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WORLD WAR TWO VULTEE VENGEANCE

26 FLYPAST September 2016

with all-metal stressed skin construction and airframe loads adjusted accordingly. ITS CREWS TURNED IT INTO A POTENT WEAPON.268kW) Wright Double Cyclone R-2600-A5B-5. It was specifically built as a divebomber. AS SEAN FEAST RELATES T hink of the most effective divebomber of World War Two and one would be forgiven for believing that honour might go to the German Junkers Ju 87 ‘Stuka’. Although the French had been first to consult the Americans on a new dive-bomber design.DEVASTATI N TO ORDER WHILE SENIOR COMMANDERS MAY NOT HAVE RATED THE VENGEANCE. India.700hp (1. 1944. Vengeance I AP114 in May 1944. Its range was comparatively limited. ANDY THOMAS COLLECTION Below Operating from Amada Road. The Model 72. It was an aircraft its crews came to love and the Japanese learned to fear. brainchild of Richard Palmer. the RAF rushed to achieve parity. the Vengeance ultimately evolved to a British specification. and the reputation of the divebomber at its peak. EARLY FRUSTRATIONS The first Vengeance for the RAF didn’t take flight until July 1941 and it was immediately clear that further modifications would be Top left Bombing up an 82 Squadron Vengeance at Jumchar. Having seen the havoc caused by Stukas in advance of the German Wehrmacht in Poland and France. was a twoseat single-engined monoplane with a distinctive wing shape. Like many aircraft developed before 1939. Its powerplant was a 1. Contracts were negotiated in the US in the summer of 1940 at a time when the RAF was woefully short of a dedicated divebomber. But another American type takes the top slot for delivering the maximum number of direct hits for the minimum amount of losses. with l’Armée de l’Air officers urgently seeking to address their ailing military aircraft programme. the birth of the Vengeance was not especially easy. India. the Russian Petlyakov Pe-2 ‘Peshka’ or the American Douglas Dauntless.000ft (7. head of engineering for Vultee.315m). in the spring of 1944. KEY COLLECTION . KEC Centre left Vengeances of the RAAF’s 12 Squadron peeling off for a dive. which gave it a maximum speed of around 279mph (448km/h) and the ability to climb to a little above 24. but it was never intended that the Vengeance should fly far to its target. yet it never went to war with US forces: the Vultee 72 A-31 Vengeance.

diving from 10.30in machine guns in the rear cockpit was inadequate and the similar-calibre four guns in the wings tended to overheat and jam. although its sister unit. and a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) unit. All three air arms shared “‘Vics’ of up to a dozen aircraft were considered ideal. India. Some Vengeances would come back with all their defences out of action. one of only a handful of .Is and 300 Mk. possibly at Digri.IIs. in June 1942. Many aircraft returned home with the air gunner’s hand cramped from continually pumping the hand-drive wobble pump. India. faulty piston rings and temperamental electric fuel pumps caused equal concern. began receiving it in October 1942 too. The honour of being the first RAF unit to operate the Vengeance fell to 82 Squadron. Oil leaks. 12 Squadron. 84. KEC Right Changing the engine of an 82 Squadron Vengeance at Cholavarum. Satisfied. Two other RAF outfits – 45 and 110 Squadrons – were also equipped. Such was the work involved that the first production model didn’t fly until almost a year later. The mounting for the twin 0. Wg Cdr Dennis Gibbs. in mid-1943 bedecking a Vengeance with its dive brakes deployed. reported it was not until April 1943 that he obtained serviceable aircraft which could be flown every day! Gibbs was later be awarded the DSO for his period in command.WORLD WAR TWO VULTEE VENGEANCE Above Personnel of ‘A’ Flight 110 Squadron. 7 and 8 Squadrons taking the type. became the first to bomb Japanese targets. others were to follow.000ft to 4. in February 1943. The CO of 82 Squadron. the British signed an initial contract for 400 Mk. The Indian Air Force flew the Vengeance.000ft to achieve an accurate drop and allowing for a suitable margin to descend lower if required” the same early frustrations. Among pilots asked to test the new type as part of the British Air Commission was Battle of Britain veteran Wg Cdr Mike Crossley DSO DFC. On the forward fuselage it carries the legend ‘United Provinces Squadron’. KEC required before the design could be progressed.

Attacks were made throughout May and June 1943 before 82’s place was taken in the line by 45 Squadron to maintain momentum. W/O John Barnard. 1943. Squadrons also experimented with tactics. the conflict shifted back to the Arakan and the squadrons were called in to support the army’s attempted advance. The RAF’s pace of attacks in the last few months of 1943 was relentless and casualties were sustained. diving from 10.Vengeance aircrew to be recognised – a cause of considerable frustration and anger at the time and since. and its achievements served only to distress them further. UNWANTED CHILD Despite early successes. they would not commit any more support if it could be avoided. Each successful operation was greeted by a ‘Strawberry’ communicated by September 2016 FLYPAST 29 . the ideal length of dive and angle of attack. 23-year-old Flt Sgt Richard Harding and his navigator. 1943 when a box of six Vengeances bombed a Japanese headquarters in Htizwe village on the Arakan Front in Burma. Between the first deliveries in the late autumn of 1942 until operational readiness was achieved the following spring. This encouraged an official report declaring the Vengeance as ideally suited to being “used with good effect against small targets”. While they would tolerate its existence if they must.7m) of the objective. The Allies did not want its camera equipment falling into Japanese hands so 45 Squadron was ordered to destroy it. causing considerable damage. prompting a congratulatory signal from the Air Officer Commanding. most of the time was spent in local flying and intense bombing practice. It was as though the aircraft was an unwanted child. although the numbers remained mercifully low. the Vengeance’s run of good fortune came to an end on October 17. More sorties were flown against enemy strong points and pillboxes over the next few days. Bengal. KEC the target area. An unusual task was a precision strike on a photorecce Spitfire that had crashed behind enemy lines. or 290mph at 75°. Terminal velocity with dive brakes extended and one-third throttle was recorded at 320mph at 90°. It was the first combat casualty of any Vengeance unit. Targets in and around Akyab Island became the priority to disrupt the landing and transportation of supplies to Japanese forces. among them 82 Squadron. Early Vengeance sorties comprised sea patrols. supporting Allied troops who were heavily engaged. including the optimum flying formations. not surprisingly.000ft to achieve an accurate drop and allowing for a suitable margin to descend lower if required. there was still reluctance among senior commanders – verging on outright antipathy – towards the Vengeance as a weapon of war. KEC Below A 110 Squadron Vengeance on a sortie from Karachi. It was a period of maximum effort and. some being able to place their bombs within 15 yards (13. ‘Vics’ of up to a dozen aircraft were considered ideal. December 1943. hunting with little success for elusive Japanese submarines. Pilots were soon getting the hang of things. an embarrassment to its parents. of 82 Squadron failed to return. With the ebb and flow of the war in Burma. All 12 bombs burst in the centre of the target.000ft to 4. That day. India. Other RAF units were soon in the fray. INTO THE FRAY The crews of 110 Squadron celebrated a ‘Red Letter Day’ on March 19. their aircraft was hit by flak and seen to crash near Above Fuelling and rearming an 82 Squadron Vengeance at Dohazari. December 1942.

RAAF Vengeances from 24 Squadron dropped nine tons of bombs in an initial attack. . Sadly. INVASION ALERT Missions by Australian Vengeance squadrons (12. Increasingly the RAF units worked alongside one another in a pattern not dissimilar to the ‘cab rank’ system perfected by Hawker Typhoon squadrons over Northern Europe. The action was one of the last the men of 45 Squadron were involved in before being pulled out of the line to re-equip with DH Mosquitos. they lost two of their aircraft in the strike – including one carrying an army captain as an observer. Although they were initially on invasion alert. 84 Squadron. under Sqn Ldr Arthur Gill. were happily few and far between. When the first columns moved off.. KEC “. Japanese fighters appeared only occasionally. 21 ‘City of Melbourne’. with devastating effect” army/navy headquarters. Flak remained the greatest danger. Plt Off Hedley Jewell’s aircraft was shot down.. ‘CAB RANK’ As well as frontline objectives. 24 ‘City of Adelaide’ and 25 ‘City of Perth’) mirrored those of their RAF counterparts. and in less than a week a painful thorn in the Australians’ side had been removed. With increased liaison with ground forces. on the unit’s last-ever Vengeance operation. Vengeances could drop down from the skies to pick off targets where they were most needed. 23 and 24 Squadrons hit enemy anti-aircraft batteries in Hansa Bay. but when danger was expected the dive-bombers flew with fighter escort – but it was by no means a given. with strikes on enemy positions that were holding up the advance of the Australian 5th and 7th Divisions moving along the Huon peninsula. Throughout February. on January 17. with devastating effect. For example. 1944 two dozen Vengeances from 45 and 110 Squadrons attacked a Japanese stronghold at Kyauktaw twice in the space of less than 20 minutes. was ready in support and relieved soon after by its counterparts in 45 Squadron. 23 ‘City of Brisbane’.WORLD WAR TWO VULTEE VENGEANCE Right Sergeant Das Gupta and Aircraftman Enshain of the Indian Air Force bombing up a Vengeance. Indian Air Force Vengeance squadrons meanwhile joined the fray in December. conversely. At one fortress known locally as ‘Shaggy Ridge’. KEY COLLECTION Centre right An impressive bomb tally on an 82 Squadron Vengeance. and there were plenty to report. Vengeance units were also briefed to support the behind-the-lines activities of the famed General Orde Wingate and his ‘Chindit’ special forces. ‘Raspberries’. Sadly.two dozen Vengeances from 45 and 110 Squadrons attacked a Japanese stronghold at Kyauktaw twice in the space of less than 20 minutes. Nadzab in northern New Guinea became a focus in the winter of 19431944. operations in earnest began in New Guinea in September 1943 from Tsili. the RAAF units combined to bring even greater weight to their strikes and on the 24th of the month. Vengeances mostly had to fend for themselves. hitting Japanese radio location installations on the islands of Kaial and Wonam and supporting the Australian 9th Division’s amphibious landing on Satelberg.

KEY COLLECTION Centre left Vengeance IV A27-503 of 25 Squadron. tucking the gear up in May 1944. September 2016 FLYPAST 31 . to engage. COLLECTION Left Ground crew getting ready to turn around an Indian Air Force Vengeance. casualties were remarkably low. Indian Air Force. Crews were engaged in all the major actions along the Indo-Burmese border and in particular the battles in and around Imphal and Kohima. Despite the increase in volume and frequency of strikes. or unable. RAAF.NEW TACTIC Above Vengeance II AN795 of 7 Squadron. at the point of pulling out of a dive. to small arms fire. The Vengeances that did fail to return inevitably did so as a result of flak or. which crashed at Ceduna. Flying hundreds of sorties. Two ‘ops’ per crew per day were not uncommon. Even a near miss could cause terrible damage. KEY The Vengeance squadrons’ powers reached their zenith in the spring and early summer of 1944. South Australia. March 1944. with some attacks delivered on enemy targets within a few yards of friendly forces. so accuracy was essential and the 14th Army was once again full of praise for their air force colleagues. 1944 during a ferry flight. Losses to Japanese aircraft were virtually unheard of: enemy fighters seemed unwilling. ANDY THOMAS COLLECTION the dive-bombers were pushed to the limit of their endurance. on October 10.

The sortie was completed with the usual high degree of accuracy.528 of all types had been built. of which 1. ANDY THOMAS COLLECTION BURMA THEATRE RAF VENGEANCE UNITS Squadron 45 82 84 110 From Dec 1942 Aug 1942 Dec 1942 Oct 1942 Below Ground running the Double Cyclone on Vengeance II A27-211 ‘Biddles’ of 12 Squadron. although the fuses were timed to avoid this. thousands of miles away in the US the decision had been taken to cease production and the last one rolled out of the factory on June 2. RAAF. with Flt Lt Alan Blackburn in the rear seat. It’s time that Vultee Vengeances – and the men that crewed them – are given the recognition they so richly deserve. early 1944. FINAL FLING Under the command of Sqn Ldr Hemango Choudhuri. probably at Nadzab. New Guinea. It was fitting that the Vengeance’s final combat operation was flown by 84 Squadron. the unit that had first taken the dive-bomber into action.205 were passed to the RAF – some purchased outright and others on Lend-Lease. Sqn Ldr Gill. The Vengeances swept down through thick cloud to register a direct hit. . it was led by the CO. Other raids on similar bridges were attempted but never with the same degree of success. whereas the humble Vengeance achieved 100% accuracy. The start of the monsoon season in June signalled the beginning of the end for Vengeance operations in the Far East. So how does the Vengeance rank in the list of the all-time greats? Comparing various bombers in the Far East for their bombing accuracy. A misjudged approach could have fatal consequences. Right 100% ACCURACY Vengeance II A27-209 of 12 Squadron. the crews of 7 Squadron. ANDY THOMAS COLLECTION To Feb 1944 Jul 1944 Oct 1944 Jan 1945 Replacement Mosquito VI Mosquito VI Disbanded Mosquito VI At least one of the squadrons worked out a new tactic: attacking the target in two ‘vics’ from opposite directions to divide the enemy’s antiaircraft fire. RAAF. most of the bombs and incendiaries falling in the target area. In total.WORLD WAR TWO VULTEE VENGEANCE Twelve Vengeances made an early afternoon attack on an enemy ammunition dump on July 16. All the aircraft returned safely to base. some becoming garishly painted target-tugs and sturdy or reliable station ‘hacks’. New roles were found for those yet to be delivered. New Guinea. Trials were even undertaken to use the Vengeance to carry poison gas. Appropriately. 1. late 1943. Occasionally a Vengeance would be caught in the blast from the bombs of the aircraft in front of it. While the Vengeance was enjoying its swansong. were briefed on May 25. Indian Air Force. 1944 to bomb a strategic bridge near Imphal. a study by the Indian Air Force found the B-24 Liberator registered 50% hits and the B-25 Mitchell 60%. The structure was of vital importance to the Japanese army’s lines of communication and nothing short of total destruction would do. seriously delaying the Japanese advance. In what appeared to be undue haste the squadrons were withdrawn and re-equipped.