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Blackburn B-26 Botha

A twin-engine general reconnaissance and torpedo bomber that had a short operational service life.
Blackburn B-26 Botha first aircraft L6104 L6104 was the first Blackburn Botha to be built, flying at the end of 1938.

The Blackburn B-26 Botha was a high wing, twin-engine torpedo and general reconnaissance aircraft designed against Air Ministry Specification M.15/35 which also produced the Bristol Beaufort, both of which were ordered into production ‘from the drawing board’.


Power was provided by two 880hp Bristol Perseus X engines although later aircraft used the 930hp Perseus XA engine (the first aircraft so equipped being L6155). The Botha was of all metal construction and flush riveted throughout with production taking place at both Brough in the East Riding of Yorkshire (382) and at a new factory on the north banks of the Clyde at Dunbarton (200).


The first B-26 Botha (L6104) was flown for the first time on 26th December 1938 although when tested at A&AEE, it was criticised on several grounds, including lack of longitudinal stability. Additionally it was said to have poor elevator control and a high stalling speed with exhaust fumes entering the cockpit plus a number of 'other' issues.


Although the aircraft passed torpedo and mine-dropping tests, its overall poor performance led to a restricted issue to just 4 general reconnaissance squadrons rather than the torpedo bomber units as envisaged.


Blackburn B-26 Botha first aircraft camo L6104 The first Botha L6104 in service camouflage, showing the inset elevators initially fitted to this aircraft.


Subsequent production machines featured increased tailplane area and a larger, aerodynamically-balanced elevator which eased the problems but failed to eliminate the opinion that the Botha was underpowered and generally unstable.


The aircraft carried four crew (pilot, wireless operator, navigator and gunner) and was armed with a fixed forward firing Vickers machine gun and two Lewis MkIII guns in a power-operated dorsal turret. Offensive stores included one 18-inch torpedo or up to 2,000lb of bombs. The aircraft proved to be seriously underpowered at operational weights, with inadequate single-engine performance.


Blackburn B-26 Botha I L6507 An air-to-air photograph of Dumbarton-built Blackburn Botha I L6507.


The type eventually entered full operational service with only one Squadron (608 Sqn) based at Thornaby. It was used for North Sea reconnaissance patrols from June to November 1940 after which it was withdrawn from front-line service. It was subsequently relegated to Training Establishments in support of reconnaissance and bombing / navigation / gunnery training, with a few aircraft being used for communications and as target tugs.


At one point The School of General Reconnaissance at Squires Gate, Blackpool, had more than 100 Bothas on charge.


Blackburn B-26 Botha I L6244 compass swing Brough-built Blackburn B-26 Botha I L6244 on a compass-swinging trolley.


Most of the Botha fleet was withdrawn from service and scrapped in 1943 although No 11 Radio School at Hooton Park continued to use the type until April 1944. Their last aircraft (W5073) was not ferried away to be scrapped at Sherburn-in-Elmet until September 1944.


In service, the type was unpopular due to its high accident rate and of the 478 aircraft deployed on training duties, 169 were written off following accidents with 24 of these being ditched at sea following engine failure.


Blackburn B-26 Botha W5065 16 8 1941 Blackburn B-26 Botha I W5065 photographed in August 1941 around the time of its delivery to the RAF.



Powerplants Two 880hp Bristol Perseus X (or 930hp Perseus XA) engines
Span 59 ft 0 in
Maximum Weight 17,628 lb (Perseus X), 18,450 lb (Perseus XA)
Capacity and armament Four crew; One forward-firing Vickers gun, two Lewis guns in dorsal turret. One 18 inch torpedo or up to 2,000 lb bombs.
Maximum Speed 220 mph at 15,000 ft (Perseus XA)
Range 1,270 miles

Number built

Total of 580 aircraft (all Botha Mk I), production split between Brough (380) and Dumbarton (200).


No examples of the Blackburn B-26 Botha survive, most aircraft having been scrapped in 1943.

 Other information