BOMBS OVER BREST
Scale Aircraft Modelling|October 2021
53 Sqn Blenheim at St Eval
Huw Morgan

Bristol Blenheim Mk IV

Kit No: A04061

Scale: 1/72

Type: Injection Moulded Plastic

Manufacturer: Airfix www.airfix.com

Blenheim in 53 Squadron Use

On a recommendation from the Editor, I recently read Terence O'Brien's book chasing after Danger, one man's diary account of being a pilot in World War II. Ranging from early life in the Solomon Islands, through the early years of the air war over Europe and then the Pacific, this is a moving, inspiring book, which offers some insight into the realities of air warfare. Some of the early passages deal with the visceral fear of daylight raids, unescorted, over northern France in the first months of the war, and when loss rates were shocking …

Deliveries of the Blenheim Mk IV to active service squadrons began in February 1939, among the early recipients being RAF 53 Sqn, then based at Odiham, receiving some of the first batch of sixty-eight airframes built at Filton (L4835 – L4902). With the outbreak of war, 53 Sqn was posted to France as part of the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force, initially in the reconnaissance role, based at Plivot, Poix and finally, Crécy. As the battlefield activity increased during 1940, the Blenheims began suffering serious losses, in the air and on the ground, and by mid-May, all the RAF Squadrons in the field were significantly diminished and exhausted. As the BEF was finally forced out of France through Dunkirk, the Blenheims continued their daylight harassment of the German forces, with losses continuing to climb. 53 Sqn was finally withdrawn back to the UK in late May 1940, continuing to mount raids across the channel before, in July 1941, being attached to RAF Coastal Command and moving to St Eval in Cornwall, from where they undertook anti-submarine and anti-shipping raids, including the famous raids on the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau while they were dry-docked in Brest. The unit converted to Lockheed Hudsons in late July 1941, ending their association with the Blenheim.

The Blenheim IV (Bristol Type 149) appears at first sight to be an obvious extension of the Blenheim I bomber programme, but in fact was conceived as fulfilling a separate role altogether, that of (sometimes armed) reconnaissance aircraft to specification 11/36, supplanting the Avro Anson, and bridging a gap until the delayed Bristol Beaufort became available. The subsequent availability of the Lockheed Hudson for the recon role did however mean that the Blenheim IV followed its sibling into the RAF Bomber Command and Coastal Command operational structure.

The short-nosed Blenheim Mk I had received considerable criticism for the impracticality of the bomb-aimer/navigator's position and a crucial aspect of the development of the Mk IV was an extended nose, which went through several iterations of shape before settling finally on the characteristic asymmetric cut-down profile ahead of the pilot, intended to improve forward vision. The Mk IV also received upgraded engines (900hp Mercury XV instead of Mercury VIII in the Mk I) and significantly increased internal fuel tankage to counter the previously poor range. The increased all-up weight led to another problem, however. As the aircraft was deemed unsafe to land fully laden a fuel dump system was installed, using prominent under-wing pipes.

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