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LEFT:
George
Wood,
seen on
November
11 at his
desk with
his Second
World War
logbook.

A

Whirlwind

war

TONY HARMSWORTH spoke
k to wartime
Whirlwind pilot Flight Sergeant George Wood
about flying this single seat, twin-engined
fighter in action

I

ABOVE: The
handling of
Petter’s design
was praised by
everyone that
flew it. But as
a fighter, it was
always going to
be hampered
by the rather
disappointing 850
h.p. output from
each of the RollsRoyce Peregrine
engines. The
protrusions under
the nose are for
spent shell cases.

AEROPLANE JANUARY 2014

t was shortly after regaining
gain
ga
inin
in
ing
in
g
consciousness while drifting
ifti
if
ting
ti
ng
on his parachute towards
the Luftwaffe fighter base at
Morlaix, in Brittany, that the words his
father had uttered while heading into
combat 28 years earlier flashed through
the mind of Westland Whirlwind pilot
Flt Sgt George Wood. In his terraced
house near Worthing, Sussex, 70 years
on, George remembers: “I hadn’t quite
worked out what was going on. One
moment I was struggling to get out
of the cockpit, the next I was falling
through space. Now, with German small
arms fire streaming up at me, all I could
think of was my father’s reaction to the
gunfire heading his way while going
ashore with the Royal Sussex Regiment
at Gallipoli in August 1915: ‘These
bluebottles are a heck of a lot bigger
than those we get back home’.”
Fortunately, the German “flies” missed
George, as the Turkish ordnance had missed

his
his father
fath
fa
ther
th
er during
dur
d
urin
ur
ing
in
g the
the First
Firs
Fi
rstt World
rs
Worl
Wo
rld
rl
d War,
War, and
and after
aaft
fter
ft
er
landing
land
la
ndin
nd
ing
in
g he scrambled
sscr
cram
cr
ambl
am
bled
bl
ed out
out of
of his
his parachute,
para
pa
rach
ra
chut
ch
ute,
ut
e,
and
and sprinted
spri
sp
rint
ri
nted
nt
ed towards
ttow
owar
ow
ards
ar
ds the
the perimeter
per
p
erim
er
imet
im
eter
et
er fence.
ffen
ence
en
ce..
ce
“I couldn’t
ccou
ould
ou
ldn’
ld
n’tt work
n’
work out
out why
why nobody
nob
n
obod
ob
odyy chased
od
chas
ch
ased
as
ed
me,”
me,” George
Geo
G
eorg
eo
rgee recalls,
rg
reca
re
call
ca
lls,
ll
s, “and
““an
and then
and
then they
tthe
heyy gave
he
gave up
up
firing.
ring
ri
ng.. It turns
ng
ttur
urns
ur
ns out
out I w
was
as h
hot
hot-footing
ot-f
ot
-foo
-f
ooti
oo
ting
ti
ng iitt ac
acro
across
ross
ro
ss
a minefi
field.
eld. I guess
gue
g
uess
ue
ss they thought
though
ghtt I would
gh
wo
be
blown up at anyy mo
mome
moment.
ment
nt. I ra
ran
n to a ttree that
had fallen over part of the perimeter fence, and
managed to shin up that, drop down the other
side and make my escape. Three near death
experiences was enough for one day.”
But to add insult to injury, George had
actually been blown up by one of his own 250lb
bombs. And all of this on his 13th operational
mission. Is it any wonder that George Wood
was one day to become an ordained minister?

Never heard of it

George Wood was flying Westland Whirlwinds
with 263 Sqn, a unit he had joined in March
1943, six months prior to being plonked down
into the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 base at Morlaix.
He reflects: “I had been flying Spitfires at 61
ð

www.aeroplanemonthly.com 35

Resembling a late 1930s “boy’s own” cartoon image of what a fighter should look like – a la the Lockheed P-38 Lightning – the Whirlwind was an
extraordinarily neat, streamlined and compact design. The unrivalled view from the cockpit was a major advantage for formation flying.

OTU at RAF Rednall, and at the end of January
1943 was issued with tropical kit and put on
a troopship at Liverpool for the trip to North
Africa. But the ship had some engine problems
and we were disembarked, and given home
postings. Up until then I hadn’t even heard of
the Westland Whirlwind, and during training we
had been operating under a singularly singleengined mindset.
“My first base with 263 was at RAF
Harrowbeer, near Yelverton in Devon. After an
hour in a Hurricane, I was shown round all the
systems and engine controls on the Whirlwind,
and after familiarising myself with the rest of
the cockpit, was then unleashed on the thing. I
suppose it was the only twin-engined aeroplane
you couldn’t go up in as a passenger to find out
what it was all about. But I immediately fell in
love with the aeroplane. It may not have been
so pretty on the ground, but once the wheels
were up it looked lovely. It was docile, with
great handling, and with that raised cockpit,
you had a fantastic view.”
By this stage of the war, the Whirlwind, which
only served with two RAF Squadrons, was being
used exclusively on dive bombing and ground
attack work. Although it was agile and rapid
at low-level, at heights in excess of 15,000ft
the two 880 h.p. Rolls-Royce engines ran out
of puff. Not ideal for a fighter, the role it was
originally intended for.
Designed to a February 1935 Air Ministry

requirement for a cannon-armed fighter by W.E.
“Teddy” Petter, who went on to pen both the
Canberra and Lighting for English Electric, the
Whirlwind boasted several advanced structural
and aerodynamic features. The airframe was of
stressed-skin duraluminium, with magnesium
alloy skinning on the rear fuselage. It had lowdrag radiators in the leading edge of the wing,
and Exactor hydraulic engine controls, which
comprised a sealed oil-filled hydraulic control
system, removing the need for complicated
long rod and cable controls between the cockpit
and the engines. The streamlined airframe was
topped off with one of the first full “teardrop”
bubble canopies, and the wings were fitted with
large Fowler flaps. With four 20mm cannon
grouped in the nose, it was the most heavily
armed fighter aircraft of the time.
Unfortunately, the Rolls-Royce Peregrine V12
engines that powered it proved troublesome,
and in August 1939 it was decided that Rolls
would concentrate on development of the
Merlin. With work on improvements to the
Peregrine now discontinued, the future of the
Whirlwind – which hadn’t received a lot of
support from the Air Staff anyway – looked
bleak. Only 290 Peregrines were built, and the
first production Whirlwind didn’t fly until May
22, 1940, a full five years after the original
specification had been issued.
The RAF got its first Whirlwind the following
month. The C-in-C of Fighter Command, Air

The nose fairing, here being carefully fitted into place, contained four duralumin blast tubes to
house the cannon. Note the radiators in the leading edge of the wing.

36 www.aeroplanemonthly.com

Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, thought that
the Whirlwind might become very important
in the near future as an anti-tank weapon,
perhaps contemplating what would be required
if the Germans did get across the Channel. It
was, at that time the only British fighter that
could stop a tank. But he conceded that it was
not cost effective to order an aircraft that was
much more labour intensive to build than the
single-engined machines. In the
end, only 290 Peregrines
were built,

sealing
the fate
of this
innovative
fighting aeroplane. Sadly,
only 116 were ever built.

“Ops” begin

Frustratingly for George, it would be a long wait
before he saw any action with 263 Sqn. “Our
CO at the time, Sqn Ldr Geoff Warnes, didn’t
let me go on my first op until I had about 60hr.
It was rather like being at OTU all over again!
But
Bu Geoff developed the battle tactics we used
on the Whirlwind, which was later adopted for
other
ot
fighter bombers. He really knew what he
was
wa doing. Although it was the nicest aeroplane
I ever flew,” remembers George, “it had one
major
ma problem. It really was underpowered.”
The first op finally came on June 15, 1943,
with
wi an attack on minesweepers and armed
trawlers
tr
east of the Island of Sark. The
Whirlwind
Wh
force comprised two pairs of two
aircraft,
ai
led by Plt Off Max Cotton, who had
twice
tw come back from missions with serious
flak damage over the previous three weeks.
On both occasions his aeroplane was declared
Cat
Ca B, and roaded back to Westlands for repair.
George
Ge
remembers: “Maxie had really mastered
the
th art of throwing bombs into vessels right at
the
th waterline, going in at wave top height for
a beam attack and then leap-frogging over the
ships
sh before getting out as quickly as possible.
Two
Tw days before this mission, he had been
awarded
aw
the DFC.
“As we went into the attack, at mast height,
I was a few yards behind him, in the second
section,
se
when tracers started skimming over
the
th top surfaces of my wings. It was like
firework night. Max dropped his two 250lb

AEROPLANE JANUARY 2014

in my log book, should I ever forget, ‘Rotten
sh
shooting’!

At
Attacking
E-boats

Th next mission wasn’t until August 11. George
The
ta
takes
up the story: “A Mosquito crew had been
flying high over the north coast of Brittany and
sp
spotted
five E-boats entering L’Aber Wrac’h
es
estuary,
on the north-west coast of Brittany,
an radioed the position back to base. Eight
and
26 Sqn Whirlwinds were quickly prepared for a
263
lo
low-level
attack, with Reggie Baker, who had his
ni
nickname
Lochinvar painted under the cockpit
of his aeroplane, in the
le
lead.
Each aircraft was
ar
armed
with two 250lb
bo
bombs
with a three
se
second
delay fuse.
“We took off in two
se
sections
of four – I
wa in the second
was
ABOVE: At the time of its entry into service, the Whirlwind’s 20mm Hispano cannon made it the
most heavily armed fighter in the world. These RAF armourers are placing the drum magazines
behind the armour plate that protected the ammunition during an attack. George Wood
remembers, “there wasn’t as much recoil from the cannon as you might expect.”

ABOVE: On the morning of September 9, 1943, George Wood flew a dive bombing mission against
enemy gun positions at Hardelot, seven miles south of Boulogne. The Whirlwind sorties that day were
part of Operation Starkey, a “fake” invasion force, which saw a motley fleet of 355 destroyers, crossChannel pleasure steamers, self-propelled powered Thames barges and other unlikely vessels sailing
towards France, in an effort to confuse the enemy. This not very successful deception saw the first use of
black and white “invasion stripes” on participating aircraft. ANDY HAY/FLYINGART © 2013

bombs, but then took a direct hit. I think a
flak shell had penetrated the cockpit. There
was bright flash as the cockpit exploded, and
the aircraft went straight in. Max’s bombs
hit the minesweeper amidships, but then Sgt
Ken Ridley, who was flying alongside me, also
took flak hits, causing serious damage to the
fin and rudder. Two of the Spitfire IXs that
flew an anti-flak screen ahead of us were also
shot down.” Bombs from the four Whirlwinds,
which had five-second delay fuses, hit two of
the minesweepers, and it is thought that one
subsequently sank, “but I didn’t hang around to
find out,” George commented. Sergeant Ridley
got his aeroplane back
to Warmwell, but it
was also declared Cat
B. “That really was
a baptism of fire,”
recalled George, with a
slight shudder.
Before his next op,
the rugged nature of
the Whirlwind was
brought home to
George. On July 12, Sgt
L.J. Knott stalled at about 80ft coming in to land
at Warmwell, and crashed heavily. Although the
aircraft broke up, the cockpit section stayed in
one piece, and the pilot, although badly burned,
was rescued. “I went to visit him several times
at East Grinstead Hospital, where he was
treated by Archibald McIndoe. Happily, he went
on to make a full recovery.” At the beginning
of August Warmwell echoed to the sound

of another Whirlwind crash, as Sgt Cooper,
landing in a strong crosswind, cartwheeled
his aeroplane to destruction. Both engines
departed from the airframe, but it landed
the right way up, and Cooper got out of the
relatively intact cockpit totally uninjured.
George’s second op had been on July 18,
a shipping strike off the coast of Alderney.
“There was moderate flak coming up, but
then I thought I saw an Fw 190. My R/T had
gone u/s, and suddenly there was this fighter
coming straight for me. I loosed off a quick
burst with the cannon before pulling the nose
up. When we got back, our CO, Sqn Ldr Reg

section. Rendezvous with our Spitfire escort was
over the Needles, and we set off on course for
L’Aber Wrac’h, flying as low as possible to avoid
detection. On nearing the target the second
section of Whirlwinds dropped back until we
were ten seconds behind – this was to prevent
blowing ourselves up when the bombs of the
first four exploded. It also gave us about seven
seconds to identify any E-boats that had not
been hit by the first section. This meticulous “on
the hoof ” timing, without a word being spoken,
was essential for the success of the operation,
as was flying an accurate course at wavetop height: only sea and more sea to see, no
landmarks to check
you were on course,
and after 40min
hoping your landfall
would be bang on
target. Otherwise,
you were up the creek
without a paddle. The
slightest variation
in wind speed or
direction over a
40min flight at 200
m.p.h. would result in a wrong landfall, and you
would end up having to search for your target
and lose the element of surprise.
“Despite so many imponderables, amazingly
it all went like clockwork. For the past 45min
there had been absolute R/T silence, which
was suddenly broken as a frenzied battle
commenced. And then, within less than 2min,
it was all over, and five E-boats had been
ð

“After an hour in a Hurricane, I was shown
round all the systems and engine controls on
the Whirlwind, and after familiarising
myself with the rest of the cockpit, was
then unleashed on the thing”

AEROPLANE JANUARY 2014

Baker, wondered why I had tried to shoot down
the Spitfire V that he had warned me about on
the R/T! After landing, I went to the armourer
to find out how much damage I would have
caused. Nine 20mm shells were missing,
equating to a 2/3 sec second burst, which was,
thankfully, off target. Squadron Leader Baker
was a good sort, and didn’t make much fuss as
many COs would have done. But he did write

www.aeroplanemonthly.com 37

destroyed. There had only been light flak from
the ships, but it was much heavier from the
shore batteries.
“On leaving this mayhem we formed up over
the next bay, to the surprise of some Breton
fishermen, who cheered and waved their caps
from the decks of their trawlers, although they
must have been wondering how their village
had fared as they found themselves being
circled at low-level by the eight Whirlwinds
which had caused the loud explosions, and the
ever-growing dark cloud of billowing smoke
arising from the estuary.
“This acclamation of
the Breton fishermen
was the first of many
accolades we received.
As recorded in the
Operations Record Book
(ORB), congratulations
poured in from the
C-in-C, Sir Trafford
Leigh Mallory, from the
Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair,
from the Board of the Admiralty, and various
others. A few days later Movietone News
came down to our base and filmed us for the
national cinema circuit. When Reggie Baker was
interviewed by the newscaster, he chortled, and
twirling his ‘wizard prang moustache’, replied
‘It was a piece of cake – we caught them with
their pants down’. Sadly, this piece of film no
longer exists.
“A few weeks after this euphoria, in early
September 1943 Reggie received a Bar to his
DFC in recognition of his leadership. As he had
not had a break for many months, he then went
on a well-deserved leave, which allowed me to

fly his personal Whirlwind, named Lochinvar.
He occasionally invited me to do this, and so it
was that on September 23, 1943, I was one of
eight Whirlwind pilots who took off from Bolt
Head Aerodrome to dive bomb Ploujean Airfield
at Morlaix, Brittany.
“In cloudless, clear conditions, we were led
by Flt Lt John McClure DFC, RCAF. I was flying
Lochinvar, which was also Reggie’s callsign. My
No 2 was Flt Sgt Iain Dunlop, who on his first
operational flight, followed me into the attack.
We started the dive at 12,000ft, getting to a

– and I remember thinking to myself, this job is
bloody dangerous.’ A French fisherman who saw
the aircraft coming down said that there were so
many bits falling from the sky, he at first thought
that two aircraft must have collided.
“When all seemed lost, I just shouted ‘God,
get me out of this’ and must have passed out.
Next thing, I came to, tumbling through the air,
and grabbed the parachute D-ring.”
Nobody saw George depart from Lochinvar,
and, on return to base the 263 Sqn pilots
consoled themselves with the thought that,
in the words of Reggie
Baker, “George couldn’t
have known what hit him.”
Reggie Baker filled in
George’s logbook with what
looked like being its final
entry “A grand pilot whose
loss we can ill affo
afford.”
ford
rd.”
.”
Just after the raid,
rai
aid,
d,
a German R/T signal
sig
igna
nall
instructing Luftwaffe pilots
pilo
lots
ts
not to return
n to the badly damaged airfield was
intercepted by the British Listening Service,
confirming
ng the success of the attack.

“When Reggie Baker was interviewed by
the newscaster, he chortled, and twirling
his ‘wizard prang moustache’, replied
‘It was a piece of cake – we caught them
m
with their pantss down’”
45 degree angle, and reaching a speed of well
over 400 m.p.h. I had just released
sed my 250lb
bombs at about 5,000ft when thee Whirlwind
just blew apart. The cockpit section
tion was still in
one piece, but the thing was spinning
nning all over
the place. I was straining to reach
ach forward
d and
roll the canopy back, but the centrifugal
ntrifugal force
fo
had me pinned to the back of myy seat and
nd I
couldn’t reach the winder. One problem
em with
w
the Whirlwind was the lack of a canopy
py jettison
n
lever; no doubt if the aeroplane had undergone
und
ndergone
ne
the development it deserved they
ey would
wou
ould have
put one in, but that was no good
od to me now!
Sergeant Dunlop later reported: ‘One
ne second
George was there, and the next hee just blew up

Escape and
a evasion

George explains
expla
lains what happened after he lan
landed:
ande
ded:
d:
“One thing they
the
hey did find among the debris on the
he
airfield was a piece of the fuselage of Whirlwin
Whirlwind
ind
d
P7113 with tthe name Lochinvarr emblazoned
on it. This le
led the Germans to
believe they had shot down
a highly prized target, Sqn
Ldr Baker. So they called
out 900 extra troops tto
o br
brin
bring
ing
in
g
him in. I doubt if tthe
they
heyy wo
he
woul
would
uld
ul
d
have
ha done th
that
at ffor
or a F
Fli
Flight
ligh
li
ghtt
gh
Sergeant!
Se
! Fortunately,
Fortun
Fo
unat
un
atel
at
ely,
el
y, the
the
RIGHT: This classic
Charles E. Brown
study of a Whirlwind
captures the svelte,
pacey lines of this much
underestimated design.

A formidable gathering of firepower. If the Whirlwind had been available during the Battle of
Britain, the concentrated cone of fire provided by the close coupling of the 20mm cannon in the
nose would surely have taken a terrible toll of Luftwaffe bombers.

38 www.aeroplanemonthly.com

AEROPLANE JANUARY 2014

ABOVE: Whirlwind P7062/HE-L of 263 Sqn. This
aeroplane hit trees during a practice attack near Wroughton on
February 19, 1942, killing the pilot Flt Sgt George Hicks. A replacement
Whirlwind, wearing the same code, was flown by George Wood.

French
Fren
Fr
ench
en
ch R
Res
Resistance
esis
es
ista
is
tanc
ta
ncee fo
nc
foun
found
und
un
d me first,
rrst
st,, and
st
and I was
was
hidden
hidd
hi
dden
dd
en away
aawa
wayy while
wa
whil
wh
ilee a wrecked
il
wrec
wr
ecke
ec
ked
ke
d fishing
shin
sh
ing
in
g boat
boat was
was
converted
conv
co
nver
nv
erte
er
ted
te
d in
into
to a seaworthy
ssea
eawo
ea
wort
wo
rthy
rt
hy vessel.
vves
esse
es
sel.
se
l. So,
So, 39
39 da
days
ys
later,
late
la
ter,
te
r, on
on October
Octo
Oc
tobe
to
berr 31
be
31,, we sset
et ssai
sail
aill fr
ai
from
om Carantec
Car
C
aran
ar
ante
an
tecc
te
with
wi
th a crew
ccre
rew
re
w of two
two b
bro
brothers,
roth
ro
ther
th
ers,
er
s, Ernest
Ern
E
rnes
rn
estt and
es
and Leon
Leon
Sibiril,
Sibi
Si
biri
bi
ril,
ri
l, plus
plu
p
luss five other
lu
oth
o
ther
th
er F
Fre
Frenchmen,
renc
re
nchm
nc
hmen
hm
en,, al
en
alll of u
uss
wanted
want
wa
nted
nt
ed b
byy th
thee Ge
Gest
Gestapo.
stap
st
apo.
ap
o.
“A few
few d
day
days
ayss ea
ay
earl
earlier,
rlie
rl
ier,
ie
r, unbeknown
unb
u
nbek
nb
ekno
ek
nown
no
wn tto
o us
us,, a fierce
erce
Naval
Nava
Na
vall ba
va
batt
battle
ttle
tt
le h
had
ad b
bee
been
een
ee
n ra
ragi
raging.
ging
gi
ng.. Th
ng
Thee ta
targ
target
rget
rg
et w
was
as
thee MV Mu
th
Muns
Munsterland,
nste
ns
terl
te
rlan
rl
and
an
d, a bl
bloc
blockade
ocka
oc
kade
ka
de runner
rrun
unne
un
nerr wh
ne
whic
which
ich
h
had
ha
d sl
slip
slipped
ippe
ip
ped
pe
d in
into
to B
Bre
Brest
rest
re
st ffro
from
rom
ro
m th
thee Fa
Farr East
East with
a pr
prec
precious
ecio
ec
ious
io
us ccar
cargo
argo
ar
go n
nec
necessary
eces
ec
essa
es
sary
ry ffor
or tthe
he German
n V2
rock
ro
rocket
cket
ck
et project.
pro
p
roje
ro
ject
je
ct.. The
ct
The Munsterland,
Muns
Mu
nste
ns
terl
rlan
rl
and
d, escorted
escort
rted
ed by
five E-boats
E-b
E
-boa
-b
oats
oa
ts and
and six
six minesweepers,
min
m
inesweep
eper
ers,
s, stole
ssto
tole out
of Brest
st Harbour
Har
H
arbo
ar
bour
bo
ur on
on October
Octo
Oc
tober 22, and in the
early hours
hour
ho
urss of the
the next
nex
n
extt day
da was intercepted
off Les Sept
of
Sept Iles
Ile
les by the
he Royal
Roy Navy. Sadly, a
R
British
Britis
ish
h cruiser
cruise
ser and a destroyer
royer were sunk, and
504 sailors perished. This took
50
k place
pl
in the
waters which we needed to crosss in our fishing
wa
boat to reach Plymouth. Fortunately
bo
ely the
th
assailants
assa
as
sail
sa
ilan
il
ants had retired to their lairs to lick
lic
their
thei
th
eirr wounds,
ei
wo
leaving us to traverse these
hese
troubled
trou
tr
oubl
ou
bled
bl
ed waters with little likelihood of
enemy
enem
en
emyy activity.
em
ac
“The
“The Munsterland
Mu
quickly fled
the
the scene,
sc
arriving in the
comparative
comp
co
mparative safety of
mp
Cherbourg
Cher
Ch
erbourg Harbour
er
on October
O
24.
There
Ther
Th
ere it was
er
heavily
heav
he
avily
av
attacked
atta
at
tacked
ta

AEROPLANE JANUARY 2014

A group of 263
63 Sqn pilots pose in front of a Whirlwind
Whi
at Warmwell, with George Wood standing,
stand
st
anding
ing
second from right. VIA ROB BOWATER

by RAF Spitfires,
res
es, USAAF North American B-25
Mitchells and Hawker
Ha
Typhoons, scoring near
nea
misses, until in the words of Heinz Wittman, a
German flak gunner:
gu
‘We saw eight Whirlwinds
Whirlwin
skimming
sk
overr the external breakwater, flyin
ying
at such a low altitude
al
that their propellers
struck
stru
ruck up spray
spra
ray from the harbour basin. Our
88mm
mm guns were
we not very effective for lowlevel business
bu
and so our 20mm guns and two
tw
machine-guns
machin
ine-guns
ns let off a torrent of fire’.”
This ferocious
fer
us opposition was described
in the ORB
RB as: “Difficult to give a picture of
the flak without
wit ut seeming to exaggerate. It
was extremely
extrem
emelyy intense, of all calibres. The
air
ai seemed filled
lle
led with tracer and black puffs.
Continuous
us gun
un flashes came from every
land-bound
nd part
par
art of the harbour and from the
11 ships that
tha
hat were
we seen there.” Flight Sergeant
Sergean
Bob Beaumont’s
Beaumo
mont
nt’s description was: “It was like a
horizontal hailstorm,
hails
h lstorm, painted red.”
An enormous
enorm
rmou
ous tonnage of TNT was dropped.
dropped
All fell within
withi
hin the
th target area, but only 500lb
bombs – which
wh h 263 Sqn Whirlwinds were
carrying on this
is occasion – scored direct hits.
hits
It was very costly,
cost
co
stly, as the surviving Whirlwinds
Whirlwind
that managed
ed to return to base were all
rendered
rend
re
ndered unserviceable
uns
nser
erviceable by anti-aircraft fire.”
George
Ge
Wood,
Woo
W
ood, now back in England, soon
telephoned
tele
te
leph
le
phon
ph
oned
on
ed Sqn
qn Ldr Baker to say he was still
alive,
aliv
al
ive,
iv
e, but
but aalso offered an apology. “I’m sorry
I pranged
pran
pr
ange
an
ged
ge
d your
ur aircraft.” Baker’s reply was
instant
inst
in
stan
st
antt and
an
an very
ry heartening remembers George,
Geor
“Don’t
“Don
“D
on’t
on
’t worry
wor
w
orry about
a
it, I would probably have
wrecked
wrec
wr
ecke
ec
ked
ke
d it myself
mys
m
yself by now! Get back over here
ys
and
and we’ll
we’l
we
’lll have
’l
have a party.”
par
p
arty
ty.”
.” “When
“Wh
When I got
g back to
the
the unit,
unit
un
it,, which
it
wh h was then based
bas
b
ased
ed att RAF
RAF Ibsley,
Ibsl
Ib
sley
ey

Reggie and the rest of the pilots from the
Munsterland mission re-enacted the raid that
I had missed for me in the mess, using the
snooker table as the coast of France, and beer
bottles as bombs. It all got a bit untidy.”
But Reggie Baker hadn’t given up on the
Munsterland. He decided to have another
crack at it with the four remaining serviceable
Whirlwinds. “It so happened it was the period
of the full moon, and as Whirlwinds flew at
night a few days before and after the full moon,
Flt Sgt Denis Todd was briefed to fly low-level to
Cherbourg,” recalls George. “If the weather was
good, he would radio back to base “Oranges
are sweet” – if it was duff: “Oranges are sour”.
On receipt of “sweet oranges”, Reggie Baker,
with a No 2 and No 3 (Flt Lt Dave Ross and Flt
Sgt Iain Dunlop) would also fly at low-level to
Cherbourg Harbour. The No 2 and No 3 aircraft
would act as decoys, and as the harbour came
into sight No 2 would climb and veer to the
right, drawing the flak. Similarly, No 3 would do
this to the left, leaving Reggie to continue flying
into the harbour and dropping his two bombs
down the funnel of the Munsterland.
As “Toddie” flew towards Cherbourg, he
realised he had the fate of his comrades in his
hands, for it was a suicidal mission. He found
Cherbourg Harbour bathed in moonlight, and
as he turned back to base he radioed ‘Oranges
are sweet’ then added ‘but rapidly turning
sour’. The raid was cancelled, much to the
relief of Dave Ross and Iain Dunlop. Toddie kept
this secret to himself until long after the war.
“Reggie Baker lived another eight more
months. By then he had become a Wing
ð

www.aeroplanemonthly.com 39

ABOVE: With flaps and undercarriage down,
the Whirlwind would stall at 98 m.p.h. The
relatively high landing speed limited the number
of airfields the type could be operated from.

Commander, and was leading his Wing of
Typhoons from Harrowbeer to attack an
important target soon after D-Day, when again
he met ‘a horizontal hailstorm painted red’.
This time his aircraft was hit and went out of
control, but Reggie stayed on board in order to
radio a course for the others to steer away from
the anti-aircraft fire and back home, before he
crashed at high speed and was killed.
“Within three months of the L’Aber Wrac’h
raid, and as the acclamation of the French
fishermen reverberated across the Channel,
little did we realise that within a short time the
wonderful Westland Whirlwind would be no
more. She had given her all for the war effort
and her pilots. She had no vices, but, through
no fault of her own, could no longer be a force
to be reckoned with by the enemy.

Onto Typhoons

After his return to the UK, George was given six
weeks leave, returning to 263 Sqn just before
Christmas. The Hawker Typhoon had replaced
the Whirlwind, and George spent a couple of
months in 1944 ferrying the few remaining
Whirlwinds back to Westland factory at Yeovil
and flying passengers in an Airspeed Oxford
hack. After a couple of familiarisation flights
on a Hurricane, he made his first flight in a
Typhoon on February 20, and was to fly this
potent, if temperamental type, on dozens of
missions for the remainder of the war. “Now
there is an engine that really caused problems,”
remarks George. “If they had put as much
effort into developing the Rolls-Royce Peregrine
as they did the Napier Sabre, the Whirlwind
could have seen us through to the end of the
war. And I never felt as comfortable on ground
attack missions with just
one engine up
front: those

Peregrines may
have been short on
power, but if one was
damaged, the other one would get you home.”
Post war, George’s old wingman, Iain Dunlop,
flew the D.H Hornet, which is now widely
regarded as the apogee of that rare breed, the
twin-engine, single-seat fighter. He stated: “Well,
the Hornet was certainly fast, but the controls
were not as light as on the Whirlwind. Without
any doubt, the Whirlwind was exceptional from
the handling point of view.”
After the war, George emigrated to South
Africa, and in 1954 was ordained, becoming a

40 www.aeroplanemonthly.com

ABOVE: The “Whirlibomber” usually carried one 250lb bomb under each wing, but on some
missions two 500-pounders were carried. These heavier loads were found to overstress the wings
during spirited manoeuvring. BELOW: A purposeful looking pair of Whirlwinds, getting airborne
to take the fight to the enemy in the English Channel.

priest the following year. “I had often thought
of that moment when I called out to the
Almighty for help as I was plummeting down
towards Morlaix in the cockpit of Lochinvar. It
took a bit of time to get round to it though,”
George continued, with a

affection for the Whirlwind, on which I have
103hr 40min in my logbook. Looking back, as
we are today, I can see all the chaps that safely
got back home in Whirlwinds that had suffered
the sort of damage that other fighters simply
couldn’t have sustained. It was a dependable
old thing that would look after you. It is such a
shame there are none left.
In next month’s Aeroplane we will feature
an article on plans to build an authentic
reproduction of this long extinct type. George
Wood and two other Whirlwind veterans, 137

“When all seemed lost, I just
shouted ‘God, get me out of
this’ and must have passed out.
Next thing, I came to, tumbling through
the air, and grabbed the parachute D-ring”
glint in his eye, “but I just wanted to enjoy
myself for a few years first.”
Chatting to George on November 11,
Remembrance Day, he
concluded: “I
have so much

Sqn pilot Johnny Shellard and test pilot Eric
“Winkle” Brown, will be signing books and
Westland Whirlwind memorabilia at the Aviation
Bookshop at 31-33 Vale Road,
Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN1 IBS
on December 14, 2013.

AEROPLANE JANUARY 2014

REAPING
THE WHIRLWIND
It was faster than a Spitfire and carried heavier armament. As a result, much was expected of
the Westland Whirlwind, especially following its first engagement with the Luftwaffe which took
place at the end of December 1940.

D

uring the summer of 1940,
263 Squadron was partially reequipped with the RAF’s exciting
new fighter, the twin-engine Westland
Whirlwind. With its very heavy
armament, excellent all-round vision
and good performance, the Whirlwind
was eagerly anticipated, though
teething problems, particularly with its
Rolls-Royce Peregrine engines, initially
restricted its operational use. The
Whirlwind was capable of 360 miles per
hour, it had a range of 800 miles and,
significantly, it was armed with four
20mm Hispano-Suiza HS.404 cannon
grouped together in the aircraft’s nose
to produce an immensely powerful
concentration of fire.
The development of the Whirlwind
came from Air Ministry specification
F.37/35 in 1935. Though the Whirlwind
promised to be a superior aircraft to
the Hurricanes and Spitfires which
were already far advanced in their
development, it was not until 1938
that the first prototype was flown. Two
years later, the first squadron to be fully
equipped with the Whirlwind was 263

26

Reaping the Whirlwind.indd 26

Squadron, which was reforming at RAF
Grangemouth following the disastrous
Norwegian campaign. Indeed, the first
production Whirlwind was delivered to
the squadron by its CO, Squadron Leader
Harry Eeles, on 6 July 1940, though
subsequent aircraft were slow in arriving.
Despite this, with increasing Whirlwind
availability at the end of November 1940,
263 Squadron relinquished its remaining
Hurricanes and moved to Exeter to
commence operations. After a brief
settling in period, the Whirlwind recorded
its first operational sorties on 7 December
when Squadron Leader Eeles (in P6974),
with Flight Lieutenant Smith (P6975) and
Pilot Officer Hughes (P6976), flew a patrol
off the South Coast.
Just over a week later Squadron
Leader John Munro arrived as CO and
soon afterwards, on 23 December, the
Whirlwind first encountered the Luftwaffe
when Flight Lieutenant Smith, in P6970,
sighted a Junkers Ju 88 during a patrol
off Start Point, Devon. The Junkers
disappeared into the thick cloud before
Smith could attack.
The New Year opened promisingly

when, on 2 January 1941, Flying Officer
David Crooks and Sergeant Morton
scrambled after a plot of a Ju 88 and
although they did not make contact it
was, however, damaged by a Spitfire from
234 Squadron. It was not long, however,
until the Whirlwind was blooded.
On 12 January, whilst on detachment
at St Eval on the north coast of Cornwall,
Pilot Officer David Stein, at the controls
of P6972, with Sergeant Mason in P6968
as his No.2, took off at 09.40 hours for
a patrol. The pair was soon forty miles
south-west of the Scilly Islands, as he
subsequently described in his combat
report:
ABOVE: The Westland Whirlwind was the
RAF’s first single seat, twin-engine, cannonarmed fighter. The aircraft depicted here by
the renowned aviation artist Philip E. West,
serial P7094, flew operational sorties with
137 Squadron before being allocated to 263
Squadron, where it carried the codes HE-T.
For more information on this painting, or on
the various prints that are available, please
telephone The Art Studio on 01747 828810 or
visit Philip’s website at:
www.aviationfineart.co.uk
AUGUST 2013

11/07/2013 10:14

“After approx. 10 mins flying
intercepted one J.U. 88. I chased the
E.A. and eventually came at him from
front quarter. As attack developed into
full beam, I opened fire and gave him a
four sec. burst. The enemy top gunner
opened fire simultaneously, but stopped
immediately. I saw my shells hit top of
fuselage about distance from tail and a
minor explosion occur. The E.A. went into
a spiral dive into cloud – which was 10/10
– and, though I searched above & below, I
did not see him again.”
Stein claimed a “probably destroyed”.
This seemed to be confirmed when
radio intercepts later indicated that the
Germans were trying to contact the
AUGUST 2013

Reaping the Whirlwind.indd 27

aircraft. In recording this incident, the
squadron log noted: “The combat is
noteworthy as being the first occasion on
which the Whirlwinds drew blood.”
The following day, the 13th, Pilot
Officer “Kitch” Kitchener, took off in
P6988, with Pilot Officer Thornton-Brown
in P6972, from RAF St Eval. They were
patrolling about twenty miles south of
Land’s End at 19,000 feet when they
spotted a Heinkel He 111 slightly above
them and some miles ahead. The two
Whirlwinds immediately gave chase:
“South of the Scillies, Pink 2 [Kitchener]
found himself short of petrol, according
to his petrol gauge, and opened fire from
astern, firing a 4 to 5 second burst. The

ABOVE LEFT: Westland Whirlwind HE-N

photographed at Tern Hill in October 1940.
It is believed that this was P6972, this being
the aircraft flown by Pilot Officer Stein when
he made the first claim for the type on 12
January 1941. (Reg Findlay)

ABOVE RIGHT: Whirlwind P6976/HE-X

crashed on landing whilst being flown by Pilot
Officer Thornton-Brown after an interception
patrol on 13 January 1941. Earlier in the day
it had flown a similar patrol in the hands of
Sergeant Cliff Rudland. This image provides
a clear view of the Whirlwind’s characteristic
armament. (263 Squadron records)

Enemy Aircraft took violent evasive action
and Pink 2 closed to 300 yards but had
only two shells left in the magazine and
had to break off the engagement. The
27

11/07/2013 10:14

TOP: The Whirlwind’s first confirmed victory

was achieved on 8 February 1941 by Pilot
Officer Ken Graham, who was flying this
aircraft, P6969/HE-V (pictured here during a
patrol over the West Country). He shot down
an Arado Ar 196 but was apparently hit by
return fire and also shot down. (P.H.T. Green
Collection)

ABOVE LEFT: An informal picture of Flight

Lieutenant Cliff Rudland DFC. As a Sergeant,
Rudland was the first pilot to spot the Arado
floatplane which became the Whirlwind’s first
victim, but was unable to fire on it in the bad
weather. (64 Squadron records)

ABOVE RIGHT: Pilot Officer “Kitch” Kitchener
claimed several Junkers Ju 88s damaged
whilst flying the Whirlwind but was seriously
injured in a crash after his last engagement.
(H.H. Kitchener)

Enemy Aircraft did not open fire.
“Pink 1’s petrol was also running low
and he fired a short burst from astern at
800 to 500 yards range. Enemy Aircraft,
which had been diving, now entered
28

Reaping the Whirlwind.indd 28

a patch of cloud at 3,000 feet, flying
southwards. Towards the latter end of
the engagement one of the Enemy
Aircraft’s rear gunners fired tracer
ineffectively. Pink 1 followed Enemy
Aircraft down into the cloud with 440
m.p.h. showing on the clock. He leveled
out and came out of cloud base at
approximately 2,000 feet.”
The German bomber escaped, with
the two Whirlwinds returning to base
seemingly low on fuel. As it transpired
the fuel gauges were faulty. Such
problems aside, more concrete success
was not long in coming.
On 8 February 1941, Blue Section,
comprising Flying Officer Hughes in
P6991 and Sergeant Cliff Rudland in
P6989, took-off from Exeter at 08.40
hours for a practice flight. After twenty
minutes Hughes and Rudland were
diverted to investigate a plot detected by
radar and designated as Raid 139.
The pair was vectored over the sea
and was orbiting twelve miles south of
Start Point when Rudland spotted the
distinctive shape of an Arado Ar 196
low-wing reconnaissance floatplane.
The enemy aircraft then went into cloud
but was spotted again by Hughes about
1,000 yards to his left. He immediately set
up a beam attack and opened fire with a
five-second burst at 450 yards, closing to
200 yards, but without any visible result,
before the Arado disappeared into the
murk once more.
Meanwhile, Red Section, comprising
Flight Lieutenant David Crooks in P6968
and Pilot Officer Ken Graham in P6969,
had been scrambled from St Eval and
vectored to Dodman Point south of the
town of St Austell and further west from

the original sighting of the Arado. At
about 09.40 hours Crooks ordered them
to split up, with him flying above the
cloud and Graham below.
Seeing nothing above, David Crooks
descended and as he emerged from the
cloud he spotted Ken Graham’s Whirlwind
heading west. He consequently did a
gentle left turn to follow his colleague –
only to find that he had disappeared.
Two minutes later Crooks then spotted
a floatplane diving out of the cloud and
getting ever lower until it hit the water
inverted with the floats uppermost and
the black crosses clearly visible. At the
same time the local Coastguard reported
the sighting of two aircraft crashing into
the sea three miles south of Dodman
Point, one of them in flames. Sadly,
20-year-old Ken Graham did not return.
He was, however, posthumously credited
with destroying the Arado.
The Whirlwind’s first “scalp” was
AUGUST 2013

11/07/2013 10:14

an Arado Ar 196A of 5/Bordfleiger
Gruppe 196, Flown by the Staffelführer,
Oberleutnant Adolf Berger, the aircraft
was coded 6W+ON.
*
Later in the month Squadron Leader
Arthur Donaldson took over as CO of
263 Squadron. Throughout the following
month its Whirlwinds regularly skirmished
with the Luftwaffe over the Western
Approaches.
On 1 March, for example, Pilot Officer
Thornton Brown, flying P6989, was
leading Kitch Kitchener (in P6996) on
a morning patrol. When about twenty
miles off Land’s End they spotted a Ju 88
ahead. The Luftwaffe crew was equally
observant; the bomber turned and fled. A
long chase then ensued during which the
Ju 88 was damaged.
The same two pilots were involved in
the next incident on the morning of the
5th. They had left RAF Predannack, Kitch
leading in P6989 with Thornton-Brown in
P6991. Once again they spotted a Ju 88
to the south, which was flying at 19,000
feet, but Thornton-Brown got lost in cloud
whilst positioning to open fire. Having
lost his No.2, Kitchener closed upon the
enemy alone:
“I approached for a port quarter
attack but when I was within 300 yds E/A
dived slightly towards cloud. I followed
immediately astern at full throttle.
Although E/A was kept in sight and the
chase was started approximately over
Land’s End it was not until we reached the
Scillies that I was able to close to 400 yds.
“There was light cirrus cloud all the
way down to 4,000 ft a slight break at
4,000 ft but below this there was a thick
black rain cloud. At 5,000 ft I gave a short
AUGUST 2013

Reaping the Whirlwind.indd 29

burst as E/A was approaching thick bank
of cloud. I saw damage to port wing just
outboard of the engine. It was as if a mat
had been blown up by the wind. I cannot
describe it more accurately. I imagine that
an HE shell exploded in the wing. E/A
then entered thick cloud.
“When I emerged, E/A was five miles
to starboard still diving. At 200 ft it
levelled off. I gave chase and within 5
minutes closed to 350 yds. I gave five
short bursts exhausting all my ammunition
and saw E/A go down appreciably and
turn for home. I noticed that he turned
very gently and took no evasive action.
I think this may have been due to the
damaged wing.”
Six days later on the 11th Kitchener
was scrambled once more and took off
in Whirlwind P6985 at 16.40 hours. He
was ordered up to 23,000 feet and sent
over the sea to the south of the Lizard
Peninsula where an hour after taking off
he spotted an aircraft.
Many years later he described the
subsequent events: “Coming up from
the area of the Scillies was a Ju 88 again,
similar to the one that I had chased a few
days earlier. He must have spotted me too
as his nose went down and he opened up
to full throttle with me diving flat out after
him. At about 10,000 feet I had closed to
about 400 yards and opened at the same
time as his rear gunner did.

ABOVE: Whirlwind I P6984/HE-H of 263
Squadron seen at RAF Exeter. During the
summer of 1940, 263 Squadron lost many of
its personnel in the sinking of HMS Glorious.
In the months that followed Squadron Leader
Harry Eeles supervised the introduction of
the Whirlwind, using a few experienced 263
Squadron Norway veterans as the core of
the unit. Some were soon posted out, but
one that remained was Sergeant H.H. “Kitch”
Kitchener who had achieved a number of
victories against the odds flying the Gladiator
biplane in Norway. (263 Squadron records)
BELOW: A 263 Squadron Whirlwind, P7113,
being rearmed with a 250lb bomb. The
historian Philip J.R. Moyes made the following
observations on the type’s armament:
“The basic feature of the Whirlwind was its
concentration of firepower: its four closelygrouped heavy cannon in the nose had a
rate of fire of 600 lb./minute – which, until
the introduction of the Beaufighter, placed
it ahead of any fighter in the world.” (263
Squadron Records)
“Just before he went into cloud I fired
another burst and saw pieces coming off
the top just behind the canopy. I couldn’t
follow as his fire had hit my port engine
which was streaming glycol and so I
had to feather it. I headed back towards
Predannack flying on my starboard engine
but this too must have been damaged
because as I approached the airfield I
saw that it was on fire and it eventually
stopped just before the runway and I spun
in and crashed.”
Kitchener was badly injured, suffering

29

11/07/2013 10:14

a fractured skull and a broken arm and
was dragged from the blazing wreck
just before it exploded. He spent a long
period in hospital before returning to
service, but his flying days were over. He
left the RAF after the war and passed
away aged 95 on 7 July 2010.
The last of the claims in this early
period of Whirlwind operations came on
1 April when Arthur Donaldson, in P6998,
and Flight Lieutenant David Crooks, in
P6989, flew an evening patrol, taking off
at 18.35 hours.
North of the Lizard they spotted a
Dornier Do 215 that Donaldson attacked
and damaged. Sadly, David Crooks’
Whirlwind crashed in flames near Helston.
Although Donaldson had not heard him
call that he was attacking, it was assumed
that he too attacked the bomber but was
hit by return fire and shot down. The 28year old Canadian from Toronto was laid

30

Reaping the Whirlwind.indd 30

to rest near Redruth in Illogan churchyard.
*
Whirlwinds continued to experience
success, being used to escort Bomber
Command raids into Europe as well as
conducting their own Mandolin (attacks
on enemy railway transport) and Rhubarb
missions across the Channel. It was ideally
suited to such operations as in addition to
its powerful cannon the Whirlwind could
carry two 250lb bombs or a single 500lb
bomb. It was on 29 November 1943,
that 263 Squadron flew its last Whirlwind
mission, following which the aircraft were
retired from service.
Only one other squadron, 137
Squadron, received Whirlwinds, the total
number of aircraft built for the RAF being
just 114. When first devised the Whirlwind
was a highly advanced aircraft and had
its introduction into operational service
not been delayed by engine problems it

TOP: One of 263 Squadron’s Whirlwinds at

RAF Exeter in the spring of 1941, this time
pictured taxiing towards the photographer.
Despite the relatively small number of
Whirlwinds that entered service with the
RAF, the type remained operational, virtually
unmodified, for a remarkably long time. (263
Squadron Records)

ABOVE LEFT: A shot of a 263 Squadron

Whirlwind, HE-Q, in a sandbagged dispersal
pen at RAF Warmwell during 1942. (263
Squadron Records)

ABOVE RIGHT: Another view of a 263

Squadron Whirlwind at RAF Warmwell during
1942. (263 Squadron Records)

BELOW: This atmospheric image of a 263
Squadron Westland Whirlwind was taken
in the snow at RAF Exeter on 3 February
1941. Note the aircraft’s black and sky
undersurfaces. (263 Squadron Records)
might have been available for the Battle
of Britain and its fame would have been
ensured. As it transpired this magnificent
aircraft has largely been forgotten. ■

AUGUST 2013

11/07/2013 10:14