De Havilland Mosquito

The most versatile and successful allied aircraft of World War 2

The De Havilland Mosquito was so successful in many different combat roles that it was nicknamed "the wooden wonder". It was so fast and agile that it did not need gunners and gun turrets like all other bombers because it was faster than the enemy's fighters. Its loss rate was much lower than that of any other bomber, while it could perform long range precision bombing like no other bomber. It was also the best night fighter and photo reconnaissance aircraft, and an excellent fighter-bomber and long range bomber interceptor.

The sad fact that the superb De Havilland Mosquito did not also replace the big and slow heavy bombers as the main allied bomber in Europe, even when British authorities had all the updated combat-proven evidence and statistics to support that, is another example of how long a conservative beaurocratic inertia can actively reject significantly better available alternatives, at a heavy cost in blood and money being wasted as a result.

The plywood bomber

Making an aircraft mostly of wood, plywood, balsa and glue might seem obsolete even for 1938, especially for a high performance aircraft, but in fact the De Havilland Mosquito was the third in a family of excellent aircraft built from those materials by the De Havilland company, using highly advanced construction methods which resemble those used today to build large parts of the most modern military and civilian aircraft from strong, lightweight, and easy to shape composite materials, or in other words made of plastic.

In 1934 De Havilland built the wooden Comet racer aircraft, which won the 11,000 mile England-Australia air race. It followed with the wooden four engine Albatros commercial passenger aircraft, and in 1938 when Britain began rearming itself against the Nazi aggression, the De Havilland design team realized that they had the technology and capability to develop a long-range military aircraft with unprecedented performance. The idea was simple, combine the best available engines with the best aerodynamic shape and build it much lighter than an equivalent metal-made aircraft, and you are bound to get superior performance.

They naturally wanted to develop a bomber, but the air ministry insisted that bombers must have gun turrets for self defense. Gun turrets just didn't fit in De Havilland's lightweight and streamlined design. De Havilland claimed that instead of turrets, their proposed aircraft would rely on its speed and agility to avoid being intercepted by enemy fighters, but the doubtful air ministry totally rejected this bold idea.

It's important to note that there were precedents to building faster-than-fighters bombers. Two early 1930s German light bombers, the Heinkel 70 and Dornier 17, and the Russian Tupolev SB-2, were faster than their contemporary fighters and proved almost impossible to intercept during the Spanish civil war. But they also carried rear gunners for self defense, so De Havilland's proposal to rely solely on speed and agility for self defense was indeed unprecedented.

The outbreak of World War 2 in September 1939 which made rearmament more urgent than before, plus the fact that building the wooden Mosquito would not require the strategic resources of metal and the metal industry, plus the personal friendship of Mr. De Havilland with Air Marshal Freeman of the Air Council, finally changed the Mosquito's fate, and prototype construction was authorized. The Mosquito was powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, the superb engine which also powered the Spitfire, Hurricane, Lancaster, Mustang and other top allied aircraft of World War 2.

The first operational flight, in September 1941, absolutely justified De Havilland's promises when the Mosquito, on a photo reconnaissance mission over southern France, simply outran the German Me-109 fighters sent to intercept it, leaving them behind at over 400mph. Since then and until the end of World War 2, Mosquitoes streaked all over Europe, the North atlantic, and elsewhere, by day and night, at very high and very low altitudes, with amazing achievements and low losses, in a quickly growing variety of missions and types. There were missions that no other aircraft could perform, like precision bombardment of far targets located among the dense occupied population of European cities, which of course could not be mass bombed like German cities. Only the two-seat Mosquito could get there, very low and fast, quickly identify and aim at a particular building in the middle of a city, or even at a particular part of a building, and destroy it without causing heavy casualties to the nearby friendly occupied population, and without being decimated by the enemy's anti-aircraft defenses. With today's technology it's easier. Before the Mosquito it was practically impossible. The targets in those precision attacks were mainly offices and jails of the German GESTAPO, the nerve centers of the Nazi occupation.

The most versatile aircraft

The urgent need in 1941-1943 for various types of other aircraft and the continued disbelief in the Bomber Command and the Air Ministry in using the unarmed Mosquito as a bomber, led to diverting most of the Mosquito production from bombers, its intended role, to other roles. A total of 7781 Mosquitoes were produced during and even after World War 2. The main types were : When the first bomber-version Mosquitoes were delivered to the Royal Air Force, its crews quickly discovered its abilities as a bomber and demonstrated them in day and night bombing missions. They became enthusiast advocates of the Mosquito as a bomber, but the British Bomber Command and air ministry remained locked with their beliefs and thought that the Mosquito can only be used in small numbers as a day bomber.

Group commander Donald Bennett, who later commanded the Pathfinder Force of Mosquito bombers which were equipped with the latest electronic navigation equipment and located and marked targets for the formations of heavy bombers which followed, described this beaurocratic attitude well:

"I test flew the Mosquito by day and by night. At a meeting at the Air Ministry on the subject, Bomber Command and the Air Ministry both very strongly opposed the adoption of the Mosquito. They argued that it was a frail wood machine totally unsuitable for Service conditions, that it would be shot down because of its absence of gun turrets, and that in any case it was far too small to carry the equipment and an adequate Pathfinder crew. I dealt with each one of these points in turn, but finally they played their ace. They declared that the Mosquito had been tested thoroughly by the appropriate establishments and found quite unsuitable, and indeed impossible to fly at night. At this I raised an eyebrow, and said that I was very sorry to hear that it was quite impossible to fly it by night, as I had been doing so regularly during the past week and had found nothing wrong. There was a deathly silence. I got my Mosquitoes."
But even so, and despite all the accumulated information and statistics of the Mosquito's proven success and advantage as both a day and night bomber, Bomber Command used the Mosquito until the end of the war only as a secondary bomber, very successfully operating ahead of and beside the large formations of heavy night bombers, and impressively performing as a precision day bomber, but never replacing the big and slow heavy bombers, because bomber command remained locked with its belief that the only way to destroy Germany was with big heavy bombers carrying large crews and gun turrets. This wasn't their only misbelief.

Part 2 of 2: British strategic bombing, Pathfinders, the Mosquito bomber

Related essays:
World War 2 Bombers
World War 2 RADAR

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