The de Havilland Mosquito TT.35, Cosford – a wolf, in a sheep, in a wolf’s clothing

The de Havilland Mosquito is acknowledged by many as one of the most versatile aircraft ever to have flown – the first ‘multi-role combat aircraft’, if you will. It’s ability to take on every-changing and expanding roles was astonishing, and surprised even its designers. This gave rise to a great ‘family’ of variants, many of which made it into squadron service, whilst a few (the FB. Mk XI, for example) never made it into production. The Mosquito was the subject of a continuous development programme, and obviously, some of the later Marks were either just coming into service as WW2 ended, or were too late, and were cancelled.

The Mosquito B.Mk 35 was a case in point. Designed as a faster, pressurized, better performing version of the B.XVI, it was just too late to see action, with the first example making its test flight on the 12th March, 1945. The first contract for a bomber version of the Mosquito (to Spec. B.1/40) had been for 50 machines, and these had been delivered to the Royal Air Force as the B.Mk IV Series 1. By the middle of the war, in December, 1943, the much more capable B. Mk XVI capable of carrying a 4,000lb bomb as far as Berlin, at altitudes in excess of 35,000ft, was in service with 11 squadrons of the Light Night Striking Force (sometimes called the Fast Night Striking Force) of No. 8 Group, RAF. These ‘second generation’ Mosquito bombers were creating havoc over the Reich, being very difficult to intercept. Production of the B. Mk XVI came to an end in March, 1945, just as the B.35 entered service. This new Mosquito was powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Merlin 113/114 engines, each producing 1,690 hp, and carried 100 gallon drop tanks under the wings. These engines propelled the B.35 to a maximum speed of 422 mph, and the aircraft could carry 2,000lb of bombs for 2,050 miles, or a 4,000 lb ‘cookie’ – in its bulged bomb bay – over a lesser distance. B.35s were built both at the main de Havilland works at Hatfield, and by the de Havilland subsidiary of Airspeed, at their Chichester factory. Only two UK-based squadrons of RAF Bomber Command used them post-war – No 109 and 139, both at RAF Hemswell, but the British Air Forces of Occupation in Germany (BAFO, later to become the 2nd Tactical Air Force) had No. 14 and 98 Squadrons equipped with these aircraft. No. 527 Squadron also used the B.35 on calibration duties, checking that radar and other navigational aids were correctly set up.

The first, major post-war air defence exercise, designed to check the efficiency of the U.K.’s defences, called ‘Operation Dagger’, took place in September, 1948. Units from RAF Fighter, Bomber, Training, Coastal, and Reserve Commands, the Army’s guns of Anti-Aircraft Command, the Royal Observer Corps, and parts of the United States Air Force, in the shape of three B-29 Bomber Groups were tasked with ‘defending’ targets in the U.K. against an attacking force from ‘Southland’ a mythical Continental country. Nos. 14 and 98 Squadron, with their B.35 Mossies took off from RAF Wahn in Germany, to attack RAF Horsham St Faith (later to become Norwich International Airport – IATA: NWI, ICAO: EGSH). They achieved complete surprise, and in the tradition of the Royal Air Force, dropped suitably inscribed toilet rolls all over their ‘opponents’, a wing of Gloster Meteor F. Mk 4 jet fighters (No.74, 245 and 263 Squadrons) who were – humiliatingly – still on the ground!

In 1950, towards the end of their career, B.35s of No. 14 Squadron, deployed from Germany to RAF West Malling in Kent, to enable them to take part in what had become the annual Battle of Britain Flypast, over Central London. Later, flying again from RAF West Malling, 12 B.35s from 98 and 14 Sqns. performed a spectacular re-enactment of ‘Operation Jericho’, by attacking a mock-up of Amiens Jail (which had held French Resistance fighters under sentence of death) during the RAF Display at Farnborough. This was broadcast live on BBC Radio, from one of the attacking aircraft, by John Ellison; he was flown by Flight Lieutenant Roger Topp. The B.35 was the last bomber version to see service; it was finally replaced in Bomber Command in 1951/2, as the new jet bomber the English Electric Canberra B.2, began to equip the squadrons.

The aircraft you can see here is not what it seems. Originally manufactured as a B. Mk 35,’TA639′, by de Havilland’s in March, 1945, at Hatfield (part of a batch of 80), it was sent immediately to No. 27 Maintenance Unit at RAF Shawbury where it was put into store. It wasn’t until 1952 that it was flown to Sywell Airfield, Northamptonshire, where Brooklands Aviation Ltd converted it (and many others) into a target tug, with the designation TT.35. It was equipped with an under-fuselage ML Type G wind-driven winch, and its working life was to consist of flying up and down various coastal firing ranges to allow the drogue target it carried to be ‘attacked’ by various fighter units. This was typified by its first ‘posting’ as a ‘tug’, to RAF Aldergrove, Northern Ireland, where it provided target facilities to the Vampires of No. 500 Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

There was also a strange hybrid unit, No. 3 Civilian Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit, based at Exeter Airport in England, and that is where TA 639 was sent next. The Air Ministry provided the Service-type aircraft, but they were manned by civilian pilots; many of these were ex-Servicemen but not all! They flew all over the U.K, ranging as far as Scotland, thanks to the B.35s impressive range, exercising radar sites, Army gun positions, and even making mock attacks on Royal Navy ships at sea (rather like the Hawker Hunters of the Fleet Requirements and Aircraft Direction Unit would do, decades later). TA 639 took part in the ‘official last fly-past’ of the Mosquito in 3 CAACU service which took place on 9th May, 1963, and it was then was withdrawn and put into store.

Out of the blue her shining moment came, when she was loaned to Mirisch Films Ltd, and flown to RAF Bovingdon to take part in the shooting of the feature film ‘633 Squadron’. Mocked-up as a fictitious FB.VI ‘HJ 632, HT-B’, along with four other ‘flyers’ and three taxiable aircraft (all ex 3 CAACU), she became a true film star! After the filming was done, she was sent to RAF Little Rissington, and here is where some ‘dirty work’ was said to have happened. She was claimed as the personal mount of Air Commodore Bird-Wilson, RAF and was used for a couple of displays, but the Engineering Staff at Little Rissington decided that they did NOT want to maintain the aircraft, and hangared it directly underneath a hot-air vent. The result? The glue in the tail failed, the wooden skin started to delaminate, and the aircraft was condemned. It would seem, therefore, that the RAF lost their LAST flyable Mosquito out of sheer incompetence/sloth! Given the low number of hours, it would be flying to this very day, with the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight I dare say.

TA 639 made a couple of static appearances in 1968, one on Horseguards Parade in London, during Battle of Britain of Britain Week, and then at the celebration of the RAF’s 50th Anniversary at RAF Abingdon. After that, she was marked as being for the RAF Museum and sent directly to RAF Cosford. Here you can see her painted as ‘AZ – E’, of No. 627 Squadron, a B. Mk XX, (a Canadian-built version). It was in an aircraft carrying these markings that Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson VC, DSO and bar, DFC and bar was killed along with Sqn Ldr James Warwick, DFC, on the night of 19/20th September, 1944. It is noted that Gibson had only 9 hours on the Mosquito, and his navigator was similarly inexperienced on type. Speculation abounds regarding the circumstances of the crash, following a bombing raid in which he was Master Bomber, but whatever caused it, the RAF had lost a fine bomber leader.

So, TA 639 went from wolf, to sheep, to wolf (as a film star, and a museum exhibit). Whichever way you think of her, she is a wonderful example of the breed – the one, the only, de Havilland Mosquito!

By the way, if you would like to see a British-built Mosquito back in British skies, I would urge you to drop by The People’s Mosquito Ltd website and shop (links given below) and learn how our build partner, Retrotec Ltd is going to do just that! Oh, and there is something about this aircraft which would never have been allowed to happen in wartime….enjoy looking!


3 comments on “The de Havilland Mosquito TT.35, Cosford – a wolf, in a sheep, in a wolf’s clothing”

  1. Judging by your clue there is something to spot but I have failed. A wonderfully restored Mossie – a very nice photo and superb write-up, Ross 🙂


    • *chuckle* Look at the tyres/tires………one of them has the heavily cross-hatched type of tread, the other has circumferential groves. A Mossie would have a pair of one or the other, since they were notorious for swinging at the start of a take-off run, or the end of a landing run (unless you knew what you were doing), there is NO WAY that this aircraft would have been allowed to take-off like this!!


  2. Yes, I see what you mean. I should have see that 😉


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