Handley Page Halifax with Coastal Command

The Handley Page Halifax was one of several types of aircraft that had to be pried away from Bomber Command to take part in the essential war against the U-boats. The first Halifaxes to serve with Coastal Command were on detachment from Bomber Command. Nos. 158 and 405 squadrons joined the command temporarily from October 1942, returning to Bomber Command in December 1942 and March 1943 respectively.

In the meantime, Coastal Command was given enough Mk II Halifaxes to equip two of their own squadrons. No. 58 squadron gained its Halifaxes in December 1942, No. 502 in January 1943. These aircraft were given ASV III radar, and with fuel tanks in the main bomb bay and depth charges in the wing bays, undertook long anti-submarine patrols over the Bay of Biscay. This was the area used by the U-boats on their way to and from their new French bases. The Halifax achieved its first U-boat kill on 29 March 1943. By the end of the war, the Halifax squadrons had sunk nine U-boats.

In August 1944 the two Halifax squadrons moved to the Outer Hebrides, from where they made anti-shipping patrols into Danish waters. On these missions, the aircraft flew as low as 200 ft. On this duty the Halifax squadrons sank 26,000 tons of shipping.

Coastal Command had a second use for the Halifax. One crucial Coastal Command duty was the gathering of meteorological data. This was needed to create accurate weather forecasts, essential for just about every other RAF operation. To gather the required data, Coastal Command needed to fly long missions over the Atlantic. Early in the war these missions had been flown in the Handley Page Hampden, but these aircraft lacked both the range and internal space to perform this duty well.

The limited success of the Halifax Mk V meant that there was a supply of aircraft of limited use to Bomber Command. Some of these aircraft found their way to the meteorological squadrons of Coastal Command, reaching No. 518 Sqn in July 1943, and No. 517 in August. Together with No. 520 Sqn, based at Gibraltar, these squadrons flew long lonely patrols with complex flight plans involved frequent changes of altitude to take reading. The Met Mk V was an improvement over the Hampden, having enough space for a dedicated meteorologist, but these long range patrols pushed the Merlin engines to their limits. Engine failures were not uncommon, and if they happened early in the patrol, with full fuel tanks, could result in disaster, at least until the Mk Vs were equipped with jettisonable fuel tanks. The Mk V was not replaced by Met Mk IIIs until 1945. After the war, the Met squadrons received Halifax Mk VIs, with one squadron (No. 202, previously No. 518) retained the type until 1942. The last RAF Halifax operation was carried out by No. 202 Squadron on 17 March 1952.
Review of Halifax Squadrons by John lake Halifax Squadrons of World War II , Jon Lake. This is a very good book on the combat record of the Handley Page Halifax. It covers much more than just its role as a front line bomber, with chapters on the Halifax with Coastal Command, the Pathfinders and SOE, amongst others. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 May 2007), Handley Page Halifax with Coastal Command, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_halifax_coastal_command.html

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