The Bristol Beaufighter at Hendon

I went on a trip to RAF Hendon Museum a few years ago, and I intend to share one or two of the more interesting aircraft with you over the months. Hopefully I will only be using my own photographs, so here are my excuses first. The Museum is really quite dark, so that the daylight or bright artificial lights have no effect on the (poor quality) Second World War paint. The museum is also very cramped, so try as I might, I could not get all of the aircraft into the shot at once.

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This particular aircraft is a Bristol Beaufighter Mk X. The Beaufighter flew for the first time on July 17th 1939 and the RAF received them in April of the following year. They were used as night fighters with airborne interception radar or, like this aircraft, as strike fighters, especially in Coastal Command. Armed with a combination of four cannons in the nose, machine guns, bombs, rockets or torpedoes, they were a formidable opponent. Production reached 5562 aircraft and they equipped 52 squadrons of the Royal Air Force:

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This particular example, RD253, BF-13 was built in October 1944 at Old Mixon in Weston-super-Mare. It has Bristol Hercules XVII engines and is one of a batch of 500 Mark Xs built there between September 1944-August 1945.

It is painted in Coastal Command colours of dark grey on the top, and underneath a much paler grey. The black and white stripes are there to undo all the work of the camouflage designers and painters in an effort to prevent friendly fire shooting the aircraft down. This could be a huge problem as one or two British anti-aircraft gunners apparently had Iron Crosses for five kills or more.

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This aircraft initially went to 19 Maintenance Unit at St Athan in Glamorgan on November 2nd 1944.
On March 7th 1945, it was sent to RAF Pershore in Worcestershire.

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Ten days later, on March 18th 1945,it was one of sixteen sent to Portela near Lisbon for use by the Portuguese Naval Air Arm, the Forcas Aereas da Armada. The aircraft was taken out of service in 1949 and then parked in the open in front of the Instituto Superior Tecnico.  It came to the Hendon Museum via South Africa, Bicester in Oxfordshire and  St Athan in Glamorgan, and was restored by 1968.

Overall, the Beaufighter strikes you as a very, very powerful and heavily armed aircraft. There must have been a lot of young men who really enjoyed the chance to fly it, armed to the teeth, with the sole aim of destroying anything belonging to the enemy that moved.

 

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24 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Humour

24 responses to “The Bristol Beaufighter at Hendon

  1. Pierre Lagacé

    Got a Tamiya 1/48 scale Bristol Beaufighter in its box since I can’t remember when…

    • Thanks a lot for that link. I had never heard of that disastrous day before I read it and it’s good to realise that not everything in 1945 was just an easy walk in the park.

  2. Pierre Lagacé

    Remembering…

    RCAF No.404 Squadron

    http://www.404squadron.com/blackfriday.html

  3. Pierre Lagacé

    French-Canadian

    F/O JR ‘Rog’ Savard, DFC, pilot and F/O J Middleton, navigator, made a crash landing on the ice of Førdefjord. Middleton died as a result of injuries, and Savard spent the remainder of the war as a POW.(Sqn Archive)

    • The webpage also tells of the contradictory behaviour of the Germans towards the crew…”The Beaufighter turned upside down and trapped the crew. Norwegian civilians ran out to the aircraft but had to retreat when they were fired at by German soldiers. Savard and Middleton were pulled from their aircraft by (German) flak crews, but Middleton did not survive.” How strange human beings are!

  4. A great start for the New Year, John. Very interesting.

  5. One of the finest aircraft that Britain ever produced, incredibly versatile and very powerful. Great photos John.

  6. I know what you mean about Hendon. I returned myself last year and the light is terrible for photos (a payoff for preservation I suppose) but it did have some fabulous examples on display. Interestingly enough there was a version of the Beaufighter (MK IIF) built with Merlins! Never took off though (if you’ll excuse the pun!).

  7. Next time I am over in your part of the world, I have got to find a way to go visit this place.

    • It’s very easy to get to on the very outskirts of north London. I don’t enjoy heavy city traffic very much but it really is conveniently situated from an access point of view. The museum is a full day of viewing with hundreds and hundreds of shots you’ll want to take!

  8. Love this aircraft and its forebear the Beaufort. Spent a few days at RAF St Athan during my cadet days. What a place – or should that be MoD St Athan now

  9. A tough looking beast for sure. My favourite twin engine, fighter-bomber was always the Mosquito probably because of the film 633 Squadron!

    • I would agree with you on that, but the Beaufighter certainly was a very powerful aircraft. If you follow Pierre’s link to “RCAF No.404 Squadron” you can read about a real life 633 Squadron. Well worth ten minutes!

  10. I’m amazed at the power and sleek beauty, two things that don’t seem to go together with a fighter craft! Oh the stories these planes could tell!

    • Thanks very much for your reply. Traditionally, aircraft designers used to say that if it looks right it will fly right, and that is certainly true of this aircraft. It had the power of a small warship in its rockets and cannons and those designers were beginning to understand what streamlining was.

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