The Bristol Bombay was a combination of a transport aircraft and a bomber that was developed to serve with RAF squadrons in the Middle East. Partly because of its duel purpose and partly because of the time it took to develop, the Bombay was effectively obsolescent by the time it entered service in 1939, but it did perform some useful service in the Middle East during the Second World War.
The Bombay was first designed to fulfil Air Ministry Specification C.26/31 which called for a replacement for the Vickers Valentia. The new aircraft would have to perform as a troop carrier, a cargo carrier and a long range bomber. Two years passed before Bristol received a contract to produce a prototype (March 1933) and the first prototype would not fly for another two years, taking to the air on 23 June 1935.
Bristol was awarded a production contract for fifty aircraft under Specification 47/36. The aircraft themselves were produced by Short Brothers & Harland, as Bristol’s factories were busy building the Blenheim. A new government owned factory was built to produce the Bombay, causing further delay, and the first of the production aircraft did not appear until March 1939.
By the time it appeared the Bombay looked outdated. It was a high winged twin engined monoplane with a fixed undercarriage. Even by the standards of 1939 it was under-armed, carrying two 0.303in machine guns in single gun nose and tail turrets. It was a clear advance over the Vickers Valentia, a rather outdated biplane troop transport plane that had itself only entered service in 1934. Although they had the same bomb load (2,200lb) and could carry almost the same number of troops, the Valentia could only reach a top speed of 120mph, compared to the 192mph of the Bombay.
The main user of the Bristol Bombay was No. 216 Squadron in Egypt, which received its first Bombays in October 1939, and retained them until June 1943. At first the squadron operated the Bombay purely as a bomber, retaining the Valentia as a transport. The Bombay took part in the Libyan campaign of 1940, being used as a bomber from June 1940 until the end of the year. It was then replaced as a bomber by the Wellington, but remained in use as a transport aircraft until 1943.
Two more Middle Eastern squadrons used the Bombay for short periods. No. 267 Squadron operated a small number of Bombays as transport aircraft between August 1940 and August 1942. No. 117 Squadron borrowed four Bombays from No. 216 squadron between April and November 1941, using them for long range flights from Khartoum, one of the final staging points on the aircraft supply route that led from West Africa to Egypt.
No. 271 Squadron was the only unit to operate the Bombay in Britain. It was reformed in May 1940, with a number of Bombays, which it then used to help evacuate British troops from France. Its Bombays were withdrawn by the end of June 1940.
Crew: Three plus 24 troops as transport
Engines: Two Bristol Pegasus XXII
Horsepower: 1,010hp each
Span: 95ft 9in
Length: 69ft 3in
Max speed: 192mph at 6,500ft
Cruising Speed: 160mh at 10,000ft
Range: 880 miles, 2,230 miles with extra fuselage fuel tanks
Armament: Two 0.303in Vickers “K” guns in one gun nose and tail turrets
Bomb load: 2,000lb