The Handley Page Halifax was a four-engined heavy bomber model operated by the Royal Air Force during World War II. The Halifax remained in service until the end of the war, performing a variety of duties in addition to bombing. It was a contemporary of the Avro Lancaster. The Halifax was also operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Free French Air Force, and Polish forces, and after World War II by the Royal Egyptian Air Force, the French Armée de l’Air, and the Royal Pakistan Air Force.
Following consideration of the designs by the Air Ministry in February 1937, the Avro design was selected with the Handley Page as “second string” and two prototypes of each were ordered. The introduction of the successful P.13/36 candidates was delayed by the necessity of ordering more Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley and Vickers Wellington bombers first. For quicker delivery Avro and HP.56 designs were ordered “off the drawing board” in mid-1937. At the end of July, Handley Page was told to redesign the HP.56 for four engines rather than two, as the Vulture was already suffering technical problems. The Avro Manchester was built with Vultures and entered RAF service, but also suffered from engine problems.
The redesign increased the span from 88 ft (27 m) to 99 ft (30 m) and put on 13,000 pounds (5,900 kg) of weight. Four Merlins were specified by the Ministry in September 1937. The mock-up was assessed at the end of the year and construction of the two prototypes of the HP 57 began in March 1938. Modifications resulted in the definitive H.P.57, which upon acceptance was given the service name Halifax, following the practice of naming heavy bombers after major towns – in this case, Halifax in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The H.P.57 was enlarged and powered by four 1,280 hp (950 kW) Rolls-Royce Merlin X engines. Such was the promise of the new model that the RAF had placed their first order for 100 Mk.I Halifaxes “off the drawing board” in January 1938 with serials already assigned to HP.56 switched to HP.57. The maiden flight of the Halifax took place on 25 October 1939 from RAF Bicester, not long after Britain declared war on Germany.
Halifax production subsequently began at Handley Page’s site in Samlesbury, Lancashire, with over 2,000 bombers being built by this factory during the war.
The Mk.I had a 22 ft (6.7 m) long bomb bay as well as six bomb cells in the wings, enabling it to carry 13,000 lb (5,900 kg) of bombs. Defensive armament consisted of two .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns in a Boulton Paul Type C nose turret, with an additional four in a Boulton Paul Type E tail turret, and, in some aircraft, two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K machine guns in beam (side, or “waist”) positions. The Merlins drove constant speed wooden-bladed Rotol propellers. Subtle modifications distinguished the Mk I aircraft. Aircraft of the first batch of fifty Mk I Halifaxes were designated Mk I Series I.
These were followed by 25 of the Mk I Series II with increased gross weight (from 58,000 lb/26,310 kg to 60,000 lb/27,220 kg) but with maximum landing weight unchanged at 50,000 lb (23,000 kg). The Mk I Series III had increased fuel capacity (1,882 gal/8,556 L), and larger oil coolers to accept the Merlin XX. A two-gun BP Type C turret mounted dorsally replaced the beam guns.
Introduction of 1,390 hp (1,040 kW) Merlin XX engines and a twin .303 in (7.7 mm) dorsal turret instead of waist guns resulted in the B Mk II Series I Halifax. The Mk II Series I (Special) achieved improved performance by removing the nose and dorsal turrets. The Mk II Series IA had a moulded Perspex nose (the standard for future Halifax variants), a four-gun Defiant-type dorsal turret, Merlin 22 engines and larger, trapezoidal-shaped vertical tail surfaces which solved control deficiencies from fin-stall with the roughly triangular-shape original surfaces, leading to rudder overbalance in the early marks. Halifax IIs were built by English Electric and Handley Page; 200 and 100 aircraft respectively. Owing to a shortage of Messier-built landing gear and hydraulics, Dowty landing gear was used. As it was incompatible with the Messier equipment this gave Halifaxes with new designations: a Mark II built with Dowty gear was the Mark V. The use of castings rather than forgings in the Dowty undercarriage speeded production but resulted in a reduced landing weight of 40,000 lb (18,000 kg). The Mark V was built by Rootes Group at Speke and Fairey at Stockport and was generally used by Coastal Command and for training. Some 904 had been built when Mark V production ended at the start of 1944, compared to 1,966 Mk II.
The most numerous Halifax variant was the B Mk III of which 2,091 were built. First appearing in 1943, the Mk III featured the Perspex nose and modified tail of the Mk II Series IA but replaced the Merlin with the more powerful 1,650 hp (1,230 kW) Bristol Hercules XVI radial engine. Other changes included de Havilland Hydromatic propellers and rounded wing tips. The Mk IV was a non-production design using a turbocharged Hercules powerplant.
The definitive version of the Halifax was the B Mk VI, powered by the 1,800 hp (1,300 kW) Hercules 100. The final bomber version, the Mk VII, reverted to the less powerful Hercules XVI. However, these variants were produced in relatively small quantities.
The remaining variants were the C Mk VIII unarmed transport (8,000 lb/3,630 kg cargo pannier instead of a bomb bay, space for 11 passengers) and the Mk A IX paratroop transport (space for 16 paratroopers and gear). A transport/cargo version of the Halifax was also produced, known as the Handley Page Halton.
The bomb aimer’s position was in the extreme nose with the navigator’s table behind it, both posts being fulfilled by the same crew member. Above the navigator was the forward gun turret. The wireless (radio) operator was behind the navigator’s position, separated by a half width partition. The pilot (left side) and co-pilot (right side) (the flight engineer filled in as a co-pilot, seated on a folding seat, during crucial manoeuvres such as take-off) occupied the cockpit, above the wireless operator. Aft of the pilots and on the same level as the navigator and wireless operator was the flight engineer’s compartment. A further compartment aft of the flight engineer contained two bunks originally intended for resting crew members, but almost always used for treating and berthing injured crew. This area led to the two-gun dorsal turret. The tail gunner occupied a four-gun turret at the extreme aft end of the aircraft.
In the Mk II Series IA and from the Mk III onward, there was no longer a nose turret. The bomb aimer occupied a streamlined perspex nose, with a single hand-held machine gun. The two-gun dorsal turret was replaced by a four-gun Boulton Paul turret.
The maximum bomb load was 14,500 lb (6,600 kg), carried in a bomb bay in the fuselage with six separate bomb compartments, and three bomb compartments in each wing inboard section. This division of bomb bays and compartments limited the maximum size of bomb which could be carried to 2,000 lb (910 kg).
Total Halifax production was 6,178 with the last aircraft delivered in April 1945. In addition to Handley Page, Halifaxes were built by English Electric, Fairey Aviation, and Rootes Motors (Rootes Securities Ltd) in Lancashire and by the London Aircraft Production Group. At peak one Halifax was completed every hour.
The Halifax entered service with No. 35 Squadron RAF at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in November 1940; its first operational raid was against Le Havre on the night of 10–11 March 1941.
Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, head of Bomber Command, was scathing in his criticism of the Halifax’s performance compared to the new Avro Lancaster, primarily of its bomb-carrying capability: it was calculated that an average Halifax would drop 100 tons of bombs in its lifetime compared to a Lancaster’s 154. The fact that later Hercules-engined Halifaxes had lower loss rates and higher crew survival rates after abandoning the aircraft than Lancasters, and came very close to its speed and altitude performance, did not alter his opinion. Also, unlike the Lancaster, the Halifax’s bomb bay could not be effectively adapted to carry the 4,000 pound “Cookie” blast bomb which was an integral part of Harris’s fire-bombing tactics. It was progressively outnumbered in frontline service over occupied Europe as more Lancasters became available from 1943 onwards, with many squadrons converting to the Lancaster. Halifaxes continued to be built because it was considered more efficient to allow existing manufacturing facilities to continue producing them at a by-now efficient rate rather than stop production for an unknown period while they converted to the Lancaster, while new manufacturing facilities were devoted to the Lancaster. Halifax bombers were progressively relegated to secondary theatres such as North Africa and Italy, while many were converted to or built new as glider tugs, transports and maritime reconnaissance.
In service with RAF Bomber Command, Halifaxes flew 82,773 operations and dropped 224,207 tons of bombs. 1,833 aircraft were lost. In addition to bombing missions, the Halifax served as a glider tug, electronic warfare aircraft for No. 100 Group RAF and special operations such as parachuting agents and arms into occupied Europe for the Special Operations Executive – SOE. Halifaxes were also operated by RAF Coastal Command for anti-submarine warfare, reconnaissance and meteorological roles.
After the war Halifaxes remained in service with Coastal Command and RAF Transport Command, Royal Egyptian Air Force and the Armée de l’Air until early 1952. The Pakistan Air Force inherited Halifaxes from the RAF and continued to use them until 1961.
A number of former RAF Halifax C.8s were sold from 1945 and used as freighters by a number of mainly British airlines. In 1948, the air freight market was in decline but 41 civil aircraft were used in the Berlin Air Lift operating a total of 4,653 sorties carrying freight and 3,509 carrying bulk diesel fuel. Nine aircraft were lost during the airlift. As the aircraft returned to England most civil Halifaxes were scrapped; the last civilian-operated Halifaxes were withdrawn from service in late 1952. The Low-cost airline business pioneer Freddie Laker bought and serviced war surplus Halifaxes for Bond Air Services operations in the Berlin airlift.
The Yorkshire Air Museum, on the site of the Second World War airfield, RAF Elvington, has a fully restored aircraft re-constructed from a fuselage section of Halifax B.Mk.II HR792 and parts from other aircraft including the wings from an RAF Hastings. It is painted to represent Halifax LV907, “Friday the 13th” from No. 158 Squadron RAF on the port side and “N – Novembre” of 347 “Guyenne” Squadron, Free French Air Force, on the starboard side (RAF Elvington being the home of the only two French heavy bomber squadrons in Bomber Command).
Another fully restored Halifax, NA337 of No. 644 Squadron RAF, then based at RAF Tarrant Rushton, is a transport/special duties version, and was retrieved from the bottom of Lake Mjøsa in Norway in 1995 after being shot down in April 1945. It was taken to Canada and restoration was completed in 2005. NA337 is a Halifax A.Mk.VII Special Duties aircraft built by Rootes Motors, at Liverpool Airport and is now preserved at the National Air Force Museum of Canada at CFB Trenton in Trenton, Ontario, near Kingston, Ontario.
A third Halifax is a B.Mk.II, serial W1048, ‘S’ for Sugar of No. 35 Squadron RAF. On the night of the 27/28 April 1942, this aircraft was taking part in a raid on the Tirpitz – its first operational flight. It was hit by anti-aircraft fire after releasing the four 1,000-pound (450 kg) mines it carried and the pilot made a successful belly landing on the frozen surface of Lake Hoklingen. The crew escaped to Sweden with the help of the Norwegian resistance, except for the Flight Engineer who remained behind because of a broken ankle and was taken prisoner. Within hours, the aircraft sank through the ice into 27 metres (89 ft) of water.
In the summer of 1973, it was recovered from the lake by a team of divers from the RAF and a Norwegian diving club, and was transported to the UK on a British Army Landing craft tank. It is displayed in its “as recovered” condition in the Bomber Command display at the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon in London, apart from the nose turret which had already been restored prior to the decision.
Corgi Aviation Archive 1/72nd scale AA37208 Handley Page Halifax B.VII, PN230/EQ-V ‘Vicky The Vicious Virgin’, RAF No.408 ‘Goose’ Squadron, No.6 (RCAF) Group, Linton-on-Ouse, 1945
This model has been pre-ordered in very large numbers during the course of the last few months ! It is due to be released at the End of August, but I predict that it will definitely be SOLD OUT well before it arrives with retailers.
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Order in the normal way and the discount will be applied when we take payment on your credit card. If you pay by PayPal your 10% discount will be refunded to you when your models are shipped.
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That is it for this week. Thank you for taking time to read this week’s Newsletter and I hope you have a fantastic Easter Holiday Break.