The Whirlibombers

Transcribed from an article in The Aeroplane published on the 12th March 1943

The Whirlibombers

Our visit to the Whirlwind squadrons was a separate and distinct occasion. To say that it was edifying is to do less than justice to our hosts all of whom seemed quietly but intensely euthanistic about their aeroplanes and the nature of their work.

We had always regarded the Whirlwind as something of an oddity. We had never given it full marks for beauty nor placed it on the list of the wold’s most famous types. Yet under the guidance of a more knowledgeable friend, we found that it had, here and there. a most pleasing line and contour and several interesting aerodynamic features. It also revealed some ingenious technical ideas. Perhaps prejudice was born of that curious uplifted tail.

Early in the proceedings eight Whirlwinds took off in two sections, joined up in the air, and showed that mathematically perfect formation flying was all in a day’s work. Wing tip to wing tip they sailed over us in true Hendon style.

Leaving pageantry, they passed to hostility to show us how they strafe the enemy across the channel.  Using us as their target.

They went through all the motions of a low flying attack, only omitting to press the gun button. Cold shivers ran up and down the spine as the little pairs of blobs which were the motors rapidly grew larger along an undeviating path.

Some of the sensations of enemy troops under ground-strafing were conveyed to the helpless onlookers. After the low flying attack came a low-level dummy bombing attack with its slightly different technique.

Both demonstrations showed how nicely distance can be judged where there is a clear and unobstructed forward view from the pilot’s cockpit.  We are ready to swear that those Whirlwinds were sometimes only 6 or 8 ft above the ground and going well, pretty fast.

Then came the biggest surprise of the day.  One of the pilots stayed aloft after the others had landed, and began to indulge in an exhilarating display of exhibition flying.  He performed most of the normal aerobatics with accomplished skill. but most impressive of all were his upward slow rolls— sometimes three in rapid succession. Only once was a roll not up to exhibition standard—and that was not the fault of the pilot. One of the motors temporarily cut out just as he began to turn over.

Whirlwind Features

Structurally the Whirlwind has three special features, they are the Fowler flaps, radiators set inside the leading edge of the wing, and slots which work in conjunction with the flaps on the leading-edge inboard of the motors.  Fully extended the Fowler flaps make an angle of about 70 degrees with the wing.  They are slotted and hinge upon the undercarriage fairing but when fully extended they blanket the tail and are the reason for the elevated position of the tail plane. The wind loading is high and pilots find the flaps and slots useful for manoeuvring.  Both are quick and positive in action and materially reduce the turning arc in the air. Another ingenious scheme is the half “hollow-ground rudder”, the depression, which is on one side only, was introduced to overcome torque effect on take-off and prevent swinging.


Four 20mm. Hispano cannon are installed in the nose. and a rack for a 250lb. bomb is fitted beneath each wing out board of the motors. The bombs can be fused for instantaneous or delayed action by a selector switch in the cockpit. As nearly all the bombs are dropped from 50ft or less the delayed action switch is usually chosen. This particular Squadron was formally a fighter unit, but since its conversion to fighter-bombing a few months ago it has done splendid work against the enemy’s railways, aerodromes and ships.

Ships are not often found these days. The channel has been made too unsafe for navigation by Germanys’ dwindling fleet of merchant ships, but in the middle of February last a pilot of this squadron successfully bombed a 500-ton merchant ship which was apparently trying to make it to the open seas. The night was so dark that when the pilot turned away, he lost sight of the ship and only by accurate navigation and acute observation was he able to find it again.

Many Targets

He made three runs over the target in the face of violent opposition from anti-aircraft batteries on shore and on ships. and through the concentrated glare of many searchlights. He


 bombed with such accuracy that the ship was forced to stop, Later, it turned back and made for the nearest port. The squadron rated that a good show, and no one who knows the difficulty of bombing a ship on a dark night in the face of determined opposition will deny it. Shortly afterwards the Pilot (Flying Officer E.L. Musgrave) *was given a well-deserved D.F.C. for his skill and courage.

Other targets “pranged” by the Squadron in recent months are hutted camps, gun emplacements, railway viaducts, bridges, goods yards and stations, transformer stations an ammunition dump, several enemy aerodromes and about 40 trains. It has also destroyed two Junkers 88s and a Dornier Do217 in combat and damaged another half-dozen enemy aircraft mostly Ju88s.

The Whirlwind uses no sight for bombing but is equipped with a standard reflector sight for aiming its cannon. The cannon has proved entirely effective in attacking locomotives. One pilot blew up four in a single sortie. They have been equally effective in attacks on aerodromes.

The Commanding Officer Squadron Leader H. St: J. Coghlan. D.F.C. has himself destroyed five enemy aeroplanes on the ground with his guns. Some say that the Whirlwind is now working out its time. The design growing old. The tempo of the war in the air has increased and more speed is needed. all the signs point to the passing of the Whirlwind as a first line aeroplane in the Royal Air Force.

One day the story of this unusual machine will be told in full, and the brightest chapter may well be that describing its work as a fighter – bomber.

*For more on that attack see the article on the HK Coronell by 137 Squadron.