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Westland Lysander

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Serving in France and Belgium at the outbreak of the Second World War the Lysander was soon phased out of front line service. This would not be the end of the Westland Lysander as it entered service with the Special Operations Executive and would be best remembered for this work.

Quick Facts
First flight
15th June 1936
Entered service
June 1938
Total built

Front view
Lysander front view photo
Side view
Lysander side view photo
Rear view
Lysander rear view photo

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 it's 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 it's 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 it's 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/air sea rescue role. However with the introduction of the Mk III, powered by either the 870-hp Bristol Mercury XX or XXX engine giving the plane a top speed of 212 mph, meaning the Mk III was the slowest Lysander version, and armament comprised four 0.303-in machine guns, two in the front and two in the rear, the Lysander found a new lease of life playing a vital role with the Special Operations Executive. Serving with Nos. 138 and 161 Squadrons the Lysander was used for clandestine operations in occupied Europe, including inserting agents in the field, its ability to take off and land in small spaces proving vital.

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 around 1,652 Westland Lysanders were produced and as well as the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm a number of other countries including Canada, France and Portugal used the aircraft.


Click on the aeroplane image to view a larger version.

Max Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
Lysander Mk I 219 mph 600 miles 26,000 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
500lb bombs
Lysander Mk II 230 mph 600 miles 26,000 ft three or four 0.303-in machine-guns
500lb bombs
Lysander Mk III 207 mph 600 miles 21,500 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
500lb bombs
P.12 Experimental aircraft.


Click on a photo to view a larger version.

On Display

(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

Variant Location
Lysander Mk IIIA Imperial War Museum, Duxford
Lysander Mk III Shuttleworth
Lysander Mk III Tangmere Military Aviation Museum

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