The Bristol Blenheim I bomber / long-range reconnaissance
Like many aircraft in service at the beginning if WW2, the
Bristol Blenheim originated from a civilian project : an airliner.
In the early 1930's, when Lord Rothermere asked the British aeronautical
industry to build the fastest passenger aircraft in the world, the
Bristol company was amongst those who responded to the challenge.
Bristol's response came in the shape of the Type 142 plane,
which met all demands. It flew for the first time in 1934, under the
name of Britain first. The aircraft was a modern, low wing,
all-metal monoplane, with retractable undercarriage. It could carry
up to eight passengers, had good flying characteristics and could
achieve a top speed of 490 km/h at 4800 meters. When the British Air
Ministry realized the Type 142 was faster than anything they had in
service, they issued the B.28/35 specification, asking for a bomber
version with the same qualities to be built. Such was the confidence
in the Bristol company that an order was placed by the Air Ministry
even before one single aircraft was built. The first production model,
designated as the Bolingbroke served as the first and only prototype,
since it wasn't very different from the Type 142 : the wings were
repositioned to mid fuselage, the Mercury 6.S.2 640hp radial engines
were replaced by superior 840hp Mercury 8s and an internal bomb bay
was added under the spar.
In 1937, the aircraft had received the final name of Bristol
Blenheim, and the first version ( Bristol Blenheim I ) entered production.
Some changes had been made to the original design : both wings had
to be mounted higher on the fuselage, in order to leave room under
the spar for an internal bomb bay, and defensive armament was added
Pilots and maintenance crews in front of one of ARR's Bristol Blenheim I
The aircraft proved to be so successful that several countries decided
to buy it ( namely Romania, Greece and Turkey) whilst others ( Finland
and Yugoslavia ) built it under license. Later, during WW2, Canada built
the Bristol Blenheim Mark IV version, employed mainly as patrol bomber
or trainer ( the Mark IVT ).The ARR ordered 40 Blenheim I's in 1939,
but received only 37 because three were destroyed on transit. By this
stage, the Blenheim had a single major quality : range. They could go
deep into enemy territory, but were quite vulnerable to enemy fighters,
because of their low speed, even though they carried just 500 kg of
bombs. Four long-range reconnaissance squadrons ( the 1st, 2nd, 3rd
and 4th ) were equipped with the Blenheims and performed a lot of missions
along the borders of hostile neighbors ( Hungary, USSR and Bulgaria
). When war broke out for Romania in June 1941, three squadrons ( the
1st, 3rd and 4th ) were operational, but they took serious losses during
the Bassarabian campaign.
Only squadron ( the 1st ) also took part in the Stalingrad
campaign, but it lost three planes and had a lot of maintenance problems,
so it returned home in December 1942. Afterwards, the Blenheims still
capable of flying were used for coastal patrols over the Black Sea, and
eventually were relegated for transport duties.
A couple of ARR's Bristol Blenheim I's photographed at an air show. Spring 1943