7 things you didn't know about the de Havilland Mosquito
- Credit: Flickr
November marks the anniversary of the first flight and introduction to service of the de Havilland Mosquito, considered by many to be the best aircraft of the Second World War. Here’s 7 things you didn’t know about the Hatfield-designed Wooden Wonder.
1. The Mosquito has been a movie star
The Wooden Wonder became a big-screen star in the 1960s when it featured in not one, but two war films.
633 Squadron, released in 1964 and starring Cliff Robertson and George Chakiris, saw Mosquitos and their crews tasked with destroying a V2 rocket fuel plant in Norway by blowing up an overhanging cliff that protected the factory.
The film was praised for its spectacular flying scenes, which saw a number of Mosquitos used rather than models, which had been done in many war films prior.
633 Squadron’s final scenes, which see the aircraft fly down a narrow fjord to the target while under heavy fire, inspired the trench run in Star Wars – A New Hope.
Then, in 1969, Mosquito Squadron, starring David McCallum, was released.
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Wartime Mosquitos were again used, with the film taking influence from Operation Jericho as the squadron used highball bombs – an anti-shipping weapon developed by bouncing bomb creator Barnes Wallis – to free POWs from a French château.
The low budget for Mosquito Squadron meant shots from 633 Squadron were used, with the film receiving criticism, while McCallum was quoted as saying: “I’ve seen bongo films better than that Mosquito rubbish.”
2. There were 43 different variants
Originally designed as an unarmed bomber, the Mosquito proved so versatile it fulfilled roles even de Havilland were unsure it could.
An attack aircraft, the Wooden Wonder was used for precision bombing, as a nightfighter and in naval strikes, attacking enemy U-boats harassing allied shipping.
It was also used as a photo reconnaissance aircraft, a pathfinder dropping flares for bombing missions and as a target tug for anti-aircraft weapons training.
Flying at a top speed in excess of 415mph, as high as 37,000ft and with an impressive range of 1,300 miles, there was nothing the Mossie couldn’t do.
3. German forces hated the Mosquito
Flying low-level, high-speed precision strike mission deep behind enemy lines, the Mosquito became a top target for the Axis powers, who had very few ways to combat the Wooden Wonder.
On January 30, 1943, Mosquitos from 105 and 139 Squadrons attacked Berlin in broad daylight, disrupting speeches from Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
Göring was left enraged by the raid, exclaiming: “It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy.”
Special anti-Mosquito squadrons were formed, but these Luftwaffe units had little success against the elusive Wooden Wonder.
4. And they tried to copy it
Göring was so impressed by the Mosquito, he tried to replicate it, but with little success.
In 1943, the Focke-Wulf Ta 154 Moskito took to the skies for the first time, but the wooden, twin-engine bomber failed to match the performance of its RAF counterpart.
Only 50 Moskitos were built and the project was cancelled in August 1944.
5. It was used as a courier aircraft
One of the Mosquito’s lesser-known roles was as a Second World War courier aircraft, flying the risky route over occupied Norway to reach Sweden.
The purpose of these missions, undertaken by BOAC in civilian-marked Mossies flown by civilian pilots, was to deliver propaganda to the country to stop them joining the Axis powers.
The flights also allowed for letters to POWs to be sent through safely, while providing a way back home for escaped prisoners of war.
Ball-bearings were also vital to the war effort, and with Sweden being among the world’s biggest suppliers, Mosquitos were often filled with them for the return flight back to the UK.
6. The Mosquito’s wooden frame was incredibly strong
You would think that an aircraft made from wood, canvas and glue wouldn’t be able to take much damage, but in fact, the opposite was true.
The Mosquito was loved by crews for getting them back in one piece even with heavy damage, saving many lives.
One such story tells of a Mosquito FB Mk VI that struck the mast of a German ship and was damaged beyond repair, but still made it home with the mast lodged into the fuselage.
7. It was renowned for precision raids
While the Dambusters raid has gone down in history, the RAF’s most daring Second World War missions were actually undertaken by Mosquitos and their highly-trained crews.
Among them was Operation Jericho. On February 18, 1944, Mossies bombed Amiens Prison, using the precision the aircraft had become famous for to blow holes in the jail wall to free prisoners who were set to be executed.
Two hundred and fifty-eight prisoners escaped, although most were recaptured shortly afterwards, but this wasn’t the only example of the Mosquito’s party piece.
While other bombers were infamous for poor accuracy, the Wooden Wonder could hit individual targets, doing so on missions to strike the headquarters of the Gestapo in Oslo, Aarhus and Copenhagen.