The Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle began life as a Bristol Aeroplane Company design for a twin engined bomber, developed to fit a 1938 specification. When it became clear that the RAF would not be ordering any more twin engined bombers, instead preferring the four engined heavies, the project transferred to the Armstrong Whitworth Company. There the design was adapted to serve as a reconnaissance bomber, before it was eventually decided to produce the Albemarle as a gilder tug and paratrooper transport aircraft.
The Albemarle was designed to make the best use of limited resources. It was constructed from steel and wood, rather than the light alloys used by higher performance aircraft. Its design also allowed a large number of companies to take part in the construction process, including many outside the aircraft industry. The Albemarle was powered by two 1,590 hp Bristol Hercules XI radial engines, and had a top speed of 265 mph at 10,500 ft. Of the six hundred Albemarles constructed between 1942 and December 1944, 359 were used as transport aircraft (including the paratrooper role) and 197 as glider tugs. Ten were provided to the Russians for use as transport aircraft.
The first prototype flew in 1939, but was destroyed in a crash. The second, more successful prototype, flew in 1 March 1939, and the first production aircraft appeared in December 1941, but it would take another year for the first aircraft to reach the RAF, in January 1943. The first squadrons to receive the aircraft were Nos. 296 and 297. They were first used in action in large numbers during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, but individual aircraft (and possibly larger formations) were used on a mix of operations from Britain as early as May, including a night bombing raid on 21 May and a leaflet dropping mission over the Brest peninsula on 27 May.
The Albemarle took part in D-Day in both of its main roles. Four squadrons were involved in towing Horsa gliders to France, while six aircraft from No. 295 squadron carried paratroopers. The Albemarle was also used at Arnhem. The Albemarle is a good example of the many aircraft that saw more service in an unexpected role during the Second World War than in the role they had originally been designed for.
Length: 59 ft 11 in
Wingspan: 77 ft 9 in
Engines: Two Bristol Hercules XI radial engines, giving 1,590 hp
Range: 1,350 miles
Maximum Speed: 256 mph at 10,500 feet (in tug duty)
Cruising Speed: 170 mph
Ceiling: 18,000 ft.
Armament: two .303 in Vickers “K” guns in dorsal turret (early bomber version had four guns)