The Bristol Beaufort (manufacturer designation Type 152) was a British twin-engined torpedo bomber designed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company, and developed from experience gained designing and building the earlier Blenheim light bomber. Australian Beauforts were manufactured under license by the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP).

The Bristol Beaufort was chosen for Australian production by the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP) in August 1938. Production would be carried out between 1941 and 1944 at Fishermen’s Bend, Melbourne and Mascot, Sydney. The Pratt and Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engine would be built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC). The State Railway Workshops of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia would build sub-assemblies and components. This was a major undertaking for Australia and the original plan was to build aircraft for both the RAF and the RAAF. The first 58 were issued RAF serials although only 7 where delivered to the RAF, the remainder going to the RAAF and being re-serialled A9-1 onwards.

A Bristol built pattern aircraft was acquired (RAF serial L4448) in 1939 and it was converted from Bristol Taurus power to Pratt and Whitney power and re-serialled A9-1001.

Australian production was 700 aircraft. From A9-50 on even numbered serials came from Mascot and those with odd numbers from Fishermen’s Bend

During 1944 and 1945 46 Beauforts were converted to unarmed transports, officially Beaufort Mk.IX but generally known as Beaufreighters.
They received new serial numbers in the A9-701 to 746 range.

Source: ADF Serials

Beauforts first saw service with Royal Air Force Coastal Command and then the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm from 1940. They were used as torpedo bombers, conventional bombers and mine-layers until 1942, when they were removed from active service and were then used as trainer aircraft until being declared obsolete in 1945. Beauforts also saw considerable action in the Mediterranean; Beaufort squadrons based in Egypt and on Malta helped put an end to Axis shipping supplying Rommel’s Deutsches Afrikakorps in North Africa. Beauforts saw their most extensive use with the Royal Australian Air Force in the Pacific theatre, where they were used until the very end of the war.

Although designed as a torpedo-bomber, the Beaufort more often flew as a level-bomber. The Beaufort also flew more hours in training than on operational missions and more were lost through accidents and mechanical failures than were lost to enemy fire. However, the Beaufort did spawn a long-range heavy fighter variant called the Beaufighter, which proved to be very successful and many Beaufort units eventually converted to the Beaufighter.

Design and development


Beaufort first prototype L4441, at a display of new and prototype aircraft, RAF Northolt May 1939. Charles E Brown photograph.

The Beaufort came from Bristol’s submission to meet Air Ministry Specifications M.I5/35 and G.24/35 for respectively a land-based twin-engined torpedo-bomber and a general reconnaissance aircraft. With a production order following under Specification 10/36, the Bristol Type 152 was given the name Beaufort after the Duke of Beaufort, whose ancestral home was nearby in Gloucestershire.

The competing torpedo bomber entry from Blackburn was also ordered as the Blackburn Botha. In an unprecedented step both designs were ordered straight off the drawing board, an indication of how urgently the RAF needed a new torpedo bomber. Three hundred and twenty Beauforts were ordered. Initially, because of their commitment to the Blenheim, Bristol were to build 78 at their Filton factory, with the other 242 being built by Blackburn. These allocations would be changed later.

Although the design looked similar in many ways to the Blenheim, it was somewhat larger, with an 18 in (46 cm) increase in wingspan. With the fuselage being made longer in the nose and taller to accommodate a fourth crew member, it was also considerably heavier. The larger bomb-bay was designed to house a semi-recessed torpedo, or it could carry an increased bomb load. Due to the increased weight the Blenheim’s Bristol Mercury engines were to be replaced by the more powerful, sleeve valve, Bristol Perseus. It was soon determined that even with the Perseus, the Beaufort would be slower than the Blenheim and so a switch was made to the larger Bristol Taurus engine, also a sleeve valve design. For these engines, chief designer Roy Fedden developed special low-drag NACA cowlings which exhausted air through vertical slots flanking the nacelles under the wings. Air flow was controlled by adjustable flaps.

The basic structure, although similar to the Blenheim, introduced refinements such as the use of high-strength light alloy forgings and extrusions in place of high-tensile steel plates and angles; as a result the overall structural weight was lighter than that of the Blenheim. In addition, the wing centre section was inserted into the centre fuselage and the nacelle structure was an integral part of the ribs to which the main undercarriage was attached. Transport joints were used on the fuselage and wings: this allowed sub-contractors to manufacture the Beaufort in easily transportable sections, and was to be important when Australian production got underway. The Vickers main undercarriage units were similar to, but larger than those of the Blenheim and used hydraulic retraction with a cartridge operated emergency lowering system.

The first prototype rolled out of Filton in mid-1938. Problems immediately arose with the Taurus engines continually overheating during ground testing. New more conventional engine cowlings with circumferential cooling gills had to be designed and installed, delaying the first flight which took place on 15 October 1938. As flight testing progressed it was found that the large apron-type undercarriage doors, similar to those on the Blenheim, were causing the aircraft to yaw on landing. These doors were taken off for subsequent flights. On the second prototype and all production aircraft more conventional split doors, which left a small part of the tyres exposed when retracted, were used.

The results of high level bombing tests carried out at Boscombe Down at an altitude of 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and an airspeed of 238 mph (383 km/h) showed that the Beaufort was in the words of the test pilot: “An exceptionally poor bombing platform, being subject to an excessive and continuous roll which made determination of drift particularly difficult.” After 1941, British Beauforts were fitted with semi-circular plates on the trailing edges of the upper wing behind the engine nacelles to smooth airflow and improve directional stability. With Blenheim production taking priority and continued overheating of the Taurus engines there were delays in production, so while the bomber had first flown in October 1938 and should have been available almost immediately, it was not until November 1939 that production started in earnest. Several of the first production Beauforts were engaged in working-up trials and final service entry began in January 1940 with 22 Squadron of RAF Coastal Command.

British Beauforts


A new late-production Beaufort Mk.II at the Filton factory. ASV yagi aerials are under the nose and wings and the new DF loop is fitted. Muzzles of additional Vickers GO are visible in the front upper nose.

A new late-production Beaufort Mk.II at the Filton factory. ASV yagi aerials are under the nose and wings and the new DF loop is fitted. Muzzles of additional Vickers GO are visible in the front upper nose.

A total of 1,013 Taurus powered Mark Is were produced and a number of changes were introduced into the line: The original curved perspex bomb aimers nose panels were replaced by flat, non-distorting panels from the 10th production aircraft. Successive Marks of the Bristol Taurus engine were installed: starting with the Taurus III, the more reliable Taurus IIs were used whenever possible. Initially Beauforts with the Taurus II engines were designated Beaufort Mk.II, while those with other Taurus Marks continued to be Beaufort Mk.Is. Finally all Taurus-engined Beauforts became Mk.Is with the introduction of the Wasp-powered Beaufort Mk.II. The Taurus Mk.IIs were modified to Mk.IIa, which later became the Taurus Mk.VI. All of these versions produced 860/900 hp (640/670 kW). The final marks of Taurus engines used were the more powerful 1,130 hp (840 kW) XII and XVIs. The Taurus engines drove de Havilland Type DH5/19 constant speed propellers.

As Beaufort units entered combat it was found that the defensive armament fitted was inadequate. As a result extra .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers GO machine guns were fitted; two on a gimbal mounting in the forward nose and single guns on pivots on either beam. A remotely controlled .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun was fitted, firing to the rear under the nose. Housed in a clear blown transparency, it was found to be of little use and most operational units soon discarded them.

Fairey-Youngman pneumatic dive brakes were fitted to the wing trailing edges of several Beaufort IIs. After adverse reports from pilots these were locked shut. However it was found that the curved alloy extensions on the trailing edges improved the flight characteristics and similar panels were fitted on all later production Beauforts.

When it became apparent that the Taurus engines had problems, planning commenced to re-engine the aircraft with 1,200 hp (900 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin-Wasp radials, which were of similar diameter and slightly lighter. These engines drove Hamilton Standard bracket-type variable pitch propellers. There was however no guarantee that the supply of the Twin Wasp would not be cut off, and production reverted to the Taurus-engined Mark Is after 165 Beaufort Mark IIs had been built, starting with AW244 which first flew in September 1941. Performance with the Twin-Wasps was marginally improved: maximum speed went up from 271 mph (437 km/h) to 277 mph (446 km/h) and the service ceiling increased from 16,500 ft (5,030 m) to 18,000 ft (5,486 m). Normal range was reduced from 1,600 mi (2,580 km) to 1,450 mi (2,330 km).

Other modifications introduced on the Mk II also used on late Mk Is included a replacing the elongated direction finding antenna with a loop aerial, enclosed in a clear, tear-drop fairing on the top of the cabin. ASV Mk III was added with yagi antennae under the nose and wings and a Bristol B1.Mk.V turret with two .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns was fitted.

The final British-built version of the Beaufort was the Pratt & Whitney-powered T.Mk.II, with 250 produced from August 1943. In this version, the turret was removed and the position was faired over. The last ever Beaufort was a T.Mk.II which left the Bristol Banwell factory on 25 November 1944.

Australian-built Beauforts

The Australian Beauforts were to be built at the established DAP plant in Fisherman’s Bend, Melbourne, Victoria and a new factory at Mascot, New South Wales; to speed up the process drawings, jigs and tools and complete parts for six airframes were supplied by Bristol. The bulk of Australian-built Beauforts used locally available materials.

Beauforts being built at the DAP plant in Fisherman’s Bend, Melbourne. The ASV radar aerial array on the rear fuselage and a small blue/white Pacific Theatre roundel indicates this is a late Beaufort Mk VIII.

One of the decisive factors in choosing the Beaufort was the ability to produce it in sections. Because of this railway workshops were key subcontractors:

  • Chullora NSW: Front fuselage, undercarriage, stern frames, nacelles.
  • Newport Workshops Victoria: Rear fuselage, empennage.
  • Islington Workshops, South Australia: Mainplanes, centre-section.

Taurus engines, aircraft components and the associated equipment were shipped out to be joined, in October 1939, by the eighth production Beaufort L4448. With the outbreak of war the possibility that supplies of the Taurus engines could be disrupted or halted was considered even before the British government placed an embargo on exporting war materials with the Blitzkrieg on France, the Netherlands and Belgium in May 1940. It was proposed that a change of powerplant could be made to the Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp, which was already in use on RAAF Lockheed Hudsons. Orders for the engine were placed and a factory was set up at Lidcombe, New South Wales and run by General Motors-Holden Ltd. The locally built engines were coded S3C4-G, while those imported from America were coded S1C3-4. Three-bladed Curtiss-Electric propellers were fitted to Beaufort Mks V, VI, VIII and IX while Beaufort Mks VA and VIII used Hamilton Standard propellers. In early 1941, L4448 was converted as a trials aircraft and the combination was considered a success. The first Australian-assembled Beaufort A9-1 flew on 5 May 1941 with the first Australian-built aircraft A9-7 coming off the production line in August. In total 700 Australian Beauforts were manufactured in six series (see variants).

A distinguishing feature of Australian Beauforts was a larger tailfin, which was used from the Mk VI on. Armament varied from British aircraft: British or American torpedoes were able to be carried and the final 140 Mk VIII were fitted with a locally manufactured Mk VE turret with .50 cal machine guns. A distinctive diamond-shaped DF aerial was fitted on the cabin roof, replacing the loop antenna. Other Australian improvements included fully enclosed landing gear and Browning 12.7mm machine guns in the wings. Some were also fitted with ASV radar aerial arrays on either side of the rear fuselage.

The Mk.XI was a transport conversion, stripped of armament, operational equipment and armour and rebuilt with a redesigned centre fuselage. Maximum speed was 300 mph (480 km/h) and a payload of 4,600 lb (2,100 kg) could be carried. Production of the Australian Beaufort ended in August 1944 when production switched to the Beaufighter.

Operational history


217 Sqn. formation making a low pass along the Cornish coastline, 1942.

Although it did see some use in the torpedo bomber role, notably in attacks on the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau while in port in Brest, the Beaufort more often used bombs while in European service.

In early 1940, 22 Squadron equipped with Vildebeests, began to receive Beauforts. The Beaufort was a much faster, heavier aircraft than the biplane and the crews needed a great deal of training in torpedo-dropping using new techniques required by the Beaufort. The lighter, slower Vildebeest was able to dive then flatten out before launching the torpedo; Beauforts carried too much speed after diving so it needed a longer, level approach to the torpedo drop. Because of this, and because of a shortage of torpedoes the squadron’s first operations consisted of laying magnetic mines (“Gardening” in RAF parlance) and dropping conventional bombs. As an alternative to the torpedo the Beaufort could carry a 2,000 lb (910 kg) bomb using a purpose built carrier. On one of its first bombing operations, on 7 May 1940, a Beaufort dropped the first British 2,000 lb (910 kg) bomb, aiming at a German cruiser anchored off Norderney.

The first Beaufort operation took place on the night of 15/16 April, when nine Beauforts successfully laid mines in the Schillig Roads (north of Wilhelmshaven). One Beaufort failed to return. A second unit, 42 Squadron began to re-equip with Beauforts, starting in April. The Beaufort, however still had teething problems and, after some Beauforts were lost in mysterious circumstances, a Court of Enquiry in June 1940 concluded that the Taurus engines were still unreliable and both operational squadrons were grounded until the engines could be modified.

The first RAF torpedo attack of the war came on 11 September 1940, when five aircraft of 22 Squadron attacked a convoy of three merchant ships off Ostend (Oostende in Belgium). One torpedo hit a 6,000 ton (5,440 tonne) ship. Four days later, the first “Rover” was mounted; a Rover was an armed reconnaissance mission carried out against enemy shipping by a small number of aircraft operating independently. “Rovers” became a major part of Beaufort operations over the next 18 months. Other more hazardous operations were to follow, with one Beaufort pilot being awarded a posthumous VC.

The only other UK based units to be equipped and fly operationally with the Beaufort, 86 Squadron and 217 Squadron, were operational by the middle of 1941. Beauforts also equipped some Commonwealth Article XV squadrons serving within the RAF, but, because of supply shortages, were replaced by other aircraft types before the units flew operationally.

Torpedo dropping

A successful torpedo drop required that the approach run to the target needed to be straight and at a speed and height where the torpedo would enter the water smoothly: too high or too low and the torpedo could “porpoise” (skip through the water), dive, or even break up. Height over the water had to be judged without the benefit of a radio altimeter and misjudgement was easy, especially in calm conditions. For the Beauforts using the 18-inch (450-mm) Mk XII aerial torpedo, the average drop-height was 68 ft (21 m) and the average range of release was 670 yd (610 m). During the run-in, the aircraft was vulnerable to defensive anti-aircraft fire, and it took courage to fly through it with no chance of evasive manoeuvres. The Beaufort’s optimum torpedo dropping speed was a great deal higher than that of the Vildebeests it was replacing, and it took practice to accurately judge the range to, and speed of, the target ship. A ship the size and speed of the Scharnhorst, for example, would look huge, filling the windscreen at well over 1 mi (1.6 km) and it was easy to underestimate the range. In action, torpedoes were often released too far away from the target, although there was one recorded instance of a torpedo being released too close. For safety reasons, torpedo warheads had a set distance (usually about 300 yd/274 m) from the release point before they were armed. It also took some distance for the torpedo to settle to its running depth.

Once the torpedo had been dropped, if there was room, a sharp turn away from the enemy was possible: more often than not the aircraft had to fly around or over the ship, usually at full-throttle and below mast height. A sharp pull-up could be fatal, as it could expose a large area of the aircraft to anti-aircraft guns.

Attacks on capital ships

Some of the Beaufort’s most notable actions were attacks on warships of the German Kriegsmarine. The first attack was on 21 June 1940, when nine Beauforts of 42 Squadron attacked the Scharnhorst off the Norwegian coast. No torpedoes were available at RAF Wick and a dive bombing attack was carried out using two 500 lb (230 kg) bombs. The Beauforts encountered Messerschmitt Bf 109s protecting the battleship and only four of them returned. Shortly after this the Beauforts were grounded for modifications to their Taurus engines.

In early April 1941, after an air raid on Brest by Bomber Command, the Gneisenau had to move out of dry-dock because of an unexploded bomb. Photo reconnaissance revealed that the ship was in the inner harbour. An estimated 1,000 flak guns of all calibres protected the base and adding complication to the danger was the realisation that Gneisenau was only about 500 yd (460 m) from a harbour mole, requiring extremely accurate torpedo drops. The aircraft would be forced into a steep banking turn during the escape to avoid rising ground surrounding the harbour. In spite of these dangers 22 Squadron, based at RAF St Eval was ordered to make a torpedo attack, timed to take place just after dawn on 6 April 1941. It was planned to attack the torpedo nets, which were thought to be protecting the ship, using three Beauforts armed with bombs; another three Beauforts would then attack the ship with torpedoes. Following heavy rain that had drenched the airfield, the bomb-carrying aircraft became bogged down. Because of a sea mist the other three Beauforts arrived at Brest independently; one, flown by F/O Kenneth Campbell, managed to penetrate the harbour and torpedo the Gneisenau but was shot down immediately afterwards. Campbell was awarded the VC and his Observer, Sergeant J.P. Scott of Canada, the DFM. The other two crew members were Sgts R.W. Hillman and W. Mallis.

On the night of 12/13 June 1941, 13 Beauforts of 42 Squadron, based at RAF Leuchars and a detachment of five Beauforts of 22 Squadron from Wick, were sent out to find the Lūtzow and an escort of four destroyers which had been sighted near Norway. At midnight a signal from a Blenheim of 114 Squadron confirmed the position of the ships but most of the Beauforts failed to find them. One 42 Squadron aircraft piloted by Flight Sergeant Ray Loviett (who had become separated from the main force) took the Lūtzow by surprise (the Beaufort had been mistaken for a Junkers Ju 88 which was known by the ships to be on patrol in the area) and without a defensive shot being fired, Loviett’s torpedo hit her on the port side. One other Beafort subsequently found Lūtzow limping back to port and attacked but was shot down by a Messerschmitt Bf 109. Because of Loviett’s attack Lūtzow was under repairs for six months.

During the famous Operation Cerberus, the “Channel Dash” by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen which took place from 12 February 1942, three Beaufort units, with a total of 33 serviceable aircraft, were available: 22 Squadron was under orders to move to Singapore. 42 Squadron, based at Leuchars in Scotland, were supposed to move to Manston but had been delayed by snow. 86 and 217 squadrons were in position to attack the German ships. Of the 33 operational and available Beauforts, 28 eventually set out to attack the German ships: 13 failed to find them, three were shot down and on one the torpedo failed to release. Thus only 11 Beauforts sighted the battleships and launched torpedoes, none of which struck a target. One of the conclusions reached by a later Court of Inquiry was that a faster, longer-ranged torpedo bomber than the Beaufort was needed: Bristol already had under way a torpedo carrying conversion of their Beaufighter, (in itself a development of the basic Beaufort airframe), and were later to develop the Brigand.

The final major operation to feature Beauforts before they were moved to other theatres was an attack on the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. A report reached Coastal Command on 16 May 1942 that this ship, escorted by two destroyers, was off Trondheim steaming south-west at high speed. A strike force was formed consisting of 12 Beauforts of 42 Squadron, with six Blenheims of 404 (RCAF) Squadron and four flak-suppression Beaufighters, two each from 235 Squadron and 248 Squadron. When the Prinz Eugen was sighted it was discovered that she was escorted by four destroyers. The Beaufighters went in first, raking the ships with cannon fire, as the Blenheims made dummy torpedo runs to further distract the gunners. Some Bf 109s (more than likely from I./JG 5) appeared and the Blenheims attempted to fend them off as the Beauforts started their attack. Three Beauforts were shot down by defensive fire from the ships before they could launch their torpedoes and the nine torpedoes which were launched failed to hit the target. One Beaufort, already damaged by flak, was then attacked by three Bf 109s: in spite of further heavy damage, the pilot made a successful crash-landing back at base. In the meantime another strike force of 15 Beauforts from 86 Squadron was sent too far north by a reporting error. They too were attacked by Bf 109s: four Beauforts were shot down (in return the crews claimed to have shot down five fighters) and of the 11 Beauforts remaining, seven were forced to jettison their torpedoes.

In spite of its failure, this operation set the pattern for Coastal Command for future operations: Beaufighters were used for the first time for flak-suppression and escort and there had been diversionary tactics used to try to reduce attention on the attacking torpedo aircraft. It also marked the end of Beaufort operations from Britain.

The remaining Beaufort squadrons now started moving east:

  • 42 Squadron left Scotland in June 1942 bound for Ceylon but operated in North Africa until December.
  • 86 Squadron Beauforts and aircrews moved to the Mediterranean in July and the unit was reduced to cadre: In October it was re-equipped with Liberator Mk.IIIs. One ex-86 Squadron Beaufort flight, along with one from 217 Squadron, joined up with a flight from 39 Squadron on Malta, later becoming a part of a reconstituted 39 Squadron.
  • 217 Squadron’s ground echelon left for Ceylon in May 1942 while the Beauforts flew out via Malta. In August 217 Squadron, minus a Beaufort flight, moved on to Ceylon to be re-equipped with Hudsons. 22 Squadron at various times operated Beauforts out of Vavuniya and Ratmalana, Ceylon.

Mediterranean and Malta

The first Beaufort unit in the Mediterranean was 39 Squadron which had reformed in Egypt in January 1941. Initially equipped with Bristol Blenheims and Martin Marylands, the unit started re-equipping with Beaufort Mk.Is the following August.

The first operation in which Beauforts took part was an attack on an Italian convoy on 28 January 1942. The three Beauforts of 39 Squadron included in a large strike force succeeded in crippling the 14,000 ton (12,700 tonne) merchant ship Victoria , which was then sunk by Albacores.

In another operation during the early hours of 15 June 1942, nine Beauforts of 217 Squadron, which had just flown in from England, took off from RAF Luqa, Malta to intercept ships of the Regia Marina which had sailed from Taranto. Few of the Beaufort crews had experience in night-flying: four aircraft failed to find the rendezvous and set out independently. One, flown by Flying Officer Arthur Aldridge discovered the Italian Fleet some 200 mi (320 km) to the east of Malta. Like Loviett’s attack on the Lūtzow, his Beaufort was mistaken for a friendly aircraft by Italian lookouts. Aldridge successfully torpedoed and crippled the heavy cruiser Trento. The anti-aircraft fire started only after Aldridge had escaped. The main formation of Beauforts then came in to attack, having been guided in by the gunfire. In the confusion and the smokescreen which had been laid down by the Italian warships, 217 Squadron claimed several torpedo hits for one Beaufort which belly-landed at Luqa. In spite of the claims, none of the other ships were hit. Trento was later sunk by two torpedoes fired by the submarine HMS Umbra, which had witnessed the aerial attack.

By July 1942, 86 Squadron Beauforts and crews had arrived on Malta and were soon absorbed into a reconstituted 39 Squadron, which came under the command of the inspirational Squadron Leader Patrick Gibbs, who was soon promoted to Wing Commander. 217 squadron moved on to Ceylon.

Over the next 11 months the Beaufort force, now usually accompanied by Beaufighters, was instrumental in crippling the convoy supply lines which were vital to Rommel’s Afrika Korps. At night, torpedo-carrying Vickers Wellingtons of 38 Squadron also played an important part in attacking convoys. Some important ships destroyed or badly damaged were:

  • MV (Motor Vessel) Reichenfels, 7,744 tons (7,025 tonnes): torpedoed by 217 Sqn Beaufort, 21 June.
  • MV Rosalino Pilo, 8,300 tons (7,530 tonnes): torpedoed by two aircraft of 39 Sqn, torpedoed and sunk by submarine HMS United, 17 August.
  • Tanker Pozarica, 7,800 tons (7,925 tonnes): torpedoed and badly damaged by three aircraft of 39 Sqn, later beached, 21 August.
  • Steam Ship Dielpi, 1,500 tons (1,360 tonnes) : torpedoed and sunk by three aircraft of 217 Sqn, 27 August.
  • Tanker San Andrea, 5,077 tons (4,606 tonnes) : torpedoed and sunk by two aircraft of 39 Sqn, 30 August. (Gibbs’ last operation.)
  • Tanker Proserpina, 5,000 tons (4,530 tonnes) : Destroyed by combined strike of Beauforts of 47 Sqn and Bisleys of 15 SAAF Sqn, 27 October.
  • Tanker Thorsheimer, 9,955 tons (9,031 tonnes): Torpedoed by four Beauforts of 39 Sqn, 21 February 1943.

In June 1943, 39 Squadron, the last operational Beaufort unit, converted to Beaufighters.

Capturing a CANT

On 28 July 1942, a Beaufort of 217 Squadron was forced to ditch during an attack on an Italian convoy. The crew, Lieutenant E.T. Strever (SAAF-pilot), Plt Off W.M. Dumsmore and two New Zealanders, Sergeants A.R. Brown and J.A. Wilkinson, were later picked up by a Cant Z.506B floatplane. They were taken to an Italian base at Prevesa, Greece where they were well looked after overnight. Next morning the prisoners boarded another Cant Z.506B: the Italians decided not to use handcuffs in case the aircraft was forced down at sea.

Some 45 minutes into the flight, Sgt Wilkinson distracted the guard who was overpowered and disarmed. The five Italian crew were forced to surrender the Cant and Lt Strever took over the controls, altering course to fly to Malta. There were no proper maps on board and a rough heading to the south-west was set.

Eventually Cape Spartivento, the southernmost point of Italy, was recognised and a new course was set for Malta, some 100 mi (160 km) to the south. The aircraft was soon detected by radar on Malta and a section of four Spitfires of 603 Squadron was scrambled to intercept. They found the Cant about 10 mi (16 km) off the coast and forced it to alight with a burst through the port wing.

HSL 107 (an RAF High Speed Launch, used to rescue aircrew) arrived an hour later and found the five Italians and four Beaufort crew sitting on the wings enjoying wine and brandy provided by the Italians. Cant No. MM45352 13 of 139 Squadrilia was taken into service by the RAF and used for air-sea rescue (ASR) duties. Lt Strever and Plt Off Dunsmore were awarded the DFC and Sgts Wilkinson and Brown, the DFM.


Four Australian Beauforts of 100 Squadron near the New Guinea coast in early 1945. Nearest Beaufort is QH-X A9-626.

During the Pacific War, the Beaufort performed a vital role for the RAAF. With the United States unable to supply many aircraft to Australia, the DAP Beaufort became a mainstay of the RAAF during 1941-44.

The first six Australian built Beauforts reached Singapore just after the Japanese invasion of Malaya in December 1941. One of these was attached to Air Headquarters, Singapore as a special reconnaissance aircraft; this Beaufort carried out one mission, during which it was attacked by Japanese fighters and returned to base to be written-off. It was soon decided that the Beauforts were under-armed, with insufficiently trained crews and the five remaining Beauforts returned to Australia.

The first Australian Beaufort Squadron formed on 25 February 1942 was 100 Squadron, so named in honour of the RAF’s 100 Squadron which had flown Vildebeests from Singapore during the Malayan Campaign. In light of the problems encountered with the first Beauforts based at Singapore the unit was carefully trained and slowly brought up to operational status, carrying out its first operational sorties on 25 June: a Japanese ship heading towards Lae, New Guinea was attacked by five Beauforts operating from Port Moresby resulting in three Beauforts hitting the ship with bombs, with one Beaufort being damaged by anti-aircraft fire. One Beaufort out of two which carried out a diversionary attack on Lae failed to return.

Production continued to increase, reaching almost one a day in 1943. The Beaufort served with 19 squadrons and played an important role in the South West Pacific Area, as a maritime patrol and strike aircraft and bomber. Aviation historian William Green has written that the Beaufort’s “part in the defeat of the Japanese forces in the South-West Pacific was probably of greater importance than that of any other single aircraft type.”