Lockheed Hudson in RAF Service

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Introduction and Development
Coastal Command Anti-aircraft co-operation
Anti-aircraft co-operation
Photographic Reconnaissance
Special Ops
RAF Service in the Far East

Introduction and Development

The Lockheed Hudson was one of the most important American produced aircraft during the early years of the Second World War, serving as the backbone of RAF Coastal Command well into 1942. The development of the Hudson was triggered by the arrival of a British Purchasing Commission under Air Commodore Arthur Harris in the United States in April 1938.

One of the types the commission was looking to purchase was a navigational training aircraft to be used by the crews of the Avro Anson. When this aircraft entered service in 1936 it was the first monoplane and the first aircraft with retractable wheels to enter RAF service, as well as being one of the first land-based maritime reconnaissance aircraft, and had been one of the fastest aircraft in the RAF.

Lockheed already had a project in mind when the British arrived. In February 1938 they had looked at turning their Model 14 airliner into a bomber, and so when the commission reached Lockheed’s Burbank factory the company was in a good position to produce a suitable design. After five days of work Lockheed had produced a full scale mock-up of the proposed aircraft, even managing to implement one major change to the design during this period. As first designed the new aircraft was to be armed with two turrets – one nose turret and one dorsal turret, with the navigator situated behind the wing. With the problems of navigating over water the British preferred to have the navigator located in a glazed nose, providing better visibility and making it easier for him to communicate with the pilot.

The projected performance of the new aircraft was so good that the commission decided to investigate purchasing the new aircraft to replace the Anson. This decision would be completely justified – the Hudson Mk.I would be nearly 60mph faster than the Anson, able to carry four times the bomb load and had a range of nearly 2,000 miles, more than twice that of the Anson. The two aircraft would switch roles, with the new Hudson taking over as a general reconnaissance aircraft and the Anson serving as a navigational trainer. After two months of negotiations in London, on 23 June 1938 Lockheed was given a $25 million contract for 200 aircraft, at a cost of £17,000 each.

The Hudson Mk.I (Lockheed Model B14L) was powered by two Wright GR-1820-G102A engines, providing 1,100hp at take-off. It was armed with four .303in machine guns – two fixed forward firing guns in the nose, controlled by the pilot, and two in a Boulton-Paul dorsal turret which would be installed in Britain. The payload was carried internally, in a bomb bay located under the cabin.

Lockheed Hudson fuselage under construction
Lockheed Hudson
fuselage under
construction

As expected work on the Hudson proceeded rapidly. The first aircraft (given the RAF serial number N7205) made its maiden flight on 10 December 1938, and very few problems were uncovered. This aircraft would be the second to reach Britain, going to the A&AEE at Boscombe Down, where it was used as a test aircraft. The first aircraft to reach Britain was N7026, which arrived at Liverpool in February 1939. It was then taken to Boulton Paul’s factory to have the turret installed, before undergoing extensive tests.

The Hudson entered service with No.224 Squadron of Coastal Command in May 1939. By the next month 48 aircraft had been completed, and Lockheed was awarded a contract to build an extra 50 aircraft, on the condition that all 250 aircraft were complete by Christmas 1939. This really marked the emergence of Lockheed as a major producer of military aircraft. The company expanded its own workforce, and engaged a sub-contractor  - Rohr Aircraft of San Diego – to speed production. A total of 2,941 Hudsons would be build before production ended in May 1943, and the aircraft would be used by Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and by both the USAAF and US Navy.

Coastal Command

The Hudson was in the process of entering service at the start of the Second World War. No.244 Squadron had been the first to receive the new aircraft, in May 1939. By September the squadron was based at Leuchers, where No.233 Squadron in the process of replacing its Ansons. A third squadron, No.220, based at RAF Thornaby in North Yorkshire, was also in the process of converting to the Hudson. The RAF went onto a war footing on 24 August 1939, and No.244 Squadron began to fly patrols over the North Sea.

On 4 September 1939 a Hudson of No.224 Squadron became the first RAF aircraft to clash with the Luftwaffe, after an inconclusive fight with a Dornier Do.18 flying boat.

Two months later, on 10 November, two Hudsons from No.220 Squadron became the first Coastal Command aircraft to shoot down a German aircraft. Their victim was a Do.18 of 3.Staffel/ K.Fl.Gr.406, which capsized after being forced to make an emergency landing. This was also the first German aircraft to be shot down by an American-designed aircraft. During the first year of the war the Hudson would have the best sortie to loss ratio of any front line RAF aircraft, at least in part because its main opponents during that period were the Do.18 and the He.115 floatplane. 

For most of the first year of the war the Hudson was used for its original general reconnaissance duty, flying wide ranging patrols over the North Sea from bases on the east coast, clashing with German aircraft performing similar duties, attacking German shipping when found, watching out for any German attack on east coast Naval bases. During this period the Hudson squadrons also had a number of clashes with German U-boats, but anti-submarine duties would not become really important until mid 1941.

The routine of maritime patrols was interrupted by the hunt for the Altmark, a supply ship for the German pocket battleship Graf von Spee, believed to be returning to Germany with British prisoners onboard. The Altmark was first discovered by Hudsons of No.220 Squadron, and on 16 February it was a Hudson of No.233 Squadron which found the Altmark in Josing Fjord, allowing the destroyer HMS Cossack to board the Altmark and free the prisoners.

The Hudson squadrons would return to Norway in more desperate circumstances after the German invasion of April 1940. This came just after No.206 Squadron had flown its first Hudson sorties, but it would be the original three squadrons (Nos.220, 224 and 233) that would be most heavily engaged over Norway. Their Hudsons were in action on almost every day of the campaign, carrying out a mix of their normal anti-shipping duties and night bombing missions on German targets on land.

During this period a fifth squadron, No.269, converted to the Hudson. One of its first missions was an attack on the Scharnhorst at Trondheim on 11 June 1940, which cost the squadron two of the eleven aircraft involved. For the next two years at least one Hudson squadron of Coastal Command would be involved in attacks on German shipping on the Norwegian coast.

Nos.206 and 220 squadrons were soon moved south to help cover the Dunkirk beaches. Although their main job was to keep the German E-boats away from the transport ships, both squadrons would claim aerial victories. On 1 June No.220 Squadron shot down three Ju 87 Stukas, but on 3 June No.206 Squadron did even better, catching a formation of Bf 109s in the process of attacking a patrol of Blackburn Skuas and shooting down three of the German fighters.

No.206 Squadrons most important contribution to the evacuation from Europe came on 19 June 1940, when one of its Hudsons rescued General Sikorski, the leader of the Polish forces in exile, and the staff of the Polish from Bordeaux. After the excitement of the summer of 1940, for the rest of the year the first five Hudson squadrons returned to their patrol duties over the North Sea. Late in the year they would be joined by No.320 Squadron, flying coastal patrols from Pembroke, while six more squadrons would convert to the Hudson during 1941, one from the Anson and five from the Blenheim.

During 1941 and 1942 Coastal Command’s Hudsons would see service over a much wider area. Nos.53, 206, 224, 233, 407 and 500 squadrons would all spend some time flying anti-submarine patrols over the Atlantic from bases on the west coast. No.269 Squadron was the first to move further afield, moving to Iceland in April 1941 in an attempt to close part of the Air Gap in the central Atlantic, remaining on Iceland until January 1944. No.53 Squadron moved even further afield, operating from NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island from July-August 1942 to help the US Navy and USAAF take on the U-boats in American coastal waters. From Rhode Island the squadron moved to Trinidad, operating over the Caribbean from August-November 1942.

In February 1942 Nos.59, 407 and 500 Squadrons all took part in the attempts to stop the “Channel Dash” – the successful German attempt to get the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen back to Germany. Nos. 59 and 407 Squadrons made their attack on the German ships on 12 February, loosing two aircraft, while No.500 Squadron made an attack on 13 February for the loss of one aircraft. Neither attack met with any success.

On 25-26 June 1942 three of Coastal Command’s Hudson squadrons (Nos.59, 206 and 224) provided a total of 35 aircraft for Operation Millenium II, the thousand bomber rain of Bremen. Rather fittingly their target was the Deuschemag U-boat yard.

Although it had been a great improvement on the Anson, the Hudson still lacked the range to patrol the entire width of the Atlantic. What Coastal Command really needed was access to the precious four-engined heavy bombers. No.220 Squadron would become the first squadron to convert from the Hudson, receiving the B-17 Fortress in December 1941. During 1942 No.206 Squadron was also convert to the Fortress, while Nos.59 and 224 Squadrons would get the Consolidated Liberator.

At the end of 1941 four squadrons (Nos.233, 500, 608 and 48) took their Hudsons to Gibraltar to take part in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. All four squadrons would continue to operate the Hudson over the Mediterranean until late in 1943 or 1944. No.500 would be the first to go, converting to the Lockheed Ventura between December 1943 and April 1944. Nos.48 and 233 would both convert to the Dakota and become transport squadrons during 1944, while No.608 would be disbanded on 31 July 1944.

Three of the four remained Hudson squadrons lost their aircraft during 1943. On its return from Trinidad in February 1943 No.53 converted to the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, while No.320 Squadron converted to the Mitchell and No.407 to the Wellington, becoming bomber squadrons. 

A limited number of Hudsons remained in Coastal Command service into 1945. In January 1944 No.269 Squadron moved from Iceland to the Azores, where it performed a mix of air-sea rescue, meteorological and target-towing duties. In August 1944 a second Hudson equipped air-sea rescue squadron (No.269) formed on Iceland, retaining the type into 1945.

No.269 Squadron was the first of five to use the Hudson on for meteorological. It would be joined by No.521 Squadron (1942-45), No.517 Squadron (1943) and Nos.519 and 520 Squadrons (1943-45).

Anti-aircraft co-operation

In 1941-42 four squadrons (Nos.285, 287, 288 and 289) used the Hudson on anti-aircraft co-operation duties. Their main task was to tow targets to allow anti-aircraft batteries to calibrate their guns against a predictable daylight target.

Photographic Reconnaissance

A small number of Hudsons were used by No.1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, operating over Germany under the cover of low cloud. Cameras were carried in the nose and side windows, and the aircraft were given a custom camouflage scheme with light blue upper surfaces, covered with sea green dappling and off-white diagonal lines on top.

Special Ops

The Hudson was used by No.161 Squadron (Special Duties) in support of SOE. The Hudson was one of the aircraft used for actual landings in occupied Europe, flying agents and supplies from its base at Tempsford and from Tangmere. The Hudson operated alongside a mix of other aircraft, most famously the Westland Lysander.

RAF Service in the Far East

The Lockheed Hudsons of the RAAF played a major part in the resistance to the Japanese in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, but in December 1941 the RAF had no Hudsons in the Far East. This changed when a number of Hudsons were rushed east to reinforce No.62 Squadron. This Blenheim squadron had suffered heavy losses in Malaya, and would continue to do so after the arrival of the Hudson. Eventually No.62 Squadron was disbanded, and the survivors joined No.1 (RAAF) Squadron, itself a Hudson squadron.

No.139 Squadron was the next to suffer. It had gained its Hudsons in India in December 1941, to fly reconnaissance missions over the Bay of Bengal. During the Japanese invasion of Burma the squadron suffered heavy losses while operating off the coast of Burma. The squadron was then renumbered No.62 Squadron, and in September 1942 returned to the fray over Burma. It retained the Hudson to May 1943, operating as a bomber squadron over the Arakan coast.

No.353 Squadron was the third Hudson squadron to form in the Far East, forming at Dum Dum on 1 June 1942. For the next year it flew maritime patrols over the Bay of Bengal, before in August 1943 it took over the air mail service based at Palam, retaining its Hudsons until October 1944.

Lockheed Hudson Aircraft in WWII, Andrew Hendrie, Crowood Press. A look at the development of the Hudson, and its career with the RAF, USAAF, RNZAF and RAAF. Covers the anti-submarine and anti-shipping uses of the Hudson, as well at its role in Air-Sea Rescue and special operations. The text is supported by a good collection of first hand accounts. cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 May 2008), Lockheed Hudson in RAF Service , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_lockheed_hudson_RAF.html

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