A Wooden Plane Was the Most Successful Fighter-Bomber in World War Two

The de Havilland Mosquito, one of the most successful aircraft of World War Two, had an airframe composed entirely of wood.

 

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The Mosquito excelled in all its different roles including fighter bomber. Above is a Mosquito being loaded or “bombed up” in RAF parlance. ” RAF station Swanton Morley in early 1942, this picture shows quartets of 500-pounder bombs going aboard a Mosquito Bomber B.IV of 105 Squadron.”

(photo and second caption courtesy www.ww2-weapons.com)

Wood!? In World War Two? As odd as it seems the answer is ‘yes’. The fuselage of the Mosquito was made of balsa wood pressed between two layers of cedar plywood. The rest of the air frame was made of spruce, with plywood covering.

The wing was built in one piece, and attached to the lower side of the fuselage structure. The aircraft wasn’t very big: 41 feet long with a wingspan of 54 feet.

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RAF/RCAF de Havilland DH-98 Mosquito, circa 1943

The photo above is the courtesy of Canadian Armed Forces. A total of 1,134 Mosquitoes were built under license in Canada.

Unlike the other self-governing white dominions as well as colonies of the British Empire, the Canadians insisted that each individual service in the forces of the British crown have a separate Canadian branch. Hence, while under British command, Royal Canadian Air force squadrons were formed by the Royal Air Force.

Other colonies did have their own forces such as the Royal Australian Air force, but most of these were pre-war formations. Royal Navy ships, bombers, etc usually had a mix of personnel from all over the Empire. Territorial based infantry regiments tried to keep their ranks full with men from their traditional recruiting grounds, such as the Oxford and Buckinghamshire light infantry (Ox and Bucks), but as the war ground on that became impossible.

 

 

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A Royal Air Force de Havilland Mosquito B.XVI (serial ML963) in flight. ML963, 8K-K “King” of No. 571 Squadron,30 September 1944.

(Photo courtesy wikpedia).

The “Timber Terror” out-performed almost every other aircraft in World War Two. What made this aircraft so unusual was its versatility.  In addition to its initial role as a fighter bomber, the Mosquito functioned equally well as a high altitude night bomber, night fighter, U-boat hunter, photo reconnaissance plane, daytime low altitude bomber, and daytime fighter. No wonder its other nickname was the “Wooden Wonder.” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says the de Havilland Mosquito is thought to be the most versatile warplane ever built. I think anyone who studies the plane would agree.

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Mosquito being bombed up with a 2,000 lb “cookie.”

(photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

The RAF Mosquito annoyed the Germans to no end.

In 1943, said Reichsmarshal Göring, the foul, drug-addicted toad who was C-in-C of the Luftwaffe:

“It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminum better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased yet again. What do you make of that? There is nothing the British do not have. They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops. After the war is over I’m going to buy a British radio set – then at least I’ll own something that has always worked.”

– as cited in “Pathfinder Aircraft” published by the RAF

 

 

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Royal Air Force- 2nd Tactical Air Force, 1943-1945.
A De Havilland Mosquito NF Mark XIII of No. 604 Squadron RAF prepares to taxy out onto the perimeter track in the melting snow at B51/Lille-Vendeville, France, for a night sortie.
Date between 1943 and 1945.

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

The aircraft was the brainchild of Geoffrey de Havilland, the design and industrial genius behind the de Havilland Aircraft Company in Great Britain. He was a first cousin to actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine – who were sisters. Their father and Geoffrey’s father were half-brothers.

The prototype made its first flight in late 1940 and was put through RAF testing in February of 1941. It out-performed the Supermarine Spitfire in the two critical areas de Havilland had envisioned: speed and altitude. The Mosquito tested out at a top speed of 392 mph (631 km/h) at 22,000 ft (6,700 m) altitude, compared to a top speed of 360 mph (579 km/h) at 19,500 ft (6,000 m) for the Spitfire. Quite an accomplishment.

 

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beautiful color photo of a de Havilland Mosquito

(photo courtesy of www.wwiitanks.com/2012_12_01_archive)

During his long life – 1882 to 1965  – he died at age 82 and had continued to fly until he was 70, Geoffrey de Havilland set many records, invented many things, and lived large.  But he will ever be remembered for the incredible deHavilland Mosquito which was so important to Allied victory. I wish I could have met him once.

 

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/