Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Unusual wartime bomber restoration

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

One of the things that truly irritates me is the selfish behaviour of souvenir hunters (and let’s not even go into the contemptible world of those that just want something to sell on eBay for a quick profit) who visit historic sites and sweep up finds and remains to decorate their coffee tables as conversation pieces. At a stroke they wipe out a historic reference, and possibly desecrate a war grave or memorial in the process, and denying anyone that follows the pleasure of visiting such a site by their action. By definition, the site and artefacts are lost for ever, as they cannot document, record, or publish the detail of their theft.

For that reason, I always raise an enquiring eyebrow whenever I see mention of aviation wreck sites, especially in the news, and hope the mention has arisen from official sources, rather the action of grave robbers.

In this case all appears to be well, and remote sites in the Scottish hills are being visited with the permission of the RAF to retrieve wreckage related to a specific type of aircraft – the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley twin engine medium bomber – as part of a specific reconstruction, The Whitley Project, which aims to reconstruct an example of the aircraft for museum display.

(Note the the link given originally has been withdrawn as geocities is no more. There is a related discussion here: Whitley_project : Messages.)

At present there is a gap in the RAF’s bomber history, the Whitley bomber preceded the well known and famous Avro Lancaster bomber, but there are no surviving examples of the type which was among the first (believed to actually be the first when it dropped leaflets over Germany on the first night of the war) to drop bombs on Germany. Until the arrival of the purpose-designed Lancaster, the RAF lacked a heavy bomber that had the required combination of both range and capacity to carry out such missions, and had to carefully balance the fuel and bomb load weights carefully to ensure its crews could reach their targets, and return home safely. This was further compounded at the time by the lack of a fighter with sufficient range to accompany and defend the bombers all the way to their target. The Whitley was later used to carry out anti-submarine patrols, then as a glider-tug, a training, and a transport aircraft.

At the outbreak of the war the RAF had 196 Whitleys on charge. ? Group, commanded by the late Sir Arthur “Mary” Coningham, was the only trained night bomber force in existence anywhere in the world. Although it was propaganda leaflets, or “nickels, rather than bombs that were dropped on Germany at first, the Group lost no time in starting operations, the first “nickeling” mission being flown by ten Whitley 111s from Nos. 51 and 158 Squadrons on the first night of the war. They dropped six million pamphlets over the Ruhr and north west Germany. They were the first aircraft to penetrate into Germany in WW11. The first bombs dropped by 4 Group’s Whitleys was on Borkum and Sylt, 12/13 December 1939.
April 2002 “Short Burts”, magazine. Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada.

Wreck sites in Glen Carron (Wester Ross), East Scareban (Caithness), and Glen Esk (Angus) have all been visited. Little remains at the Caithness site, where an aircraft of 612 Squadron Coastal Command crashed, but a section of turret outer ring is reported to have provided valuable information regarding construction.

The Glen Carron aircraft was lost while returning from raid on Cologne on February 26, 1941.

The Glen Esk aircraft was lost after departing from RAF Kinloss on May 26, 1944.

These aircraft were listed in the BBC News story relating to this item, but we can’t find them in any of the Scottish aviation wreck listing we have access to online, but at least five more are listed, together with more than 80 south of the border, although these will have been cleared, or picked clean, due to the greater population density around the sites.


March 16, 2009 - Posted by | Aviation, World War II | , , ,


  1. On 13 th August 1944 I was tail gunner in Whitley G 221 with Sgt Pilot Michael Kinsella flying over France to take some pictures of German Artillery it turned out that the guns were not hoitsers buy 88’s and we got shot up in both glycol tanks and the plane was in flames on and off but we managed by switching engines several times we reached the British coast and the plane crashed at West Ashton near NewQuay another witley crashed not far away and the tail ginner was killed. the same night.. One wonders if any of the villagers kept souvenirs. The plane disintigrated in an apple orchard and the main front of the fuselage laid across the mani road while the rear end with turret and tal planes etc was propped up an apple tree.
    Navigator was Welsh, Owen Montague
    Bomb aimer a Londoner John Heath
    Wireless Op Birminham Les Corfield
    Other gunner Margate. Reg-Morris
    I mention them to authenticate the story
    His Worship J Western (retired)


    Comment by Jack Western | December 14, 2009

  2. .
    Hello Mr Western,

    I have what appears to be a prototype of the Whitworth Whitley bomber.

    It is made of brass but is not cast but machined to quite a detailed degree. The person who gave it to me said his relative worked for a firm ( I believe it was near Bristol ) that made aircraft and it came from this factory.

    It seems to be a Whitworth Whitley in almost all details except the wings are mounted at the top of the fuselage and the twin tail fins (vertical stabilisers) are mounted above and below the tail.

    If you could advise me where to post a photo or a site where I can get more information on this plane I would be very grateful.

    Best regards… john


    Comment by John Smith | October 21, 2010

  3. Coming across this website almost by accident it raised a certain amount of personal excitement. Having flown in Whitleys dropping parachute troops at Ringway in 1942 I would be extremely interested in any progress made on the project and if I or any others of my ilk can help in anyway.
    Best wishes Robert Mather.


    Comment by Robert Mather | October 15, 2011

  4. I’ve no idea where this project has gone.

    The original web site listed has gone due to re-organisation at the host (so not related to the Whitley project), but there is another discussion group associated with it, but that seems to suggest that the main players are now too busy to carry on with the project now:

    Whitley_project : Messages : 336-380 of 380


    Comment by Apollo | October 15, 2011

  5. My uncle John flew whitleys at the begining of the war sadly he was shot down in belgium and killed dropping panflets does anybodt know of him his full name was Flight Officer John Vernon Clegg


    Comment by michael mullen (nephew) | August 16, 2013

  6. My Farther was shot down and killed in August 1940 near Munich. His Name Srgnt Pilot Aubrey John Harris. Does anybody Know anything about him or his mission?


    Comment by Aubrey John Harris | January 12, 2014

  7. An outside possibility is that the tip for the 1st Armstrong Whitworth works might just possibly contain reject parts for the Whitley bomber> The tip is still there . just.


    Comment by WILLIAM ARNOLD | October 30, 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: