The de Havilland Sea Mosquito

The de Havilland Mosquito was undoubtedly one of the Second World War’s most famous and prestigious aircraft, achieving fame alongside models like the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane.

During recent conversations I’ve had with friends, I was intrigued to know more about the different variants, and in particular, the Sea Mosquito – one I had very little knowledge of.

Built in a hangar (disguised as a barn) on the estate of Salisbury Hall near Hatfield, the Mosquito, or  ‘Mossie‘, was a unique aircraft of wooden construction. This design feature eventually gave birth to its nickname the ‘Wooden Wonder‘.

Taking its first flight on November 20th 1940, prototype E0234 (later designated W4050 by the Air Ministry), flew with Pilot Geoffrey de Havilland Jnr at the controls. Its potential as a military aircraft was quickly realised, especially by those who were in opposition of the original idea, and further development trials were organised.

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Prototype E0234 (later designated W4050) under restoration at the de Havilland Museum.

The Mosquito went on through various design modifications and variants (41 in all), including fighter-bomber, reconnaissance, target tug and trainer. It also served with numerous air forces across the world, some as far afield as China and Israel. Postwar it obtained notoriety as a film star, the most famous being ‘633 Squadron‘ in which a squadron of ‘Mossies’ attacked the V2 fuel production plant in Norway by bombing an overhanging rock. Film stars such as Cliff Robertson, David McCallum and Gregory Peck have all graced our screens alongside the Mosquito.

With the sad crash of G-ASKH on July 21st, 1996 and the death of both pilot and co-pilot, there is no longer a Mosquito flying in the U.K. On September 27th 2012, Mosquito KA114, restored in New Zealand, took to the skies for the first time making it the only flying example in existence at that time.

Plans to build a U.K. flying example are afoot with ‘The People’s Mosquito’ who are raising money as we speak. It is hoped to get the aircraft built and operational, within a few years.

Undoubtedly a success, the Mosquito was a devastatingly potent aircraft, its speed and agility unmatched by most other aircraft of its time. It is a beautiful aircraft and one that was loved not only by those who made, flew and worked with it, but those who, like me, stood in awe and watched it fly. The sound of its two Merlin engines something to behold.

The Mosquito was a great success in a number of operational configurations, and in different theatres, however, one of the lesser well-known variants, and less successful, was the Sea Mosquito.

Impressed with the performance of the aircraft, the Admiralty showed an interest in obtaining a carrier-based version. The de Havilland Aircraft Company put forward the idea of a redesigned model based on the FB.VI – the concept was soon accepted. Trials began soon after in which Mosquito LR359 was adapted, the body strengthened to take the strain of arrester hook landings; its weight was reduced and the Merlin power plants improved.  These tests proved successful, and the first carrier landing completed in late March 1944 by Lt Cdr Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown onboard HMS Indefatigable.

This was a major achievement in many ways, not only for the Navy, but it was the first time any twin-engined aircraft had landed on a sea-based carrier. Further tests followed, and a second Mosquito, also adapted for naval use, joined LR359 in trials onboard naval carriers.

The scene had been set and the Admiralty put forward a specification for a full production naval version, which deHavilland would designate the TR.33.

As with all naval carriers, space was of a premium and so the new version had wing modifications that allowed them to fold. A new and improved landing gear was also needed for the heavy landings that a carrier-based aircraft would be subjected to. Radar was also installed with later adaptations giving the aircraft an odd ‘thimble-shaped’ nose. In addition, attachments for torpedoes were added to the belly of the aircraft giving it greater anti-shipping capabilities.

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Modified from a MK.VI, LR387 became a TR.33 Sea Mosquito and appeared on the front of ‘Life Magazine’.

The first production model, TW227, left the factory in late 1945, but orders came through too late to meet the Japanese threat. Of the initial 100 ordered, only 50 were ever completed. Further trials were undertaken, and the TR.33 would be modified to form the TR.37. This had armament modifications and an upgraded radar system. Again, as with the TR.33, only a few ever made it out of the factory, with only 6 of the original order being completed.

Mosquitoes, whilst being outstanding aircraft, only ever made it to one frontline naval service, 811 squadron of the Fleet Air Arm. Most that were produced were operated from land-based stations and were involved in various trials around munitions development and investigations into naval capabilities. Of those that were made, many of them, in particular the TR.33s, were modified back to regular models and sold off to other air forces, notably the Israeli Air Force.

No further seaworthy variants were made and production concentrated on the land-based models.

The hangar used to build the Mosquito is now the home of the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, (previously the Mosquito Museum) and its main exhibits include, amongst others, the original prototype  Mosquito (W4050) under restoration. Dedicated to de Havilland aircraft, it has a range of models showcasing de Havilland aircraft production from its early days of the 1920s right up to the later modern production fighters and airliners of the 1960s.

Their website can be found here. I visited them a while ago, and my trail can be found here.

More details on 633 squadron can be found on Wikipedia using this link.

Details of Lt Cdr Eric Brown and his achievements can be found through this link.

A remarkable and detailed book illustrating the development of the Mosquito can be purchased from the de Havilland shop. It gives some amazing photos and development history of the aircraft from its conception to cessation of production, detailing production models, uses and variants; it is a worthy book to anyone’s collection.

de Havilland Mosquito – An Illustrated History Vol 2, Ian Thirsk, Crecy Publishing, 2006.

The People’s Mosquito can be found on WordPress or through ‘Aviation Trails’, alternatively on Facebook and Twitter (@peoplesmosquito).

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