To create a light and fast aircraft that could land a sting on the enemy like no other aircraft in service at the time.
The Mosquito was British engineering at its best - born from the requirements of war, but given life by the ingenuity and perseverance of the British engineering spirit.
Nicknamed "The Wooden Wonder" and also known affectionately as the "Mossie" - the de Havilland Mosquito has earned its place in the history books.
The de Havilland Mosquito
The de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito is a British multi-role combat aircraft with a two-man crew which served during and after the Second World War. It was one of few operational front-line aircraft of the era constructed almost entirely of wood, was nicknamed "The Wooden Wonder" and also known affectionately as the "Mossie" to its crews. Originally conceived as an unarmed fast bomber the Mosquito was adapted to roles including low to medium-altitude, daytime tactical bomber, high-altitude night bomber, pathfinder, day or night fighter, fighter-bomber, intruder, maritime strike aircraft, and fast photo-reconnaissance aircraft, meteorological reconnaissance and target towing. It was also used by the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) as a fast transport to carry small high-value cargoes to and from neutral countries and through enemy-controlled airspace. A single passenger could be carried in the aircraft's bomb bay, which would be adapted for the purpose.
When production of the Mosquito began in 1941, it was one of the fastest operational aircraft in the world. Entering widespread service in 1942, the Mosquito initially served as a high-speed bomber and high-altitude photo-reconnaissance aircraft, continuing in these roles throughout the war. From mid-1942 to mid-1943, Mosquito bombers flew high-speed, medium, low-altitude daylight missions against factories, railways and other pinpoint targets in Germany and German-occupied Europe. From late 1943, Mosquito bombers were formed into the Light Night Strike Force and used as pathfinders for RAF Bomber Command's heavy-bomber raids.
By the early-mid-1930s, de Havilland had a reputation for innovative high-speed aircraft with the DH.88 Comet racer. The later DH.91 Albatross airliner pioneered the composite wood construction that the Mosquito used. The 22-passenger Albatross could cruise at 210 miles per hour (340 km/h) at 11,000 feet (3,400 m), 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) better than the Handley Page H.P.42 and other biplanes it was replacing. The wooden monocoque construction not only saved weight and compensated for the low power of the de Havilland Gipsy Twelve engines used by this aircraft, but simplified production and reduced construction time.
Once design of the DH.98 had started, de Havilland built mock-ups, the most detailed at Salisbury Hall (near London Colney), in the hangar where E0234 was being built. Initially, this was designed with the crew enclosed in the fuselage behind a transparent nose structure (similar to the Bristol Blenheim or Heinkel He 111H), but this was quickly altered to feature a more conventional canopy design plus a transparent nose section for the bomb aimer.
The construction of the prototype began in November 1939, but work was cancelled again after Dunkirk, when Lord Beaverbrook, as Minister of Aircraft Production, decided there was no production capacity for aircraft like the DH.98, which was not expected to be in service until early 1942.
Although Lord Beaverbrook told Air Vice-Marshal Freeman that work on the project should stop, he did not issue a specific instruction, and Freeman ignored the request. In June 1940, however, Lord Beaverbrook and the Air Staff ordered that production focus on five existing types, namely the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane fighter and the Vickers Wellington, Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley and Bristol Blenheim bombers. Work on the DH.98 prototype stopped; it seemed that the project would be shut down when the design team were denied the materials with which to build their prototype.
The Mosquito was only reinstated as a priority in July 1940, after de Havilland's General Manager L.C.L Murray, promised Lord Beaverbrook 50 Mosquitoes by December 1941. In promising Beaverbrook 50 Mosquitoes by the end of 1941, de Havilland was taking a gamble, because it was unlikely that 50 Mosquitoes could be built in such a limited time; as it transpired only 20 Mosquitoes were built in 1941, but the other 30 were delivered by mid-March 1942. During the Battle of Britain, interruptions to production due to air raid warnings caused nearly a third of de Havilland's factory time to be lost. Nevertheless, work on the prototype proceeded quickly and, bearing the manufacturers 'Class B' registration 'E0234', it was rolled out at Hatfield on 19 November 1940.
In the aftermath of the Battle of Britain, the original order was changed to 20 bomber variants and 30 fighters. It was still uncertain whether the fighter version should carry a turret so two prototypes were eventually built: W4053 and W4073. W4073 was later disarmed to become the prototypes for the T.III trainer, known originally as the 'F.II dual control'. The decision to alter bomber airframes to fighters caused some delays as half-built wing components had to be strengthened for the expected higher combat load requirements. The nose sections also had to be altered, replacing the clear Perspex bomb-aimer's position with a 'solid' nose designed to house four .303 machine guns plus four 20mm cannon.
The de Havilland Mosquito operated in many roles during the Second World War, being tasked, amongst others, to perform medium bomber, reconnaissance, tactical strike, anti-submarine warfare, shipping attack and night fighter duties, both defensive and offensive until the end of the war.
In July 1941, the first prototype Mosquito PR.1 W 4051 (this aircraft featured a production fuselage combined with some prototype flying surfaces – see section of Article "Prototypes and test flights") was delivered to No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU), operating at the time at RAF Benson. On September 17th 1941 PR.1 W4055 carried out the Mosquitoes first operational sortie, a flight to photograph Brest and the Spanish-French frontier.
On 15 November 1941, 105 Squadron, RAF, took delivery of the first operational Mosquito Mk. B.IV bomber, serial no. W4064. Throughout 1942, 105 Sdn., based at RAF Horsham St. Faith, then from 29 September, RAF Marham, undertook daylight low-level and shallow dive attacks. Apart from the famous Oslo raid, these were mainly on industrial targets in occupied Netherlands, plus northern and western Germany. The crews faced deadly flak and fighters, particularly Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, which they called “snappers”. Germany still controlled continental airspace, and the Fw 190s were often already airborne and at an advantageous altitude. It was the Mosquito’s excellent handling capabilities, combined with its high performance, that facilitated those evasions which were successful. During this daylight-raiding phase, aircrew losses were high – even the losses incurred in the squadron’s dangerous Blenheim era were exceeded in percentage terms. The Roll of Honour shows 51 aircrew deaths from the end of May 1942 to April 1943. In the corresponding period, crews gained three Mentions in Despatches, two DFMs and three DFCs.
The Mosquito was first announced publicly on 26 September 1942 after the Oslo Mosquito raid of 25 September. It was featured in The Times on the 28 September, and the next day the newspaper published two captioned photographs illustrating the bomb strikes and damage.
A de Havilland Mosquito of the Banff Strike Wing attacking a convoy evacuating Germans troops in the Kattegat on 5 April 1945. A flak ship and a trawler were sunk. In one example of the daylight precision raids carried out by the Mosquito, on 30 January 1943, the 10th anniversary of the Nazis' seizure of power, a Mosquito attack knocked out the main Berlin broadcasting station while Commander in Chief Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was speaking, putting his speech off the air. Göring himself had strong views about the Mosquito, lecturing a group of German aircraft manufacturers in 1943 that:
“In 1940 I could at least fly as far as Glasgow in most of my aircraft, but not now! It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased yet again. What do you make of that? There is nothing the British do not have. They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops. After the war is over I'm going to buy a British radio set – then at least I'll own something that has always worked.”
The Mosquito also proved a very capable night fighter. Some of the most successful RAF pilots flew the Mosquito. Bob Braham claimed around a third of his 29 kills in a Mosquito, flying mostly daytime operations, while on night fighters Wing Commander Branse Burbridge claimed 21 kills, and Wing Commander John Cunningham claimed 19 of his 20 victories at night on Mosquitos. Mosquitos of No. 100 Group RAF were responsible for the destruction of 257 German aircraft from December 1943 to April 1945. Mosquito fighters from all units accounted for 487 German aircraft during the war, the vast majority of which were night fighters.
A captured Mosquito PR.IV is listed as belonging to German secret operations unit Kampfgeschwader 200, which tested, evaluated and sometimes clandestinely operated captured enemy aircraft during the war. The aircraft was listed on the order of battle of Versuchsverband OKL's, 2 Staffel, Stab Gruppe on 10 November and 31 December 1944. However, on both lists, the Mosquito is listed as unserviceable and never flew in Luftwaffe service.
The Mosquito flew its last official European war mission on 21 May 1945, when Mosquitos of 143 Squadron and 248 Squadron RAF were ordered to continue to hunt German submarines that might be tempted to continue the fight; instead of submarines all the Mosquitos encountered were passive E-boats.
The last operational RAF Mosquitos were the Mosquito TT.35's and T.3's of No. 3 Civilian Anti-Aircraft Co-Operation Unit (CAACU) which were retired in May 1963.