WHIRLWIND – Westland’s Enigmatic Fighter – Review by Mark Barnes

The Westland Whirlwind was designed in the late 1930s when the Air Ministry were looking for a cannon armed fighter to supplement the specification for the eight gun beauties we know so well.  It was a thing of beauty and my recollections of the 1/72nd scale Airfix kit drive my memories of an aeroplane I always saw as being beautiful and brutal at the same time.

Sadly for Westland, the Whirlwind was afflicted with a mass of problems, not least with the Rolls-Royce Peregrine engines which proved unreliable and were also too few in number at the crucial period when building Merlins took up so much energy.  Undercarriage and wingtip problems added to the problems along with issues surrounding the cockpit canopy. There were over two hundred issues with the design which had to be ironed out before the plane would be considered fit for squadron service. But they got there and when it got going the Whirlwind proved itself to be lethal in low level attacks on shipping, trains and other vulnerable machines. The aircraft was considered a joy to fly, notwithstanding continued issues with take off and landings due to the undercarriage. The cannon armament was vicious and nothing like the Whirlwind would be available until the entrance of the Bristol Beaufighter.

Despite a large initial order that wasn’t even remotely completed, the aircraft only served with two squadrons and the sad fact is all those accumulated problems coupled with engine availability were the death of it. Other types offered less difficulties and the Whirlwind became a victim of what Hugh Dowding had predicted would be an infinity of trouble when the prototypes were in production.  What a shame. While the design looked a little odd it had the makings of a thoroughbred. Many pilots mourned it’s passing.

This excellent book by Niall Corduroy takes us deep into the design, development, service and demise of an aeroplane that failed to get a fair crack of the whip. As with all these things there is a lot more to the story than just the myriad technical problems, but they all mounted up and Mr Corduroy takes us through the situation with care. The service history is covered with as much detail and at the end we see an in depth appendix recounting the lives of individual aircraft. The archive photography is excellent and well handled given the space limitations set by the format of the book.

These aircraft histories from Fonthill are all noteworthy for their quality in terms of text, diagrams and archive photography. I can’t fault this book even though I always want to see more and bigger photographs. It is one that unlocks the history of a less known but nonetheless important design that never fulfilled the promise that was evident when the prototype first flew. It would be nice to have been able to prove Dowding wrong on something to do with air matters, but he nailed it once again. No Whirlwinds. save bits and bobs dug up from crash sites survive.

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

Westland’s Enigmatic Fighter
By Niall Corduroy
Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978 1 78155 037 3

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.