The Plywood Bomber…

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions”

No other saying could more fittingly describe the circumstances that lead to the creation of this magnificent aircraft – De Havilland Mosquito also affectionately known as “Timber Terror” or “Wooden Wonder”. An aircraft made up of spruce, birch plywood and Ecuadorean balsa that could be easily manufactured by any furniture factory, cabinet maker, luxury-auto coachbuilder or even a piano makers. It came out at a time when the British were facing acute shortage of strategic materials and in many ways helped change the tide of World War-II. Using wood not only reduced Britains dependence on strategic resources but when covered with a thin layer of doped fabric wood made a remarkably smooth, drag-cheating surface free of rivets and seams. And any battle damage on this aircraft could be repaired relatively easily in the field. Mosquito was an agile, aerodynamic and unarmed twin-seater bomber in an era when bombers were more like flying fortresses with guns and turrets poking out of their fuselage, relying on its speed and agility to out pace and in some cases out manoeuvre enemy fighters. In fact for a whopping 2½ years after its first flight, the Mosquito was the fastest operational aircraft in the world.

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Factory Fresh Mosquitos built by the Percival Aircraft Company

Not only was the Mosquito a fantastic medium bomber but it was also the most productive photo reconnaissance aircraft of the war, a night fighter, a fighter bomber, a high-speed courier delivery aircraft, a weather-recon aeroplane, an aircraft carrier-qualified torpedo bomber (though too late to see combat), a pathfinder and target-marker for heavy bombers, World War-II’s most effective extreme-low-altitude intruder, a multi engine trainer, a high-speed target tug and a decoy for a bomber stream of Lancasters. While many aeroplanes did many of these missions over the course of the war, none of them were able to all of them. More than 7,700Mosquitos spread across 33 different variants were built during the war and another seven were built after the war, at a time when everything else with a propeller was being shunted off to reserve and training units.

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An RAF Mosquito, being serviced and rearmed with 60-lb rocket projectiles to conduct anti-shipping raids off the coast of Norway

De Havilland Mosquito was perhaps one of the world’s first successful multirole combat aircraft and no other aeroplane had ever amassed a combat record as remarkable as the Mosquito in such a short time. It ended the war with the lowest losses of any aircraft type in the RAF Bomber Command service. Post war analysis also found that when the RAF finally applied to the Mosquito to bombing raids, in terms of useful damage done, the Mosquito had proven itself 4.95 times more cost-efficient than the Lancaster.

One of De Havilland Mosquitos most remarkable mission was its bombing raid in Berlin on 31 January 1943. When the British intelligence learned that the commander of the German Luftwaffe Hermann Göring was due to address a Nazi parade, they devised a plan to demoralize the enemy. Göring had long boasted that Germany’s capital was safe from Allied bombers, but on that faithful morning, the lie was given to his claims when a mess of bombs was delivered to the rally by a gaggle of Mosquitos and then the very same afternoon another squadron of Mosquitos went on to disrupt a second rally in Berlin. This, however, was not an isolated incident on separate occasions, British Mosquito pilots conducted very-low altitude bombing of Gestapo headquarters, destroying important records and freeing numerous prisoners. It was missions like these that earned it the nick name of “Timber Terror” and ” Wooden Wonder”.

 

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A De Havilland Mosquito making a low pass above an RAF airbase.

 

But the tails of Mosquito and its daring raids stayed limited to the European theatre and it played a very limited role in the Pacific theatre.As the wood-and-glue construction proved to be extremely problematic in the humid climate. So much so that some planes quite literally came unglued due to the heat and moisture even leading to a few crashes. Also, the Mosquitos were internally coated with traditional marine varnishes which were not nearly as waterproof as modern polyurethane coatings. As a result, there were cases of Mosquito structural failures caused by simple wood rot.

De Havilland Mosquito had a high power to weight ratio and high wing loading as well. Consequently its Vmc—the speed that needs to be maintained to assure rudder effectiveness with one engine feathered (failed) and the other running at full power—was, depending on load, an eye-watering 172 mph or more, probably the highest of any WWII twin. There was a substantial no-man’s-land between liftoff and Vmc during which an engine failure was usually fatal. Below Vmc, power had to quickly be retarded on the good engine to keep the aircraft from rolling, and this meant a loaded Mosquito could no longer maintain altitude. Giving rise to the cynical saying “the only reason to have two engines on a piston twin is so the good one can take you to the scene of the accident”.

Never the less RAF Mosquito pilots were typically selected for their airmanship and experience, and they handled their Mosquitos with elite talent. Making it one of the most successful aircrafts of the war, serving the RAF in more capacities than it bargained for and taking up roles which no other aircraft could.

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Worlds only flying De Havilland Mosquito flying over New Zeland

Hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I did writing, stay tuned to know about more such aircrafts and subscribe (Click here to Subscribe) to never miss an update.

Other articles of this series-

Click here to read about “The Plane with a Hula Hoop

Click here to read about “The Conjoined Twins”

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