December 2005 (Updated 7 July 2015). Halifax at War: The Story of a Bomber tells the entire story of the Halifax aircraft from the design stage to the final conversion to that of a postwar commercial airliner. The film utilises never seen before footage of the Halifax in action and details how initial shortcomings of the design were overcome to produce a very competent and successful flying machine.
During the early years of World War II Halifaxes were relied upon to carryout the brunt of Britain’s bombardment campaigns. Over time, and in the shadow of its counterpart (the more famous Avro Lancaster), the Halifax proved its mettle, capabilities and versatility.
The Handley Page Halifax heavy bomber was initially envisioned by Royal Air Force (RAF) leaders to be the only heavy bomber that would be needed. However, this was not to become reality.
When early Halifaxes emerged from the assembly lines Bristol Hercules engines were unavailable for the storied aeroplane. Instead less powerful and robust, but readily available, versions of Rolls Royce Merlin engines were fitted. Performance was less than hoped and the substitution actually made the heavy bomber more vulnerable to prowling Luftwaffe night fighters.
Due to the aforementioned and other initial deficiencies Halifaxes were disliked by the RAF higher command. In fact ‘Bomber’ Harris, Commander of Bomber Command, himself considered the Halifax unsatisfactory and much preferred the Avro Lancaster.
Nevertheless, in the end Halifaxes were tasked with more than 39,000 sorties over enemy occupied Europe and Germany itself. Additionally, the big warbirds towed gliders, dropped agents, performed weather reconnaissance, patrolled for U-Boats, carried cargo and pioneered aerial electronic warfare. Unfortunately, after the cessation of hostilities the Halifax’s contributions were readily forgotten by historians.
Contrarily, and as pointed out in Halifax at War: The Story of a Bomber, the venerable aircraft were not forgotten by the men who flew them. These veterans, who are perhaps the most competent to pass judgment, preferred the Halifax, at least the latter marks of the series, to the Lancaster. On camera they point out that, in comparison to Lancasters, Halifaxes were better capable of enduring heavy battle damage, was easier to exit in the air, and provided more survivability if the pilot was forced to crash land on ditch into the sea. The interviewees furthermore provide gripping accounts of what the aircraft was like to fly in combat.
Some 6,178 Halifaxes were constructed. Sadly only a few remain. One is NA-337. As a bonus Halifax at War: The Story of a Bomber contains the fascinating tale of how the Halifax Aircraft Association rescued referenced aircraft from the bottom of a Norwegian lake and reverently restored her as a tribute all those who crewed the Halifax.
In addition efforts to recover a pair of recent finds are underway at Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada). These labours are worthy endeavours because, as Karl Kjarsgaard (President of Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) and former airline pilot), who is briefly shown in the video feature, points out a substantial number of Canadian airmen who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in the Second World War were posted to Halifax squadrons. Additionally Mr. Kjarsgaard discovered that many Americans who volunteered for service with the RCAF were also members of Halifax units, and the associated casualty statistics qualify the Halifax to be recognized as an important airplane in American aviation history. Therefore, the viewing of Halifax at War: The Story of a Bomber is highly recommended.
The reviewer (John Stemple) thanks Mr. Karl Kjarsgaard for providing his insights.
Suggested Views and Readings
Halifax at War: The Story of a Bomber. Nightfighter Productions Inc. 2005. ISBN 978-1-55259-974-7. Running time: 76 minutes.
Handley Page Halifax
Handley Page Halifax III
NA 337: The Recovery and Restoration
The Handley Page Halifax