Vickers Vildebeest

The Vickers Vildebeest was a land based biplane torpedo bomber, designed in the late 1920s to defend the British coast. At the outbreak of the Second World War it was the only torpedo bomber in use with RAF Coastal Command. Although it was soon phased out in Britain, the Vildebeest still equipped two squadrons at Singapore at the end of 1941, and was thus one of many types of Allied aircraft to be swept away in the initial Japanese assault.


The Vildebeest was designed to satisfy Air Ministry specification 24/25, for a defensive torpedo bomber to replace the Hawker Horsley. Vickers designed a large single-engine biplane, with un-staggered rectangular wings of equal size, and which resembled a larger version of the Vickers Vixen or Vendace.

Vickers Vildebeest
Vickers Vildebeest

The Vickers design was submitted in June 1926, and the Air Ministry placed an order for a single experimental airframe. This prototype was completed at Weybridge in the spring of 1928, and made its first flight in April 1928 at Brooklands. On 14 Septembr 1928 the prototype went to Martlesham, for trials against the Blackburn Beagle.

The name Vildebeest was adopted by September 1926. Vickers had to find the name of a land mammal beginning with V for their new aircraft. Vicuna, Vulpes and Vildebeest were all suggested, the last by Sir Pierre Van Ryneveld, Vicker’s South African consultant. An Afrikaans word, it was often misspelt – as Vildebeeste in some early official paperwork, and more often as Vildebeast.

The development of the Vildebeest was hindered by engine problems. The original specification had been written around the Bristol Orion, a supercharged engine that never materialised. While the Orion was under development, the Bristol Jupiter VI was to be used. On 17 November 1927, with the Orion in trouble, Vickers were given permission to use a 460hp geared Jupiter VIII engine that they had on loan from the Air Ministry. This engine constantly overheated, as did the Jupiter XF that replaced it.

Vickers built a second prototype of the Vildebeest during 1930 as a private venture. This aircraft was powered by a geared Armstrong Siddeley Panther IIA air-cooled engine, but this too tended to over-heat, and also reduced the performance of the aircraft.

The engine problem was finally solved in January 1931, when the first Vildebeest was equipped with a 600hp Jupiter XFBM engine and a mineral-based engine lubricant. The XFBM was soon renamed the Pegasus IM3,

Further engine changes followed. In 1931 the second Vildebeest was given a XFBM engine, and went to Donibristle for service tests, while the original prototype was given a French-built 600hp Hispano Suiza 12Lbr engine and Supermarine floats. In this format it impressed the Spanish government enough for them to negotiate for a licence to built 25 Vildebeests.

In October 1931, with the engine problems solved, the Air Ministry placed an order for nine development machines (to specification 22/31). These aircraft would become the first nine Vildebeest Mk Is.

Service Record

The first Vildebeest to enter service joined No.100 Squadron in 1932 for familiarisation. During 1933 it was followed by ten aircraft from the second batch of Mk Is. No.100 Squadron’s Vildebeest were based at Singapore for most of their service carrier, which only ended with the Japanese invasion. Eventually five squadrons would operate the type, which would not begin to be phased out until 1940.

At the start of the Second World War Nos.22 and 42 Squadrons and their Vildebeests represented Coastal Command’s only force of torpedo bombers, although the service entry of the Bristol Beaufort was not far off. No.22 Squadron operated its Vildebeests from Thorney Island, West Sussex, flying anti-submarine patrols until February 1940, while No.42 Squadron used them for convoy protection off the east coast until April 1940. Both squadrons were then reequipped with the Beaufort.

No.273 Squadron reformed on 1 August 1939 at China Bay, Ceylon, and was equipped with a mix of Vildebeests and Seal seaplanes. Anti-aircraft co-operation flights were the main duty until December 1941 and the Japanese entry into the war. The Vildebeests remained on the squadron’s strength until March 1942, when they were replaced by the Fairey Fulmar, and it would be the Fulmars that had to respond to the Japanese attack on Ceylon on 9 April 1942.

Nos.36 and 100 Squadrons, based at Singapore, were still equipped with the Vildebeest when the Japanese entered the war at the end of 1941. Like every Allied squadron in the path of the Japanese the crews of No.36 and 100 Squadrons were overwhelmed by the Japanese. Only two aircraft from No.36 Squadron escaped to Java, and they were lost in an attempt to reach Burma. Whatever its merits might have been when it entered service, by the end of 1941 the Vildebeest was genuinely obsolete.

Mk I

Twenty one Vildebeest Mk Is were ordered, in two batches, all powered by the Pegasus IM3. The first nine were the service test aircraft ordered in October 1931. These aircraft had very varied careers. One went to No.100 Squadron, another to No.22 Squadron, three to A Flight, Gosport, one was used for trials, one was completed as a night bomber and another as a general-purpose aircraft. Of the thirteen aircraft in the second batch, three were used for trials, while ten joined No. 100 Squadron.


Thirty Vildebeest Mk IIs were ordered, powered by the 635hp Pegasus IIM3 engine. The Mk II had a modified tail and lost the small ventral fin of the Mk I. The order was placed in December 1933, and the aircraft were ordered between 21 July and 22 December 1934?


Vickers Vildebeest III
Vickers Vildebeest III

The most common version of the Vildebeest was the three-man Mk. III. Experience with the Mk I and Mk II had shown that the third crewman was needed for the precise navigation required of the land based torpedo bombers. A total of 162 Vildebeest Mk IIIs were ordered, in four contracts. Of these the first 51 were completed as Vickers Vincents, and the remaining 111 as Vildebeest. The first aircraft was delivered on 4 February 1935, the last on 28 August 1936. The Mk III was used in significant numbers in New Zealand, where they were used by the New Zealand Flying Training School at Wigram.


The final version of the Vildebeest was powered by the 825hp Bristol Perseus VIII, the first sleeve-valve radial engine to enter service. With the big increase in power came an increase in top speed, to 156mph. The Mk IV saw the third crewman removed. Eighteen were built from new under two contracts, with deliveries taking place from March-November 1937. A number of older aircraft were also given the Perseus VIII, bringing them up to the Mk IV standard.






Bristol Pegasus IM3

Bristol Pegasus IIM3

Bristol Perseus VIII














36ft 8in

36ft 8in

37ft 8in


14ft 8in

14ft 8in

14ft 8in

Empty Weight




Gross Weight




Max Speed




Climb rate

630ft/ min

630ft/ min

840ft/ min

Absolute ceiling





1,250 miles

1,250 miles

1,625 miles


One Vickers gun, one Lewis gun

Bomb load


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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 October 2008), Vickers Vildebeest ,

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