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Bristol Blenheim IV from above
A view of the Bristol Blenheim IV from above, showing the longer nose.
During the early 1970s Ormond Haydon-Ballie, a young RAF Flight Lieutenant was seconded to the RCAF.
Whilst in Canada amongst other aircraft he discovered several derelict ‘Bolingbrokes’ (Bristol Blenheims built under licence in Canada).
In 1973 he purchased two complete airframes, 9896 and 10038 both built in Canada and having seen wartime service, he also gathered together as many engines and spare parts and had then shipped to the UK in 1974, and through a bit of wrangling got them stored at the old RAF station at Duxford in building number 66 which was immediately christened ‘Blenheim Palace’, which it is still known as today.
As the maintenance of Haydon-Baillie’s flying aircraft took priority work on the Blenheims was very low key and was dealt a terrible blow in July 1977 when he was killed in a flying accident in Germany.
In July 1978 Graham Warner was being shown around Duxford and amongst other items saw the Blenheims for the first time and after much thought and speaking to Haydon-Baillie’s team over a period of time decided to take the project on.
The aircraft was painted in the ‘camouflage pattern A’ and the chosen markings of V6028 GB-D, of 105 Squadron, 2 Group, RAF Bomber Command, the aircraft in which Wing Commander Hughie Idwal Edwards won the Victoria Cross on 4th July 1941.
On the 22nd May 1987, a Bristol Blenheim took to the skies for the first time in over forty years to become the sole airworthy example.
This first flight followed a meticulous restoration which took twelve years, a small fortune, and some 40,000 voluntary man-hours to complete.
Just four weeks later on 21st June 1987 the aircraft was destroyed in an accident at Denham, not due to any mechanical fault, and mercifully with no loss of life.
The 2nd restoration.
To aid the raising of the necessary funds ‘The Blenheim Appeal Fund’ was launched with donations going towards the rebuild.
It was also decided to restore the proper historic importance of the Blenheim.
The components for the second restoration arrived at Duxford in February 1988 from Strathallan.
At a press conference on 29th June 1988 it was announced that a ‘Blenheim Society’ was to be formed, with a newsletter to keep supporters informed of the progress on the restoration.
From lessons learned on the first project a different system was used on this project, each major component was assembled and systems installed whilst in the workshop. The project was completed in 1993, and the aircraft first flew in May of that year.
From the beginning it was decided the aircraft should be repainted over a period of time in various schemes to represent the different commands and squadrons in which the Blenheim served.
The aircraft was built as a Mk IVF and painted all black as night fighter Z5722 WM-Z, the personal aircraft of the CO of 68 Squadron, Wing Commander the Hon Max Aitken DSO, DFC CzMC.
His widow Lady Aitken gave her blessing to use these markings.
The aircraft was also given the name ‘Spirit of Britain First’ after the first Blenheim.
The aircraft was then painted in the markings of a Coastal Command Mk IVF L8841 QY-C, of 254 Squadron.
Here the aircraft is painted to represent Mk IV Bomber
R3821 UX-N, of 82 Squadron.
In 2003 this aircraft had a landing accident, once again due to no mechanical failure of the aircraft.
Blenheim Duxford Ltd., was formed and took over the responsibility for the aircraft, and it was decided to repair the aircraft representing a Mk IF, L6739 YP-Q, of 23 Squadron, using the nose rescued by Ralph Nelson.
Ralph Nelson (a Bristol employee) and the Blenheim Mk I nose which he converted into an electric car.
Text from ‘Spirit of Britain First’ by Graham Warner ISBN 1-85260-533-2
Bristol Blenheim IV from above - History
Bombs, bombs, bombs.
The following discussion derives from many sources , primarily official (the once secret RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment (Air Ministry 1954), its companion Volume II: Guns, Gunsights, Turrets, Ammunition and Pyrotechnics (Air Ministry 1954) and a selection of the various Armament Air Publications) and the personal records, photographs and recall of the participants. The better published works have also been drawn upon.
The sharp end: prime armament
From 1935 onwards, development of the Mark IV series of General Purpose (GP) bombs included new 40lb, 250lb and 500lb armament, and the 20lb (F) anti-personnel fragmentation bomb. The Mark IV series, approved from September 1936, saw two notable improvements from the Armourer’s point of view:
- Snap-on tail units (where spring clips in the tail unit engaged a mounting groove on the bomb casing) replaced the old screw-on type. To prevent accidental damage on the ground (leading to poor ballistic performance in the air), the tail units were stored in individual canisters and attached by the armourers as part of the fuzing process.
- For fusing, the now built-in exploders required only arming by pistol and detonator, nose or tail.
Having devoted a lot of effort in the late 1930s to redevelopment of the Mark IV GP series of medium capacity general purpose bombs, the RAF found it difficult (both doctrinally and in squadron operations) to surrender this smaller armament, let alone accept the relative ineffectiveness of the small charge-to-weight ratios employed (around 30%) and their high detonation-failure rate (10-15%).
The size of bomb-bays in RAF aircraft and the perceived chance of a hit were both real considerations in this early period. During 1940 in Bomber Command alone, use of the smaller ordinance (over 2,000 20lb F over 26,000 40lb GP nearly 62,000 250lb GP) far outstripped that of the 500lb GP (just over 20,000). By 1941, that Command’s use of ordinance had changed considerably (less than 5,000 40lb GP, less than 35,000 250lb GP), as medium and heavy bombers of greater capacity entered operational service in growing numbers. In the Middle East and Far East theatres, where the smaller medium bombers like the Blenheim soldiered on through 1942 and into 1943, smaller ordinance remained in regular use.
It was late 1942 before development of the Medium Capacity series bore fruit, with their higher charge-to-weight ratios of 40% or more and better filling, while the much larger High Capacity series, with ratios in the 80% plus range, took rather longer to perfect.
The Bristol Blenheim bomb-bay was divided into two cells by a full-depth vertical bulkhead, fore-and-aft along the fuselage centreline. Mounted on the Type A universal carrier , 500lb GP or 250lb GP bombs were winched into place in the bomb-bay.
The 20lb F and 40lb GP bombs might be mounted either individually on the external Light Series Carrier (the LSC), or in the Small Bomb Container (the SBC, the rectangular, re-usable alloy canister winched directly to the bomb-bay).
The Air Publication records port and starboard wing-root cells for two or four flash (FL) or reconnaissance (REC) flares.
Possible internal bomb loads included:
2x500lb (one per cell) or
4x250lb (two side by side, each cell) or
4xSBC (two side by side, each cell) or
Standard Small Bomb (SSB) load:
2x250lb plus 2xSBC of 12x20lb (as 1x250lb and 1xSBC side by side in each cell, the SBCs mounted inboard).
Bristol Blenheim bomb-bay loadings (D Clark)
The diagram (not to scale) shows three examples.
SSB load: 2x250lb plus 2xSBC, right.
The 4xSBC arrangement necessitated removal of the bomb-bay doors.
The Type 2 universal carrier (AP 1530A Vol I 1937)
In the Blenheim I, when the bomb load was two 500lb GP bombs, they were carried on two No 2 universal carriers, each attached directly to supports in each bomb cell, hoisted into position with the bomb loader winch.
The Light Series Carrier (LSC)
In the Mark I Blenheim, there were mountings for two LSCs under the fuselage, installed fore-and-aft just aft of the bomb-bay. It is occasionally reported that some Mark IVs also had under-wing hard-points for LSCs.
The Small Bomb Container (SBC )
The SBC was a practical but still tedious and potentially dangerous solution to the armourer’s problems of bombing-up with small ordinance and their safe release or retrieval.
The SBC was capable of carrying a wide variety of weapons. It was produced in various sizes: the two-partition 160lb Hudson unit, the 3 or 4 partition 250lb unit commonly used in Blenheims and shown below, and a larger unit used in the Lancaster. Intentionally light in construction and with relatively complex electrical and mechanical fittings, the SBC needed careful handling and storage and was not to be found lying around in outdoor bomb-dumps.
250lb SBC Mark 1A (RAF official)
The illustration from Air Publication AP 1664 Bomb Carriers shows the 250lb SBC as used in the Blenheim, viewed from the underside as for loading by the armourers.
1 EM Unit [the Type L slip-catch release]
3 Drop bar
4 Link plate
5 Dropbar bracket
6 Locating plates.
Forward is to the left. The arrowed instruction inside the empty front partition reads “Bombs to point in this direction”. A single canister of incendiaries has been loaded in the centre partition, located with the aid of the movable partition plate and locating plates. The contents are secured with a single drop bar, locked in its EM electromagnetic release at one end and in the hinge bracket at the other. On release, the EM unit will activate its Type L slip release catch, leaving the drop bar free to fall clear away under the weight of the ordinance.
Crews occasionally resorted to dropping 250lb loads “safe” on the ground. The technique for jettisoning SBCs and LSCs on the ground required the attentions of the “plumbers” and rather more care.
Once prepared for the required bomb-load, with the correct number of partitions and release catches arranged to match, the container was placed, open side up, in its detachable two-piece loading cradle. With ordinance loaded and retaining drop bars engaged, a separate lifting cradle or frame was then also attached. Next, the loading cradle was used to roll the entire assembly over. The loading cradle was now detached, leaving the SBC “right side up” with respect to the bomb-bay and ready to be carried, by its lifting cradle, to the aircraft by hand or by bomb-trolley. Once winched into place in the bomb-bay, the lifting cradle was removed.
The bomb load of the open-faced SBC, however made up, was packed horizontally fore-and-aft into the container. The number of partitions, drop bars and internal packing pieces varied according to the make-up of the bomb load. The maximum load per 250lb SBC was either
- 6x40lb GP bombs (three per partition, two bars employed) or
- 12x20lb F bombs (four per partition, three bars employed), or
- 3 cans of 20 Mark 1E (or later Mark) 4lb incendiary sticks (one can per partition, three bars employed).
For the 20lb and 40lb bombs, purpose-made packing pieces secured the individual bombs as a cluster within each partition. The 4lb hexagonal incendiary sticks came pre-packed in tin-plate boxes or “cans”, with a tear-off lid, 20 per box (80lbs): the entire canister, lid off, fitted into the SBC. In each case, the loaded SBC carried 240lbs of armament.
Air Publication 1664 Bomb Carriers, Vol I Ch 3 The 250lb Container for Small Bombs (Preliminary issue 1939) gives a full description of the 250lb SBC, with packing methods and diagrams for the various types of armament.
Other Marks of the SBC could carry more ordinance, as described in the Armourer’s Handbook circa 1942 and later, by AL 43 revise of August 1944 for AP 1664 Ch 3. For example by 1944, the Mark IA SBC could accommodate three larger incendiary canisters, now packed with 30 4lb sticks of 120lbs (360lbs per SBC), rather than the 20-pack (240lbs per SBC) used for Blenheim operations.
The Mark IX Course-setting Bombsight
Bombsights of the Blenheim period, early in the war, fall into 2 main groups:
- Vector sights, with which ground speed and drift angle were computed from assumed wind and airspeed.
- Tachometric sights, where ground speed and drift angle were measured off apparent target movement.
As early as 1917, the Air Ministry Laboratories’ development of unstabilised vector sights had arrived at the Course-setting Bomb Sight. The CSBS remained standard RAF equipment for the next 20 odd years. The Instrument Dept of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough took over RAF bomb sight development work from 1932. At the RAE, the basic CSBS design advanced considerably and by 1939 the continuous development had seen 14 models produced, in various Marks.
Of these, the 1937 Mark IX CSBS allowed for the greater speed and height of the then new monoplanes, while offering electrically driven automatic orientation from the Distant Reading Compass (itself then a comparatively new navigation aid).
The Mark IX was produced in 3 models (A, B and C), for use in Bomber Command, the Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Command respectively. The FAA and Coastal Command models were calibrated in knots and were fitted with height bars appropriate to operations at relatively lower altitude than the A model.
Mark IXC CSBS (RAF official)
The Coastal Command model. The height bar is the vertical rod, right of centre. Towards its upper end, the adjustable back-sight can be seen. The fore-sight pips are mounted below, at the junction of the wind speed and ground speed bars, above the drift-wires and centre left in the illustration. With respect to position and use in the cockpit, in this illustration left is forward. The Observer or Bomb-Aimer would be at far right, behind and above the height bar, looking through the back-sight spectacles to the pips of the fore-sight.
How bombs are aimed
From Britain’s Wonderful Air Force , an RAF sanctioned work of 1942, this illustration shows a somewhat earlier Mark of CSBS, installed over a prone sighting panel in the cockpit floor, with a detailed explanation of the main parts and of the Bomb-aimer’s view (despite the “What the Pilot Sees” tag).
In the Blenheim Mark I cockpit, the sight was mounted on the side panel enclosing the control and instrument panel at the extreme nose of the aircraft, for use from the Observer’s forward position on the starboard side, as shown in the 211 Squadron example below.
Nearing the target (Wings Over Olympus)
Blenheim I cockpit, photographed from the centre-section well. Above the clouds, the view forward over the shoulders of Pilot and Observer. The Mark IX Course Setting Bombsight can be made out in the extreme nose, past the Observer’s left shoulder. In the upper centre, the cockpit front glazing carries two makeshift wires, purpose unrecorded but possibly a pilot’s aid for low-level attack.
At the start of WWII, the Mark IXA CSBS was the standard sight in Bomber Command and RAF Middle East and Far East. For example, four of the five Groups of Bomber Command were using the Mark IXA in Battles, Blenheims, Wellingtons and Whitleys. In contrast, the Hampden Squadrons of 5 Group were equipped with the newer automatic tachometric sight, under development since 1933.
From the Bomb-aimer’s point of view, the precision offered by the Mark IX CSBS was encouraging, provided that as Observer he had first obtained a good wind speed and drift estimate, and provided that the run-up to the target was straight and level, with only flat turns for correction. All this required close co-operation between Observer and Pilot, above the din in the cockpit and the fizz and crackle of the intercom. By these means, in training and on exercises before the war, remarkably good results could be obtained in careful hands. In operations against defended targets or at night, these conditions were difficult to attain and potentially fatal. For this reason, the DRC drive and the azimuth mount refinements of the Mark IX were little used, if at all, in action.
It is apparent from various accounts that, despite some attempt at command level to allow for the artificiality of the apparently achievable degree of precision, to the cost of the crews it was well into the war before the difficulties faced in action were properly appreciated and addressed.
The Vickers ‘K’ or VGO
The Blenheim's defensive armament, though simple, went through a complex evolution and to this day is the subject of much confusion and frankly sloppy research.
The Blenheim was a Bristol product throughout: engines, airframe, and turret all Bristol designed. Initial deliveries of the Blenheim I were originally fitted with the Bristol Type B.I Mk I turret, with a single Lewis .303" drum-fed machine gun. According to Diagram 41 General Equipment of The Blenheim I Aeroplane Air Publication 1530A Vol I, in addition to the single pan mounted on the Lewis, there were no less than seven spare pans racked on the fuselage sides within the gunner’s reach, four to Port and three to Starboard. In total, approximately 400 rounds, for 57 round pans.
By early 1936, development of the Vickers ‘K’ gun (ie the Vickers Gas Operated or VGO gun) had reached a point where it had been accepted as the replacement for the ageing, slower-firing and less reliable Lewis in RAF service. By 1938, Vickers were able to offer drums with 100 rounds of .303in ammunition for use in single-gun turrets and a 300-round magazine for fixed installations such as the Blenheim’s fixed forward-firing gun. Development of a 1,000 round magazine proved difficult and the fixed-installation VGO was overtaken by Browning development and certification.
By 1939, the superiority of the VGO saw the Air Staff decide that Lewis guns were to be replaced with the Vickers model as the RAF service free-gun. Subsequently, Lewis-equipped Blenheims were retrofitted in the field with a VGO in the turret, while the Bristol B.I Mark IE single VGO turret was from then on installed on the production line.
In operational use from about mid-1940, gunners in the Blenheim Mark I and early Mark IV generally possessed a single VGO of .303in calibre in their dorsal turret, firing at about 950rpm. Most accounts of this period refer to four spare pans or drums of ammunition (with a nominal 100 round capacity, but in operational use loaded to 97 rounds per drum) and including the magazine already mounted on the weapon, the gunner could offer about 24 seconds of defensive fire, in 100 round, 6 second bursts. While the early 60-round magazines weighed about 7lbs, the later round” drum weighed about 12lbs. Whether conversions to the VGO followed the 1937 practice of seven spare pan mounts on the fuselage is not clear.
Some modern commentators have found this state of affairs hard to accept, in stark contrast to contemporary official views. By the late 30s it had been possible to convince the Air Ministry that a gunner could not aim and operate a machine gun from an open cockpit at 10,000 feet in a 180mph slipstream. But having accepted the need for a turret, the standard defence of the time (whether for night or day bombers) stood as a single rifle-calibre machine gun. For day bombers, close formation flying in the 3 aircraft ‘vic’ was the standard tactic to maximise covering fire.
Thus the Fairey Battle had armament identical to the Blenheim I: a forward-firing fixed wing-mounted Browning and a single dorsal VGO on a “high speed” pillar free-mounting (but without the benefit of a turret). The Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley originally carried barely greater firepower: the unpowered nose and tail turrets each carried a single VGO, photographs of which show 3 spare drums apiece. Again, early footage and stills of the Short Sunderland I shows the two open dorsal positions each with a single, free-mounted VGO and three spare drums stowed on the vertical framing of each gunner’s station. The Blenheim was a child of its time and its Bristol turret—however limited in punch or field of fire—was at the leading edge of late 1930s defensive armament.
Blenheim I: Air Gunners Office (K Stenman)
Source: Suomen Ilmavoimien Historia 10: Bristol Blenheim by Kalevi Keskinen, Kari Stenman and Klaus Niska, Tietoteos Publishing 1984 and used by kind permission of Kari Stenman.
The WOp/AGs “office” in a VGO-equipped Blenheim I, looking aft. The gunner’s backless saddle-shaped seat is in the centre foreground, lit by the light streaming in through the turret glazing above. The seat was an integral part of the Bristol B1 turret/gun mount, with it's central column and cupola, all raised, lowered and rotated together by hydraulic power. Thus the seat revolved with the turret and gun. The spade grips of the turret gun controls are clearly seen, mounted on the central column.
Immediately aft is the usual radio installation of the time: the R1082 receiver and its companion T1083 transmitter (for keyed Morse W/T), plus the TR9 transmitter-receiver Type 9 (for HF R/T voice transmission by intercom, and air-to-air or short-range air-to-ground).
Below to the left can be seen the drawer which held the necessary wireless spares. The wireless equipment was operated by the WOp/AG from his turret seat by reaching around the pillar. Sgt WOp/AG Bill Baird was graphic in describing this and the fumbling to tune or reset the radios from the spares drawer.
Mounted one above the other on the port fuselage side, at the extreme right of the photograph, are the three spare ammunition pans. There’s no doubt this is a VGO installation.
The Finnish Air Force received its first batch of 18 Blenheim Is between July 1937 and July 1938. A second batch of 12 Mark Is was air ferried to Finland in February 1940. VGO equipped, this may be one of either batch. The Finns operated 97 Blenheims in all, both Mark Is and Mark IVs, either imported or license built at the State Aircraft Factory. In the FAF these aircraft gave long and useful service. In the last group struck off charge in 1958 was BL106, an imported Mark I, with 2005 hours “on the clock”.
In production, Blenheim Mark IV armament variants were numerous. After initial deliveries still with a single VGO in the dorsal turret, early ( European theatre, 1939) attempts to improve Mark IV rear defence saw introduction of the Type B.I Mk IIIA turret, fitted with twin-VGOs. These required at least double the drum provision: ie 8 drums, 800 rounds, for the same 24 seconds of defensive fire. By 1940 the Gunner in a Mark IV turret was provided with no less than 10 spare drums in immediate reach from his seat, stowed five and five on the fuselage sides, with a further five stowed out of reach abaft the centre-section well.
Once the mounting, ammunition tankage and belt path had all been satisfactorily developed, the Type B.I Mk IV dual-Browning turret with its twin tanks of belted ammunition must have been a great relief all round.
To cover the otherwise undefendable rear lower-quarter blindspot, a number of versions of rear-firing chin-mountings were offered in production, ranging from a single Browning in a Bristol Perspex blister mount (seen on Len Cooper’s shot, Mark IV Helwan Jan 1942, enlarged below ) , to the final angular Frazer-Nash FN 54 twin-Browning mounting (shown by Bill Baird’s shot of Q-Queenie en route to the Far East later in January 1942, and by Gordon Chignall’s shot of Z7643 embarrassed in a bomb-crater at Pakenbaru in February 1942, both enlarged below).
Mark IV, Helwan January 1942 (EL Cooper )
The single Browning blister mounting, here on R3733 , formerly a 14 Squadron aircraft in Egypt.
Mark IV Q-Queenie, January 1942 (W Baird )
The Frazer-Nash FN 54 twin-Browning mounting, on a 211 Squadron aircraft in flight.
These various mountings suffered several problems, not least the complex belt path (leading to frequent stoppages) nor yet the cramped (aptly named) spade-grips in the now cluttered space for the Navigator: perhaps worst of all, the armament was aimed by periscope.
Various occasional modifications to armament were made in the field. For example, in the latter days in the Western Desert, some aircraft engaged in ground attack were fitted with a forward-firing cannon mounted in the Bomb-aimer's position and firing through the forward glazing, which must have made quite spectacular entertainment for the Observer (who presumably withdrew to the safety of the jump seat prior to firing!).
Lewis or Vickers
The Lewis-for-Vickers mistake is made so frequently, against the clearest photographic evidence, that it is worth a little more amplification.
A small number of sources report Lewis guns in war-time Mark Is and IVs. At least one of these also claims the wing-mounted gun to have been a Lewis: an utterly farcical proposition for a drum-fed machine gun, offering 6 seconds or less firing. Mentioned just once, in an early Bristol brochure, that proposal was abandoned before production. True, there had been a proposal for a VGO in the fixed wing-installation but this, fortunately, had been overtaken by Browning development. In contrast, the earliest Gladiators briefly wore the indignity of such a ludicrous offensive arrangement while the Browning’s in-wing ammunition runs achieved certification.
The “Lewis” story may also have been given credence by the early stages of the (abandoned) Type 143F design, when Bristols referred to “provision for a free-mounted Lewis in the dorsal position”. The Type 143F was never proceeded with, overtaken by Type 142M Blenheim design & production.
In the case of Scarf VC (62 Squadron, Malaya), some sources report that his WOp/AG expended 17 drums with his “single Lewis” in their action over Singora in a Mark I. A very remarkable feat. But as to the 17 drums, weighing in at some 200lbs, where were they stowed? Had the Mark IV stowage changes been retro-fitted to Far East Mark Is by late 1941? And the “single Lewis” - was it a VGO after all? Or were Lewis guns still a feature of the RAF in India and the Far East and its more ancient equipment? Curiously, though by the by in this context, pictures and footage attributed as Scarf’s machine show it to have had the wing tips removed.
There are a number of current (secondary) sources where the research is simply in error, with photographic, drawn and painted examples of the Vickers VGO captioned “Lewis”. Perhaps the worst example is Purnell’s History of the World Wars volume Bombers 1939-1945 , where a beautiful line drawing of a twin-VGO AA mounting is noted as a Lewis. Then again, some sources refer to the free-mounted guns of either kind in the early Blenheim/Battle/Whitley/Hampden period insouciantly as “hand held”, showing a fine disregard for common sense or clarity.
In most accounts (including those of participants) and in most war-time photographs, the Blenheim Mark I turret mounted a single VGO with 400 rounds all up (ie four drums), while the Mark IV came to carry either a twin-VGO or a twin-Browning belt-fed turret. Photographic evidence also exists of two marked exceptions: Mark I GA-V of 84 Squadron in Greece with a single Lewis in 1941 (Warner) and Mark I L8396 of 27 Squadron force-landed in Sumatra in February 1942 with twin Brownings (Woodward)!
As Bill Baird once wryly observed to me:
“Interesting story about the Lewis guns. At Gunnery School they were installed in the Heyford dustbin position, and I must say that I didn't particularly care for the experience one little bit. Your observations coincide with mine, and in the Mark IV one was well aware of the ammo drums beside one's legs. Memory recall - on my first raid to Tobruk with Jock Marshall at the controls, he told me to check my VGO, with a short burst of 10 rounds! On that occasion I was not required to use it belligerently.”
Armament Publications AP 2264A (Air Ministry 1942)
Air Navigation Vol 1 AP 1234 (Air Ministry 1944)
Bomb Carriers: Preliminary issue Ch 3 250 lb Container for Small Bombs AP 1664 Vol I (Air Ministry 1939)
Bomb Carriers: AL 43 issue Ch 3 250 lb Container for Small Bombs AP 1664 Vol I (Air Ministry 1944)
Bombing Sense AM Pamphlet 139 (Air Ministry 1942)
Bombs Ch 5 Bombs, HE, Aircraft GP 250lb Mk IV AP 1661B Vol I Sec 1 (Air Ministry 1942)
British Aircraft Guns of World War Two: RAF Museum Series Vol 9 (AP facsimiles Hippocrene 1979)
RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment (Air Ministry 1954),
RAF Armament Volume II: Guns, Gunsights, Turrets, Ammunition and Pyrotechnics (Air Ministry 1954)
The Blenheim I Aeroplane Air Publication 1530A Vol I (Air Ministry 1937)
Baird W images and personal correspondence with author.
Carter I images from the late Gordon Chignall collection.
Cooper EL images.
Air Ministry The Blenheim IV Aeroplane AP 1530B/AL 24 (Air Ministry 1940)
C Bowyer Guns in the Sky (Dent 1979)
RW Clarke British Aircraft Armament Vol I: RAF Gun Turrets from 1914 to the Present Day (Patrick Stephens 1993)
RW Clarke British Aircraft Armament Vol 2: RAF Guns and Gunsights from 1914 to the Present Day (Patrick Stephens 1994)
PFM Fellowes DSO Britain’s Wonderful Air Force (Odhams Press c1942)
CH Keith I Hold My Aim (George Allen & Unwin 1946)
K Keskinen & K Stenman GF Suomen Ilmavoimien Historia 10: Bristol Blenheim ( Tietoteos Publishing 1984)
HF King Armament of British Aircraft 1909 (Putnam 1971)
JA McBean & AS Hogben Bombs Gone: The Development and Use of British Air-dropped Weapons From 1912 to the Present Day (Patrick Stephens 1990)
Mason The Gloster Gladiator (Macdonald 1964)
Real Photographs Aircraft Armament Past and Present: Part 1 Machine-guns and Mountings RP42/13 (1942)
Real Photographs Aircraft Armament Past and Present: Part 2 Gun Turrets, Machine-Gun Sights & Cannon, RP 42/15 (1942)
Wallace Guns of the Royal Air Force 1939 (W Kimber)
L Wheatley An Erksome War (Merlin Books 1991)
Bristol Blenheim IV from above - History
The Bristol Blenheim is a British light bomber aircraft, designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane company. The bomber was initially designed as a commercial aircraft, first flying in April 1935. Impressed by its performance, faster than the newest Royal Air Force (RAF) biplane fighters at the time, a modified design was ordered by the RAF, to be used as a bomber.
First deliveries of the Blenheim Mark I were made to the RAF in March 1937 and by January 1938 the first Blenheim’s went to overseas squadrons. The Blenheim Mark IV was introduced as an upgraded model in 1939, forming the bulk of the just over 6,200 Blenheim aircraft produced. The Mark IV was outfitted with two Bristol Mercury XV engines, a stepped nose section, armour plating, additional external bomb load capacity, and included the additional of a twin dorsal gun turret and remotely controlled guns fitted under the nose section. The aircraft had a 3-member crew a polit, a navigator-bomb aimer and a wireless operator-air gunner.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, Blenheim bombers were stationed in two home-based squadrons and eleven overseas squadrons. When it came to the Mediterranean theatre of war in late 1940, Blenheims formed part of three RAF squadrons, mainly targeting Axis shipping across the Mediterranean. However, by early 1941 additional squadrons were required, several of which arrived in Malta and remained stationed there well into 1942.
The wreck of a Bristol Blenheim bomber located in the south of Malta off Xrobb L-Għaġin, has been identified as forming part of the No. 18 Squadron. In December 1941, five Blenheim’s from the No. 18 Squadron left Malta for Agosti Harbour, Greece. Only two aircraft succeeded in reaching the target area and jettisoned their bomb load. On the return to Malta, one of the Blenheim’s was chased by an Italian aircraft, causing damage to its port engine. The Italian aircraft broke contact and the Blenheim was left with smoke pouring from the destroyed engine and flying at little more than 30 metres above sea level. Attempts at lessening the weight were made by jettisoning the bomb load and heavy equipment, with the crew’s parachutes also being sacrificed. The badly damaged Blenheim made it to Malta, only to be prevented from landing at Luqa when another bomber was being taxied out. The decision was made to ditch the plane at sea, and when the crew spotted a Maltese Dgħajsa, they decided to ditch nearby. The Blenheim struck the sea tail first, considered a perfect ditching, and remained intact and floating, giving the crew time to safely escape. The crew was picked up by the Dgħajsa and taken to the Kalafrana seaplane base. An effort to tow the aircraft was made, however, the Blenheim sunk soon after.
21 Comments on “Bristol Blenheim Review. ”
After looking at the photos of this car, I am in literal shock and awe that it exists, and that it is indeed being created to this very day. The vehicle looks, at least on the exterior, as if its last model year should have been circa 1984, while the interior looks as if its last model year should have been…well…the very moment it was put into production. What a disgrace that Bristol Motor Cars and Tony Crook himself should be producing this monstrosity, this poor excuse for badge snobbery and money making. Pathetic.
I respectfully disagree with the review.
For a start, to get price on the 3S going to the Bristol Car web site http://www.bristolcars.co.uk/Blenheim3S.htm will show the published price of Basic £134,750.00 VAT £23,581.25 Total £158,331.25. The reviewer is converting into US dollars, so Value Added Tax may not apply. The company web site will also explain in detail what extras the buyer gets.
To look at a Bristol, one need not skulk around North England associating with Dickinsonian characters, although it does make for writing in the “it was a dark and stormy night” genre. Presuming the reviewer went to England, the first stop would be a few miles down from Heathrow Airport where new Bristols are on display in the showroom. If you don’t like Mr. Crook, speak to Mr. Silverton, who owns the company (since 2001). By the way, as of this writing, Mr. Crook has retired at the merry old age of 87.
To look at used Bristols, go to http://www.boc.net the home page of the Bristol Owners Club, and learn about the club meetings or what car shows they will be visiting with displays. At those meets and meetings, you will find drivers and enthusiasts from the full range of Bristols… 1946 through current models. If you are friendly, owners may kindly volunteer a test drive – but be aware you may be driving a decade-old car or older.
The reviewer then goes on to evaluate a Bristol that is reputed to have undergone a body-off restoration due to rot. How old? The model began production in 1994 and could be 13 years old by now. We must assume the reviewer is suggesting (but does not state) that the restoration was done by the factory, and we must assume the owner instructed the factory that cost was no object in bringing the car back to factory new. We need to know if these two assumptions are correct or not.
A car that is so badly rotted as to require the body be removed is, with few exceptions, a candidate for the crusher. That a Bristol is even worth such rescue sets it apart from other cars.
But then, if it is so rescued, one has to ask who did the work, and what budget and time frame was provided? One also has to ask under what conditions the car was driven and for how many years to require such a restoration?
Bristol has a remarkably high survival rate, with the club registry showing cars on the road from every single production model starting with the 1946 ones. Some suffered from mid-life neglect when they were bought by posers who wanted the ego boost, but could not afford proper maintenance. Some are driven in salt without protection and cleaning, parked outdoors for years on end, and when something failed, parked in a field for more years. If it were a Ford, it would have been hauled away and crushed. But in the case of a Bristol, some bold enthusiast would recover and restore it.
A few of those cars get proper restorations, but the price of restoration exceeds market value, so this is the domain of the passionate and rich. Many get brought back to running status, but with details neglected. It will drive like a car, but not drive like a Bristol.
Bristols are not cars for the masses, thus to judge the car by mass production applies the wrong test. If one wants a top of the line mass-produced Mercedes, BMW or Porsche, one goes to one of hundreds of such dealers, plunks down the dosh and drives away.
Bristols are hand made, and hands are never so precise as computer driven machines and lasers. Even the relationship of buying is personal. The salesman owns the company… for 45 years it was Tony Crook, now it’s Toby Silverton. Send a car made in 1970 back to the factory, and the fellow who built it will remember it. Order a part not in stock for a 30-year-old car, and be told to come back on Tuesday. The factory made it on Monday Tony Crook flew out from Heathrow to Bristol aerodrome and brought it back. You need a part for a 45-year-old car? They may still have it in stock, ex 1962 or even ex 1952 since they only change designs when engineering demands it.
“Another myth exploded” writes the reviewer. What myth? Bristol does not truck in myths. They make few claims. They mostly build to order, so the customer is already sold before they place their order. Customers for new cars are a different breed than the reviewer. They are rich. Seriously rich. Rich enough that they don’t really concern themselves with the fact that it is double the price of Germany’s finest. They also dress down. Sure they could afford a Rolls, but that calls too much attention. They want a Bristol, and they want it for reasons completely different than the standards the reviewer sets.
The reviewer contends the car performs badly based on a test drive in one that is not in factory condition, but an old rotted one brought back to life and owned by an unhappy owner. The reviewer criticises the engine performance. The engine is a Chrysler. If the performance of the test unit is weak, then maybe the engine has a problem. But the Chrysler V8 engine as a brand is as proven as one can ask.
As for handling, check the rubber bushes. After a decade or more of use and aging, the handling can begin to feel sloppy or worse. Tony Crook was a race driver, it took him a long time to even agree to provide power steering (midway through the 409 series) and when he did, drivers agree the ZF unit gave excellent road feel.
Interior aesthetics? No, it’s not a plastic fantastic where even the wood veneer looks as if it is coated in epoxy, like the Mercedes. It’s old school British. Flat panels of wood, real (and fine) leather and a grudging concession to safety that required Bristol give up the rocker switches and go to plastic flat ones. You do need to remember however, that with production in the dozens or hundreds per year, one does not place a bulk order for custom switches. One buys what the market supplies, and Tony Crook was never one for poofery. If it worked, if it switched on the lights, that was good enough for him. No Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton edition for him. And since it was his company, what was good enough for him is what he offered for sale… and when Aston Martin, Jensen, Rolls Royce and all those other marques got into trouble, he kept selling just enough cars to keep him enjoying his passion.
What Mr. Crook does not have any interest in is what the motoring press says. To the contrary, he wants to be left alone. Bristol shows little interest in the motoring press in part because unlike almost all other marques, it does not need them. The press writes for an audience unlikely to find themselves in 368 – 370, Kensington High Street, or if they did, unlikely willing to part with the admission price because they bring a different value set.
If one were to summarise Bristol, it is about authenticity in a world of mass production and franchises. A few human beings appreciate authenticity, and value the work of a man’s hand over the price-performance of the era of automation. Bristol has two audiences. For new cars, the buyers are rich yet have some discernment in what they buy.
For used (older) cars, the buyers tend to love engineering over image, and they get a bargain because the cars are not well known so underpriced relative to comparable British classic marques. Andrew Blow, who brokers many of the used Bristols lists them typically for £8000 for a decent one up to £25,000 for an excellent or properly restored one. See http://www.racecar.co.uk/andrewblow/contents.html He is most conversant with the lemons out there as well… the ones badly restored or tarted up.
It’s a small circle. One owner thought he was smart stuff by having his car repaired and then driving off without paying. Word gets around. He took it to another one of the repair shops, and when he went to pick it up, he was told to pay the other shop first. How many Mercedes or Porsche dealers would do that for one of their competitors?
I write this reply for the one in million drivers who would otherwise be misled by the above review. Driving and owning a Bristol is a path few take. It takes weeks of driving to begin to appreciate its qualities. There is something quiet and peaceful about it it’s an absence that takes time to recognise. It’s like living in a city and walking out at three in the morning to notice something different… heavy snow fell and it stopped the traffic. The air is cleaner, quieter and something is missing… that buzz that is so familiar as to be accepted as normal.
Bristols have a different feeling to them, a feeling no Mercedes, BMW or Porsche can match. But it is a feeling that requires the car be ship-shape, not tired or abused, and it is a feeling that takes weeks to sense and a broader vocabulary than mine to articulate.
Disclosure: The author of this critique has no connections or affiliation with Bristol Cars or any other Bristol business. This author has owned five used Bristols over the years and currently owns one Bristol as well as a Mercedes and a Toyota. Over the years he has bought new Mercedes, and various BMWs including one H&B set up for racing. He is qualified to compare the difference.
THANK YOU. Perhaps the wisest – and beautiful – words I ever read about Bristol. Snow falling, indeed… Bristol is the quintessencial proof of that elusive harmony that sometimes exists between man and time. But how do you begin to explain that to short-sighted morons?! Bristol is poetry in motion, not a computer game on wheels. And I also own a mercedes, an old coupe in tip-top shape, and thankfuly devoided of the usual gadgetry…
The thing about Bristol Cars is that you either get them or you don’t. My business partner hates mine and can’t understand why people come up and start enthusing over it every time you pull up at the lights or park up. My kids love it, as do their friends, especially sitting on the sofa like seats, which they reckon are the most comfortable ever made.
I drive mine daily and I absolutely love driving it. It is luxurious, smooth, powerful, hugely maneuverable and I can go anywhere in it without offending anyone’s sensibilities. These are the qualities that only a Bristol embodies.
They depreciate very slowly and fortunately for enthusiasts, they last a very long time. By the time they hit classic car age they are eminently affordable as they don’t have a badge premium unlike some marques which were the pin ups for previous generations. Like the Forth Bridge they go on and on and Owners Club members regularly put 15k miles a year up their cars, even when the cars are older than they are. How many other makers can say that of their cars.
Each car is unique, I have met the men who built my car and have maintained it ever since. It is handmade which does mean that it has quirks and like most things made from scratch by a man it has imperfections, it is built using hand tools not computers. If you should be so fortunate as to be able to afford to have one built for you, then that is what you get, a car built for you. Personally. Just like bespoke shoes or a hand made suit it will fulfill it’s purpose perfectly, speak quietly and last a lifetime. For that last reason it won’t conform with fashion, it is not a style statement or a display of wealth. just the quiet enjoyment of the best that life can offer. Bristol’s walk quietly and carry a big stick, as my own dad often advises this is the best way to approach life.
Part of the fun of being a Bristol owner has been the joy of dealing with Tony Crook. Unfortunately he has recently retired at 87 and that chapter of the history has closed to open up a new era. A test drive with Mr Crook has been one of the more memorable hours of my life. Hopefully someone will write a biography of this very english eccentric. As a very private man he certainly never would himself. Neither would the factory director, who is 88 and has now worked for the company for an incredible 62 years. He knows every single car the company has ever built, and has driven each of them.
It is really unfortunate that the car driven for the review was obviously old and unloved. A worn out car is not a fair reflection of the marque.
If you are on a return trip to the UK there are many owners who would be more than happy to share their car with you for an hour, perhaps you might even get a run in a Fighter. It is unlikely that the Company will supply a test drive in a brand new car, it will after all have been made especially for a customer, and like Lobbs of St James they wouldn’t let you try on another man’s shoes.
Like the previous post, I have owned Porsche, BMW and Merc cars and driven Aston’s Morgans, Maseraiti and Bentley Company and friends cars and enjoyed them for a while, but none has made me feel special in the way that my Bristol does. (I am not connected with the Company in any way either)
If you are at a place in life where you appreciate the real value of something and don’t want to wear a Logo then a Bristol is pretty much the only choice of car to buy. They transcend money, whether you have money or not anyone can enjoy a Bristol.
Message for ‘Enthusiast’. You say your Bristol attracts a lot of interest, which Bristol model is it?
While it is blatantly apparent that there are three sides to every coin, there is little genuine reason to behold the Blenheim which remains visually inside retentive esoteric domains to the absolute. Proportionately so in my opinion, that it is what it is and if folk wish to spend thier hard earned on one it is a choice.
Someones junk is another one others gold and rightly vice versa of course. As long as we all are capable of dialogue there will always be a disparity of opinion and due regard for Bristol design. It is a given, and as far as Bristol Cars are concerned it is clearly intended by now. Whether or not that is a wise choice remains to be seen, although I personally doubt this. A couple of things do bother me however and have done so for decades. One would be the continued non admission of any sort by Bristol Cars. The other would be the irritatingly singular and galvanised viewpoint of particular Bristol users.
It is a little sad, but it is at the same time a legacy.
Whilst the Blenheim is a bit outdated, with some creative accessorising, mine is quite the “mac daddy ride” as my grand-daughter is fond to say. It is in fact quite sporty with a rear spoiler, Lamborghini style door hinges, and a sporty body kit made originally for a luxury audi sedan actually required surprisingly little customisation to appear as though it was made for my Bristol sedan.
Neon lighting underneath the carriage on the exterior and tucked beneath the dash on the inside really make for a treat at night.
In all, for about a thousand quid it is quite easy to update the otherwise sedate look of a Blenheim, bringing it into the 21st century with a skosh of “bling”.
Bristol is the Fawlty Towers of British cars. I love Fawlty Towers. And I hope to one day own a Bristol!
It seems that the reviewer managed to locate the worst Blenheim in existence. It was seasoned in the rain for ten years, heavily modified, crashed and rebuilt by some back street outfit who hand formed replacement panels without jigs, neglected some more, resprayed under the arches and then presented for testing.
This review is probably as relevant to Bristol Cars and Blenheims, as a review of pimped up Merc 190e that has been used as a tramp’s storage facility is to a current C class Merc. Perhaps the reviewer, in the interests of fair play, would contact the owners club who I am sure would arrange a drive in a selection of cars which are a little more representative of the Marque
My Blenheim 3S has covered some 325,000 miles and had nothing more than regular servicing and, naturally, new brakes and dampers from time to time. The fit and finish of everything is still perfect and I find none of the switch gear or control levers, etc., to be as described by the “gentleman” in the original article.
The paint, while a little crazed in places, is still sound as is the leather interior.
My late husband commissioned the car and it has outlived 2 Mercedes Benz, 2 BMW of dubious build quality and stands up only to my 1954 Bentley Continental for reliability.
We got suckered into two world wars to defend this?
— Angry American
What makes you angry? Life is a lesson to be learned, anger is failing the grade.
Actually, world war two was the best thing that happened to America in the first half of the 20th century. Before Pearl Harbor, Americans were suffering from 11 years of the Great Depression. You probably were not alive then. The war gave America back its hope, and gave it faith in both technology and education. It also gave it a fifty-five year run of the best years in America’s history. It gave its people a reason to hold their head high again, after 11 years that crushed the spirit of so many.
There was a time when nations were loyal to each other, and when Americans were known for their generosity and willingness to help out. They were an optimistic people with a can-do attitude. When they saw evil in the face of Hitler and were attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, America’s young men were down at the recruiting office the next day. Overnight, they reinvented their industry, with women taking the men’s jobs at the factories as the men sailed off to war. These were not professional soldiers, they were ordinary Americans being asked to do extraordinary things. They did not fight in anger, they fought because their allies needed their help. They fought because it was the right and decent thing to do.
And when the war was over, their generosity was extended to the enemy. With the promise of Japan and Germany to forswear war ever again, those two countries rose out of the ashes. Unlike the winners of the first world war, who made Germany starve in punishment, America, the only real winner of the second world war gave the vanquished the means to rebuild themselves as a loyal friend of America.
America got suckered into nothing. To say so is to demean the sacrifice made by so many volunteers, by so many families and by so many communities with gold stars on the family home. My dad’s mother was a blue star mother. Her only son, he fought front lines against the Germans in Italy and came home after the war ended in victory. My mother’s mom was a gold star family. Her mom lost her eldest son in the first few weeks of the war, after he volunteered for the Navy and was lost at sea to a German sub. Her younger son fought over Germany in the air, shot down over enemy lines but rescued by the Resistance. He survived 13 air crashes during his military career and died of old age. They were not suckers, they were Americans.
Today, I wonder and worry about Americans. What happened to that generosity of spirit? Why are so many Americans like you, angry? Especially about something as unimportant as an old car.
Ironically, the car itself is a legacy of that war. While America helped the losers, the allies, especially Great Britain, were left to take care of themselves. Their economy was wrecked, their factories were destroyed, they were broke. Their cities had been ceaselessly bombed every night their citizens lived through the equivalent of 9-11 every night for 57 nights. It left 375,000 homeless. The precise number of dead was 18,629 men, 16,201 women, 5,028 children and 695 unidentified charred bodies. Hitler used 18,000 tons of explosives to exact this toll. Bristol England was one of the major targets, as the Germans sought to destroy the Bristol Aeroplane Company. The Bristol Beaufighter (the plane) proved to be an effective weapon against the Luftwaffe that slowly turned back the Blitz. After the war, facing the prospect of laying off skilled engineers and technicians, the company made the decision to build a car based on German war reparations. They continue in business today, still making their way against the tide, asking nothing more than to be left alone.
I could go on, but enough of the history lesson. If I may give you advice, it would be to try to be kinder, to be less angry. Forgive those who offend you, and seek to turn America back to the generous nation that is the inspiration of the free world. Anger demeans you, not just as an individual, but as a nation.
All sides considered, I think 250 thousand dollars buys a better car than the Bristol. If you disagree then maybe you own one.
If Bristol didn’t exist it would have to be invented. It makes a statement that the world needs uniqueness in every field. To-day’s cars all seem to be versions of one another, whereas the Bristols stand out as separate and aloof from the whims of fashion. As to build quality and driveability,it’s obvious that people are driving and enjoying them as a means of transportation. So, cut the cheap shots. May there always be Bristols and the people who can afford and appreciate them. As for me, a mere peasant, I shall continue to drive and enjoy my 1974 TR6, which I’ve had for 35 years. It’s rough and tough and primitive, and it suits me just fine, even though here in Ottawa ,Canada the driving season is rather short.
I reckon the reviewer was a little over the top, but that most of his comments are fair, Bristols were ugly cars and post 1960 consisted of an inexpensive, over the counter, American engine and gearbox fitted into a modified pre war BMW chassis with a home made body on top. As someone said, you either get them or you don’t and clearly no one did and they went bust.
I had and rebuilt from scratch an incredibly beautiful 1949 400, as so many are, it was in a parlous state and had to be totally remade, so I learnt a lot about what was actuallly a prewar BMW 328 engine in a 326 chassis with a Bristol made body that was a cross between a Paulin streamliner as made for Bentley and Peugot and BMW’s 327 coupe. Bristol bought drawings, engines and other bits from BMW and their plan was to employ some of their 60,000 employees, no longer needed after the war, to make cars. In the event about 430 400s were made by 1950 compared to the million or so of the rest of the industry had exported in the same time. Letters from one of BMW’s engineers Fritz Fiedler to the directors imploring them to find more efficient methods of production were clearly ignored.
The Bristol Aircraft Company had been the biggest aircraft maker in the world and was undoubtedly one of Britain’s truly great companies. For a time their Jupiter Aero engine was a world best seller, but they never got to grips with car production and, even before Tony Crook and Sir George White acquired the car subsidiary in 1960ish, they had, by any commercial standards, failed. By the time the Blenheim appeared, I doubt many were taking
them very seriously because so many far better cars are available for that sort of money and most from companies with a proper pedigree. They probably made less than 5000 cars between and collapse in 2011.
There in new hands now, so it’ll be interesting (IMO not very) to see their next offering.
I am not fortunate to own a Bristol but did have the pleasure of meeting Mr. Crook at the Kensington showroom in 2006. He struck me as rather different from described here. I had simply wandered in to admire the cars and he came over and in a friendly manner started to chat. I told him about my admiration for the brand, particulary a 1962 model which used to live in my neighbourhood some years ago which he helped me to correctly identify as a 407. He even asked me a few more questions assuring me that in all likelyhood he would recognise the individual vehicle and be able to name its owner! It is I think rather difficult to imagine Dr. Reithofer (CEO & Chariman of BMW) being able to match that.
I found Mr. Crook charming and down to earth. He joked that although he was retired the company very kindly allowed him to potter around in the showroom and then he invited me to vist their underground parking area where, besides current models there were a couple of fully restored older cars for sale. If it is true that Mr. Crook only sold cars to people that he took a personal liking to then I am immensely flattered to recall that he offered me the opportunity to purchase one that had been recently fully restored and that counted amongst its previous owners the late King Hussain of Jordan. I had to confess that I was not there to buy but to his credit he continued to share stories and even invited me to visit the factory if I was “ever in those parts”. That sort of personal, cordial relationship that I was able to glimpse must surely be a large part of what owning a Bristol would have been about. Knowing the men who built your car by hand. Being on conversational terms with the living legends who built the company. No amount of Mercedes Maybach glitz or Volkswagen Mulsanne slickness can compete. Bristol didn’t die because of anything wrong with the cars they built, its because the sort of people who would buy them and have the leisure to enjoy them are becoming extinct.
I am a middle aged engineer now looking for a project to enjoy fiddling with for a while. I have restored a few motorcycles and that was fine. I have been looking for a good used Bristol . I have been looking for decent reports on the vehicles and have found a few. I have alos found a lot fo negative press as basing the comparison of the car to a more modern vehicle.
I live in southern California and am looking to see if anyone here has a good hendle on the importation issues with such a vehicle.
As far as performance and such. I am mainly looking for a well running well sorted car. I figure if the pricing as repersented on the old used bristol site is accurate then these are actually not a bad price for a neo classic car.
If you think this is not rue you must see what people will pay for a much less usefull vehicle such as a late 50s Bel Air. Which in is best days were not good and fixed up to the presnt state folks bring these to are about a good as a well sorted mid 80s american sedan.
Now in the real world driving much over 85 mph is foolish BUT you want to be able to get to that point easily ..a concept lost on most economical cars.
So I do not plan to drive a bristol at 110 but it would be a nice weekend car to suppliment the Toyota Hybrid dullmoblie i drive now.
I recently owned a 2003 Blenheim 3 which i purchased from Bristol Cars Limited. The car spent the first two months under my ownership going to and from service where they attempted to fix recurrent problems that should have been undertaken prior to delivery. These included brakes locking up ( a few days after collection) which resulted in a near accident , faulty heater (3 times back prior to sorting it out) , various bangs and squeaks (in the end after 2 or 3 recalls they replaced all the shock absorbers) . Throughout all these issues I experienced conflicting reports between service and sales as to how or why the issues had not been properly dealt with. As i became more familiar with the car i realised it was not for me. In particular the car felt like it had all the disadvantages but non of the advantages of a classic car . Apart from the unreliability previously mentioned the handling is something you might expect from a 1960’s (not 2003) car but with over powered “one finger” steering – quite weird and I never felt quite in control. Also a rather awkward seating position where one feels like you are seating on the car and not in it. The paintwork was bubbling on one of the wings, the disc brakes felt antiquated. The finish of the interior began to grate on me also – In particular the instrument dials look a bit cheap and fake , pvc covered steering wheel -i could go on. So I decided to trade the Blenheim for a 411 . This time round I organised an independent specialist to inspect the car. Bristol Cars carried out all the work on the car prior to purchase. I much preferred the 411 to the Blenheim. Much more sporty to drive and bags of character to go with it. = However a few weeks after collection the throttle was sticking on kickdown so it went back to service to be sorted out together with some other niggles . They failed to do the job properly so it went back in again . Service asked me if i had been lifting my foot of the ground and slamming the pedal as it was bent. You can imagine my dismay at the intimation that it was somehow my fault. When I arrived to collect the car after repair I was informed that whilst they had the car under their care it had been involved in an accident an was very likely a right off. I insisted on a full refund which was agreed at the time but over the following days they indicated they may change their minds (due to the tone of my emails) they said they would let me know . I instructed my solicitor to deal with the matter and in the end i recovered the money directly from the 3rd party insurers. I have successfully owned many classic cars over the years (in particular Aston Martins from RS Williams) but despite admiring the earlier cars I could never bring myself to buy another Bristol from Bristol Cars ltd.. In my opinion , the new ownership at Bristol Cars Limited has done nothing to address the issues that may have led to the companies earlier problems.
Amazingly, Autocar review the Blenheim in 1993…Tony Crook must of slipped…or more likely this journalist isn’t familiar with the Autocar…shocking for a company that doesn’t offer test drives…
The dash being ‘unattractive’? It looks like a combination of the Jaguar XJ6 with a Rover P5’s nacelle, not a bad combination. Jaguar had the same level of push button switches too. Maybe Farago never set foot in a Jaguar or Rover to know.
The information is out there there doesn’t appear to be a black out of reviews on Bristols with Brooklands actually publishing a compilation, with 300+ pages (‘gasp’).
This whole article almost seems fabricated since it has no bearing on reality, it must have been a slow news day or motivated to be anti-British. British cars are not your plastic indistinguishable American/Japanese/German mass marketed cars they are hand made like Swiss watches with real wood, real leather and foibles and idiosyncrasies that their buyers want. Farago obviously doesn’t get it, but that’s still no excuse to fabricate a story in an attempt to ruin the reputation of a car company.
I’m not sure the author didn’t have some sort of ace to grind? I have experience of a couple of Blenheims. They are unusual but wonderfully comfortable and feel solidly built. I am disappointed by this article. Must have been a slow news day. A bit Daily Mail and trying to be shocking, perhaps?
Bristol Blenheim IV from above - History
IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover Blitz
I have posted them here because i found a lot of people were unaware of there existance and they may help out to new Pilots. All credit to the creators of these guides!
Open both Rotary Fuel Ccks on the rear right cockpit wall by rotating them fully Clockwise.
Slide the Fuel balance Cck behind the rotary ccks to the forward position.
Set throttles slightly open
Start engines in turn Left then right (Order is important you work out why)
Advance throttles slightly (avoid rough running) to warm up.
Monitor Cylinder Heat Temp at 100C set cowl Flaps full open.
Take Off can be performed at +5Lbs Boost or +9 Lbs Boost with boost cut out Enabled.
It is recommended that boost Cut Out is used for takeoff. In Real life a +5Lbs Boost take off was performed with Cowl Flaps closed. A +9Lbs take off with Cowl Flaps 1/4 Open. For ALL take offs in the TF Blenheim Cowl Flaps should be set to 1/4 Open.
Set flaps 15 (Or up for Light weights)
Check Props set to Full Fine Pitch (Plungers IN or to rear)
If +9Lbs required set Boost cut Out Lever to Down (Active Position)
Smoothly advance Both throttles to fully forward.
When Safely airborne Landing gear Up. (beware trim change)
Flaps UP (beware trim Change)
Deselect Boost cut Out (lever UP)
Select Coarse on Prop pitch (Plungers OUT or forward)
Check CHT … adjust cowl Flaps if required.
Climb at 135MPH IAS to 6000ft then reduce by 1 Mph per 1000ft
Monitor CHT adjust Cowl Flaps to maintain 190C
+5Lbs Boost Coarse
Max CHT 235C
Long Cruise descents from high altitude at Idle power with cowl Flaps closed can result in approaching Min CHT of 100C. If this happens advance Boost slightly as required to ensure CHT is kept above 100C
On Final set Props Full Fine (Plungers IN or to rear)
Consider cowl Flaps 1/4 Open (in case of Go Around)
WARNING High Rates of Descent at <85MPH IAS can result in running out of elevator authority in the flare.
+9Lbs 5 min or temp Limits (OIL/CHT)
Landing gear Down Nose Up
The Blenheim has 4 fuel tanks. 2 Tanks in each wing referred to as Inner and Outer tanks. Fuel quantity gauges are located above the pilots left shoulder. Two gauges are present to indicate the fuel remaining in both Port and Starboard tanks. Each wing has two tanks Inner and Outer. To read a specific tank Fuel Quantity first select the desired tank using the the rotary switches.
The Bomb aimers station has a number of player controls. Two Yellow Manual Bomb release buttons are located on the Chart table.
A total of 4 switches are located on the forward instrument panel. These Mode switches allow the bomb aimer to select Bomb delivery modes.
Course Setting Bombsight Operation.
The Blenheim MKIV is equipped with the Course setting Bomb sight. This is a simple vector sight that provides an aiming reference for bomb release. The Bomb aimer inputs Bomb release HEIGHT and GROUND SPEED and drift. It is important to understand that the Bomb aimer must input Bomb Release HEIGHT not Altitude. Bomb Release Height = Altitude – Target Elevation. In addition the Bomb Aimer must determine the GROUND SPEED and input this to the sight. So the Bomb aimer needs to first determine TAS then apply the wind to determine the ground speed. In Nil wind conditions TAS = GROUND SPEED.
The Sight consists of a vertical post which combines as the Height scale and back sight. The back sight consists of an aperture with the Tgt Height Ref index pin on the right and left sides. A scale on the vertical arm shows the current Height set by the bomb aimer.
The sight also has a horizontal arm with attached Track reference wires. The Horizontal arm also has the foresight which consists of the Ground Speed Ref index pin. The horizontal arm has two ground speed scales. The White scale on the left (not visible with zero drift) has a mph scale. The Red scale on the right is also a Ground Speed scale but in “Minutes to fly 60 miles”. This is easily visible in most situations.
In the graphic below The Release Height is set to 7000ft. The ground Speed is set to 12Min to cover 60 miles i.e. 5 miles per minute or 300mph Ground Speed. To obtain the correct aiming reference the Bomb Aimer moves his Eye line to line up both the Ground Speed ref pin and the Release Height ref pin….i.e. Like with a Rifle he aligns the backsight with the foresight. In the Sim in bombsight view the eyeline is automatically set for you. With these Ref pins aligned the bomb aimers eyeline is now on the correct release angle sight line.
With these settings the aircraft is then flown so the target passes through either the Left Aiming aperture or the right aiming aperture. (In the sim it needs to be the right aiming aperture)The Bombs are manually released as the target passes through and adjacent to the ref pins.
In Drift situations the Bomb aimer lays of the drift so that ground features are tracking directly parallel to to the horizontal arm and its drift wire reference lines. The aircraft is then flown to ensure the target tracks down the Drift wire guideline to the aiming aperture.
Red Minutes to fly 60 miles to Miles per Min and MPH.
30 = 2miles per min = 120mph
25 =2.4miles per min = 144mph
22 = 2.7 miles per min = 164mph
18 = 3.3 miles per min = 200mph
14 = 4.2 miles per min = 257mph
12 = 5miles per min = 300mph
In the Sim you can simply use the digital values of release height and ground speed to set the sight accurately rather than refer to the respective scales.
Bristol Blenheim IV from above - History
Bristol Blenheim Mk.IVF
Airfix, 1/72 scale
Airfix Kit No. A04017 - Bristol Blenheim Mk.IVF
Contents & Media
148 grey and nine clear styrene parts, with decals for two colour schemes.
and numerous other stockists worldwide.
The most accurate 1/72 Blenheim Mk.IV, plenty of good constructional options, nice surface detail, good engines and interior detail, good quality decals, attractive price.
Incorrect nacelle shapes on upper wings.
A worthy Blenheim Mk.IV kit indeed! This is a superb effort from Airfix, and tremendously good value too. It has some very nice assembly options, refined panel detail, very well executed engines, good cockpit, great undercarriage, superb decals, and generally very good outline shape.
It is not perfect, with some unwanted Bolingbroke features included. The worst of these is the overly swollen nacelle shape, which I think most modellers will live with, although it is clearly fixable. Fortunately, the Bolingbroke&rsquos cockpit warm-air inlet pipes ahead of the exhausts can be easily removed.
Airfix&rsquos new tool Blenheim Mk.IV is clearly the best kit of this variant in the &ldquoOne True Scale&rdquo so far I highly recommend it.
Airfix's 1/72 Hurricane Mk.I Fabric Wing is available online from Squadron.com
The Bristol Blenheim was a British light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company that was used extensively in the early days of the Second World War.
It was adapted as an interim long-range and night fighter, pending the availability of the Beaufighter. It was one of the first British aircraft to have all-metal stressed-skin construction, to utilise retractable landing gear, flaps, a powered gun turret and variable pitch propellers. A Canadian-built variant named the Bolingbroke was used as an anti-submarine and training aircraft.
The Blenheim Mk I outshone most biplane fighters in the late 1930s but stood little chance against the German Messerschmitt Bf 109 during daylight operations, though it proved successful as a night fighter. The Mark IV variant was equally unsuccessful in its daylight bombing role, suffering major losses in the early stages of the war.
In 1934, Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail newspaper, challenged the British aviation industry to build a high-speed aircraft capable of carrying six passengers and two crew members. At the time, German firms were producing a variety of record-breaking high-speed designs, such as the Heinkel He 70, and Rothermere wanted to recapture the title of fastest civilian aircraft in Europe. Bristol had been working on a suitable design as the 'Type 135' since July 1933 and further adapted it to produce the Type 142 to meet Rothermere's requirements.
Named 'Britain First', this first flew at Filton on 12 April 1935, and proved to be faster than any fighter in service with the Royal Air Force at the time. The Air Ministry was obviously interested in such an aircraft and quickly sent out Specification B.28/35 for prototypes of a bomber version the 'Type 142M' (M for military). The main change was to move the wing from a low-wing to a mid-wing position, allowing room under the main spar for a bomb bay. The aircraft was all-metal with two Bristol Mercury VIII air-cooled radial engines, each of 860 hp. It carried a crew of three - pilot, navigator/bombardier and telegraphist/air gunner. Armament comprised a single forward-firing .303 in Browning machine gun outboard of the port engine and a .303 in Lewis Gun in a semi-retracting Bristol Type B Mk I dorsal turret firing to the rear. From 1939 onwards, the Lewis gun was replaced by the more modern .303 in Vickers VGO machine gun of the same calibre. A 1,000 lb bomb load could be carried in the internal bay.
To achieve its relatively high speed, the Blenheim had a very small fuselage cross-section, with its upper front glazing all at one angle in the form of a "stepless cockpit" that used no separate windscreen panels for the pilot. The pilot's quarters on the left side of the nose were so cramped that the control yoke obscured all flight instruments while engine instruments eliminated the forward view on landings. Most secondary instruments were arranged along the left side of the cockpit with essential items like propeller pitch control actually placed behind the pilot where they had to be operated by feel alone. Like most contemporary British aircraft, the bomb bay doors were kept closed with bungee cords and opened under the weight of the released bombs. Because there was no way to predict how long it would take for the bombs to force the doors open, bombing accuracy was consequently poor.
The aircraft was ordered directly from the drawing board with the first production model serving as the only prototype. The service name then became Blenheim Mk I after the famous battle during the War of the Spanish Succession. Subsequent deliveries started on 10 March 1937, with 114 Squadron being the first squadron to receive the Blenheim. The aircraft was built under license by countries including Finland and Yugoslavia, which built 60 aircraft. Other countries bought it, including Romania, Greece and Turkey. Total production of the Blenheim Mk I in England was 1,351 aircraft.
Work on an extended-range reconnaissance version started as the Blenheim Mk II, which increased tankage from 278 gal to 468 gal, but only one was completed. Another modification resulted in the Blenheim Mk III, which lengthened the nose, and thereby dispensed with the "stepless cockpit" format of the Mk.I in introducing a true windscreen in front of the pilot, to provide more room for the bombardier. This required the nose to be "scooped out" in front of the pilot to maintain visibility during takeoff and landing. However both of these modifications were instead combined, along with a newer version of the Mercury engine with 905 hp and the turret acquired a pair of Brownings instead of the Vickers K creating the Blenheim Mk IV. A total of 3,307 were produced.
Another modification led to a long-range fighter version the Blenheim Mk IF. For this role, about 200 Blenheims were fitted with a gun pack under the fuselage for four .303 in Brownings. Later, the Airborne Intercept (AI) Mk III or IV radar was fitted to some aircraft in use as night fighters these were the first British fighters to be equipped with radar. Their performance was marginal as a fighter, but they served as an interim type, pending availability of the Beaufighter. About 60 Mk IVs were also equipped with the gun pack as the Mk IVF and were used by Coastal Command to protect convoys from German long-range bombers.
The last bomber variant was conceived as an armoured ground attack aircraft, with a solid nose containing four more Browning machine guns. Originally known as the Bisley, (after the shooting competitions held at Bisley), the production aircraft were renamed Blenheim Mk V and featured a strengthened structure, pilot armour, interchangeable nose gun pack or bombardier position, and yet another Mercury variant, this time with 950 hp. The Mk V was ordered for conventional bombing operations, with the removal of armour and most of the glazed nose section. The Mk V, or Type 160, was used primarily in the Middle East and Far East.
Previous 1/72 scale Bristol Blenheim Kits
There have been only three brands of Blenheim kit in The One True Scale so far (ignoring Frog Penguin), although near constant production and regular re-boxing has kept them generally readily available. The brands are:
Airfix Mk.IV from 1968. Covered in rivets, it suffers from shape issues, particularly the rudder, engine nacelles, and wing-tips plus the engine cowls lack detail. A better Mk.IV can be had by cross-kitting with Frog&rsquos Mk.I kit, or by purchasing MPM&rsquos Mk.IV. I shall not bother mentioning this kit in any further comparisons due to these better alternatives.
Frog Mk.I from 1969 it&rsquos almost a case of who hasn&rsquot re-boxed it? Companies that have include - AIRMoulds, Chematic, Classic Plane (Japanese version with resin Sakae-engines), Cooperatavia (included PE details), Donesk Toys Factory, Eastern Express, Intech, Modelcraft, Model Hobby, Novo, Revell, and ZTS Plastyk. Released only a year after Airfix&rsquos Mk.IV, Frog&rsquos effort was really very good for its time, with far better outline shape, and nicely restrained surface detail. It is still capable of being built into a decent looking model without too much effort. If you don&rsquot have a Frog original go for the Revell boxing, as they cleaned up the moulds and the decals are better than Russian re-boxes.
MPM (some Special Hobby Boxings too) MK.I from 2001, Mk.IV from 2000, and MK.V from 2001. True limited run kits, all three marks share common tooling and need a lot of work refining parts and making things fit. They have fine recessed surface detail, nice resin engines, PE details, good injected clear parts, plus excellent decals. They have reasonable but far from perfect shapes their wing and tailfin/rudder outlines do not look quite right, and the engine nacelles are far too pointed. A lot more work to build than Frog&rsquos, they at least offer all major Blenheim marks, and have more refined detail overall. I have built their Mk.V, but am unconvinced that they captured the nose shape of this last Blenheim version correctly.
The main-wheels of all of the above 1/72 Blenheim kits are significantly undersized and are best replaced by BaracudaCast resin wheels of the correct size and pattern.
The kit comes in a top-opening box with attractive artwork. Five grey sprues are enclosed in a single heat-sealed plastic bag, with the clear sprue further protected in their own smaller bag. All sprues have acceptably thin attachment points.
The multi-lingual instructions are an A4 booklet of twelve pages. The painting and markings guide is well done in colour with four views per subject. Colours are described using RAF or generic names where applicable, with paint codes that correspond to the Humbrol range.
The superbly printed decals are loose in the box with their tissue cover sheet.
Cockpit detail is quite adequate for the scale, provided you add some seat harnesses. It captures the features of a Blenheim&rsquos cockpit rather well, but is a little simplified in style. There is some moulded detail on the cockpit sidewalls, a rear bulkhead, pilot&rsquos seat-frame with integral engine controls, pilot&rsquos seat, control column, instrument panel (with decal instruments), navigator&rsquos seat (made from three parts), plus his forward bomb-aiming crawl-space and a bomb-sight but surprisingly, there are no rudder pedals. A pilot figure is also provided, but as no navigator or gunner/telegraphist figures are included this lone pilot seems a bit pointless.
The cockpit glazing consists of four clear sections neatly located by small tabs, two of which form the small side-windows behind the crewmen&rsquos seats. The entire cockpit section is separate from the main fuselage halves as a result of the shared tooling with the recently released Blenheim Mk.I, (the common grey sprues include the Mk.I&rsquos nose parts and single-gun turret, but not its cockpit glazing). The instructions advise attaching the cockpit sub-assembly to the already joined fuselage halves and wings however, I think most will choose to join each cockpit half separately to its corresponding fuselage section to avoid any potential step issues with the join.
The simple turret is adequately captured, and features a finely moulded pair of Vickers K guns. Separate clear parts cover the option of having the turret deployed or retracted, which is nice to have.
Before discussing the airframe components I will comment on surface detail in general. The panel lines are very good indeed, and a big improvement over Airfix&rsquos initial releases under Hornby&rsquos ownership. However, the rib detail on the fabric covered control surfaces is a little over pronounced, and will benefit from being sanded back a tad, as this image of the real tail illustrates, when compared to one of the kit parts below:
Airfix has been notable for adopting some unusual but none-the-less worthwhile approaches to kit breakdown in their recent releases. This is also the case here, where the upper wings are joined as one piece, as are the lower wings by the integral bomb-bay. This is a first for a Blenheim kit, where the norm has been for separate wings to fit to the fuselage sides.
Enclosed within the wing sections are a front a rear spars that span past the wheel-well openings, and include the oil-tanks that will be visible through these. Airfix also provides some undercarriage frame structure to flank either side within the wheel-wells. Staying with wheel-wells, it is worth mentioning that Airfix have done a very nice job overall of the undercarriage, and for Blenheim kit first, they have reasonably correct sized wheels with weighted tyres and nice hub detail. The landing gear can be modelled extended or retracted.
Another nice touch with this kit is the option of lowered or raised flaps. The internal flaps structure is included, although the prominent lightening holes evident in this image are not represented. They could be drilled out, although I think black decal dots would probably suffice if you are bothered by their absence. No doubt Eduard or others will soon offer more detailed aftermarket alternatives. Separate ailerons are welcome, as are the individual elevators and rudder. A clear part provides the leading-edge landing light, but the wingtip navigation lights are moulded solid, which is a bit of missed opportunity.
The kit actually provides two styles of gun pack, but the shallower of the two is applicable to the Mk.IF (a boxing yet to be announced I think). The four .303 gun barrels that insert into the gun-pack are acceptably fine and convincing, but can obviously be improved on using Quickboost resin or Master machined brass replacements. Eight small anti-personnel bombs are provided along with their racks to mount behind the gun-pack, although these are only applicable to one of the kit&rsquos decal options.
The review kit is of the fighter variant, so the bomb-bay is intended to be closed in order for the gun-pack to be fitted. However, I am sure many will buy this kit to finish as a Mk.IV bomber, so I shall still describe the bomb-bay.
I previously mentioned Airfix&rsquos slightly unconventional approach to the assembly of the wings, and their inclusion of the small bomb-bay. This enables a quite creative and effective way of locating the mid-mounted wing by inserting it from below the fuselage. In doing so, it fits between the cockpit bulkhead, which also forms the front of the bomb-bay, and the rear bomb-bay bulkhead that is inserted between the fuselage halves earlier in construction. There is a centreline structural member to fit in the bomb-bay, and the bay doors are provided separately as either open or closed items. The bomb-doors include two subtle bulges, which is the first time a 1/72-scale kit has captured this feature. Two quite acceptable bombs with their racks are provided to go in the bomb-bay, along with two racks of four anti-personnel bombs that mount externally behind the bomb-bay. (Ensure you drill out the plugged locating holes for these before joining the fuselage halves if you plan to use them.)
I should also mention that the kit&rsquos clear sprue includes surplus parts representing fairings for either the single or paired rearwards firing guns that mounted under the nose of some bomber variants, along with their guns. So obviously Airfix plans to release a Mk.IV bomber boxing and, judging by some arrow antennae on the sprues, a night-fighter too.
The engines and their cowlings are very well rendered for the scale, and consist of quite complex sub-assemblies. There is a very nice choice of open our shut cooling gills, followed by the inlet manifold, single-piece engine crankcase and cylinders, and separate reduction gear cover with three cowl bracing struts (only the centre struts are provided, but it&rsquos worth adding the two angled ones that flank each of these from scratch). The engine is enclosed by three cowl panels that do a good job of capturing the shape and size of the rocker-gear clearance blisters (unlike previous kits). Two separate exhaust pipes interleave with the bottom cowl panel as per the original. There are also the two &ldquotrumpet-mouthed&rdquo oil-cooler air inlets that insert between the engine cylinders. All is capped off with a collector ring that includes the exhaust manifold pipes leading forward from the cylinder heads. If only more kits of British radial-engined subjects would capture this feature when applicable.
The outside of the kit&rsquos collector rings feature a cooling air intake and bulged segment ahead of the exhaust pipes that is incorrect for a Blenheim. This feature is apparent on at least one of the extant restored examples, but relates to the Canadian Bolingbroke, and supplies warm air to the cockpit. Fortunately it should be easy to remove with some quick sanding.
Staying with the engines and the Bolingbroke theme, it is worth mentioning that Airfix seem to have confused the nacelle shape by including some of the Bolingbroke&rsquos more swollen upper nacelle shape, particularly in plan view. I think the effect is possibly due to basing the kit (in part) on a Bolingbroke restored to look like a Blenheim, as the nacelles are too bulged and swollen for a Blenheim, but not enough for a Bolingbroke! Fellow HyperScaler, Simon Wolf, has made several very interesting and informative posts on this point as he tackles building the new Airfix Blenheim Mk.IVF. The image below comparing the kit part to the real thing illustrates the point:
Simon has made six sequential posts as he has progressed in tackling the issue, and I have linked to a couple of Simon&rsquos images showing the correct shape drawn in pencil onto the kit parts here and here. I encourage readers to check his posts in full using the links provided below:
Bristol Blenheim Mk IV (pre-WWII)
The Greek Blenheim Mk IV were delivered shortly before the break of WWII. The equipment configuration was very different from the British equivalent airplanes, that being the main reason that the Greek airplanes were not confiscated by the British upon the break of the war.
The Mk IV were delivered without aiming sight system, intercommunication system, radio and bomb rails, as certain equipment systems were not delivered in time by the suppliers or they were confiscated in the countries they were produced due to the war.
The shortage of the above rendered the airplanes inadequate for operations therefore the 32nd Bombing Squadron’s technicians had to manufacture aiming sight substitutes and intercommunication systems from string. As for the bomb rails, a solution was given by modifying the hanging points. In all, 9 to 12 airplanes were delivered, while the order for 12 more was never executed.
The Blenheim Mk IV of the pre-WWII order must not be confused with the Blenheim Mk I/IV that were delivered by the British in 1941. These were equipped according to standard RAF specifications.
Hellenic Air Force General Staff
227-231 Mesogion Avenue, Postal Code 155 61, Cholargos (Map)
Tel. Exch: +30 210 659 3399
Fax: +30 210 642 8239
Workhorse of the Desert Air Force – The Blenheim Mk. IV
Many Royal Air Force enthusiasts have a soft sport for the Bristol Blenheim, and regard her quite highly. There is a good bit of nostalgia though, and it is arguable that even by the start of the war in 1939, the Blenheim was not really a competitive plane anymore. By the time of Operation CRUSADER, the only thing it had going for it was that it was available as a light strike plane without having to rely on US allocations of superior light/medium bombers such as the Douglas Boston or Martin Baltimore.
The Fighter Collection Blenheim I at Leicester War & Peace Show, 2015. Rommelsriposte.com Collection.
In the popular imagination. Airfix Box Art for the Blenheim IV kit, showing a raid by No. 342 (Free French) ‘Lorraine’ Squadron on Bardia, 1941.
The Blenheim (Bristol Type 142) was originally designed in 1935, and was a well advanced airplane for its time. It was faster than the fighters that would defend airspace against it, had a modern fuselage, a reasonable defensive equipment and bomb load. By 1939 however, other light/medium bombers such as the Fiat BR.20, the Martin 167 Maryland and the German Dornier 17Z had similar or better performance, carrying more bombs at similar speeds and distances. Modern fighters such as the Bf 109 had entered service that outperformed the Blenheim by a considerable margin.
An attempt was made to address shortcomings of the Blenheim I by modifying it substantially, adding range and dealing with the flawed nose design. The new Type 149 became the Blenheim IV or Bolingbroke, reaching frontline units in 1939. This did however not address the fundamental flaw, which was that a weakly defended, slow light bomber needed three crew members and the servicing personnel for a squadron of 12 twin-engined planes to be able to carry 48 250lb bombs to enemy territory. Nevertheless, with nothing else available, the type soldiered on.
The final variant was the Blenheim V, also called Bisley, Type 160. Almost 1,000 of the type were produced from 1941 onwards, but it was no longer competitive at all. When they entered combat during Operation TORCH in 1943, they were slaughtered by the German fighters.
The Blenheim IV, the only type to serve in the frontline during CRUSADER, could carry a lot of 4x 250lb bombs sufficiently far to attack Derna or Benghazi from the most advanced landing grounds in Egypt. Malta-based Blenheims could reach Tripoli, the coastal road, Benghazi, and most of the shipping lanes from Italy to North Africa. A typical squadron mission of 10 planes, allowing for two to be unserviceable, could therefore carry 10,000lb of bombs on target.
Bristol Blenheim Mark IV, V6014 ‘GB-J’, of No. 105 Squadron RAF Detachment in a dispersal at Luqa, Malta. Canvas covers protect the cockpit and glazed nose section from the sun. From July to September 1941, 105 Squadron was detached from the United Kingdom to Malta, to operate against targets in the Mediterranean and North Africa, losing 14 aircraft during the period. Note the modified gun mounting under the nose. IWM CM1357
The Blenheim in CRUSADER
Blenheim IVs came in two types during operation CRUSADER. Most squadrons were equipped with the bomber version, while No. 113 Squadron had received the fighter version known as Blenheim IVF. Squadrons had a frontline establishment of 12 planes, and the Blenheim Squadrons operating in the desert were Squadron Nos. 8, 11, 14, 45, 55, 84, 113 (Fighter), 203 (Naval Co-Operation) and the Free French Lorraine Squadron, while in Malta Squadron Nos. 18, 107 and a detachment of No. 40 Squadron operated the type for ground attack and anti-shipping missions. Of these, seven bomber squadrons as well as the fighter squadron No. 113 were considered operational, with a total of 112 Blenheims reported ready on 16 November 1941.
In the run-up to CRUSADER, Egypt-based Blenheims conducted bombing raids on Axis installations such as ports and landing grounds all over Marmarica and Cyrenaica. The Blenheims of No. 201 (Naval Cooperation) Group conducted maritime surveillance.
Malta-based Blenheims were also busy, being tasked with convoy interdiction. While the Fleet Air Arm with its Swordfish torpedo bombers striking convoys at night captured the popular imagination, many ships fell victim to daylight attacks by Blenheims. But these shipping strikes came at a very high cost, as e.g. events on 12 September or 11 October 1941 showed clearly. The high cost of these strikes was not enough to deter them however, since the prize was also high, and an instruction came from London that these high losses had to be accepted.
In the end, the shipping attacks continued successfully, but at a high cost, with No. 107 Squadron at one point commanded by a Flight Sergeant, since all its officers were gone.
Telegram Chief of Air Staff to R.A.F. H.Q. Middle East, 19 October 1941. AIR20/2109
Once the attack started, Blenheims were busy during CRUSADER, with many squadrons carrying out 1-2 sorties per day, weather permitting, and became ridiculously busy during the final stage of the siege of Bardia and Halfaya, when the garrisons were bombed constantly. This generated an inquiry from London, whether this scale of attack was justified when the garrisons could just be hammered by artillery instead.
The fighter Blenheims of No. 113 Squadron operated from a clandestine landing ground inside Libya, as long-range strike planes, disrupting Axis traffic on the coastal road from Tripoli to Benghazi, and also attacked Axis landing grounds in western Cyrenaica.
Exchange of Telegrams between Tedder and London on the question of excessive raids by Blenheims on Bardia. Air20/2109
Telegram, Tedder to Air Ministry, 1 December 1941, leaving little to be clarified regarding his opinion of Bristol’s light bomber designs. AIR20/2109
CRUSADER was in many ways the swan song of the Blenheim in the fight against the Axis forces. More and more of the better US planes became available, and once squadrons converted to these, there was no way back, as set out in the telegram from Tedder to the Air Ministry in London above. It clearly sets out the concern about losing Douglas Bostons from the allocated volume from the US production to the Soviet front, and the potential impact on morale to have crews switch back from more modern US models to the Blenheim, be it Mk. IV or V (Bisley). At the same time, a continued role of light bomber strikes was acknowledged, but the expectation was that these would be carried out by more capable types. For the Western Desert, this meant US types, since Mosquitos, with the exception of some photo-reconnaissance planes on Malta, were not making it out to the Middle East. Nevertheless, squadrons such as No. 107, which was withdrawn from Malta to the UK in January 1942, converted to the type there.
By January 1942, confirming Tedder’s judgement, the remaining Blenheim squadrons in the Middle East were sent to the Far East, where they would serve in all theaters for another period, but suffering equally against Japanese high-performance fighters. A policy of handing down obsolete planes to the Far East, driven by an underestimation of the performance of the latest Japanese fighters, was going to have disastrous consequences for the crews. Unlike obsolete tanks, such as the Matilda II, or the US-built M3 Stuart and Grant tanks, there was no second life for obsolete planes in the Far East.
In the desert then, through early 1942, the obvious replacements arrived in the form of US-made Douglas Bostons and Martin Baltimores. At the same time, a surprising transformation also took place. Technological change made itself felt, and the air/ground war of 1942 would look very different to that in 1941.
The Rise of the Fighter Bomber
A very important point in the evolution of light bomber strikes is the switch from twin-engined to single-engined planes, enabled by the introduction of better-performing engines from the late 1930s. This is a point I am indebted to Justin Bronk for.
The Luftwaffe had very successfully experimented with fighter bombers in 1940, by equipping its Bf109E fighters with a single bomb carried under the fuselage during the battle of Britain. It never looked back, but it took it years to be able to produce the numbers of single-engine fighters to be able to spare some for this task. The introduction over England had been a whirlwind of successes and failures, but overall with the good initial successes by 3./Erprobungsgruppe 210, validating the concept of the single-engine fighter bomber.
By 1941, the R.A.F. was experimenting with the same approach by introducing the Hurribomber, a variant of the Hurricane with hard-joints under the wings that enabled it to carry 8x40lb bomblets. The first full squadron equipped with these Hurribombers in the desert was No. 80 Squadron, and it took up operations in November with the start of CRUSADER. The squadron showed the potential of the fighter bomber, but the Hurricane was not the right plane, lacking power and consequently performance when encumbered with external ordnance loads.
By the end of 1941, a new type of fighter was arriving in the Mediterrean theatre, the Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, another derivative of the Curtiss P-40 airframe with some modifications. While never a first-class air superiority fighter due to its failure to perform well at height, the Kittyhawk had the sturdiness to serve in a different role, as a highly capable fighter bomber. One of the first squadrons to receive the Kittyhawk Mk. Ia, No. 3 Squadron R.A.A.F. was ordered to train as a fighter-bomber squadron on 7 April 1942.
Almost from the start the Kittyhawk provided a new capability to the light strike force, being able to carry a 500lb bomb, a load which neither the Blenheim nor the Maryland could carry. Alternatively, it carried 2x250lb bombs alongside under the main fuselage. Hardpoints were also provided under the wings for 40lb bombs, such as those used on the Hurribomber, but these were apparently not used. In the desert, with vehicles and men practicing dispersion, lighter bomb weights restricted the damage potential from a raid considerably.
By August 1942 therefore, newly introduced US-made 500lb bombs were routinely carried to target, and a year later, the Kittyhawk’s latest upgrade, the Mk. III, also named the Warhawk, had substantially increased its capability, and could carry up to 6x250lb bombs, i.e. 50% more of these type than the Blenheim Mk. IV could carry, by utilizing hardpoints under the wings.
This meant that a squadron of 16 fighters, employing less than half of the flying personnel, and requiring 1/3 less of engine maintenance, compared to a squadron of 12 Blenheims, could now deliver 24,000lb of ordnance in a single strike, twice that compared to the 12,000lbs that a Blenheim squadron could deliver. It could also do so faster and more accurately by using dive bombing techniques and it came with a better ability to defend itself and/or to undertake follow-on strafing attacks after a bombing run.
The power of being able to quickly assemble large numbers of these fast fighter bombers was impressively shown when 50 of them attacked an Italian convoy at the end of April 1943, rapidly sinking the destroyer Lampo. She was attacked by P-40 Warhawk fighter bombers of the USAAF’s 79th Fighter Group, with 86th, 87th and 316th Fighter Squadrons and sunk in Tunisian waters when her escort of Regia Aeronautica fighter planes was simply overwhelmed by the number of attackers.
This was not an ‘either/or’ proposition however, and both the R.A.F. and the U.S.A.A.F. continued to operate large numbers of light/medium bombers such as the B-25 Mitchell and the B-26 Marauder of US production as well as the British De Havilland Mosquito, with good results.
Western Desert, Libya. 1 June 1942. The American Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk bomber aircraft which is proving highly successful in the present desert operations. Diving at terrific speed on the enemy’s colunns this aircraft releases its bombs at low level, climbing rapidly up again to resume its original role as a fighter. Kittyhawk bombers have already knocked out or heavily damaged some hundreds of enemy vehicles. This aircraft, code name GA-F, of No. 112 Squadron RAF, sits on the airfield showing teeth painted on the fuselage to resemble the jaws and teeth of a shark. AWM MED0445
Front view of a P40 Kittyhawk aircraft of 450 Squadron RAAF. The aircraft is carrying six 250 lb bombs. AWM P03372.011
Bristol Blenheim IV from above - History
Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV
UK &mdash RAF WW-II light bomber/fighter
[Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV (L8756) c.1994 at the Royal Air Force Museum London, Hendon Aerodrome, London, England (35mm Photo by John Shupek)]
- Bristol Blenheim
- Role: Light bomber / fighter
- Manufacturer: Bristol Aeroplane Company
- Designer: Frank Barnwell
- First flight: 12 April 1935
- Introduction: 1937
- Retired: 1944 (United Kingdom) 1958 (Finland)
- Primary users: Royal Air Force Royal Canadian Air Force Finnish Air Force Royal Yugoslav Air Force
- Number built: 4,422
- Variants: Bristol Beaufort Bristol Fairchild Bolingbroke
The Bristol Blenheim is a British light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company (Bristol) which was used extensively in the first two years and in some cases throughout the Second World War. The aircraft was developed as Type 142, a civil airliner, in response to a challenge from Lord Rothermere to produce the fastest commercial aircraft in Europe. The Type 142 first flew in April 1935, and the Air Ministry, impressed by its performance, ordered a modified design as the Type 142M for the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a bomber. Deliveries of the newly named Blenheim to RAF squadrons commenced on 10 March 1937.
A development of the Type 142M was the Type 149 which Bristol named the Bolingbroke, retrospectively changed by the Air Ministry to Blenheim Mk IV and the Type 142M to the Blenheim Mk I. Fairchild Canada built the Type 149 under licence as the Bolingbroke. Blenheims Mk I and the Mk IV were adapted as fighters by the addition of a gun pack of four Browning .303 machine guns in the bomb bay. The Mk IV was used as a long range fighter and as a maritime patrol aircraft both aircraft were used as bomber/gunnery trainers.
The Blenheim was one of the first British aircraft with an all-metal stressed-skin construction, retractable landing gear, flaps, a powered gun turret and variable-pitch propellers. The Mk I was faster than most fighters in the late 1930s but the advance in development of monoplane fighters made all bombers more vulnerable particularly if flown in daylight, though it proved successful as a night fighter. The Blenheim was effective as a bomber but many were shot down. Both Blenheim types were used by overseas operators, being licence built in Yugoslavia and Finland.
In early 1934, Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail newspaper, challenged the British aviation industry to build a high-speed aircraft capable of carrying six passengers and two crew members – he referred to the ambition as seeking "the fastest commercial aeroplane in Europe, if not the world". At the time, German firms were producing a variety of record-breaking high-speed designs, such as the single-engined Heinkel He 70, and Rothermere wanted to recapture the title of fastest civilian aircraft, as well as to purchase such an aircraft himself. Rothermere also intended to encourage businesses and key figures to make greater use of civil aviation, and to demonstrate to the British Air Ministry how their fighter aircraft may not be able to match modern transport aircraft, which may be easily converted to, or used as the basis for, a bomber aircraft.
Since July 1933, Frank Barnwell, Bristol's chief designer, had been working on a small twin-engine low-wing monoplane design, initially intended to be powered by the sleeve-valve Bristol Aquila radial engine, designated as the Type 135. Rothermere became aware of Bristol's proposal and, in response to his inquiry, on 3 March 1934, Barnwell issued him with a quote of the specification and performance statistics of the design, including an estimated top speed of 240 mph at an altitude of 6,500 feet. By this point, proposed use of the Aquila engine had been shelved in favor of the supercharger-equipped, poppet-valve Bristol Mercury engine. Deeming it suitable for the issued challenge, the design of Type 135 was further adapted to produce the Type 142 in order to meet the requirements outlined by Rothermere. In late March 1934, Rothermere placed an order for a single Type 142 aircraft, under which he paid for half of the estimated £18,500 cost up front and the remainder upon the aircraft's first flight in the following year.
. On 12 April 1935, the Type 142, which had been given the name Britain First, conducted its maiden flight from Filton Aerodrome, South Gloucestershire. Flight tests soon proved that the aircraft was in fact faster than any fighter in service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) at the time, having demonstrated a top speed of 307 mph. Rothermere presented the aircraft to the nation for a formal evaluation at a potential bomber. By June 1935, the Air Ministry had become interested in the project due to its high performance. On 9 July 1935, a design conference was held by Bristol at the ministry's request into the question of converting the Type 142 into a suitable medium bomber.
Based upon talks from the conference, the Air Ministry quickly formalized Specification B.28/35 for prototypes of a bomber version the Type 142M (M for military). One principal change between the Type 142M bomber and its Type 142 predecessor was the repositioning of the wing from a low-wing to a mid-wing position, which allowed for more internal space within the fuselage underneath the main spar to accommodate a sizable bomb bay. Other modifications included the addition of a bomb-aimer's position and a Browning machine gun in the nose along with provisions for a semi-retractable gun turret in the dorsal position.
In September 1935, an initial contract for 150 aircraft was placed. The Air Ministry had chosen to order the type directly from the drawing board, having been urgently sought as one piece of a wider and rapid expansion of the RAF. The first aircraft built of this production model, K7033, served as the only prototype on 25 June 1936, K7033 conducted its first flight from Filton. The service name for the aircraft became Blenheim Mk I after the famous battle during the War of the Spanish Succession. On 10 March 1937, production deliveries to the RAF formally started 114 Squadron became the first squadron to receive the Blenheim. On 13 January 1938, the Blenheim entered service with No. 30 Squadron, the first overseas squadron to receive the type in early 1939, the first Blenheims arrived in India.
From July 1936 onwards, various additional orders were placed for the Blenheim Mk I, including multiple orders for the export market. By the end of 1936, 1,568 aircraft were on order. In order to meet the demand, secondary assembly lines were established at Chadderton by Avro and at Speke by Rootes Securities. The aircraft was built under licence by overseas countries, including Finland, who completed a total of 55 aircraft, and Yugoslavia, which completed 16 aircraft with a further 24 in advanced stages of completion when Germany invaded Yugoslavia. Other countries also procured the Blenheim, including Romania, Greece and Turkey. By September 1939, orders for the Blenheim had risen to 2,088 aircraft. Total production of the Blenheim Mk I in England was 1,351 aircraft prior to the end of the production run in 1939 production had been terminated in favor of more advanced variants.
The Blenheim production program saw several shifts in requirements and in capacity. A modified Blenheim design, given the name Bolingbroke, was manufactured under licence in Canada by Fairchild Aircraft. The Bolingbroke, which had been developed in response to Air Ministry Specification G.24/35 to procure a coastal reconnaissance/light bomber as a replacement for the Avro Anson, had substantial improvements that would serve as the basis for improved variants of the Blenheim. According to aviation author James D. Oughton, both the navigator's station and range limitations of the Blenheim Mk I had been subject to considerable criticism, thus an improved model of the aircraft was desired in order to rectify these shortcomings. On 24 September 1937, an experimental Blenheim Mk I, modified with an extended forward fuselage beyond its original stepless cockpit, smooth-fronted nose enclosure, made its first flight from Filton.
Formal work on an extended-range reconnaissance version started as the Blenheim Mk II, which increased tankage from 278 gal (1,264 L) to 468 gal (2,127 L). Only one Blenheim Mk II was completed, as flight tests revealed the increase in speed to be marginal and not warranting further development. Another modification resulted in the Blenheim Mk III, which lengthened the nose, dispensing with the "stepless cockpit" format of the Mk.I, introducing a true windscreen in front of the pilot, to provide more room for the bomb aimer. This required the nose to be "scooped out" in front of the pilot to maintain visibility during takeoff and landing. Both modifications were combined, along with a newer version of the Mercury engine with 905 hp (675 kW). the turret acquired a pair of Brownings in place of the original single Vickers K gun, creating the Blenheim Mk IV.
In early 1939, the first batch of Blenheim Mk IVs were accepted into service these lacked outer fuel tanks but were accepted due to the urgent demand for the type. Early Blenheim Mk IVs were also equipped with the Mercury VIII engine, most were fitted with the more powerful Mercury XV or Mercury 25 models. Further aircraft deliveries were made to the production standard and were primarily manufactured by Avro and Roots. Production of the Blenheim IV continued until June 1943, when newcomers such as the Beaufort-derived Beaufighter had succeeded the type. A total of 3,307 were produced. A long-range fighter version, the Blenheim Mk IF, was also developed. For this role, about 200 Blenheims were fitted with a gun pack under the fuselage for four .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings. Later, the Airborne Intercept (AI) Mk III or IV radar was fitted to some aircraft in use as night fighters these were the first British fighters to be equipped with radar. The Blenheim had been selected as the first aircraft to be adapted for this role as its fuselage was sufficiently roomy to accommodate the additional crew member and radar apparatus. Their performance was marginal as a fighter but they served as an interim type pending availability of the more capable Beaufighter derivative. About 60 Mk IVs were also equipped with the gun pack as the Mk IVF and were used by Coastal Command to protect convoys from German long-range bombers.
The last bomber variant was conceived as an armored ground attack aircraft, with a solid nose containing four more Browning machine guns. Originally known as the Bisley, (after the shooting competitions held at Bisley), the production aircraft were renamed Blenheim Mk V and featured a strengthened structure, pilot armour, interchangeable nose gun pack or bomb-aimer position and another Mercury variant with 950 hp (710 kW). The Mk V was ordered for conventional bombing operations, with the removal of armour and most of the glazed nose section. The Mk V (Type 160) was used primarily in the Middle East and Far East. The Blenheim served as the basis for the Beaufort torpedo bomber, which led to the Beaufighter, with the lineage performing two evolutions of bomber-to-fighter.
The Bristol Blenheim was a twin-engine high performance all-metal medium bomber aircraft, powered by a pair of Bristol Mercury VIII air-cooled radial engines, each capable of 860 hp (640 kW). Each engine drove a three-bladed controllable-pitch propeller, and were equipped with both hand-based and electric engine starters. To ease maintenance, the engine mountings were designed with a split-segment to facilitate rapid engine removal without disturbing the carburetors. A pair of fuel tanks, each containing up to 140 gallons, were housed within the center-section of the fuselage. The fuselage of the Blenheim employed a light-alloy monocoque structure using open-section stringers, and was constructed in three sections. The wing is also built in three sections, the center-section of which is bolted and riveted to the fuselage. The outer wing sections are tapered in chord and thickness. Extensive use of Alclad sheeting is made in elements such as the ribs, skin, flaps, and web reinforcement of the spars. The tail unit is of a cantilever monoplane style, using an all-metal tailplane and fin while the aerodynamically-balanced rudder and elevators use a metal frame covered with fabric. The undercarriage was hydraulically-retracted, with an auxiliary hand-pump for emergency actuation medium-pressure tires were used, complete with pneumatically-actuated differentially-control brakes.
The Blenheim typically carried a crew of three – pilot, navigator/bombardier and wireless (radio) operator/air gunner. The pilot's quarters on the left side of the nose were so cramped that the control yoke obscured all flight instruments while engine instruments eliminated the forward view on landings. Most secondary instruments were arranged along the left side of the cockpit, essential items such as the propeller pitch control were actually placed behind the pilot where they had to be operated by feel alone. The navigator/bombardier was seated alongside the pilot, and made use of a sliding/folding seat whilst performing the bomb aiming role. Dual flight controls could be installed. The wireless operator/air gunner was housed aft of the wing alongside the aircraft's dorsal gun turret.
Armament comprised a single forward-firing .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun outboard of the port engine and a .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis Gun in a semi-retracting Bristol Type B Mk I dorsal turret firing to the rear. From 1939 onwards, the Lewis gun was replaced by the more modern .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers VGO machine gun of the same caliber. A 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb load could be carried in the internal bomb bay set into the center section of the fuselage. Like most contemporary British aircraft, the bomb bay doors were kept closed with bungee cords and opened under the weight of the released bombs. Because there was no way to predict how long it would take for the bombs to force the doors open, bombing accuracy was consequently poor. The bomb bay could be loaded using a hand-operated winch incorporated into the fuselage.
To achieve its relatively high speed, the Blenheim used a very small fuselage cross-section, with its upper front glazing all at one angle in the form of a "stepless cockpit" that used no separate windscreen panels for the pilot, a notable feature of a substantial majority of German bomber designs, first conceived during the war years. Both fixed and sliding window panels were present, along with a transparent sliding roof. Other onboard equipment included a radio, cameras, navigation systems, electric lighting, oxygen apparatus, and stowage for parachutes and clothing.
Operational History 2
Outbreak of War
In September 1939, the month in which the conflict that would become known as the Second World War broke out, the Blenheim Mk I equipped a total of 2 home-based squadrons as well as 11 overseas squadrons in locations such as Egypt, Aden, Iraq, India, and Singapore. Further RAF squadrons had also received, or were in the process of converting to, the more capable Blenheim Mk IV a total of 168 Blenheim Mk IV aircraft had entered RAF operational strength by the outbreak of war.
On the day that war was declared on Germany, a Blenheim Mk IV, N6215, piloted by Flying Officer Andrew McPherson was the first British aircraft to cross the German coast to perform a high altitude reconnaissance mission upon the German Navy in the vicinity of Wilhelmshaven, Lower Saxony. The following morning, 15 Blenheims from three squadrons set off on one of the first bombing missions to attack the ships spotted on the previous day. RAF Coastal Command were soon using the Blenheim with the stated mission of protecting British shipping convoys off the east coast.
Shortly after the conflict's start, the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) was deployed to numerous airfields in France, allowing for shorter range bombing missions against German targets, including industries. Several squadrons of Blenheim IVs were assigned to the AASF, being frequently used against targets in France and the Low Countries. Blenheims were also assigned to the air component of the British Expeditionary Force of the Army.
In May 1940, AASF and BEF Blenheims participated in the Battle of France, being sent against German forces moving towards Brussels, resulting in many aircraft quickly sustaining heavy damage or being lost to enemy fire. German attacks upon the French airfields also damaged a considerable number of Blenheims on the ground. On 14 May, a combined force of Fairey Battles and Blenheims was dispatched on a counter-attack upon German forces as they broke through defensive lines: 40 out of 71 aircraft were lost in this sortie. This is claimed to be the highest ever losses known to the RAF. Further action by Blenheims of Bomber Command that day sustained a 25% aircraft loss despite a high level of British fighter cover. Shortly thereafter, the mostly-depleted squadrons were withdrawn to Britain. Around 50 Blenheims supported the Dunkirk evacuation by harassing enemy forces.
Rapid advances in technology which had taken place in the late 1930s had rendered the Blenheim mostly obsolete by the outbreak of the war. In particular, it had become heavier as extra service equipment was installed much of this was found to be necessary through operational experience. This, coupled with the rapid performance increases of the fighters that would oppose it, had eclipsed the Blenheim's speed advantage. In January 1941, the Air Staff classified the Blenheim as inadequate in terms of performance and armament for current operations.
The light armament of one .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers VGO in the turret and one .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun in the port wing was seldom able to deter fighter opposition. Squadrons were forced to use several different improvisations in an attempt to provide better defensive armament, until officially sanctioned modifications were able to be introduced in early 1940. The Blenheim also proved to be vulnerable to flak, especially around the rear fuselage. Flexible, self-sealing liners had been fitted to the fuel tanks but they were still not fully protected against the 20 mm MG FF cannon carried by the Luftwaffe's Bf 109s and Bf 110s.
Blenheim squadrons were still in immediate and high demand after their withdrawal from France as part of the British action during the Norwegian Campaign. Typically operating from bases in the northern areas of the British mainland, such as RAF Lossiemouth, flying for extended periods over the North Sea led to the weather posing almost as much of a risk as enemy combatants, particularly as most of the Blenheim IVs lacked any heating or de-icing systems in response, some aircraft were later equipped with boilers fixed onto the starboard engine exhaust. A sizeable number of losses occurred, caused by both enemy action and mid-air engine failures due to icing.
After the fall of France in June 1940, the Free French Air Force was formed at RAF Odiham, Hampshire, in the form of Groupe Mixte de Combat (GMC) 1, consisting of a mixed bag of Blenheims and Westland Lysander liaison/observation aircraft, which were later dispatched to North Africa and saw action against Italian and German forces.
Blenheim units operated throughout the Battle of Britain, often taking heavy casualties, although they were never accorded the publicity of the fighter squadrons. From July to December 1940, Blenheims raided German-occupied airfields both in daylight and at night. Although most of these raids were unproductive, there were some successes on 1 August five out of twelve Blenheims sent to attack Haamstede and Evere (Brussels) were able to bomb, destroying or heavily damaging three Bf 109s of II./JG 27 and apparently killing a Staffelkapitän identified as Hauptmann Albrecht von Ankum-Frank. Two other 109s were claimed by Blenheim gunners. Another successful raid on Haamstede was made by a single Blenheim on 7 August which destroyed one 109 of 4./JG 54, heavily damaged another, and caused lighter damage to four more.
There were also some missions which produced an almost 100% casualty rate amongst the Blenheims. One such operation was mounted on 13 August 1940 against a Luftwaffe airfield near Aalborg in north-western Denmark by twelve aircraft of 82 Squadron. One Blenheim returned early (the pilot was later charged and due to appear before a court martial, but was killed on another operation) the other eleven, which reached Denmark, were shot down, five by flak and six by Bf 109s. Blenheim units had also been formed to carry out long-range strategic reconnaissance missions over Germany and German-occupied territories. In this role, the Blenheims once again proved to be too slow and vulnerable against Luftwaffe fighters and they took constant casualties.
On 12 August 1941, an action described by the Daily Telegraph in 2006 as being the "RAF's most audacious and dangerous low-level bombing raid, a large-scale attack against power stations near Cologne" took place. The raid was a low-level daylight raid by 54 Blenheims under the command of Wing Commander Nichol of No. 114 Squadron RAF. They hit their targets (Fortuna Power Station in Oberaußem-Fortuna and the Goldenberg Power Station in Hürth-Knapsack), but twelve of the Blenheims were lost during the raid, 22% of those that took part, which was far above the sustainable loss rate of less than 5%. The England cricketer Sqn Ldr Bill Edrich was awarded the DFC for his part in the raid.
Starting on 5 September 1940, Blenheims of Bomber Command began a bombing campaign targeting German-occupied ports along the English Channel, alongside heavier bomber types. Bomber Command Blenheims also performed anti-shipping patrols due to Coastal Command's own strike squadrons being heavily depleted throughout the latter half of 1940. On 11 March 1940, a Blenheim IV, P4852, became the first RAF aircraft to sink a U-boat, having scored two direct hits on U-31 in the Schillig Roads. In April 1941, a campaign aiming to completely close off the Channel to enemy shipping was launched using an initial flight of Blenheims stationed at RAF Manston. Between April and June that year, a total of 297 Blenheims of No 2. Group attacked German shipping at sea, losing 36 aircraft, while Coastal Command launched 143 attacks in the same period, losing 52 aircraft by the end of the year, 698 ships had been attacked and 41 of these sunk for the loss of 123 aircraft.
The Bristol Blenheim was used by both Bomber and Fighter Commands. Some two hundred Mk I bombers were modified into Mk IF long-range fighters with 600 (Auxiliary Air Force) Squadron, based at Hendon, the first squadron to take delivery in September 1938. By 1939, at least seven squadrons were operating these twin-engined fighters and within a few months, some sixty squadrons had experience of the type. The Mk IF proved to be slower and less nimble than expected, and by June 1940, daylight Blenheim losses were to cause concern for Fighter Command. It was decided that the Mk IF would be relegated mainly to night fighter duties where No. 23 Squadron RAF, which had already operated the type under nighttime conditions, had better success.
In the German night-bombing raid on London on 18 June 1940, Blenheims accounted for five German bombers, thus proving that they were better-suited for night fighting. In July, No. 600 Squadron, by then based at RAF Manston, had some of its Mk IFs equipped with AI Mk III radar. With this radar equipment, a Blenheim from the Fighter Interception Unit (FIU) at RAF Ford achieved the first success on the night of 2–3 July 1940, accounting for a Dornier Do 17 bomber. More successes came, and before long the Blenheim proved itself invaluable as a night fighter. Gradually, with the introduction of the Bristol Beaufighter in 1940–1941, the Blenheim was supplanted by its faster, better-armed descendant.
Mediterranean and Middle East
On 11 June 1940, only hours after Italy's entry into the war on Germany's side, several Blenheim IVs bombed Italian positions. In mid-1940, reinforcement ferry routes were established throughout Africa, starting in Takoradi on the Gold Coast. By the end of 1940, a total of three RAF squadrons equipped with Blenheim IV aircraft were performing anti-shipping, bombing, and reconnaissance missions in support of Allied ground forces in North Africa.
By July 1941, it had been recognized that, in response to the increasing intensity of combat in North Africa and in the Middle East theaters, additional squadrons were urgently required. In the latter half of 1941, several Blenheim squadrons were flown out to Malta, many being stationed there into early 1942 before mainly being absorbed in the Western Desert air operations. As Bomber Command gradually took Blenheims out of the Northern Europe theater, they were often dispatched to other areas such as North Africa. Upon the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941, some Blenheim squadrons in the Middle East were relocated from the theater to the Far East in response to the new threat from Japanese forces.
South East Asia
Blenheims continued to operate widely in many combat roles until about 1943, equipping RAF squadrons in the UK and at British bases in Aden, India, British Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies. Many Blenheims were lost to Japanese fighters during the Malayan Campaign and the battles for Singapore and Sumatra. By that point, the traditional daylight light bomber role was more effectively carried out by suitable fighter-bombers, and the surviving examples were relegated to training duties. Nonetheless, the Blenheim played a role in preventing India from falling and in recapturing Burma, destroying over 60 aircraft on the ground in raids on Bangkok early in the campaign.
One Blenheim pilot, Squadron Leader Arthur Scarf, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for an attack on Singora, Thailand, on 9 December 1941. Another bomber of No. 60 Squadron RAF was credited with shooting down Lt Col Tateo Kato's Nakajima Ki-43 fighter and badly damaging two others in a single engagement on 22 May 1942, over the Bay of Bengal. Kato's death was a severe blow to the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force.
The Air Ministry's replacement for the Blenheim as a daylight bomber, another Bristol design, the Buckingham, was overtaken by events and changes in requirements, and considered inferior to the de Havilland Mosquito, and as such did not see combat. The final ground-attack version – the Blenheim Mk V – first equipped 139 Squadron in June 1942. Eventually thirteen squadrons – mainly in the Middle East and Far East – received this variant but operated them generally only for a few months.
In 1936, the Finnish Air Force became the first export customer for the Blenheim, ordering 18 Blenheim Mk Is, which were delivered from Britain between June 1937 and July 1938. Two years later, Finland obtained a manufacturing licence for the Blenheim. Before any aircraft could be manufactured at the Valtion lentokonetehdas (State Aeroplane Factory) in Finland, the Winter War broke out, forcing the Finns to order more aircraft from the UK. A further 24 British-manufactured Blenheims were ordered during the Winter War and were delivered from the RAF's own stocks.
In the aftermath of the Winter War, 55 Blenheims were constructed in Finland, the final aircraft being completed in September 1944 this brought the total number of Blenheims in Finnish service to 97 (75 Mk Is and 22 Mk IVs). The Finns also received 20 half-completed ex-Yugoslavian Mk IV Blenheims captured by Germany, together with manufacturing tools, production equipment, and a huge variety of spare parts, although some of these had been damaged or otherwise destroyed through sabotage. Yugoslavia had ceased production of the Mk I and commenced a production run of Mk IVs just prior to the April 1941 invasion. The British-made Blenheims had RAF green interiors, RAF seat belts and instruments on imperial units, while Finnish-made Blenheims had medium grey interiors, Finnish-style seat belts and metric instruments.
The Finnish Blenheims flew 423 missions during the Winter War, and close to 3,000 missions during the Continuation War and Lapland War. Blenheim machine-gunners also shot down eight Soviet aircraft. Thirty-seven Blenheims were lost in combat during the wars.
The Finnish Blenheims were divided on six series (sarja):
- Series I (BL-104..BL-121): 18 British-made Blenheim I bombers with doorless bomb bays. Arrived in 1938
- Series II (BL-146..BL-160): 15 Finnish-made Blenheim I bombers with deepened bomb bay doors. In service by 1941.
- Series III (BL-122..BL-133): 12 British-made Blenheim IV-bombers ("long-noses"). Arrived in January 1940.
- Series IV (BL-134..BL-145): 12 British-made Blenheim I bombers. Arrived in February 1940.
- Series V (BL-161..BL-190): 30 Finnish-made Blenheim I bombers. In service by 1943.
- Series VI (BL-196..BL-205): 10 Finnish-made Blenheim IV-bombers. In service by 1944.
- Seventh series, VII (BL-191..BL-195): 6 Finnish-made Blenheim I bombers, was cancelled in 1944.
Series I with doorless bomb bays could carry 800 kg bomb load in the bomb bay and up to 100 kg on wing cells. Series II, V and VI could carry 800 kg load on bomb bay and 172 kg on wing cells and fuselage racks. Series III and IV had the original RAF bomb bays and racks and could carry only 454 kg (1000 lb) load on bomb bay and 72 kg (200 lb) on wing cells. The bomb bays, bomb bay doors and bomb racks of various series were modified on major overhauls to host bigger bombs.
After the war, Finland was prohibited from flying bomber aircraft by the Paris Peace Treaty, with Finland's Blenheims being placed into storage in 1948. However, in 1951, five Blenheims were re-activated for use as target tugs, with the last flight of a Finnish Blenheim taking place on 20 May 1958. The usual nickname of Blenheim in the Finnish Air Force was Pelti-Heikki ("Tin Henry").
- Blenheim Mk I: Three-seat twin-engined light bomber, powered by two 840 hp (630 kW) Bristol Mercury VIII radial piston engines, armed with a 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine gun in the port wing, plus a 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K gun in the dorsal turret, maximum bombload 1,000 lb (450 kg). 1,552 built. Company designation Type 142M.
- Blenheim Mk IF: Night fighter version, equipped with an AI Mk III or Mk IV airborne interceptor radar, armed with four 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns in a special gun pack under the fuselage. About 200 Blenheim Mk Is were converted into Mk IF night fighters.
- Blenheim Mk II: Long-range reconnaissance version with extra fuel tankage. Only one Blenheim Mk II was built.
- Blenheim Mk III:
- Blenheim Mk IV: Improved version, fitted with protective armour and extended nose, powered by two 905 hp (675 kW) Bristol Mercury XV radial piston engines, armed with a 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine gun in the port wing, plus two 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine-guns in a powered operated dorsal turret, and two remotely controlled rearward-firing 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine gun mounted beneath the nose, maximum bombload 1,000 lb (450 kg) internally and 320 lb (150 kg) externally. 3,307 built.
- Blenheim Mk IVF: Long-range fighter version, armed with four 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns in special gun pack under the fuselage. About 60 Blenheim Mk IVs were converted into Mk IVF fighters.
- Blenheim Mk V: High-altitude bomber version, powered by two Bristol Mercury XV or XXV radial piston engines.
- Independent State of Croatia
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
Bristol 142M Blenheim Mk.IV Specifications 2
- Crew: 3
- Length: 42 ft 7 in (12.98 m)
- Wingspan: 56 ft 4 in (17.17 m)
- Height: 9 ft 10 in (3.00 m)
- Wing area: 469 ft 2 (43.6 m 2 )
- Airfoil: RAF-28 (18%)
- Empty weight: 9,790 lb (4,441 kg)
- Gross weight: 14,400 lb (6,532 kg)
- Powerplant: 2 × Bristol Mercury XV 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines, 920 hp (690 kW) each
- Propellers: 3-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch propellers
- Maximum speed: 266 mph (428 km/h, 231 kn) at 11,800 ft (3,597 m)
- Cruise speed: 198 mph (319 km/h, 172 kn)
- Range: 1,460 mi (2,350 km, 1,270 nmi)
- Service ceiling: 27,260 ft (8,310 m)
- Time to altitude: 6,500 feet (2,000 m) in 4 minutes 10 seconds
- Wing loading: 30.7 lb/ft 2 (150 kg/m 2 )
- Power/mass: 0.13 hp/lb (0.21 kW/kg)
- 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun in port wing
- 1 or 2 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning guns in rear-firing under-nose blister or Nash & Thompson FN.54 turret
- 2 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning guns in dorsal turret
- 1,200 lb (540 kg)
- 4 × 250 lb (113 kg) bombs or
- 2 × 500 lb (227 kg) bombs internally and 8 × 40 lb (18 kg) bombs externally
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