The Vickers Wellington stemmed from Air Ministry Specification B9/32 which called for a twin-engine ‘heavy’ bomber. Designed by Vickers-Armstrong’s R K Peterson, a method of geodetic construction devised by Barnes Wallis was used giving the fuselage an ability to withstand tremendous damage with little weight penalty. The prototype, called the Crecy, first took to the air on 15th June 1936 with chief test pilot Mutt Summers at the controls. Following revised Specification B29/35, the first true Wellington took to the air just before Christmas 1937 and an initial order for 180 aircraft was placed shortly thereafter.
The Wellington soon became known as the “Wimpey”, after J Wellington Wimpey of Popeye cartoon fame, and constituted a major leap forward for the RAF in terms of both armament and payload. Powered by 2 × Bristol Pegasus Mark XVIII radial engines of 1,050 hp, its basic armament comprised 2 x .303 in Browning machine guns in front and rear turrets and it could carry a bomb load of 4,500 lb (some three times greater than the Heyford it was to replace). The Wellington entered RAF service with No 99 Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, in October 1938 and by September 1939 equipped a further seven front-line squadrons.
At the outbreak of war, the Wellington was principally involved in daylight operations and, on 4 September 1939, 14 aircraft from Nos 9 and 149 Squadrons were in action against the German fleet at Brunsbüttel. The two shot down on this raid became the first aircraft lost on the Western Front. Anti-shipping operations continued until December when, after further losses, Wellingtons were switched to the night bombing task. The type participated in the first night raid on Berlin on 25 August 1940 and over half the aircraft involved in the three 1,000-bomber raids of May/June 1942 were Wellingtons. With the advent of the four-engine heavy bombers, its last bombing mission over Germany took place in October 1943 but, while superseded in the European Theatre, it remained in operational service in the Middle East for much of the war and on second line duties thereafter through to final retirement in the early 1950s.
Many variants of the Wellington were built during its life and it also served with RAF Coastal, Transport and Training Commands and the air arms of 9 other countries.
Of the 11,464 Wellingtons built in total, two survivors can be seen on static display at the RAF Museum, Hendon and at Brooklands.