Despite its proven track record, ease of maintenance and its reliable Hercules engines, what could have been a vibrant export market for Beaufighters failed to materialise. Only three countries directly opted for the type, while a third acquired a handful through a clandestine route. Two of these nations used them in anger.
During the war, four Commonwealth air forces flew ‘Beaus’: Australia (five squadrons in the Pacific, two in the UK), Canada (four in the UK), New Zealand (two in the UK) and South Africa (two in the Middle East). As charted in the feature Whispering Death, Australia also built the type under licence. Other than the RAAF, the rest swiftly disbanded their fleets; Australia soldiering on in the target facilities role until December 1957. (See the Squadron Directory for more details of Commonwealth usage.)
With no capable night-fighter on the horizon, the USAAF turned to the Beaufighter as a stop-gap as detailed in Stars and Stripes. With the advent of the exceptional Northrop P-61 Black Widow, the surviving American ‘Beaus’ were returned to the RAF.
Production of Beaufighters came to a halt in the UK in September 1945 and two months later in Australia. This was not the case with its ‘rival’, the de Havilland Mosquito, which continued to be churned out until 1950 and had the advantage of large numbers in storage to act as sources of spares. The wooden structure scored against the Mossie in some climates, but its side-by-side cockpit gave it more appeal as a night-fighter and crew trainer.
As related in the article Tugging at Sleeves, the RAF very rapidly wound down its Beaufighter squadrons, quickly consigning aircraft to scrap heaps. Although the RAF enjoyed great longevity with the type
— retiring the last target-tugs in 1960
— the font of airframes for possible export was nowhere near as large as that of the Mosquito. Nevertheless, British-based maintenance units held significant stocks, many ‘zerotime’ with no service use in their documentation.
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Occupying the eastern end of the huge Caribbean island of Hispaniola (its neighbour is Haiti) the Dominican Republic may seem an unusual customer for British aircraft. In 1948 the Fuerza Aerea Dominicana went on a shopping spree in the UK, acquiring five Mosquito FB.VIs and ten Beaufighter TF.10s (serials 306 to 315).
The TF.10s were refurbished by Bristol at Filton and supplied complete with rocket rails. Hercules XVIs were installed, effectively bringing them to Mk.VI status. Deliveries were completed by October 1948 and the ‘Beaus’ joined the Escuadron de Caza-Bombardeo at San Isidoro.
Since 1930 Dominica had been in the clutches of the ruthless dictator General Rafael Trujillo, known as ‘El Jefe (The Boss). In May 1961 he perished in a hail of bullets, but in the decades preceding, he survived several assassination attempts and brutally suppressed a series of invasions and coups.
On June 14, 1949 a very unusual liberation force approached Dominica — the so-called Luperon Invasion’. Sources vary, but up to 14 ‘seaplanes’ carrying armed exiles landed on the northern shores to the west of Puerto Plata. Beaching some of the aircraft on the fabulous golden sands of the resort at Luperon, the small force hoped to rally support as is went along.
This motley group was promptly routed and on the 20th Beaufighters and Mosquitos strafed an already damaged Consolidated Catalina lying in an inlet near Puerta Plata; killing at least a dozen rebels. This was not the last time Beaufighters were action; as related in Tugging at Sleeves, the RAF employed TF.10s against insurgents in Malaya until the end of 1949.
Post-war, Britain was keen to pull out of Palestine and in November 1947 the United Nations declared that the region should be partitioned, allowing for both Palestinian and Zionist states to be established. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed an immediately found itself facing oblivion as Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq pledged its destruction.
For some time, Jewish settlers had been building up a rag-tag of aircraft to form the Heyl ha’Avir, the Israel Defence Force/Air Force. In April 1947 Fairey Aviation at Ringway (now Manchester Airport) put six Beaufighter TF.10s on the British civil register (G-AJMB to ’G, previously RAF RD135, RD448, RD427, ND929, NV306 and LZ185 respectively) and started refurbishing them. Out went the cannons and other military equipment and in went Hercules XVI radials, in a similar manner to the Dominican machines.
The ‘Beaus’ were apparently destined for use in a film and on July 21, 1948, the half-dozen aircraft were re-registered to Robert Dickson and partners of York Street, London W1. The contract was valued at £9,000 — a cool £270,000 in present-day values — and the aircraft were ferried to Thame in Oxfordshire.
On arrival G-AJMF (formerly NV306) was stripped for spares. With the Israeli War of Independence raging and combat-capable aircraft being acquired by fair means or foul for the IDF/ AF, British customs and intelligence personnel were more than a little fascinated by the Thame Beaufighters, maintaining a close watch.
Tragedy struck on July 28 when Mike-Echo (the one-time ND929) crashed near the airfield, killing its pilot. That brought still more unwanted attention to the ‘film set’. The following day, the four remaining ‘stars’ were to carry out a full-blooded stream take-off for the benefit of the cameras and then fly to ‘Scotland’ where the rest of the movie was to be made.
No film was ever released; the Beaufighters did not fly north. Instead, by September they were on charge with 103 Squadron at Ramat David and having 20mm cannon installed. They had forsaken their British registrations for the Israeli serials D-170 to -173.
On October 15 two were in action at El Arish. Four days later, D-171 attacked an Egyptian ship. In 1944 and 1945, when it was RD427, it had served with 404 Squadron RCAF and then 455 Squadron RAAF when anti-shipping strikes were its bread and butter. An Egyptian Hawker Fury intercepted and while D-171 was taking evasive action, the Centaurus-powered fighter crashed into the Mediterranean, killing its pilot.
The fortification at Iraq Suweidin, near Ashdod, was raided by a pair of ‘Beaus’ on October 20. One of them, D-171, was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed, killing the three on board. The remains of this machine were salvaged in the 1990s and are now at the Israeli Air Force Museum at Hatzerim.
Eleven days after D-171 was downed, a truce was declared, although fighting flared up from time to time until a final armistice was declared in July 1949. By that time, Beaufighters D-170 and D-172 were still on the IDF/AF inventory, but probably long since fl ightless. They were scrapped the following year.
In 1943 Portugal took delivery of Blenheim IVs for maritime patrol by the naval air arm, the Forças Aereas da Armada. These veterans were replaced by surplus Beaufighter TF.10s and the first of 16 were ferried to Portela, near Lisbon, in March 1945. Given the serials BF-1 to BF-16, they were joined by another (BF-17, previously RD862) in April 1946, supplanting one of the originals that had been written off in October 1945.
Serving with Esquadrilha ‘B’, the Portuguese Beaufighters flew on until 1950 and several became staples of the world’s surviving population of the breed — see the feature Rare Birds. Bizarrely, the ‘Armada’ Beaufighters were replaced by Curtiss SB2C Helldivers of much the same vintage.
During 1944, Turkey received some Beaufighters from RAF Middle Eastern stock and in 1946 ordered a batch of 24 reconditioned TF.10s. Deliveries were completed in 1947 and they are thought to have been retired by 1950. Along with the TF.10s, a pair of Beauforts was also dispatched, to act as a conversion trainers. These two were the only examples of the type to be exported.