Hasdrubal and Hannibal

Hannibal presented with the head of his brother Hasdrubal.

When Hannibal left Spain for Italy, he placed his younger brother Hasdrubal in command of the Carthaginian-controlled portion of the country. Hasdrubal was tasked with holding southern Spain, upon whose vast mineral wealth and manpower reserves Carthage depended to fuel the war against Rome. For ten years, Hasdrubal kept the Spanish tribes nominally under his control and the Romans at bay. Then in 208 B.C. Hannibal sent word to his brother to bring reinforcements to Italy. Hasdrubal was the equal of Hannibal in all respects: character, courage, skill, and ability to command. He was, as the Roman historian Livy commented, “a son of Hamilcar Barca, the thunderbolt,” and as dynamic and experienced a leader in battle as Hannibal. Hannibal in Italy was trouble enough for the Romans, but now the second son of the thunderbolt was about to bring another army of mercenaries and elephants over the Alps to reinforce his brother.

Polybius had similar praise for Hasdrubal, characterizing him as a brave man, to be admired for his abilities as a commander, and not dismissed out of hand because he lost and died at the battle of the Metaurus. Hasdrubal stands out because he kept the Romans at bay in Spain for ten years, brought his army over the Alps intact, increased its size with Gauls, and nearly reached his brother. He could see beyond the short-term rewards of victory in battle, glory, and profit and formulated a contingency if things, as they often do, should go wrong. This was something that Polybius found to be a rare and valuable characteristic in leaders of his day.

Both Polybius and Livy praised Hasdrubal for having made it over the Alps with his army—more rapidly than Hannibal, and with significantly fewer losses. It was an accomplishment on a par with Hannibal’s but has been overshadowed and relegated to the footnotes of history. Hasdrubal moved quickly through Gaul and over the Alps, due perhaps to better weather conditions. The Gauls probably allowed Hasdrubal, with nearly twenty thousand soldiers and a contingent of elephants, to move through their territory safely, but we do not know for sure if the passage was entirely without difficulties. Hasdrubal reached Italy more quickly than his brother had expected, which may account for the coordination problems that developed between them.

The Roman army was waiting for Hasdrubal at the Metaurus, a river that begins in the heights of the Apennine Mountains and flows east into the Adriatic Sea at Fano, just north of the modern-day port of Ancona. The Romans won that day and their victory was the turning point in the war. The Metaurus is one of the greatest battles in ancient history, yet it has been given remarkably little attention by scholars, overshadowed as it is by Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps, and his victories at Trasimene and Cannae. Hasdrubal’s defeat and death were significant because they sealed Hannibal’s fate in Italy and condemned him to lose the war. The Romans won at the Metaurus because of the competence and effective coordination of the two consuls in command, Gaius Claudius Nero and Marcus Livius Salinator. Of the two, Nero is probably the unsung hero of the battle, and, in some respects, of the Second Punic War. Because of his initiative, boldness, and drive, he turned the tide of the war in Rome’s favor and, like Hasdrubal, he has been relegated to history’s footnotes. Claudius Nero took a gamble and made a bold move, which deceived Hannibal and defeated Hasdrubal.

The Romans needed competent leaders, one to deal with Hannibal in the south and another to stop Hasdrubal in the north. Many of Rome’s most experienced commanders had been killed in prior battles, including the Scipio brothers in Spain. It was the law of Rome that one of the two consuls elected each year to command the armies of the republic had to come from the lower plebeian class and one from the aristocratic patrician class. The patrician candidate for office in 208 B.C. was Claudius Nero, whose descendant some two hundred years later would become the infamous Julio-Claudian emperor. Claudius Nero, whose cognomen or nickname can mean the powerful one or the dark one, depending on the context, was an experienced commander who had fought against Hannibal in Italy and Hasdrubal in Spain.

The plebeian candidate for the consulship was Marcus Livius Salinator, nicknamed the salt man. Salinator had commanded Roman forces in Illyricum but had been censured and then exiled for a term for using his position to enrich himself. Because Rome was critically short on experienced commanders, he was allowed to return and run for the consulship. The two men hated each other because Nero had been one of Salinator’s most vocal and strident accusers when he came to trial. After the election, when the senate awarded them their commands and sought to reconcile them, Salinator rebuffed the overture and commented it would be best if they remained enemies. The hope of Rome, now at its most perilous hour since Cannae, rested on two men who detested each other. Salinator took command of the forces in the north, tasked with blocking the Alpine passes through which Hasdrubal had to pass, while Nero was given command in the south against Hannibal. But Hasdrubal, in command of a force now estimated to have grown to some thirty thousand, had moved far more quickly than expected. He came down from the Alps and was on the plains of Italy before Salinator could put his own forces in place to stop him.

In the south, Nero moved his army of forty thousand to Venusia in Apulia, looking for Hannibal, who began playing a game of cat and mouse with his Roman adversary. There were minor skirmishes where Hannibal’s soldiers apparently suffered more casualties than the Romans. The fact that Hannibal avoided engaging Nero leads to speculation that his army may have been weakened considerably by this point in the war. Hannibal eventually retreated farther south on the Italian peninsula to Metapontum, where the ranks of his army were increased with new recruits from Bruttium enlisted by his nephew Hanno. Only when his army was reinforced did Hannibal move it back to Venusia, where he waited for Nero to make his next move. Hannibal had become uncharacteristically passive.

In the north, Hasdrubal avoided the Roman army, and instead of crossing the Apennine range by the same route Hannibal had taken earlier, he moved by way of Bologna, directly to Ariminum (Rimini) on the Adriatic coast. Ariminum had been established by the Romans in 268 B.C., shortly before the First Punic War, as the terminus for the recently completed Via Flaminia, an ancient version of a superhighway. The highway led from Rome, over the Apennine Mountains, to the east coast of Italy. At Ariminum, Hasdrubal posed a direct threat, as he was now, by way of the Via Flaminia, less than two hundred miles from the city. The Roman senate, on the advice of Nero, sent an army to block the route. As Hasdrubal moved south along the Adriatic coast looking for his brother, another smaller Roman army, led by the praetor Lucius Porcius Licinius, the pig man, moved into position and began to shadow him from the north.

Anxious to establish contact with his brother, Hasdrubal sent six horsemen south along the coast with orders to find him. Riding day and night, the couriers covered nearly four hundred miles from Ariminum to just north of Tarentum without being detected. Just short of reaching Hannibal, who had retreated to the coastal city of Metapontum, their luck gave out when they came upon a detachment of Roman soldiers who were foraging in the countryside for supplies. Captured, they were taken to Nero, who ordered them tortured until they revealed the details of their mission as well as the size, composition, and route of Hasdrubal’s army.

Nero was now faced with a dilemma. Could he trust the information that had fallen into his hands by luck—a gift from the gods—and act on it? Or was this a Carthaginian trick intended to lure him into the kind of trap Hannibal was famous for setting? While everything about these messengers seemed genuine, down to the fact that their horses were worn out from days of hard riding, the year before, a Roman force commanded by Marcellus, one of Rome’s best generals, was ambushed on the border between Apulia and Lucania. Marcellus was killed in the fighting, and Hannibal used the consul’s signet ring to forge documents in an effort to retake the city of Salapia. The attempt failed when the Roman garrison commander became suspicious about the authenticity of the documents.

Nero put his reservations aside and acted decisively to stop Hasdrubal from reaching his brother. Taking a portion of his army, essentially his best soldiers, he led them north in a forced march to reinforce Salinator at the Metaurus River. Nero’s plan was to quickly defeat Hasdrubal and return south before Hannibal even knew he had left. It was a bold gamble with high stakes. If Hannibal learned that Nero was gone and attacked his weakened army in the south, it would be a disaster. Then there was the question of whether Nero’s soldiers could be force-marched over such a long distance, fight a major battle, and then force marched back to fight again. How much could human endurance be taxed? Nero sent couriers to Rome to advise the senate to send a legion from Capua to reinforce the soldiers securing the Via Flaminia and then assembled his expeditionary force; six thousand infantry and one thousand cavalry. Marching them day and night, north from Tarentum, through the center of Italy, they arrived where the Metaurus River enters the sea at Fano.

Nero and his army covered the distance in a remarkable seven days. Each soldier carried only the bare minimum—mainly his weapons. Messengers were sent ahead of the army to mobilize the people who lived along the route to prepare food and provide supplies for the soldiers as they passed. In that way, the army could move without being encumbered by baggage, supplies, and camp followers. As Nero’s army moved north, volunteers along the route, moved by patriotism and caught up in the emotions of the moment, joined them, swelling their ranks. What Nero was doing went against Roman law. As a consul, he was forbidden to leave his assignment without senatorial permission. Recognizing the potentially devastating consequences of the Carthaginian brothers joining forces or attacking Rome from two different directions, and the need for decisive action, Nero circumvented the law and acted on his own volition.

Livius Salinator, on the other hand, was taking a very cautious approach relative to Hasdrubal and his army. He allowed the Carthaginian army to cross the river and move south along the coast, without engaging them. With the army of Licinius behind him, Hasdrubal camped just a half-mile or so to the north of Livius. Nero arrived with his army late at night and led his soldiers into the Roman camp quietly so as not to raise an alarm among Hasdrubal’s sentries. Nero was constantly worried about Hannibal, and despite a long and tiring march, he insisted on fighting Hasdrubal the next day so he could return south as quickly as possible.

The next morning, Hasdrubal awoke to find two Roman armies in front of him and one behind. Overwhelming forces were converging on him at the Metaurus, and this caused him to conclude that Hannibal might already have been defeated in the south. How else could the Romans have been able to bring together so many soldiers against him in the north? Hasdrubal remained safely within his camp and pondered his options. The rest of the day passed without event, as Salinator and Licinius, in spite of Nero’s pressure for them to engage in battle, refused to advance on Hasdrubal’s fortifications. Nero argued that they could not remain passive, waiting for Hasdrubal to make the first move. All three recognized the urgency of the situation and that time was crucial. Once Hannibal learned that the Roman army in southern Italy was without its commander and weakened in number, he was sure to attack it. The only option open to the Roman commanders was to move quickly against Hasdrubal, destroy him, and release Nero to return south.

Hasdrubal on the other hand had no desire to engage the Roman armies. His mission was to reach his brother with his army intact, so when nightfall came he led them out of camp with the intent of recrossing the river and retreating north as quickly and quietly as he could. Once safely over the Metaurus and well away from the Romans, Hasdrubal planned to try once more to establish communication with Hannibal even though he had only a vague idea of where he might be or even if he was still alive. As the night wore on, Hasdrubal’s problems multiplied. His local guides deserted him, leaving him lost in the darkness, trying to find a safe place for his army to cross the swiftly flowing river. A combination of melting snows from the nearby Apennines and spring rains had caused the river to flood, trapping his army on the south shore as his scouts frantically searched up and down the riverbank in the darkness for a place to cross. Many of the Gauls began drinking and in short order became disorderly. Like most Carthaginian armies, Hasdrubal’s was a mix of cultures and included the same Iberians, Ligurians, Gauls, and Africans as Hannibal’s army.

The first light of morning found Hasdrubal’s army in disarray. It was trapped with its back against the banks of the flooded Metaurus, and there were three consular armies converging on it. When the Roman commanders realized Hasdrubal was cornered, they moved their infantry up into position. Hasdrubal’s cavalry, the one section of his army that was superior to the Romans and on which he depended heavily, was essentially useless in the confined and hilly countryside around the Metaurus. In a bad position and with no alternative left, Hasdrubal gave up looking for a crossing point and ordered his army to turn and prepare to face the advancing Romans. How many soldiers clashed that day is uncertain, but numbers given by the ancient sources tend, as they usually are, to be underestimated, inflated, or contradictory. The Greek historian Appian, for instance, writes that the Carthaginian force numbered forty-eight thousand infantry, eight thousand cavalry, and fifteen elephants. Livy claims that there were more than sixty-one thousand slain or captured Carthaginian soldiers at the end of the battle and still more who escaped the slaughter. Those numbers indicate an army of far more than Appian’s fifty-six thousand. Polybius reported that ten thousand of Hasdrubal’s men were killed in the fighting versus only two thousand Romans.

Hasdrubal’s army probably numbered thirty thousand including his Gauls, and Livius had roughly the same number. The praetor Licinius commanded an additional two legions, probably ten thousand men, so between them the Roman army might have come to forty thousand including their Italian allies. However, the numbers of the allied contingents fighting with the Romans could have been lower, since some of the confederation members in central Italy, weary with the long and indecisive war against Hannibal, had begun to refuse Roman demands to provide auxiliaries and to pay additional war taxes. Adding Nero’s seven thousand troops to the Roman mix, what is certain is that Hasdrubal and his Carthaginians were outnumbered at the Metaurus.

When Hasdrubal’s army turned to face the Romans, his right flank, where he placed his best horsemen, was pressed against the river while his left flank was in hilly terrain, which proved to be a mixed blessing. Hasdrubal’s most experienced and reliable troops, his African and Iberian infantry, were placed on the right flank as well—the section of the battle line where Hasdrubal now placed all his hope for a victory. The center was composed of Ligurians, who, though not as skilled and well trained as the veterans on the right-flank, could be savage fighters in short bursts of combat. Hasdrubal intended for them to absorb the initial Roman assault and keep his center together until the Africans and Spaniards could turn the Roman flank and carry the day.

On his left, Hasdrubal placed the Gauls, his least reliable soldiers, who would be protected by a deep ravine in front of them and hills behind them. By this point, many of them were, according to Polybius, “stupefied with drunkenness.” Hasdrubal had ten elephants, which he used to reinforce the center. However, once the fighting began, the animals quickly became a liability. Frightened by the din of battle, many panicked, and while some charged the Roman line, others turned on their own soldiers. Six elephants were killed and the remainder ran off the field later to be captured or killed by the Romans.

Licinius deployed his infantry directly in front of Hasdrubal’s Ligurians, while Salinator took command of the Roman cavalry on the left flank and Nero positioned himself on the right facing the Gauls. The battle commenced with the Roman left flank charging the Carthaginian right, followed by the advance of the Roman center. The outnumbered Carthaginian horsemen fell back while their center held its ground. Finally, overcome by sheer numbers, the center began to give way. Nero tried to attack the Gauls, but the hilly terrain and the ravine made it difficult for his troops to reach them. Then he made a decision that changed the course of the battle. Taking roughly half a legion with him, Nero broke off the attack and led his troops behind the Roman center to strike hard at the Carthaginian right flank. The Carthaginians broke ranks under the assault, and, with Hasdrubal trying in vain to force them back into the fight, their line disintegrated. Panic ensued, followed by desertions. The Romans chased the fleeing Carthaginians, meeting almost no resistance, and according to the ancient sources this is where most of the casualties among Hasdrubal’s soldiers occurred. The Carthaginian center, now in disorder, faced a three-pronged attack: Licinius from the front, Livius and Nero from the right. Hasdrubal, seeing that there was nothing more he could do, and presumably doubtful of his own prospects of escape or simply unwilling to be taken captive, charged into the thick of the fighting to meet a warrior’s death.

The Romans severed Hasdrubal’s head from his body and brought it to Nero as a trophy. Nero ordered it placed in a sack and given to a courier with instructions to ride south, find Hannibal, and throw the head into his camp. This was barbaric and contrary to Hannibal’s honorable treatment of Roman officers who had died in battle at Trasimene, Cannae, and even in southern Italy. He had been scrupulous in his treatment of their bodies, giving the dead burial with full military honors and often sending their ashes and personal effects back to Rome. Nearly a decade had passed since Hannibal had last seen his brother, and when the head was brought to him, he recoiled at the sight and groaned. The severed head was the harbinger of worse things to come. The war had turned.

Nero ordered the Carthaginian prisoners executed except the most prominent among them, who could be held for sizable ransom. The success of the legions at the Metaurus filled the Romans with hope and gave them confidence that Hannibal could not remain in Italy much longer. Nero changed the course of the war, forcing Hannibal to retreat into the most southern portion of Italy, Bruttium (Calabria), where he remained isolated until he was recalled to North Africa four years later.

With Hasdrubal’s defeat, the war in Italy was essentially lost for Hannibal. Any chance he had of building a force strong enough to even bring the Romans to the conference table was gone. With a Roman naval presence off the coast of Sicily, Hannibal’s chances of reinforcements reaching him from North Africa by sea diminished, and the war in Italy became a sideshow compared to the larger conflict that was now being waged in Spain and soon to reach North Africa. With Hannibal confined to Bruttium, the next four years were ones of relative inactivity in Italy—except for a second attempt to reinforce Hannibal which occurred in in 205 B.C.

This attempt was made by Hannibal’s youngest brother, Mago, who, like Hannibal and Hasdrubal, was dedicated to the struggle against Rome. Mago was an experienced and competent commander who had crossed the Alps with Hannibal in 218 B.C. and was largely responsible for the victory over the Romans at the Trebbia. He distinguished himself at Cannae and later raised additional troops for Hannibal in Bruttium. Mago was sent to Carthage to report on the victory at Cannae and then to Spain in 215 B.C., where, along with his older brother Hasdrubal and another Hasdrubal, son of Gisco, he conducted the war against the Roman commanders Gnaeus and Publius Scipio (215–212 B.C.). When the Romans launched a major offensive in 211 B.C., Mago was instrumental in their defeat and the subsequent deaths in battle of both Scipios.

In the summer of 205 B.C., Mago left Spain for Italy. Instead of attempting another overland trek and Alpine crossing, he chose a sea route leaving a flotilla of some thirty warships and fourteen thousand soldiers on board. Since Hannibal was confined to the extreme tip of southern Italy on the Adriatic coast, reaching him by sea from Spain would have been nearly impossible. The journey would have been too long and dangerous, both because of the risk of storms and the patrolling Roman navy. Instead, Mago chose to hug the Ligurian coast and landed at Genova (Genoa). From there, he moved overland into northern Italy and, like Hasdrubal, recruited as many Ligurians and Gauls as possible to supplement his army. Since Roman armies controlled both sides of the Apennines and blocked the routes south, Mago and his army remained in northern Italy for the next two years, conducting largely guerilla operations. Then, in the summer of 203 B.C., outside of Milan, the Romans forced Mago into a decisive battle. With a force composed of Numidian and Spanish cavalry, infantry, and elephants, supplemented with Ligurians and Gauls, Mago engaged four Roman legions. During the battle, he was badly wounded in the thigh and retreated to Genova and the safety of the ships that awaited him there.

At Genova, messengers from Carthage were waiting with orders for him to return with his army to North Africa. Mago left behind an officer named Hamilcar with a small force to continue guerilla activities against the Romans in northern Italy. Mago died at sea from his wound, just as his fleet passed the island of Sardinia. Hannibal was confined to a narrow area in Bruttium between the Adriatic coast and what today comprises a series of Italian national parks known as the Sila. Crotone is where Hannibal chose to reside—a Greek city famous for philosophers like Pythagoras and athletes like Milo, the Olympic champion and most renowned wrestler in antiquity. In luxury, cultural refinement, and amusement, Crotone was the equal of Capua, and it was there that Hannibal spent the next two years, 205 B.C. until 203 B.C., while the Romans shifted the focus of the war to Spain and North Africa. Isolated, with one brother dead and another one about to die, his forces considerably diminished in numbers, and resources scarce, Hannibal was no longer driving the war but forced to sit on the sidelines and await developments.

To help keep Hannibal contained, a Roman army under the command of the young Scipio moved from Sicily across the Strait of Messina into southern Italy and captured the Greek port city of Locri, just south of Crotone. The port had been important to Hannibal earlier in the war, and even though he launched a counterattack, he was unable to retake the city. A few miles south of Crotone is Cape Lacinium, or as it is known today, Capo Colonna. Among the sparse ruins on its shores is a solitary marble Doric column that looks out over a vast and desolate sea and gives its name to the present-day cape. That column is all that remains of a once magnificent temple built by the Greeks to honor the goddess Juno Lacinia. Among the most prized treasures of the temple was a column made of gold, which Hannibal allegedly probed to determine if it was solid or merely coated. When he discovered it was solid, he contemplated having it melted and cast into ingots or bricks for his personal use until the goddess came to him in a dream and threatened to take away his one good eye if he dared to desecrate her temple.

It was at this temple, at the end of his campaign, that Hannibal allegedly had a bronze plaque erected. It was inscribed in Greek, the universal language of the ancient world at the time, and in Hannibal’s native Punic. On that plaque Hannibal recounted his exploits in crossing the Alps, his battles in Italy, the size of his army, and the numbers of men he had lost. Such tablets, or as the Romans called them, res gestae, were commonplace in the ancient world. They were personal monuments of sorts to the ambitions and egos of important men. While Hannibal’s tablet has never been found and there are only literary references to its existence, it has given rise to speculation that he had come to regard himself as a king, perhaps the regent of southern Italy, and the plaque was left behind so posterity would not forget his accomplishments, victories, and aspirations.

At the same time, that plaque can be interpreted as Hannibal’s tacit acknowledgment that the war in Italy had ended and he no longer had the manpower or the resources to take on the Roman armies. His Macedonian ally, Philip, had failed to deliver, and the last straw came when some eighty Carthaginian cargo ships trying to reach him with provisions were blown off course by a storm and captured by the Romans. The loss of those ships sealed Hannibal’s fate, and in 203 B.C. he was ordered to return to North Africa.

When the Carthaginian envoys arrived and relayed the order to return, Hannibal was barely able to contain his rage. He gnashed his teeth and cried out that he had been betrayed, defeated by the aristocratic faction in Carthage, led by Hanno, not by the Romans he faced on the battlefield. He bemoaned that he would fail in this war for the same reasons his father had failed forty years before—lack of support from home. Several towns in Bruttium, seeing the writing on the wall, deserted Hannibal and tried to make their peace with Rome. In response, he dispatched the weakest of his soldiers, those he classified as “unfit for duty,” to garrison some of them, which he now held, more by force than loyalty.

“The Carthaginian Wars 265-146 BC: • Samnite heavy infantryman • Campanian cavalryman • Lucanian heavy infantryman”, Richard Hook

In preparation for his return to Africa, Hannibal ordered timber cut from the forests of Bruttium and transported to Crotone for use in building ships. The completed transports would be escorted on their voyage home by a few warships from Carthage that had eluded the Roman navy and made it to Crotone. Hannibal carried out his preparations with “bitterness and regret.” He assembled the elite of his army, some twenty thousand of his veterans, who by this point must have been mostly Italians from Bruttium and Lucania, and announced their departure for North Africa. Their response bordered on mutiny. What the ancient sources refer to as a large number refused the order and barricaded themselves in the temple of Juno Lacinia, where they sought sanctuary. Confident that Hannibal would never violate the sanctity of a holy place, they misjudged the man who for his entire adult life apparently had no fear of the gods. Hannibal had the temple surrounded and, according to one of the sources, thousands of rebellious soldiers slaughtered along with horses and pack animals.

The scope of this massacre has often been regarded by scholars as an exaggeration in the ancient sources that probably stems from the reported slaughter of three thousand horses that could not be taken on board the ships to Africa. There certainly may have been mutinous soldiers at that point in the war, and Hannibal may well have had them executed. But the Italian contingents in Hannibal’s army were his core, his veterans, and he needed them. By this time, few, if any, of the mercenaries who crossed the Alps with him could have been left. It would be the Italians, those who had fought with him in southern Italy and who were prepared to accompany him to North Africa, who would prove to be his most reliable soldiers in the next and final stage of this long and destructive war.


Colonization and Rome’s Early Navy

In this period of political fragmentation amongst the Latins, marked by the rise of more powerful and cohesive polities, we also have some very intriguing developments in the area of colonization. As noted previously, early Roman colonization probably resembled the Greek practice in many ways. This was not because the Italian practice was in any way based on the Hellenistic model. In fact, the Italians had most likely been founding colonies before the Greeks arrived in the early Iron Age. There is a long tradition of Italic tribes, when their population reached a critical amount, splintering off to form new groups and settlements. This was sometimes accomplished with the splinter group sighting and following a particular animal, often a boar or a wolf, until the animal settled down, and then founding the new settlement at that location. This practice was naturally laden with ritual and religious connotations, but was also incredibly practical as the locations where these animals settled down were usually well away from existing populations and contained the basics needed for a small settlement, including food and water. This practice naturally became more formal and sophisticated as time went on, but the basic system of forming new colonies in order to keep a population within the carrying capacity of the land was one with which the Romans and Latins were very familiar. As with Greek colonies, these new settlements usually became entirely independent after they were founded, although they often maintained sentimental links with their mother community, in addition to the very real bonds of kinship and blood. Despite the anachronistic assertions of Rome’s late Republican historians, who viewed all colonization through the lens of ‘empire’, this more independent type of colonization probably typified the Roman practice during the Regal and early Republican periods. As a result, the concept of Roman or Latin colonies during this period is arguably inapplicable. Although possibly founded by Roman or Latin populations, or indeed jointly, the colonies would have effectively become new Latin settlements (based solely on culture and language) once they were founded, and would not have owed any real allegiance to their mother communities. Although there seems to have been a rough sense of Latin identity, there was no such thing as Latin ‘citizenship’ (and even Roman citizenship is problematic), even in the middle of the fifth century BC – ‘Latin Rights’ being likely based on cultural identity and not political affiliation. As a result, early colonization seems to have had the same fluid character as much of the rest of Latin society during this time.

With the advent of the fourth century BC and the rise of more cohesive urban polities, it seems that the community of Rome recognized that the old way of colonizing was no longer in the city’s best interests. The needs which drove colonization in the Archaic period were naturally still there. Rome had to be very careful that her population did not exceed the carrying capacity of the land around the community and indeed it is likely that she was pulling more and more resources from further and further afield in order to feed her growing citizen body. Additionally, the literary sources and archaeology are unanimous in suggesting a growing desire for and exploitation of land by the Romans in the fourth century BC. As already argued, this is one of the reasons behind Rome’s increasing bellicosity during the period, but it is likely that it would also have led to an increased desire to found new colonies – as this represented the traditional, and by far the easiest, mechanism for acquiring new land for poorer citizens. However, colonization would have also served to weaken Rome, taking citizens away from the community and spreading them across new lands, right when she was desperately attempting to increase her manpower reserves. As a result, although Rome founded four new colonies (Satricum, Sutrium, Nepete and Setia) in the 380s BC, she did not create any further colonies for an entire generation. Instead, Rome attempted a number of new ways to deal with this situation, including the creation of municipia, like that at Tusculum, and the increased use of ager publicus. It was only in the final decades of the fourth century BC that Rome returned to colonization as a viable option, when the city founded a series of new colonies along the coast. It is clear from the nature of these new colonies, however, that things had definitely changed during the intervening years. While Rome’s earlier colonies seem to have been independent, and indeed even the late foundation at Satricum (founded in the 380s BC) evidently had to be recaptured in 346 BC, these new colonies were ‘full citizen colonies’ and extensions of Roman military might. The colonists at these new foundations, dubbed coloniae maritimae (maritime colonies), all explicitly retained their Roman citizenship and association. Although limited in size, with only 300 initial colonists, these new foundations were also planned as part of a new, larger military strategy. This can be seen through their grant of sacrosancta vacatio militia, a military exemption supposedly held by all members of the coloniae maritimae which required them to stay on site at the colony but, evidently in recognition of their importance in guarding the coastline, exempted them from normal military obligations and duties. Between 340 and 240 BC, Rome founded ten of these colonies down the west coast of Italy (Ostia, Antium, Tarracina, Minturnae, Sinuessa, Sena Gallica, Castrum Novum, Pyrgi, Alsium and Fregenae) as part of a concerted pattern of expansion aimed at controlling the sea.

Rome’s apparent interest in naval affairs during this period might strike the casual observer as a bit odd. After all, Rome was supposedly a novice in naval combat in the First Punic War (264 to 241 BC), without a ship of her own and entirely reliant on her allies’ navies until stolen Carthaginian naval technology (the fortuitous wreck of a Carthaginian trireme which gave the Romans the plans for their construction) allowed the creation of her own fleet. Or at least that is the traditional narrative. There are some slight discrepancies to this story, however. The creation of the coloniae maritimae clearly signals an increased interest in at least controlling the coast from the late fourth century BC, although this was done from the land in what might be considered a more traditional Roman approach. Linked to this interest, however, was the creation in 311 BC of the duovir navalis, a team of two magistrates tasked with buying or building ships and conducting naval operations. This indicates that, contrary to the generally accepted narrative, Rome did in fact have at least a nascent navy active in the late fourth century BC, almost fifty years before the First Punic War. In fact the sources record that one of these new naval magistrates was active the year after the office’s creation, raiding near the Bay of Naples in 310 BC. So the Romans seem to have had a navy of their own from at least 310 BC, although how this is reconciled with Polybius’ claim that the Romans did not build their own ships until the 260s BC is uncertain. It is possible that the Romans actually purchased their ships in this early period, thus making Polybius technically correct in that they did not build them, or perhaps they utilized the more common, multipurpose ships during this time and did not have custom-built warships until the 260s BC.

The advent of Rome’s navy and the coloniae maritimae not only suggests that Rome’s interests were expanding beyond the confines of Central Italy and towards the Mediterranean more generally, but also an increasing strategic awareness and both the foresight and ability to invest in military infrastructure. The creation of both the coloniae maritimae and a fleet required a form of delayed gratification on the part of the Romans. With regards to the coloniae, despite the Romans’ evident desire to increase their military manpower during the fourth century BC, they granted the colonists sent to these new foundations an official exemption from service – provided that they maintained Rome’s naval security at these new coastal locations. This hints that the Romans recognized that the long-term control of the coast was a benefit which outweighed the short-term boost in manpower which these colonists would have provided. The creation of a fleet represents an even more extreme example of this. Roman warfare was generally a rather inexpensive enterprise; it was primarily about acquiring portable wealth as opposed to spending it. In the fifth and fourth centuries BC, Roman soldiers would supply their own equipment and often their own supplies, with some of this cost being offset by the stipendium collected from the populace. The army would then venture out, acquire wealth via either raiding or conquest in the fourth century BC, and then return home at the end of the campaigning season. The only costs for the community as a whole was therefore the stipendium, which was both limited and irregular. Instead, it was generally assumed that any costs of warfare incurred by the army would be taken out of the spoils of war, and the stipendium was supposed to have been refunded out of these – although how often this actually happened is debated. Indeed, the reason Roman soldiers fought during this period was unlikely to have been from either a sense of protonationalism or duty, or because of the limited stipendium, but rather from the desire for booty and spoils – this was the main motivator. Warfare was therefore something which occurred largely out of the civic sphere. The generals were elected by the community and the soldiers were associated with Rome, either as citizens or allies, and of course there was a stipendium available in case the war was unsuccessful or did not recoup its expenses. But once the army was in the field, it existed as a discrete and separate entity from the urban city of Rome and was generally supposed to earn its own keep. Navies, however, were very different creatures – particularly by the fourth century BC.

The earliest ancient navies, both in Italy and elsewhere in the Mediterranean, seem to have followed roughly the same model as Rome’s early armies. In a time of need, wealthy individuals would lend their ships (and likely their crews) to the community for use in war. Many of these ships, although primarily used for trade, were eminently serviceable as warships as well – as noted before, the difference between an ancient merchant and an ancient pirate was often simply a question of opportunity. So although they were not custom-built for war, they could easily handle a complement of soldiers and were reasonably manoeuvrable and effective fighting platforms. From the seventh and sixth centuries BC, there was an incremental move in the eastern Mediterranean toward more purpose-built warships, most notably triremes (named because of their three banks of oars), although the cost and single function limited their popularity. Although triremes were incredibly effective in military situations, being far faster and more manoeuvrable than the multipurpose ships utilized before, it was hard to convince the wealthy citizens to invest in them. To build, equip, and staff one trireme seems to have cost between 10,000 and 12,000 drachmas, which was a significant outlay. While a multipurpose ship could be used for trade and other activities when the community was not at war, a trireme was suited for no other purpose and had to be carefully maintained (kept out of water in a ship shed) in order to maintain its seaworthiness. These ships were the high-end sports cars of their day – expensive luxury items which were not suited for everyday use. During the fifth century BC, however, the rise of the powerful Greek navies (like that of the Athenians) and the wars against the Persians changed the equation. In conflicts with these types of enemies, the old-fashioned, multipurpose ships were simply outclassed, although they did continue to play a role, and triremes were a ‘must-have’ item if one wanted to compete. As a result, communities like Athens and others around Greece poured immense amounts of state money into their navies – investing heavily in this technology. Moving away from privately-funded initiatives, Greek states built hundreds of triremes and their associated ship sheds, in addition to spending huge amounts on the salaries of rowers – in the case of Athens, effectively creating an entirely new class of citizen. This development turned warfare, or at least naval warfare, into an almost entirely state-based, state-centred activity. This would, eventually, have a knock-on effect on land warfare, which became increasingly mercenary in nature and which ultimately, by the fourth century BC, had also become effectively a state expenditure with the rise of professional and mercenary armies like those of Philip II and Alexander the Great of Macedon. This was the world of naval warfare into which Rome was venturing in the late fourth century BC – a world of highly professional and specialized fleets which required an enormous ‘buy in’ from the state in order to simply participate. Given this situation, it is no surprise that Rome took so long to get involved and, even once the city did, was not completely sold on the idea. The requirements of naval warfare went against many of the basic premises which underpinned Roman warfare to that point.

But in the late fourth century BC, Rome did slowly invest in naval infrastructure. Although the details are hazy to say the least, Rome’s duoviri navalis evidently acquired ships and were active in raids up and down the coast of Italy. So, although it represents an arguably minor and often ignored aspect of Roman warfare, it actually represents a significant turning point in Rome’s approach to war. It suggests that Rome was willing to invest a significant amount of state money, something which was limited given the absence of taxation at this time, in order to buy and maintain ships as part of a larger strategic plan. When this is combined with the contemporary construction of the Via Appia (Appian Way), a military road designed to move Rome’s armies south faster and more effectively, an entirely new phase in Roman warfare seems to have dawned. Gone were the days when warfare was expected to pay for itself, an activity which occurred largely outside of the state’s concern, and instead there existed a mindset where Rome was willing and able to invest state resources in military infrastructure to encourage and allow long-term success. Rome seems to have finally entered an era of truly state-based warfare.

Heinkel He 111

Although the Heinkel He 111 was designed ostensibly as a civil airliner for Lufthansa, its military potential was of a far greater importance. The first prototype of Siegfried and Walter Günter’s enlarged, twin-engine development of the remarkable He 70 was fitted with a glazed nose when flown at Rostock-Marienehe on 24 February 1935, in the hands of Flugkapitän Gerhard Nitschke. An all-metal cantilever low-wing monoplane, it was powered by two 660-hp (492-kW) BMW VI 6,0Z engines and was followed by two further prototypes, each with shorter-span wings than those fitted on the first prototype. The third aircraft became the true bomber prototype and the second, which flew on 12 March 1935, was a civil version with a mail compartment in the nose and two passenger cabins, with seats for four and six passengers. After tests at Staaken this prototype eventually joined the Lufthansa fleet, although much of the development work on the civil version was carried out by the fourth prototype, the first to be revealed to the public and demonstrated at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport on 10 January 1936. Lufthansa received six He 111C 10-seat airliners during 1936, and these first entered service on the Berlin – Hannover- Amsterdam, Berlin-Nuremberg-Munich and Berlin-Dortmund- Cologne routes. Lufthansa received subsequently a number of He 111G-3 transports with 880hp (656-kW) BMW 132Dc engines and, later, a further generally similar batch under the alternative designation He 111L.

Development of the military counterpart continued with the manufacture of 10 He 111A-D pre-production aircraft, based on the third prototype, but with a longer nose and armed by three MG 15 machine-guns in nose, dorsal and ventral positions. Two were used for operational trials at Rechlin but poor handling, power deficiencies and inadequate performance resulted in rejection, and all 10 were later sold to China. The solution was the installation of two 1,000-hp (746-kW) Daimler-Benz DB 600A engines, first fitted to the fifth (B-series) prototype which flew in early 1936 as the forerunner of the first production versions built at Marienehe from the autumn of 1936. These comprised the He 111B-1 powered by the 880-hp (656-kW) DB600, followed by the He 111B-2 with 950-hp (708-kW) DB 600CG engines. The improvement in the performance of these aircraft resulted in the Reichsluftfahrtministerium placing such large orders that it was necessary to build a new He 111 construction facility at Oranienburg, near Berlin, this being completed in 1937.

The B-series was followed by the He 111D-1 with improved DB 600Ga engines, but the urgent need to divert DB 600 powerplant for fighter production meant that this version was built in only small numbers. This brought introduction of the 1,000-hp (746-kW) Junkers Jumo 211A-1, installed initially in an He 111D-D airframe to serve as the prototype of the He 111E-D pre-production series. In the initial production He 111E-1 bomber of February 1938 the bombload was increased to 3,7481b (1700 kg), but the He 111E-3 had another increase to 4,409 Ib (2000 kg), and the ensuing He 111E-4 could carry 2,205 lb (1000 kg) of this total on underfuselage racks; final sub-variant of the E-series, the He 111E-5 introduced an additional 183.7 Imp gal (835 litres) of auxiliary fuel carried within the fuselage. The next version into production was the He 111G which first introduced a new wing of simplified construction with straight, instead of curved taper. This was used first in the He 111G-3 civil transport built for Lufthansa, and there was some delay before it was approved by the RLM. Then followed the He 111G-1, basically similar to C-series aircraft but for the addition of the new wing, and the He 111G-4 which was powered by the 900-hp (671-kW) DB 600G engine; four He 111G-5 aircraft supplied to Turkey had Daimler-Benz 600Ga engines. Next came, unsequentially, the similar He 111F-1 powered by Jumo 211A-3 engines of which 24 were supplied to Turkey, and 40 virtually identical aircraft were built for the Luftwaffe in 1938 under the designation He 111F-4.

Developed in parallel were the H-series and P-series, the latter introducing in 1939 a major fuselage redesign which replaced the stepped cockpit by an extensively-glazed cockpit and nose section and, at the same time, moved the nose gun position to starboard to improve the pilot’s view. The pre-production He 111P-0 also introduced a revised ventral gondola, with the gunner in a prone position, and was powered by two 1,150-hp (858-kW) DB 601 Aa engines. Relatively few He 111Ps were built before this version was superseded by the H-series, the He 111P-1 which was virtually identical to the pre-production aircraft being delivered first in the autumn of 1939; the He 111P-2 differed only by having changes in radio equipment, and the He 111P-3 was a dual-control trainer. Heavier armour protection and up to six MG 15 machine-guns were introduced in the five-crew He 111P-4 which, in addition to carrying 2,205 Ib (1000 kg) of bombs internally had ETC 500 racks beneath the fuselage for a similar external load; the He 111P-6 had all-internal stowage for 4,409 Ib (2000 kg) of bombs, and later P-series conversions, for use as glider tugs with l,175-hp (876-kW) DB 60lN engines installed, were redesignated He 111P-2/R2.

The major production version, built in a large number of variants, was the H-series, the He 111H-0 and He 111H-1 pre-production/production batches being basically the same as He 111P-2s except for the installation of 1,010-hp (753-kW) Jumo 211A engines. The He 111H-2 which became available in the autumn of 1939 had Jumo 211A-3 engines and carried two additional MG 15 machine-guns, one in the nose and one in the ventral gondola, and the He 111H-3 introduced armour protection and armament comprising a 20-mm MG FF cannon and an MG 15 in the ventral gondola, two MG 15s in the nose, one dorsally mounted, and similar weapons in beam positions. The He 111H-4 introduced Jumo 211D-1 engines and was equipped with two external racks to carry a 3,968-lb (1800 kg) bombload that could include two 1,686-lb (765-kg) differed only by having increased fuel capacity. When He 111H-3 and He 111H-5 aircraft were later fitted with a nose-mounted device to fend off balloon cables they were both redesignated He 111H-8, and subsequent re-conversion for use as glider tugs was made under the designation He 111H-8/R2. Junkers Jumo 211F-1 engines with variable-pitch propellers, and a fixed MG 17 machine-gun mounted in the tail, identified the He 111H-6; and the He 111H-10 was developed and built in small numbers especially for the night bombing offensive against the UK, these being equipped with Kute-Nase balloon cable-cutters in the wing leading edges and additional armour protection. Armament changes and a fully-enclosed dorsal position accommodating an MG 131 machine-gun identified the He 111H-11, in which the nose position carried a 20-mm MG FF cannon and the ventral MG 15 was replaced by a twin-barrel MG 81Z; when the beam guns were later replaced by MG 81Zs these aircraft were redesignated He 111H-11/R1, and changed their designation yet again to become He 111H-11/R2 when adapted to tow Gotha Go 242 gliders. The He 111H-12 and He 111H-15 were both built in small numbers, without the ventral gondola, to serve as missile launchers for Henschel and Blohm und Voss weapons respectively. The first of the pathfinder versions had the designation He 111H-14, and when converted later to serve as a glider tug was redesignated He 111H-14/R2.

Built in large numbers, following introduction in the autumn of 1942, the He 111H-16 was generally similar to the He 111H-11, but equipped to carry a bombload of up to 7,1651b (3250 kg), although this necessitated the use of R-Geräte rocket-assisted take-off equipment; it was built in sub-variants that included the He 111H16/R1 which had a revolving dorsal turret with an MG 131 machine-gun, He 111H-16/R2 equipped for rigidbar towing of gliders, and the He 111H-16/R3 which carried additional radio equipment for use as a pathfinder. The ensuing He 111H-18 was also a pathfinder, with exhaust flame dampers to make it suitable for night operations, followed by the He 111H-20 built in sub-variants that included the He 111H-20/R1 carrying 16 paratroops, He 111H-20/R2 night bomber/glider tug, He 111H-20/R3 night bomber with heavier armour protection and improved radio, and the virtually identical He 111H-20/R4 with GM-1 power boosting equipment for the powerplant; when a 1,750-hp (1305kW) Jumo 213E-1 engine with two-stage superchargers was installed in He 111H-20/R3 aircraft they were redesignated He 111H-21. The He 111H-22 was equipped to carry a Fieseler Fi 103 (V-1) missile beneath each wing, and the final H-series variant was the He 111H-23 paratroop transport with 1,776-hp (1324-kW) Jumo 213A-1 engines.

Produced in parallel with the F-series, the He 111J-0 and He 111J-1 were intended as torpedo-bombers and powered by 950-hp (708-kW) DB 600CG engines, but the He 111J-1 production aircraft, of which about 8 were built, were equipped as bombers. A single prototype was built of a proposed high-altitude bomber under the designation He 111R, powered by two 1,810hp (1350-kW) DB 603U engines, but no production aircraft resulted. Final, and certainly the most unusual version, was the He 111Z (Zwilling, or twin), designed to tow the Messerschmitt Me 321 Gigant transport glider. It comprised two 111H-6 airframes joined by a new wing centre-section which mounted a fifth Jumo 211F-2 engine. Two prototypes and 10 He 111Z-1 production aircraft were built during the winter of 1941-2.

First deliveries to an operational squadron were made late in 1936, to l./KG 154 at Fassberg, and in February 193730 He 111B-1s were sent to the Legion Condor bomber unit K/88 in Spain, following operational trials in which four of the pre-production He 111B-0s were flown by a flight of VB 88. The He 111 bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe’s bombing effort in early World War II: Poland in the autumn of 1939, Norway and Denmark in April 1940, France and the Low Countries in May and against British targets during the Battle of Britain. Large-scale introduction of the Junkers Ju 88, and the He 111’s vulnerability to British fighters, resulted in the Heinkel bomber being transferred to night operations and to a variety of specialised roles, as a missile-carrier, torpedo-bomber, pathfinder and glidertug. Transport duties were also undertaken, including operations to supply the beleaguered German army at Stalingrad between November 1942 and February 1943, and by the end of the war He 111s were virtually flown only in the transport role. Production of more than 7,000 German-built aircraft for the Luftwaffe was completed in the autumn of 1944. In addition to those manufactured in Heinkel factories at Marienehe and Oranienburg, He 111s were built by Norddeutsche Dornierwerke in Wismar, by Allgemeine Transportgesellschaft in Leipzig, Arado in Babelsberg and Brandenburg/Havel and at other centres. Some 236 He 111Hs were built by CASA in Spain during and after the war as the CASA 2.111, approximately 130 with Jumo 211F-2 engines and the rest with Rolls Royce Merlin 500-29s; some were converted later for transport and training duties.


He 111 A-0: 10 aircraft built based on He 111 V3, two used for trials at Rechlin, rejected by Luftwaffe, all 10 were sold to China”.

He 111 B-0: Pre-production aircraft, similar to He 111 A-0, but with DB600Aa engines.

He 111 B-1: Production aircraft as B-0, but with DB600C engines. Defensive armament consisted of a flexible Ikaria turret in the nose A Stand, a B Stand with one DL 15 revolving gun-mount and a C Stand with one MG 15.

He 111 B-2: As B-1, but with DB600GG engines, and extra radiators on either side of the engine nacelles under the wings. Later the DB 600Ga engines were added and the wing surface coolers withdrawn.

He 111 B-3: Modified B-1 for training purposes.

He 111 C-0: Six pre-production aircraft.

He 111 D-0: Pre-production aircraft with DB600Ga engines.

He 111 D-1: Production aircraft, only a few built. Notable for the installation of the FuG X, or FuG 10, designed to operate over longer ranges. Auxiliary equipment contained direction finding Peil G V and FuBI radio blind landing aids.

He 111 E-0: Pre-production aircraft, similar to B-0, but with Jumo 211 A-1 engines.

He 111 E-1: Production aircraft with Jumo 211 A-1 powerplants. Prototypes were powered by Jume 210G as which replaced the original DB 600s.

He 111 E-2: Non production variant. No known variants built. Designed with Jumo 211 A-1s and A-3s.

He 111 E-3: Production bomber. Same design as E-2, but upgraded to standard Jumo 211 A-3s.

He 111 E-4: Half of 2,000 kg (4,410 lb) bomb load carried externally.

He 111 E-5: Fitted with several internal auxiliary fuel tanks.

He 111 F-0: Pre-production aircraft similar to E-5, but with a new wing of simpler construction with a straight rather than curved taper, and Jumo 211 A-1 engines.

He 111 F-1: Production bomber, 24 were exported to Turkey.

He 111 F-2: 20 were built. The F-2 was based on the F-1, differing only in installation of optimised wireless equipment.

He 111 F-3: Planned reconnaissance version. Bomb release equipment replaced with RB cameras. It was to have Jumo 211 A-3 powerplants.

He 111 F-4: A small number of staff communications aircraft were built under this designation. Equipment was similar to the G-5.

He 111 F-5: The F-5 was not put into production. The already available on the P variant showed it to be superior.

He 111 G-0: Pre-production transportation aircraft built, featured new wing introduced on F-0.

He 111 G-3: Also known as V14, fitted with BMW 132Dc radial engines.

He 111 G-4: Also known as V16, fitted with DB600G engines.

He 111 G-5: Four aircraft with DB600Ga engines built for export to Turkey.

He 111 J-0: Pre-production torpedo bomber similar to F-4, but with DB600CG engines.

He 111 J-1: Production torpedo bomber, 90 built, but re-configured as a bomber.

He 111 L: Alternative designation for the He 111 G-3 civil transport aircraft.

He 111 P-0: Pre-production aircraft featured new straight wing, new glazed nose, DB601Aa engines, and a ventral gondola for gunner (rather than “dust-bin” on previous models).

He 111 P-1: Production aircraft fitted with three MG 15s as defensive armament.

He 111 P-2: Had FuG 10 radio in place of FuG IIIaU. Defensive armament increased to five MG 15s.

He 111 P-3: Dual control trainer fitted with DB601 A-1 powerplants.

He 111 P-4: Fitted with extra armour, three extra MG 15s, and provisions for two externally mounted bomber racks. Powerplants consisted of DB601 A-1s. The internal bomb bay was replaced with a 835 L fuel tank and a 120 L oil tank.

He 111 P-5: The P-5 was a pilot trainer. Some 24 examples were built. The variant was powered by DB 601A engines.

He 111 P-6: Some of the P-6s were powered by the DB 601N engines. The Messerschmitt Bf 109 received these engines, as they had greater priority.

He 111 P-6/R2: Conversions later in war of surviving aircraft to glider tugs.

He 111 P-7: Never built.

He 111 P-8: Its existence and production is in doubt.

He 111 P-9: It was intended for export to the Hungarian Air Force, by the project founder for lack of DB 601E engines. Only a small number were built, and were used in the Luftwaffe as towing aircraft.

He 111 H-0: Pre-production aircraft similar to P-2 but with Jumo 211A-1 engines.

He 111 H-1: Production aircraft. Fitted with FuG IIIaU and later FuG 10 radio communications.

He 111 H-2: This version was fitted with improved armament. Two D Stands (waist guns) in the fuselage giving the variant some five MG 15 Machine guns.

He 111 H-3: Similar to H-2, but with Jumo 211 A-3 engines. Like the H-2, five MG 15 machine guns were standard. One A Stand MG FF cannon could be installed in the nose and an MG 15 could be installed in the tail unit.

He 111 H-4: Fitted with Jumo 211D engines, late in production changed to Jumo 211F engines, and two external bomb racks. Two PVC 1006L racks for carrying torpedoes could be added.”.

He 111 H-5: Similar to H-4, all bombs carried externally, internal bomb bay replaced by fuel tank. The variant was to be a longer range torpedo bomber.

He 111 H-6: Torpedo bomber, could carry two LT F5b torpedoes externally, powered by Jumo 211F-1 engines, had six MG 15s and one MG FF cannon in forward gondola.

He 111 H-7: Designed as a night bomber. Similar to H-6, tail MG 17 removed, ventral gondola removed, and armoured plate added. Fitted with Kuto-Nase barrage balloon cable-cutters.[68]

He 111 H-8: The H-8 was a rebuild of H-3 or H-5 aircraft, but with balloon cable-cutting fender. The H-8 was powered by Jumo 211D-1s.

He 111 H-8/R2: Conversion of H-8 into glider tugs, balloon cable-cutting equipment removed.

He 111 H-9: Based on H-6, but with Kuto-Nase balloon cable-cutters.

He 111 H-10: Similar to H-6, but with 20 mm MG/FF cannon in ventral gondola, and fitted with Kuto-Nase balloon cable-cutters. Powered by Jumo 211 A-1s or D-1s.

He 111 H-11: Had a fully-enclosed dorsal gun position and increased defensive armament and armour. The H-11 was fitted with Jumo 211 F-2s.

He 111 H-11/R1: As H-11, but with two 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 81Z twin-gun units at beam positions.

He 111 H-11/R2: As H-11, but converted to a glider tug.

He 111 H-12: Modified to carry Hs 293A missiles, fitted with FuG 203b Kehl transmitter, and ventral gondola deleted.[68]

He 111 H-14: Pathfinder, fitted with FuG FuMB 4 Samos and FuG 16 radio equipment.

He 111 H-14/R1: Glider tug version.

He 111 H-15: The H-15 was intended as a launch pad for the Blohm & Voss BV 246.

He 111 H-16: Fitted with Jumo 211 F-2 engines and increased defensive armament of MG 131 machine guns, twin MG 81Zs, and a MG FF cannon.

He 111 H-16/R1: As H-16, but with MG 131 in power-operated dorsal turret.

He 111 H-16/R2: As H-16, but converted to a glider tug.

He 111 H-16/R3: As H-16, modified as a pathfinder.

He 111 H-18: Based on H-16/R3, was a pathfinder for night operations.

He 111 H-20: Defensive armament similar to H-16, but some aircraft feature power-operated dorsal turrets.

He 111 H-20/R1: Could carry 16 paratroopers, fitted with jump hatch.

He 111 H-20/R2: Was a cargo carrier and glider tug.

He 111 H-20/R3: Was a night bomber.

He 111 H-20/R4: Could carry twenty 50 kg (110 lb) bombs.

He 111 H-21: Based on the H-20/R3, but with Jumo 213 E-1 engines.

He 111 H-22: Re-designated and modified H-6, H-16, and H-21’s used to air launch V1 flying-bombs.

He 111 H-23: Based on H-20/R1, but with Jumo 213 A-1 engines.

He 111 R: High altitude bomber project.

He 111 U: A spurious designation applied for propaganda purposes to the Heinkel He 119 high-speed reconnaissance bomber design which set an FAI record in November 1937. True identity only becomes clear to the Allies after World War II.

He 111 Z-1: Two He 111 airframes coupled together by a fifth engine, used a glider tug for Messerschmitt Me 321.

He 111 Z-2: Long-range bomber variant based on Z-1.

He 111 Z-3: Long-range reconnaissance variant based on Z-1.

CASA 2.111

The Spanish company CASA also produced a number of heavily modified He 111s under license for indigenous use. These models were designated CASA 2.111 and served until 1975.

Specifications (He 111 H-6)

General characteristics

Crew: 4 (pilot, navigator/bombardier/nose gunner, ventral gunner, dorsal gunner/radio operator)[82]

Length: 16.4 m (53 ft 9½ in)

Wingspan: 22.60 m (74 ft 2 in)

Height: 4.00 m (13 ft 1½ in)

Wing area: 87.60 m² (942.92 ft²)

Empty weight: 8,680 kg (19,136lb lb)

Loaded weight: 12,030 kg (26,500 lb)

Max takeoff weight: 14,000 kg (30,864 lb)

Powerplant: 2× Jumo 211F-1 or 211F-2 liquid-cooled inverted V-12, 986 kW (1,300 hp (F-1) or 1,340 (F-2)) each


Maximum speed: 440 km/h (273 mph)

Range: 2,300 km (1,429 mi) with maximum fuel

Service ceiling: 6,500 m (21,330 ft)

Rate of climb: 20 minutes to 5,185 m [83] (17,000 ft [83])

Wing loading: 137 kg/m² [83] (28.1 lb/ft² [83])

Power/mass: .082 kW/kg [83] (.049 hp/lb [83])


Guns: ** up to 7 × 7.92 mm MG 15 or MG 81 machine guns, some of them replaced or augmented by

1 × 20 mm MG FF cannon (central nose mount or forward ventral position)

1 × 13 mm MG 131 machine gun (mounted dorsal and/or ventral rear positions)

Bombs: ** up to 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) carried internally (eight 250 kg max), or:

up to 2,500 kg (5,512 lb) on two external racks

Variant Detail

He 111A/A-0

Following unsatisfactory tests of 10 pre-production He 111A-0 bombers, all were sold to China.

He 111B/B-1/B-2

Testing of the fifth prototype with 746 kW (1,000 hp) DB 600A engines led in 1936 to the production He 111B-1 with 656 kW (880 hp) DB 600C engines, followed by the He 111B-2 with the 708 kW (950 hp) DB 600CG.

He 111C

Six 10-passenger airliners for Lufthansa.

He 111D

An improved version with DB 600Ga engines and auxiliary wing radiators deleted; production was discontinued in favour of the He 111E.

He 111E/E-0/E-1/E-3/E-4/E-5

The shortage of DB 600 engines brought installation of 746 kW (1,000 hp) Junkers Jumo 211A-1 engines in an He 111D-0 airframe; the resulting He 111E-0 pre-production prototype had increased bombload; production He 111E-1 bombers were delivered in 1938, followed by the He 111E-3 and He 111E-4 with further increase in bombload and He 111E-5 with fuselage auxiliary fuel tank.

He 111F/F-1/F-4

The new wing of the He 111G and Jumo 211A-3 engines characterised the 24 He 111F-1 bombers supplied to Turkey; the Luftwaffe received 40 similar He 111F-4 aircraft in 1938.

He 111G/G-1/G-3/G-4/G-5

First version with the new straight-taper wing which, incorporated on the He 111C, brought redesignation He 111G-1; the He 111G-3 had 656-kW (880-hp) BMW 132Dc engines, the He 111G-4 671-kW (900-hp) DB 60OGs, and four He 111G-5 aircraft for Turkey had DB 600Ga engines.

He 111H/H-0/H-1/H-3/H-4/H-5/H-6/H-8/(H-8/R2)/H-10/H-11/(H-11/R1/R2)/H-12/H-15/H-14/(H-14/R2)/H-16/(H-16/R1/R2/R3)/H-18/H-20/(H-20/R1/R2/R3/R4)/H-21/H-22/H-23/

Developed in parallel with the He 111P series, the He 111H-0 and He 111H-1 were basically He 111P-2s with 753 kW (1,100 hp) Jumo 211A engines; the He 111H-2 of 1939 had improved armament; the He 111H-3 introduced armour protection and a 20-mm cannon; the He 111H-4 had Jumo 211 D-1 engines and two external racks for bombs or torpedoes, and the generally similar He 111H-5 had increased fuel capacity; the He 111H-6 introduced Jumo 211F-1 engines and machine-gun in the tailcone; He 111H-8 was the redesignation of He 111H-3s and He 111H-5s following installation of fenders for balloon cables, most of them being converted later to He 111H-8/R2 glider tugs; the He 111H-10 for night bombing of UK targets had additional armour, reduced armament and wing leading-edge balloon cable-cutters; the He 111H-11 and He 111H-11/R1 had revised armament, the last becoming He 111H-11/R2 when converted later as a glider tug; the He 111H-12 and He 111H-15 were missile-launchers, the He 111H-14 a pathfinder version and the He 111H-14/R2 a glider tug; introduced in 1942, the He 111H-16 was a major production variant similar to the He 111H-11 but able to carry a 7,165 lbs (3250 kg) bombload with the use of rocket-assisted-take-off gear. The He 111H-16/R1 had a revolving dorsal turret, the He 111H-16/R2 was for rigid bar towing of gliders and the He 111H-16/R3 was a pathfinder version as was the He 111H-18 with exhaust flame dampers. Four versions of the He 111H-20 comprised the He 111H-20/R1 capable of carrying 16 paratroops. The He 111H-20/R2 night bomber/glider tug, the He 111H-20/R3 with increased armour protection and the generally similar He 111H-20/R4 which introduced GM-1 power boost equipment. A version of the He 111H-20/R3 with 1,750 hp (1305 kW) Jumo 213E-1 engines and two-stage superchargers was designated He 111H-21. The He 111H-22 was a missile carrier and the He 111H-23 was a paratroop transport with 1,776 hp (1324 kW) engines.

He 111J/J-0/J-1

A torpedo bomber version of the He 111F series, the He 111J-0 and He 111J-1 both had 950 hp (708 kW) DB 600CG engines.

He 111L

The alternative designation for the He 111G-3 civil transport.

He 111P/P-0/P-1/P-2/P-3/P-4/P-6

In 1939 the He 111P series introduced a major fuselage redesign, the stepped cockpit being replaced by an asymmetric glazed cockpit and nose. The He 111P-0 introduced a prone position ventral gondola and was powered by two 1,150 hp (858 kW) DB 601Aa engines. First being deliveries of the He 111P-1 began in late 1939. The He 111P-2 was similar but for radio revisions. The He 111P-3 had dual controls and the five crew He 111P-4 had more armour and armament. The He 111P-6 had 1,175 hp (876 kW) DB 601N engines and its 4,409 lbs (2000 kg) bombload stowed vertically in the fuselage; when later converted as a glider tug the He 111P-6 became the He 111P-6/R2.

He 111R

A single prototype of proposed high altitude bomber.He 111Z/Z-1

The He 111Z (Zwilling, or twin) combined two He 111H-6 airframes, joined by a new wing centre-section to mount a fifth Jumo 211F-2 engine; designed to tow the Messerschmitt Me 321 Gigant transport glider; two prototypes and 10 He 111Z-1 production aircraft were built.

Specifications (Heinkel He 111H-16)

Type: Four or Five seat medium bomber (Later used as a torpedo bomber, glider tug and missile launching platform)

Design: Ernst Heinkel AG

Manufacturer: Ernst Heinkel AG, SNCASO (France), Fabrica de Avione SET, CASA (Spain), Romania.

Powerplant: Two 1,350 hp (1007 kW) Junkers Jumo 211F-2 12-cylinder inverted Vee piston engines.

Performance: Maximum speed 227 mph (365 km/h) at sea level; service ceiling 21,980 It (6700 m).

Range: 1,212 miles (1950 km) with full bombload.

Weight: (Z-2) Empty equipped 19,136 lbs (8680 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 30,865 lbs (14000 kg).

Dimensions: Span 74 ft 1 3/4 in (22.60 m); length 53 ft 9 1/2 in (16.40 m); height 13 ft 1 1/4 in (4.00 m); wing area 931.11 sq ft (86.50 sq m).

Armament: One 20 mm MG FF cannon, one 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131 machine gun and three 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 81Z machine guns, plus a normal internal bombload of 2,205 lbs (1000 kg). Could carry up to 7,165 lbs (3250 kg) of bombs (most externally) with the use of rocket-assisted-takeoff-gear (RATOG).

Variants: He 111A, He 111B/B-1/B-2, He 111C, He 111D, He 111E/E-0/E-1/E-3/E-4/E-5, He 111F/F-1/F-4, He 111G/G-1/G-3/G-4/G-5, He 111H/H-1 to H-6/H-8, He 111H-8/R2, He 111H-10, He 111H-11, He 111H-11/R1/R2, He 111H-12/H-15 (missile launchers, He 111H-14 (pathfinder), He 111H-14/R2 (glider tug), He 111H-16 (major production version), He 111H-16/R1/R2/R3, He 111H-18, He 111H-20/R1/R2/R3/R4, He 111H-21, He 111H-22, He 111H-23, He 111J/J-0/J-1, He 111L, He 111P/P-0/P-1/P-2/P-3/P-4/P-6, He 111P-6/R2, He 111R, He 111Z/Z-1 (Zwilling).

History: First flight (He 111V-1 prototype) 24 February 1935, (pre-production He 111B-0) August 1936, (production He 111B-1) 30 October 1936 (first He 111E series) January 1938, (first production He 111P-1) December 1938, (He 111H-1) January/February 1939, final delivery (He 111H-23) October 1944, (Spanish C2111) late 1956.

Operators: Germany (Luftwaffe, Lufthansa), China, Hungary, Romania, Spain, Turkey.


The experience of the desert fighting of 1941-42, plus the appearance of US medium tanks in British service, led to a major revision of tank policy by the British General Staff in the fall of 1942 with the result that reliability and speed were now considered more important than heavy armour protection. Work was also initiated in developing a 75mm gun with “dual purpose” HE/AP capability, and it was for the first time that there was a need for a “universal” chassis capable of adaptation for the old “infantry”, “cruiser” and other AFV roles. Hopes were thus pinned on the A27 series, then in an advanced state of development and about to enter production. The A27M (Cromwell) with its Meteor engine had proved particularly successful on trials and was to go into large scale production. Since the Churchill tank was both slow and mechanically unreliable at that time, it was proposed to cease production of this vehicle in 1943 once Cromwells were available in adequate numbers. Churchill production facilities would then also be switched to Cromwell manufacture. As an interim measure, therefore, while a new “universal” chassis design was contemplated, consideration was given to using the Cromwell chassis as a basis for a heavier vehicle for the “infantry tank” role to replace the Churchill. Rolls-Royce drew up schemes for two possible developments on these lines. The A31 was simply a Cromwell with extra armour added while the A32 was a more ambitious adaptation with armour basis brought up to A22 (Churchill) standard and a new, stronger, suspension to compensate for the extra 4t (long) tons of weight this modification involved.

Designs for Assault Tanks seem to have dominated the middle years of World War II; A28, A31 and A32 were all assault tank designs based on the Cromwell, and although some lasted a while, none was ever built.

The question of designing heavy tanks came to the fore again in 1943, but, this time, it was driven by the imperatives of firepower and protection, and the resulting A33 heavy assault tank was an attempt to produce a standard or `universal’ tank chassis adaptable to either the infantry or cruiser roles. Two prototypes, sometimes described as Excelsior, were constructed by English Electric using a modifed A27 hull, up-armoured to a maximum thickness of 114mm… resulting in a combat weight of 100,800 lb (45,818kg). The engine was the by-now familiar Rolls-Royce Meteor, driving the rear sprockets through a five-speed Merritt-Brown transmission. Although both prototypes were armed with nothing more lethal than the 6-pounder (57mm) gun, it was envisaged that, if the tank went into production, this would be replaced by a 75mm weapon. The work was terminated in May 1944 with no further vehicles constructed.

A33 was slightly different in that two prototypes were built, again along Cromwell lines, but up-armoured and with a new style of suspension. Indeed, it seems to have been considered as a replacement for the Churchill, which at that time had failed to display its potential and was destined for replacement, if something suitable could be found.

Although it looked like the Cromwell it featured armour to a maximum thickness of 114mm and was powered by a Rolls-Royce Meteor engine driving through a Merritt-Brown transmission. It is reported as weighing about 45 tons, was armed with the 6-pdr (75mm) gun and had a five-man crew. The real differences were the suspension, which on Pilot A was similar to the American horizontal volute spring system, and the American-style tracks, covered by side skirting plates that stopped below the track guards rather along the lines of the American heavy tank M6. Pilot B on the other hand had a suspension known as the RL type, a joint design by Rolls-Royce and the LMS Railway, with British-style tracks, and in this case the skirting plates covered the top run of the tracks and met the track guards.

The idea was to send Pilot A to the United States in exchange for an American Locomotive Company T14 assault tank, so that they could be compared and the better one used as an assault tank by both armies. In the end Pilot A, which mounted a 6-pdr gun, was first subjected to two 1,000-mile trial runs across country in Britain, the second of which effectively wore it out. In the end it did not matter, as the Americans lost interest in the Assault Tank project while in Britain the ultimate success of the Churchill tank rendered it unnecessary. Pilot B, which mounted the 75mm gun, was relegated to the Tank Museum along with the T14, where they can both still be seen.


Designation: Tank, Heavy Assault, A33

Crew: 5 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, co-driver)

Battle weight: 100,8001b Dimensions: Length 22ft 8in Height 7ft 11in Width 11ft 1 1/2in

Armament: Main: I x 75mm OOF Secondary: 2 x 7·92 cal Besa MG

Armour thickness: Maximum 114mm Minimum 20mm

Traverse: 360°.

Engine: Rolls-Royce Meteor V12 600hp

Maximum speed: 24mph Maximum cross-country speed: 12mph (approx)

Road radius: 130 miles (approx)

Fording depth: 3ft

Vertical obstacle: 3ft

Trench crossing: 7ft 6in

Ammunition stowage: 64 rounds, 75mm

Special features/remarks: Hull and turret basically the same as A27 series with added armour. Second pilot, with British tracks, had deeper side skirts concealing top run of track. Work on these vehicles was abandoned in May 1944.

Assault Tank, A33 “Excelsior”


‘The Three-Week Subaltern’ or Pilot

Many legends have sprung up since the First World War. Among the most prevalent are those which say that the life expectation of a subaltern in a front-line infantry battalion or of a pilot in a frontline fighter squadron was only three weeks. While it is true that both groups of men suffered severe losses, the ‘three-week life expectation’ is an exaggeration. The reader may be interested in actual figures from one average infantry battalion and from an R.F.C./R.A.F. squadron.

The history of an infantry brigade in the 17th (Northern) Division contains an appendix giving the names of every officer who served in three of the brigade’s four original battalions. The first battalion listed is the 10th West Yorks, an early New Army battalion which served with its division on the Western Front continuously from its arrival in France in August 1915 until the Armistice. The battalion took part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the Battles of Arras and Passchendaele (Third Ypres) in 1917, and the March Retreat and the Final Advance in 1918. There is no reason to believe that this was not a typical Western Front battalion during more than three years of fighting.

The officers’ details in the brigade history give the date of joining the battalion, the date of the final departure from the battalion and the reason for that departure. There is one unfortunate omission: temporary absences because of light wounds or for other reasons are not noted. To allow for this, all subalterns remaining with the battalion for more than two years have had twelve months deducted from their service to allow for such temporary absences, and those remaining between one and two years have had six months deducted. It is believed that these deductions err on the generous side.

It was found that 174 officers joined the battalion as lieutenants or second lieutenants. After the allowances for temporary absence had been made, it was found that the average subaltern spent not three weeks but 6.17 months of front-line service with the battalion before becoming a casualty or leaving for some other reason. Furthermore, only one in five of these subalterns was actually killed, and almost half left the battalion unhurt. The following table shows the circumstances in which their service with the battalion ended.

Killed     37 (21.3%)

Wounded            48 (27.6%)

Prisoners             6 (3.4%)

Other reasons     83 (47.7%)

The ‘wounded’ total does not include those slightly wounded subalterns who returned to the battalion. The ‘other reasons’ include transfer to other units – usually trench-mortar, machine-gun, tank or flying units – those officers returned to England for various reasons, and those still with the unit at the Armistice. The shortest stay was by Second Lieutenant H. Banks, who arrived at the battalion on 23 August 1918 and was killed four days later near Flers, on the old Somme battlefield, during the final advance of the British Expeditionary Force.

Although these figures debunk the ‘three-week subaltern’ legend, it should not be forgotten that the figure of 174 subalterns serving with the 10th West Yorks during its period of thirty-eight months service on the Western Front shows that the battalion had to replace its original complement of junior officers six times.


Details for length of service of pilots joining a front-line fighter squadron are also available. This is No. 56 Squadron, which served on the Western Front from April 1917 until the end of the war, except for a very short period when it was withdrawn to England at the height of the German Gotha bomber attacks on London. The squadron flew S.E.5a single-seat fighters and, again, there is no reason to believe that it was other than an average fighter squadron during that part of the war which saw the greater part of the war’s air fighting; this squadron did, however, miss the worst of the spring 1917 air battles, when the R.F.C.’s aircraft were so inferior to those of the Germans and when excessive British casualties were suffered.

A total of 109 pilots were included in the survey; a further small number, who were transferred to other squadrons almost as soon as they arrived or who were returned home, presumably as unsuitable for front-line flying duties, have been omitted. There were no temporary absences among the 109 pilots, and their average stay with the squadron worked out at ten weeks and five days. The reasons for departure were as follows.

Killed     45(41.3%)

Wounded            17(15.6%)

Prisoners             31(28.4%)

To home establishment   16(14.7%)

The shortest stay was by an American, Lieutenant J. N. Offut, who was killed two days after his arrival.

It can be seen from these figures that, although the ‘three-week pilot’ is a myth, life for a fighter pilot was considerably more hazardous than for the junior infantry officer.

It would be interesting to see figures for equivalent German units. It is probable that neither their infantry-officer nor their fighter-pilot casualty rate would have been so high as that of the British. German infantry officers were not exposed to danger as frequently as their British counterparts because German senior N.C.O.s carried out many of the duties that British subalterns performed. The German fighter pilots fought mostly within their own lines and the prevailing westerly wind prevented many a British pilot in a damaged aircraft from returning to safety.

B.E.2 Part I

By the end of January 1912, B.E.1 had been joined by a sister ship that was identical in every way to B.E.1 except that it was powered by a Renault engine. The engine mounting tubes were slightly longer so that it was mounted slightly further forwards, moving the centre of gravity and reducing the tail heaviness. Also, it was fitted with a four-blade propeller. This turned at half-engine speed as, in the Renault design, was mounted on an extensive of the camshaft drive rather than directly on the crankshaft.

The new machine was designated B.E.2, not because it was a new design, but simply to denote it as the second machine built in the B Class. Only later, when the design entered volume production did B.E.2 become a type classification since the drawings issued to manufacturers bore that designation, although O’Gorman in his diary referred to the new machine as a ‘Military Biplane of the B.E.1 Type’, logically considering the earlier machine as the prototype.

B.E.2 was never passed off as being anything but a new machine, copied from B.E.1., without any ‘reconstruction’ ruse to account for its existence. However, permission to build it appears to have only been obtained retrospectively, for as late as 26January 1912 when it was virtually complete, O’Gorman included it a memo to the War Office entitled ‘Suggested Aeroplanes for Construction’.

De Havilland took B.E.2 up for its initial flight at 11.00 am on 1 February making a total of four flights, including one with F. M. Green, the Factory’s chief engineer, as a passenger, covering a total of twenty miles and noting that it seemed faster than its predecessor. The new machine performed perfectly without the need for any modification, all the necessary development work having been done with B.E.1. Although from then on, de Havilland largely concentrated his efforts on the new machine, leaving flying of B.E.1 to his new assistant, E. W. Copeland Perry. B.E.2 was later described by Flight magazine as being:

One of the neatest biplanes ever built, and one moreover that impresses the engineering sense with an immediate satisfaction in the quality of the design.

The same article also stated:

…it is difficult to describe in words the precise quality of the design that calls forth the admiration of the engineer, and it is certainly not in any way due to the smart finish of superficial details, although the workmanship is excellent, the hand of the experimenter is on it still. The fact remains, that for a well designed tractor biplane, the B.E.2 of the R.A.F. is hard to beat, and some points in it may well be worth copying by those in search of Army orders.

On 5 February, B.E.2 was proudly shown to members of the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics who were paying a visit to the Royal Aircraft Factory. De Havilland made numerous short flights in it during the next few weeks, not to carry out specific tests, but to give air experience to senior Factory design staff. Towards the end of February, de Havilland, accompanied by Green, flew it to Brooklands attracting further favourable comments from the press, Flight magazine commenting:

…unfortunately it was, in two senses, a flying visit, for the machine departed before everyone had a chance to examine it. It did, however, create a very favourable impression, its finish, workmanship, and climbing power leaving all being considered praiseworthy.

Without having to hand B.E.2 over to the Air Battalion or the Royal Flying Corps, the Factory made the most of their aeroplane. It was retained at Farnborough and became the subject of a number of tests and trials.

In March, it was fitted with a wireless transmitter developed by Mr R. Widdington, aerials for which were fixed along the leading edges of the wings. Trials began on 26 March when four flights were made before the apparatus broke down. With the wireless repaired, tests resumed and continued until 11 April with a number of different operators, its signals being clearly received at ranges of two miles. During these experiments, B.E.2 took part in the first wireless-controlled artillery shoot, shaping the way for its future role.

By 22 April, B.E.2 had flown over twenty hours, covering 1,350 miles and the engine was replaced with another Renault, up-rated to 70 hp by increasing the bore from 90 to 96 mm. This, unusually for the Factory, had been purchased new, demonstrating just how important the B.E.2 was considered to be. Although 23 lbs heavier, the new engine was otherwise little different from its predecessor, the only changes to the installation were a slightly taller air scoop and the exhaust pipes re-routed to run outside the fuselage. Although brackets were provided for them, there is no evidence that the silencers, which had caused so much interest on B.E.1, were fitted to its sister ship. The engine change was completed on 28 April when de Havilland took it up for a brief test flight finding everything satisfactory.

The extra power was to prove useful for the next experiment in which B.E.2 was fitted with floats. On 11 May, de Havilland flew it to Fleet Pond, the largest body of water in the area, and the floats that had been brought by road were fitted. After some adjustments to the machine’s balance, and to cope with the shallowness of the pond, a take-off was made towards evening and the machine flew successfully. However, the floats, and possibly the aeroplane, were damaged during the landing and B.E.2 was left in situ for repairs, Perry flying it back to Farnborough on 14 May. The experiment had proved its point and there were no further attempts to fit the B.E.2 with floats although trials continued with other types.

During the next few weeks, B.E.2 was flown to test a thrust meter, and on 31 May, flew with a tension meter fitted to the warp wires, collecting experimental data to aid the Factory’s programme of research all of which was later published by the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Later the same day, de Havilland, flying solo, climbed to over 6,000 feet in just fifteen minutes, probably the greatest height the type had thus far obtained. B.E.2 was also used to test an accelerometer and the ‘Trajectograph’, an instrument designed by the Factory for use in the forthcoming Aeroplane Competition that combined an altimeter with a timing device and so measured glide angle.

Many of these trials were reported not only in aviation magazines but in the national press as the following paragraph from The Times for 4 June illustrates:

An experiment in bomb dropping was carried out at Farnborough last evening by Mr de Havilland, of the Army (sic) Aircraft Factory. The ‘bomb’ carried was an ordinary ringed square weight of 112lb, which was suspended by a trigger hook to the chassis of Army biplane B.E.2. Mr de Havilland detached the weight at a height of about 200 feet. The release had no perceptible effect upon the flight or equilibrium of the biplane.

On 19 June, in a brief departure from his official duties, de Havilland took his wife for a brief joyride in B.E.2, the first time she had flown. What greater endorsement of the comfort and safety of the design, and of its designer’s confidence in it could there have possibly been?

Short of aeroplanes and unwilling to wait to see the outcome of the Military Aeroplane competition, the War Office placed orders for three Avro biplanes, four Flanders monoplanes and four examples of the B.E.2. However, the B.E.2s were ordered not from the Royal Aircraft Factory, but from Messrs Vickers Ltd. who were well established as armament contractors with the Factory providing all necessary drawings to ensure that these contractor-built machines would be identical to the original. With the competition over, further orders were placed with a number of contractors for additional examples of the type. Therefore, B.E.2 came to designate a type rather than an individual machine, although only the original ever bore the designation on its rudder.

Production examples were fitted with a 70-hp Renault engine with the taller air scoop and exhausts which ran outside the fuselage, turning down and back to discharge behind and below the rear cockpit. No silencers were fitted, probably because experience had shown that the ‘chatter’ of the engine’s roller bearings, if not louder than the exhaust, could be heard further away.

Early examples had unequal span wings of NPL3a aerofoil section, set at an angle of incidence of four-and-a-half degrees, but these were changed from early 1913 to RAF6. This was developed when it was discovered that the rear spar of the original section had a factor of safety lower than that possible for the main spar and lower than the designers at the Royal Aircraft Factory thought appropriate. The new aerofoil section not only overcame this problem, having spars of equal strength, but when set an angle of incidence of three-and-a-half degrees, gave the same lift with a slight reduction in drag, marginally enhancing performance.

The teardrop-shaped gravity tank, which in early models was suspended below the upper centre section, was eliminated and replaced with a tank mounted within decking at the rear of the engine as introduced in the erstwhile B.E.6. The main tank remained under the front seat with a hand pump provided to maintain pressure if necessary. The ignition switch, a simple household type brass-domed light switch, was mounted outside the pilot’s cockpit on the port side where it could be clearly seen by the mechanic swinging the propeller. An ‘Elliot Bros.’ instrument board comprising a column-type air speed indicator rather like a thermometer, a revolutions counter and altimeter was mounted on a board under the decking between the cockpits.

In order to maintain the existence of the fledgling aircraft industry and encourage its growth – or so the War Office believed – small orders were placed with a wide number of contractors including W. G. Armstrong Whitworth and Co., Vickers and the Coventry Ordnance Works. These were better established as armaments contractors than aeroplane manufacturers, although the British & Colonial Aeroplane Company and Handley Page Ltd. also secured orders.

Modification of the original B.E.2 continued throughout its career. By December 1912, it had been fitted with decking behind the engine as introduced in B.E.6, improving the passenger’s comfort. It was, at one point, fitted with a spade-shaped tailplane, increasing its area from thirty-four square feet to fifty-four. Fitting this necessitated shortening the rear fuselage decking by one bay and although, with the experiment concluded, the original, smaller, tailplane was replaced but the shortened decking was retained, becoming a distinguished feature of the machine. Its wheels were covered with fabric to improve streamlining and increase side area, an innovation that was quickly adopted for almost all aeroplanes in service.

At this point, B.E.2 disappears from the Royal Aircraft Factory records as an individual machine, further experiments being conducted on a machine with the serial number 601, the first of a batch of numbers assigned to the Royal Aircraft Factory. From photographic evidence, B.E.2 appears to have suffered an accident on 11 December 1913, but with the Factory’s occasionally obscure record keeping, it is unclear whether the original machine was rebuilt or 601 was a new machine.

However, it is possible that the serial number, although assigned earlier, did not appear on the machine until March 1914 when the rudder was replaced by a new component. This was as a result of problems with rudders bending under stress as later described in the following memo distributed by the Royal Aircraft Factory to all units operating the type:

It has been found with B.E.2 type aeroplanes that when doing extremely sharp turns, or when flying under extreme weather conditions, the rudders become slightly bent. This has never in any way caused any inconvenience to the pilot, but it is thought that, by straightening , the rudder could eventually become damaged. Accordingly the rudders and rudder post of all B.E.s are being strengthened.

The problem led to the type being briefly grounded awaiting the new rudders. At a conference on 26 March, it was agreed the type was safe to fly provided that rudders that might have been bent and re-straightened were immediately replaced in case they had been weakened by the process. By June, it had still not been possible to replace the rudders of all B.E.2s in service and pressure was put on all contractors in order to speed up delivery. In March 1914, it was decided to replace a few of the wooden members, which had been formally made from ash, with similar components of spruce. This was done as the quality of ash varies considerably and, although theoretically stronger than spruce in practice, there was often little or no difference in actual compressive strength. Spruce was also lighter. Several squadron commanders complained that the spruce members occasionally appeared to have pockets of ‘half dried gum’ and expressed concern that they would be weakened by this. Both the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate and the Royal Aircraft Factory responded with assurances that fibres would be continuous around the gum pocket and the components had a factor of safety of between eight and nine, so a little loss of strength could be tolerated. Development of the pneumatic undercarriage that O’Gorman had included in his list of desirable features before B.E.1 was even completed was also undertaken. The first example, modelled on the undercarriage of a contemporary Breguet, was fitted to 206 in October 1912, the machine built as B.E.6 which was in service with 2 Squadron.

This unit was also based at Farnborough so the efficiency of the new undercarriage could be tested under service conditions and yet still be monitored by the Factory. This undercarriage incorporated a single central skid, ending in a spoon-like projection at its forward end. Its work over, it was replaced by a standard twin-skid wooden chassis when the machine was overhauled the following spring.

An oleo undercarriage of a different design, with hook-like steel skids projecting forwards, was fitted for a time and remained in place while the machine was used to conduct other experiments. The final design of oleo undercarriage – with a central nose wheel serving the same function as the skids fitted to early designs – was also tested on a B.E.2, but found its true home on the larger F.E.2b and the twin-skid unit remained the standard undercarriage for early B.E.2s. This design, in which retained the axle that was bound in place with rubber shock cord to provide an element of springing, was less efficient than the oleo types but far lighter and easy to maintain.

At the end of 1913, crew comfort was improved by the introduction of new fuselage decking with smaller cockpit cut-outs which offered better protection from the elements. This new model, designated B.E.2b, also introduced exposed control cables simplifying inspection and maintenance in the field. No further orders for the B.E.2a were placed and only a limited number of the improved machine were manufactured as something even better was on the way.

O’Gorman, who had expanded the Royal Aircraft Factory to better carry out its research role, frequently recruited graduates from Cambridge University dedicated to such subjects as physics, chemistry and metallurgy. One such student was Edward Teshmaker Busk who had obtained first-class honours in mechanical engineering in 1907, and after a period working in the electrical industry, joined the physics department in June 1912. Busk made a special study of aeroplane stability, carrying out a number of experiments, chiefly with the B.E.2, in order to test his theories. Before he joined the Factory, he had learned to fly at the Aeronautical Syndicate School at Hendon and was able to conduct his own test flights. At the time, stability was considered to be a highly desirable quality for an aeroplane to possess. In an unstable aeroplane, the pilot must, like the rider of a unicycle, be constantly adjusting the balance of his mount, whereas the pilot of a machine that is inherently stable can take his hands off the controls from time to time to do other things. For example, in a military aeroplane, stability would allow the pilot to look around and note troop movements. Lateral stability, as was already known, could be achieved by introducing dihedral by placing the wings at a small angle above the horizontal so as to form a shallow vee. Then, should a gust tip the machine up at one side, the down-going wing would automatically generate lift and so right the machine. Stability in pitch could be achieved by having the tail, not as a lifting surface but as a stabilising one, set at the correct angle to provide a similar righting moment in pitch to that created laterally by dihedral. The elegant tailplane, in whose upper surface O’Gorman had chosen to retain some curvature, i.e. to create lift, was replaced with a plain surface, rectangular in plan and mounted directly on the top longerons, and braced from a kingpost mounted above the rear fuselage. This new stabilising surface was designated T3 or ‘Tailplane No. 3’, the large and small curved surfaces previously fitted designated T1 and T2 retrospectively. This new tailplane, T3, provided the righting moment Busk needed to achieve longitudinal stability.

Directional stability was another matter and while Busk knew that the solution lay in having a sufficient vertical surface, he had first to establish how best to arrange it. A vertical tail would provide an answer but was it the best or only answer? He first tried modifying the interplane struts, increasing width at their upper ends so as to provide an additional vertical surface close to the machine’s centre of pressure. In another experiment, triangular fins with vertical leading edges were fixed above the centre section struts and the machine flown by Busk to collect data on their effectiveness before deciding that a vertical tail fin was, after all, the best option.

The Royal Aircraft Factory was still a research facility and how many of these experiments were expected to be adopted for use and how many were conducted to see what happened is unclear. But Busk had experimented enough to discover that all he needed to design was a truly stable aeroplane without resorting to the excessive sweepback or similar oddities other designers had thought necessary. His first creation was the R.E.1 (Reconnaissance Experimental No. 1) whose inherent stability caused a sensation, especially when flown ‘hands off’ before the King and Queen.

He then turned all that he had learned upon the B.E.2 by creating the inherently stable B.E.2c. It was completed at the end of May 1914 by modifying 602, which had then flown for forty-four hours. The fuselage of the new design was similar to that of the B.E.2b, the tailplane replaced with a rectangular surface comparable to the T3, but mounted midway between the upper and lower longerons and wire braced from the rudder post. A triangular fin was added ahead of the rudder. The wings had a redesigned tip profile and were staggered, the lower moving back twenty-four inches with the lower longerons of the forward fuselage modified to provide attachments in the new locations. The wings were still rigged in two bays, but new struts of increased chord were introduced and the wings rigged with three degrees of dihedral. Ailerons were fitted to all four wings, replacing the warping of earlier versions, improving lateral control and allowing the introduction of cross bracing between the interplane struts, thus increasing strength. Later, streamlined wires were introduced that replaced the standard cable, thereby finally completing the list of features O’Gorman had sought to include from the start.

De Havilland’s design had been refined into its definitive version, although it was now a very different aeroplane from the one he first flew in December 1911. It was frequently demonstrated by flying ‘hands off’, sometimes for a considerable time. Pilots were impressed but found flying it so strange after machines that required constant attention to the controls they nicknamed it ‘Stability Jane’, and later, ‘The Quirk’.


B.E.2 Part II

On 9 June 1914, Major W. S. Brancker, officer in charge of Royal Flying Corps supplies, flew from Farnborough in the prototype B.E.2c. After take-off, Brancker climbed to 2,000 feet, set course for Salisbury Plain and was then flown ‘hands off’ for the duration of the journey with slight adjustments of the rudder to maintain course. Brancker, who was almost proud of his indifferent skills as a pilot, was duly impressed and passed the time writing a reconnaissance report on the countryside over which he flew. The purpose of his visit and reason for making it in 602 is unrecorded, but whatever it was for, it was brief as Brancker returned to Farnborough the same afternoon.

Major Burke was evidently absent when the B.E.2c made its brief visit to Netheravon but heard all about it from his crews and, on 16 June, sent the following request to Royal Flying Corps headquarters:

I understand that it is possible to convert the existing B.E.2’s into the type of machine which is inherently stable and which, I believe, is to be called B.E.2c. As we are returning to Montrose at the beginning of next month, I should be very glad if I could do so, with some men thoroughly trained on the new machine. I would therefore be glad if you could consider whether I might convert an existing B.E. of my Squadron into a B.E.2c while we are here.

The request was supported by Burke’s superior, Lt Col F. H. Sykes, and forwarded to the Director General of Military Aeronautics who left it to O’Gorman to explain that a conversion was possible. However, the resulting machine would not be a B.E.2c and that the matter was being discussed at the War Office, but that the wide-scale adoption of the new type seemed likely. Although Burke requested to be issued a B.E.2c before his return north, none were available and had to make do with a promise to issue the type as soon as possible. Probably as a result of this exchange of correspondence, B.E.2c 602, returned to Netheravon on 19 June, again flown by Brancker, remaining there until 26 June to give service pilots an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new machine. On the return journey to Farnborough it was piloted be Lt Sheppard (Royal Navy).

On 1 July, Burke closed the exchange with the following report:

With reference to the new type of machine which has been called B.E.2c, I have to report that this machine was flown by all the experienced pilots of my Squadron. The result of the trial was to show that, as far as we could see, the machine is inherently more stable than any other type, and in other respects presented no peculiar features. I was informed of several ideas as to peculiarities but they were not borne out by our experience.

602 was to spend time with 3 Squadron in July and 4 Squadron in August so that the crews could gain valuable experience with it before being returned to the Aircraft Park. Meanwhile, the Royal Flying Corps would have to soldier on with their existing B.E.2as. The B.E.2b would only begin to enter service in August and production of the B.E.2c would not follow until the next year.

When the Royal Flying Corps mobilised for war it was able to field just four complete squadrons: Nos 2, 3, 4 and 5. No. 1 was still in the process of converting from airships and No. 6, although formed some months earlier, was incomplete. Of these, both No. 2 and No. 4 were fully equipped with the B.E.2, No. 3 flew a mixture of Bleriot monoplanes and Henri Farman pushers while No. 4 had Avros, Farmans and a flight of B.E.8s. The Aircraft Park, which supplied replacement machines to the squadrons, had three Farmans, four Sopwiths, nine B.E.2as and the prototype B.E.2c in stock. Therefore, not only was the B.E.2 the most numerous single type, it represented more than half the Royal Flying Corp’s effective strength. No. 6, when it too arrived in France, was equipped with eight B.E.2as and four Henri Farmans, increasing the ratio further. That not one of these aeroplanes was armed was not considered in any way remarkable.

The first four squadrons flew to France on 13 August, the first aeroplane to land being B.E.2a, 327, of 2 Squadron, piloted by Capt. F. Waldron. A few days later, a Bleriot of 3 Squadron piloted by Lt Joubert de la Ferte and 4 Squadron’s Lt G. W. Mapplebecke in a B.E.2, carried out the Royal Flying Corp’s first reconnaissance mission of the war.

B.E.2c, 602, was crated and shipped for its trip to France and confusion arose as to its identity, therefore when assembled it was renumbered 807. On 2September, the B.E.2c was issued to 2 Squadron therefore fulfilling the promise made to Major Burke. However, it was later discovered that this serial number had been allocated to another machine. In October, the B.E.2c was renumbered once more, this time as 1807. New squadrons arrived in France as soon as they could be formed, many of them equipped with the B.E.2, the stable platform best suited to the needs of time. The Bleriots, Farmans and other miscellaneous designs with which the pre-war Royal Flying Corps had been equipped were phased out and relegated to a training role, leaving the B.E.2 as the only pre-war design in large scale service. Production of the B.E.2c was increased with orders placed for batches of twenty or more at a time and new manufacturers were added to the lists of those building the aeroplane to cope with increasing demand.

At first it was a war of movement for which the Royal Flying Corps had been trained, mainly reconnaissance searching the countryside for enemy troops and reporting their position. But as the trench lines formed and the war changed to that of bloody attrition, the role of the aircraft also transformed. The new reconnaissance role involved studying areas behind the German lines for evidence of increased activity that might indicate a forthcoming attack. Also, artillery observation became more important, reporting the fall of shot as the big guns sought to destroy the enemy’s own artillery, stores and soldiers.

Bombing was a new task for the B.E.2c. Although bombsights were nonexistent and the bombs puny, the crews used enthusiasm and ingenuity to make up for what they lacked in equipment.

On 26 May 1915, 2nd Lt William Rhodes-Moorhouse was sent in B.E.2b, 687, to bomb the railway at Courtrai, hoping to disable the tracks that would slow the flow of reinforcements reaching the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. Flying solo, Rhodes-Moorhouse dropped his 112 lbs bomb at 300 feet as to ensure accuracy and managed to hit and damage the tracks. However, at such a low height, he was subjected to a barrage of small arms fire and was shot in the stomach, hand and thigh. Rather than landing to seek medical attention, Rhodes-Moorhouse returned to his squadron at Estaires to report his success and prevent another pilot being sent to repeat the attack. Although rushed to a field hospital, he died of his wounds the following day and was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his courageous self-sacrifice.

Following the loss of the prototype B.E.2c, 601, the Royal Aircraft Factory adopted an early production example, 1749, which was built by Vickers and completed just before the end of 1914 as a test vehicle for its continued development of the design. By 7 January 1915, it was fitted with a new and simplified undercarriage of the type that was to become the norm for almost all aeroplanes throughout the next decade. This comprised two inverted wooden vees with an axle fixed within their apexes and bound in place with thirty-eight feet of 3/8 rubber shock cord.

The next improvement was the installation of a 90-hp RAF1a engine in place of the Renault with which the machine had been built. New exhausts were fitted which discharged above the centre section to prevent exhaust gases finding their way into the cockpits, and the sump was enclosed in a neat cowling, improving both its appearance and streamlining. The cable bracing was replaced with more streamlined ‘Rafwires’ which were swaged to a lenticular section and threaded at the ends to allow adjustment. The pilot was now provided with an instrument panel to which were fitted a dial-type air speed indicator, altimeter, revolutions counter, compass, clinometer and a watch, the latter detachable and a highly-prized souvenir.

These improvements not only changed the appearance of the machine but so affected its flying characteristics. In May 1915, when the first B.E.2c powered by the RAF1a arrived in France, a brief document was prepared and printed by Harrison & Sons on behalf of Her Majesty’s Stationary Office (HMSO) for distribution to the pilots in all squadrons operating the B.E.2. It read:

A Note for Flyers of B.E.2c Aeroplanes fitted with RAF1a Engines, V type Undercarriages and Rafwires.

1) ADJUSTMENT; The aeroplane should be so adjusted so that it is in trim when flying at “cruising” speed – from 65 to 70 miles per hour. At this speed the machine will then fly without the controls.

2) REVOLUTIONS ON THE GROUND; On the ground, the engine revolutions should be between 1,480 and 1,520 per min.; but under no circumstance should this, or any other engine, be allowed to run at full throttle until after it has warmed up, and the oil is circulating freely throughout the engine. This will require at least 10 minutes slow running.

3) CLIMBING SPEEDS; With full tanks and passenger, the best climbing speed is about 55 miles per hour, and the engine revolutions at this speed should be 1,600 per min. During a test made by the Aeronautical Inspection Department, a climb of 6,000 ft in 13 mins 35 secs, may be obtained; and on service at least 6,000 ft in 16 mins may be expected.

4) MAXIMUM SPEED; At the maximum speed of the aeroplane, when flying at a low altitude, the engine revolutions will approximate to 1,850 ft per min; but at this speed, the fuel consumption will reach 9 gallons of petrol per hour, and if the maximum time in the air is desired the normal engine revolutions of 1,600 per min should be maintained.

5) LANDING SPEED; The landing speed is much the same as with the Renault engined B.E.2c – about 40 to 41 miles per hour, but there is a strong tendency for flyers to alight at too high a speed until they become accustomed to flying this machine, owing to its higher normal speed, 80.6 miles per hour on an Aeronautical Inspection Department test, or 87 miles per hour under service conditions. It should be noted that the gliding angle of this machine is finer than that of the old B.E.’s.

6) FUEL CONSUMPTION; the petrol consumption at the normal engine speed of 1,600 revs per min is 7¼ gallons per hour; but this will vary with the elevation at which the flight is made, being somewhat reduced as height is increased.

The leaflet then continued with a four-page description of the construction, operation and maintenance of the engine, and concluded with the following advice on flying the machine, reinforcing the advice previously given:

Open throttle full, and the motor should run 1,800 revs per min when climbing. When sufficient height has been reached, throttle the motor so that the revolutions are about 1,600. This is the intended normal speed of the motor and, flying level at 1,600 revs per min, the consumption of petrol will not exceed 7½ gallons an hour and will probably be 6½ gallons. If extra speed is required the motor may be accelerated to 1,800 revs per min, but the petrol will be increased to 9 gallons per hour, or a little more if flying low.

The B.E.2c crews, with the fatalistic humour that characterised the First World War, composed their own note on their mounts in the form of the following poem:

The Pilot’s Psalm

The B.E.2c is my bus, therefore I shall want.

He maketh me to come down in green pastures,

He leadeth me where I will not go.

He maketh me to be sick, he leadeth me astray on all cross-country flights.

Yea, though I fly over no-man’s land where mine enemies would encompass me about I fear much evil, for thou art with me.

Thy joystick and thy prop discomfort me,

Thou prepares a crash for me in the presence of mine enemies,

Thy RAF anointed me with oil,

Thy tank leaked badly,

Surely to goodness thou shalt not follow me all the days of my life

Or I shall dwell in the House of Colney Hatch forever.

In early 1915, Mr Samuel Hiscocks, the Royal Aircraft Factory’s assistant superintendent, had made a trip to France, visiting squadrons operating Factory-designed machines and reported as follows:

Nos. 2 and 6 Squadrons mentioned that the B.E.2c with the 70 hp Renault when getting away from the ground or just alighting in a strong cross wind tended to turn down wind. This is more noticeable with the B.E.2c than with the B.E.2a and B.E.2b machines owing to the smaller reserve of power. With the B.E.2c’s having the RAF1 engine this tendency should not be so noticeable, as the reserve of power will be increased nearly 100 per cent.

Immediately upon Hiscocks’ return to Farnborough, an investigation was made by the Factory’s chief test pilot, Frank Goodden. No Renault-powered machine was available and Goodden carried out the test in a B.E.2c powered by an RAF1a, presumably 1749. He took-off in a southerly direction, at right angles to a strong wind blowing from the west, and during the take-off run the machine was blown to the east. After take-off, Goodden turned into the wind and at 500 feet found that the machine virtually stood still when flying at its lowest speed and therefore concluded that the wind speed, at that height, was about 35-40 mph. Goodden reported that a very long run had been necessary to take-off safely and that, in a machine more heavily loaded or powered by the Renault engine instead of the RAF1a, it would have been quite dangerous. Goodden found no tendency to turn away from the wind, but rather the reverse, the machine on the ground showing tendency to turn into wind that he had had to correct with the rudder. On 7May, O’Gorman forwarded this report to the War Office together with praise for Goodden’s bravery in carrying out the trials. He also added that the difficulty arose from the choice of bad flying grounds and that, with properly chosen airfields, the necessity for taking-off crosswind should not arise. O’Gorman further suggested that the following advice be issued to pilots:

Getting Off in a Side Wind.

Pilots should remember that for getting off in a side wind a very much longer run is necessary. The following is the method of procedure recommended;-

(1). When starting rudder hard to prevent aeroplane turning into wind.

(2). As the aeroplane gathers speed ease off rudder. Keep the aeroplane straight.

(3). As the aeroplane gets off bank gently and turn into the wind as soon as possible.

While this advice to pilots helped them to operate the B.E.2c, engineers at the Royal Aircraft Factory were aware that the type was capable of improvement, especially in top speed and rate of climb. Both could be improved by an increase in engine power and so attempts were made to get more out of the RAF1. A new version, its compression ratio increased, was developed and bench tested at an output of 105 hp at 1,800 rev/min; however, cooling and reliability were both adversely affected by the modification and it did not go into production. Another version, the RAF1b – in which the bore was increased from 100 to 105 mm, increasing its displacement to 9.7 litres – gave a similar increase in power, but cooling, which was marginal in the standard engine, was again an issue. A supercharged version was also developed and when fitted to a B.E.2c, its climb was improved from 8,500 in thirty-six minutes to 11,500 feet in a similar time. Despite this improvement, it was not adopted for mass production, largely due to the inevitable delay to output that it would cause.

If the 90-hp engine were to be retained, as seemed most likely, solutions to the improvements in speed and climb initially appeared mutually exclusive. The top speed could be increased by reducing the area of the wings, but this would adversely affect the rate of climb and result in an increase in landing speed. While climb could be improved by an increase in wing area, this would create additional drag and reduce the maximum speed. The answer was a more efficient wing, one that would increase lift and yet reduce drag. The Factory had, in conjunction with the National Physical Laboratory, been experimenting with new wing sections for some time but none had proved superior to that already in use, i.e. a section based on RAF6 but with an increased under camber.

In the summer of 1915, a breakthrough was made with RAF14 that offered a distinct improvement with an increase in lift and a reduction in drag. Tests were moved out of the laboratory for full-scale trials with the new section given to the workshops on 19 August 1915. It was necessary to modify the section slightly to simplify manufacture, which delayed completion, but the change fortunately had little adverse effect on performance.

Fitted with wings of the new section, the top speed of the B.E.2c increased by 4 mph, and although not a significant increase, was useful and would have required an additional 14 hp to achieve with the previous wing section. Climb was less easy to assess, an accurate measurement requiring numerous tests in differing weathers, but a simple climb to 6,000 feet in a machine fitted with the original wings took fifteen minutes; a similarly powered B.E.2c fitted with the new wings took just fourteen minutes to reach the same height. Tests flights were undertaken by two Royal Aircraft Factory pilots, Frank Goodden and William Stutt, and neither could detect any difference in either landing or stalling speeds. These improvements in performance could be obtained by the simple expedient of issuing new drawings and wings of RAF14 section were therefore substituted for all B.E.2s from that point on.

Meanwhile, 1749’s career as a test vehicle continued, and in June 1915, was fitted with an improved Rouzet wireless set, development of which was one of the many areas of aeroplane design investigated by the Royal Aircraft Factory’s scientists. Wireless development was later conducted by a separate unit within the Royal Flying Corps based in Hounslow and then relocated to Biggin Hill in Kent where the airfield’s hilltop location improved the range obtained. The robust oleo undercarriage adopted for the big pusher F.E.2b was also experimentally fitted to a B.E.2c, but reduced performance without offering any significant improvement in landing.

Bristol-built 1688 was another machine adopted by the Royal Aircraft Factory as a test vehicle. By June 1915, it had been fitted with an oleo undercarriage and later with a larger, balanced rudder. Its upper centre section was, at one time, covered with transparent cellon dope in an attempt to improve the pilot’s upward view. In December 1915, it was used to test the Factory’s new low-level bombsight developed by R. H. Mayo and was later used to test the Fiery Grapnel, a device invented for use against Zeppelins. This device comprised a pair of hooks fitted on the end of a cable and towed behind the aeroplane with the intention of attaching itself to the enemy airship whereupon the cable would break and the device explode, igniting escaping hydrogen gas. Like many weird ideas for weaponry, it was not adopted.

Another experiment intended as defence against Zeppelins was the Airship Plane in which a B.E.2c was suspended beneath an SS-class non-rigid airship envelope, replacing the car. The idea being that the ensemble could stay aloft until a raiding Zeppelin was sighted whereupon the crew would release the envelope and fly off to attack. Initial trials were made at Kingsnorth in August 1915, the device piloted by Flt Cmdr W. C. Hicks, but control problems meant that no release was made and the Airship Plane landed intact. A further trial was made on 21 February 1916 using B.E.2c, 989, and with the idea’s instigators, Cmdr N. F. Unwin and Sqn Cmdr deC. W. P. Ireland, in the cockpits. However, at about 4,000 feet, a sudden loss of pressure in the envelope caused the forward suspension wires to release the nose of the B.E.2c that dropped down breaking the remaining wires. As it fell, the aeroplane’s controls were damaged and the B.E.2c dived in a sideslip. During the violent manoeuvre, Ireland was thrown out and fell into the River Medway and drowned, the doomed B.E.2c crashing near Strood railway station, killing Unwin. The experiment was promptly discontinued, and although a revised proposal using a manned rigid airship was eventually successful, the B.E.2c had no further involvement.

In an attempt to steepen the B.E.2c’s angle of glide and so facilitate landing in small, constricted fields, the Factory’s physics department devised an early form of airbrake. The struts could be turned at right angles, so presenting their broad face to the airflow and therefore creating additional drag. B.E.2c, 4550, a production machine built by G & J. Weir, was modified in December 1915 and the idea tested with the trials concluding on 9 January 1916. The results, as described in ‘H’ Department’s Report No. 917, were that an additional resistance of 61 lbs at 100 feet per second was achieved that steepened the glide angle at 60 mph from 1 in 6.5 without the brakes, to 1 in 5.6 with them operated. This improvement was not considered sufficient to justify the complication of the mechanism required to achieve it and the idea was scrapped. The same aeroplane was employed to test the action of gyroscopes in a series of experiments in connection with the development of an automatic pilot, but the device, although offering very promising results, was not sufficiently developed for adoption at the time. Another production machine, 4721, which had seen service with 24 Squadron and at the School of Aerial Gunnery, was, towards the end of 1916, fitted with floats manufactured by the well-known boat builders S. E. Saunders of Cowes and successfully test flown from Loch Doon. The main float was a single box-like structure and was attached to the skid of the machine’s early pattern undercarriage in what appears to have been a repetition of an experiment first carried out in 1912. More sophisticated floats had been developed and the reason for the trial has not been discovered.