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Wooden Wonder: The Story Of The De Havilland DH.98 ‘Mosquito’

While the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane are likely better known, the de Havilland Mosquito may just be the aircraft that best epitomizes the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II. While the Nazi war machine rapidly built up in Germany, the British Air Ministry was seeking out a short to medium-range bomber to counter the growing threat.

While the Royal Air Force already had powerful long-range heavy bombers like the Handley Page Halifax II, the organization needed a lighter and more nimble bomber. Thus, the organization turned to the established manufacturer de Havilland.

The company had already built a strong reputation for building fast and agile aircraft and had already begun work on a twin-engine jet that could outrun enemy fighters. Originally based on the manufacturer’s Albatross airliner, de Havilland believed that a bomber with minimal skin area could best satisfy the RAF’s expectations, and as a result, sought to build the new aircraft out of lightweight wood.

RAF skepticism

Based on his experience with the Albatross airliner, Geoffrey de Havilland believed that a bomber made with wood could exceed the specifications that the RAF was looking for. According to BAE Systems, the planemaker knew that should war break out with Germany, aluminum and steel would be in short supply while wood would still be plentiful.

A De Havilland DH98 Mosquito sitting in a hangar.

Photo: Alan Wilson | Wikimedia Commons

De Havilland believed that by minimizing the plane’s equipment, they could build an aircraft with a top speed of 300mph. The design they settled on would be able to outrun any foreseeable enemy aircraft and would be powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.

A lack of machine gun turrets simplified the aircraft’s production and reduced unnecessary drag. Contemporary RAF thinking favored heavily armed bombers with large crews, whereas the Mosquito could be flown with a pilot and navigator.

During the war, the Air Ministry became more interested

Still not convinced that de Havilland was on the right track with its minimally armed fast bomber, the Air Ministry shelved the project and asked the planemaker to build wings for other aircraft. With the outbreak of war in 1939, the Air Ministry became more interested in de Havilland’s fast bomber but was still skeptical about not having the plane armed. The RAF had already encountered trouble with lightly armed bombers, and the Halifax II had largely been removed from high-risk raids for exactly this reason.

De Havilland compromised and said he would incorporate two forward and two rear machine guns into the design. With new defensive weaponry, the Air Ministry’s complete support for the project would soon follow.

de Havilland Mosquito

Photo: Geoff McKay | Flickr

The prototype Mosquito made its maiden flight on November 25, 1940, and by 1941, was flying faster than a Spitfire Mk II, despite being a much larger aircraft. In June 1941, the Air Ministry agreed to mass produce the Mosquito with contracts for 1,378 units. When the plane first entered service, it was used for photographic reconnaissance, according to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

After flying a mission over Oslo, Norway, in September 1942, Mosquitos made up a fleet of aircraft used to bomb a major factory in Eindhoven. During the preceding year, Mosquitoes were used for daytime raids targeting factories and railways in German-occupied Europe.

Daylight raids

Between 1942 and 1944, the RAF used its Mosquitos to perform daytime raids and to guide heavy bombers towards targets in Germany, according to the National Air and Space Museum. Because of the plane’s speed, they were not only a nuisance for the Germans but were impossible for the Luftwaffe’s slower night fighters to intercept.

Royal Air Force MosquitoPhoto: RAF | Wikimedia Commons.

The Mosquito flew its last war mission on May 21, 1945, searching for German submarines in waters off the coast of Scotland. In total, between 1940 and 1950, 7,781 Mosquitoes were manufactured in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

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