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Vickers Wellesley, 76 Sqdn, April, 1937


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       The Vickers Wellesley is a striking aeroplane. Its unique appearance arrests the eye. Ungainly as its fuselage may seem, the Wellesley's great spread of wing lends its appearance the air of a sailing bird. A novel construction method which achieved great strength with light weight allowed that wide span, which enabled the Wellesley to carry a similar load of bombs to that of its twin-engined contemporary, the original Whitley with its two Tiger radials, and to do so at higher speed with a quicker rate of climb.
      Accounts of the Wellesley often emphasize its being predecessor to the famously successful twin-engine Wellington (which was constructed in the same novel manner as the Wellesley). Frequently they include some detail on the Long Range Development Flight's achievements during 1938 with modified Wellesleys (quite impressive achievements, too), and treat the Wellesley's wartime use in the Ethiopian campaigns (both picturesque and valuable) as the one notable passage of its service career. How prominently the Wellesley featured in the opening stages of 'Scheme F', the 1936 Air Ministry program for expanding and re-equipping the Royal Air Force (during which Bomber Command itself was formed), gets little mention.

 

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      Vickers began work towards the prototype which became the Wellesley in the spring of 1932. The monoplane was built in tandem with a biplane prototype Vickers was building to an Air Ministry contract, intended to meet a recent specification for a new 'general purpose' aeroplane. The rear fuselage of the biplane, and the entire structure of the monoplane, was built of curved aluminum formers arranged in a basket-weave on geodetic lines, a form of construction pioneered by the legendary Barnes Wallis, who had employed it in building an airship, and now had set himself to adapt the technique to aeroplane design.
      The monoplane prototype first flew in June of 1935, shortly after Vickers had received a production contract for 150 of its new 'general purpose' biplanes. The monoplane's superiority was immediately evident. Using the same engine as the production biplane would use, the monoplane was some thirty percent faster, carried a greater load, and flew better at high altitudes. Throughout the summer Vickers lobbied the Air Ministry to purchase the monoplane instead of the biplane, and in September, the contract for 150 biplanes was changed to one for 96 monoplanes.

 

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      Vickers faced challenges in fulfilling this contract. The formers with which the prototype Wallis monoplane was constructed had been bent to shape on rudimentary hand-operated machinery, quite inadequate for mass production. The Air Ministry deemed unsuitable for future service use not only the open cockpits provided for the monoplane's crew of two, but also its manually retracted landing gear. While Vickers designed and constructed the powered machinery needed to manufacture the aeroplane in quantity, the existing prototype was fitted out with enclosed accommodation for both pilot and wireless operator, and a hydraulic system for the undercarriage was installed. As Wallis thought it ill-advised to put a gap in his geodetic structures, a streamlined pannier was slung under each wing to carry bombs. In July of 1936, this production standard Wellesley prototype was exhibited to King Edward VIII, along with examples of other new types, in a well publicized event meant to herald what great improvements were coming for England's air power.

 

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      The Wellesley's entry onto squadron service with No. 76 Squadron was attended by some fanfare. 76 Squadron was an expansion unit, formed from B Flight of 7 Squadron. At the formal establishment of No. 76 on April 12, 1937, a photographer from Vickers recorded the new unit's aircrew lined up before their new modern bombers. Later that year, when the newly coronated King George VI toured aircraft factories for a newsreel, so the public could see that building a larger, fully modern Royal Air Force was solidly underway, the monarch's inspection of  Vickers' production line for the Wellesley featured prominently. By year's end, three newly formed squadrons (76, 77, and 148) as well as two standing squadrons (35 and 207) were equipped with the Wellesley, giving it a presence in Bomber Command equal to that of the Blenheim twin-engine bomber, which had entered squadron service shortly before the Wellesley.

 

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      This parity did not persist. The Wellesley proved to be a poor fit with Bomber Command. When Wellesley production began, the aeroplane had been able to carry a heavy bomber's load at a light bomber's speed. But the twin-engined Blenheim was faster, and so was the new single-engined Fairey Battle. Improvements to the Whitley heavy bomber were increasing the weight of bombs it could carry past what the Wellesley could. Further, three crew members were really required for Bomber Command operations, and since the Wellesley as produced had accommodation for only for a pilot and a wireless operator/gunner, a station had to be improvised in the fuselage between the cockpits for the necessary navigator/bomb-aimer.
      With Vickers beginning production of the twin-engined Wellington as 1937 drew to a close, it was decided to retire the Wellesley from Bomber Command, and employ it instead in the Near East and East Africa. Between March and November of 1938, four Bomber Command squadrons relinquished their Wellesleys, recieving instead Whitleys or Battles or, in one case, biplane Heyford heavy bombers (this latter as a stop-gap pending arrival of Wellingtons). No. 76 Squadron, the first to be equipped with the Wellesley, carried on with them till April, 1939, when the unit received twin-engine Handley-Page Hampden bombers.

 

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      RAF units overseas on colonial stations were at the start of 1938 almost exclusively equipped with biplanes. Biplane 'general purpose' types like the older Vickers Vincent and Fairey Gordon were still adequate for the 'Air Control' policing duties which had been the principal business of the RAF since the Great War. They were, however, quite unsuited for operations against a major power's air arm. With Italy established now not just in Libya but Abyssinia as well, the Wellesley represented (as events were to prove) a great increase in the military effectiveness of the RAF in the Near East and East Africa.

 

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      At the end of November, 1938, 45 Squadron at Helwan in Egypt began exchanging its biplane Vickers Vincents for the new monoplane. 14 Squadron at Amman in Trans-Jordan, equipped with Fairey Gordon biplanes, began receiving Wellesleys early in 1939, while engaged in operations against the Arab Revolt in Mandatory Palestine. By April No. 14 Sqdn was fully equipped with the monoplane. In June, 223 Squadron at Nairobi in Kenya began replacing its Vincents with Wellesleys, and 47 Squadron at Khartoum in the Sudan began to add Wellesleys to its collection of Vincents and Gordons. This last unit received reconditioned Wellesleys retired from Bomber Command, the others received new machines from a second production run of 80 aircraft.
      During the summer of 1939, No. 45 Squadron re-equipped with Blenheims but the other three squadrons continued operating Wellesleys, frequently in widely detached flights, on 'Air Control' policing duties. 223 Sqdn joined 47 Sqdn in the Sudan, while 14 Sqdn operated in Egypt, over the Nile Delta and the frontier with Libya. Shortly before war with Italy commenced, this latter unit joined the others in the Sudan, to create an aerial striking force that was, by local standards, quite powerful, and would prove extremely useful in the campaigns which defeated Italian forces in Ethiopia.

 

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      This model represents Wellesley K7718, as it appeared in service with the newly-established No. 76 Squadron in April, 1937. This machine was the sixth Wellesley built, and the fourth to be delivered to an operational unit. It was received before 76 Sqdn was formally established, and so for a space was, on paper, carried as being on charge of B Flight in No. 7 Sqdn. Wellesley K7718 was subsequently employed by 148 Sqdn, from which unit it was retired in November, 1938, when No. 148 went over to twin engine biplane Heyfords in preparation for Wellingtons. When war commenced with Nazi Germany, Wellesley K7718 was part of a shipment of five Wellesleys being dispatched to Egypt aboard the S.S. Rio Clara. The vessel was sunk in the Bay of Biscay on September 6, 1939, by a U-boat.

 

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      The model is built from the old Matchbox Wellesley in 1/72 scale. As K7718 does not have the bomb panniers fitted in its April 12 photograph, I have omitted them. I made no attempt at detailing in this build, though I did put in the prominent headrest for the pilot. I may have erred by making solid everything behind the pilot --- there may have been an opening there, as there was behind the pilot on the Vincent, for the 'third man' to poke his head up through for some light. I found the Matchbox Wellesley a nice, enjoyable kit. Just about everything fit well, including the joint of the 'service' nose pieces to the fuselage halves. Putting the engine itself on takes a little care. The rear canopy is a poor fit closed, being a hair undersized in consequence of its being able to be set either open or closed. If I had realized this at the start, I would have shimmed in the opening's edges a bit, and saved myself a lot of time and fiddly effort. Kit decals did very well, and it was possible to easily contrive K7718 from the serials of the two possible subjects on the sheet. Wife made the squadron marking decals. The numeral was printed against a background matched to the ModelMaster Dark Green and Dark Earth (cut with Future) that was brushed on for the overall finish, and given a spray of Tamiya matte.

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16 hours ago, Buzby061 said:

Nice work on that ugly duckling. 
 

Pete

 

Thank you, Sir.

 

It is an odd duck of a flying machine....

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Thanks, guys.

 

It is a  nice old kit. It could certainly be detailed, but I wanted to concentrate on getting it done, and on the finish overall. Figures are my reminder to myself when those are my goals. The pilot became Flying Officer Flathead, as he needed some sanding on his helmet for the canopy to go into place.

 

I would like to do the kit again (I have another), detailed with Falcon transparencies, as a 14 Sqdn machine pre-war.

 

One note --- the surface detail smooths down appreciably when brush-painted, and the paint is gone over with a 3000 grit sanding pad.

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Super model. The Matchbox kit seems to build well, noting your observations about the rear canopy. Interesting historical background too.

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13 hours ago, mark.au said:

All of that is great, model and write up, thanks for posting.

 

Glad you like it, Sir.

 

You have an exceedingly good site. I was bowled over at the link, and expect to be spending some time browsing there. First rate stuff!

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8 hours ago, Natter said:

Super model. The Matchbox kit seems to build well, noting your observations about the rear canopy. Interesting historical background too.

 

7 hours ago, Bedders said:

Lovely. Bookmarked for future ref.

 

Justin

 

Thanks, guys. It is a nice kit. I have not seen the Valom Wellesleys, but after their 'Airacuda' kit I would not expect much by way of trouble-free assembly and finish. It might prove easier to detail the Matchbox. I did have to touch up wing root and stabilizer root seams a little with some white glue for a fill.

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7 hours ago, stevehnz said:

Beautiful build OM, as good a Wellesley as I've seen I reckon. :)

Steve.

 

Thanks, Steve.

 

It's a good-looking machine, to my eyes anyway.

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  • 1 month later...

Your Wellesley looks great, OM, and that is a very comprehensive write up. It's an intriguing and engaging aircraft with a distinctive appearance, but I only got to know it because my dad flew in several. He was an Intelligence officer with 47 Squadron in 1939-40 in Sudan and took a number of shots of them on the ground and in the air. He flew as a passenger in the airgunner seat on a number of occasions. Just a few shots here, there are a few more on Flickr.

 

L2696 of 47 Sqn, stationed at Erkowit. Note the unpainted Vokes tropical air intake below the engine cowling.
49944528808_0aa771b610_o.jpg
k002 by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

 

Two unidentified Wellesleys with different fin flash designs, presumably of 223 Sqn in the distance and 47 Sqn closer.
49944528548_345e0db0a7_o.jpg
k020 by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

 

Flying above Kassala in Eastern Sudan, 10 Feb, 1940.
50921261663_b640e1e81b_o.jpg
k2_22_08 by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

 

K7747 of 223 Sqn, (Mk2 canopy and aerial) brought to rest and written off at Summit airbase, 12 June 1940.
49945029251_b556bcaf1c_o.jpg
k3_32_30 by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

 

An old Matchbox kit that I finished a few weeks ago. You're absolutely right about shimming the mount for the rear cockpit cover. If I do another I'll get that in and also use a black fine liner under the paint for the seams of the flaps. Humbrol matt paints brushed on. The pitot tube was predictably vulnerable! 
51094227558_30c9cd08db_o.jpg
IMGP0087a by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

 

It's been a long haul scanning my dad's negatives and I have had help over the years from a number of air historians on the data points - and it's still ongoing. Needless to say, many of the negs are in poor condition, but I am limiting my PS work to making them presentable, and hopefully useful. He used a wide range of small format cameras and films and I imagine these were all taken as strictly unofficial snapshots. Given your appreciation of the aircraft, I hope you like the shots. 😉

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8 hours ago, Sandeha Lynch said:

Your Wellesley looks great, OM, and that is a very comprehensive write up. It's an intriguing and engaging aircraft with a distinctive appearance, but I only got to know it because my dad flew in several. He was an Intelligence officer with 47 Squadron in 1939-40 in Sudan and took a number of shots of them on the ground and in the air. He flew as a passenger in the airgunner seat on a number of occasions. Just a few shots here, there are a few more on Flickr.

 

L2696 of 47 Sqn, stationed at Erkowit. Note the unpainted Vokes tropical air intake below the engine cowling.
49944528808_0aa771b610_o.jpg
k002 by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

 

Two unidentified Wellesleys with different fin flash designs, presumably of 223 Sqn in the distance and 47 Sqn closer.
49944528548_345e0db0a7_o.jpg
k020 by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

 

Flying above Kassala in Eastern Sudan, 10 Feb, 1940.
50921261663_b640e1e81b_o.jpg
k2_22_08 by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

 

K7747 of 223 Sqn, (Mk2 canopy and aerial) brought to rest and written off at Summit airbase, 12 June 1940.
49945029251_b556bcaf1c_o.jpg
k3_32_30 by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

 

An old Matchbox kit that I finished a few weeks ago. You're absolutely right about shimming the mount for the rear cockpit cover. If I do another I'll get that in and also use a black fine liner under the paint for the seams of the flaps. Humbrol matt paints brushed on. The pitot tube was predictably vulnerable! 
51094227558_30c9cd08db_o.jpg
IMGP0087a by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

 

It's been a long haul scanning my dad's negatives and I have had help over the years from a number of air historians on the data points - and it's still ongoing. Needless to say, many of the negs are in poor condition, but I am limiting my PS work to making them presentable, and hopefully useful. He used a wide range of small format cameras and films and I imagine these were all taken as strictly unofficial snapshots. Given your appreciation of the aircraft, I hope you like the shots. 😉

 

My thanks, Sir, and welcome to the forum!

 

That's quite a trove of pictures your dad snapped. It is good of you to share them. It looks like your dad got into a most interesting pitch doing his bit.

 

Your model looks very good. One of us is 'B-scheme', it looks like, but I've no idea which it is.

 

I've liked the Wellesley ever since first seeing it in a Putnam catalogue of RAF aircraft as a boy. Before I started looking for background towards a peacetime subject, I was surprised to find out how much publicity was devoted to the Wellesley in the early going of the RAF's modernization.

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On 4/5/2021 at 1:07 AM, Sandeha Lynch said:

I just took a look at the A and B scheme spray masks for a Wellington on Scalemates - and I couldn't tell them apart! Personally, I just used the box cover art and worked by eye.

 

This film clip of Wellesleys in flight is 'delightful' ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFIeRhysxRI

 

One is supposed to be a mirror image of the other, swapping sides and colors. Early on it was thought if machines all had the same camouflage pattern, that might stand out to an observer.

 

That's a nice compendium of the Wellesley's greatest hits. Thank you.

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On 4/5/2021 at 1:13 AM, invidia said:

Lovely looking model, I have a soft spot for old Matchbox kits,.

 

Thank you, Sir. I like them as well, particularly their biplanes. They kitted a lot machines you'd never expect to see a big company do.

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10 hours ago, Old Man said:

 

Thank you, Sir. I like them as well, particularly their biplanes. They kitted a lot machines you'd never expect to see a big company do.

i agree, the biplanes are lovely, have a number in the stash, and also they kitted some ready interesting stuff that no one else did is fantastic. and with a little work they all 'scrub'up really well.

 

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On 4/7/2021 at 1:09 AM, invidia said:

i agree, the biplanes are lovely, have a number in the stash, and also they kitted some ready interesting stuff that no one else did is fantastic. and with a little work they all 'scrub'up really well.

 

 

Something I don't think serious builders nowadays consider when contemplating the panel line 'trenches' sometimes featured on Matchbox kits is that most of these kits were put together by young people who brushed on enamel paint, and if the line was to be evident at all after that, it had to be somewhat exaggerated.

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Lovely build and an informative write up.

Thats quite a wing span !!

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Great job on that old kit, really nice work

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On 4/8/2021 at 6:42 AM, BerndM said:

Lovely build and an informative write up.

Thats quite a wing span !!

 

It is quite a spread, Sir. About the only thing I've seen come close is this:

 

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Wallis and the Vicker's engineer Pierson calculated such a high aspect ratio wing would have great aerodynamic advantages, especially at higher altitudes. Their calculations also showed if an attempt was made to construct such a wing with then-current techniques, these advantages would be forfeit either through great weight or great fragility. The geodetic structure Wallis pioneered was strong enough and light enough to build such a wing.

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