The Armstrong Whitworth AW41 Albemarle was developed in response to Air Ministry Specification B9/38 which called for a simple medium bomber which could be built by companies without aircraft construction experience. Initially, Armstrong Whitworth, Bristol and de Havilland were invited to produce designs. New specifications were issued in June 1938, after which de Havilland withdrew from the project, with Bristol following suit shortly thereafter. Due to a change of policy, the Air Staff saw the remaining aircraft, the Albemarle, as primarily a reconnaissance machine capable of carrying out bombing missions when required and, in October 1938, an order for 200 aircraft was placed.
The first prototype flew from Hamble on 20th March 1940. Powered by 2 x Bristol Hercules XI radial engines of 1,590 hp, the Albemarle boasted an internal bomb bay able to accommodate 4,500 lb. It was armed with 4 x .303 Browning machine guns in a dorsal turret
The Albemarle’s secondary bombing role was soon abandoned when it became apparent that the aircraft’s performance was no better than that of the Wellington and significantly inferior to that of the emerging 4-engined bombers. It was deemed fit for general reconnaissance, however, and entered service with No 295 Squadron at RAF Harwell in January 1943 – only to be re-assigned almost immediately to paratroop transport and glider towing duties. The Albemarle took part in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and reached the epitome of its service on D-Day and during subsequent operations in Europe; No 295 Squadron claiming to be the first squadron to drop Allied troops on 6th June 1944. The aircraft was also heavily involved as a glider tug at Arnhem for Operation Market Garden with 73 aircraft commited over the first 2 days.
Seven RAF squadrons and a considerable number of glider conversion units equipped with Albemarles at one time or another. The Soviet Air Force place an order for 200 aircraft, albeit this was subsequently cancelled in favour of the Douglas C-47 Skytrain after delivery of the first 12 machines. The Albemarle was transferred from front line RAF squadrons to training units shortly after Market Garden and finally retired in February 1946. A total of 602 aircraft were built and there are no known survivors