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PRU Beaufighters


Seahawk
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In Prolile 137 Dick Ward has provided a side profile of a PRU blue Beaufighter Ic. The caption says it was of 2 PRU, Heliopolis, Egypt, in early 1942 and was one of 2 used for clandestine photographic missions over the Turkish coastline. The a/c has a Type B fuselage roundel, a Type A fin flash, a white code "B" aft of the roundel and a small (4"?) black serial on the fuselage just below the leading edge of the fin. The cupola has been modified to take a rear defence machine gun.

None of "Bristol Beaufighter" (Bingham), "Beaufighter At War", "Beaufighter" (both Chaz Bowyer) or the Warpaint on the Beaufighter mention these aircraft (or 2 PRU). However in Bristol Beaufighter (Scutts, Crowood) there's mention that 2 PRU, Heliopolis, despatched 2 stripped camera-equipped PRU blue Beaufighter Is, T3301 and T4705, to Luqa, Malta, on 29 December 1941, where they were taken on charge by 69 Sqn. T3301 was destroyed in a strafing attack on 7 February 1942 but T4705 was flown by Adrian Warburton on at least 43 sorties. It also says that 2 PRU had several Beaufighters on strength by April 1942. According to RAF Aircraft T1000-V9999 T4705 was eventually lost on 6 April 1942 during a PR mission to Crete. On the other hand it reckons T3301 serve with 272 and 252 Sqns and 201 Gp Comms Flt after its 2 PRU service.

"Photo Reconnaissance" (Brookes) says that 2 PRU's 3 PR Hurricanes were reinforced with a Beaufighter in August 1941, which was modified by removal of the guns and addition of 3 F24 cameras (p.120) and tells at length (pp.150-1) the story of Warburton detached from Luqa to Heliopolis to test the Baltimore as a PR a/c but instead returning to Luqa with a Beaufighter (presumably T4705) which he had had stripped of all armament and armour plate and fitted with vertical cameras in the fuselage.

Much as I respect Dick Ward, I prefer to work from photos. Is anyone aware of any photos of PRU Beaufighters in the Med or any details of what the camera fits looked like?

Nick

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Hi nick,

Here is a photo, with my correction, taken from Pictorial History of the Mediterranean Air War, Vol. 1, by Christopher Shores, Ian Allan, 1972, Photo 116.

PrBeau.jpg

And here is my interpretation of 'Phoo' in 1/32 scale.

img0003-2.jpg

I hope this may be of use to you.

Regards,

Glenn

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Glenn, thank you for the photo of the PRU Beau. I have been looking for one for a long time.

Forgive me, but I'm also interested in why you think that photo number 116 is a PRU Beau? Is it the fuselage roundel color? No disrespect intended.

Some additional information on the PRU Beaufighter. If you can find it, Warburton's War, by Tony Spooner has some interesting info.

p. 95

2 PRU had realized that it could not be truly effective with its three Hurricanes and had been looking for a replacement type with greater range. It had acquired a couple of Beaufighters and, unofficially, was in the process of having them stripped of their many guns and cannons, radio equipment (radio and bad weather landing aids) and even some armor plate in order to convert them into high-flying PRU machines. They were painted in Macphail's (2 PRU commander) special dark blue camoflage. The aircraft were being converted at Abbu Sueir and later a 7 MTU Geniofer. The officer who was looking after this modification was F/L R.G.M. Walker. He was Macphail's No.1 and the two 2 Beaufighters constituted T Flight with Johnny Walker as Flight Commander. Johnny Walker, although pleased to have been able to acquire the two Beaufighters has confessed that he was really trying to scrounge some American twin-engined B 25s - Mitchell bombers which had just started to arrive in the area. Walker and another experienced pilot, F/L Whelan had gotten the bugs out of the unit's highly personalized Beaufighters by the time that Warburton had arrived. Walker and Whelan had flown them on operations to Crete and other places. Crete was the unit's main concern.

p.96

The Beaufighters were equipped with three 20-inch lens cameras. These RAF cameras are large and when the two Beaus were first modified, it was not appreciated that they would have to find space for the large camera magazines as well. Consequently, some armour plate had to be removed as well. The author once heard Warby say that in all they had removed a ton and a half from this large and formidable twin engined fighter. Owing to its size, there was ample room in the Beaus for additional crew and it was decided that, for PR work, they should carry a skilled photographer. For one thing, the magazines would need to be changed in the air. It was also necessary to have the warm air directed to vital parts of the cameras. These operators were also invaluable as lookouts to warn of enemy fighters. .. three airman photo-mechanics were recruited: Corporal Liebert, the senior of the group, LAC Norman Shirley and, a little later, LAC Ron Hadden. Initially, it was Liebert who went whereever the Beaus went. The two special Beaufighters were also to become well known: T3301 and T4705.

Interestingly, they would not be the first Beaus that Warby tried to fly in Malta. He had repaired a Beau that had crashed on Malta on the way to Egypt and flew it one and a half times. He crashed on take off on the second flight. Fuselage letter Q, from photo in Warburton's War.

p. 99 ... Tony Powner. Tony tells that Warby's dark blue Beau was known a "Phoo."

p.100

T-Flight 2 PRU left Heliopolis bound for Malta on 29 Dec. 41. with Warby taking both Norman Shirley and his great friend LAC Hadden in T4705.

P. 106

... After Johnny Walker's arrival, Benjie White appears to have flown T3301 most of the time.

Jonny Walker, no doubt also flew sorties, but Warby monopolized T4705. For a short while, both Beaus lived charmed lives. However, on 26th January, Warby still recording casualties in his log book, records 'F/O White shot up and wounded.' This is apt to be the usual fate of any pilot who dared to fly in daylight. Johnny Walker also recalls White being hit in the eye with a splinter. Benjie White appears to have gotten away with this encounter with, most probably a Me109, quite lightly. Only twelve days later, having been promoted to a flight lieutenant (as was Warby himself in late January) White was again shot up by a Me109 while landing after a PR sortie. Both he and Norman Shirley, his camera crewman, were badly hit. Shirley displayed commendable bravery and cool thinking. He quenched two aircraft fires, and dragged out his wounded pilot. He also thought to retrieve the magazine with the camera shots before collapsing from his own considerable wounds. He had been hit in the body dangerously close to where men with family aspirations would not wish to be hit. The Beau was a write off and neither White nor Shirley flew again from Malta. As Johnny Walker was almost at once posted away, the result was that Warby and Beau T4705, with Corporal Liebert and LAC Hadden, was all that was left of 2 PRU in Malta.

When Warburton returned to Malta for a third time and was Squadron Leader of 69 Squadron in 1942\43, he flew at least one PR sortie in a Beaufighter. (p.142)

The left and right cannon bays were longitudinally separated by a fuselage spar, I believe, and would pose some problem for mounting the cameras. I wonder how they were mounted? Could the cameras have been mounted aft of the cannon bay?

I've read somewhere that 2 PRU had up to five Breaufighter at one time, so they must have had replacements for the original two.

Hope that this is of some use.

Grant

Edited by Gmat
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Gentlemen,

A very interesting thread indeed. I was not aware that there were any Beaufighters fitted out for PRU work, so I thank you for filling a gap in my Beaufighter knowledge. I am producing a master pattern for a generic 1/32 scale Beaufighter interior detail set, and therefore find this thread of interest.

Speculation time here. It is stated that three 20mm cameras were fitted. I am assuming that these would be pretty similar to the standard F.24 type cameras then in use with other PRU squadrons. I have a reasonable understanding of most Beaufighter interiors, and the logical place for the installation of these cameras would indeed be where the cannon would be. The logical arrangement of these cameras would be (to me) two oblique and one vertical. The Beaufighter - dependent upon mark - generally had two removable armour plate bulkheads (with doors). The four cannons, along with the ammunition magazine drums (ammunition tanks and feed mechanisms were only fitted to later marks of Beaufighter) would also require removal. Assuming that they removes all other non-essential equipement from the rear fuselage, then this would provide sufficient room for the cameras.

Again, assuming that two of the cameras are to be oblique, the aircraft gun bay door skin would have to be cut away to leave a large circular hole, or a smaller elliptical hole for the camera lens. As the cameras would be angled (15 or 35 degrees being typical angles), they would most likely be staggered. As for the vertical camera, aft of the rear equipment cradle would be a logical place. At this point, the fuselage floor stops in a step, with the rest of the rear fuselage continuing to the tail. This is also the area that the other armoured bulkhead is positioned (the other one is located at the rear wing spar). The equipment cradle contains the aircrew oxygen bottles - necessary for high altitude work. However, the cradle would be an encumberance, so it is possible that this was removed and the oxygen bottles relocated near the floor somewhere.

For camera heating, there is already an open ended heating duct to the observer's position along the right side of the fuselage, so it is likely that this was spliced and extended to provide camera heating at altitude (probably to keep the camera lens clear of frost). The observer's seat may also have been removed to make it easier to move between the cameras.

All of this is, of course, pure speculation, but is based a little on my knowledge of the Beaufighter interior, and a little on engineering common sense. Thank you for posting such an interesting thread - I may have to make one of these aircraft, as I am a fan of PRU aircraft. I really hope that someone has more photographs of these aircraft - especially the lower part, as it would be nice to confirm the theory.

Best regards

Derek

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My only suggestion is disagree with the likely installation of the cameras. In line with other installations, at least two of the cameras would be mounted vertically, at a slight angle, to give either a stereoscopic view that provided more information by being easier to analyse, or more simply to widen the strip photographed. I don't see the Beaufighter as being flown at low-level for oblique work - partly because it would be too big a target, and partly because such a camera would be visible in the photo, such cameras being normally mounted only to view to port.

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Derek,

Thank you for your very interesting comments.

After I posted my comments, I dug out my Hasegawa Beaufighter kit and what I thought was a fuselage spar was what you described as the armor plate bulkheads. So I was in error in thinking that it might be located further aft.

The three cameras had 20 inch lens, so the lens housing would be a bit longer. The cameras were rather large.

Best wishes,

Grant

PS. from p. 96.

The Beau was not designed as a high flying camera carrier. Lightened as it was, it was now capable of reaching great heights. In those rarified atmospheres, the air is extremely cold. As a result by the time that Crete was approached, the starboard engine had failed due to the oil system being frozen and the port engine was malfunctioning.

As you probably know, a split vertical camera system would have two cameras side by side angled toward each other and both shooting through a single opening in the bottom fuselage. the opening would be rather small, I think, usual for cameras with such a long focal length. A third camera would shoot vertically. (straight down) So there would probably be two openings for cameras.

Edited by Gmat
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Grant,

I meant 20", not 20mm (sorry) - hence my reference to the very similar F.24 camera. Thinking about it, I now agree with Graham, given the altitude at which these aircraft operated (I originally was thinking of the low level camera set up, which would be unsuitable in this case). As to which angle they would be inclined, I am not sure, so I do not know if the aircraft aperture holes would be staggered or parallel, or whether the cameras would be inclined inwards toward each other or away?

Steven,

The reason that the cameras are not set up on the centreline (or close to it) of the Beaufighter is because this particular aircraft has a torsion box structure running for over half the length of the fuselage. The floor of the Beaufighter, aft of the rear wing spar, has a diamond shape cut-out with the floor cut away either side of the torsion box. This is to allow direct access to the four 20mm Hispano cannons (the ammuntion drums on early aircraft had to be changed by hand). There is also a crew entry/escape hatch just aft of the observer's copula. I am not farmiliar with the structure of the Maryland (DB7) aircraft, but from your description, it sounds like the cameras are mounted immediately aft of the structural bomb bay area.

Regards

Derek

Edited by Derek B
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All

Some interesting stuff - facts and speculation - emerging here. Many thanks.

Some more thoughts/questions from me:

Glenn R: would be interested in hearing:

- why you are able to conclude categorically that your photo shows a PR Beaufighter. There's no visible serial and for my money we can't see from the angle whether or not radar aerials are present. To my mind the absence of a fin flash may argue for a non-standard camo scheme but I personally can't take it further than that. There was a flight of 89 Sqn nightfighters on Malta at the time.

- are the size, style and placement of the name PHOO on the nose of your model confirmed by photographic evidence? I'm assuming not.

Again, no disrespect intended: I'm just a humble seeker after truth.

Agree with Graham that a configuration of 2 cameras in parallel and 1 single is the most likely configuration, cf for example 3 PRU B-25s in the Far East (think I got that from Geoff Thomas's "Wings of the Phoenix"). NB that Brookes (see my post) was categorical about their being vertical.

Assuming Glenn's picture is of a PR Beau, what's the apparent slight distortion to the aircraft's underside just above the crouching groundcrewman's head?

The Crowood Beaufighter book reports the demise of T3301 on 7 Feb 1942 as at the hands of Oberfeldwebel Otto Gothe of 6/JG53 in a Bf 109 strafing attack. Gothe was shot down and killed by AA fire almost immedately afterwards.

Still no photos to corroborate the side view in the Profile. I wonder if Dick Ward was working from an oral or written description?

Nick

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Seahawk,

I looked at the bump and thought that it might be part of a camera window, but then thought that it looks more like the lower tip of the left door for the right main landing gear. But I don't know what the white dot could be.

Best wishes,

Grant

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  • 8 years later...
  • 11 months later...
On ‎5‎/‎13‎/‎2017 at 3:02 AM, Brad said:

Sorry about the thread resurrection, but I was curious if there had been any further information or photos found of these Beau's in the years past.

see here (two photos included) Not sure if they would be PRU blue as the tone seems to be too light

 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi All, My father was a photographer in No. 2 P.R.U. in WW2 and it is his photos that are shown above. I now believe that the two photos are of the same Beaufighter T3301 so it must have been repainted, on scheme lighter and one darker. I am very interested in anything to do with No. 2 P.R.U. so please share any details you may have.

 

 

Edited by Brian Spurr
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  • 3 years later...

Dear All,

 

I stumbled across DK Decals RAF & Commonwealth Beaus Pt.2*** which has a profile of what is ostensibly a 2 PRU blue Beau, and my interest having been piqued, I find myself here resurrecting this thread.

 

Does anyone have anything to add to the foregoing? I see Tony Spooner's Warburton's War, Christopher Shores Pictorial History of the Mediterranean Air War Vol.1 and Jerry Scutts' Bristol Beaufighter are mentioned - all are still available either new or second-hand and have been to my wish list for a while. I wonder if there are any more recent books that can shed light on this intriguing subject.

 

The subject of camouflage colour is of course of great interest: this is a modellers' forum, after all! The quote from Warburton's War that these Beaus were painted in MacPhail's 2 PRU special dark blue is intriguing - is this just a recollection or based on some firmer evidence. Would it be fair to say that 2 PRU's Hurricanes are slightly more well-documented? If so, it doesn't seem to be a huge leap to suppose that the Beaus would have been finished in the same shade.

 

Also, @Charlie Hugo, is there any chance of re-posting the photos you posted in May 2018? They don't seem to be viewable any more.

 

Any thoughts on this subject would be of great interest!

Cheers,

Mark

 

EDIT

***

http://DK72024.jpg

 

This particular version of DK 72024 seems to have been discontinued: the currently available version (check Red Roo Models) has mostly different schemes.

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Not sure if these will help,....

 

These have been obtained from various public sources and shared here for info purposes to help people out,...... as usual,.... any problems and I will simply delete them;  

 

2 PRU,.....

 

You`ve already seen this one thanks to Glenn;

 

 

Here are some others,.....

 

 

 

T3301 seen later....in a lighttr colour scheme,....note the later propellers too.  

It served with 2 PRU, 272. 252, 201 Gp CF,AHQ E Med. CF.

 

 

Cheers

          Tony

 

EDIT,.... I don`t know why I bother trying to help,..... I`ve had to delete them,..... again,..... sorry. 

 

Edited by tonyot
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Hi Tony,

 

that's brilliant, thanks - the additional photos are fascinating! The contrast between the camouflage colours and the roundels is interesting - one wonders if it is due to the type of film used.

 

With many thanks and kind regards,

 

Mark

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1 minute ago, 2996 Victor said:

Hi Tony,

 

that's brilliant, thanks - the additional photos are fascinating! The contrast between the camouflage colours and the roundels is interesting - one wonders if it is due to the type of film used.

 

With many thanks and kind regards,

 

Mark

No worries Mark,..... I would say that T3301 was later re painted into a lighter colour, as per many other PR aircraft in the Middle East,..... for dawn or twilight ops. Looks like a dirty off white or pink to me,..... it has also had later DH props fitted too. 

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