Vickers Wellington

The Vickers Wellington was a twin-engine, medium bomber designed in the mid-1930s at Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey, by Vickers-Armstrongs' Chief Designer, R.K. Pierson. It was widely used in the first two years of World War II, before being replaced as a bomber by much larger four-engine designs like the Avro Lancaster. The Wellington was popularly known as 'the Wimpy' by service personnel, after J. Wellington Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons.

Vickers Wellington B Mk IA
Vickers Wellington B Mk IA

The Wellington used a unique geodetic construction designed by the famous Barnes Wallis for airships and used to build the single-engined Vickers Wellesley bomber. The fuselage was built up from a number of steel channel-beams that were formed into a large network. This gave the plane tremendous strength because any one of the stringers could support some of the weight from even the opposite side of the plane. Blowing out one side's beams would still leave the plane as a whole intact. Wellingtons with huge holes cut out of them continued to return home when other planes would not have survived.

However, the construction system also have a distinct disadvantage, in that it took considerably longer to complete a Wellington than for other designs using monocoque construction techniques. Nevertheless, in the late 1930s Vickers succeeded in building Wellingtons at a rate of one per day at Weybridge and 50 per month at Chester. Peak wartime production in 1942 saw monthly rates of 70 achieved at Weybridge, 130 at Chester and 102 at Blackpool.

The Wellington went through a total of sixteen variants during its production life plus a further two training conversions after the war. The prototype serial K4049 designed to satisfy a ministry specification B.9/32, first flew as a Type 271 from Brooklands on 15 June1936 with J.Summers as pilot, initially the type was named Crecy. After many changes to the design, it was accepted on 15 August 1936 for production with the name Wellington. The first model was the Wellington Mk I, powered a pair of 1,050 hp (780 kW) Bristol Pegasus engines, of which 180 were built. It first entered service with No. 9 Squadron RAF in October 1938. Improvements to the turrets resulted in 183 Mk IA Wellingtons and this complement of aircraft equipped the RAF Bomber Command heavy bomber squadrons at the outbreak of war. The Wellington was out-numbered by its twin-engined contemporaries, the Handley Page Hampden and the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, but would ultimately outlast them in productive service. The first RAF bombing attack of the war was made by Wellingtons of No. 9 and No. 149 Squadrons, along with Bristol Blenheims, on German shipping at Brunsbüttel on September 4, 1939. During this raid, the two Wellingtons became the first aircraft shot down on the Western Front. Wellingtons also participated in the first night raid on Berlin on 25 August 1940. In the first 1000-aircraft raid on Cologne, on May 30, 1942, 599 out of 1046 aircraft were Wellingtons (101 of them were the Polish ones).

The first main production variant was the Mk IC which added waist guns to the Mk IA and a total of 2,685 were produced. The Mk IC had a crew of six; a pilot, radio operator, navigator/bomb aimer, observer/nose gunner, tail gunner and waist gunner. The Mk II was identical with the exception of the powerplant; utilising the 1,145 hp (855 kW) Rolls-Royce Merlin X engine instead—400 were produced at Weybridge.

The next significant variant was the Mk III which featured the 1,375 hp (1,205 kW) Bristol Hercules III or XI engine and a four-gun tail turret, instead of two-gun. A total of 1,519 Mk IIIs were built and became mainstays of Bomber Command through 1941. The 220 Mk IV Wellingtons used the 1,200 hp (895 kW) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engine and were flown by two Polish squadrons.

There followed a number a experimental and conversion variants:

  • Mk V Three were built, designed for pressurised, high-altitude operations using turbocharged Hercules VIII engines.
  • Mk VI Pressurised with a long wingspan and 1,600 hp (1,190 kW) Merlin R6SM engines, 63 were produced and were operated by 109 Squadron and as Gee radio navigation trainers.
  • Mk VII Single aircraft, built as a test-bed for the 40 mm Vickers S machine gun turret.
  • Mk VIII Mk IC conversion for Coastal Command service. Roles included reconnaissance, anti-submarine and anti-shipping attack. Included the D.W.1 which was equipped with degaussing hoops for detonating floating magnetic mines.
  • Mk IX Mk IC conversion for troop transport.

The most widely produced variant was the Mk X of which 3,804 were built. It was similar to the Mk III except for the 1,675 hp (1,250 kW) Hercules VI or XVI powerplant and a fuselage structure of light alloy, instead of steel. The Mk X was the basis for a number of Coastal Command conversions; the Mk XII was a maritime version armed with torpedoes and with a chin radome housing the ASV Mk III radar - in the nose it had only one machinegun. The Mk XI and Mk XIII were another maritime variants with an ordinary nose turret and mast radar ASV Mk II instead of chin radome; these variants had no waist guns. The Mk XIV restored the radome and added rocket rails to the wings.

Finally there was the Mk XV and Mk XVI which were unarmed conversions of the Mk IC for transport service. Two trainer models were also built or converted; the T.10 and the T.19, the latter for navigation training. The Wellington remained in use as a trainer until 1953.

While the Wellington was superseded in the European Theatre, it remained in operational service for much of the war in the Middle East and Far East theatres. It was particularly effective in North Africa, where it could fly faster than most of the Italian fighter aircraft, and carried a heavier bomb load than the Italians.

The number of Wellingtons built totalled 11,461 of all versions.


Specifications (Wellington Mk IC)

General characteristics

  • Crew: six
  • Length: 64 ft 7 in (19.68 m)
  • Wingspan: 86 ft 2 in (26.26 m)
  • Height: 17 ft 6 in (5.33 m)
  • Wing area: 750 ft² (69.7 m²)
  • Empty: 18,556 lb (8,417 kg)
  • Loaded: lb ( kg)
  • Maximum takeoff: 25,800 lb (11,703 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2x Bristol Pegasus Mk I radials, 1,050 hp (780 kW) each


  • Maximum speed: 235 mph (410 km/h)
  • Range: 2,200 miles (3,540 km)
  • Service ceiling: 22,000 ft (6,710 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,050 ft/min (320 m/min)
  • Wing loading: 34 lb/ft² (168 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: hp/lb ( kW/kg)


  • 8x .303 Browning machine guns:
    • 2 in nose turret
    • 4 in tail turret
    • 2 in waist positions
  • 4,500 lb (2,041 kg) bombs

Related content

Related development: None

Comparable aircraft: Armstrong Whitworth Whitley - Handley Page Hampden

Designation sequence:

See also

External link

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