Bristol Blenheim

Originally designed in response to a challenge by Lord Rothermere for a high-speed passenger aircraft, the Bristol Blenheim was a light bomber of the Royal Air Force. The design by the Bristol Aeroplane Company proved to be faster than cotemporary fighter aircraft, and so the RAF quickly issued a specification for a bomber version. Named Blenheim after the famous battle of 1704, the new bomber began to enter service in 1937.

Unlike the civilian version the Blenheim had the wing mounted mid-fuselage, to allow for the installation of a bomb bay. It was powered by Bristol’s own Mercury engine, and initially fitted with a pair of defensive machine guns – although many more would be added as the design was improved in later models. The original step-less cockpit design was later replaced by a lengthened nose which provided more room for the bombardier to work.

In the first weeks of the war Blenheims mounted attacks on targets in Germany, where it was discovered that the aircraft was already approaching obsolescence – it was extremely vulnerable to fighters and flak. During the Battle of Britain, Blenheims mounted raids on German airfields in occupied Europe with modest success, but it was clear that better bombers were needed. Several hundred Blenheims were converted to long-range fighters or night fighters.

Despite the bomber’s problems in Europe the RAF believed that it was perfectly adequate for operations against supposedly inferior Japanese aircraft. Blenheims therefore made up the majority of the RAF bomber force in Malaya when the war began in December 1941. However, Japanese fighters and flak proved just as capable of shooting down the Blenheim as those of the Germans, and most were destroyed in the first few days of the conflict.

Other squadrons based in Burma and India proved that the Blenheim could still operate with reasonable effectiveness, although as soon as better aircraft like the Bristol’s new Beaufort and Beaufighter became available they quickly replaced the older model.

Specifications:

Bristol Blenheim Mk I
RoleLight bomber
Crew
Powerplant2x Bristol Mercury VIII, 840hp
Speed200mph (cruise)
260mph (max)
Ceiling25,500ft
Range920 miles
Armament2x .303in machine guns
Ordnance1,000lb bombs
Dimensions39ft 9in (length)
56ft 4in (wingspan)
9ft 10in (height)
Wing Area469 sq.ft.
Weight8,100lb (empty)
12,500lb (gross)
Number produced1,443
In service withRAF
Bristol Blenheim Mk IF
RoleNight Fighter
Crew3
Powerplant2x Bristol Mercury VIII, 840hp
Speed266mph (max)
Ceiling27,260ft
Range1,450 miles
Armament7x .303in machine guns
Ordnance
Dimensions42ft 7in (length)
56ft 4in (wingspan)
9ft 10in (height)
Wing Area469 sq.ft.
Weight9,800lb (empty)
14,412lb (max)
Special EquipmentAI Mk III radar
In service withRAF
Bristol Blenheim Mk IV
RoleLight bomber
Crew3
Powerplant2x Bristol Mercury XV, 920hp
Speed266mph (max)
Ceiling27,260ft
Range1,460 miles
Armament4/5 .303in machine guns
Ordnance1,200lb bombs, 1 torpedo
Dimensions42ft 7in (length)
56ft 4in (wingspan)
9ft 10in (height)
Wing Area469 sq.ft.
Weight9,790lb (empty)
14,400lb (gross)
Number produced3,307
In service withRAF

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