Handley-Page Hampden Resurrection at RAF Museum Cosford

P1344 as she looked when laid out by Jeet Mahal for inspection by the RAF Museum in 1992. (photo via RAF Museum)
P1344 as she looked when laid out by Jeet Mahal for inspection by the RAF Museum in 1992. (photo via RAF Museum)
P1344 as she looked when laid out by Jeet Mahal for inspection by the RAF Museum in 1992. (photo via RAF Museum)
Geoff Jones recently visited the Michael Beetham Conservation Centre at RAF Museum Cosford on behalf of Warbirds News. We were particularly interested to hear about progress on their Handley Page Hampden TB Mk.I restoration project. Only three partial airframes of the 1430 Hampdens built are known to exist, with the RAF Museum’s example, P1344, being the most complete. Staff and volunteers at Cosford are currently lavishing their attention on P1344, and have made significant progress over the last few years. This following article is based on Geoff Jones’ report…
A wartime color photo of a Handley Page Hampden bomber (image via Wikipedia)
A wartime color photo of a Handley Page Hampden bomber. The unit code T-UB seems almost fitting, as the type was woefully inadequate in most roles and almost defenseless against enemy fighters. But it was available in a time of need, which explains why so many served.  (image via Wikipedia)
Hampden P1344 joined the RAF as a standard medium bomber variant in December 1939. After passing through 14 OTU (Operational Training Unit), the aircraft underwent major modifications for conversion into a torpedo bomber, being re-designated as a Hampden TB Mk.I. She then joined Coastal Command with 144 Squadron at RAF Leuchars in Scotland. Whilst at Leuchars she flew a mission to Kristiansand,  Norway. The weeks of practice using drain pipes filled with concrete as mock torpedo’s came to nought though, as the crew never found their target, so P1344 returned home without releasing its torpedo. On September 4th, 1942, P1344 took off from Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands with fifteen other 144 Squadron Hampdens and a further sixteen examples from 455 Squadron RAAF. They were bound for temporary duty on the Kola Peninsula near Murmansk in north-western Russia. From here they were due to undertake fleet protection responsibilities for Arctic convoys. Unfortunately neither P1344 nor her crew made their destination.
P1344, marked as PL-K for ‘Kitty’, had five men aboard that day. Pilot Officer E. H. Perry was at the controls, with Flight Sergeant G.E. Miller RCAF as navigator, Sergeant James Morton Robertson as wireless operator/gunner and gunner Sergeant Daniel C. Garrity. The aircraft also carried a technician/engine fitter, Corporal George Shepherd, to help with aircraft servicing whilst on detachment. The Hampdens flew across the North Sea heading east to northern Norway, and had to climb to 9000ft before landfall to clear the mountains. The Hampden experienced severe icing at altitude, particularly on the propeller blades, so it had to descend into warmer air to maintain flying speed. Due to the continued icing conditions, P1344 couldn’t climb over the mountains in northern Sweden, so Flt.Sgt. Miller plotted a new course, flying a circuitous route to their destination  over lower ground. Unfortunately this took the Hampden too close to the German occupied airfield at Petsamo, Finland. They encountered anti-aircraft ground fire, but were soon being hounded by two Messerschmitt Bf109’s. Flt.Sgt. Miller in the Hampden’s nose called out instructions to the pilot to help him avoid fire from the Messerschmitts, but the Hampden was no match for the agile Luftwaffe fighters. The pilot declared that he couldn’t out-wit his attackers and decided to attempt a forced landing. Three crewmen died in the incident, while the pilot sustained serious injuries. Only the fitter, George Shepherd, managed to walk away from the wreck, but the Germans soon picked him up attempting to escape into Sweden. He guided his captors back to the crash site, where they rescued the wounded pilot. Both men spent the rest of the war in PoW camps.
P1344 remained where it fell on the Kola Peninsular, slowly sinking into the boggy ground over the following decades until being discovered by a salvage team in 1989. Jeet Mahal acquired the wreck and imported it into the UK in 1992. He soon arranged a deal which saw P1344 join the RAF Museum’s collection. The Hampden arrived for conservation at RAF Cardington in 1992, moving to Cosford upon Cardington’s closure in 2003.
Although badly damaged in the crash, the Hampden’s fuselage showed clear evidence of bullet strikes from the German fighters that shot it down. Russian locals had partially stripped the aircraft over the years, even recycling one of the tires for soles on make-shift shoes. Locals also daubed the airframe liberally with graffiti, however much of the original wartime paint work remained. The conservation and restoration effort began with a detailed photo survey of the wreck, together with a comprehensive inventory of all internal fittings, framework and components. This enabled the team, led by Darren Priday with assistance from Ella Middleton, to categorize what was present, what needed fixing, and what was entirely missing.
The Hampden's tail boom. Interestingly, when museum staff looked closely at this component, they found the serial number L6012 painted on the side, which actually belongs to a Handley Page Hereford (a Napier Dagger-engined version of the Hampden). Presumably P1344's original tail boom needed replacing at some point, and received the unit from the Hereford prior to the crash. (photo by Geoff Jones)
The Hampden’s tail boom. Interestingly, when museum staff looked closely at this component, they found the serial number L6012 painted on the side, which actually belongs to a Handley Page Hereford (a Napier Dagger-engined version of the Hampden). Presumably P1344’s original tail boom needed replacing at some point, and received the unit from the Hereford prior to the crash. (photo by Geoff Jones)
Due to the substantial damage, and significant missing sections, MBCC staff at Cosford were initially unsure how to finish the aircraft for its eventual display. They eventually decided to restore only one side of the Hampden, leaving the other side in its ‘as-found’ condition. This would have been an interesting way to display the aircraft, however it became clearly impractical due to the physical imbalance of the finished product placing undue stress on the remaining structure. The Museum now plans to restore the entire Hampden, although this will be a much lengthier and costlier process. 

P1344's rear fuselage section in its jig and almost structurally complete. (photo by Geoff Jones)
P1344’s rear fuselage section in its jig and almost structurally complete. Notice the tail boom in the background. You can clearly read the serial number L6012 on its side. (photo by Geoff Jones)
Following the wreck assessment, restoration efforts focused on the rear fuselage. The museum’s staff and volunteers first re-established the assembly’s structural integrity, applied corrosion proofing and then a final surface finish, completing this part of the job in 2011. The bomb-bay  sidewalls followed next in the restoration queue. Completion of the tailboom is the next big task. 

The two fuselage sections side by side. (photo by Geoff Jones)
The two fuselage sections side by side. (photo by Geoff Jones)

More recently the team overhauled one of the two 965hp Bristol Pegasus XVIII radial engines and work on the wings is in progress. The major tasks remaining as of early 2014 are the forward fuselage, inner wing, port outer wing, starboard outer wing, tailplane complete with fin and rudders, one undercarriage and the second Pegasus engine.

 

The completed Bristol Pegasus XVIII radial engine (photo Geoff Jones)
The completed Bristol Pegasus XVIII radial engine (photo Geoff Jones)

The RAF Museum recently secured a cache of Hampden parts from Canada, and these will be essential to completing P1344 as she is missing substantial sections of the forward fuselage and wings. Work on the project is split between RAF personnel and a group of apprentices who are advancing their skill sets with the varied tasks at hand. 
There are currently no completion target dates. However, Darren Priday hopes to display major sections to the public once they are completed. This will help tell the story of the Hampden’s crew and their sacrifice, and testify by association to the bravery of all who flew Hampdens into harms way. 

Two other Handley Page Hampdens survive: P5436 at the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, British Colombia, Canada, and AE436 under reconstruction with the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby in the UK. The Canadian example is based upon a heavily corroded center section recovered from Patricia Bay a few decades ago and parts from two other Canadian wrecks. It is currently the world’s only externally complete Hampden, but uses a lot of non-standard structure to achieve this. 

Warbirds News will also be presenting a write-up on progress with AE436’s restoration soon.

16 Comments

  1. I have found 2x early photos of a Hampden Mk.I that was shot down by German AA photos clearly show the ID number and plane wreck.
    I don’t believe anyone has seen these photos as these are German army.
    You can see the AA bunkers in the background in the snow.

    I can send you a copy is there a Hampde Command website cause I’m sure the crew would have died in the wreck and I may have the last photos.

    • My uncle Jack was shot down and reported missing, then declared dead a time later,report stated flight sergeant wireless operator air gunner has no known grave site, as there was no closure to the death of a 23 yr. old airman and son, just married ,the family still grieves, some info of his last flight info Kerr, James Henry Maxwell killed in action Mar.11/43 #415 swordfish squadron Hampton aircraft #at 114 lost in the bay of Biscay? name inscribed Runnymede war memorial England Thankyou

  2. I have discovered of Flight Sgt Gordon Earnest Miller (KIA) in the crash of P1344 on 5 September 1942 in Russia. Do you want a copy?

  3. My Grandma used to stitch the linen onto the ailerons flaps and rudders. I beleive she was contacted about this plane when it was found in Russia. It would be lovely if she could visit and see this aircraft again once it has been restored.

    • Kirsty, if you contact Darren Priday at the restoration unit at Cosford he would be delighted to enable a visit if it is still possible. He has been fantastic to me and I visited again this week with my brother who is over from New Zealand. Why our interest? The pilot was our Dad!

  4. I remember reading a small article in the London Evening Standard in 1971 or ’72 about a Hamden being discovered in the mountains somewhere in Scandinavia or similar. As usual there was never a follow up article.

  5. Luke Davies. My father was lost in a Hampden in January 1942 over
    Holland. Aircraft AT122, ZN , 106 Sqdn. Any chance your ‘photo could
    be relevant.
    Look forward to reply,
    Thanks,
    Andrew

  6. My maternal uncle Flight Sergeant William Archibald Tyler was killed in action on 17th April 1941. He was flying as navigator out of Hemswell in aircraft AD761 . Someone, probably my uncle forgot to turn off the navigation lights and consequently, soon after take off was shot down almost within sight of Helmswell.

    The german pilot was Feldwebel Hans Hahn of 3/NJG2 who was I believe, shot down later in the same mission and spent thr rest of thr war as a PoW

    • Nick,

      My Father was also on AD761 (Sgt George Walsh) as the WOp AG. He was the only survivor, having been wounded and managing to bale out of the ac.

  7. My grandfather Wing Commander JJ Watts D.S.O. was killed in action 13th June 1940 when his Handley Page Hampden struck cable linking a barriage balloon to the ground over Harwich. I have a book which describes the incident and has pictures of what happened to the wing. As far as I know he was based in Scampton and Hemswell although I have yet to locate the number and service record of his plane.

    I visited the only remaining Hampden in British Colombia in 2007 which was a most memorable experience. I have his citation and have visited his grave where I was most saddened to see how young the rest of his crew were. There are not many times in history when we all relied so heavily on the extreme odds my grandfather’s generation of pilots faced. It would be marvellous to keep the memory alive and to see more examples of this aircraft.

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