The Handley Page Type O was an early biplane bomber used by Britain during the First World War. At the time, it was the largest aircraft that had been built in the UK and one of the largest in the world. It was built in two major versions, the Handley Page O/100 (H.P.11) and Handley Page O/400 (H.P.12).
Development and design
As early as December 1914 during the First World War the Royal Navy's Director of the Air Department, Captain Murray Sueter requested "a bloody paralyser" of an aircraft from Frederick Handley Page for long-range bombing. The phrase had originated from a Commander Samson who had returned from the front.
Early drafts of coastal patrol models internally designated M/200 and MS/200 (for their 200 hp/150 kW engines), developed from the unbuilt Handley Page L/200, were discussed, but Seuter's technical advisor, Harris Booth, favoured a large seaplane for coastal patrol and dockyard defence, capable also of bombing the German High Seas Fleet at its base in Kiel, and a prototype (the AD Seaplane Type 1000) had already been commissioned from J Samuel White & Co. of Cowes.
Handley Page responded to the Navy's requirements with a biplane with a wingspan of 100 ft/30 m (the original source of the O/100 designation). The first prototype flew on 7 December 1915 and featured a glazed cockpit and armour sufficient to protect from rifle fire around the crew compartment and engines. The aircraft proved somewhat underpowered, so the glazing and armour were deleted on the second prototype that flew the following April and formed the basis for series production of the machine. A total of 46 of the O/100s were built.
The success of the type prompted the development of an uprated version with more powerful engines and other refinements, designated the O/400. First flying in 1918, over 400 were supplied before the Armistice. Another 107 were licence-built in the USA by the Standard Aircraft Corporation (out of a total order of 1,500 by the air corps). Forty-six out of an order for 50 were built by Clayton & Shuttleworth in Lincoln.
The first O/100s to be deployed to France were received by 7A Squadron of the RNAS's 5th Wing at Dunkirk in late 1916. Their first combat came on the night of March 16 1917 when a single aircraft was sent to bomb a railway junction at Moulins-lès-Metz. Initially, they were also used for daylight attacks, damaging a German destroyer on 23 April 1917, but the loss of an aircraft to fighter attack two days later resulted in a switch to exclusive night attacks, usually by single aircraft against German occupied Channel ports, railway targets and airfields. O/100s were also used for anti-U boat patrol off the mouth of the River Tees in September 1917, while a single O/100 was flown to Moudros on the Greek island of Lemnos, being used to carry out bombing raids on Constantinople.
The improved O/400 started to enter service in April 1918, gradually allowing the re-equipment of more squadrons, being used for both support for the ground forces on the Western Front, particlularly during the German Spring Offensive, and for strategic bombing under the control of the Independent Air Force. In service, the O/400s could carry a new 1,650 lb (750 kg) bomb and were deployed in force, with up to 40 aircraft participating in a raid. A single O/400 also served with 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps in the Middle East.
After the war, O/400s remained in British service until replaced by the Vickers Vimy towards the end of 1919. War-surplus aircraft were converted for civilian use in the UK and nine were used by Handley Page's pioneering airline, Handley Page Transport.
Six aircraft were assembled post-war for sale to Republican China under the designation O/7, principally for use as transports. These were delivered to China and re-assembled at Nanyuan near Beijing. The aircraft flew their first service, carrying both airmail and passengers, between Beijing and Tientsin on 7 May 1920. These services were disrupted by the outbreak of civil war, with the aircraft being taken over by various warlords. During the First Zhili-Fengtian War, O/7 bombers carried three 200 lb (90 kg) bombs, and played a significant role in the victory of the Zhili clique since the opposing Fengtian clique had only liaison and reconnaissance aircraft. During the Second Zhili-Fengtian War, O/7 bombers of the Fengtian clique carried a single 500 lb (230 kg) bomb and played an important role in the battle of Stone Gate Camp (Shi Mei Zhai, 石門寨) near Shanhai Pass on 19 October 1924: the O/7 bomber (piloted by a White Russian) dropped its single 500 lb (230 kg) bomb on the densely packed Zhili force on the ground, causing large casualties. Consequently, the enemy's morale collapsed, resulting in the Zhili clique losing the battle.
The legacy of the aircraft was such that for many years after the war, any large aircraft came to be called a "Handley Page" in Britain. Furthermore, the aircraft plays a prominent part in the short story Turnabout by William Faulkner; the story provides an insider's view of what it was like to fly the Type O in combat. The importance of the Type O to the company cannot be overestimated, establishing the firm as a maker of large multi-engine aircraft.
Prior to 1924, Handley Page used an alphabetical system for aircraft designations and thus, the Type O followed the Type M and Type N. Nevertheless, the Type O aircraft are very frequently misnamed as "Handley Page 0/100" and "0/400" in publications, the numeral "0" replacing the letter "O". Curiously, Handley Page had previously conspicuously avoided using the designation "Type I", presumably to avoid confusion with the numeral "1" but apparently neglected to consider that "O" would create a similar problem.
Data from The British Bomber since 1914
Published - July 2009
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