Handley Page H.P. 52 Hampden

The Handley Page Hampden was one of the three twin engined bombers in RAF service at the outbreak of the Second World War, along with the Vickers Wellington and Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. Like the Wellington, the Hampden was developed in response to Air Ministry specification B.9/32 of September 1932. This called for a twin engined bomber of a significantly higher performance than had been seen before. By the time the two aircraft were in production, both the Wellington and the Hampden were much improved on the specification.

Handley Page Hampden before a raid
Handley Page Hampden
before a raid

Handley Page developed a modern stressed skinned mid wing monoplane, eventually powered by Bristol Pegasus radial air cooled engines. It had the most advanced wings available at the time, giving it a remarkably low landing speed of 73 mph for an aircraft of its size with a top speed of 265 mph. It also gave the aircraft an impressive climb rate. The Hampden had a short, narrow but tall main fuselage with a very slender tail unit. This gave it a very distinctive look, although would later limit its flexibility.

The prototype first flew on 21 June 1936. Two months later, Handley Page received an order for 180 Hampdens. The first production aircraft was complete by May 1938. The Hampden entered squadron service with No. 49 Squadron, who received their first aircraft in September 1938. Production was rapid, and by the outbreak of war, Bomber Command had ten squadrons of Hampdens, making up No. 5 Group (six operational, two reserve and two pool squadrons).

Like the Wellington, the Hampden was considered suitable for use as a day time bomber in 1939. Events would very quickly disprove this opinion. The Hampden’s worst day came on 29 September 1939, off Heligoland Bight, when a formation of eleven Hampdens lost five aircraft to attack by German fighters. The Wellington was soon to suffer the same fate in the same area.

The problem with the Hampden was seen to be its poor defensive armament. As first built it only carried four .303in machine guns, two in the nose (one of which was fixed to fire directly forwards only), and one gun in each of the dorsal and ventral positions, pointing backwards. The design of the aircraft made it hard to do much to improve the situation, although both of the rear firing gun positions were soon given a second gun, bringing the total up to six. Even after this change, the manually operated guns of the Hampden could never be as effective as the powered guns of the Wellington or later bombers.

Short Stirling - nose view
Handley Page Hampden with parachute mine

With daylight operations abandoned, Bomber Command had to wait until the spring of 1940 to begin the night bombing offensive. The Hampden played a full role in the bombing war, taking part in the first attack on German soil, on 19/20 March (an attack on the island of Sylt), the first attack on the German mainland (against Munchen Gladback on 11/12 May) and the first raid on Berlin (25/26 August 1940). A Hampden piloted by Guy Gibson was the first Bomber Command aircraft to drop a 2,000lb , against the Scharnhorst on 1/2 July 1940.

The Hampden remained in service long enough to take part in the 1,000 bomber raids of 1942, making up 79 of the 1,047 aircraft involved (34 from No.5 Group and 45 from 91 (O.T.U.) Group. By this point the Hampden was well past its peak as a front line bomber, only equipping two squadrons.

The Hampden was a perfectly acceptable night bomber, capable of carrying only slightly less bombs than the Wellington for about the same distances. Despite this the Hampden was withdrawn from Bomber Command service a full year earlier than the Wellington, in September 1942. One reason for this was the narrow fuselage. This dramatically limited the flexibility of the aircraft (not to mention making it impossible for crew members to change place!), especially as bombs began to get bigger.

The real reason for the withdrawal of the Hampden was that it was being replaced by the new four engined heavy bombers, amongst them the Handley Page Halifax. Handley Page themselves had ceased production of the Hampden in July 1940, having produced 500 aircraft. Another 770 Hampdens were built by English Electric between February 1940 and March 1942. By the time the Hampden was withdrawn as a bomber it had been out of production for six months!

The Hampden had a second career as a torpedo bomber. Experiments early in 1942 proved that the type was suitable for the role, and two Bomber Command squadrons (Nos. 144 and 455) were transferred to Coastal Command. Only minor modifications were needed for the new role – the bomb bay had to be made deeper in order to carry the 18-inch torpedo, while 500lb bomb racks were added under each wing. In all four squadrons flew the Hampden as a torpedo bomber, with the last retaining it until December 1943.

Handley Page Hampden of No.61 Squadron
Handley Page Hampden of No.61 Squadron



Two 1,000 hp Bristol Pegasus XVII radials

Max Speed

254 mph at 13,800 ft


265 mph at 15,500 ft fully loaded

Maximum Cruising Speed

217 mph at 15,000 ft

Economical Cruising Speed

167 mph at 15,000 ft

Initial Climb Rate

980 ft/min

Time to 15,000 ft

18.9 mins


19,000 ft or 22,700 ft (sources differ)


1,885 miles with 2,000lb bomb load


870 miles with 4,000lb bomb load at 172 mph

Empty Weight

11,780 lb

Full Weight

18,756 lb


68 ft 2 in


53 ft 7 in

Defensive Armament

two forward firing .303in machine guns (one fixed); twin .303 in guns in each of dorsal and ventral positions (originally one each, doubled after early combat experience)

Bomb load

4,000 lb



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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (22 March 2007), Handley Page H.P. 52 Hampden, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_hampden.html

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