The Avro Anson, otherwise known as ‘Faithful Annie’ , was regarded with an incredible amount of affection by several generations of aircrew. Conceived as a ‘General Reconnaissance’ type for RAF Coastal Command, it was developed from the 6-seat Avro Type 652 feeder liner, and proved itself to be both versatile and rugged.
When it entered military service in February 1936, it became the RAF’s first monoplane aircraft with a retractable undercarriage and was powered by two Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah IX radial engines of only 355hp each! Thus, when No. 48 Squadron took delivery of the first examples of the Mk1 they found that their performance was adequate, but not exactly spritely, particularly when loaded with up to 350lbs of bombs for their primary role of anti-submarine patrol and maritime reconnaissance.
For defence, the Anson was normally fitted with a fixed Browning .303 machine gun on the port side of the nose (for use by the pilot) and a single Vickers ‘K’ gas-operated machine gun in a Bristol turret, situated amidships. When war broke out, it was soon discovered that the standard 100lb anti-submarine bomb was completely ineffective, as HMS Snapper was accidentally attacked in December 1939 by an Anson using this weapon. The submarine suffered direct hits and yet only a few light fixtures were broken!
Despite this, the Anson had to soldier on, undertaking coastal reconnaissance, convoy patrols, and even making sorties against enemy-held ports and military installations under cover of bad weather and cloud. No 500 Squadron played a gallant role at Dunkirk, making many sorties over the evacuation beaches of the BEF, and even (amazingly) shooting down several Me109′s in the process. It is rumoured that one 500 Sqn Anson (that habitually flown by the Squadron CO) actually mounted a ‘borrowed’ 20mm cannon, which was fitted to fire downwards from an aperture cut in the aircraft’s floor!
The Anson was replaced in Coastal Command service as soon as possible (in 1941) by the American-built Lockheed Hudson, which was a far more capable machine. After being superceded, the Anson went on to make its biggest contribution to Allied victory by training thousands of aircrew and ground personnel (everyone from navigators and pilots to air gunners and armourers) in dozens of training schools in Australia, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. It also served Training Command in the U.K. and was used extensively as a communications machine by squadrons and Station Flights, and by the Air Transport Auxiliary.
Many developed versions were employed after the war on military communications work, and new civil marks of the Anson were used for charter flights as well as on some scheduled routes. The last RAF machines ( 5 x C Mk 19, 1 x T 21) of the Southern Communications Squadron, Royal Air Force gave a formation flypast at RAF Bovingdon, on the 28th June 1968, to mark the type’s retirement from service .
The aircraft shown above is a beautifully restored Mk 1, in 500 Squadron markings, circa 1940, displayed at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. Formally owned by the late Skyfame Museum at Cheltenham Airport, this is one of only a handful of survivors. If you want a flight in an Anson, Air Atlantique Classic Flight out of Coventry can still arrange that for you, in their superb ex-RAF T Mk 21!