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Handley Page Hampden
The Handley Page HP.52 Hampden was a British twin-engine medium bomber of the
Royal Air Force (RAF). It was part of the trio of large twin-engine bombers
procured for the RAF, joining the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and Vickers
Wellington. The newest of the three medium bombers, the Hampden was often
referred to by aircrews as the "Flying Suitcase" because of its cramped crew
conditions. The Hampden was powered by Bristol Pegasus radial engines but a
variant known as the Handley Page Hereford had in-line Napier Daggers.
The Hampden served in the early stages of the Second World War, bearing the
brunt of the early bombing war over Europe, taking part in the first night raid
on Berlin and the first 1,000-bomber raid on Cologne. When it became obsolete,
after a period of mainly operating at night, it was retired from RAF Bomber
Command service in late 1942. By 1943, the rest of the trio were being
superseded by the larger four-engined heavy bombers such as the Avro Lancaster.
Handley Page elected to name their new aircraft after John Hampden, a
17th-century British politician and defender of civil liberties. On 24 June
1938, L4032 was officially christened by Lady Katharine Mary Montagu Douglas
Scott, Viscountess Hampden, at a ceremony held in Radlett Aerodrome, the same
day on which its first flight took place. L4032 and L4033, which was the second
production-standard Hampden to be produced, would be later assigned to the
Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at RAF Martlesham Heath,
Suffolk. On 20 September 1938, the third production Hampden, designated L4034,
following the completion of handling trials conducted by the Central Flying
School at Upavon Aerodrome, Wiltshire, become the first aircraft to enter RAF
squadron service, being delivered to No. 49 Squadron.
The Hampden Mk I had a pilot, navigator/bomb aimer, radio operator and rear
gunner. Conceived as a fast, manoeuvrable "fighting bomber", the Hampden had a
fixed forward-firing .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun in the upper part of
the fuselage nose. To avoid the weight penalties of powered turrets, the Hampden
had a curved Perspex nose fitted with a manual .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K
machine gun and a .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K installation in the rear upper and
lower positions. The layout was similar to the all-guns-forward cockpits
introduced about the same time in Luftwaffe medium bombers, notably the Dornier
Do 17. During the Norwegian Campaign, these guns proved to be thoroughly
inadequate for self-defence in daylight; the single guns were replaced by twin
Vickers K guns, a process led by Air Vice Marshal Arthur Harris of No. 5 Group
RAF in 1940.
The Hampden's flying qualities were typically described as being favourable;
Moyes described it as being "extraordinarily mobile on the controls". Pilots
were provided with a high level of external visibility, assisting the execution
of steep turns and other manoeuvres. The control layout required some
familiarisation, as some elements such as the hydraulic controls were unassuming
and unintuitive. Upon introduction, the Hampden exhibited greater speeds and
initial climb rates than any of its contemporaries while still retaining
favourable handling qualities.
The slim and compact fuselage of the aircraft was quite cramped, wide enough
only for a single person. The navigator sat behind the pilot and access in the
cockpit required folding down the seats. Once in place, the crew had almost no
room to move and were typically uncomfortable during long missions. Aircrews
referred to the Hampden by various nicknames due to this, such as Flying
Suitcase, Panhandle, and Flying Tadpole.
"I did my first flight and first tour on Hampdens. A beautiful aeroplane to fly,
terrible to fly in! Cramped, no heat, no facilities where you could relieve
yourself. You got in there and you were stuck there. The aeroplane was like a
fighter. It was only 3 feet wide on the outside of the fuselage and the pilot
was a very busy person. There were 111 items for the pilot to take care of
because on the original aircraft he had not only to find the instruments, the
engine and all that, but also he had all the bomb switches to hold the bombs.
—?Wilfred John 'Mike' Lewis
21 June 1936
Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Soviet Naval Aviation
Royal Australian Air Force
In September 1938, No. 49 Squadron received the first Hampdens; by the end of
the year, both 49 and 83 Squadrons at RAF Scampton had re-equipped with the
type. A total of 226 Hampdens were in service with ten squadrons by the start of
the Second World War, with six forming the operational strength of 5 Group of
Bomber Command based in Lincolnshire.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, Hampdens were initially used to perform armed
aerial reconnaissance missions, observing German naval activity during daylight.
However, despite its speed and manoeuvrability, the Hampden proved to be no
match for Luftwaffe fighters; in December 1939, Bomber Command is claimed to
have discarded the belief that aircraft such as the Hampden could realistically
operate by day and instead chose to predominantly deploy them under the cover of
darkness during nighttime operations. During 1940, Hampdens of 5 Group conducted
123 nighttime airborne leaflet propaganda missions, losing only a single
aircraft in the process.
On 13 April 1940, days after Germany's invasion of Norway, a large number of
Hampdens were dispatched on night-time mine-laying (code-named "gardening")
flights in the North Sea in areas deemed unapproachable by British shipping.
According to Moyes, this activity proved highly effective, experiencing a low
casualty rate of less than 1.9 aircraft per sortie. The Hampden also saw a
return to its use as a daytime bomber during the Norwegian Campaign, but quickly
proved to be under-gunned to fend off German fighters.
Almost half of the Hampdens built, 714, were lost on operations, with 1,077 crew
killed and 739 reported as missing. German Flak accounted for 108, one hit a
German barrage balloon, 263 Hampdens crashed because of "a variety of causes"
and 214 others were classed as "missing". Luftwaffe pilots claimed 128 Hampdens,
shooting down 92 at night.
The last Bomber Command sorties by Hampdens were flown on the night of 14/15
September 1942 by 408 Squadron, RCAF against Wilhelmshaven. After being
withdrawn from Bomber Command in 1942, it operated with RAF Coastal Command
through 1943 as a long-range torpedo bomber (the Hampden TB Mk I with a Mk XII
torpedo in an open bomb bay and a 500-pound (230 kg) bomb under each wing) and
as a maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
Specifications (Hampden Mk I)
Crew: 4 (pilot, navigator/bomb aimer, radio operator/dorsal gunner, ventral
Length: 53 ft 7 in (16.32 m)
Wingspan: 69 ft 2 in (21.09 m)
Height: 14 ft 11 in (4.55 m)
Wing area: 668 sq ft (62.1 m2)
Empty weight: 12,764 lb (5,789 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 22,500 lb (10,206 kg)
Powerplant: 2 × Bristol Pegasus XVIII 9-cylinder radial engine, 1000 hp (754
kW)at 3,000 feet (910 m) each
Maximum speed: 247 mph (215 knots, 397 km/h) at 13,800 ft (4,210 m)
Cruise speed: 206 mph (179 knots, 332 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4,580 m)
Range: 1,720 mi (1,496 nmi, 2,768 km) (Max fuel and 2,000 lb (910 kg) bombs, 206
mph (332 km/h))
Service ceiling: 19,000 ft (5,790 m)
Rate of climb: 980 ft/min (300 m/min)
Guns: 1 × fixed forward firing .303 in (7.7 mm) M1919 Browning machine gun in
3–5 Vickers K machine guns: one flexibly mounted in the nose, one or two each in
dorsal and ventral positions
Bombs: 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) bombs or 1 × 18 in (457 mm) torpedo or mines
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