Two firms were invited
to build prototypes of their design submissions. Handley Page submitted
their H.P.56 design and Avro submitted the Avro 679 Manchester
(Contract No. 624973/37/C4(c) of 30 april 1937. Avro Works Order No.
5667). Both prototypes were to use the new Roll-Royce Vulture "X" Type
24-cylinder engine then under development, with an expected rating of
around 2,000 hp (1492 kW) per unit. Handley Page had doubts that the
Vulture engine would emerge as a reliable production powerplant, and in
1937 set about the task of redesigning the H.P.56 to take four Bristol
Taurus engines, (soon changed to incorporate Rolls-Royce Merlins
instead), effectively withdrawing from the competition. A fateful
decision on the part of Handley Page, as the redesigned Handley Page
H.P.56 would lead to the development of the four engined H.P.57
Halifax, itself to become a rival to the Lancaster when the latter
eventually replaced the Manchester.
The Vulture was a very
complex engine, effectively two Rolls-Royce Peregrine (Kestrel)
12-cylinder engine blocks joined together (one inverted on top of the
other) with the lower pair being inverted to give an X-type arrangement
driving a single crankshaft and with an intricate lubricating system.
In reality the engines only produced between 1,480 - 1,500 hp (1104 -
1119 kW) and suffered from chronic overheating. Early hydraulic system
failures were also common but this was eventually traced to an oil leak
which fouled the undercarriage microswitches and was corrected.
The first of two
Manchester prototypes (L7246) flew on 25 July 1939 from Ringway Airport
piloted by Group Captain H.A. Brown. While only airborne for 17 minutes
It was long enough to realize that the Vulture engines were turning out
much less power than anticipated and wing loading made the aircraft
extremely difficult to fly. It was followed by the second (L7247) on 26
May 1940 (armed with a two-gun nose, tail and a ventral turret). On 1
July 1937 a production contract No. 648770/37/C4(c) was placed for 200
aircraft to meet another Air Ministry specification, P.19/37. This was
later increased to 400 aircraft, but in the end only 200 were built
before being replaced on production lines by the Lancaster.
Following flight trials
take-off's were found to be longer than excepted, and in order to
correct the problem the wing span was increased from 82 ft 2" (25.04 m)
to 90 ft 1 in (27.46 m). A lack of directional stability, which
indicated that the area of the tail fins was insufficient, was also
discovered and a central fin was added to supplement the small twin
fins and rudders. Later, after a number of Manchesters had been
delivered as Mk Is, the central fin was deleted and the twin fins
increased in area and in this form it became the Mk IA. The prototype
and first two production aircraft were delivered to the Armament
Experimental Establishment, Boscombe Down, for tests, while the second
prototype went to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough.
Even with the prototype
flying and flight trails proceeding, development of the aircraft was
far from complete. The Vulture engines continued to prove unreliable
averaging only 76 flying hours between engine failures, and in flight
ran extremely hot requiring the pilot to continuously nurse them.
Engine bearing failures, caused mainly from lack of oil circulation,
were also causing major problems. And much to the dismay of the Avro
Engineers, it was found that the aircraft was unable to maintain height
when flying on one engine while at heavier loaded weights. Prototype
L4246 having to make emergency landings in a convenient field on more
than one occasion during the trails. The Air Ministry too, were not
helping things, as they continued to revise to requirements of the
aircraft from those originally specified. Although, in most cases these
changes actually deleted requirements from the aircraft, most of these
initial requirements were already built into the aircraft and could not
be easily "designed out" again.
The first squadron
delivery was to No. 207 on 6 November 1940, which had reformed at
Waddington on 1 November 1940. The first operational sortie of the type
was made by six Manchesters (18 were on squadron strength) against
German Capital ships in Brest, on the night of 24/25 February 1941 when
they attacked the German cruiser Admiral Hipper with 500 lbs
(227 kg) armour-piercing bombs (12 per aircraft). Flak was moderate and
all the aircraft returned safely but L7284 crash landed at Waddington
when the hydraulic system failed. During this raid it was revealed that
the bomb-aimer did not have a good enough field of view to see where
his bombs hit.
By April, a second
squadron had formed on Manchesters, No. 97, and aircraft from both
units joined Bomber Command raids in the coming months, but continued
problems with the engines meant further groundings, and during one such
time, in April 1941, when all 40 aircraft were to have engine bearings
replaced, it was discovered that repeated overheating of the Vultures
was causing the oil to lose its viscosity in one-fifth of the expected
time. Other modifications were made to aircraft to allow carriage of
the new 4,000lb bombs.
During the summer of
1941, No. 61 Squadron became the third Manchester squadron, and the
first to receive a revised version featuring larger fins which cured
the poor handing of the earlier aircraft. As deliveries built up, other
squadrons became equipped with the new bomber, these included Nos. 49,
50, 57, 83, 106, 408 and 420, while No. 144 Squadron of RAF Coastal
Command received enough aircraft to form one flight.
The Manchester proved
to be a failure mainly because of the unreliability of the Vulture
engines and the inability of these powerplants to deliver their
designed power. Hydraulic system problems also plagued the aircraft.
There were also a number of airframe defects and it was with great
relief that squadrons began to relinquish their Manchesters from
mid-1942 as Lancasters began to replace them.
The last Bomber Command
Manchester operation took place on 25/26 June 1942 against Bremen, and
in the final tally it was found that the type had flown 1,269 sorties,
dropping 1885 tonnes (1,826 tons) of high explosive (HE), plus
incendiaries. Some 202 aircraft were built, of which about 77 aircraft
were lost on operations and 20 aircraft were written off in crashes,
with another 24 aircraft being lost on training flights with
non-operational units. At least 33 of the aircraft lost were due
directly to engine failures. However, on the credit side, the
Manchester paved the way for the Lancaster, and without the earlier
aircraft one must conjecture whether or not the RAF's finest bomber
would have seen the light of day. One Victoria Cross was awarded to
Flying Officer L. T. Manser, a Manchester pilot assigned to No. 50
Squadron for his actions on 30 May 1942.
Manchester's were to
continue in service with the RAF until June 24, 1942, when the last
squadron finally traded their aircraft in for a newer type. The
aircraft was then relegated to training purposes, where they remained
for a short period. Finally being totally removed from the RAF's
requirements before the war's end.
Manchester B.Mk I - Two
1,760 hp (1312 kW) Rolls-Royce Vulture I 24-cylinder X-form inline
Manchester B.Mk IA -
Two 1,760 hp (1312 kW) Rolls-Royce Vulture I 24-cylinder X-form inline
piston engines. The central fin was deleted and the twin fins were
enlarged to correct a problem with tail flutter.
Manchester B.Mk II -
The Rolls-Royce Vulture engines were proving wholly inadequate and
unreliable, resulting in three projects in order to correct the
problem. This was the first of the projected versions using two 2,240
hp (1671 kW) Napier Sabre "I" Type horizontal 24-cylinder four-stroke
sleeve-valve liquid-cooled piston engines with two-speed superchargers.
Manchester B.Mk IIA - A
projected version using two 2,520 hp (1880 kW) Bristol Centaurus XI
18-cylinder two-row sleeve-valve air-cooled radial engines with
two-speed superchargers. Not built.
Manchester B.Mk III - A
projected version using four Rolls-Royce Merlin X 12-cylinder
liquid-cooled engines each rated at 1,075 hp (802 kW) for take-off and
1,130 hp (843 kW) at 5,250 ft (1525 m) at 3,000 rpm. This was the first
of the projects completed. Using a Manchester B.Mk I airframe (Serial
BT308) and fitted with a new wing centre section of 102 ft (31.09 m),
into which the new engines were installed. The aircraft first flew on 9
January 1941 and it didn't take the designers long to see that they
created a truly remarkable aircraft. This four engine aircraft was so
successful that the twin-engined projects (Manchester B.Mk II & IIA)
were dropped. Later given the new designation Lancaster Prototype
BT308, the new "Lancaster" was ordered into production (using
unfinished Manchester airframes) as soon as the 200th Manchester
aircraft had been completed.
679 Manchester B.Mk IA)
Type: Six or
Seven Seat Medium Bomber
Pilot, Co-Pilot/Navigator, Bombardier/Nose Gunner, Wireless/Radio
Operator and 2 Gunners. A third dedicated gunner could be carried
depending on equipment and loadout.
Designer Roy Chadwick and Managing Director Roy Dobson of A. V. Roe
Aircraft Company Limited
Alexander V. Roe (Avro) Aircraft Company Limited based in Greengate,
Middleton (Chadderton), Manchester with plants in Newton Heath,
Manchester and Ivy Works, Failsworth, Lancashire. Prior to 1938, the
main plant was located in Newton Heath, but in the spring of 1939 the
company moved its main office to the new, much larger facility in
Greengate (157 aircraft built). In order to further expand production
capability, Metropolitan Vickers Limited of Trafford Park (contract No.
B108750/40/C4(a) January 1941 for 43 aircraft), Fairey Aviation Limited
of Hayes (Contract No. B108750/40 - none built) and Armstrong Whitworth
Limited of Coventry (Contract No. B108750/40 - none built) were also
contracted to build the Manchester.
1,760 hp (1312 kW) Rolls-Royce Vulture "I" 24-cylinder X-form inline
piston engines driving metal three-bladed de Havilland propellers. The
engine was actually created by joining two Rolls-Royce Peregrine
(Kestrel) 12-cylinder engine blocks together on a single crankcase with
the lower pair being inverted to give an X-type arrangement. In reality
the engines only produced between 1,480 - 1,500 hp (1104 - 1119 kW).
Maximum speed 265 mph (426 km/h) at 17,000 ft (5180 m); cruising speed
of 185 mph (298 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4570 m); service ceiling 19,200 ft
1,700 Imperial gallons (2060.26 US gallons or 7726 litres).
miles (2623 km) on internal fuel with a bombload of 8,100 lbs (3674 kg)
or 1,200 miles (1930 km) with maximum bombload of 10,350 lbs (4695 kg).
Weights & Loadings:
Empty 29,432 lbs (13350 kg) with a maximum designed take-off weight of
56,000 lbs (25401 kg). In use the maximum take-off weight never
exceeded 50,000 lbs (22680 kg).
90 ft 1 in (27.46 m); length 69 ft 4 in (21.13 m); height 19 ft 6 in
(5.94 m); wing area 1,137 sq ft (105.63 sq m).
A total of eight 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Browning machine-guns in nose,
dorsal and tail turrets. Early B.Mk I aircraft had a Frazer-Nash (Nash
and Thompson) F.N.25A belly "dustbin" turret or Frazer-Nash F.N.21A
ventral turret instead of a dorsal turret.
2 × 7.7 mm (0.303 in)
Browning trainable forward-firing machine-guns in the power-operated
Frazer-Nash F.N.5 nose turret with 1,000 rpg and a Mk III Reflector
2 × 7.7 mm (0.303 in)
Browning trainable machine-guns in the power-operated Frazer-Nash
F.N.7 dorsal turret with 1,000 rpg and a Mk III Reflector gunsight.
4 × 7.7 mm (0.303 in)
Browning trainable rearward-firing machine-guns in the power-operated
Frazer-Nash F.N.20A tail turret with 2,500 rpg and a Mk III Reflector
Disposable Ordnance: Up
to 10,350 lbs (4695 kg) of bombs and/or incendiaries.
2 × 18 in (457 mm)
4 × sea mines, or
4 × 2,000 lbs (907 kg)
12 × 500 lbs (227 kg)
2 × 4,000 lbs (1814
kg) bombs, or
1 × 4,000 lbs (1814
kg) bomb and 6 x 1,000 lbs (454 kg) bombs.
Manchester B.Mk I, B.Mk 1A, B.Mk II, B.Mk IIA, B.Mk III (Lancaster
Standard communications and navigation equipment.
flight (prototype L7246) 25 July 1939; first flight (prototype L7247)
26 May 1940; first service delivery (No. 207 Squadron RAF) 6 November
1940; end production November 1941; retired from service 24 June 1942.
United Kingdom (RAF), Canada (RCAF).
Squadron Nos. 9 (training only), 44, 49, 50, 57, 61, 83, 97, 106, 144
(one flight only) & 207. The RAF also operated two training units (No.
25 Operational Training Unit (Finningley) & No. 1485 Bombing & Gunnery
School). The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) operated two squadrons
Nos. 408 & 420.