The Armstrong Whitworth AW38 Whitley was a twin-engined cantilever monoplane with a retractable undercarriage, drawing on the design of the AW23 ‘bomber transport’, particularly in respect of the wing structure. It showed such sufficient promise that it was ordered ‘off the drawing board’ with the prototype (K4586) flying for the first time from Baginton Aerodrome on 17th March 1936. Power was initially provided by two Armstrong Siddeley Tiger IX engines with the Mk.II featuring by Armstrong Siddeley Tiger XI supercharged engines.
An initial order for 80 aircraft was placed comprising 40 Whitley Mk.1 and 40 Whitley Mk.II. After the first 34 aircraft had left the production line (split across the three Coventry Armstrong Whitworth facilities), the uprated supercharged Armstrong Siddeley Tiger VIII engines were fitted as standard on all marks.
The AW38 Whitley was already in service with the RAF at the outbreak of World War II and is probably the most important Armstrong Whitworth design to see operational service. It participated in the first bombing raid of the conflict in September 1939 and was only superceded in the role by the intoduction of the 'heavies' such as the Avro Lancaster.
The AW38 Whitley was used in widespread ‘leaflet raids’ and night bomber operations over Germany during the first half of the Second World War. Later, it also served as a glider tug and took part in delivering Horsa gliders during the Battle of Normandy and the D-Day landings. The AW38 Whitley was also used in support of clandestine operations to support resistance groups in occupied Europe, as well as taking on a maritime reconnaissance role with Coastal Command.
The aircraft was built in six main variants: Mk.I with 795 hp Tiger IX engines, Mk.II and Mk.III with 845 hp supercharged Tiger VIII engines, Mk.IV with 1,030 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin IV engines and Mk.V and Mk.VII with 1,145 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin X engines. The most important variant by far however, was the Mk.V and of which the Mk.VII was a variant specifically for anti-submarine warfare. It featured additional fuel capacity, ASV radar and an additional crew member (acting as radar operator). All up weight was progressively increased from 21,660 lb to 33,950 lb.
A total of 1,815 Whitley were built, made up of two prototypes, 34 Mk. I's, 46 Mk.II's, 80 Mk.III's, 40 Mk.IV's, 1,466 Mk.V's and 146 Mk.VII's.
The AW38 Whitley carried a five-man crew made up of pilot, navigator, nose gunner / bomb aimer, wireless operator and rear gunner. It took part in many night operations over Germany but was gradually withdrawn as more four engine bombers became available.
Its last Bomber Command raid took place in April 1942 although some training units took part in the 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne in May 1942.
Additionally in 1942, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) are known to have operated a fleet of 15 AW38 Whitley Mk V aircraft, converted into cargo freighters and operating at night between Gibraltar and Cyprus.
After what can only be described as an adventurous and varied career, the AW38 Whitley finally retired in 1945.
|Powerplant||Two 1,145 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin X engines|
|Span||84 ft 0 in|
|All up weight||33,500 lb|
|Capacity & Armament||5 crew, one 0.303 machine gun in nose turret, four Browning machine guns in tail turret. Maximum bomb load 7,000 lb (four 1,000 lb bombs in fuselage and three 500 lb bombs per side in wing cells.|
|Maximum Speed||230 mph at 16,400 ft|
|Cruising Speed||210 mph at 15,000 ft|
|Endurance / Range||1,500 miles|
Variants and Number built
|Prototypes||Two: K4586, K4857|
AW Whitley Mk.I
|Powered by 795 hp AS Tiger IX air-cooled radial engines.|
AW Whitley Mk.II
|Powered by 920 hp AS Tiger VIII engines.|
AW Whitley Mk.III
|Powered by AS Tiger VIII engines, retractable "dustbin" ventral turret fitted aft of the wing root with two .303 in machine guns, hydraulically operated bomb bay doors.|
AW Whitley Mk.IV
|Powered by 1,030 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin IV engines, increased fuel capacity.|
AW Whitley Mk.IVA
|Powered by 1,145 hp Merlin X engines.|
AW Whitley Mk.V
|Main production version, manually operated tail and ventral turrets replaced with a Nash & Thompson powered tail turret with four .303 in machine guns.|
AW Whitley Mk.VII
|For Coastal Command service with ASV radar fit sixth crew member, with for dorsal radar masts and under-wing antennae.|
There are no surviving Whitley aircraft.