12 August 2017 | Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. In contemporary times turbofan-powered U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortresses and B-1B Lancers stand ready to roar into the dark sky and proactively defend democracies in potential peril, but more than seventy years ago there was another duo of strategic machines that initially bore the brunt of the Second World War Allies’ nocturnal long-range first strike and retaliatory taskings.
One, the Handley Page Halifax, was an aeroplane which, after being mated to Bristol Hercules radial engines and engineers changed to rectangular vertical stabilisers, evolved into a very competent flying machine that was in some aspects superior to its more famous and glamorous Avro Lancaster contemporary.
Halifaxes are finally receiving belated and deserved recognition via a new website named the Halifax Aircraft Network (aka ‘HAN‘) where the ongoing recovery activities of Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) may be viewed.
The recently launched Halifax Aircraft Network‘s goal is to provide an educational and informational resource for military aviation aficionados and historians. Visitors will learn of the significances of the Halifax to Bomber Command and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the now very rare birds’ connections to thousands of Americans who joined the RCAF during the Second World War.
HAN pages also feature videos on the 1995 Norway recovery and a Halifax Sweden Project that is in progress. Some of the additional offerings include interviews with veterans, scenes from the Rebuild Shop, films shot at Bomber Command Museum of Canada, and information on continuing RCAF-American memorial initiatives, projects and ceremonies.
Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) is a Canadian non-profit and charitable organization. As referenced above, in the middle 1990s leaders, including Karl Kjarsgaard, planned and completed the recovery of a Halifax from 750 feet of water at the bottom of Lake Mjosa, which is near Hamar, Norway. This Halifax (NA337) was restored and is on display at the National Air Force Museum in Trenton, Ontario.
A British-built machine, the Halifax was a staple of Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command, and many Britons, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and Americans served in them as aircrew.
Late marks (models / versions) of Halifaxes possessed approximately the same performance as the Lancaster, but the Handley Page product was more versatile as far as employment (in addition to utilisation as aerial bombardment platforms they also excelled as glider tugs, transports, meteorological and maritime reconnaissance planes and post-war civil airliners) and for crew were somewhat safer in controlled crash landing scenarios.
The fact is that most of the young men who served in Halifaxes loved the rugged workhorses, which dutifully laboured on in the shadow of the more frequently and favourably publicised Lancaster.
Notably, a relatively high percentage of RCAF and RAF personnel perished on the missions undertaken by Bomber Command because to survive the airmen had to repeatedly pass through Nazi Germany’s highly effective and potent night fighter force interception areas and traverse defence corridors around targets that sent up withering anti-aircraft fire.
Other impediments to survival included inclement weather, unexpected strong winds, pilot vertigo and mechanical and structural failures. As one can readily surmise, the odds were stacked against the aircrews and it is a testament to the inherent greatness of the Halifax and Lancaster that more Allied aviators did not die.
Since the Halifax played such an important role in Canadian military aviation history and with Bomber Command, it is only fitting and proper that Bomber Command Museum of Canada possesses an example for public viewing. In fact, next weekend’s events in Nanton are in part devoted to commemorations of 6 Group RCAF.
Between 1942 and 1945, 6 Group was comprised of heavy bomber squadrons that were based on airfields located in the vicinity of Yorkshire, England. Several operated the Halifax Mk I and Mk II and Lancaster II.
If Karl Kjarsgaard, Jim Blondeau and their colleagues at Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) have their way, within a few years Bomber Command Museum of Canada will have a restored Halifax to display alongside the resplendent and beloved ‘Bazalgette’ Lancaster already in residence inside the hangar. After all, as Mr. Kjarsgaard notes, “All of the heavy bomber squadrons of the RCAF were equipped with the Halifax for at least part of the war.”
It goes without saying that officials of Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) are constantly searching for government, corporate and private sponsors (including public donations) to continue the quest of honouring veterans by saving Halifaxes and combat histories. HAN webmaster and Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) representative Jim Blondeau notes the following: “These are educational projects that are for Canada and the world. We need your financial help.”
The importance of the endeavour should not be underestimated, because, once on exhibit, the Halifax and Lancaster will serve as visual physical history lessons for the benefit of future generations: Seeing these behemoths of the air will remind all of the sacrifices made by Bomber Command’s Canadian, British and American servicemembers.
Please honour our WWII vets by donating to Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) on a regular basis until the goals of securing and restoring a Handley Page Halifax for Bomber Command Museum of Canada is reached. Contributions may be received via the yellow ‘Donate‘ button at the top of the Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) site or through a ‘Support the Recovery of a RCAF Halifax Bomber‘ Fundrazer campaign. Simply click on one of the embedded links within this paragraph.
Note: The author (John Stemple) thanks Jim Blondeau and Karl Kjarsgaard for their assistance and cooperation during the preparation of this article.
Sources and Suggested Readings
6 (RCAF) Group – Bomber Command
Bazalgette Lancaster FM-159
Handley Page Halifax
Handley Page Halifax Mk III
No. 6 Group Royal Canadian Air Force
Rockwell B-1 Lancer
Salute to 6 Group RCAF
The Lancaster Bomber