Bristol Brigand - Background Information

Early Development of the Bristol Brigand

Way back in late 1941 a replacement aircraft for the Bristol Beaufort, a torpedo bomber was envisaged, due to the great advancement in German defence and our underpowered and lumbersome aircraft which suffered increasing losses as the war progressed. As time was of the essence the Air Ministry suggested using the Beaufort fuselage in conjunction with the Beaufighters wings and engines. With this in mind the Filton design boys started on the design of the Buckingham which would be able to carry two torpedo’s but the project was rejected by the Ministry of Aircraft Production in July 1942 as its low level performance was inadequate. In fact the seeds of disaster which would forever follow the ’Brigand’ were sown around this time with the idea of using parts of the Buckingham i.e. wings, engines, tailplane etc., grafted onto a newly designed fuselage and cockpit (due to the urgency of the project). This was to prove to be the ‘Brigands’ ‘achilles heel’ – the structural weakness of the wings and their attachment to the fuselage.

During early development and trials the original two Hercules engines would not develop the power required by the revised specification so two 2810hp Bristol Centuarus 57’s with RAE-Hobson fuel injectors and water methanol injection – used to boost take off power were fitted with four bladed rotol propellers.

It would seem that in the early stages of its development due to the urgency – using the same wings and tail unit as that on the Buckingham where the same jigs could be used in production was a real plus, but as trials proceeded the wing buckling after armament tests proved that wing strengthening was required and fuselage strengthening after cannon trials only served to prove that the whole design should perhaps have been conducted from scratch.

However the first Bristol Brigands were put into service by the R.A.F. in August 1948 forming a new flight at No.228. O.C.U. at R.A.F. Leeming to convert crews in preparation for the re-equipment of No.84 Squadron.

The first operational air-strike to be carried out by a Bristol Brigand B1. in Malaya was by 45 squadron based at R.A.F. Tengah. Singapore on the morning of the 19th December 1949. The crew being Flt.Lt. Dalton Golding - Flight Commander (pilot) and Peter A. Weston acting as Sig/Nav. The Brigand carried 2- 1000lb bombs under the fuselage, one 500lb bomb under each wing together with 3-60lb rockets under the wings outboard of the engines and 800 rounds of 20mm ammunition for the four cannons. Four Bristol Beaufighters also from 45 Sqdn. accompanied the Brigand, the target being a jungle area west of Kluang in Malaya.

This photograph shows the Aircraft known as the Bristol 164 in its original Design form. The torpedo complete with it's mounting assembly and the machine gun at the rear of the cockpit. Note: that on all versions the Four bladed propellers were Fitted.

Torpedo Brigand

The Bristol Brigand had originally been designed as a Torpedo Fighter to replace the highly successful Beaufighters in the role of Torpedo Bomber. The H.7/42 Bristol 164 was later named as the Brigand and was selected by the Air Ministry based on the applicable requirements.

The first four prototypes were ordered in April 1943, and the first flight took place on 4th December 1944. Serious production began with the use of of some components from its predecessors, the Bristol Buckingham and the Beaufighter. Although the first eleven Torpedo versions were not available until 1946 which were intended for use by No’s 36 and 42 Sqdn. by which time the requirement for a strike aircraft in Coastal Command no longer existed so they were "Mothballed' at Filton for conversion to light bombers suitable for tropical duty in the Far East.Their conversion consisted of the removal of the Torpedo carrying gear, and the rear facing machine gun. The fitting of a one piece canopy that could be jettisoned by lifting a handle positioned on the left hand side of the cockpit close to the navigators station, and the installation of external bomb racks for 2-1000lb bombs beneath the fuselage. In addition external bomb racks and rocket rails were placed beneath the wings outboard of the engines. The 4-20mm cannons were retained.

In late December 1948 two Bristol Brigands B1s, RH820 and RH821 were repainted in the Royal Pakistan Air Force colours and markings and flown out to Pakistan , unfortunately the Ferry pilot allowed one of these N1125 (RH 820) to swing on landing at Shaibah during the flight out to Pakistan with the undercarriage collapsing and the aircraft being declared a write- off. The other aircraft N1126 ( RH821 ) did arrive safely but no follow up was made by the RPAF.

Of the 147 Bristol Brigands on order at this time only three Squadrons were to receive them, Number 8 at Khormaksar, Number 84 at Habbaniya and later Number 45 Sqdn at Kuala Lumpur. Sixteen Brigands called Met.3. were used for meteorological research in Ceylon. Nine Brigands with radar were delivered to Operational Conversion Unit No:228 , which was converted to No: 238 in 1952. These being called the T4. In 1955 the Brigand was fitted with newer radar in the extended nose and called the T5. The Bristol Brigand was a two engine, three seat, frameless, mid-wing plane powered by two star-arranged 18 cylinder piston engines – the Bristol Centaurus 57, 1842 Kw. Each engine (2470 HP).

The Brigand had a wing span of 72 feet 4 inches, a length of 46 feet 5 inches and a height of 17 feet 6 inches.
Maximum speed of 358 mph. A range of 2,800 miles and a ceiling of 26,000 feet (Unloaded in Malaya it fell out of the sky at 21,000 feet). With a wing loading of 48 psi, the same as the Hastings transport aircraft, it was the heaviest wing loading of any plane in the R.A.F. at that time.

The Bristol Brigand Problems summarised

It is pretty obvious that the Brigand suffered from Hydraulic pump and undercarriage selector valve problems once they were stationed in the Middle East.

Even early in 1950 Sqdn. Leader George Unwin DFM. C.O of 84 Sqdn was convinced it was the poor quality of the rubber seals in the piston halves of the u/c jacks which were continually disintegrating with particles ending up in the selectors causing seizures.

If Bristol aircraft and the M.O.D. understood this I suppose having a ready supply of Brigands on hand from which to replenish, coupled with the fact that they were the last of the piston engine aircraft to go into service. (The ‘Canberra’ jets were the next in line) and they in the early days had a wing problem.

The attachment of the wings to the fuselage also proved unsatisfactory and it appears that over the years the oxidisation between the surfaces of the connecting faces gave rise to weakening of the structure and with the application of the ‘G’ force caused by the continual bombing dives and steep turns, together with the additional loading on the wings outboard of the engines i.e., 1-500lb bomb and in time 8 x 60lb rockets , together with their cannons caused the wings to fold.

Most of the 20mm shells used were fairly old stock and had been kept in a hot and humid climate, unfortunately the cannon blast tubes were in close proximity to the hydraulic lines inside the aircraft and the inner wing fuel tanks were not far from the outer skin of the fuselage so when other than ball ammunition was used the pre-explosion of the shells in the blast tube could easily rupture both the hydraulic line and the fuel tank.

The shearing off of the engines was pretty well cured when stronger engine bearers and metal propellers were fitted.

The use of the Brigands dive brakes was prohibited from the end of June 1950 so we shall never know whether their use may have saved some of the folding wings happening or increased this occurring?

During our active service stint in Malaya in addition to air strikes we carried out ‘cross country’ flying by day and night around Malaya. Radar let-downs, single engine flying, armament details on North China Rock (a small rocky island just of the east coast of Johore) , formation flying at low and medium level, various airfield recce’s and the occasional exercise with the Navy and road convoy patrols.

We also had lectures, service film shows and aircraft recognition sessions, even lessons to enable us to speak and write the Malay language.

When the Korean war started on June 25th 1950 we were surprised to hear that the Russian Mig 19's ( well armed and faster than any of our fighters at that time) where being used in Korea to deadly effect.

By late 1951 we were informed that many of the C.T.’s in Malaya were becoming disheartened since large numbers of the population of Malaya, particularly those living on the fringes of the jungle villages (who were used by the C.T.’s for food and money supplies) had been re-housed inside barbed-wired compounds. The terrorist leaders were also positioning themselves just inside the Perak- Thailand border trying to escape the army patrols and when these escape routes were blocked off in February 1952 with the airborne drop and various other operations, captured C.T.’s informed us that the rank and file were becoming dispirited and that China was losing interest in the Malayan Campaign now that they were very much involved with the Korean War. China was no longer, I understand, supplying money or arms to the C.T. in Malaya.

Towards the end of 1951 and well into 1952 aircrew members of both 45 and 84 Sqdns. were being used to return Brigand aircraft back to the U.K. so that the airframes could be checked over, converted for training flights or just taken out of service . Whilst in the U.K. Squadron members were usually granted two weeks home leave.