Handley Page Halifaxes revered in Canada


Above: a wartime colour photograph of a late mark of Halifax.

[Photo: BCMC]

28th January 2015 (Updated 1 February 2015) | Nanton, Alberta. Often overlooked by historians and those who appreciate and honour the sacrifices of our WWII veterans and war dead, the Handley Page Halifax played a significant role in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Royal Air Force (RAF) aerial bombardment campaigns over Nazi occupied Europe and Germany. Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada)’s website reports that in excess of ‘60% of the (1,592) RAF British airmen killed-in-action” (KIA) while flying with “RCAF bomber squadrons were flying the Halifax’, and more than ‘60% of the (840)” American RCAF volunteers KIA “were flying the Halifax bomber’.

It is all of these men and the flying machine they crewed and loved that Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) strives to commemorate. Located approximately 93 kilometres (58 miles) southeast of Calgary, Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) is an aircraft recovery and restoration group that operates worldwide. As mentioned, the charitable society is international in its scope and carries a mandate to save Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers. The ‘vision is to see several of the Handley Page Halifaxes on display in many different locations around the globe, thereby sharing the importance of a great war machine’.

Halifax 57 Rescue logo

To their merit, the Canadian group set a record for a heavy bomber underwater recovery with the lift of submerged RAF Halifax NA337, which rested 240 meters deep in Lake Mjosa, Norway. The organization also recovered RCAF Halifax LW682 in Belgium with the remains of her missing crew still aboard. Efforts are ongoing to bring a second Halifax to Canada, which will be displayed at the affiliated Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC).

Yet another initiative in process involves the effort to retrieve Halifax HR980 and her crew of Canadians and Australians from a swamp north of Berlin, Germany. Additionally, planning continues related to the retrieval of RCAF Halifax LW170, which was piloted by an American, from deep waters off the coast of Ireland. Halifaxes were rugged and reliable. In fact, in several aspects the Halifax was arguably better than the more famous Avro Lancaster.

Handley Page Halifax with noseart - BCMC

Above: A Handley Page Halifax sporting noseart.

[Photo: BCMC]

David Modey states the following in The Concise Guide to British Aircraft of World War II (page 130): ‘Second of the RAF’s four-engine heavy bombers to enter service, the Handley Page Halifax proved very versatile’. He elaborated (page 127) by writing that, ‘The Halifax . . . was to score over the Lancaster in its multi-role capability, for in addition to its deployment as a night-bomber, it was equally at home when employed as an ambulance, freighter, glider tug, personnel transport, and maritime reconnaissance aircraft’. Furthermore, Halifaxes were ‘the first of the RAF’s four-engine bombers to make a night attack against a German target, when bombs were dropped on Hamburg’ during March 1941.

The number of RCAF squadrons alone that flew Halifaxes testifies to the importance and reliance upon of the type. These include the following: No. 405 Squadron, No. 408 Squadron, No. 415 Squadron, No. 419 Squadron, No. 420 Squadron, No. 424 Squadron, No. 425 Squadron, No. 426 Squadron, No. 427 Squadron, No. 428 Squadron, No. 429 Squadron, No. 431 Squadron, No. 432 Squadron, No. 433 Squadron and No. 434 Squadron.

Halifax production began at Handley Page’s facility at Samlesbury, Lancashire. In excess of 2,000 Halifaxes were built there during the war. Numerous marks or models issued from the production lines. Early versions were powered by four Rolls Royce Merlin engines. The most numerous Halifax variant was the B Mk III, which was first produced in 1943. The Mk III featured a Perspex nose, the modified tail of the Mk II Series IA, rounded wingtips and Bristol Hercules XVI radial engines equipped with Havilland Hydromatic propellers. Mk III armament consisted of one  7.7-milimetre (0.303-inch) machine gun on a flexible mount in the nose, eight  7.7-milimetre (0.303-inch) guns (four each in the dorsal and tail turrets) and 5,897 kilograms (13,000 pounds) of bombs.The Halifax design reached its zenith in the Series B Mk VI, which incorporated 1,300 kW (1,800 horsepower) Hercules 100 powerplants.

Handley Page Halifax magazine advert - June 1945 4x6

Above: A June 1945 Handley Page magazine advert.

[Source: John T. Stemple’s collection.]

This past December Mr. Karl Kjarsgaard traveled to the United Kingdom and brought back two Hercules engines for Halifax Rescue 57 (Canada)’s Halifax Project. Within weeks he will return to the UK to collect additional Halifax parts and afterward meet with the Marine Institute in County Galway, Ireland to discuss a sonar expedition this coming summer to look for LW170.

Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) strives to shine light on the ‘the legend and history of the Halifax bomber’ for ‘the people of Canada and the world’. Individuals and corporations are invited to join Halifax 57 Rescue in their mission. Information may be obtained by visiting the Web site http://www.57rescuecanada.com/index.html and the Facebook page. One may also send an email to 57rescuecanada@rogers.com.


The author (John T. Stemple) thanks Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) and Project Director Karl Kjarsgaard for their assistance during the composition of this article.

Suggested Viewing

Sources & Suggested Readings

Avro Lancaster

Bomber Boys: The Fighting Lancaster. Monarch Films Inc./Frantic Bomber Productions, Inc., 2012. (DVD)

Bomber Boys: The Fighting Lancaster Episode #1 – “The Lucky H”

Bomber Boys: The Fighting Lancaster Episode #2 – “Baker Flight”

Bomber Boys: The Fighting Lancaster Episode #3 – “Combat”

Bomber Boys: The Fighting Lancaster Episode #4 – “Reunion”

Bomber Command Museum of Canada

Florida’s RCAF and RAF WWII volunteers to be honoured


Florida’s WWII RCAF veterans remembered

Gaffen, Fred. Cross-Border Warriors: Canadians in American Forces, Americans in Canadian Forces From the Civil War to the Gulf, Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1995.

Halifax at War: The Story of a Bomber. DVD. ISBN 978-1-55259-974-7. Nightfighter Productions Inc., 2005.

Halifax Rescue 57 (Canada)

Handley-Page Halifax

Handley Page Halifax

Handley Page Halifax bomber enters American WWII statistical history

Handley Page Halifax Mk.V RCAF 434 Squadron circa 1943-44

Mondey, David. Concise Guide to British Aircraft of World War II. Middlesex: Temple Press, 1982.

Night Bombers. London: Oracle Home Entertainment Ltd., 2003. (DVD)

No. 405 Squadron, RCAF

No. 408 Squadron, RCAF

No. 415 Squadron, RCAF

No. 419 Squadron, RCAF

No. 420 Squadron, RCAF

No. 424 Squadron, RCAF

No. 425 Squadron, RCAF

No. 426 Squadron, RCAF

No. 427 Squadron, RCAF

No. 428 Squadron, RCAF

No. 429 Squadron, RCAF

No. 429 Squadron, RCAF

No. 431 Squadron, RCAF

No. 432 Squadron, RCAF

No. 433 Squadron, RCAF

No. 434 Squadron, RCAF

Stachiw, Anthony, and Andrew Tattersall, Handley Page Halifax (In Canadian Service; Aircraft 3), Toronto: Vanwell Publishing Ltd., 2005.

The Americans who died for Canada in WWII finally get their due: These men are my heroes