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Halifax Bomber

The Halifax bomber was a British-made heavy bomber used by the Royal Air Force in World War II starting from November 1940. Designed and built by Handley Page Ltd., it often partnered with the Avro Lancaster on various night bombing offensives undertaken by the RAF Bomber Command to destroy German industrial and urban areas.

Today in WW II: 1 Sep 1939 German troops, tanks, and aircraft begin Blitzkrieg attack on Poland, the start of WW II in Europe.   

Handley Page Halifax Bomber in World War II

The Halifax began its life as a response to the British Air Ministry's B.1/35 requirement. Its predecessor, the Vickers Wellington, was a twin-engine bomber, and the Handley Page Ltd. design team started off with two Vulture engines as the powerplant. The design team asked the Air Ministry to revise the requirement from H.P.56 to H.P.57, allowing for a longer wingspan that would accommodate four Merlin engines. The first prototype of this design flew on 25 October 1939; an improved prototype with Rotol propellers flew in August 1940, the design that became the Halifax Mk I. Although the Halifax was deemed highly functional and versatile, it took many revisions over the ensuing five years to eliminate problems such as main landing gear retraction and reduction gears in the Merlin X engine. Ultimately, the Halifax was able to carry as heavy a weapons load as and fly faster than the Avro Lancaster bomber.

A crew of seven manned the Halifax. A pilot and copilot worked the enclosed flight deck. A navigator/bombardier/gunner, radio operator, flight engineer, and two gunners worked in the fuselage. The aircraft had standard navigation and communications equipment for its day, along with an optical bombsight and gun sights. The Halifax Mk III was the first bomber to receive the H2S nav/attack radar system.

In November 1940, the Halifax Mk I entered service, arriving first at the No. 33 Squadron of the RAF Bomber Command. The first mission was flown on 10/11 March 1941 in an attack on Le Harve, France. A total of 84 Mk Is were manufactured and delivered using the Merlin X engines in the Series 1 and 2, but a Merlin XX in some of the Series III. Interestingly, a shortage of four-blade propellers, introduced to the Mk I to eliminate vibration that locked the tailwheel unit into the extended position, led to some Mk Is having three-blade propellers on the inboard engines and four-blade propellers on the outboard engines.

The Halifax Mk II represented a substantial step forward for the bomber. This was the first model manufactured on a large scale, using four Merlin XX or 22 engines. A new dorsal turret was also added. But the turret created excess weight and drag, and the Mk II Series I (Special) was stripped of it as well as the original nose turret. Some aircraft had the flame-damper exhausts removed as well, changes that boosted performance. The Mk II Series IA saw a low-drag Boulton Paul dorsal turret added, as well as a molded Perspex nose fairing equipped with one .303 machine gun. These changes increased the length of the Mk II but improved the aerodynamics, allowing for higher speeds.

The Mk III became the ultimate Halifax. The limitations in the earlier models, including lack of speed and low service ceiling, were resolved by using the Bristol Hercules radial piston engine. The earlier Mk Is and IIs had lower-powered Merlin engines because the high-performance Merlins were needed in fighters such as the Beaufighter, Mosquito, and Supermarine Spitfire. The first Mk III flew in July 1943 using four Hercules XVI engines and a three-blade de Havilland metal propeller. These improvements allowed the Halifax to operate against targets previously thought to be too risky. A total of 2,091 Mk IIIs were manufactured.

The Halifax lived on in several further versions. The Mk IV was a model that was projected but ultimately not built except as a conversion. The Mk V (904 built) had new Dowty units for the hydraulic system, and most of these aircraft had four-blade propellers. The Mk VI (557 built) first flew in October 1944. It was an improved version of the Mk IV with Hercules 100 radial engines. The final Halifax, the Mk VII (193 built) used the Hercules XVI radial engine instead of the Hercules 100 in the Mk VI due to supply shortages. The Mk VIIs found homes with French and Polish squadrons.

More than 6,000 Halifaxes came off the assembly lines of Handley Page and other companies sharing in the production. At the height of Britain's bomber offensive against Germany, the Halifax comprised 40 percent of the strength of the RAF Bomber Command.

Halifax Bomber Characteristics

ArmamentNine .303-inch trainable forward-firing machine guns (1 Vickers K in nose, 4 Browning in dorsal turret, 4 Browning in tail turret)
Crew7
Normal bomb load14,500 lbs
EnginesFour Bristol Hercules XVI radial piston 1,615 hp engines
Maximum speed309 mph
Cruising speed215 mph
Range1,985 miles with 7,000 lb bombload, 1,260 miles with maximum bomb load
Ceiling22,000 ft
Wing Span104 ft 2 in
Length71 ft 7 in
Height20 ft 9 in
Weight38,240 lbs empty, 65,000 lbs maximum

Note: Characteristics vary slightly with the Halifax Mark variant, manufacturing site, and date.

Handley Page Halifax bomber in flight from 1664 Heavy Conversion Unit during WW II wartime operations.  Photo:  Government of Canada Department of National Defence
Handley Page Halifax bomber in flight from 1664 Heavy Conversion Unit during WW II wartime operations. Photo: Government of Canada Department of National Defence.

Handley Page Halifax bomber in flight.  Photo:  Royal Air Force
Handley Page Halifax bomber in flight. Photo: Royal Air Force.

Recommended Books about the Halifax Bomber

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