter metal hoop to the airframe to explode enemy mines by generating a magnetic field as it passed over explosives floating in the water.

In 1944, radar-fitted Wellingtons working with RAF Flight Interception Unit acted as an early warning and control aircraft operating at an altitude of 4,000 ft over the North Sea to direct the Mosquito fighter to intercept Heinkel bombers flying from Dutch bases and equipped with the much feared air-ground V-1 flying bombs.

The Wellington saw service in all theatres of operations throughout the war, and with all allied forces. Decommissioned post-war, it can, like other World War Two aircraft, sometimes still be see in the skies over Britain at RAF commemoration ceremonies and flypasts.

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Terry Jones taught History to adult students taking Foundation courses at a College of Higher Education prior to their entry into full-time degree courses at Warwick and Coventry Universities. Since taking early retirement, he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, pursuing a life-long interest in 19th and early 20th century European history. He has been a GCSE and "A" level tutor with OOL since 1996.

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