The Handley Page V/1500 was a British night-flying heavy bomber built by Handley Page towards the end of the First World War. It was a large four-engined biplane, which resembled a larger version of Handley Page's earlier O/100 and O/400 bombers, intended to bomb Berlin from East Anglian airfields. The end of the war stopped the V/1500 being used against Germany, but a single aircraft was used to carry out the first flight from England to India, and later carried out a bombing raid on Kabul during the Third Anglo-Afghan War. It was colloquially known within the fledgling Royal Air Force as the "Super Handley".
Development and design
The V/1500 was produced to meet a British Air Board 1917 requirement for a large night bomber capable of reaching deeper into Germany than the Handley Page O/100 which had recently entered service, carrying a 3,000 lb (1,400 kg) bombload. This implied the ability to bomb Berlin from bases in East Anglia.
While the V/1500 had a similar fuselage to that of the O/100, it had longer-span, four-bay biplane wings and was powered by four 375 hp (280 kW) Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII engines mounted in two nacelles, so two engines were pulling in the conventional manner and two pushing, rather than the two Eagles of the smaller bomber. Construction was of wood and fabric materials. A relatively novel design feature was the gunner's position at the extreme rear of the fuselage, between the four fins.
Owing to pressure of work at Handley Page's Cricklewood factory, and to ensure security, the first prototype was constructed by Harland and Wolff at Belfast, Northern Ireland, being assembled at Cricklewood and first flying on 22 May 1918. Orders were placed with a number of companies (including Harland and Wolff, Beardmore, Handley Page, Grahame-White and Alliance Aircraft for a total of 210 V/1500s, although only 40 aircraft were completed, with a further 22 produced as spares.
Three aircraft were delivered to No. 166 Squadron at RAF Bircham Newton (Norfolk) during October 1918. The squadron commander did not get clear orders for his mission until November 8, due to debate at high level. A mission was scheduled for that night (bomb Berlin, fly on to Prague as the Austro-Hungarian forces had surrendered by then, refuel, re-arm, bomb Düsseldorf on the way back). No mission was flown - a technical expert insisted that all the engines on one aircraft be changed. The same happened the following day (but with a different aircraft). The three aircraft were about to taxi out after the second set of engine changes when an excited ground crew member ran out to stop them — the Armistice had just been declared.
One of the original batch of aircraft (J1936, Old Carthusian) went on to record two significant 'firsts'. On 13 December 1918, the bomber, flown by Major A.C.S. Maclaren and Captain Robert Halley, accompanied by Brigadier General N.D.K. McEwan, made the first ever 'through-flight' from England to India. Taking off from Britain the aircraft flew via Rome, Malta, Cairo, and Baghdad, finally reaching Karachi on 15 January 1919.
The same aircraft played a pivotal role in ending the Third Anglo-Afghan War. On 24 May 1919, flying from Risalpur piloted by Captain Halley and with Lt E. Villiers as observer, the V/1500 reached Kabul in three hours. Of its payload of four 112 lb (51 kg) bombs on improvised bomb racks removed from B.E.2cs and 16 20 lb (10 kg) bombs carried in the fuselage and dropped by hand, four bombs hit the royal palace. Although the bombing did little physical damage, it had a great psychological impact on the citizens - the ladies of the royal harem rushed onto the streets in terror, causing great scandal. A few days later King Amanullah sued for peace, bringing an end to the war after less than one month of hostilities. This could be said to be the first decisive use of strategic bombing..
Data from The British Bomber since 1914
Published - July 2009
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