Spotlight on the Vickers Wellington
Wellington B Mark IA.
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The Wellington used a geodesic construction method, which had been devised by Barnes Wallis inspired by his work on airships, and had previously been used to build the single-engine Wellesley light bomber. The fuselage was built up from a number of aluminium alloy (duralumin) channel-beams that were formed into a large framework. Wooden battens were screwed onto the aluminium, and these were covered with Irish linen, which, once treated with many layers of dope, formed the outer skin of the aircraft. The metal lattice gave the structure tremendous strength, because any one of the stringers could support some of the weight from even the opposite side of the aircraft. Blowing out one side's beams would still leave the aircraft as a whole intact; as a result, Wellingtons with huge areas of framework missing continued to return home when other types would not have survived; the dramatic effect was enhanced by the doped fabric skin burning off, leaving the naked frames exposed.
The geodetic structure also gave a very strong but light structure for its large size, which gave the Wellington a load and range per horsepower advantage over similar aircraft, without sacrificing robustness or protective devices such as armour plate or self-sealing fuel tanks.
However, the construction system also had some distinct disadvantages, in that it took considerably longer to complete a Wellington than for other designs using monocoque construction techniques. Also, it was difficult to cut holes into the fuselage to provide additional access or equipment fixtures. The Leigh light, for instance, was deployed through the mounting for the absent FN9 ventral turret. Nevertheless, in the late 1930s, Vickers succeeded in building Wellingtons at a rate of one per day at Weybridge and 50 per month at Chester. Peak wartime production in 1942 saw monthly rates of 70 achieved at Weybridge, 130 at Chester and 102 at Blackpool.
The Wellington went through a total of 16 variants during its production life plus a further two training conversions after the war. The prototype serial K4049 designed to satisfy Ministry Specification B.9/32, first flew as a Type 271 (and initially named Crecy) from Brooklands on 15 June 1936 with chief test pilot Joseph Summers as pilot. After many changes to the design, it was accepted on 15 August 1936 for production with the name Wellington. The first model was the Wellington Mark I, powered by a pair of 1,050 hp (780 kW) Bristol Pegasus engines, of which 180 were built, 150 for the Royal Air Force and 30 for the Royal New Zealand Air Force (which were transferred to the RAF on the outbreak of war and used by 75 Squadron). The Mark I first entered service with No. 9 Squadron RAF in October 1938. Improvements to the turrets resulted in 183 Mark IA Wellingtons and this complement of aircraft equipped the RAF Bomber Command heavy bomber squadrons at the outbreak of war. The Wellington was initially out-numbered by its twin-engine contemporaries, the Handley Page Hampden and the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, but would ultimately outlast them in productive service. The number of Wellingtons built totalled 11,461 of all versions, the last of which rolled out on 13 October 1945.
The first RAF bombing attack of the war was made by Wellingtons of No. 9 and No. 149 Squadrons, along with Bristol Blenheims, on German shipping at Brunsbüttel on 4 September 1939. During this raid, the two Wellingtons became the first aircraft shot down on the Western Front. Numbers 9, 37 and 149 Squadrons saw action on 18 December 1939 on a mission against the Schillig Roads and Wilhelmshaven. Luftwaffe fighters destroyed 10 of the bombers and badly damaged three others; thus highlighting the aircraft's vulnerability to attacking fighters, having neither self sealing fuel tanks nor sufficient defensive armament. As a consequence, Wellingtons were switched to night operations and participated in the first night raid on Berlin on 25 August 1940. In the first 1000-aircraft raid on Cologne, on 30 May 1942, 599 out of 1046 aircraft were Wellingtons (101 of them were flown by Polish aircrew).
With Bomber Command, Wellingtons flew 47,409 operations, dropped 41,823 tons (37,941 tonnes) of bombs and lost 1,332 aircraft in action.
Coastal Command Wellingtons carried out anti-submarine duties and sank their first enemy vessel on 6 July 1942. DWI versions fitted with a 48 ft (14.63 m) diameter metal hoop were used for exploding enemy mines by generating a powerful magnetic field as it passed over them. In 1944, Wellingtons of Coastal Command were deployed to Greece, and performed various support duties during the RAF involvement in the Greek Civil War. A few Wellingtons were operated by the Hellenic Air Force.
While the Wellington was superseded in the European Theatre, it remained in operational service for much of the war in the Middle East, and in 1942, Wellingtons based in India became the RAF's first long-range bomber operating in the Far East. It was particularly effective with the South African Air Force in North Africa. This versatile aircraft also served in anti-submarine duties with 26 Squadron SAAF based in Takoradi, Gold Coast (now known as Ghana).
In late 1944, a radar-equipped Wellington was modified for use by the RAF's Fighter Interception Unit as what would now be described as an Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft. It operated at an altitude of some 4,000 ft (1,219 m) over the North Sea to control de Havilland Mosquito fighters intercepting Heinkel He 111 bombers flying from Dutch airbases and carrying out airborne launches of the V-1 flying bomb.
The Wellington is listed in the appendix to the novel KG 200 as one flown by the German secret operations unit KG 200, which also tested, evaluated and sometimes clandestinely operated captured enemy aircraft during World War II.
Specifications (Wellington Mark IC)
- Crew: six
- Length: 64 ft 7 in (19.69 m)
- Wingspan: 86 ft 2 in (26.27 m)
- Height: 17 ft 5 in (5.31 m)
- Wing area: 840 ft² (78.1 m²)
- Empty weight: 18,556 lb (8,435 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 28,500 lb (12,955 kg)
- Powerplant: 2× Bristol Pegasus Mark XVIII radial engines, 1,050 hp (783 kW) each
- Maximum speed: 235 mph (378 km/h) at 15,500 ft (4,730 m)
- Range: 2,550 mi (2,217 nmi, 4,106 km)
- Service ceiling: 18,000 ft (5,490 m)
- Rate of climb: 1,120 ft/min (5.7 m/2)
- Wing loading: 34 lb/ft² (168 kg/m²)
- Power/mass: 0.08 hp/lb (0.13 kW/kg)
- 6-8× .303 Browning machine guns:
- 2× in nose turret
- 2× in tail turret
- 2× in waist positions 
- Bombs: 4,500 lb (2,041 kg) bombs
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