Merlin powered Whitley in flight[1]

The Armstrong Whitworth A.W. 38 Whitley was a heavy bomber that was used by Great Britain during WWII.


It was the first heavy bomber to go into large scale production for the RAF. The first production version was the Whitley I, powered by a pair of Armstrong Siddeley Tiger IX 14 cylinder radial engines, rated at 790 hp at 6,500 ft (1,980 m).

The Whitley I had a fuel load of 519 Imperial Gallons (normal) and 651 Imperial Gallons (maximum), and operated with a maximum loaded weight of 10,569 kg. It also had a 3,175 kg bomb load and a defensive armament of five MGs throughout the plane. The Whitley I had a crew of five as well and a total length of 21 meters.[1]


Radial engine versions

The first variant of the Whitley series of bombers was the Whitley II. The similar Whitley II used Tiger VIII engines, fitted with two-speed superchargers and rated at 845 hp at 1,906 m and 760 hp 3,890 m. These were first delivered to the RAF in January 1938. The Whitley III, which was first delivered in August 1938, was basically a Whitley II with increased dihedral on the outer wings, improved navigation facilities and provision for carrying larger bombs, which raised the maximum loaded weight to 11,081 kg.[2] Total production of radial engine Whitleys was 160 aircraft.[3]

Inline engine versions

The first production version with inline engines, (following trials with a Merlin equipped Whitley I), the Whitley IV replaced the Tiger VIIIs of the Whitley III with Rolls Royce Merlin IVs - twelve cylinder liquid cooled engines driving Rotal constant speed propellers, and rated at 990 hp at 3,740 meters. Fuel capacity was increased to 705 imperial gallons (normal) and 837 imperial gallons (maximum), and the first of 40 examples, each fitter with a powered tail turret,[3] was delivered in May 1939. The similar Whitley IVA replaced the Merlin IVs with supercharged Merlin Xs, rated at 1,030 hp at 2,250 ft (685 m) and 960 hp at 3,960 meters.

A Whitley Mk V on the Runway

The final variant of the Whitley series was the Whitley Mk V and it had a bomb load of up to 3,175 kg and a crew of five. The Engine type was a liquid-cooled, Rolls-Royce Merlin X Engine that was capable of propelling the Mk V, the most produced version, at speeds of up to 386 km/h.[1]


Built to Specification B.3/34, the prototype first flew in March 1936, while the first Whitley production model entered service in March 1937. Whitleys took part in several operations during the early part of WWII such as Operation Haddock and were used by many RAF squadrons. The Whitley was taken out of frontline service as a bomber in 1942, but some modified Whitleys carried cargo.[4] In total, Whitleys flew nearly 9,000 sorties and production ended in 1943. It was replaced by ever more modern bombers.


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