The Notorious Bristol Brigand B1
The last of the piston engine attack aircraft to see active service with the R.A.F. An aircraft that without prior warning had the ability to shed an engine, even a complete wing and engine.
An aircraft that could, and did, shoot itself down.
An aircraft that often was unable to lower its undercarriage but had the ability to make a safe and soft belly landing on a grass strip at R.A.F. Seletar, a maintenance unit, thereby providing immediate work for that unit.
An aircraft that left parents without a son. Young wives became widows, children lost their fathers.
In time we found it difficult to suppress at least a tingle of fear as we climbed aboard the ‘brutes’ and wondered if we would subsequently emerge safely through the same hatch and all of us, at times , felt rather uneasy about flying in them.
Nevertheless I was to spend two and half years flying in the ‘Brigand B 1’s’, whilst on active service with No. 84 squadron based at R.A.F. Tengah on the island of Singapore, from June 1950 until December 1952 during the ‘Malayan Emergency’ flying in 27 different Brigand aircraft, notching up in excess of 950 flying hours in the type including 218 operational air strikes against the so called terrorists of the MLA (Malayan Liberation Army), which consisted mainly of CHINESE COMMUNISTS.
I also carried out 111 of those sorties in ‘The Bridal Brigand’ RH813 - ‘H’, which incidentally didn’t once cause trouble in the air, it was flown back to the UK (very gently) by an ex-84 Sqdn pilot George Hickson during March 1952 arriving at 19 MU St. Athan on the 3rd April 1952.
After returning to the UK it was converted to a T. Mk. 5. It ended its service life with 238 OCU on 21st October 1954 . In August 1956 it suffered Cat.4 damage with repairs started by 49 MU. on 10th August 1956 and completed at BAC. Filton. on 24th July 1957 but was declared non-effective on 11th April ’58. and sold to H.H. Bushell as scrap on 15th September ’58 thus ending the life of the only Brigand B1. that I had any affection for.
All Bristol Brigands were finally withdrawn from service on 13th March 1958 when a final flypast by six Mk. T.5’s took place over North Luffenham and No 238 OCU. was disbanded four days later.
I have endeavoured to put down on paper the outline history of the Bristol Brigand B1 from its beginning in 1941 to its inglorious end, in the hope that it may be of interest to both aviation and military enthusiasts, perhaps helping to dispel some of the myths that over the years surrounded this aircraft.
It may also serve to tell a small part of the role that the RAF played in the early years of the Malayan “Emergency” and help keep alive the memory of my friends and colleagues who sadly were never to return home having made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. Their contribution seems to have been largely forgotten in our history books since I have yet to find a single memorial that has been erected in their memory or to the conflict in Malaya that took place from 1948 until 1960 in "The War That Never Was”.