R for Robert history

1939 Wellington BrooklandsMade by Vickers-Armstrong, at Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey, the Wellington is a British twin-engined long range medium bomber. A key feature of the aircraft is its Geodetic airframe fuselage structure, which was principally designed by Barnes Wallis, Development had been started in response to Air Ministry Specification B.9/32, issued in the middle of 1932, for a bomber for the Royal Air Force. It holds the distinction of having been the only British bomber that was produced for the duration of the war, and of having been produced in a greater quantity than any other British-built bomber.

The Wellington bomber was the mainstay of the RAF’s fighting force in the early days of World War Two. Nick-named the ‘Wimpy’ it was the only British aircraft to see military action throughout the entire war and beyond.

First flown on 16th November 1939 by Vickers’ Chief Test Pilot Mutt’ Summers, N2980 was first issued to 149 Squadron at RAF Mildenhall and allocated the squadron code letter ‘R’ for ‘Robert’.

N2980  served with 37 Squadron at RAF Feltwell, taking part in fourteen operations including day and night raids.

N2980 was transferred to training duties at Lossiemouth. On New Year’s Eve 1940, pilots Squadron Leader Marlwood-Elton and Pilot Officer Slatter took off in the late afternoon with a crew of six including our of the crew were trainee navigators.The wire less operator was Sergeant Wright. The rear gunner was Sergeant Fensome and the four trainee navigators were Pilot Officer Lucton and Sergeants Chandler, Little and Ford.   

After taking off from Lossiemouth, the snow storm increased and one of the Wimpy’s two engines failed. Flying R for Robert became increasingly challenging. Losing height, Marlwood-Elton ordered the crew, including the trainee navigators. Five of the crew bailed out successfully but the rear gunner, Sgt. Fensome’s parachute failed to open. All others landed safely.

In the dusk, the Squadron Leader and his Co-Pilot, Slatter, fought to keep her aloft. Seeing a large stretch of water they skillfully bought the Wimpy down, and ditched on the ice cold Loch. The two pilots were able to get out on the wing, where they launched their inflatable rubber dinghy and paddled ashore. They landed right next to the A82 road where a truck gave them a lift into nearby Inverness – just in time, it turned out, for both men to join in the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Meanwhile R for Robert sank 230 feet to the bottom of Loch Ness.

Marlwood-Elton thought he would never see R for Robert again.

From The Drumsmittal Recordings
Group Captain W.S.O. Randle CBE AFC DFM FRAes FIMgt
Recorded by Moray Firth Radio in 1985:

The first time I had an engine failure in a Wellington I could not keep it in the air and had a bad crash. Wellingtons Mk1, 1a & 1chad Pegasus engines did not develop enough power for you to keep flying if you lost the other one.
It was technology from the early 1930’s and there was no ability to feather the propellers. If an engine failed you had this great, windmilling mass of metal going round which offered tremendous drag and you did not have enough power in the other engine to overcome it.
Another thing that comes to mind is being able to land safely on water without the airplane breaking up, which most Wellingtons did when ditching, despite the great strength of the geodetic construction.
You had around your centre of gravity tremendous forces at work. Unless you put yourself down very carefully the aircraft usually pitched and breaking its back before going under..
I know the aircraft at the bottom here is in very good condition and it is down to the expertise of the pilot putting it down so gently on the surface of the water

Eye witness account of the Ditching – the recollection of Mrs McCuish
Recorded by Moray Firth Radio in 1985:

45 years ago my mother and I were travelling to Inverness to deliver presents to relatives because at that time Christmas wasn’t celebrated to the same extent as it is now. It was New Year we celebrated and all the gifts were distributed then so, we were on our way to deliver gifts and we saw the plane coming probably across from the Inverness area side and it circled several  times and then it, as far as I can remember, almost, almost you’d think turned upside down turning and scooping its way along and we realised it was in trouble and then we saw it ditching.  Now we didn’t see any spray then because we were too far away from it and as we travelled along the loch-side, we were aware that there was still spray eh! being raised probably from the propellers still rotating now that’s as far as I’m clear, I can remember of that bit.”

VICKERS WELLINGTON X MF628/9210M at RAF Cosford (10 years) This is the only other extant Wellington, and the main reason this one survived was that it was built late in war so didn’t have much chance of being shot down. It’s halcyon days were performing in the film the Dam Busters. A history is here

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