The Handley Page HP.52 Hampden was a British twin-engine medium bomber of the Royal Air Force serving in the Second World War. With the Whitley and Wellington, the Hampden bore the brunt of the early bombing war over Europe, taking part in the first night raid on Berlin and the first 1,000-plane raid on Cologne. The newest of the three medium bombers, the Hampden, known as the "Flying Suitcase" because of its cramped crew conditions, was still unsuited to the modern air war and, after operating mainly at night, it was retired from Bomber Command service in late 1942.
Handley Page designed the Hampden to the same specification as the Wellington (Air MinistrySpecification B.9/32) for a twin-engined day bomber. One prototype HP.52 (Serial K4240) was ordered which first flew on 21 June 1936. The first production batch of 180 Mk I Hampdens was built to a production Specification 30/36 with the first aircraft flying on 24 May 1938. Lady Katharine Mary Montagu Douglas Scott, Viscountess Hampden, christened the first flight at Radlett aerodrome in 1938.
The Hampden's cockpit
The Hampden used a stressed skin design reinforced with a mixture of bent and extruded sections with the wing having a single main spar. Construction was from sections prefabricated then joined. The fuselage was in three major sections – front, centre and rear. The centre and rear sections were themselves made of two halves. This meant the sections could be fitted out in part in better working conditions before assembly. In a similar way, the wings were made up of three large units: centre section, port outer wing and starboard outer wing, which were in turn subdivided.
The Mk I had a crew of four: pilot, navigator/bomb aimer, radio operator and rear gunner. Conceived as a fast, manoeuvrable, "fighting bomber", the Hampden had a fixed .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun in the forward fuselage. To avoid the weight penalties of powered-turrets, the Hampden had a curved Perspex nose fitted with a manual .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K machine gun and two more single .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K installations in the rear upper and lower positions. The layout was similar to the all-guns-forward cockpits introduced about the same time in the Luftwaffe's own medium bombers, notably the Dornier Do 17. The guns were thoroughly inadequate for defence, consequently, by 1940, the single guns had been replaced by twin Vickers K guns.
The fuselage was quite cramped, wide enough only for a single person. The navigator sat behind the pilot, and access in the cockpit required folding down the seats. Once in place, the crew had almost no room to move.
"I did my first flight and first tour on Hampdens. A beautiful aeroplane to fly, terrible to fly in! Cramped, no heat, no facilities where you could relieve yourself. You got in there and you were stuck there. The aeroplane was like a fighter. It was only 3 feet wide on the outside of the fuselage and the pilot was a very busy person. There were 111 items for the pilot to take care of because on the original aircraft he had not only to find the instruments, the engine and all that, but also he had all the bomb switches to hold the bombs. – Wilfred John 'Mike' Lewis
A total of 226 Hampdens were in service with ten squadrons by the start of the Second World War, with six of these squadrons forming the operational strength of 5 Group of Bomber Command based in Lincolnshire. Despite its speed and agility, in operational use, the Hampden was no match for Luftwaffefighters. Consequently, its career as a day bomber was brief, but Hampdens continued to operate at night on bombing raids over Germany, and mine-laying (code-named "gardening") in the North Sea and the French Atlantic ports.
Flight Lieutenant Rod Learoyd of 49 Squadron was awarded the Victoria Cross for the attack that he led on the Dortmund-Ems aqueduct on 12 August 1940. Sergeant John Hannah was the wireless operator/air gunner of an 83 Squadron Hampden; he was awarded the Victoria Cross on 15 September 1940 when he fought the flames of the burning aircraft, allowing the pilot to return it to base.
Almost half of the Hampdens built, 714, were lost on operations, taking with them 1,077 crew killed and another 739 missing. German flak accounted for 108; one became the victim of a German barrage balloon; 263 Hampdens crashed because of "a variety of causes," and 214 others were classed as "missing." Luftwaffe pilots claimed 128 Hampdens, shooting down 92 at night.Guy Gibson spent most of the first two years of his wartime service flying Hampdens, and his book Enemy Coast Ahead gives a strong flavour of the trials and tribulations of taking these aircraft into action.
After being withdrawn from Bomber Command in 1942, it operated with RAF Coastal Command through 1943 as a long-range torpedo bomber, (the Hampden TB Mk I with a Mk XII torpedo in an open bomb bay and a single 500 lb (230 kg) bomb under each wing) and as a maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
The Hampden in RCAF service included the 160 examples manufactured in Canada by the Victory Aircraft consortium. Of the total built, 84 were shipped by sea to Great Britain, while the remainder came to Patricia Bay (Victoria Airport) B.C., to set up No.32 OTU (RAF) used for bombing and gunnery training. Typical exercises at 32 OTU consisted of patrolling up the West Coast of Vancouver Island at night or flying out into the Pacific to a navigational map coordinate, often in adverse and unforecast inclement weather. Due to heavy attrition from accidents, about 200 "war weary" Hampdens were later flown from the U.K. to Pat Bay as replacements.
In September 1942, the crews of 32 Hampdens from No. 144 Squadron RAF and No. 455 Squadron RAAF flew from Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands to Vaenga, in Murmansk Oblast, Russia, a hazardous route often subject to poor weather and spanning more than 2,100 nautical miles (3,900 km), partly over enemy-occupied territory in Norway and Finland. Nine Hampdens were lost en route. From Vaenga, 144 and 455 Sqns escorted Arctic ConvoyPQ 18. After the convoy arrived, the Wing's personnel returned by sea to the UK, and the 23 surviving Hampdens were transferred to the Aviatsiya Voenno-Morskogo Flota. These Hampdens were then flown by the 3rd Squadron of 24 MTAP ("Anti-Shipping Wing") until at least 1943.
The Flygvapnet assigned a single HP.52 to Reconnaissance Wing F 11 at Nyköping for evaluation, under the designation P5. After the war, the aircraft was sold to SAAB where it was used as an avionics testbed.
The Hampden was powered by two 980 hp (730 kW) Bristol Pegasus XVIII nine-cylinder radial engines. A Mk II variant was developed as the HP.62 by converting two Hampdens to use the 1,000 hp (750 kW) Wright Cyclone engine in 1940 but no more was done of the project.
Interest in the HP.52 by the Swedish for placing a potential order led to the HP.53 prototype, which was subsequently used as a testbed for a pair of 1,000 hp (750 kW) Napier Dagger VIII 24-cylinder H-block air-cooled inline engines.
In 1936, the RAF ordered 150 Dagger-engined Hampdens as the Hereford. Problems with engine cooling resulted in most of those built (by Short & Harland) being re-engined as Hampdens. The surviving Herefords served in training units only.
No Hampdens remain in flying condition today, although two wrecks are in the process of being restored:
Hampden I P1344
Recovered from a crash-site in Russia in 1991, the aircraft is being reconstructed at the Michael Beetham Conservation Centre at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford. During the Second World War, it served with No. 144 Squadron RAF, part of Coastal Command. In September 1942, the squadron was transferred to the Kola Peninsula in northern Russia to help protect the Arctic convoys. While in transit over Finland, P1344 accidentally flew close by a German airfield and was shot down by two scrambled Messerschmitt Bf 109s. It crashed in a wooded area of the Kola Peninsula, three crew members were killed and two taken prisoner. After its recovery by another party, the RAF Museum gained ownership of the aircraft in 1992. By April 2013 it was reported that the fuselage restoration was nearing completion.
This aircraft has been reconstructed largely from parts of the last Canadian-built example, ditched on a training flight in November 1942 when the pilot lost control after a practice torpedo drop. The remains were recovered from 600 ft of water in Saanich Inlet on Vancouver Island in 1989. Along with recovered components from two other Hampden crashes in Canada, as of 2007, the reconstruction was about 97 per cent complete. The aircraft was to become the showpiece exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Flight at Langley, British Columbia, in the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver.
In January 2009, a heavy snowfall snapped off the aircraft's left wing. Despite the efforts of Museum staff to clear the accumulating snow, the wing's internal structure failed and the wing separated from the fuselage, falling onto a display case containing one of the aircraft's original engines. The wing suffered considerable damage and there was additional damage to the tail and propeller. The wing had largely been restored using wood parts because most of the metal parts of the wing structure had been eroded, so it did not possess the structural integrity of the original aircraft. The museum is currently seeking donations to repair the aircraft. The repairs, in 2011, included the mating of the wing and propeller to the fuselage and engine. As of November 2013, the repairs to the CMF Handley Page Hampden have been completed. The wing has been re-secured and the complete aircraft has been repainted.
The Wings Aviation Museum in the United Kingdom owns the wings and tail of "P1273"; the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is currently restoring the forward fuselage of AE436. Both of these were also 144 Squadron aircraft, lost during the transfer to Russia. The former, "P1273" was shot down by mistake by Soviet fighters over Petsamo. The latter was lost over Sweden, its remains discovered in a remote region by hikers in 1976.
The Hampden in popular culture
The HP Hampden had a featured role in the Big Blockade (1941) starring Michael Rennie, a Second World War propaganda film showing "blockade" bombing and its effects on the German war industry.
The trials of flying Hampdens in the early years of the Second World War are also described in the 2002 book Damned Good Show by Derek Robinson.
There is also an issue of the comic Combat which focuses around a Hampden and its crew.
Specifications (Hampden Mk I)
3-view projection of the Hampden Mark I, with inset detail of the Dagger-engined Hereford Mark I