Archive | July, 2016

Disruption Takes Flight

24 Jul

In 1941, the fortunes of war improved slightly for Britain.

In late 1940, the RAF had narrowly won the Battle of Britain, buying the country some time.

The Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe were still just 25 miles away across the Strait of Dover but at least they were no longer banging on the door.

What the British badly needed was a way to take the fight to the enemy.

The de Havilland Aircraft Company had a revolutionary idea — a lightning fast unarmed bomber.

But with the German navy prowling the Atlantic and merchant shipping being lost at a terrible rate, the steel and aluminum to build such an aircraft were hard to come by.

The concept of a bomber that was so fast it didn’t need to carry cannon or machine guns made sense in theory.

The weight of armaments took away from an aircraft’s ability to carry a larger bomb load on the same amount of fuel.

As a theory it was all very well, but this was the era of the heavily armed B17 Flying Fortress.

Even if the theory proved correct, it didn’t solve the practical problem of how to obtain enough material to build an aircraft in large numbers.

The project was in jeopardy but de Havilland proposed a radical solution.

They would build the aircraft out of wood.

Not surprisingly the idea of an unarmed bomber with a wooden airframe and doped fabric skin didn’t convince everyone.

Surely wood simply wasn’t strong enough for a modern combat aircraft.

The Minister of Aircraft Production, Lord Beaverbrook tried to close the project down more than once.

But de Havilland was a privately owned company and the project had support from Air Marshal Freeman who had flown de Havillands during the First World War and strongly believed in the idea.

And fortunately wood was not deemed an essential wartime supply.

As a result, in October 1941, a small group of onlookers gathered at RAF Boscombe Down in Wiltshire to see a prototype W4050, equipped with the latest Rolls Royce Merlin 61 engines go through its paces.

The sleek twin engine aircraft recorded a maximum speed of 437 mph and the Mosquito was on its way into production and aviation history.

For over 2 years it would be the fastest operational aircraft in the world with the added bonus of a range long enough to reach Berlin.

Its wooden construction meant piano makers, furniture manufacturers and cabinet makers could quickly be re-trained as sub-contractors.

While spruce, birch ply and balsa wood were plentiful enough that over 6,700 Mosquitoes were built during the war.

Over 30 different variants of the aircraft were produced including many armed as fighters.

But it was as a marauding raider, bombing targets like the Gestapo’s Oslo headquarters with pinpoint accuracy that the Mosquito gained its reputation.

On January 30th, 1943, the commander of the Luftwaffe Herman Göring, was about to speak on the radio in Berlin.

At precisely 11am as he was introduced, three Mosquitoes from 105 Squadron dropped bombs nearby.

The sound of the explosions could clearly be heard on air disrupting the broadcast which had to be postponed..

Göring had once boasted to Berliners “If one enemy bomb falls on Berlin, you can call me Meyer.”

Now the city had been bombed in broad daylight.

And its inhabitants began referring to air-raid sirens as Meyer’s Trumpets.