Designed as an Army Co-operation aircraft the Lysander would serve in France and Belgium during the early months of the Second World War. After suffering heavy losses during the Battle of France
the type was phased out of front line service. Thanks to its short take-off and landing performance the Westland Lysander would serve with the Special Operations Executive and is best remembered
in this role.
The Air Ministry were looking to replace the aircraft used for co-operation and liaison, which at the time was the Hawker Hector, so in 1934 issued specification A.39/34. This
required an aircraft which had short take-off and landing requirements and could be used for a variety of roles including reconnaissance and bombing.
Westland submitted their design during June 1935 and a contract for two prototypes, designated P.8 by Westland, was awarded with the prototype undergoing taxying trials on the
10th June 1936 before its maiden flight on the 15th June 1936. This was followed by an appearance, before the month was out, at the SBAC Display at Hatfield. The new aircraft was then
sent to Martlesham Heath and the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment, which was based their, for handling evaluation on the 24th July 1936.
The second Lysander prototype made its maiden flight on the 11th December 1936, two months after one hundred and forty four production aircraft had been ordered, and like the first
this was sent to the A&AEE at Martlesham Heath. During 1938 the second prototype was to undergo tropical trials and was dispatched to No.5 Squadron who were based in India.
It was to be No. 16 Squadron, Old Sarum, who were the first to take delivery of the new plane, having their Hawker Audux, replaced, during June 1938. The following year saw deliveries
of the Lysander Mk I, which was powered by the 890-hp Bristol Mercury XII engine enabling a top speed of 219 mph, and when war broke out in September 1939 a total of seven Westland
Lysander squadrons were in service. However with the introduction of the Mk II Lysander a number of the Mk Is were sent overseas as the home-based squadrons started to receive the
upgraded aircraft which had a top speed of 230 mph thanks to its new 905-hp Bristol Perseus XII engines.
During 1940 four Lysander squadrons were sent to France but as the 'Phoney War' ended and the German attack began one of the squadrons was dispatched to Belgium, however between the 10th
and 23rd May eleven were lost both in the air and on the ground. Although there was limited success for the type including a No. 2 Squadron Lysander scoring victories over both a Henschel
Hs 126 and Junkers Ju 87 on the 22nd May 1940.
With the Allied forces retreating to Dunkirk the Lysander was sent back to the United Kingdom but made a few sorties to drop supplies, however on one such mission only two aircraft out
of a total of sixteen Lysanders and Hectors sent returned and in the eight months from the outbreak of war until May one hundred and eighteen of the type were lost along with one hundred
and twenty crew members. These heavy losses showed that without air superiority the type of operations that the Lysander was designed for could not be carried out. As a result the Curtiss
P-40 Kittyhawk started to replace the type.
Mainly used in the reconnaissance role overseas the Lysander also found itself used in the ground-attack role by No. 28 Squadron whilst they were based in Burma, but in March 1942 were
moved back to India and before the year was out were replaced by the Hawker Hurricane as the squadron became a fighter one. The types last action in first line service was in Burma with
No. 20 Squadron in late 1943.
It looked like the Lysander would suffer the fate of numerous other aircraft and fade out of service in the target tug or air sea rescue role. With the introduction of the Mk III, powered by either
the 870-hp Bristol Mercury XX or XXX engine, the Lysander found a new lease of life performing special duties. It would play a vital role with the Special Operations Executive performing clandestine
operations in occupied Europe, including inserting and picking up agents behind enemy lines, undertaking its first agent pick up for SOE on the 6th September 1941.
To serve in its new role with the Special Operations Executive the aircraft would undergo a number of modifications including being painted black, as it would now be operating at night, a ladder
fixed to the rear cockpit for quicker loading and unloading of passengers, an external fuel tank and rear armament removed. Later on the colours of the Lysander changed to a green and grey
camouflage on the top of the aircraft whilst the bottom remained black. Lysanders operating with SOE were designated Mk III (SD) or Mk IIIA (SD).
One of the most unusual Lysanders was the P.12 Lysander Delanne which had a turret installed and a twin tailed tandem wing which was to be used in the event of invasion of the UK, however
this never went past the prototype stage.
In total 1,652 aircraft were produced and as well as the Royal Air Force the Fleet Air Arm and a number of other countries including Canada, France and Portugal used the aircraft.