The mosquito

Chapter:

The British claim that their Mosquito, the all-wood bomberfighter , is the fastest bomber in the world. There seems to be nothing to disprove this claim. The Mosquito also has the distinction of being the only new machine designed and produced in England during this war, and it seems to have been designed for the special purpose of making intruder daylight raids over Germany and Occupied Europe without fighter escorts. While the Bostons are attack bombers, heavily armed and armored, the Mosquitoes rely on their speed and on the low-flying skill of their pilots to bring them out of danger.

Like most British warplanes, the Mosquito has a pedigree. It is a direct descendant of the famous De Havilland 2 pusher fighter of World War I, and of the better-known DH-9a two-seater bomberfighter , many of which were manufactured in America during the closing days of the conflict. Its immediate parent, however, was not a warplane, but a long-distance racing aircraft designed by Captain De Havilland for the London-Melbourne race in 1934. The little machine, known as the Comet, won the race hands down from other American and British entrants, and was promptly forgotten, mainly because no one could see any practical use for such a fast two-seater.

One man did have an idea. He was Captain Hubert Broad, the De Havilland test pilot. After he had made a flight in the Comet, he remarked: "These little machines would be fine for one-bomb raids. We could get on a target and off it before anyone knew we were there."

Whether that remark, made in 1935, had anything to do with the production of the new bomber is not known, but when the Mosquito made its first appearance, its resemblance to the Comet was unmistakable. Further support to the theory that Captain Broad's idea had something to do with the building of the Mosquito is given in the fact that the De Havilland Company built the machine as a private venture and not to any Air Ministry specification.

The De Havilland Aircraft Company had considerable experience in building wooden aircraft, and as wood was considered a nonstrategic material, the British government saw no good reason to hamper the production of the new plane.

The use of wood for the beautifully streamlined Mosquito was actually a considerable advantage. It meant that a large number of concerns not engaged in aircraft production could be set to work, such as furniture and piano factories, and even small carpenter shops, and that the machine would have a quality of buoyancy and lightness not present in the all-metal bomber. From the outset Captain De Havilland and his chief designer, Mr. R. E. E. Bishop, were completely sold on the sturdiness of wood construction, and so they probably went ahead on their experimental machine with confidence.

Twenty-two months after the design went to the drawing boards, the first model typed as the DH-98 was put into production and became the first military aircraft to be built by the company since 1918, when they were producing two hundred and fifty DH-9's and 1o's every month. Mass production of the Mosquito was undertaken by four hundred separate firms making component parts, with similar arrangements operating in Canada, India, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. How many of these cleanlined bombers are now being turned out is a matter of conjecture, but the output in all parts of the world is probably higher than that of any other plane in service. Into the early Mosquitoes went wood that would normally have been used for pianos, furniture, houses, and chicken coops. Every available inch of balsa, spruce, and plywood was pressed into service, and the result was a bomber with a fighter's performance, so marked that the Air Ministry quickly asked for a fighter version of it.

The Mosquito is said to be one of the strongest planes in existence. On operational flights it has taken considerable punishment and returned intact. Large caliber bullets make clean holes in the wooden wings, and even the German explosive shells do not do serious damage. Its own armament consists of four 20-mm. cannon and four .30-caliber machine guns. It carries four 500-pound bombs, and even with full load handles as easily as a fighter. The little bomber has a reputation in the R.A.F. of being the most comfortable of the smaller bombers because of its excellent heating system. Even at high altitude, Mosquito crews do not require special clothing, and it is said that if the heating system were turned on at low altitudes, the crew would faint.

Early Mosquito raids included Oslo, Berlin, and the Phillips Electrical Works in Occupied Holland. The Oslo raid took place in bright sunshine of the morning of September 25, 1942. The Mosquitoes crossed the North Sea at a height of about fifteen feet, skirted behind a low hill which runs southeast of the city, and swooped westward toward their target, Gestapo headquarters.

"But the enemy did not let us have things quite our own way," said the pilot who led this raid. "He put up a flight of Focke-Wulf 190's, which came for us as we rounded the hill. They got one of our aircraft in the starboard propeller, but he kept on flying smoothly. That was all the damage they did, although they followed us for thirty miles before we shook them off.

"We carried on over the city, still flying low. We got a quick glimpse of the people in the streets as we rushed over them, low enough to see the Nazi flag—swastika and all—floating above the dome of the Gestapo headquarters.

"We all bombed from about a hundred feet. The crew of one aircraft saw the bombs of another hit the corner of the Gestapo's central building. This crew then bombed the west side of the quarters and a third aircraft bombed the east side. Debris and a great quantity of dark red dust or smoke was thrown up and was still hanging in the air as the crews lost sight of the city." In telling the story of the raid the squadron leader said: "Quisling and I had an appointment in the same town." He smiled.

"Quisling had a big crowd with him. I believe it was one of his party rallies. I only had a little crowd—we were in four Mosquitoes—and they gave us very short notice, but we were punctual. In formation we made for Gestapo headquarters. We bombed at nine minutes to four. The other members of the formation took the blocks to the right and left, and I went through the center block, the one with the swastika flying.

"One of our observers told me he saw all our load go through the roof. He watched the tiles flying up and thought the bombs were exploding instantaneously. But it was only the shock of the impact —the Germans still had a few more seconds to wait before the bursts. There was the Quisling holding his rally somewhere around the corner. We had not gone for him. We had gone for his German masters. Without them he could not last for a minute." When the raid was over, the Mosquitoes were chased by a flight of FW-190's. The R.A.F. pilots determined to give the Germans a run for their money. They began to hedge-hop, skimming factory chimneys, skirting hills, and diving into valleys. Then they headed out to sea, leaving the Focke-Wulfs behind, without a hope of catching them.

After Oslo, the Mosquitoes went into action with distressing regularity for the Germans. The R.A.F. found it necessary to institute schools giving special low-flying instructions to Mosquito aircrews.

The course consisted of hedge-hopping, long-distance flights at fifteen feet above the ground on dog's-leg courses, and flying between obstacles.

It was soon found that the two men who sit side by side in the cockpit of the Mosquito had to have very special physical and mental qualities, particularly the bomb aimer, who is also navigator, radio man, air gunner, and spare pilot. If anything happens to the pilot, he must be able to bring the machine home and land it safely.

With the new bombers coming off the production line at high speed, the R.A.F. began looking for crew material in every available quarter. They wanted special men for a specialized job, and they knew that the training would have to be longer in duration than training for other types of operational flying. Likely recruits received a severe mental and physical test, then were sent to the special Initial Training Wing schools, where they were toned up physically for the task ahead. Simultaneously, they were crammed with a stiff signals and navigation course, and taught to fly. Under instruction , they flew as pilots one day and as navigators and bomb aimers the next.

With their training at the advanced stage, the applicants were sorted into two groups, pilot material and "supermen," the fellows who could do everything, navigate, operate the radio, drop the bombs, and pilot. All this was accomplished on the slower Anson trainers. Then came the transition to the Mosquitoes themselves, with training as near to active service conditions as possible.

Before qualifying, each pilot has to take the 5 4-foot span of the machine safely through a gap made of easily destructible obstacles.

The gap, usually between paper or canvas obstacles, is about 200 feet wide in early training, and is then gradually narrowed to 100 or 75 feet. A later test demands that the pilot zig-zag at high speed through a series of poles set 50 to 100 yards apart to simulate the avenues of poplars and other tall trees found in the fortress of Europe.

The increasing use of the new bombers prompted the Air Ministry to give considerable attention to the art of low-flying bombchimneys , skirting hills, and diving into valleys. Then they headed out to sea, leaving the Focke-Wulfs behind, without a hope of catching them.

After Oslo, the Mosquitoes went into action with distressing regularity for the Germans. The R.A.F. found it necessary to institute schools giving special low-flying instructions to Mosquito aircrews.

The course consisted of hedge-hopping, long-distance flights at fifteen feet above the ground on dog's-leg courses, and flying between obstacles.

It was soon found that the two men who sit side by side in the cockpit of the Mosquito had to have very special physical and mental qualities, particularly the bomb aimer, who is also navigator, radio man, air gunner, and spare pilot. If anything happens to the pilot, he must be able to bring the machine home and land it safely.

With the new bombers coming off the production line at high speed, the R.A.F. began looking for crew material in every available quarter. They wanted special men for a specialized job, and they knew that the training would have to be longer in duration than training for other types of operational flying. Likely recruits received a severe mental and physical test, then were sent to the special Initial Training Wing schools, where they were toned up physically for the task ahead. Simultaneously, they were crammed with a stiff signals and navigation course, and taught to fly. Under instruction , they flew as pilots one day and as navigators and bomb aimers the next.

With their training at the advanced stage, the applicants were sorted into two groups, pilot material and "supermen," the fellows who could do everything, navigate, operate the radio, drop the bombs, and pilot. All this was accomplished on the slower Anson trainers. Then came the transition to the Mosquitoes themselves, with training as near to active service conditions as possible.

Before qualifying, each pilot has to take the 5 4-foot span of the machine safely through a gap made of easily destructible obstacles.

The gap, usually between paper or canvas obstacles, is about 200 feet wide in early training, and is then gradually narrowed to 100 or 75 feet. A later test demands that the pilot zig-zag at high speed through a series of poles set 50 to 100 yards apart to simulate the avenues of poplars and other tall trees found in the fortress of Europe.

The increasing use of the new bombers prompted the Air Ministry to give considerable attention to the art of low-flying bombleys , railways, and telegraph lines were available. Operations were carefully rehearsed with model planes, in order to avoid the danger of collision. Usually in approaching the coast of France, one squadron would make a feint attack to draw the German antiaircraft fire, while the main attacking force would streak over the coastline at another point, sometimes with the fuselages of their planes almost touching the muzzles of the German coastal defense guns.

"Once the Mosquitoes got in, the Hun had to do a lot of scratching ," commented an R.A.F. spokesman. "Usually their gunners waste a lot of ammunition blazing away in all directions. A gun crew has to be very lucky to be able to get a shot at a Mosquito flying in low over its gun emplacement, and unless the gunlayers have been accurately tipped off as to the direction of approach, their chances of hitting the planes are remote." Mosquitoes have caused considerable damage to Axis railways, both by bombing and strafing. Squadron Leader Ralston, DSO, DFM, and his observer, Flight Lieutenant Clayton (who, in June, 1943, topped the R.A.F. bombing sortie records with ninety-three raids to his credit) are specialists on this particular kind of nuisance attack. On one occasion, these two officers actually sealed a train inside a tunnel. They dropped their first bomb on the mouth of the tunnel as the train was entering at one end, and then turned and bombed the rear.

You can get some of the thrill of Mosquito flying in this pilot's description of his attack on a train. "We saw a train, going in the opposite direction, so the air gunner gave the cab of the locomotive a burst. We saw two men tumble out of the cabin. Then we banked and suddenly a church spire rushed out of the murk straight ahead and well above us. I just turned aside to miss it. My air gunner says it was a foot, but it was enough. After flying down in the yard of a big brick works, which didn't seem worth bombing, we went back to the railway and found another train. We flew at it head on, but the combined speed was too great. The bomb missed the train itself, but dropped into the tender of the locomotive. As we turned to come in again, the explosion took place, and bits of coal spattered our aircraft. We made another run and dropped two more bombs. There wasn't much left of the train. It looked just like the one in the Marx Brothers' film 'Go West.' We felt good after that!"

A navigator-bombardier back from his first raid gave me some details of the fighter plane performance of the little bomber. "The way the pilot threw our machine about put the wind up me at first," he declared. "I'm used to climbing turns, but not to the kind of thing my pilot pulled out of the hat. We went past one factory chimney so near that I thought we had hit it. Then we dived into a sandpit and banked with the wing tip scraping the floor and zoomed over the edge in the same direction as we had entered the place. Then we ran into a flight of FW-190's, tough fellows at any time. One of them had more guts than usual. He came right down 'on the deck' with us, and sat on our tail—but only for a little while.

"My pilot went slap into an avenue of trees and he kept flying in and out of them for a mile or so. I thought he would scrape off a a wing any moment. The FW-190 followed us, and he got in a hell of a mess. He was so busy tree dodging that he didn't get a chance to shoot. When we got out of the wood and he came on, then my pilot went up. These busses climb so fast that it's really frightening. We were up 4000 feet before I knew what was happening . You talk about a Zero standing on its tail and going straight up—I'll bet those Jap machines have nothing on the Mosquito ! As for the bombing, it's the easiest way. You choose a juicy spot, and let them go—plonk—plonk—and you beat it home."

Said a former Spitfire pilot: "It is no exaggeration to say that! the Mosquito has fighter performance. In my opinion it is the loveliest , cleanest, low-level aircraft in service, and personally I would not change my type of work for anything in the R.A.F. The first time I was chased by an FW I was in a sweat. All I could think of was what I might have done if I had been in a Spit. I opened up, but nothing very much happened. Then suddenly my machine shot forward as if I had given her the gun a few seconds late. What had been holding her back? I saw my navigator grin. Afterwards he explained. The bomb-bay doors were still open when the FW had come on us, and the drag held us back. When they were closed, we just showed the FW our tail, and that was that. I had another bad moment, when one of my engines was shot up, but the machine came home on one engine, behaving perfectly."

Like other low-flying machines, the Mosquitoes sometimes hit!, objects on the ground. One machine came home recently with a tree branch in its fuselage, another cut off the top of a German radio mast and brought ten feet of steel tubing with it as a sou-, venir.

The pilots are a bit shamefaced over things like that, however, j because it shows they "boobed" a turn. One pilot got exceedingly red in the face when some bricks were found in the cabin of his Mosquito.

"I took them for ballast," he told the Intelligence officer, who suspected him of some bad turns. Actually he had come in over the target too soon after the man ahead. His machine literally flew through the bricks of a house which went up from the explosion of • the delayed-fuse bomb.

The most dramatic raid in which Mosquitoes figured was the attack on Berlin to "celebrate" the tenth anniversary of Hitler's regime. Two separate surprise attacks were made on the city, once while Goering was about to make a radio speech, and again when Goebbels was scheduled to speak. The raid was a routine one for the Mosquito squadrons, with the exception that the machines were equipped with special machines to record the sound of the bomb explosions so that they could be heard in the R.A.F. operations room in England. "Waiting for the big bang was quite dramatic," wrote an R.A.F. correspondent. "All the backroom boys were waiting , and pretty tensely. Then we heard the first bang, then another.

"They've done it,' burst out someone. 'They're giving Hitler hell!' Someone frowned at him for his language, but there were happy faces in that operations room." This particular Berlin raid was planned for its psychological effect . Goering, who had promised the Germans that no hostile plane would ever fly over Germany, was about to speak. The thudding of bombs caused him to postpone his address for an hour, and the presence of the little bombers, one of which darted up the famous Unter den Linden at treetop height, kept the German radio silent for an hour, while the British had the gleeful experience of hearing the commotion over their radio.

The mass production of Mosquitoes soon enabled the British to service them to outlying fronts. Squadrons of Mosquito fighters were sent to Malta where they showed they could turn in a smaller circle than the German FW-190's, and a large number of the little bombers were stationed in North Africa, where they were used for day and night bombing. Operating in the Mediterranean, the Mosquito demonstrated its quality of buoyancy to great advantage.

Shot down in the sea, one of them remained afloat for eight hours, an all-time record for an airplane.

Mosquitoes are now used as night fighters and for photographic work and communications. One pilot left England in the morning with urgent dispatches, arrived in Moscow for lunch and was back in England in time for tea. Another made the run from London to Malta in an afternoon, and flew back to England with a high official as passenger, arriving for lunch the following day.

The Mosquito's extreme versatility soon challenged that of the Hurricane, which has been used as a fighter, fighter-bomber, a dive bomber, a night fighter and a reconnaissance machine, but it also encouraged the R.A.F. to develop the rugged Typhoon fighter into the light-bomber class. Typhoons equipped with four 20-mm. cannon and carrying two 5 00-pound bombs now accompany Mosquitoes on daylight intruder raids over France and Italy, and do particularly good work against enemy shipping. The Typhoon, although primarily designed as a fighter, seems to be ideally suited for the task of light bombing, and thus it is following in the air train of its distinguished ancestor, the Hawker Hart, in its day the finest all-round machine, and basic design for the Hurricane.