Tag Archives: Browning .303 Mark II Machine Gun

9 January 1941

BT308, the Avro Lancaster prototype, at RAF Ringway, 9 January 1941. (Avro Heritage Museum)
Captain Harry Albert (“Sam”) Brown, O.B.E. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

9 January 1941: Test pilot Captain Harry Albert (“Sam”) Brown, O.B.E., (1896–1953) makes the first flight of the Avro Lancaster prototype, BT308, at RAF Ringway, Cheshire, England, south of Manchester.

Throughout World War II, 7,377 of these long range heavy bombers were produced for the Royal Air Force. The majority were powered by Rolls-Royce or Packard Merlin V-12 engines—the same engines that powered the Supermarine Spitfire and North American P-51 Mustang fighters.

The bomber was designed by Roy Chadwick, F.R.S.A., F.R.Ae.S., the Chief Designer and Engineer of A. V. Roe & Company Limited, based on the earlier twin-engine Avro Manchester Mk.I. Because of this, it was originally designated as the Manchester Mk.III, before being re-named Lancaster. Chadwick was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 2 June 1943, for his work.

The first prototype, BT308, was unarmed and had three small vertical fins.

Avro 683 Lancaster prototype BT308, shortly after the first flight at Manchester, 9 January 1941. (A.V.Roe via R.A.Scholefield) Photograph used with permission.
Avro 683 Lancaster prototype BT308, shortly after the first flight at RAF Ringway, Manchester, England, 9 January 1941. (A.V.Roe via R.A.Scholefield) Photograph is from The R.A. Scholefield Collection and is used with permission.

With the second prototype, DG595, the small center vertical fin was deleted and two larger fins were used at the outboard ends of a longer horizontal tailplane. DG595 was also equipped with power gun turrets at the nose, dorsal and ventral positions, and at the tail.

Avro Lancaster DG595, the second protoype of the Royal Air Force four-engine heavy bomber. This armed prototype has the twin-tail arrangement of the production aircraft. (Unattributed)
Avro Lancaster DG595, the second protoype of the Royal Air Force four-engine long range heavy bomber. This armed prototype has the twin-tail arrangement of the production aircraft. (Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Air Ministry clearance form for Avro 638 Lancaster BT308. Shown on page 1 are the aircraft's engine type and serial numbers.
Air Ministry clearance form for Avro 683 Lancaster BT308. Shown on page 1 are the aircraft’s engine type and serial numbers.
Air Ministry test flight clearance form, Page 2.
Air Ministry test flight clearance form, Page 2. This form is signed by the airplane’s designer, Roy Chadwick, 5 January 1941.

The first production model, Lancaster Mk.I, was operated by a crew of seven: pilot, flight engineer, navigator/bombardier, radio operator and three gunners. It was a large, all-metal, mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was 68 feet, 11 inches (21.001 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet, 0 inches (31.090) meters and an overall height of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.944 meters). The Mk.I had an empty weight of 36,900 pounds (16,738 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 68,000 pounds (30,909 kilograms).

BT308 and early production Lancasters were equipped with four liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.96-cubic-inch-displacement (27.01 liter), Roll-Royce Merlin XX single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines, which were rated at 1,480 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 6,000 feet (1,829 meters). The Merlins drove three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic quick-feathering, constant-speed airscrews (propellers), which had a diameter of 13 feet, 0 inches (3.962 meters), through a 0.420:1 gear reduction.

DG595 was used for performance testing at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down. The Mark I had a maximum economic cruise speed of 267 miles per hour (430 kilometers per hour) at 20,800 feet (6,340 meters), and a maximum speed of 286 miles per hour (460 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) at a gross weight of 45,300 pounds (20,548 kilograms).¹ Its service ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) at 64,500 pounds (29,257 kilograms). It had a range of  2,530 miles (4,072 kilometers) with a 7,000 pound (3,175 kilogram) bomb load.

The Lancaster was designed to carry a 14,000 pound (6,350 kilogram) bomb load, but modified bombers carried the 22,000 pound (9,979 kilogram) Grand Slam bomb. For defense, the standard Lancaster had eight Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns in three power-operated turrets, with a total of 14,000 rounds of ammunition.

According to the Royal Air Force, “Almost half all Lancasters delivered during the war (3,345 of 7,373) were lost on operations with the loss of over 21,000 crew members.”

Only two airworthy Avro Lancasters are in existence.

The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Avro Lancaster Mk.I, PA474. This airplane was built in 1945 by Vickers Armstongs Ltd. at Broughton, Wales, United Kingdom. (Battle of Britain Memorial Flight)
The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Avro Lancaster Mk.X FM213, flies formation with an Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornet. The bomber is marked VR A and nicknamed “Vera.” FM213 was built by Victory Aircraft Ltd., Malton, Ontario, Canada. (Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum)

¹ Speeds shown are True Air Speed (T.A.S.)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 December 1941

Kawasaki Ki-48 Army Type 99 twin-engine light bomber. Allied reporting name, “Lily.”

20 December 1941: For the first time, the 1st American Volunteer Group engaged aircraft of the Empire of Japan in combat. 1st and 2nd Squadrons, based at Kunming, China, intercepted ten Kawasaki Ki-48-I Army Type 99 twin-engine light bombers of the 82nd Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai.

Japan and China had been at war since 1937. The Japanese aircraft were based at the Gia Lâm airport, near Hà Nội in occupied French Indochina. They had frequently attacked Kunming, a Chinese city at the northern end of the Burma Road, and had previously been unopposed. For this mission, the bomber squadron initially had a fighter escort, but the fighters turned back at the Indo-China/China border.

The AVG had established a network of observers which would report enemy aircraft in time for the fighters to take off to intercept them. Having received the warning of inbound aircraft, the 1st and 2nd AVG squadrons were ordered into battle.

1st American Volunteer Group fighter pilots run toward their shark-mouthed Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A2s, “somewhere in China.” (Defense Media Network)

Sources vary widely as to the number of AVG aircraft involved, but there may have been as many as 16 Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3s from the 1st Squadron, and 8 more from the 2nd Squadron. There is a general consensus that the fighters shot down three of the Japanese bombers, and that a fourth went down while returning to base. Other sources say that only one of the ten Ki-48s made it back to its base. AVG pilots claimed five bombers shot down and two damaged. One Hawk 81 ran out fuel and was damaged beyond repair in a forced landing.

A Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3 of the 1st American Volunteer Group, Kunming, China, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
CAMCO assembly facility for Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3 fighters for AVG (74250 A.C.) (SDASM)
Curtiss-Wright 81-A3, 1st American Volunteer Group, circa 1942.
AMERICAN AIRCRAFT IN ROYAL AIR FORCE SERVICE: CURTISS HAWK 81A TOMAHAWK. (CH 17252) The first Curtiss Tomahawks, Marks I and IIA, to enter squadron service with the RAF, in the hands of No. 403 Squadron RCAF at Baginton, Warwickshire. The Squadron operated the Tomahawk for only a short time, yielding them in favour of Supermarine Spitfires in May 1941. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210781
AMERICAN AIRCRAFT IN RAF SERVICE 1939-1945: CURTISS HAWK 81A TOMAHAWK. (ATP 10993F) Tomahawk Mk.IIb, AK184: cockpit interior, port side. Photograph taken at Air Service Training Ltd, Hamble, Hampshire. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127117
Curtiss-Wright Tomahawk Mk.IIb, AK184, at Hamble, Hampshire © IWM.

RAF order for 100 Tomahawk IIb (Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A2 ) was released to be available for AVG. They were built as hybrids of the Tomahawk Mk.IIb and the P-40C Warhawk, though the airplanes intended for the AVG differed in details from either the standard Britsih or American fighters. The airplanes were painted in the standard RAF brown and green camouflage patterns. The completed airplanes were knocked down, crated, then shipped from New York. They were reassembled at a CAMCO facility near Rangoon, Burma.

Two Curtiss-Wright Tomahawk Mk.IIBs on a test flight following assembly at No. 107 Maintenance Unit, Kasfareet, Egypt. Copyright: © IWM.

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81 was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit (fighter). It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The Hawk 81 was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 7 inches (3.226 meters).

The Tomahawk/Warhawk was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597ubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which had a Continuous Power Rating of 930 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 12,800 feet (3,901 meters), and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 14,300 feet (4,359 meters) for Take Off and Military Power. The engine drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowling and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds of ammunition per gun. In British service, the Tomahawk was armed with an additional four Browning .303 Mark II machine guns, with two in each wing. The American P-40, P-40B and P-40C Warhawks had two or four Browning AN-M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns as wing-mounted guns.

The “blood chit” was sometimes sewn on AVG pilots’ jackets.

The AVG pilots were employees of the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO). Most were former United States military pilots who had been secretly recruited. They were required to resign their officers’ commissions. Importantly, they were all civilians—not members of the Chinese military–nor were they otherwise employed by the government of China. They each had a one year contract, 4 July 1941–4 July 1942. They were paid a monthly salary, more than three times their former military pay, and were also paid a bonus for each enemy airplane they shot down.

(Note: This article is an incomplete draft)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 November 1940

The prototype DH.98 Mosquito, marked W4050, takes off on its first flight at Hatfield, 25 November 1940. (BAE Systems)
Geoffrey Roal De Havilland

25 November 1940: De Havilland Aircraft Company’s Chief Test Pilot, Geoffrey Roal de Havilland, Jr., and engineer John Walker, made the first flight of the DH.98 Mosquito prototype, E0234, at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England. The multi-role combat aircraft was constructed primarily of layers of balsa covered with layers of birch, then a layer of doped cotton fabric. It was powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engines.

The construction materials took advantage of plentiful supplies of wood, and also made workers who were not in the standard metal aircraft industry able to take part.

The prototype was rolled out 19 November 1040, painted overall yellow.

The prototype de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito, W0234, outside the Assembly Building, 19 November 1940. (BAE Systems)

The prototype had a wingspan of 54 feet, 2 inches (16.510 meters), and its gross weight was 19,670 pounds (8,922 kilograms). W4050 was powered by two liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.96-cubic-inch-displacement (27.01 liter) Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk.21 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines, producing 1,460 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 10,000 feet (3028 meters), with 10 pounds (0.69 Bar) of boost, and driving three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic propellers through a gear reduction.

The prototype DH.98 Mosquito,W4050, in the field behind Salisbury Hall (where it was designed and built) just before its first flight, 25 November 1940. (HistoryNet)

The DH.98 had been predicted to be 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour) faster than the Supermarine Spitfire, but was actually much faster. In testing, the prototype reached 392 miles per hour (631 kilometers per hour) at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). Improvements were continuously made, and with 2-stage superchargers, W4050 reached a maximum 437 miles per hour (703 kilometers per hour). The DH.98 prototype had a service ceiling of 34,000 feet (10,363 meters) and range of 2,180 miles (3,500 kilometers).

The production fighter variant, the Mosquito F. Mk.II, was 41 feet, 2 inches (12.548 meters) long with a wingspan of 54 feet, 2 inches (16.510 meters) and height of 15 feet, 3 inches (4.648 meters) in 3-point position. The wings had 1½° incidence with approxmatey 2½° dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 2½°. The total wing area was 436.7 square feet (40.6 square meters). The fighter’s empty weight was 13,356 pounds (6,058 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 18,649 pounds (8,459 kilograms).

The Mk.II had a cruise speed of 265 miles per hour (426 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and maximum speed of 380 miles per hour (612 kilometers per hour) at 21,400 feet (6,523 meters).

Mosquito bomber variants could carry four 500 pound bombs, or two 2,000 pound bombs, but were otherwise unarmed. Fighters were equipped with four Hispano Mk.II 20 mm autocannon and four Browning .303-caliber Mk.II machine guns in the nose.

6,411 DH.98 Mosquitoes were built in England, 1,134 in Canada and 212 in Australia. It was produced in bomber, fighter, night fighter, fighter bomber and photo reconnaissance versions.

The prototype DH.98 Mosquito, W4050, at Hatfield, Hertfordshire. (Royal Air Force)

W4050’s (the prototype’s Royal Air Force identification) fuselage was damaged while taxiing at Boscombe Down, 24 February 1941, and had to be replaced with one intended for a second prototype, W4051. It remained at de Havilland and was used to test different engines, armaments and versions. After a series of tests conducted in December 1943, the prototype Mosquito was permanently grounded. It was used as an instructional airframe and later placed in storage.

In September 1958, W4050 was turned over to the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre. Today, the restored prototype DH.98 Mosquito is at the museum at London Colney, Hertfordshire, England.

The Mosquito prototype with camouflauged upper surfaces as it appeared at Boscombe Down, (de Havilland Aircraft Museum)
The Mosquito prototype with camouflaged upper surfaces as it appeared at Boscombe Down, 1941. (de Havilland Aircraft Museum)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 November 1935

Test pilot George Bulman in the cockpit of the prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083.

6 November 1935: The prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, first flew at the Brooklands Aerodrome, Weybridge, Surrey, with Hawker’s Chief Test Pilot, Flight Lieutenant Paul Ward Spencer (“George”) Bulman, M.C., A.F.C., Royal Air Force Reserve,¹ in the cockpit. The airplane would be named “Hurricane” and become one of the most successful fighter aircraft of World War II.

Designed by Sydney Camm to meet a Royal Air Force Specification for a high speed monoplane interceptor, the airplane was developed around the Rolls-Royce PV-12 engine.

Sir Sydney Camm, CBE, FRAeS
Sir Sydney Camm, C.B.E., F.R.Ae.S. (1893–1966)

The Hurricane was built in the traditional means of a light but strong framework covered by doped linen fabric. Rather than wood, however, the Hurricane’s framework used high strength steel tubing for the aft fuselage. A girder structure covered in sheet metal made up the forward fuselage. A primary consideration of the fighter’s designer was to provide good visibility for the pilot. The cockpit sits high in the fuselage and gives the airplane its characteristic hump back profile. The cockpit was enclosed by a sliding canopy. The landing gear was retractable.

Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, front view. (World War Photos)
Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, the prototype Hawker Hurricane, photographed prior to its first flight. Note the flush exhaust ports and wooden fixed-pitch propeller. Photograph © IWM (MH 5475)
Right Profile of the prototype Hawker Hurricane, K5083. (© IWM-MH-5190)
Right profile of the prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083. © IWM (MH-5190)
Left profile (IWM)
Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083. Left profile. © IWM (ATP 8654D)
Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, left rear quarter view. (World War Photos)

The Rolls-Royce PV-12 (“PV” stood for Private Venture) was a developmental liquid-cooled 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022 liter) 60° V-12 that would become the legendary Merlin aircraft engine. The PV-12 first ran in 1933 and initially produced 700 horsepower.

The engine was progressively improved and by the time the Hurricane prototype first flew, it was equipped with a supercharged Rolls-Royce Merlin C, Air Ministry serial number 111144. The Merlin C had a Normal Power rating of 1,029 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m, at an altitude of 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), with +6 pounds per square inch boost. The V-12 engine turned a Watts two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller through a gear reduction drive (possibly 0.420:1).

Right profile of the prototype Hawker Hurricane, K5083. Photograph © IWM (MH 5190)
Right quarter view of the prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, in flight. Photograph © IWM (MH 5190)

An Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) test pilot, Flight Sergeant Samuel (“Sammy”) Wroath (366485), flew K5083 at the Martlesham Heath in early 1936. He wrote, “The aircraft is simple to fly and has no apparent vices.”

In early flight testing, K5083 had a maximum speed of 253 miles per hour (407 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, an reached 315 miles per hour (507 kilometers per hour) at 16,200 feet (4,938 meters), with the Merlin turning 2,960 r.p.m., with +5.7 pounds of boost (0.39 Bar). The speed exceeded the RAF’s requirement by 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour).

The prototype was able to take off in as little as 795 feet (242 meters) and to climb to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in just 5 minutes, 42 seconds. It reached 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 8 minutes, 24 seconds. The peak altitude reached was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The prototype’s estimated service ceiling was 34,500 feet (10,516 meters)and the estimated absolute ceiling was 35,400 feet (10,790 meters).

In May 1939 Hawker Monoplane F.36/34 K5083 was classified as a ground instruction airframe, with serial number 1112M. Reportedly, it remained in airworthy condition until 1942. Its status after that is not known.

Hawker Monoplane F.36/34 K5083 with “alighting gear” extended. (World War Photos)

The Hawker Hurricane Mk.I was ordered into production in the summer of 1936. The first production airplane, L1547, flew on 12 October 1937. The Hurricane Mk. I retained the wooden fixed-pitch propeller and fabric-covered wings of the prototype, though this would change with subsequent models.

The first production Hawker Hurricane Mk.I, L1547, circa October 1937. This airplane, assigned to No. 312 Squadron, was lost 10 October 1940, when it caught fire during a training flight near RAF Speke. The pilot, Sergeant Otto Hanzliĉek, parachuted from the airplane, but he landed in the Mersey River and drowned.

The Hurricane Mk.I was 31 feet, 5 inches (9.576 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 0 inches (12.192 meters), and overall height of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.039 meters) in three-point attitude. The wings had a total area of 257.6 square feet (23.9 square meters). Their angle of incidence was 2° 0′, and the outer wing panels had 3° 30′ dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 5° 6′. The empty weight of the Hurricane I was 5,234 pounds (2,374 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 6,793 pounds (3,081 kilograms).

The Hurricane Mk.I was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk.II or Mk.III. The Mk.III was rated at 1,030 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 16,250 feet (4,953 meters). The engine turned a propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters).

Hawker Monoplane F.36/34 K5083 (BAE Systems)

The Mk.I’s best economical cruising speed was 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), and its maximum speed was 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour) at 17,750 feet (5,410 meters) and 6,440 pounds (2,921 kilograms). The airplane’s range was 585 miles (941 kilometers). The Hurricane Mk.I could climb to 20,000 feet in 9.7 minutes.

The fighter was armed with eight Browning .303 Mark II machine guns mounted in the wings, with 334 rounds of ammunition per gun.

“No. 111 Squadron was responsible for the introduction of the Hurricane to the RAF with the first aircraft arriving at Northolt in December 1937, in advance of the official acceptance date of 1 January 1938. The CO, S/Ldr John Gillan, flew L1555 in record time from Edinburgh to Northolt on 10 February 1938.” (Daily Mail)

Peter Townsend described the Hurricane in his book, Duel of Eagles:

“. . . By December [1938] we had our full initial equipment of sixteen aircraft. The Fury had been a delightful play-thing; the Hurricane was a thoroughly war-like machine, rock solid as a platform for eight Browning machine-guns, highly manoeuvrable despite its large proportions and with an excellent view from the cockpit. The Hurricane lacked the speed and glamour of the Spitfire and was slower than the Me. 109, whose pilots were to develop contempt for it and a snobbish preference for being shot down by Spitfires. But figures were to prove that during the Battle of Britain, machine for machine, the Hurricane would acquit itself every bit as well as the Spitfire and in the aggregate (there were more than three Hurricanes to two Spitfires) do greater damage among the Luftwaffe.”

Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF. Cassell Publishers Limited, London, Chapter 13 at Pages 153–154. 

Hawker Hurricanes at Brooklands. (BAE Systems)

At the beginning of World War II, 497 Hurricanes had been delivered to the Royal Air Force, enough to equip 18 squadrons. During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane accounted for 55% of all enemy aircraft destroyed. Continuously upgraded throughout the war, it remained in production until July 1944. The final Hurrican, a Mk.IIc, PZ865, was flown for the first time by P.W.S. Bulman on 24 July 1944. A total of 14,503 were built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd., Gloster Aircraft Company, Austin Motor Company, and the Canadian Car and Foundry Company.

The final Hawker Hurricane, a Mk.IIc, PZ865, “The Last of the Many!” Chief Test Pilot P.W.S. “George” Bulman also took this fighter for its first flight, 22 July 1944. (BAE Systems)
P.W.S. Bulman with PZ865, July 1944.
Group Captain “George” Bulman flying the final Hawker Hurricane, PZ865, a Mk.IIc.

¹ Later, Group Captain Paul Ward Spencer Bulman, C.B.E., M.C., A.F.C. and Bar.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 August 1940

Flight Lieutenant James B. Nicolson, VC, RAF
Flight Lieutenant Eric James Brindley Nicolson, Royal Air Force. Photographed by Robert L.S. Calcheside. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 07.19.56Air Ministry.

15th November, 1940.

ROYAL AIR FORCE.

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery : —

Flight Lieutenant James Brindley NICOLSON (39329) — No. 249 Squadron.

During an engagement with the enemy near Southampton on 16th August, 1940, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson’s aircraft was hit by four cannon shells, two of which wounded him whilst another set fire to the gravity tank. When about to abandon his aircraft owing to flames in the cockpit he sighted an enemy fighter. This he attacked and shot down, although as a result of staying in his burning aircraft he sustained serious burns to his hands, face, neck and legs.

Flight Lieutenant Nicolson has always displayed great enthusiasm for air fighting and this incident shows that he possesses courage and determination of a high order. By continuing to engage the enemy after he had been wounded and his aircraft set on fire, he displayed exceptional gallantry and disregard for the safety of his own life.

The London Gazette, Number 34993, Friday, 15 November 1940, at Page 6569, Column 1

Wing Commander Nicolson’s medals at the RAF Museum, Hendon, London. (greentool2002)

Peter Townsend wrote about Nick Nicolson’s battle in his history of the Battle of Britain, Duel of Eagles:

Flight Lieutenant Eric J.B. Nicolson, VC, RAF (Detail from photograph by Stanley Devon, Royal Air Force official photographer. Imperial War Museum CH 1700 4700-16)

“Flight Lieutenant J.B. Nicolson of 249 Squadron was patrolling in his Hurricane west of Tangmere at seventeen thousand feet. He dived on some Ju. 88s when suddenly his Hurricane staggered. From somewhere behind bullets and cannon shells ripped through the hood, hit him in the foot and pierced his centre-tank. A searing mass of flame filled the cockpit. As he whipped into a steep turn he saw the offender, a Me. 110, slide below, diving hard. A wild resolve, stronger than reason, seized Nicolson. The cockpit a furnace, his dashboard ‘dripping like treacle’ and his hands fused by heat onto throttle and stick, he yelled, ‘I’ll get you, you Hun.’ And he went firing until the Me. 110 fell, until the frightful agony of his burns had passed the threshold of feeling. Then he struggled out of the cockpit and still wreathed in flames fell until the rush of cold air extinguished them. Only then did his mutilated hand fumble for the ripcord and somehow find strength to pull it. As if his sufferings were not already enough, some imbecile of a Home Guard fired at Nicolson and hit him fifty feet above the village of Millbrook in Hampshire.

“The gallant Nicolson was awarded the Victoria Cross. Of three thousand fighter pilots who fought in the battle ‘to defend the cause of civilization’ Nicolson alone among the defenders received the supreme award for valour. It was enough. The twenty-three-year-old pilot was typical of his young comrades. Alone in their tiny cockpits miles above the earth, there courage was of a peculiar kind which no medal, no material standard, could ever properly measure.”

Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF. Cassell Publishers Limited, London, Chapter 23 at Pages 328–329.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hawker Hurricane marked as the aircraft flown by Flt. Lt. Nicolson, 16 August 1940. (© IoW Sparky)
The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hawker Hurricane marked as the aircraft flown by Flight Lieutenant Nick Nicolson, GN A, 16 August 1940. (© IoW Sparky)

Nick Nicolson’s fighter was a Hawker Hurricane Mk.I, P3576, with squadron markings GN A. It was in the third production block of 544 Hurricanes built by Hawker Aircraft Limited,  Brooklands, between February and July 1940.

The Hurricane Mk.I was ordered into production in the summer of 1936. The first production airplane flew on 12 October 1937. The early production Hurricane Mk. I retained the wooden fixed-pitch propeller and fabric-covered wings of the prototype, though this would change with subsequent models. It was 31 feet, 4 inches (9.550 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet (12.192 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.039 meters). Its empty weight was 4,982 pounds (2,260 kilograms) and gross weight was 6,750 pounds (3,062 kilograms).

The Mk.I’s engine was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 27.01 liter (1,648.96 cubic inches) Rolls-Royce R.M.1.S. Merlin Mk.III single-overhead-cam 60° V-12, rated at 990 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 12,250 feet (3,734 meters), and 1,030 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., at 10,250 feet (3,124 meters), using 87 octane aviation gasoline. The Merlin III drove the propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction ratio. It weighed 1,375 pounds (624 kilograms).

The fixed-pitch propeller was soon replaced with a three-bladed, two-pitch propeller, and then a three-bladed constant-speed propeller. Speed trials of a Mk.I equipped with a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meters) diameter Rotol constant-speed propeller achieved a maximum True Air Speed in level flight of 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour) at 17,750 feet (5,410 meters) at 3,000 r.p.m. The service ceiling was 33,750 feet (10,287 meters). The Mk.I’s range was 600 miles (966 kilometers) at 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour).

The fighter was armed with eight Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns mounted in the wings.

At the beginning of World War II, 497 Hurricanes had been delivered to the Royal Air Force, enough to equip 18 squadrons. During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane accounted for 55% of the enemy aircraft destroyed. Continuously upgraded throughout the war, it remained in production until 1944. A total of 14,503 were built by Hawker, Gloster and the Canadian Car and Foundry Company.

Eric James Brindley Nicolson was born 29 April 1917 at Hampstead, London, England. His parents were Leslie Gibson Nicolson and Dorothea Hilda Ellen Brindley. He was educated at the Tonbridge School in Kent, a private school which was founded in 1553. Nicolson was employed as an experimental engineer at Sir Henry Ricardo’s Engine Patents, Ltd.,  Shoreham, West Sussex, until joining the Royal Air Force in October 1936. On 21 December 1936, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer. After flight training, P/O Nicolson served with No. 72 Squadron at RAF Church Fenton, North Yorkshire, August 1937–May 1940. He was promoted to Flying Officer, 12 May 1939.

On 29 July 1939, Eric Nicolson was married to Miss Muriel Caroline Kendall of Kirby Wharfe, Yorkshire.

Flying Officer Nicolson was assigned to No. 249 Squadron at RAF Leconfield, East Riding of Yorkshire, 15 May 1940, as an acting flight commander, and then promoted to Flight Lieutenant, 3 September 1940.

Following the action of 16 November, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson was hospitalized at the burn unit of Princess Mary’s Hospital, RAF Halton, Buckinghamshire, and then sent to a convalescent facility at Torquay, Devon. On 12 January 1941, he was promoted to Squadron Leader.

Nicolson returned to duty 24 February 1941, with 54 Operational Training Unit. From 21 September 1941 to 16 March 1942, he commanded No. 1459 Flight at RAF Hibaldstow, Lincolnshire. This was a night fighter unit, flying the Douglas Boston (P-70 Havoc). He was next assigned as a staff officer at Headquarters, 293 Wing, Royal Air Force, Alipore, West Bengal, India. After another staff assignment, Squadron Leader Nicolson was given command of 27 Squadron, a de Havilland Mosquito squadron at Agartala, in northeast India.

Nick Nicolson was promoted to Wing Commander 11 August 1944 and assigned to 3rd Tactical Air Force Headquarters in the Comilla Cantonment, East Bengal.

Wing Commander Eric James Brindley Nicolson, V.C., D.F.C., died 2 May 1945, while flying as an observer aboard a No. 355 Squadron Consolidated Liberator B Mk.VI, KH210, “R” (B-24J-85-CF 44-44071). At approximately 0250 hours, two engines caught fire. The bomber, piloted by Squadron Leader G.A. De Souza, RAF, and Flight Sergeant Michael Henry Pullen, Royal Australian Air Force, ditched in the Bay of Bengal, approximately 130 miles (209 kilometers) south of Calcutta. Of the eleven on board, only Pullen and one of the gunners survived.

Nicolson was the only RAF Fighter Command pilot awarded the Victoria Cross during World War II.

This Liberator Mk.VI KH166 (B-24J-80-CF 44-10731) is the same type as the bomber on which Wing Commander Nicolson was killed, 2 May 1945
This Liberator Mk.VI KH166 (B-24J-80-CF 44-10731) is the same type as the bomber on which Wing Commander Nicolson was killed, 2 May 1945.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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