The Avro Anson, or ‘Faithful Annie’, as she became affectionately known, was the first RAF monoplane with a retractable undercarriage. Designed by Roy Chadwick and his team, the prototype first flew in March 1935 and the operational Mk1 entered service with No 48 Squadron in the maritime patrol and reconnaissance role in March 1936.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, some 26 squadrons were equipped with the aircraft -10 with Coastal Command and 16 with Bomber Command. The Anson was, in truth, already obsolete in both maritime and bombing roles by this time but limited numbers continued to serve in an operational capacity during the early years. Armed with single .303 machine guns in the front fuselage and a dorsal turret, she was used to protect British troops during the evacuation of Dunkirk; in one notable engagement with Me 109s, a flight of 3 Ansons managed to shoot down two enemy aircraft and damage a third without loss, but successes were few.
The Anson came to the fore in the wartime role of training pilots and other aircrew for subsequent employment on front-line multi-engine aircraft. She served as the standard twin-engine trainer for the Empire Air Training Scheme and, to meet this commitment in Canada, a production line was set up by Federal Aircraft Ltd in Montreal to build the Anson Mk II. This machine, which made considerable use of plywood in manufacture in order to spare steel, first flew in August 1941. Other versions of the aircraft were developed for non-operational duties as the war progressed. Post-war, the Annie was employed in the training and communications roles with the last machine being withdrawn from RAF service in 1968.
A total of over 11,000 Ansons were built and the aircraft served with the air arms of no fewer that 25 countries in all. A fair number remain on display in Museums in this country and abroad. Of two airworthy versions in the UK, one is operated by Air Atlantique at Coventry Airport and the other, privately owned, is based with the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden.
The Anson first appeared at RAF Tangmere with No 233 Squadron, a No 6 Group lodger unit that served at the station for a short time in 1937. Tangmere was also the home of No 217 Squadron which operated the aircraft from mid-1937 through to August 1939.