Handley Page Hampden in the United Kingdom, circa 1942 (RAAF Museum)
Country of origin:
Two 720 kw (965 hp) Bristol Pegasus XVIII nine-cylinder air-cooled radial engines
- Wingspan: 21.09 m (69 ft 2 in)
- Length: 16.32 m (53 ft 7 in)
- Height: 4.55 m (14 ft 11 in)
- Wing area: 62.1 m² (668 sq ft)
- Max speed at 4,206 m (13,800 ft): 397 km/h (247 mph)
- Normal cruising speed at 4,572 m (15,000 ft): 332 km/h (206 mph)
- Service ceiling: 5,791 m (19,000 ft)
- Time to 4,572 m (15,000 ft): 26.5 mins
- Range with max bomb load (including external bombs) at 322 km/h (200 mph): 1,127 km (700 miles)
- Range with max fuel with 907 kg (2,000 lb) bomb load at 332 km/h (206 mph): 2,768 km (1,720 miles)
- Empty weight: 5,789 kg (12,764 lb)
- Loaded weight: 10,206 kg (22,500 lb)
Known affectionately as ‘Flying Tadpole’, and ‘flying suitcase’, the Hampden was one of the mainstays of Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command in the early years of World War II. The Handley Page HP.52 Hampden had a crew of four, comprising a pilot; navigator/bomb aimer/nose gunner; wireless operator/dorsal gunner; and ventral gunner.
Designed by a team led by Mr G R Volkert to meet an Air Ministry requirement for a twin-engine bomber, the prototype (K4240) with Bristol Pegasus P.E.55(a) engines flew on 21 June 1936 from Radlett in Hertfordshire. Preliminary testing at Martlesham Heath in Ipswich revealed a maximum speed at 3,048 m (10,000 ft) of 394 km/h (245 mph).
In August 1936 an order was placed for 180 aircraft, and at the same time an order was placed for 100 to be built by Short and Harland at Belfast in Ireland, the latter to be fitted with 24 cylinder Napier Dagger engines. The second prototype (L7271) was demonstrated at Hendon in June 1937, this aircraft later being fitted with Napier Dagger VII engines, flying with these for the first time on 1 July 1937.
The first production aircraft went to the Aircraft & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AES) at Martlesham Heath, and the first unit equipped with the type was No 49 Squadron RAF. By September 1939 ten squadrons of Bomber Command were equipped. It saw extensive service during the early part of the war, and two Victoria Crosses (VCs) were won by members of Hampden crews.
Production of the Hampden by the parent company ceased in July 1940 after 500 aircraft had been delivered, being transferred to English Electric, which built 770, the last being completed on 15 March 1942.
The Hampden was also built in Canada. A total of 85 was completed with parts supplied by a number of companies, including Fleet Aircraft, National Steel Car, Ottawa Car Manufacturing, Canadian Vickers, Canadian Car & Foundry and Fairchild Aircraft. The aircraft were completed and test flown, then broken down, shipped to the United Kingdom, and assembled at Hooton Park near Liverpool. Two Hampdens (L4032 and X32115) were fitted with Wright Cyclone engines in case sufficient Pegasus engines were not available.
The Hampden continued in front-line service with Bomber Command until September 1942, at which time it was declared obsolete. During the first three years of the war the Hampden squadrons performed 465 day and 12,429 night operations. A total of 607 were lost, many on take-off or return from operational sorties.
A variant was the HP.52 Hereford, this being fitted with the Napier Dagger VIII engine, this being a 24 cylinder H-layout engine providing 712 kw (955 hp) at sea level. The first of this model (L7271) was the second prototype and was fitted out in Belfast. Most Herefords served with operational training units.
The Hampden was flown by Australian and New Zealand units in Europe. No 455 Squadron RAAF (Squadron code UB) and No 489 Squadron RNZAF (Squadron code XA) used their aircraft in torpedo bombing operations, being fitted with anti-surface vessel (ASV) radar with aerials attached to the nose.
In December 1941 it was decided to convert a number of aircraft to TB.1 configuration, this involving the installation of a torpedo mirror sight in the cockpit, extra armour plate and ASV radar. Trials at Gosport revealed, with a max weight of 10,660 kg (23,500 lb) with a torpedo, range was 3,154 km (1,960 miles). A total of 285 Hampdens was so modified, and two of the units that used this model were No 455 RAAF and No 489 RNZAF. The TB.1 model had its bomb bay lengthened to take an American (56.9 cm / 22.4 in) or British (45.7 cm / 18 in) torpedo and Nos 455 and 489 Squadrons were transferred to Coastal Command for operations with torpedoes.
First operational mission by No 455 Squadron was to Frankfurt, Germany in August 1941. One success was on 30 April 1943 when the Hampden of Sgt Freeth of No 455 Squadron sank the German submarine U-227 but it appears no-one received a decoration for this success.
In October 1942 the 32 aircraft of No 144 Squadron RAF and No 455 Squadron RAAF flew their aircraft to Vaenga near Murmansk in the Soviet Union where they were to carry out operations providing air cover for Convoy PQ.18, this convoy being amongst many providing essential armament and material to the Soviet military. However, a quarter of the force was lost on the ferry flight, only 23 reaching their destination. At that time it was thought the Kriegsmarine battleship ‘Tirpitz’ may attack the convoy and the Hampdens were provided to attack the battleship with torpedoes. In the event, the Convoy PQ.18 arrived safely and, after a short period, the aircraft were transferred to the Soviet North Fleet Air Force, being operated by the Third Squadron of the 24th MTAP (Anti-Shipping Wing).
Last Bomber Command sorties by Hampdens were made in September 1942 against Wilhelmshaven, but the torpedo equipped units lasted for a few more years. One Hampden was supplied to the Swedish Air Force in September 1938. This aircraft, known as the HP.53, fitted with Bristol Pegasus 24 engines, served with the Swedish Air Force until November 1945 when it was sold to SAAB and registered (SE-APD). It was used as a test-bed until November 1947. Sweden planned to build 70 aircraft under licence but this was prevented by the war.
The Hampden also saw service with No 489 Squadron RNZAF, the type being operated between February 1942 and November 1943 using the Squadron code XA. This unit was formed at Leuchars, St Andrews in Scotland with the Bristol Beaufort, which was later replaced by the Bristol Blenheim IV. It became a dedicated anti-submarine torpedo bomber in March 1942 making sorties to Trondheim Fjord in Norway. It later converted to the Bristol Beaufighter and by April 1944 had become part of the Anzac Strike Wing. Whilst operating the Hampden its home bases included Thorney Island, St Eval, Abbotsinch, Tain, Wick and Skitten in the United Kingdom.
One example of the Hampden was brought to Australia for the Australian War Memorial (AWM) as part of a proposed collection of World War II aircraft. This aircraft, a Hampden I (serial AE384 – Squadron Code UB-F), was initially operated by No 44 Squadron RAF, subsequently going to No 420 Squadron RCAF. Later it was converted to TB.1 (torpedo bomber) configuration and allotted to No 455 Squadron RAAF. On 17 March 1943 it was shipped to Australia on board the vessel ‘Sydney Star’ and was allotted to RAAF Fairbairn, Canberra, ACT for storage pending availability of space in the AWM. It is believed to have been assembled, although some reports indicated it remained in its transport crates. Whatever may be the case, it languished for several years until it, and other aircraft in storage for the museum, was eventually sold for scrap and broken up.
A few Hampdens have survived. One (P5436), built in Montreal, Canada, has been restored for static display from a number of wrecks and is part of the Canadian Museum of Flight at Langley Airport, British Columbia. Another project, using a wreck (AE436), has been proceeding at East Kirkby in Lincolnshire. This aircraft, operated by No 144 Squadron at the time of its loss, crashed in North Sweden in 1942. The rear fuselage of one has been placed on display at the RAF Museum at Hendon.
Following the recovery of a wreck in Russia (P1344), also a former No 144 Squadron aircraft which was recovered from a lake, restoration commenced at Cardington in Bedfordshire for the RAF Museum. This aircraft was recovered from a crash site on the Kola Peninsula in northern Russia. It crashed on the night of 4 / 5 September 1942 whilst on a ferry flight from Sumburgh to its new base on the Kola Peninsula. Work has continued at Cosford in Wolverhampton. By the end of 2016 the nose section was 75 per cent complete and work has continued.
A number of wrecks have survived at their crash sites, one being a No 455 Squadron aircraft (P5304) which crashed on 5 September 1942 into a mountain at Arvastuotter in Sweden. Parts of this aircraft were recovered and are being used in the restoration of AE436 at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby.