Bristol Blenheim Mk I

This brand new, state-of-the-art-the-art fast bomber made quite the splash in 1937.  By the time War came it didn’t seem so blazing fast, but it still capable when well supported.

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Let’s take a look at one of those weapons that made do until something better was available.

The Bristol Type 142 first flew as a fast airliner in 1935.  With a top speed of 307 mph it was very fast for that time, the fastest airliner in Europe.  The first customer, Lord Rothermere, was so impressed he submitted his airplane to the Air Ministry for consideration as a bomber. The Air Ministry was also impressed, it was faster than any current fighter (but NOT faster than types in development!).  So the type was quickly ordered into production as the Bristol Blenheim Mk I, a fast and light tactical bomber.

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Development of the type continued in several directions.  First, a four machine-gun pack could be added over the bomb bay doors to make the “Blenheim If”.  This modification could be used for providing fighter patrols over shipping, or raiding German ports.  But as the gun pack was the only change initially made, the type looked like a number of “heavy fighters”…   without very heavy firepower.  But it did find a role as a nightfighter, especially once it became the recipient of an early airborne radar.
Further developments to see manufacture were Marks IV and V (and a IVf) that increased power, armor and defensive guns.
The Blenheim’s legacy is significant; it was the basis of the Beaufort torpedo bomber, and even more significantly the Beaufighter.  The Beaufighter was first designed as a night fighter to replace the radar equipped Blenheim, but grew into an all purpose light strike and patrol aircraft.  Through the middle War years it saw success as a powerful and capable weapon in much the same roles as the original Blenheim.

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By the time World War II started the Blenheim Mark I was no longer in service in Britain. Later models had replaced it at home, but the Mark I continued in service in the Mediterranean and Far East.  It was also sold to several Allied countries, including Finland, Yugoslavia and Romania who all use the type against the Soviet Union.

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This particular aircraft saw combat in Malaya with 62 Squadron during those first hectic weeks of the Pacific War.  Blenheim Units saw some success in the sort of ground attack missions the type was meant for, but were quickly overwhelmed because there were simply too few of them scattered over a wide area; often without adequate (or even any) fighter cover.  This was the environment no tactical bomber could succeed in.  One Blenheim pilot, Squadron Leader Arthur Scarf of 60 Squadron, won a posthumous Victoria Cross for leading an attack against Singora on the second day of the War against Japan.  The type continued to serve in the Far East Theater until 1943 and was more successful after the initial assaults played out, it was even an important part of the successful defense of India.

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British airpower, Malaya, 1941.  There was never enough of anything to do the job.

While building this model what really struck me though is the size.  The Blenheim is a little airplane.  I’ve seen the numbers before, and certainly could pick the type out of a lineup (!) and even discern the various production Marks.  But seeing what a light aircraft it was really got me to re-exam its numbers.  The Blenheim (Mk I) had two engines of 840 hp (56’4″ wingspan).  Compare to the smallest German twin engine bomber of the time, the Dornier Do 17 had 986 hp per side (59’1″ wingspan).  The British also purchased Martin Maryland twins from the US with 1050 hp per engine (61’4″ wingspan).
For payload the Blenheim Mark I could carry 1000 lbs of bombs internally with another 200 lbs on external racks.  The Do 17 carried 2200 lbs internally and the Maryland carried 2000 lbs.
Perhaps Coastal Command’s Lockheed Hudson is a better parallel?  With a 56’4″ wingspan it is actually the same size.  It carried 1400 lbs internally, but with 1100 hp per engine it could be loaded up with a lot more stuff and much heavier defensive weapons.
The Blenheim was not horribly obsolete at the start of the War, but it was small and at the end of obvious growth.  Later improvements added power, and bulked up a lot!

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Blenheims were shredded by Japanese Army fighters in the opening months of the War.  With only a single .303 in the dorsal turret, and one on the wing just inboard of the landing light, the Blenheim I was not well armed.

This is the new Airfix kit, and it is a beauty!  Fit was mostly excellent, detail very nice.  Even most of the odd looking parts fit together quite well.  A couple problems, one sort of defeated me.  Several parts were warped, or just curved wrong?  The wing halves could be forced together and fit well, but would spring widely apart without clamps.  Its not uncommon on many builds to see a seam open up on long joining surfaces that may require clamps or tape.  But seriously, if the roots were joined the tips would be 2″ apart!  On both wings!  Kit design does include a spar out as far as the engine nacelles, so it was not a big thing to clamp things in place around the spar.
But that clear nose!  Just ooff!  If fit snug at the fuselage join it would spread 1/2″ by the tip of the nose.  So again, glue, clamp, tape.  But clear parts are tricky.  They will fog over if exposed to any strong glues (plastic cement or CA).  So I had to do it all with white glue, which just isn’t nearly as strong.  Once that held, I was able to reinforce the seem on the outside only (keep those fumes away from the interior surface or its time to break it all apart and re-polish everything!).  But when this was all done, the fit wasn’t exactly tidy anymore.  So I did use some filler (again, only when certain the local seams were all gas proof!) and quite a bit of sanding.  But of course such work around clear parts is troublesome.  Remember the glue isn’t strong, and obviously any damage to parts you’ll want see through involves a lengthy restoration process.  Getting that nose in place was maybe ten days of the build?  And when you consider I often get two sessions a day now, that was a time consuming job!  And that’s what I say defeated me, I think the nose is noticeably gunked up.  The central frame (where right/left side join) should be no wider than the other parts of the framing, but it clearly is wider here.  The clear to fuselage join is also still less than I would have liked, but at a certain point you say “good enough”.
One other thing about this project though, through no fault of Airfix, the Blenheim has a lot of little windows!  That was a lot of tiny masks to cut.  On back to back days I had, um, minor but painful slips with the Xacto; that left both thumbs bandaged and less useful.  So let’s just say for any non-primates reading this, you have my utmost sympathy! Building models without opposable thumbs is tricky.  I cannot even imagine, if you are not some sort of monkey, how hard it must be to drive a car or prepare a shish ke-bob.  geez.

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Blenheim Mark I in flight [Wikipedia]

The kit is sold as a Blenheim Mark If, but all the plastic is included for a bomber.  That means armament for the bomb bay and even the filters for tropical operations are here.  None of these parts are mentioned in the instructions, presumably a bomber version will be released, identical except for the instructions and decals.  But be aware, the bomb bay should not normally be posed open.  It had no mechanism for opening and closing.  It was simply held tight by bungee cords. When bombs were dropped, they hit the doors and forced them open, to snap closed again as soon as the bomb fell free.  For loading, they were either held open manually or blocked physically with wood braces sized for the job.
The decals were borrowed from an old Classic Airframes kit and performed beautifully.

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The cockpit before the clear is place.  Pilot sits to the left, a navigator/bombardier on the right.  With a gunner/radio man in the rear, that’s the total crew for this light bomber.

 

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
This entry was posted in Bomber - Tactical, Britain and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Bristol Blenheim Mk I

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    By Jove, quite a challenging model kit old chap!

    • atcDave says:

      I believe the flyable Blenheim I in Britain is also, actually a Bolingbroke.

      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        I will have to check on this since I am not that knowledgeable.

      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        Spot on Dave!

        Found on the Internet

        This particular Blenheim is actually a hybrid airframe, incorporating the bulk of a Canadian-built Blenheim Mk.IV, more correctly referred to as a Bolingbroke, and the restored cockpit section from a British-built Blenheim Mk.I. ARCo has long been associated with the Blenheim/Bolingbroke, having restored two previous examples to flying condition over the past few decades, both based on Canadian Bolingbrokes. 

      • atcDave says:

        I almost posted a photo of it in this article, but chose against because a number of small detail differences I didn’t want to draw attention to.

  2. Jeff Groves says:

    Just about anything on an aircraft model can be modified or clamped to fit except the clear parts. All the models which have ended up on my shelf of doom are due to poorly-fitting clear parts which I could not correct.

    • atcDave says:

      No doubt, clear is tough!

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Yep, hated how persnickety clear was. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I concentrated on 1/35th armor. Other than the occasional half-track or jeep windshield (which once I found clear styrene stock was replaceable) I rarely dealt with the problem.

      • atcDave says:

        No doubt that’s part of the reason vehicles in general, armor in particular, are much faster builds!
        But ordinarily I would say its just a process you get used to. It only stands out because if there’s a problem with the clear, its the worst!

      • atcDave says:

        I should mention again, that most of this build was a lot of fun! Some different engineering, but landing gear and crew areas on the Blenheim are unique and complicated. So it was fun to see some well executed solutions to unusual shapes and structures. I enjoyed most of the build.
        I have another in my stash, and may add more if Airfix does more variants (I HOPE to add more! A Beaufort is already on their “coming soon” list). And I do look forward to trying this again.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        True, there was no way to fudge, fill or paint over the flaws with the clear, so fair point.

  3. Ernie Davis says:

    I always wonder how, given their size, payload and range, any of these were viable airliners. I suppose different times when only the ultra-rich flew and paid the equivalent of Concorde prices.

    • atcDave says:

      I think it really meant “corporate aircraft”. Small “airliners” could be profitable on mail intensive routes. But I’m almost positive this one was meant for private corporate.

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