Aviation of World War II

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A.W.38 Whitley

Long Range Bomber

Armstrong Whitworth

 A.W.38 Whitley on airfield

ARMSTRONG WHITWORTH AW.38 WHITLEY - The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley was designed under the direction of J Lloyd to the requirements of Specification B.3/34 for a five-seat 'heavy bomber' replacement for the Heyford and Hendon, to carry a 2,500-lb (1,135-kg) bomb load over 1,250 mi (2,010 km) at 225 mph (362 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4,575 m). First of two prototypes (K4586) with 795 hp Tiger IX engines flown at Whitley, Coventry, aerodrome on March 17, 1936. Second prototype (K.4587) with Tiger XIs flown February 11, 1937.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley I: First contract for 80 Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk Is placed 'off the drawing board' in June 1935. First example flown December 23, 1936; deliveries to No 10 Sqn, RAF, on March 9, later to Nos 51 and 78 Sqns. Tiger IX engines; armament of single 0.303-in (7.7-mm) Lewis gun each in front (AW. or Nash and Thompson) and rear (AW.) manual turrets. Production terminated at 34th aircraft.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley II: Final 46 aircraft on initial contract completed with 920 hp Tiger VIIIs with two-speed superchargers, to Specification B.21/35. Deliveries mid-1938, to Nos 7, 51, 58 and 97 Sqns. One Armstrong Whitworth Whitley II (K7243) test-bed for AS Deerhound 21-cyl air-cooled radial engine, flown Jan 1939-March 1940.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley III: Second production batch of 80, to Specification B.20/36, similar to Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk II but with powered Nash and Thompson single-gun nose turret and retractable ventral 'dustbin' turret with two 0.303-in (7.7-mm) Brownings. Bomb-bay and racks modified for larger bombs. Deliveries second half of 1938 to replace Mk Is and IIs and also to Nos 77, 97, 102 and 166 Sqns. Early marks of Armstrong Whitworth Whitley from Nos 51 and 58 Sqns flew first RAF Nickel (leaflet) raid over Germany on night of September 3/4, 1939.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley IV: Final 40 aircraft on second production contract (additional to 80 Mk Ills) fitted with Merlin in-line engines and extra fuel tanks. Prototype (converted Mk I K7208) first flown at Hucknall on February 11, 1938; first production Armstrong Whitworth Whitley IV flown on April 5, 1939 with Merlin IVs; final seven aircraft had 1,070 hp Merlin Xs and designated Armstrong Whitworth Whitley IVA.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley V: Contracts placed in 1938 for 312, in 1939 for 150 and in 1940 for 1,150 Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys, of which 1,466 completed as Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk V and 146 as Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk VII (see below). As Mk IV with Nash and Thompson powered tail turret mounting four 0.303-in (7.7-mm) Browning guns; 15-in (38.1-cm) rear fuselage extension to improve rear gunner's field of fire; modified fin shape; wing leading-edge rubber de-icers and fuel capacity increased to 837 Imp gal (3,805 1). First production Mk V flown August 8, 1939, and initial deliveries to No 77 Sqn in September. Many Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Vs (and some earlier marks) used as glider tugs, with towing gear in place of rear turret or fitted beneath rear fuselage, and as para-troop transports; also used to drop agents into occupied territory. Fifteen Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk Vs transferred (with civil registrations) to BOAC for Gibraltar-Malta supply flights, 1942/43.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley VII: Total of 146 Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk VII built on final production contract, plus some Mk V conversions, to serve with Coastal Command squadrons on maritime reconnaissance duties, carrying ASV Mk II radar (with four dorsal radar masts plus lateral and underwing aerials), sixth crew member and extra fuel in bomb bay and fuselage to a total of 1,100 Imp gal (5,000 l) for a range of 2,300 mi (3,700 km). Initial CC squadrons were Nos 502 (GR) and 612 (GR), using standard Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Vs from 1940 and 1941 respectively, with Armstrong Whitworth Whitley VIIs introduced 1942.

Specifications Whitley A.W.38
Mk. III Mk. V
Crew 5
Length 69ft 4 in (21.12 m) 70ft 6 in (21.60 m)
Span 84 ft 0 in (25.60 m)
Maximum take-off 26,500 Ib (12,031 kg) 33,500 Ib (15,196 kg)
Max speed mph (km/h) 193 (311 ) 230 (370)
at altitude ft (m) 14,250 (4,343) 16,400 (5,000)
Cruising speed at altitude 15,000 ft (4,575 m) 164 mph (264 km/h) 210 mph (338 km/h)
Time to 15,000 ft (4,575 m) 44 min 16 min
Service ceiling 17,000 ft (5,182 m) 26,000 ft (7,925 m)
Range with standard fuel 1,190 mi (1,914 km) 1,500 mi (2,414 km)

A.W.38 Whitley. Combat Use.

A.W.38 Whitley in flight

By the beginning of World War II, eight squadrons were flying the Whitley, consolidated into the 4th Bomber Command Group. Altogether, the Whitleys made up about 1/6 of Bomber Command's first-line fleet.

The first sortie "Whitley" 51st and 56th AE made on the night of September 3-4, 1939, dropping leaflets. For several months, all the activity of the squadrons of the 4th group was reduced to such operations. Only from December 1939, the Whitleys began to bomb the bases of German seaplanes, and on the night of March 20, 1940 they made the first raid on a coastal target. After the start of the German blitzkrieg in the West, the Whitley squadron bombed railway bridges and stations, and 16 May carried out the first raid on industrial facilities in Germany. June 11, 1940 was the first raid on Italy - Milan and Genoa. On the night of August 26, 14 Whitleys, among other bombers, bombed Berlin.

In the spring of 1941, Bomber Command began to receive new four-engine vehicles. The Whitleys were gradually pushed into training and support units. Nevertheless, Whitley Mk.Vs taken from training units took part in the first massive raids on Germany in the spring and summer of 1942 (“raids of 1000 bombers”) on Cologne, Essen, Bremen, Duisburg, Oberhausen, Stuttgart and Dortmund.

As part of the Whitley Coastal Command, until September 1942, they carried anti-submarine patrols, having chalked up two sunk submarines (September 3, 1941 - U-705 and November 30 - U-206). From the middle of 1940, converted Whitleys were used for training and landing paratroopers, and from the beginning of 1942, for towing landing gliders. The last Whitley Mk.Vs were withdrawn from service in 1945, and aircraft of all other modifications a year earlier.

Photo Description
Drawing Whitley Mk.V
Armstrong Whitworth A.W. 38 Whitley in flight
A.W.38 Whitley of 58 Squadron, Linton on Ouse, Yorkshire, June 1940 Whitleys of No 58 Squadron at Linton-on-Ouse under threatening clouds, summer 1940. P5028/GE:R outlasted most of her kind to be broken up in 1945. N1469/GE:H, usually flown by Flt Lt O'Neill's crew while at Linton, was later transferred to 19 OTU and flew into high ground near Arckiestown, Morayshire, during bad weather on 3 January 1943.
No 58 had spent the winter of 1939-40 on detachment to assist Coastal Command in oceanic patrols before participating in Bomber Command's night bombing operations. As one of the last Whitley-equipped squadrons in No 4 Group, it did not convert to Halifaxes within the Command as did the others, for it was permanently transferred to Coastal Command in April 1942.
The steel ringlet in the foreground is for tying down aircraft in high winds. (IWM CH222)
Installing the guns in the rear turret of a No 58 Squadron Whitley at Linton-on-Ouse. The four .303 calibre Browning machine guns delivered 80-plus bullets a second but the effective range was around 700yds and of little use against armour. Although numbers of enemy aircraft were shot down by these turret weapons, standard on all the main heavy bombers of the Command, the .303 machine gun was quickly rendered outclassed by the advances in German gun technology. (IWM CH246)
A.W.38 Whitley  Mk V of No 102 Squadron, Yorkshire 7, March 1940 A.W.38 Whitley Mk V of No 102 Squadron being prepared for a leaflet-dropping sortie at Driffield. Yorkshire 7, March 1940. (IWM C 921)


  • "Encyclopedia of military engineering" /Aerospace Publising/
  • "British warplanes of World War II" /under cor. Daniel March/
  • "RAIDING THE REICH. The Allied Strategie Offensive in Europe" /Roger A. Freeman/