This aircraft has it all – speed, power, grace. It was built against all the odds, when the Air Ministry just couldn’t understand the concept of a bomber without defensive armament or gun turrets. It was only due to the staunch support of the Air Member for Research and Development, Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred Rhodes Freeman, Baronet, KGCB, DSO, MC, FRAeS, RAF, that the De Havilland DH.98 Mosquito was built at all; indeed, its detractors often refered to it as ‘Freeman’s Folly’. The prototype Mosquito, W4050, was built in secrecy close to Salisbury Hall, Hertfordshire, and took off from a small field nearby on 25th November, 1940, to start its flight test programme. It was only because of its mainly balsa/plywood ‘sandwich’ construction, with wood being used wherever possible so using relatively little strategic metal resources, that it got the green light under Specification B.1/40. W4050 soon amazed a gathering of senior officers and others by exhibiting near-400 mph speed, extreme manoeuverability for a twin, and performing upward rolls with one of its two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines feathered. It became the fastest warplane in Europe – of ANY type – a title it held for nearly 18 months; indeed, it stayed the fastest bomber in RAF service until the 1950s, and the advent of the twin-jet English Electric Canberra.
Everyone now wanted the Mosquito! RAF Coastal Command for anti-shipping strikes, Fighter Command as a superb night-fighter and day fighter-bomber, Bomber Command as a hard-hitting low-level attack aircraft and later a night bomber with the capacity to carry a 4,000 lb bomb to Berlin and return (and do it TWICE in one night!). Photo-reconnaisance units prized it for its enormous range – able to penetrate as far as Prague, Czechoslovakia in later versions - and its ability to outmanoeuver opposing German fighters. Even the USAAF wanted the Mossie, going so far as to suggest a one for one swap involving P-51 aircraft.
Production was split amongst many UK subcontractors in the former wood-working and furniture trades, and rapidly spread to Canada and Australia. Even after the end of the war, Mosquito night-fighters, such as the NF.30, were used to defend Great Britain until the new jet aircraft could be developed (No. 616 Squadron, RAuxAF, at RAF Finningley, near Doncaster, was an example of this). The final versions produced were target tugs, which provided fast towing and target facilities for anti-aircraft units around the country; some of these were converted from B.35 bomber versions, (as seen in the above photograph) which was taken in the Royal Air Force Museum’s ’Milestones of Flight’ Gallery at Hendon. Inadvertently, the Mossie must have given radar operators a harder time than they might have expected, because its wooden structure conveys certain ‘stealth’ characteristics.
Due to the tragic loss of the British Aerospace-owned ’RR299′ at Barton, in 1996, there is no longer a flyable Mosquito in European skies (one is now flying in New Zealand, and will be brought to the USA and another is being restored in Canada). However, there is big news; a popular movement, and charitable trust, has been formed with the avowed intent of restoring a Mosquito to flight status, and then ensuring that it is based in the U.K. so that millions more can marvel at the sight and sound of a warplane which did so much to influence the outcome of WW2. If your are an aviation enthusiast, I would urge you, if possible, to support the efforts of the ‘Peoples Mosquito’ organization (links at the bottom of this page), as being not only the right thing to do, but as a way of honouring those who gave their lives in the service of their country. Bomber Command, especially, has been under-represented until recently in the way of public memorials, and this would be a wonderful way of righting that omission. As I was saying to a friend, ‘It’s Mosquito time’!