The Victoria was designed to carry 22 fully armed troops over a range of approximately 800 miles.
Despite their lumbering appearance and matching performance, Vickers’ transport aircraft formed a metaphorical vertebra in the backbone of RAF airlift capabilities throughout much of the 1920s and 30s.
The Vickers Vernon was the RAF’s first dedicated troop transport aircraft. It developed from the firm’s Vimy Commercial passenger aircraft (itself a derivative of the Vimy bomber) and the first of 55 examples entered service in 1922.
Power came from a pair of Napier Lion or Rolls-Royce Eagle engines, giving a cruise speed of just 75mph (121km/h) and a range of 320 miles (515km).
Vernons entered service in 1921 and served with RAF forces in India, Cyprus and Iraq. The type was the mainstay of the celebrated Cairo to Baghdad air mail service in the 1920s, but the type’s greatest hour came in 1923 when aircraft from 45 and 70 Squadrons airlifted nearly 500 troops to Kirkuk, Iraq after the town had been overrun by Kurdish forces. This is believed to have been the first-ever strategic airlift of troops.
At the time the Vernon was operated purely in the transport role, but from 1924, aircraft with 45 Squadron were equipped with bomb racks and sighting devices.
In 1927 the Vernons were replaced by Vickers Victorias, which combined a fuselage that resembled that of the Vernon with the updated and swept-back wings from the Vickers Virginia bomber. It was also powered by two Napier Lion engines, but the enclosed cabin now had room for 24 troops on collapsible canvas seats.
The prototype Victoria flew on September 22, 1922, but with no urgency to replace the Vernon it would be 1925 before a production order for 15 airframes was placed. By the time a follow-up request was placed for Victoria IV and V airframes in 1927, the type’s predominantly wooden airframe had gained large sections of metalwork, deemed more suitable for operations in hot and humid areas. Later versions also disposed of the aged Lion engines in favour of more modern Bristol Pegasus radials.
Deliveries of Victoria IIIs began in February 1926 and the type eventually replaced both the Vernons and Vimys operated by 70 Squadron in Iraq and 216 Squadron in Egypt. Throughout the latter half of the decade the aircraft flew extensively in trouble-spots as far afield as Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. Over the severe winter of 1928-29, Victorias from 70 Squadron played a vital role in the Kabul Airlift, evacuating diplomatic staff and their dependents together with members of the Afghan royal family endangered by civil war.
In total 97 Victorias were delivered to the RAF and the type soldiered on in service until 1935, when it was replaced by the Vickers Valentia. However, in reality 54 of the 82 Valentias received by the RAF were actually refurbished and modified Victorias.
The Valentia was based upon the Pegasus-powered Victoria VI but benefited from a strengthened airframe, featuring a stronger wing and strut- (rather than wire-) braced landing gear complete with wheel brakes and a tailwheel in place of a skid.
The new type entered RAF service with 70 Squadron at Hinaidi, Iraq in 1934 and by the following year it had replaced the Victoria fleet in India, Persia and Iraq.
Like their predecessors, the Valentias were primarily used for transport operations in the Middle East but could be armed with underwing bomb racks when required. The aircraft could also be fitted with a makeshift mid-upper gunner’s position; this based on a field-modification first employed during the 1936 Abyssinian crisis.
At the outbreak of World War Two, the RAF still had 60 Valentias on strength and they were used for night bombing operations over the Western Desert in 1940. In India the aircraft was also used as an aerial propaganda machine with four loudspeakers fitted to broadcast messages to dissident forces.
The type was replaced as a transport in RAF service by the Bristol Bombay but, despite its outmoded appearance and limited performance of 120mph (193km/h), the last Valentia (K3600) was not retired by the Iraq and Persia Communications Flight until July 1944.
The RAF’s first purpose-built troop transport
The Vernon family of aircraft was the final development of the Vimy Commercial and Vimy Ambulance. The aircraft was originally designated as a troop transport, but evolved into a bomber-transport; a reflection of the aircraft’s dual role.
The Vernon was a very similar aircraft to the Vimy Commercial and the first 20, built as Mk Is, also used the same 375hp Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII engine. The Vernon had no defensive armament but could be fitted with bomb racks, the aircraft proving to be just as effective in this role as a purpose-built machine. The spacious fuselage was fully exploited by the RAF, not only to carry troops, but also heavy bulky loads. As the type was being used in the Middle East, the Eagle engines failed to deliver the power needed in very hot conditions.
The solution was obviously more power: the Mk II was fitted with a pair of 450hp Napier Lion II engines and the Mk III with Lion III, geared high-compression, powerplants. The Mk III also had larger fuel tanks and an oleo-pneumatic undercarriage while the nose-wheel arrangement, which was fitted to the Mk I and II, was removed.
Initially flown in 1921 the first Vernons joined 45 Squadron at Almaza, Egypt in February 1922 and 70 Squadron at Baghdad West, Iraq, in November 1922. The Vernon would be a common sight across the Middle East for the next five years, the type not only being used for troop delivery and evacuation, but also to pioneer the Cairo-Baghdad air mail service. The postal task was operated by both squadrons which gave their aircraft personal names, Imperial Airways style, such as Ancaeus, Argo, Aurora, Morpheus, Vagabond, Vaivode, Valkyrie, Venus and Vesuvius. 70 Squadron retired its Vernons in December 1926, which were replaced by the Vickers Victoria, continuing with the bomber-transport role. 45 Squadron on the other hand, converted to the DH. 9A in April 1927, and became a dedicated bomber squadron right through to the 1960s.
FEB 1922 Vernon joins 45 Sqn
FEB 1923 45 & 70 Sqn airlift 500 soldiers to Kirkuk
JAN 1927 45 Sqn retires the Vernon
55 Vernons were built for the RAF beginning with an order for 30 Mk I aircraft under contract 121877/21 at a price of £6,000 each. These were built in the serial range J6864-J6893 although J6884-J6893 (10) were delivered as Mk IIs. 15 more Mk IIs were ordered under contracts 375419/22 and 424489/23 in the serial ranges J6976-J6980 and J7133-J7142 respectively. The final batch was ten Mk IIIs serialled J7539-J7548 under contract 511657/24 at £6,200 each.
TECHNICAL DATA – VERNON
ENGINE: (Mk I) Two 375hp Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII; (Mk II) Two 450hp Napier Lion II WING SPAN: 68ft LENGTH: 43ft 8in HEIGHT: 15ft 3in EMPTY WEIGHT: 7,890lb GROSS WEIGHT: 12,500lb MAX SPEED: 118mph ABSOLUTE CEILING: 11,700ft RANGE: 320 miles at 80mph
Intended as a replacement for the Vernon, the Victoria had the same lineage with the Virginia bomber as the Vernon had with the Vimy.
Designed to Air Ministry Specification 5/20, which called for a Troop Carrier Biplane, the Victoria comfortably won the contract, with the only competition being the Bristol Type 56. Two prototypes were ordered, the aircraft becoming the Mk I and Mk II; production aircraft being designated from the Mk III onwards. The two early aircraft only differed from the later machines by having a dihedral on the lower wing and like the Virginia prototype before it, the engines, Napier Lion IAX in this case, were mounted directly onto the wings rather than raised above it.
The first production version, the Mk III, was fitted with sweptback wings and metal structures rather than the all-wood of the prototypes. Several Mk IIIs were converted to Mk IV standard with metal outer wings and Handley Page slats. The Mk V was the first all-metal Victoria with Lion XIB engines, and featured all-moving fi ns and rudders. The final version, the Mk VI, was fitted with Pegasus engines and a tail wheel rather than a skid. The Valentia was a re-engined version of the Victoria Mk IV and as well as 28 new-builds, 54 were converted from Victorias with Pegasus II L3 or M3 radials.
First flown in January 1926, the Victoria Mk III entered service proper with 70 Squadron at Hinaidi in February; although a Mk I had been attached to the unit since January 1924. The second Middle Eastern unit to receive the Victoria, 216 Squadron at Heliopolis, followed in July 1924. The type was also allocated to the Bomber Transport Flight in India while the Valentia, as well as 70 and 216 Squadrons, also served with 31 Squadron from Lahore between April 1939 and August 1941 marking the end of the Vickers biplane transports in service.
AUG 22, 1922 First flight from Brooklands of Victoria I
MAY 1925 Order for 15 Victoria Mk IIIs placed
NOV 1935 Victoria retired from 70 and 216 Sqn
AUG 1941 Valentia retired from 31 Sqn
1943 Victorias still flying comms duties
JUL 1944 Last Valentia sold to India
97 Victorias were built; all were delivered to the RAF between 1926 and 1933. Two prototypes (Type 56 (Mk I) and 81 (Mk II)) priced at £13,690 each, J6860 and J6861 delivered in October 1922 and February 1923, respectively. 46 Mk IIIs, J7921-J7935, J8061-J8066, J8226-J8235 and J8915-J8929 (13 were later converted to Mk IV). One Mk IV prototype (Type 145), J9250; 37 Mk Vs, J9760-J9766, K1310-K1315, K2340-K2345 and K2791-K2808 (eleven later converted to Mk IV; a further 28 were converted to Valentia (54 Victorias were converted to Valentias). Eleven Mk IVs (Type 262), K3159-K3169, delivered between September and December 1933.
TECHNICAL DATA – VICTORIA I, V, VI AND VALENTIA
ENGINE: (I) two 450hp Napier Lion IAX; (III) two 450hp Napier Lion II; (V) two 570hp Napier Lion XIB;
(VI) two 660hp Bristol Pegasus IIL3; (Valentia) two 635hp Bristol Pegasus IIM3 WING SPAN: (I) 86ft 6in; (V, VI & Valentia) 87ft 4in LENGTH: (I) 51ft 7in; (V, VI & Valentia) 59ft 6in HEIGHT: (I) 17ft 3in; (V, VI & Valentia) 17ft 9in WING AREA: (V, VI & Valentia) 2,178 sq ft EMPTY WEIGHT: (I) 10,155lb; (V) 10,030lb; (VI) 9,806lb; (Valentia) 10,994lb GROSS WEIGHT: (I) 18,100lb; (V) 17,760lb; (VI) 17,600lb; (Valentia) 19,500lb MAX SPEED: (I) 106mph at sea level; (V) 110mph at sea level; (VI) 130mph at 5,000ft; (Valentia) 120mph at 5,000ft SERVICE CEILING: (V) 16,200ft; (Valentia) 16,250ft RANGE: (I); 400 miles; (V) 770 miles; (VI & Valentia) 800 miles