Avro Anson

The Avro Anson was designed as a civil passenger plane, entered RAF service as a coastal reconnaissance aircraft, but saw most service as a training aircraft. Work on the Anson began in May 1933 when Imperial Airways gave A.V. Roe a specification for a four seat passenger plain capable of flying 420 miles at a cruising speed of 130mph. The first design was produced by Roy Chadwick in August 1933 with the designation Avro 652. He produced a low-wing monoplane, with manually operated retractable landing gear and powered by a pair of Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah V engines.

Imperial Airways placed a first order for two Avro 652s in April 1934. The next month A.V. Roe was approached by the Air Ministry, who were looking for a twin engined landplane for coastal reconnaissance duties and wanted to know if A.V. Roe had any suitable commercial designs that could be adapted. By the end of the month Chadwick’s design team had produced the design for the Type 652A, a militarised version of the as-yet incomplete Avro 652. A.V. Roe were given a contract to produce a prototype, with a delivery deadline of March 1935. The company found itself working on two different versions of the same aircraft at the same time.

The civil version was completed first. It flew on 7 January 1935, was given its type certification in March, and delivered to Imperial Airways on 11 March. The military Avro 652A made its first flight two weeks later, on 24 March. It then took part in a competitive test with the de Havilland D.H.89M. The Avro 652A proved to have longer range and endurance than the D.H.89M, and won the production contract.

Avro Anson
Avro Anson

Flying over a
British convoy
Avro Anson
Avro Anson

In formation

The Avro Anson GR.Mk I was produced to specification 18/35. The first production aircraft flew on 31 December 1935, and only three months later No. 48 Squadron became the first squadron to go operational with the Anson. The Anson was the first monoplane to enter RAF service, the first aircraft with retractable landing gear, and the only faster aircraft in the RAF were the faster fighters. Nothing demonstrated the dramatic increase in aircraft performance in the years before the Second World War better than the Anson’s rapid decline from the “hot ship” of 1935 to the obsolescent “Faithful Anne” of 1939.

Before the outbreak of the war the Anson served in two roles. Its primary role was as a general reconnaissance aircraft with coastal command. As one of the first modern aircraft to enter RAF service it also gained a second role as a training aircraft, equipping a number of bomber squadrons while they awaited their own more modern aircraft.

By the start of the war it had already been decided to replace the Anson with the Lockheed Hudson, but it would take until 1941 for the Anson to disappear from front line Coastal Command squadrons. The Anson was used to conduct coastal reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrols around the British coast, even clashing with German fighter aircraft from time to time. On 1 June 1940 one Anson of No. 500 squadron even claimed two Bf. 109s! 

The vast majority of Ansons served as training aircraft, both in Britain and in Canada. In 1939-40 fourteen bomber squadrons were issued with the Anson as a trainer, eleven of them as part of No.6 Group. Most of these squadrons were later used to create the Operational Training Units. 

Avro Anson in flight
Avro Anson in flight

The Anson was also used as a standard trainer by the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, inaugurated on 18 December 1939. This saw aircrews trained in the safety of Canada. Over 3,000 Ansons were produced for this purpose, over 2,800 of then in Canada.

The Anson re-entered Coastal Command service in 1943, equipping six air-sea rescue squadrons, where it was used to drop dinghies to strained aircrew. A seventh air-sea rescue squadron was formed in Iceland in 1944. 

The Anson was also used by a number of communications and transport squadrons, often returning to its original passenger transport role.

Finally five special duties squadrons used the Anson - two anti-aircraft calibration duties, one combined operations training unit, one radar counter measures unit and one wireless intelligence unit.

The Anson remained in use as a light transport and communications aircraft until 1968. Its last official mission was a flypast by aircraft of the Southern Communications Squadron on 28 June 1968.

Mk I

The Avro Anson Mk I was the most numerous version of the aircraft. A total of 6,742 were produced, 3,935 at Woodford and the rest at Yeadon. The Mk I was powered by two Armstrong Siddeley IX radial engines. It carried two machine guns – one fixed forward firing Vickers gun in the nose and one Lewis gun in a dorsal turret. It could carry two 100lb bombs under the wing centre section and eight 20lb bombs under the wings.

Mk II

The Anson Mk II was the first type to be produced entirely in Canada. It was powered by the Jacobs L-6MB engine and featured hydraulically operated flaps and landing gear. Most of the fuselage was the same as in the Mk I, other than the nose, which was made of moulded plywood. The first of 1,832 Mk IIs flew on 21 August 1941.

Mk III

The Mk III and Mk IV both appeared before the Mk II. They were produced for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, combining fuselages produced in Britain with engines installed in Canada. The Mk III was powered by the Jacobs L-6MB engine.

Mk IV

The Mk IV combined British-made fuselages with two Wright Whirlwind R-975-E3 engines. A total of 223 Mk IIIs and Mk IVs were built before production moved to the all-Canadian Mk II.

Mk V

The Mk V was a further development of the Canadian Mk II. This time the entire fuselage was produced from moulded fuselage. The square windows of the earlier models were replaced by circular portholes. The Mk V was powered by two 450hp Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-12B engines. The Mk V could accommodate five trainees, compared to three in the earlier models. 1,050 Mk Vs were produced.

Mk VII, Mk VIII, Mk IX

Not produced

Mk X

The Mk X was a transport version of the Anson, produced in Britain. It was given a reinforced cabin floor. Unlike the Canadian produced models it retained the manually operated landing gear of the Mk I. 103 Mk Xs were produced at Yeadon.

Mk XI and Mk XII

The Anson Mk XI and Anson Mk XII were the first British versions to feature hydraulically operated flaps and landing gear. They also had a raised roofline, designed to increase the headroom for passengers. The Mk XI was powered by the 395hp Cheetah XIX engine while the Mk XII used the 420hp Cheetah XV. 91 Mk XIs and 254 Mk XIIs were produced, beginning in 1944. Late production Mk XIIs were given an all-metal wing under the designation Mk XII Series 2.

Mk XIII, Mk XIV, Mk XV and Mk XVI

Not produced

Mk XVII

Not designated

Mk 18

The Anson Mk 18 was a version of the C.19 ordered for the Royal Afghan Air Force, equipped for police duty. Twenty five Mk 18s were built, 12 for Afghanistan and the rest for India.

Mk C.19

As the end of the war came close the Brabazon Committee was established to examine help convert the British aircraft industry to civil production. The Anson C.19 was first developed early in 1945 to match the Bradazon Committee’s Specification 19, and saw civil service as the Avro 19. It was based on the Mk XI, but with five oval windows on each side of the fuselage and a properly furnished interior rather than the bare military finish of the wartime transports. The Avro 19 then entered RAF service as the Anson Mk C.19. Between 1945 and 1946 264 C.19s were produced, 20 by converting Mk XIIs and the rest as new production.

T.20

The T.20 was a post war development of the Anson, built as a training aircraft for Southern Rhodesia. Fifty nine were built, starting in 1947.

T.21

The T.21 was a navigation trainer produced for Flying Training Command. 252 were produced between 1948 and 1952 and a T.21 was the last Anson to be completed.

T.22

The final variant of the Anson was the T.22 radio trainer. Fifty-four examples of this model were built, starting in 1948.

Specification (Mk I)
Engine: Two Armstrong Siddeley IX radial engines
Horsepower: 350hp each
Span: 56ft 5in
Length: 42ft 3in
Max Speed: 188mph at 7,000ft
Cruising Speed: 158mph
Ceiling: 19,000ft
Range: 790 miles
Radius of action: 330 miles
Armament: One 0.303in fixed forward firing machine gun, one 0.303in gun in dorsal turret
Bomb load: 360lb

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (24 November 2007), Avro Anson, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_avro_anson.html

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