Originally designed as a British Army liaison aircraft by the Westland Aircraft Ltd, by the time it made its operational debut in 1938, the Westland Lysander had already become obsolete - with the Army complaining that Westland had fallen short of their brief to supply an aircraft with a tactical, artillery and photographic reconnaissance capability up to 14 km behind the enemy lines.
At a time when every arm of the British forces were jostling for funding and resources, the Army accused Westland’s chief designers of paying more attention to pilots of the RAF as to what was needed than their own field commanders.
Reluctantly they integrated the aircraft into their service and four Army Co-operation Squadrons joined the British Expeditionary Forces in France in late 1939 and another in 1940.
Following the German invasion of France and the low countries on 10 May 1940, Lysanders were put into action as spotters and light bombers but proved extremely vulnerable to ground fire as well as easy targets for the Luftwaffe, even when escorted by Hurricanes.
Quickly withdrawn from France during the Dunkirk evacuation, they continued to fly supply-dropping missions to Allied forces from bases in England but with the fall of France, it was clear that the type was unsuitable in an army support role.
Army pilots found the Lysander was too fast for artillery spotting purposes; too slow and cumbersome to avoid fighters; too big to conceal quickly on a landing field; too heavy to use on soft ground and had been developed by the RAF without ever asking the Army what was needed.
By the close of 1941, the British Army had all but lost interest in the Lysander and it was handed over to the RAF who immediately saw its slow speed as an advantage in its new role as an air sea rescue aircraft ,dropping dinghies to downed RAF aircrew in the English Channel
Another more clandestine arm of the British Armed Services, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) were the first to really take advantage of the aircraft’s unique design and flight characteristics.
Despite its ungainly appearance, the Lysander’s aerodynamics were significantly advanced for its day featuring fully automatic wing slots and slotted flaps plus a variable incidence tailplane. These refinements gave the Lysander a stall speed of only 65 mph and enabled it to take off from extremely short and often improvised runways.
It’s one piece frame, supporting both wings and undercarriage, enabled the Lysander to absorb significant punishment with each of its large streamlined wheel spats also equipped with mounts for a Browning machine gun or small, removable stub wings that could be used to carry light bombs or supply canisters.
This exceptional short-field performance and durability made the Lysander perfect for landing on small, improvised airstrips behind enemy lines to place or recover agents, particularly in occupied France with the help of the French Resistance.
After a Lysander was used in Italy used to evacuate an American OSS officer, who was wounded while leading a Greek guerrilla group in a sabotage attack and in August 1941, a new squadron, No.138 (Special Duties), was formed to undertake missions for the Special Operations Executive maintaining clandestine contact with the French Resistance.
While a number of 138 Squadron’s Lysanders dropped arms and supplies to the Resistance, others were equipped with a fixed ladder over the port side for quick insertion and retrieval of agents in the field. Painted matt black, they flew from secret airfields in Southern England without any navigation other than a map and a compass.
By the close of hostilities, Lysander pilots had flown over 100 agents into occupied Europe while recovering 128 more. One of its pilots, RAF Flying officer James Atterby McCairns had previously been shot down and imprisoned by the Germans but managed to escape and with the help of the French Resistance, made it back to England.
Wanting to repay the Resistance members who risked their lives for his, McCann joined No 161 Squadron and from October 1942 through to the end of 1943 completed 25 successful Lysander secret operations into occupied France. Flying by dead reckoning in complete darkness he was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses for these daring missions.
By the close of the war more than 1780 Westland Lysanders had rolled of the production line but finding no peacetime roll with the RAF, they were withdrawn from service in 1946.
All Westland Lysander Instruments listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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