The Handley Page HALIFAX
A Short History.
Handley Page Halifax (Mk. I to VII)
The Halifax was second of Britains four-engined bombers to enter service
with the RAF in the second World War, and was the first RAF four-engined bomber
to drop bombs on Germany in an air-raid on Hamburg on the night of the 12-13 March 1941.
Along with the Lancaster, the Halifax shared the major burden of Bomber Command's
prolonged night offensive over Germany. Unlike the Lancaster, however, which was
used solely as a bomber during the war, the Halifax earned fame in other fields,
both as glider-tug with Airborne Forces and as a general reconnaisssance aircraft
with Coastal Command.
The first Halifax, (L7244) first flew at RAF Bicester on
25th October 1939.
Halifax L7244, 1940
The second Halifax, (L 7245) flew on 17th August 1940, and the first Halifax from the production line, (L 9485), flew on 11th October 1940. It was powered by four 1,280 hp Merlin X engines and had a top speed of 265 mph.
Halifax L7245, circa 1941
Within weeks of L9485 taking to the skies, the first Halifax squadron was formed. This was
No.35 Squadron, which received its first Halifax, at RAF Leeming in November 1940. It was soon being supplied by production aircraft, and on 5th December, 1940, No.35 Squadron moved to Linton-on-Ouse.
The first operational flight for the Halifax came on the night of 11/12th March 1941. Halifaxes of No.35 Squadron, L9486, L9488, L9489, L9490, L9493 and L9496,
attacked Le Havre.
The first daylight raid, on 30th June 1940, was an attack on Kiel. July saw an outstanding attack on the Scharnhorst at La Pallice. After a final attack on the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau in 1941, Halifaxes were finally withdrawn from daylight bombing.
Due to increased production of the Halifax in 1941, 12 squadrons in Yorkshire were fully equipped by the spring of 1942.
The Halifax Mk.I srs I, II and III were closely followed by the Halifax MK.II srs I, srs I (Special) and
srs IA. Although the Halifax MK.I had no mid-upper turret, the Mk.II srs I had a Boulton
Paul two-gun turret fitted, and the Merlin X engines were replaced by 1,390-hp. Merlin XX engines. The nose and tail turrets were kept as on the Mk.I, but the beam guns were removed, fuel capacity increased, making the total weight to go up to 60,000lb. The prototype Mk.II ((L 9515) first flew on 3rd July 1941 and the first production MK.II, (L9609), flew in September 1941.
Not long after being on operations, the Halifax II was improved further by the introduction of the Series I (Special).
The mid-upper turret and exhaust-damping equipment on the Series I had reduced it's performance, and the front turret was seldom used. Therefore, the Series I (Special) had a fairing fitted on the nose instead of the turret. The exhaust-dampers and mid-upper turret were also removed.
The Series Ia had a longer molded perspex nose fitted and this then became the standard. It also increasing fuselage length to 71 ft. 7in. As well as the new nose, a new mid-upper, Defiant type turret was fitted, the engine cowlings were re-designed and Merlin XXII engines, (1390-hp) were fitted giving an extra 20 mph on the cruising speed. A major change to the Halifax however, one which was to stay and cut down on Halifax losses, was the fitting of the large rectangular tail fins.
Inspite of all the changes and modifications that were happening to the Halifax, it didn't stop it getting involved in the action. The first Pathfinder Operations, (18-19/08/42, Flensburg), were carried out by No.35 Squadron.
Between March & July 1943, 2,339 sorties, (for a loss of 138), were carried out by Halifaxes over the Rhur.
Halifaxes, using H2S, (a 'blind bombing radar device'), took part in the 'infamous' Hamburg raid, (V 9977) was the first RAF aircraft to be fitted with H2S on 27th March 1942.
The Halifax then underwent a change of role from bomber to anti-submarine and meteorological reconnaissance duties with Coastal Command in Britain and Gibralter. This was at the end of 1942 and involved the Halifax II srs IA, which also went to No.58 Squadron at Holmesly South.
Named as the G.R.II srs I & IA, some of these aircraft had were unusual in that they had four-blade airscrews as well as a 0.50 gun in the nose.
They were followed in Coastal Command by a maritime version of the Halifax V which had the same type of undercarriage as the Lancaster and an additional 0.50 ventral gun. No.427 (Lion) Squadron based at Leeming also received the Halifax MK.V in 1943.
The next variant of the Halifax bomber to come off the production line was the Mk.III. A major difference to this aircraft was the fitting of the Hercules engine as opposed the the Merlin. In July 1943, HX226, the first MK.III to come off the production line, fitted with 1615-hp Hercules XVI engines, a retractable tail wheel and an H2s Scanner or ventral gun, made it's first flight. (Anyone with a picture of a MK.III with a ventral gun, PLEASE email me !!). Later MK.IIIs had extended wing-tips, a standard for all future Halifaxes, which increased the wing-span from 98ft 10in to 104ft 2in.
From September 1943, a new ruling came out, (due to increased losses on operations), restricting the Halifax to less 'hazardous' targets, this being overturned in February 1944 when the MK.III made it's appearance. At the peak of it's strength in 1944, Bomber Command had 26 Halifax Squadrons in operation, and it was with the invasion of France, (D-Day), that the Halifax finally returned to daylight ops., attacking German front-lines and V-1 'rocket' sites. A record, set by the Halifax and not even equalled by the Lancaster, was 33 enemy fighters destroyed in June1944.
The only V.C. awarded to a Halifax pilot went to P/O C. J. Barton, 578 Sqn, Burn, who brought home his badly damaged Halifax from a raid on Nuremberg on 30th March 1944.
P/O Barton crash-landed at Ryton Colliery, Northumberland and lost his life, but his crew survived. The aircraft
was Halifax III (LK 797). Memorials to P/O C.J. Barton can be seen on the site of Ryton Colliery and also in Selby Cathedral.
Although Halifaxes completed many missions during the war, the 'grandaddy' of them all was (LV 907), Friday 13th of No.158 Squadron, Lisset, which managed to survive with a total of 128 sorties. A full-size replica of "Friday 13th" can be seen in all it's glory at the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington, near York, in the UK.
As well as being involved with Bomber Command & Coastal Command, the Halifax was also used by the Airborne Forces. The Hamilcar glider could only be towed by the Halifax, the first flight being at Newmarket in February 1942. The 'Horsa' glider, as used in the Normandy & Arnheim operations and the final crossing of the Rhine, (towed by Halifaxes of course !), was also towed to South Norway in 'Operation Freshman', for the attack on the German heavy water plant installations, and also in the invasion of Sicily, towed from England to North Africa. Two other theatres in which the Halifax took part, although not many details are known, were with Special Duties Squadrons for the parachuting of agents, and the dropping of weapons to resistance fighters, and also as a radio counter-measure aircraft with 100 Group.
The Halifax MK.VI and MK.VII, produced at the end of the war, were the last of the bomber versions off the assemly lines. The first Halifax MK.VI, NP715, first flew on October 10th, 1944. The MK.VI had 1800-hp Hercules 100 engines fitted along with extra fuel capacity for longer range. As several Halifax MK.IIIs were already serving with South East Asia Command, the MK.VI had a pressurized fuel system and special carburettors fitted, ready for operations against the Japanese. Although similar to the MK.VI, the Halifax MK.VII had, due to an engine shortage, Hercules XVI engines fitted. These aircraft served mainly with the Canadian Squadrons and also with the 2 Fighting French Squadrons stationed at Elvington.
Another 'first' for the Halifax was its service in the Middle East, operating there with No.462 Squadron, which was made up of detachments from No.10 and No.76 Squadrons, stationed in Palestine, and it was the only British four-engined bomber in the Middle East to bomb the Africa Korps from Egypt.
On April 25th, 1945, the Halifax flew its last bombing operation of the war in an attack on gun emplacements on the Frisian Islands. (The 'last' wartime operation by an Halifax was a 'Special Duties Operation' from North Creake to Kiel, undertaken by 171 Sqn on 2nd May 1945). As soon as the war ended, the Halifax, in the its role as a bomber, was withdrawn from service, although it continued in its role with Coastal Command and with various transport squadrons as the A.VII. The final Halifax version produced was the A.XI.
Handley Page Halifax VIII and IX
Shortly before the end of the war, and until 1946, the Halifax C.VIII entered the R.A.F. All the turrets were removed, a freight pannier was fitted underneath the fuselage and accomodation was made for eleven passengers.
until 1946. It was characterized by a detachable pannier beneath the fusalage capable of
The initial flight of the first Halifax C.VIII (PP 217) was in June 1945. In later years, the C.VIII were converted into Haltons for civilian use.
The Halifax A.IX entered service with transport Command in 1946, replacing the earlier
A.III and A.VII. 30 A.IIIs & 234 A.VIIs were delivered to the R.A.F. Over 140 A.IXs were built, the last one being delivered on 20th November 1946.
The last Halifax in first-line service with the R.A.F. was a G.R.6 of
No.224 Squadron, which made its last sortie from Gibraltar on 17th March 1952.
Halifax VIII ('Red Eagle') of Eagle Aviation. Many Halifaxes had freight panniers added and were used by post-war 'fledgling' airlines.