Handley Page Hampden Medium Bomber / Night Bomber / Maritime Patrol Aircraft
On the whole, the Handley Page Hampden offered limited value to the Allies during the early going of World War 2.
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In 1932, the British Air Ministry sent out Specification B.9/32 calling for a high performance, twin-engine, medium-class bomber. This led to three primary submissions being reviewed - the Bristol Type 131, the Vickers Crecy (to become the Vickers Wellington), and the Handley Page HP.52 (Hampden). The Handley Page design was ordered in prototype form and, when completed, recorded a first flight on June 21st, 1935. The design was thought well enough of that a production contract followed for Hampden Mk. I models and development eventually led to trials occurring in 1938. Production spanned from 1936 to 1941 with a total of 1,430 being built (some sources read 1,532).
The finalized Hampden product featured a slim, though deep, fuselage with stepped single-seat cockpit and heavily glazed nose section. The total crew complement numbered four and included the pilot, navigator/bombardier, and dedicated gunners (one of whom doubled as the radioman). The cockpit held a greenhouse-style canopy while additional glazed positions were found at the dorsal and ventral sections of the rear fuselage for the defensive machine gun emplacements. The Hampden was given a rather unique shape as interwar bombers go, featuring a thin tail unit extending aft to which was seated a twin vertical tail assembly at the extreme rear of the design. This stem allowed for both a dorsal and ventral gun position to be featured along the aft section of the fuselage - providing good views for the guns. The wing mainplanes were mid-mounted with each housing a radial piston engine along the leading edge while driving three-bladed propellers. The undercarriage was wheeled and wholly retractable while arranged in a tail-dragger configuration (giving the aircraft a pronounced "nose-up" attitude when on the ground).
Performance came from 2 x Bristol Pegasus XVIII 9-cylinder radial piston engines of 1,000 horsepower each. This supplied the airframe with a maximum speed of 250 miles per hour, a cruising speed of around 200 miles per hour, a range out to 1,720 miles, and a service ceiling of up to 19,000 feet. At one point, the original B.9/32 specification was revised to include use of the Rolls-Royce "Goshawk" V12 engine but this requirement was later dropped and just twenty of the engines were produced in all.
Defensive armament was entirely machine gun-based: 1 x 7.7mm Browning M1919 machine gun was set in a fixed, forward-firing position over the nose while another 7.7mm machine gun was set on a trainable mounting looking down from the lower nose windscreen. The dorsal and ventral aft positions each managed a single 7.7mm Vickers K machine gun - also on trainable mounts. All told, this was intended to provide maximum coverage against intercepting enemy fighters though wartime experience would show that the aircraft was truly under-gunned for daylight work. Also its machine guns were directed by hand and not power-assisted in any way.
Internally, the bomb bay could store up to 4,000 lb of conventional drop bombs or a single 18" torpedo (the latter for anti-ship work). The bomber also could disperse naval mines in place of conventional drop bombs. A stock of Hampden Mk I bombers were converted for the torpedo bomber role under the designation of "TB.Mk I".
By the end of 1938, several Royal Air Force (RAF)squadrons had formed around the Hampden Mk I. This meant that when Britain declared war on Germany in September of 1939, the Hampden was already on hand as part of the active Allied air campaign. More squadrons had also formed with this bomber by the time of the declaration to further bolster Hampden strength. However, the fighting that followed soon showcased the Hampden as a very limited weapons platform, particularly in daylight operations when unescorted by fighter protection. Losses mounted to intercepting German cannon-armed fighters and heavy fighters. It was this sort of result that spurred the RAF to take their bombing campaign to the night hours where the German response was restricted some. The Hampden formed a component of the nocturnal RAF bomber force while other heavies were used to continue the daytime pressure. The Hampden, while outclassed as a traditional daylight bomber, could still field a serviceable bomb load and performed admirably in the night bomber role when pressed.
Handley Page manufacture about 500 of its Hampdens while additional quantities stemmed from English Electric (adding 770 aircraft) and Canadian CAA (adding 160). Beyond the primary Mk I model was the short-lived Mk II (HP.62) which attempted to improve the series by introducing Wright "Cyclone" engines of 1,000 horsepower. However, only two Mk I models were converted to the Mk II standard and nothing more came of the program. Another engine installation project - this involving Napier "Dagger" VIII 24-cylinder inline types of 1,000 horsepower - produced 100 examples of the Handley Page "Hereford". However, persistent engine cooling problems led to this stock being converted back to the Hampden Mk I standard and used as bombers.
By August of 1942, the Hampden line had seen its best days behind it and was relegated to second line status. The final forms - these being TB.Mk I torpedo bombers - were released from service by December of 1943 which ended the wartime service career of the Hampden in full.
Beyond its service with the RAF, the line also stocked the inventories of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Soviet Union. A single Australian and New Zealand Hampden squadron was formed (No. 455 and No.489 respectively) while three Canadian units were arranged (Nos. 408, 415, 420 and 32 (Training)). Soviet Naval Aviation operated the bomber through squadron No.24 MTAP. The Swedish Air Force purchased a single Hampden (model HP.53 operated as the P.5) for evaluation but no further orders followed. This airframe ended its days as an avionics text platform for SAAB.