De Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide, The civilian biplane that turned into a heavy bomber

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Introduction

The De Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide was a civilian biplane passenger aircraft developed by the British De Havilland company during the 1930’s. While the initial use of this aircraft was anything but military, after the acquisition of the aircraft By the company Aviron in 1947 - a pre-Israeli aviation company based in Mandatory Palestine, and became one of the first aircraft variants in the Israeli Air Force during it’s formation in May of 1948. During the 1948 war the aircraft were used as transport aircraft, flying ambulances and makeshift bombers and some of them were eventually fitted with conventional bomb racks near the later stages of the war turning them into proper bomber aircraft.

135560448_Screenshot2023-03-04231523.jpg - One of the first Israeli Dragon Rapides, purchased and operated by the Aviron company in 1947.

Acquisition

The Dragon Rapides of the Israeli Air Force were acquired in several different ways resulting in the total acquisition of 7 airframes that ended up taking part in the 1948 Arab Israeli war. The first Dragon Rapide acquired by the Israeli Air Force was VQ-PAR which was initially acquired by the Israeli-run company “Aviron” in March of 1947. The aircraft was assimilated into the infant Israeli Air Force in early 1948. The second Rapide to arrive was G-AKOI which was acquired by Israeli agents in South Africa and arrived in Israel in May 1948. 3 of the Rapides were acquired by the agent Emanuel Zur (the same man responsible for the acquisition of the Israeli Beaufighters) during his mission in the UK which arrived in May of 1948. Finally 2 more Dragon Rapides were acquired once again by Emanuel Zur later and have arrived in mid September of 1948.

The first 6 Rapides that joined the Air Force were marked with the serials S-71 through S-76, the S being the Hebrew letter “ס” which stood for “Siyua” meaning “Support”. By the time the 7th Rapide had arrived the serial numbering in the Air Force was changed and the Rapides received the designations 1301 through 1307.

1197446529_Rapidewithracks.jpg.bed6e5f1f - Dragon Rapide 1302 during operation Horev in the 1948 war being tested with 6 conventional British bomb racks.

Service during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war

The Dragon Rapides in the Israeli Air Force served in various roles including transportation, flying ambulance, and most importantly for this suggestion - bombers. The Dragon Rapides serialized as S-71 through S-75 (later 1301 through 1305) were, according to documentation, used as bombers in some capacity. Initially the Rapides were used as “chuck bombers”, meaning they were used to drop small bombs (usually 20kg bombs of crude domestic design) by hand from the aircraft doors and windows. One the most infamous operations that saw Israeli Dragon Rapides used as chuck bombers was the bombing of the Jordanian capital Amman on the 1st of June 1948 which I have previously detailed in my suggestion for Boris Senior’s Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza. Some Dragon Rapides were also used to defend Tel Aviv from Egyptian naval forces in June of 1948.

During the late stages of the war, namely operation Horev in December of 1948, the Dragon Rapides began to be tested with conventional bomb racks in order to increase their effectiveness as bombers. These were 6 British Universal bomb carriers designated originally for 250 lbs G.P bombs positioned such that 4 racks were under the fuselage and 1 was under each wing. The Israeli Air Force did not have access to British G.P bombs, and sources claim they used 100kg bombs of some kind though there’s unfortunately no photos confirming the specific type. Of the Dragon Rapides only 1302 is confirmed with photographic proof to have undergone this modification but it has also been suggested in sources that 1301 had also received bomb racks. None of the Dragon Rapides had a bomb sight and so they had to drop their bombs based on guesswork which greatly hindered their effectiveness in the war as bombers.

The Dragon Rapides continued to be used throughout the rest of the war and those that survived it remained in service well into the 50’s being withdrawn from service in 1957.

1551663446_Screenshot2023-03-04225557.jp - A pair of Israeli Air Force Dragon Rapides flying over a road initiation ceremony.

Potential in War Thunder

The De Havilland Dragon Rapide in it’s modified form with the bomb racks could be used as an introductory bomber to the Israeli aviation tree. Overall it has performance and loadout capabilities mostly similar to the British Swordfish Mk.1, with the main disadvantages being the lack of a bomb sight and any machinegun armaments. Despite this, thanks to a slightly higher top speed, this aircraft could perhaps remain relevant especially as a CAS platform thanks to it’s relatively high bomb load for it’s likely placement at BR 1.0. It is also worth mentioning that this holds a special place as perhaps the only biplane aircraft that could potentially be added to the Israeli tech tree which would make it a very unique airframe for the tree.

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Specifications

Type: Light transport / liason aircraft converted to a bomber

Country of origin: UK

Wing span: 14.63 meters

Length: 10.52 meters

Height: 3.12 meters

Powerplants: Two De Havilland Gypsy-2 engines rated at 200hp each

Max speed: 240 km/h

Max altitude: 4,900 meters

Range: 830 km

Weight: Empty - 1,456 kg, Fully loaded - 2,700 kg

Armaments: 6x100 kg bombs of an unknown type (likely American bombs considering the carriage of bombs on conventional racks was adapted late in the 1948 war) carried on 2 underwing bomb racks and 4 under-fuselage bomb racks.

Additional media

The following video has a scene showing Israeli Dragon Rapides starting in the timestamp 1:01. At 1:05 you can see Dragon Rapide ס-72 (later renamed 1302) with the bomb racks equipped:

Sources

Spoiler

https://www.amazon.com/-/he/William-Norton/dp/1857800885/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1QU28OSUDE0OQ&keywords=air+war+on+the+edge&qid=1677968599&sprefix=air+war+on+%2Caps%2C270&sr=8-1
חיל האויר בקרב - 70 שנות עליונות אוירית 1948-2018 - Page 46
The Israeli Air Force
מטוסי חיל האויר מהטייגר מות' עד הסופה
https://www.amazon.com/Israeli-Air-Force-Operations-1948/dp/191029411X

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