Nicknamed the Wimpy the twin-engined Wellington would provide the backbone of Bomber Command during the first few years of the Second World War. With the introduction of the four engined heavy
bombers the Vickers Wellington would start to be replaced. Coastal Command would also use the type and post war service saw it used for training.
During September 1932 the Air Ministry issued Specification B.9/32 which required an aircraft with a range of 720 miles and a bomb load of 1,000lb. Vickers design, initially known as the
271 would compete with Handley Page's H.P. 52 design, which would also be ordered into production as the Hampden. Vickers entry would be built using the geodetic
construction method, which had first been used on the Vickers Wellesley, power would be supplied by a pair of Rolls-Royce Goshawk engines. This enabled a range of 2,800 miles and a bomb
load of 4,500lb. More than four times the amount called for in the specification.
The prototype Wellington was ready by May 1936 and featured the fin and rudder of a Supermarine Stranraer and instead of Rolls-Royce engines, a pair of 915-hp Bristol Pegasus engines were
installed. The 15th June 1936 would see Captain Joseph Summers at the controls as the new aircraft prototype made its maiden flight. Later that month, with the nose and tail cupolas of the
aircraft covered, the Wellington appeared at the RAF Display, Hendon on the 27th June 1936. This was followed two months later on the 15th August by an order for one hundred and eighty Wellington Mk Is by the
Air Ministry. These aircraft would be produced under a different Specification B.29/36, which required a more angular fuselage, the tail unit to be revised and hydraulic powered turrets
in the nose, ventral and tail positions.
Testing of the new aircraft was initially done by Vickers before being flown to Martlesham Heath so the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment could conduct official trials.
However as these trials concluded the prototype crashed on the 19th April 1937. The cause was found to be elevator overbalance in a high-speed dive. Despite this set back, development of
the Wellington continued and before the year was out, on the 23rd December 1937, the first production Mk I flew. Although originally fitted with the Bristol Pegasus X engine, April 1938
would see the 1,050-hp Pegasus XVIII engine become the engine of choice for Wellington Mk I aircraft produced.
Deliveries of the Royal Air Force's new bomber began on the 10th October 1938, with No. 99 Squadron, RAF Mildenhall the first to receive the new type, with a crew of up to six people, a
top speed of 245 mph and able to carry 4,500lb bombs over 1,200 miles, and by the time war broke out the following September a total of ten squadrons were equipped with the Wellington,
two of which were reserve squadrons. With larger main wheels and the landing gear strengthened the Mk IA appeared. This new version also had its Vickers turrets replaced with Nash and
Thompson ones. The Mk IC followed and this had its ventral turret removed in favour of either a Vickers 'K' or Browning machine-gun firing from the beam position on either side. The
Wellington's bomb bay was also strengthen to allow the use of a 4,000lb bomb. Just under one hundred and fifty Mk ICs would be used as torpedo-bombers.
With a pair of 1,145-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin X engines the Wellington Mk II appeared with a Mk I adapted to serve as the prototype. Making its maiden flight at Brooklands on the 3rd March
1939, this new version started to enter RAF service in October 1940.
Two Wellington Mk III prototypes were produced, the first was a converted Mk I fitted with Bristol Hercules HEISM engines, which made its maiden flight on the 19th May 1939, and the second
was a Mk IC designed to take the 1,425-hp Hercules III engine, which flew in January 1941. In the end neither of these two engines were used when the Mk III went into production, with the
1-590-hp Hercules XI used. A new rear FN.20A turret was introduced to the aircraft which had four 0.303-in machine-guns, which was twice the existing armament.
The Mk IV followed and this was powered by a pair of 1,050-hp Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp R-1830-S3C4-G engines, which had been ordered by France but not delivered and were consequently
available for use.
As a result of Vickers being asked to investigate whether a Wellington could be fitted with a pressurised cabin for use as a high-altitude bomber/pathfinder, the Mk V & VI would be
developed, at the same time, for this role. The Mk V would be powered by turbocharged Bristol Hercules VII engines and had a service ceiling of 36,800 ft, whilst the Mk VI was powered
by 1,600-hp Merlin 60 engines and its service ceiling was 1,700 ft higher at 38,500 ft. Both aircraft featured a FN.20A turret positioned in the tail that could be remotely controlled.
It was to be the Mk VI that was the preferred of the two, but only sixty four would be built, four of which served in the pathfinder role. However by this time the de Havilland Mosquito
was in service and was used in the role instead.
The next intended Wellington was the Mk VII which was to be powered by a pair of Merlin XX engines, but this only reached the prototype stage. In the end the sole example was used by
Rolls-Royce to develop their Merlin 60 engine.
Although Coastal Command had been using the type it wasn't until the production of the Mk GR.VIII that a variant of the Wellington was produced specifically for use within Coastal
Command. Based on the Wellington Mk IC the aircraft was fitted with Air-to-Surface Vessel Mk II radar and some versions would have a Leigh search light installed in the ventral
turret with the light operator positioned in the nose meaning this armament was removed.
The Wellington Mk X was the last bomber version built and also the most produced, with 3,803 rolling off the production line, with its roots in the Mk III the Mk X would be powered
by a pair of either 1,675-hp Bristol Hercules VI or Hercules XVI engines. As well as serving with Bomber Command some would serve with Operational Training Units, and post-war a number
would become T.10 crew trainers after conversion work undertaken by Boulton Paul. The Mk X would also provide the basis for the Wellington Mk GR.XI which would have the same engines as
the Mk X and would serve with Coastal Command. These would have ASV Mk II radar installed at first before ASV Mk III radar replaced it and this would also equip the 1,735-hp Hercules
XVII powered Mk GR.XII, which also featured a Leigh light.
The Wellington would immediately see action the day after the Second World War (1939 – 1945) broke out, when on the 4th September 1939, alongside the Bristol Blenheim, they carried out the first raids on
German territory by Bomber Command when they attacked German shipping at Brunsbuttel. The Wellington would operate during daylight as it was considered that by flying in tight formations
its fire power would make them able to fend off attack successfully. However early raids showed that the defensive armament of six 0.303-in machine-guns, two in each turret located in the
nose, ventral and tail positions were inadequate. As a result a gun was fitted in the beam position and the Wellington would now operate at night.
The Wellington would play a big part in Bomber Command's early wartime operations. Major operations for the type saw it take part in the first raid on Berlin, Germany on the 25th August 1940 and
drop the first 4,000lb 'Blockbuster' bomb on a raid over Emden, Germany on the 1st April 1941. At the height of its time with Bomber Command the Wellington made up 509 of the 1,046
aircraft for 'Operation Millennium' when Cologne, Germany was attacked on the 30th May 1942. By the end of 1942 the Wellington's time as a front line bomber was coming to an end as by now the four engined heavy bombers that
would form the backbone of Bomber Command from now on, the Avro Lancaster,
Handley Page Halifax and
Short Stirling, were now in service. The final time the Wellington would be used in major numbers by Bomber Command
was on the 8th October 1943. There was still No. 300 Squadron using the type as 1944 got underway but they were only allowed to lay mines and attack minor targets. No. 192
Squadron would also keep using the aircraft for intelligence gathering into 1945.
The type would also serve with Coastal Command, which lead to perhaps one of the more unusual aircraft of the war. Appearing in 1940 with a metal ring under the fuselage, with the idea to detonate
magnetic mines by use of a coil which created a field current.
As well as serving in Europe the Wellington would serve in the Middle East and Far East and would also be converted for transport and training duties. By the time the final Wellington,
a Mk X, was delivered on the 25th October 1945, 11,461 had been produced and the type would serve until 1953 training pilots and navigators.