Aircraft of the Month
The Vickers Vildebeest was a single-engine two/three seat biplane designed to meet Air Ministry Specification 24/25 for a torpedo bomber to replace the Hawker Horsley. The prototype Vickers Type 132 was first flown in 1928 and an initial order was placed for 9 aircraft in 1931. The first production machine took to the air in September 1932 and further orders soon followed for the Mk II with an up-rated Bristol Pegasus engine and the main production version, the Mk III, which added a third crew member. Meanwhile, as a private venture, Vickers pursued a general-purpose variant to support the Army in the Middle East. Known as the Vincent, the only essential difference between it and the Vildebeest was the replacement of torpedo equipment by an auxiliary fuel tank.
The Vildebeest entered service with No 100 Squadron at RAF Donibristle in October 1932 and was soon equipping four front line units, two in the UK and two in Singapore. The Vincent, entered service with No 84 Squadron at RAF Shaibah, Iraq in 1934 and, by 1937, was equipping six Middle East squadrons.
Following the outbreak of war in 1939, the UK-based Vildebeests were employed on coastal patrol duties before being replaced by the Bristol Beaufort in 1940. The Singapore squadrons were still awaiting their replacement Beauforts when the Japanese invaded Malaya in December 1941 and suffered heavy losses as enemy forces advancing south towards the island were engaged. A few survivors were withdrawn to Java at the end of January 1942 and the last two machines were lost attempting to escape to Burma in March of that year. The Middle East Vincent squadrons were used for bombing missions against Italian forces in the East African campaign, coastal patrols from Aden and against enemy forces during the Anglo-Iraqi War of May 1941. The last Vildebeests were retired from front-line service in March 1942 and the Vincents in January 1943.
The Vildebeest was also operated by both the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Spanish Navy. A total of some 270 aircraft were built with 197 Vincents either constructed from scratch or converted from Vildebeests. There are no known airworthy survivors; a composite airframe is being restored by the RNZAF Museum and restoration of a Vincent for static display is nearing completion, also in New Zealand.
Vildebeests of No 42 Squadron were detached to RAF Tangmere from Thorney Island in March 1938.