Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF
|Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF|
|Type||Fighter / Bomber|
|Armament|| 5 x .30 cal Machine Guns (one in wing),|
1 x .30 cal Machine Gun tail gun,
145 kg bomb payload
|Crew||2 (Pilot, Gunner)|
The Blenheim Mk I light bomber, which entered operational service in 1937, was the basis for Mk IF (Fighter) variant and the subsequently improved Mk IV light bomber. Intended as a long-range fighter to supplement the short-legged Hurricane which was the main fighter type at this time, the Mk IF was fitted with four .303 Browning machineguns in a belly pack to give it a suitable punch. In addition a bomb rack was installed aft of the belly pack, capable of carrying eight 40 lb anti-personnel bombs. This installation was however not particularly successful as it upset the aircraft’s balance and its use was therefore curtailed.
By 1939, at least seven squadrons were operating the Mk IF and within a few months some 60 squadrons had experience of the type. While it was blindingly clear that the Mk IF could not stand up to dogfighting against single-engine fighters, it was to be useful as a long-range escort fighter and naval reconnaissance aircraft that could also perform intruder-type missions. As war broke out the Mk IF was the only reasonably potent UK-based fighter with the capability and range for missions over mainland Europe, and as ‘Blitzkrieg’ fell upon France and its neighbours Blenheim Mk IF crews were among the first to see action. As early as on the morning of May 10, the first day of the Battle of France, a solitary Blenheim IF of 600 (Auxiliary) Sqn based at Hendon was vectored to a position off the Belgian coast where it attacked half a dozen He-111 bombers, damaged two and returned to base with damaged hydraulics. Later on that same day six Mk IF Blenheims from the same squadron were engaged over The Hague against Ju-52 transports and He-111 bombers when they were jumped by twelve Bf-110 of III./ZG1, losing five aircraft in a brisk and onesided battle.
Big for a fighter, relatively unwieldy and possessing of few qualities to balance its drawbacks, the Blenheim Mk IF was largely unfit for fighter-vs-fighter combat and proved very vulnerable to light and medium FlaK (AA guns) too. It was moderately successful in the reconnaissance and interdiction role as long as enemy fighters did not show up, however, after suffering unbearable losses in daylight action it was rapidly withdrawn from combat and subsequently relegated to night fighter duties.
It is difficult to find a really useful role for the Blenheim Mk.IF because it is so dramatically disadvantaged in all critical aspects.
- It is big, meaning that it is easily seen and easily hit even from long range. When turning it shows a wide and vulnerable planform.
- It is underpowered and therefore slow, meaning that it cannot outrun any enemy aircraft except the Ju 52, nor does its acceleration inspire confidence.
- Because it is underpowered, it has a low rate of climb and cannot sustain prolonged engaged manoeuvring without becoming mired at stalling speed where it is all but helpless. It is entirely unfit for fighting in the vertical (going up), either for climbing contests or for simple aerobatics like the looping or cuban-8.
- It does not sustain a long dive very well, suffering a stiffness of controls that makes it virtually uncontrollable unless the pilot backs off the throttle and uses trim extensively.
- It does not roll very well at all on account of its size and weight, although it can perform a snap roll with some success.
- It does not turn very well except in a very narrow speed range near stall speed. This limited turning ability is its only saving grace. However, you can only turn hard for a limited time before you must stash up on new energy by relaxing stick pressure or trading altitude for speed, as the Mk IF will bleed energy quickly to the point of helplessness if held for too long in a flat turn. Turn radius can be improved somewhat by the use of combat flaps, though at a steep energy price.
- Its bomb load is the weakest of all WWIIOL:BE aircraft and only good against unarmored targets: patrol boats, closely packed infantry, trucks, guns and open-topped vehicles.
When setting out to do combat in the Mk IF you have to be very clear on the nature of your mission, and to what extent you can rely on passive or active support from friendly forces. Because the Mk IF is such a challenged airframe only the very best, the most audacious or the most unknowledgeable pilots tend to go aloft in her. For the consummate fighter pilot the Blenheim Mk IF represents the ugly duckling that may, by the grace of his masterful piloting, turn into a beautiful swan. For there is nothing quite so rewarding as going out in the most pitiful aircraft ever designed and return victoriously intact. Beginners however should stay well clear of the Mk IF, unless invited by an expert to serve as their air gunner in the dorsal turret – which by the way is an excellent way of earning rank and experience at the same time.
In the fighter-bomber role, the Mk IF is somewhat effective if it can be brought to action before enemy AA defences have been properly established – or if friendly fighters are at hand to help draw their attention. A single 40 lb bomb accurately placed will take out any gun or truck, and the four belly-pack guns are quite suitable for strafing. By operating in concert with friendly fighters or other Blenheims, the Mk IF does have the ability to shut down an enemy spawn point for a limited time – that is, until ammunition is expended or enemy air assets arrive.
If the Mk IF is brought to an area where air superiority is uncertain and enemy AA presence significant, it is best employed for quick surprise attacks from either very low or from medium altitude – get in, get out, and do not linger to watch the effects of your attack.
Prolonged stays in enemy-infested airspace is not recommended in the Mk IF. Because its highly visible profile draws fighters like flies to honey and because of its low speed and uninspiring manoeuvrability, it is cripplingly disadvantaged in fighter vs fighter combat. Its one and only chance lies in surprise attacks from superior position and altitude. If you have the patience to bring it up to such altitude, and to manoeuvre with cunning and foresight, you may execute a single high-speed attack before having to disengage completely. When you intend to use the Mk IF in the air superiority role, be sure to salvo your bombs early in the sortie as they add up to a lot of unwanted drag and weight.
In a desperate fight, which is all but unavoidable in this aircraft, the Mk IF can be somewhat effective against the Bf 110 as long as the latter commits to a horizontal turning fight near stall speed. The Mk IF can turn inside the Bf 110 but not match it in speed, climb or rate of roll. It is much the same against the Bf 109-E: if the bandit can be kept close and slow the Mk IF has some chance of producing an overshoot that is not so fast as to allow the bandit to draw out of guns range before the Mk IF pilot can bring his guns to bear. Because of its low thrust to weight ratio, the Mk IF must trade altitude for speed often in a close quarters fight, i.e. use low yo-yo’s to stash up on fresh energy. The astute pilot avoids radical vertical manoeuvres (going up) as the Mk IF does not handle very well in the purely vertical and easily stalls when coming around in the inverted state, such as in a looping or at the apex of a zoom climb pushed to the limit.
Because the Blenheim Mk IF is such a difficult aircraft to do well in you will earn maximum bragging rights when you do, and if you really wish to make a style statement, bring a force of three or four Mk IF’s to a fight – for sheer entertainment value there is little to compare, and you may even score a few easy kills while the enemy is gripped by the shock and awe of such a spectacle.
Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV
|Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV|
|Armament|| 2 x 7.5 mm Machine Guns,|
454 kg bomb payload
|Crew||3 (Pilot, Bombardier, Gunner)|
The Bristol Blenheim was first conceived as an executive passenger aircraft in the early 1930’s, and as it was somewhat faster than the RAF’s fastest fighter at that time the Air Ministry became interested and placed an order for 150 aircraft without further ado. The Blenheim's speed attracted great notice and led to the belief that Britain was armed with the best bomber in the world. This myth became self-perpetuating and soon two new production lines had to be set up as orders for 450 more aircraft followed in 1937. The snub-nosed Mk I was subsequently followed by versions Mk II, III and the most produced Mk IV, featuring a lengthened nose now with ample room for the bombardier, improved tankage giving twice the operational range, protective armour, self-sealing tanks and more powerful engines. The design was exported to numerous countries including Canada, Finland, Romania, Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia. Some 4,500 aircraft of all variants were produced.
The Blenheim served well if not heroically in the Battle of France, becoming the first aircraft to make reconnaissance and bombing raids into Germany. Although its performance and capacity for destruction fell far short of requirements it was nevertheless the primary tactical bomber in the RAF inventory and would have to bear the brunt of the fighting until other designs became available. The Blenheim suffered grievously by its general vulnerability, slow turn of speed and insufficient defensive armament, and lost heavily in encounters with enemy fighters and accurate FlaK (AA) fire. Following the retreat from France, Blenheims were engaged in low level strikes against German airfields in Occupied Europe, often incurring prohibitive losses out of all proportion to the bombing results. In August 1941, well after the type had been proved obsolescent, 54 Blenheims attacked and destroyed two power stations in Cologne, Germany, at the price of 12 aircraft and their crews.
The Blenheim Mk IV equipped 70 squadrons at its height of popularity, and continued to serve in the Middle and Far East until the last years of the war.
The Blenheim Mk IV is best regarded as a tactical attack aircraft rather than a pure level bomber on account of its low airspeed, small payload and vulnerable flight profile. Because the Blenheim (affectionately christened “Blen”) is highly vulnerable to ground fire in the 500 – 3000 ft altitude band, the most convenient altitude for impatient CAS pilots, it must increase its odds of survival by other means. This is all the more critical when air superiority hangs in the balance: if there are enemy fighters about, the Blenheim is only rivalled by the Ju 52 and C-47 in terms of attraction.
To be effective and avoid an untimely demise the Blenheim pilot must rely on speed and surprise. This is best created at very low altitude, below treetop level. When ingressing on the deck to a hot area, a small amount of protection from enemy fighters is afforded by blending into the landscape and by allowing friendly aircraft at somewhat higher altitude to bear the brunt of fighting. Coming in just over the treetops at full tilt, the Blenheim gives enemy AA gunners precious little time to react and train their guns properly – though slow, it is fast enough to offer a fleeting target. Bombing from such low altitude as 300 ft AGL (Above Ground Level) is both effective and exhilarating, however, this method works best against static or pre-reconnaitred targets and less so against targets of opportunity.
Learn how to use the Blenheim for low altitude bombing without using the bombsight
If friendly air superiority is established the Blenheim can be brought to the battle zone at 3000-6000 feet, and employed against targets of opportunity at shallow glide angles. Do not push the Blen into dives exceeding 30 degrees off the horizontal, as your bombs will not release. In this manner, the Blenheim picks up enough speed in the dive to minimize its stay within the AA gunner’s reach and offers a relatively small target too in comparison to a plodding and steady level bomb run. Remember to trim your aircraft nose heavy in the initial stage of the dive as you will have to switch to bombardier position (2) for bomb release. Down to the point of release you will want to fly a straight and steady path, using the pilot’s gunsight to line up the target. As you close to comfortable range, switch to bombardier and pickle your load, and then quickly switch back to the pilot to initiate evasive action.
During the climb to your march altitude it is generally wise to trim the aircraft to a steady state and occupy the dorsal gunner position so as to keep a good all-round lookout. The air gunner only has a single Vickers “K” machinegun with but a few drums of ammunition, quite insufficient as deterrent against enemy attack. If you perchance fly in a formation the collective volume of fire may be of some use, however, the Blenheim is a fragile craft better served by radical evasive action when under enemy attack. If there are prowling enemy fighters about, your best bet is to avoid the most predictable air lanes and to bring dedicated escort, though the latter is usually extremely hard to find.
The Blenheim can of course also employ its bombsight to deliver its payload with tolerable precision. If enemy ground fire is heavy this may be your only chance of survivable delivery, and as the gunsight is operated in the same fashion in the Douglas Havoc, you already know how to use it - or is well advised to learn how to operate it! Remember that you have two ordnance types onboard: 2 x 500 lb MC bombs in the internal bomb bay and 8 x 40 lb GP bombs mounted externally aft of the bomb bay. Punch (backspace) to switch between the two, while occupying the bombardier’s position.
In desperate straits against enemy fighters, the Blenheim has limited acrobatic capability and only a single forward firing rifle-caliber machinegun mounted in a singularly peculiar location: near the left wingtip. Its rate of fire is slow, its punch miniscule and because its line of fire is so far offset the line of sight you will find it very hard to get shots on target. It is however sufficient to score a kill if you can insert your bullets at precisely the correct place when an overconfident enemy fighter is caught struggling in front of you: aim for the engine and pilot, and you may just get lucky. When dogfighting in the Blen, remember to avoid radical nose up situations and keep your speed up – the Blen has rather worrying departure characteristics, meaning that if you get it to stall at low altitude, you will not have enough room to recover.
Find your instruments and controls in the Blenheim cockpit
|Air Units in Battleground Europe|
|Bf 109E-1 | Bf 109E-4 | Bf 109F-4 | Bf 109G-6/U4 | Bf 110C-4 | Bf 110C-4/B | Blenheim IF | Blenheim IV | C47 'Skytrain' | Dewoitine D.520 | Douglas DB-7 | Fw 190A-4 | Havoc Mk.I | Hawk 75 | Hawk 81 | Hawk 87 | Heinkel 111 | Hurricane Mk I | Hurricane Mk IIb | Hurricane Mk IIc | Junkers 52 | Junkers 87 'Stuka' | P-38 'Lightning' | P-39 | Spitfire Mk Ia | Spitfire Mk Ib | Spitfire Mk Vb | Spitfire Mk IXc|