Military Factory logo

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

United Kingdom (1937)

Detailing the development and operational history of the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Twin-Engine Heavy Bomber Aircraft.

 Entry last updated on 1/12/2018; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©

  Armstrong Whitworth Whitley  
Picture of Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Twin-Engine Heavy Bomber Aircraft

The ungainly Armstrong Whitley was nonetheless a workhorse performer for the Royal Air force during the span of 1937 to 1942.

Continuing in the tradition of ugly yet robust and reliable heavy bombers, the British Armstrong Whitworth Whitley was the heavy bomber of choice during the early war years and up through 1942. The massive unappealing design offered the Royal Air Force a versatile heavy hitter to damage the internal workings of the German war machine. Though obsolete by the war's mid-years, the Whitley would never the less fulfill the projected role it was designed for and provide the RAF with a much-needed offensive punch.

The Whitley began as a derivative of the A.W.23 transport/bomber design, with the first prototype Whitley flying in 1936. Operational models would follow by 1937 in the form of the first two marks - Mk I and Mk II - split between an initial order of 80 aircraft (34 and 46 respectively). Minor differences distinguished the two but more prominent was the use of varying powerplants - Tiger IX radial engines in the Mk I and Tiger VIII radial engines in the Mk II. The Mk I would nearly be removed from service in its entirety by the time aggression had broken out over Europe. The Mk III would appear shortly after the initial batch, introducing a ventral gun position that was retractable. The Mk IV would come along with differing radial powerplants of the Rolls-Royce brand. A subvariant of the Mk IV would appear with a newly-configured powered tail turret housing quad 7.7mm machine guns. The definitive bomber variant of the Whitley series would have to wait until the appearance of the Mk V model, to which the system would take on the brunt of high-level deep-strike bombing missions in enemy-held territory.
The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley design was a basic twin engine aircraft with a heavy bomber classification. One of the most identifiable features of the series lay in the interesting angled-down format of the nose and cockpit section, which in itself contained a very obvious protruding "chin" fixture. Crew accommodations amounted to five personnel positioned in various parts of the aircraft, manning systems or defensive weaponry. Standard armament of the Mk V model consisted of a single 7.7mm machine gun in a nose gunner position complimented by a 4 x 7.7mm machine gun array in a powered-turret assembly at the tail of the plane. The addition of this Nash & Thompson product offered up the removal of a retractable ventral gun position seen in earlier models. Internal bombload was limited to 7,000lbs of varying ordnance.

Whitley's, though becoming obviously outperformed and vulnerable to ever-improving enemy attack at day or night, plodded along as required in a frontline operational capacity up until early to mid 1942 - though production continue up until 1943. In the end, the Whitley would be replaced by the next generation of British and American-made bombers, designed to take on more in the way of long-range heavy strike and designed with better defensive capabilities in mind. Nevertheless, the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley would go down as a capable performer.
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk V Specifications
National Flag Graphic
United Kingdom
Year: 1937
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Type: Twin-Engine Heavy Bomber Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Armstrong Whitworth - UK
Production: 1,656
Supported Mission Types
Ground Attack
Close-Air Support
Airborne Early Warning
Electronic Warfare
Aerial Tanker
Passenger Industry
VIP Travel
Business Travel
Special Forces
Crew: 5
Length: 69.26 ft (21.11 m)
Width: 83.99 ft (25.60 m)
Height: 14.99 ft (4.57 m)
Empty Weight: 19,350 lb (8,777 kg)
MTOW: 33,501 lb (15,196 kg)

Installed Power
2 x Rolls-Royce Merlin X V-12 piston engines developing 1,145 horsepower each.

Standard Day Performance
Maximum Speed: 230 mph (370 kph; 200 kts)
Maximum Range: 1,501 mi (2,415 km; 1,304 nm)
Service Ceiling: 26,001 ft (7,925 m; 4.92 mi)
Rate-of-Climb: 937 ft/min (286 m/min)

1 x 7.7mm machine gun in nose turret
4 x 7.7mm machine guns in tail turret

Up to 7,000 lb of bombs held internally.

Operators List
United Kingdom

Series Model Variants
• A.W.23 - Armstrong Whitworth bomber/transport design on which the Whitley is based on.
• Mk I - Initial Production Version; powered by two Armstrong Siddeley Tiger IX radials generating 920hp each; 34 examples produced.
• Mk II - Fitted with Tiger VIII radial engines; 46 such produced.
• Mk III - Fitted with Tiger VIII radials; fitted with retractable ventral gun position; 60 produced.
• Mk IV - Powered by 2 x Rolls-Royce Merlin IV V-12 radial engines.
• Mk IVA - Fitted with Merlin X engines generating 1,145hp; featured Nash and Thompson power-operated four gun rear tail turret negating the need for the earlier retractable ventral gun position; 40 examples produced.
• Mk V - Main and Final Production Model; extended fuselage with straight leading wing edges; powered by Merlin X engines.

Supported Weapon Systems
Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition