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Work on the the Bristol Beaufighter began in 1938, on the initiative of the Bristol aviation company, when it became apparent that diplomacy with Germany wasn&rsquot working, and that Britain didn&rsquot have a decent long range heavy fighter to hand. The Westland Whirlwind, which was intended to fill this role, had been delayed, so a stopgap measure was needed, and, like the Spitfire Mk. IX - another stop-gap solution - the Bristol Beaufighter became a firm favourite with its pilots.
|Bristol Beaufighter Mk X, NE255/EE-H, of No. 404 Squadron RCAF at RAF Davidstow Moor|
The designers at Bristol, led by Leslie Frise and Roy Fedden, committed themselves to incorporating components from existing aircraft to speed up the manufacturing process, resulting in the Beaufighter&rsquos wings, aft fuselage, control surfaces and landing gear being virtually identical to the Beaufort, but for a little local re-stressing here and there, and the nacelles being strengthened to take the Bristol Hercules 14-cylinder engines. This expediency allowed the company to complete a working prototype a mere 9 months after the completion of the detailed drawings.
Entering service in July 1940, the Bristol Beaufighter had an empty weight of 14,000 lbs or 6350 kg, a little under twice that of the Blenheim, and came with formidable hitting power, chiefly consisting of four 20mm Hispano cannon in the nose. And although an effective belt feed was available, a foul-up by the Air Ministry resulted in the first 400 aircraft being delivered with drum feeds, meaning that the observer sitting behind the pilot had to change them by hand, pulling the 60 round drums off racks and trying to slot them onto the guns correctly, often during rapid maneuvers. These were supplemented by six 7.7mm Browning machine guns mounted asymmetrically on the wings.
The other thing it carried of course was Airborne Interception radar. This meant that the British now not only had a method of detecting individual night-time fighters, but also the means to destroy them in what, for the German pilots, must have been the most shocking way possible. As for the Beaufighter pilots, the sturdy construction meant that it could remain airborne even after a great deal of punishment, but if the going got too tough, the two escape hatches in the belly were designed so that on opening, airflow was directed downward and created a pocket of still air for the pilot and observer to jump through, in theory allowing them to get clear of the aircraft structure. If on the other hand the aircraft had landed on its belly, the crew could leave using counterpart hatches in the roof.
The Beaufighter was adapted to a number of purposes, and went through a great number of marks, with the Mark. X being the most numerous of them, numbering 2,205 of the 5,562 Beaufighters constructed in the UK. This aircraft had the TF designation, marking it out as a torpedo fighter, but could it could also carry underwing rockets, and 1,000lb or 453kg of bombs which could be increased by the same weight again in lieu of a torpedo. The rockets mounted by the Mk. X came in two forms, with 60lb or 27 kg high explosive warheads, the damage from which was hardly trivial, however the 25lb or 11 kg solid steel warheads were found to be highly effective against shipping, being able to penetrate one side of a cargo ship, travel through its cargo of coal, and exit the other side leaving a three foot or one metre hole.
The Beaufighter was conceived as a private venture by the Bristol Aeroplane Company and the prototype first flew on 17 July 1939. It was virtually a fighter version of the successful Beaufort design. As a long-range, hard-hitting aircraft, the Beaufighter appeared ideal for the Pacific war theatre, and plans were made to produce an Australian version under the A8 designation. Meantime, UK-built Beaufighters were imported and the first aircraft, A19-1, arrived on 20 April 1942 and the last, A19-218, on 20 August 1945. These aircraft included Mks 1C, VI C, X and XI C, and the latter versions were fitted with dihedral tailplanes.
The Beaufighter commenced operations in 1942 with No 30 Squadron in New Guinea and No 31 Squadron in north-west Australia. In March 1943, the aircraft achieved world-wide fame when Damien Parer filmed the Battle of the Bismarck Sea over the shoulder of pilot Flight Lieutenant 'Torchy' Uren. Another kind of "victory" was claimed by No 30 Squadron at Goodenough Island on 2 November 1943 when A19-564 won the second of two unofficial races against a Boston of No 22 Squadron. Most Beaufighters were camouflaged but at least two, A19-2 (which was experimentally fitted with Wright Cyclones) and A19-10, retained a silver finish. Superseded by the Australian-built Beaufighter, the last English-built aircraft was taken off strength in 1951.
Description: Two-seat strike fighter. All metal stressed-skin construction.
Wingspan: 17.63 m (57 ft 10 in)
lLength: 12.7 m (41 ft 8 in)
Empty weight: 6622 kg (14 600 lb)
Loaded weight: 9797 kg (21 600 lb)
Power Plant: 2 x 1670 hp Bristol Hercules.
Max speed: 507 km/h (315 mph)
Initial climb: 609 m (2,000 ft)/min
Range: 2382 km (1,480 miles)
Service ceiling: 26,500 ft (8077 m)
Guns: 4 x 20 mm cannons in fuselage nose
6 x 0.303 guns in the wings
For more information about individual aircraft click here.
The Bristol Beaufighter was the most heavily armed British aircraft of World War Two. It was a quicker, longer range variant of the torpedo bomber from which it was derived.
Its wings and tail were unchanged from its predecessor, with the fuselage shortened about three feet, and the cockpit area streamlined to accommodate a single pilot.
Some books describe the Beaufighter as one of the hardest to fly of all British aircraft. We have found mixed reviews of its flying abilities. The primary complaint appears to be regarding its high engine torque combined with a rearward center of gravity.
During take off pilots had to learn to apply reduced power to the starboard engine to keep the aircraft centered in its roll down the runway. Once sufficient speed built up, the ailerons and rudder could be used to compensate for any torque pull.
The aircraft also had a high wing loading that made it drop quickly once power was cut. It was necessary to fly it at all times, and keep the power on when coming in for a landing.
Pilots appreciated the overall power of the aircraft, especially when flying at low altitudes. Its cockpit was well laid out with room for the largest of pilots. The controls and instrumentation were comfortably arranged and easy to use. The forward and downward view from the cockpit was excellent due to the short nose of the aircraft. Engines were very reliable, even in very hot climates. The aircraft was robustly built and able to withstand a great deal of battle damage while bringing its crew home unharmed. Ground crews appreciated its ease of maintenance.
Beaufighter’s served as night interceptors, strike aircraft, and eventually torpedo bombers. They are credited with the sinking of 117 enemy ships, including five German submarines in a two day period.
A total of 5,298 Bristol Beaufighter aircraft of all types were produced.
|Primary Function: |
two or three
Hercules XVII radials
2 x 1,700 hp ea.
4 x .20 mm
7 x 7.7 mm
1 x 2,127 lbs.
2 x 500 lbs.
8 x 76.2 mm
Radio Control Airplane
Patrick Deslandes rc Bristol Beaufighter.
Radio Control Airplanes:
Pictured above is the great looking 97″ wing span Bristol Beaufighter rc that was scratch built by Patrick Deslandes. It weighs 18 lbs. and is powered by 2 x .70 Laser four cycle engines.
HVP Modell has a rc Bristol Beaufighter. The 35.5″ wing span model is powered by two geared speed 400 motors.
Kit Cutters Inc. sells the rc Bristol Beaufighter kit. It is from Nexus Plans and has a 39″ wing span.
Alfa Modell has a rc Bristol Beaufighter. It has a wing span of 40″ and is powered by two geared speed 300 motors.
The first picture below is a Bristol Beaufighter rc from Ivan Pettigrew Plans. Wing span is 73″ and weight is eight lbs. Ivan powers it with two geared Trinity Speed Gem motors.
The next picture is of the Bristol Beaufighter rc airplane built by Keith Mitchell. It has a wing span of 173″ and a length of 128″. Power comes from a pair of 120 cc engines. All up weight is approximately 120 lbs.
If you like to build exceptionally well detailed scale plastic models, check out the last picture. It is a 1/48 scale Bristol Beaufighter kit by Tamiya.
Do you have a favorite rc Bristol Beaufighter? If so, please email us.
Radio Control Airplane
Pettigrew Plans rc Bristol Beaufighter.
Radio Control Airplane
|Keith Mitchell and his rc Beaufighter.|
Valiant Wings Publishing | Airframe Album 14: The Bristol Beaufighter
Valiant Wings Publishing has just released the 14th instalment in their Airframe Album series, entitled The Bristol Beaufighter: A Detailed Guide To Bristol's Hard-hitting Twin. In common with previous titles in the series, this one is authored by Richard A. Franks, a well-known name in modelling and aviation publishing.
The first thing that strikes you with this book is the terrific cover art by Seweryn Fleischer. The presentation of material in this book is impressive throughout. Photographs are generally clear and crisply reproduced, as are the 3D isometric line drawings by Chris Sandham-Bailey. The colour profiles by Richard Caruana are handsomely rendered.
The content itself is organised into four main sections plus an introduction and appendices:
- 1. Technical Description
- 2. Evolution - Prototype, Production and Projected Variants
- 3. Camouflage and Markings
- 4. Model
- I. Beaufighter Kit List
- II. Beaufighter Accessory, Mask and Decal List
- III. Bibliography
It should be evident from the list of contents alone that this title is aimed squarely at the modeller. There's plenty here for aviation enthusiasts and Beaufighter aficionados too, but the emphasis is on providing the modeller with copious data and as much detail as possible.
The Introduction is actually a 23-page potted history of the Beaufighter, and makes for very interesting reading if you're not intimately familiar with the development of the type. I found myself quite surprised by the large number of foreign operators, for example.
The Technical Description section of the book is packed with period photographs, technical drawings, and photos of surviving examples. The airframe is covered pretty comprehensively from nose to tail, with special emphasis on those areas of the most interest to modellers: cockpit, landing gear, and engines. There's also extensive coverage of the internal structure of the airframe, by way of photos and drawings.
The section on the evolution of the airframe gives a concise but very clear overview of the development of the Beaufighter, from its initial concept as an adaptation of the Beaufort, to prototypes and test airframes, target tugs, and the Australian DAP version. There were an amazing number of one-off trial airframes in the Beaufighter's development history!
The Camouflage and Markings section covers the type's use by the RAF, Coastal Command, FAA, and foreign air forces, and includes an impressive variety of attractive colour schemes. A decent selection of period photographs is included, along with the terrific colour profiles. There's some serious inspiration in this section!
I'd like to see larger versions of some of the photos, but that's a perennial constraint that all aviation publications have to deal with, and hardly a criticism.
The last of the main sections of the book features two model builds, the introduction to which pre-empts my usual grumble about not including the Revell 1/32 scale kit:
Apologies for not covering the type in 1/32 scale, but model builds are not a major component of the Airframe Album series and the Revell example in that scale is over 40 years old now, so we have refrained from doing an in-depth build of it in this section.
That said, the two builds included are both excellent. The first features Libor Jekl's new Airfix TF Mk X kit in 1/72 scale. The second build is the equally new 1/48 scale kit from Revell by Steve Evans, built from a test shot. Both are magazine-style builds, and certainly worth a look if you're interested in building either of these kits.
The final section is the Appendices, and these follow the customary pattern for this series of books, in outlining what options the modeller has in terms of kits, accessories, decals and masks for producing a scale replica Beaufighter. Only a smattering of 1/32 scale items is available, unfortunately.
The book rounds things out with a bibliography of existing titles covering the Beaufighter, which serves as a handy launch pad for further research into the type.
Here's a small selection of sample pages, courtesy of Valiant Wings:
This is a detailed, comprehensive and modeller-friendly title. If you're building, or intend to build, a model of the Beaufighter in any scale, this book will prove invaluable, and I highly recommend it. I must say that I feel rather inspired to drag my Revell kit out of the stash now!
Thanks to Valiant Wings Publishing for the review sample.
This review was published on Monday, December 10 2018 Last modified on Monday, December 10 2018
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Like the Frog kit, this one has an internal flight deck with separate pieces for bulkheads and seats for the aircrew. The cockpit has no other detail. The surface of the flight deck was so uneven it required heavy sanding before the bulkheads would fit flush on it. Cementing those down, I airbrushed the deck in Polly Scale Interior Green, then glued on the seats and pilots, which I’d already painted. Next I glued the flight deck in.
Next came the fuselage halves and wings, six pieces in all which assembled with no problem. The elevators on the tail were two pieces each, and were thin enough that they could easily have been molded as a single piece rather than top and bottom halves. Since they fit on the tail at an angle of 10 or 12 degrees, they have to be positioned with care. I glued the cowlings on with Elmer’s Glue in preparation for spraying the camouflage scheme, so that I could remove them easily later to attach the propellers.
A section of the fuselage directly above the torpedo is a separate piece, and is clear plastic. It would have been simpler to have two clean fuselage halves with an external attachment for the torpedo, but I painted it, cemented it in place and moved on. The manufacturer seemed to take pains to recreate the attachments for the bombs as faithfully as possible, as these pieces resemble clamp arrangements I’ve seen in photos for smaller bombs on British WWII aircraft, notably the Hurricane.
In pictures: 15 images which capture life in Bristol during the Second World War
These incredible pictures give a glimpse of what life was like in Bristol during the Second World War.
The rarely seen photos of Bristol have been unearthed as a result of a new project being launched by the Daily Express.
They form part of a huge archive of newspaper pictures now managed by Reach Plc, the parent company of Bristol Live and the Daily Express.
Starting tomorrow the Express will run a partwork publication - entitled The People's War - featuring many unseen photos from wartime Britain.
The first part of the series includes an introduction by historian and Express columnist Leo McKinstry. It draws parallels of what is happening now with the Covid pandemic, looking back at the stoicism and courage and spirit of the people which helped Britain survive years of war.
Brilliant photographs, unseen for decades, paint a picture portrait of the spirit which helped Britain survive its darkest hours.
Part 1 showcases the so-called Phoney War at home and abroad – pictures of young men off to war, gas mask drills, the Home Guard, British Expeditionary Force troops celebrating Christmas in France and the evacuation of children from big cities.
Saturday's section features key moments on the road to victory - the important battles and brilliant victories that marked Britain’s journey from reluctant combatants to conquering heroes.Sunday's Express will carry the third section focusing on the Blitz, and how brave Britons endured under the Nazi bombing raids and includes a dramatic eye witness account of the destruction of Coventry from former Observer editor Donald Trelford.
The final part features pictures from the home front, and of victory. It highlights how brave Britons kept the home fires burning – rationing, wartime fashion, fire wardens, the Home Guard, land girls, digging for victory and pig keeping clubs.
Bristol street party celebrating Victory in Europe on May 8, 1945
Some of the children who were evacuated from Bristol and sent to the safety of the Somerset, Devon and Cornwall countryside between February 1941 and March 1942. With nothing nut a few possessions and a name tag, these children seen apprehensive as they leave their families behind and head off for an uncertain future with strangers.
A girl has rescued a dolls house from the destruction of a house as salvage workers sift through the wreckage of homes destroyed in Newfoundland Road, Bristol during the blitz. November 25, 1940
The columns of the Upper Arcade, Broadmead, Bristol are all that remains of the shopping arcade following the German air raid on the city on the night of November 24, 1940
Bomb damage in Bristol after an air raid by the Nazi German Luftwaffe on the night of January 3 to 4 1941, one of the major assaults of the Bristol Blitz in the Second World War. Picture shows: A woman salvages a clock from a ruined house in Stafford Street, Bedminster the morning after the bombing raid
A Bristol Beaufighter being assembled at either Filton or Oldmixon, circa March 1942. The Beaufighter was a twin-engined workhorse of the RAF, performing in many different roles and fighting in all theatres. The Japanese allegedly nicknamed it "Whispering Death" because its attacks could be silent and shockingly sudden.
The remains of Union Street photographed from the nearby Odeon Cinema on November 24, 1940.
Bristol was England's fifth most heavily bombed city from November 24, 1940, to May 15, 1944
Bomb damage in Bristol after an air raid by the Nazi German Luftwaffe during the Bristol Blitz in the Second World War. Picture shows: Firefighters attempting to put out a blaze in a burning building at the corner of Union Street and Broadmead. Circa 1941.
Bomb damage in Bristol after an attack by a lone Nazi German Luftwaffe raider on August 28, 1942, eighteen months since the last attack of the Bristol Blitz in the Second World War. Picture shows: Bomb damage to Broadweir in central Bristol after the attack. T his was one of a sequence of photos taken in the aftermath of the August 1942 attack which were never published because of their graphic nature
Winston Churchill, Sir Charles Maby (who was Bristol's Chief Constable at the time) and Mrs Churchill visit a bombed area in Bristol, during World War Two. Picture taken April 12, 1941.
Dad's Army, the Home Guard, pictures taken in Bristol and Somerset late 1940 or early 1941
Miss Selina Wilson, at bedside of her mother, whom she rescued from wrecked bus in Bristol daylight raid. August 1942.
VJ Day celebrations in Bristol city centre on August 15, 1945
Bomb damage to the General Hospital in Bristol after the raid. Miraculously, not a single patient or a member of staff was injured in the attack. December 2, 1940
The RAF’s lack of a long-range fighter having the endurance to mount standing patrols was highlighted in the late 1930s. In October 1938, Leslie Frise and his Bristol Aircraft Company team set about the design of an appropriate aircraft based on the earlier Beaufort fighter-bomber and the prototype Beaufighter first flew on 17th July 1939, no more than 9 months later. At the same time, a production contract was placed for 300 aircraft.
The Beaufighter’s outer wings, retractable undercarriage, hydraulics, aft fuselage and tailplane were identical to those of the Beaufort and most other components very similar. However, the new aircraft was powered by 2 x Bristol Hercules engines and equipped with an air intercept radar, 4 x 20mm Hispano cannon and 4 x .303 wing-mounted machine guns. The Mk 1F was delivered to the Fighter Interceptor Unit at Tangmere in August 1940 and entered RAF front line service with No 29 Squadron the following month. It was soon bearing the brunt of the action against Luftwaffe night bombers and, indeed, it played a major part in defending the UK during the ‘Blitz’ of 1940-41. Thereafter, it continued as the principal night fighter until displaced by the Mosquito in 1943 (serving with No 219 Squadron at Tangmere between December 1940 and June 1942).
As the war progressed, additional variants appeared with armament options including the carriage of 8 x 3in rocket projectiles or 2 x 1000lb bombs. The aircraft operated in every major campaign and theatre of war and was employed in a variety of duties Coastal Command operated torpedo-carrying versions which claimed several enemy U-boats. Eventually, it equipped 52 RAF squadrons.
A total of 5,562 Beaufighters were produced in the UK with the last machine rolling of the production line in September 1945, and a further 366 in Australia where the Mk XXI was built for the RAAF. In addition to the RAF and RAAF, it was operated by eight other air forces. Few aircraft survive today a Mk X is on static display at the RAF Museum, Hendon, a Mk 1 at the USAF Museum at Dayton, Ohio, and two Mk XXI aircraft at museums in Australia. It is reported that work is currently under way on a privately owned machine in the UK with a view to restoring it to flying condition.
Finding Geater’s Beaufighter
The feature image is Major Arthur Geater’s Bristol Beaufighter which was found in Sept 2013 after being undiscovered for 69 years since it was ditched and sank. The discovery is a story itself, but so too is Arthur’s.
Reginald Arthur Geater joined the South African Air Force (SAAF) during the Second World War and qualified as a twin-engine pilot, he also served for a long period as instructor and in 27 transport/maritime squadron, flying Venturas and Dakotas.
He was eventually sent to Italy in mid 1944 for operational service with 19 squadron, flying the rocket firing Bristol Beaufighter. During his operational service he flew mostly sorties to targets in the Balkans. Missions consisted of rocket attacks against enemy shipping, motorised transports, gun emplacements, buildings and rolling stock.
His operational tour was very eventful. On his very first combat sortie Arthur was shot down over the sea. He and his navigator survived the ditching and he was eventually able to returned to his squadron after a short ordeal behind enemy lines staying with locals on Greek Islands. So what happened?
Painting by Derrick Dickens, SAAF Beaufighters attacking German ships in the Mediterranean. Acrylic on canvass – copyright Peter Dickens.
The attack and ditching
In the afternoon of September 12, 1944 Bristol Beaufighter KV930 of 19 SAAF (South African Air Force) Squadron took off from Biferno (Italy), along with three other aircraft. On his very first mission was our hero for today, Arthur Geater along with his navigator Stan Dellow seconded from the Royal Air Force. Their mission was a simple one, search for enemy shipping amongst the Greek Islands and destroy them.
The sortie of four SAAF Beaufighters comb an area of Greek Islands looking for German military vessels, the search are spans from Preveza in northwestern Greece, located at the mouth of the Ambracian Gulf, then across to Lefdaka Island, then over to Kefalonia island with their mission finally taking them as far as Zakynthos Island.
Late in the afternoon at approximately 17:05 hrs. they reach the northern tip of Ithaki Island and spot a German vessel, it is a “Siebel” ferry, and it was hiding from air attack in one of the fjord-like coves of the island.
The Siebel ferry was a shallow-draft catamaran landing craft operated by Germany’s Wehrmacht (Army) during World War 2. It served a variety of roles (transport, flak ship, gunboat, convoy escort, minelayer) in the Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas as well as along the English Channel. They were originally developed for Operation Sea Lion in 1940, the abortive German invasion of England.
The SAAF Beaufighters immediately started their attack, but were greeted with strong anti-aircraft fire from the heavily armed Siebel. Geater’s Beaufighter was hit with both engines receiving hits from multiple Anti-Aircraft rounds. Oil and thick smoke erupted from the engines and Arthur Geater took the decision to ditch the aircraft in a controlled sea ‘landing’ before it became an uncontrolled one.
The Siebel sustained heavy damage and according to German records and was eventually beached to avoid sinking.
Remarkably an image of the attack also survives, and here you can see the German ship (ferry) that shot Arthur down from a photograph taken during the attack from the SAAF 19 Squadron Officer Commanding’s gun camera.
Geater successfully managed to ditch the aircraft and both he and the navigator climbed out the sinking Beaufighter and took to an inflatable dinghy which was on board for just such an eventuality.
Local Greek Islanders who saw the Beaufighter ditch rushed to their fishing boats to rescue the two Allied airmen. Keen as punch to do their bit in the war, and with a disdain for their German occupiers, the local Greeks took great pride in rescuing Allied airmen, one local remembered the time and said, “we would row as fast as possible and would even get into a fight with the other Greeks rushing to the scene in order to reach the airmen first!”
Within thirty minutes of ditching the two Allied airmen were saved by Greeks and taken to Ithaki island, where they were provided with both food and shelter. Arthur Geater’s adventure was not to stop there, whilst the two airmen were moved in a small fishing boat to another hiding place on the island, they were stopped at sea by a German patrol combing the area trying to locate the airmen.
Stan Dellow could not swim and remained on the boat, Arthur Geater could and he dived into the water and swam to freedom. Stan Dellow survived the war, but was caught and spent the rest of the war as a POW (Prisoner of War) at the Sagan POW camp in Poland.
Arthur Greater got away and managed link up with the Greek resistance in Ithaki he eventually managed to return to Italy and re-joined his Squadron. He was never shot down again and stacked up a number of successful sorties against enemy rolling stock, shipping and buildings. He even participated in a daring SAAF raid when a German mine layer ship, the “Kuck–Kuck” was sunk.
Arthur was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exceptional service. After the war he had a long and successful career in the printing industry and passed away on 3 November 1992.
Finding Geater’s Beaufighter
Makis Sotiropoulos with his sonar equipment
Makis Sotiropoulos, an experienced scuba diver living on Ithaki Island, as a boy he had heard the story from the local Greek Island elders about “the aircraft which fell out the sky in 1944″ and he took to the challenge of finding it. After many years of research and obtaining eyewitness reports he surveyed the area using sonar.
In September 2013 his search came to an end when then distinct shape of an aircraft, sitting at the seabed was mapped by the sonar. Major Geater’s Bristol Beaufighter was found. The wreck was dived and confined it was indeed the SAAF Bristol Beaufighter ditched on that fateful hat day.
The exact position of the aircraft wreck is however not shared publicly now, and for good reason as it is within diving limits and modern-day trophy hunters and looters would strip the aircraft clean. According to Makis Sotiropoulos “this aircraft should remain as it was on the day it was ditched. We have the moral obligation to keep the Beaufighter out of harm’s way, as many relic hunters and looters would make a fortune out of her parts, thus destroying History”.
For prosperity, here are some of the underwater pictures of this most remarkable story and equally remarkable find.
Aviation History Book Review: Beaufighters in the Night
Although a lot of histories have been written about individual combat aviation units, Beaufighters in the Night, by Colonel Braxton Eisel, stands out in a crowd because the subject it covers represents something quite out of the ordinary. For one thing, the unit concerned, the 417th Squadron, was one of the relatively few U.S. Army Air Force night fighter squadrons to see extensive operational service during World War II. In addition, the 417th represented a rare instance of “reverse Lend-Lease” in that it was one of only four USAAF squadrons to fly the British-built Bristol Beaufighter.
British air combat experience showed the USAAF that it was ill-prepared for war in many respects. Not least among those deficiencies was the lack of a suitable night fighter. Although one highly promising design, the Northrop P-61 Black Widow, had been selected for production, it was still in the early stages development and would not become available for operational use until the end of 1944. In the meantime, the USAAF had to settle for the Douglas P-70. An adequate night fighter training platform, the P-70—which had been modified from the A-20 Havoc ground attack plane—lacked the performance required of a frontline fighter. For that reason four USAAF night fighter squadrons—the 414th, 415th, 416th and 417th—left their P-70s behind when they deployed overseas in May 1943 and were reequipped in Britain with Beaufighters.
Although the Beaufighter had already established an excellent nocturnal combat record with the Royal Air Force, transitioning to it proved to be no easy matter for the Americans. As Eisel explains in great detail, its characteristics were so different from those of American planes the pilots had previously flown that they had to relearn almost everything. The ground crews had just as difficult a time learning how to maintain the unfamiliar British engines. To make matters worse, the Beaufighters issued to the 417th were used aircraft that had already accrued a considerable number of flying hours in the RAF.
On top of all their other difficulties the USAAF had established no system to obtain spare parts for British-built aircraft, and the squadron was left to work that problem out on its own. Eisel quotes extensively from official squadron records, as well as from interviews with air and ground crewmen, to explain how the 417th managed to overcome these and other obstacles to establish a distinguished combat record in its second-hand British fighters.
In July 1943, the 417th Squadron became fully operational and was sent to Algeria to become part of the Fifteenth Air Force. For the remainder of the war it flew combat missions from a variety of bases in North Africa, Corsica, France and Belgium. The squadron eventually was reequipped with the much-anticipated and far superior P-61, but not until March 1945, less than two months before hostilities ceased.
The 417th, along with the other three Beaufighter-equipped USAAF night fighter squadrons, operated far from the limelight occupied by the more glamorous daylight fighter and bomber squadrons. But the job they did was every bit as hazardous as those of their diurnal counterparts. In fact, as Eisel takes care to point out, the Army Air Forces considered night fighter flying so dangerous that only the pilots who had specifically volunteered for that particular duty were assigned to it.
Like the aircraft themselves, the story of the USAAF Beaufighter squadrons has remained in the dark. Beaufighters in the Night is a well-written, entertaining and highly informative tribute that serves to finally bring this unique and little-known chapter of USAAF history to light.
Originally published in the January 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.
Bristol cars: A brief history of the marque
The Bristol car has always possessed an enviable reputation for superb design and top-quality materials, regardless of production costs.
This philosophy originated in the manufacture of aircraft and aero engines, for which the original company was founded in 1910. From 1920, it was known as the Bristol Aeroplane Company.
Car production began in 1946, leading to the creation of Bristol Cars Limited in 1960 – and thereafter the official formation of our club in 1964.
Want to know more?
If you’d like to know more about the background of the Bristol company, Bristol car engines and other historical developments, we think you’ll enjoy the following articles:
Bristol – the company history
During two World Wars the firm produced large numbers of successful aircraft including the Brisfit (short for Bristol Fighter). The Bristol Blenheim (shown left) was introduced to Royal Air Force service in 1937, and its younger sister by just one year, the Bristol Beaufighter, was introduced to RAF service in 1938.
The cars: Bristol-engined models
The Type 400 2 litre saloon was soon joined by the 401, from which in turn was derived the 402 Drophead Coupé and the 403 saloon. Of these, the 400 was a 4 seat saloon, while the 401 and 403 were 5-seaters.
The cars: Chrysler-engined models
All later production Bristols were to be fitted with Chrysler V8 engines of various capacities from 5,130cc upwards, together with the Torqueflite automatic gearbox. Over the past half century, production has not been huge. Small as it is, the company has survived because it fills a niche for those connoisseurs who value a superb car above mere price.
Racing Bristols in the 1950s
So much for the standard production models. It is often forgotten however, that this company also produced the Type 450 road race car. These models competed as Factory Team Cars in the successive years of 1953, 1954 and 1955 at Le Mans in the 24 hour race and also at Rheims in the 12 hour road race. The body style was a closed coupé in 1953/54 and an open two seater in 1955.