Unusual wartime bomber restoration
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(Note the the link given originally has been withdrawn as geocities is no more.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.