- Yes, as a tech tree vehicle
- Yes, as a premium vehicle
- Yes, as an event vehicle
- Yes, as a squadron vehicle
- No, I do not want to see the Canberra B(I).12 in game.
The successful English Electric Canberra has made its name with air forces around the world over the many years of its service life. Even now, in terms of its overall life, the Canberra has only recently been retired in the mid-2000’s by the RAF. One user of the Canberra was the South African Air Force who, despite initial plans, ended up using their small fleet of Canberras for over 20 years. Over this period they received some upgrades to deal with the changing environment they found themselves in, making them an interesting spin on English Electric’s runaway success.
TL;DR: Classic British high altitude medium bomber with unguided rockets/bombs which also excels in the low-level strike role.
- New cockpit arrangement for improved low-level visibility in simulator mode
- Compatibility with American low-drag G.P. bombs, French G.P. bombs or traditional British G.P. bombs
- Optional 20mm Hispano gun pack at the cost of less bomb load
- Very effective bomb sight for pinpoint CAS in ground battles
- Good turning capability
- ECM suite including chaff/flare dispenser and RWR
- Decent low level top speed, but will struggle to outrun fighters
- No ballistic computer
1. The Genesis of the Interdictor
The Canberra is generally recognized for its incredible high altitude performance. Upon its introduction in 1951, the Canberra was the highest flying plane in the world and would remain so for several years, as its large wings and powerful Rolls-Royce Avon engines allowed it to reach heights of over 70,000 feet. However, like many other bombers, the Canberra felt the shadow of advancing air defenses creep over it. In 1957, the same year that the Canberra set its staggering altitude record, the Soviet Union introduced the high-flying S-75 surface to air missile, which could handily reach the Canberra even when it would be safe from interceptors of the era at its service ceiling of 48,000 feet. This was demonstrated when the even higher-flying U-2 spy plane was downed by S-75 missiles in 1960.
This RAF Canberra, VX185, was the first full B(I) conversion and was converted from B.5 standard (of which it was the sole aircraft) to B(I).8 standard. Compared to the B(I).6 in game, it has a new cockpit arrangement and different bomb aiming window.
As the V-bombers comprised the majority of the RAF’s nuclear strike force, the Canberra was needed as a tactical bomber. Rather than toss the Canberra fleet in the face of new air defense dangers, the plane was adapted for low-altitude missions and strike roles as an “interdictor” aircraft. The Canberra was given an offset “fighter-style” cockpit for better low-altitude visibility and the navigator was moved down into the hull in front of the pilot - both characteristics shared by de Havilland’s Sea Vixen. In addition, the bombardier’s window was adjusted, with the bomb aiming sight no longer being offset and instead centered in the nose. Despite its design being meant for high altitude, the Canberra’s traditional straight wing and its gargantuan area allowed it to maneuver well at low altitudes. The “interdictor” concept would be extended into the RAF’s future, with the TSR.2 and Tornado filling a similar role.
This photo of a B(I).8 (probably VX185 again) shows the laden bomb pylons that should be familiar to B(I).6 pilots in game. It also has wingtip fuel tanks for additional range, which could be fitted to all Canberras.
For their new mission, the interdictor Canberras would need some new weapons. The biggest (literally) was the enormous 20mm gun pack shared with the B(I).6. This was actually detachable for both the B(I).6 and subsequent interdictors, as while the massive 2,000 round capacity of the gun pack allowed for strikes against softer targets, it was not always required depending on the mission. Because the gun pack took up most of the Canberra’s bomb bay, a pylon was added to each wing to allow for carriage of additional bombs externally. These pylons could reportedly be used for unguided rockets as well, and starting in the late 50’s they were used to carry practice bombs to be used with the L.A.B.S. (Low Altitude Bombing System) which allowed for computer-controlled toss bombing in low-level nuclear attacks.
2. Enter South Africa
In 1960, South Africa identified a strategic requirement for bomber/strike aircraft. They wanted to be able to deliver weapons at long ranges against potential adversaries on the continent (nuclear capability wasn’t part of the equation yet) and were shopping around for modern jet planes. As seemed to be the standard for the SAAF, the budget was limited and the options had to be considered carefully. They ended up looking into the Dassault Mirage IV, Blackburn Buccaneer, English Electric Canberra and Handley-Page Victor. The Canberra was initially discarded for being too old and the Buccaneer for being “too new”. This was a pretty weird reason considering the Mirage IV was even newer, but it was probably shortlisted because the SAAF planned to acquire Mirage IIIs - in any case, the Mirage IV was viewed as too expensive. While the Victor offered impressive performance, it was more of a strategic bomber whereas the SAAF wanted greater strike capability. This would later prove to be a wise decision.
This unpainted B(I).12 is flying in SAAF livery soon after its acquisition. Despite being viewed as “aged”, the Canberra still had many years ahead of it in service around the world.
In the end, the SAAF decided to acquire the Canberra as an interim measure and the Buccaneer as a permanent strike plane. The B(I).12 variant that was purchased was effectively the same as the B(I).8, though it did include an additional fuel tank and a new navigation system. Due to its intended interim nature, only 9 Canberras were bought - six B(I).12 interdictors and three T.4 training aircraft. This was enough for one squadron, 12 Squadron SAAF, to be reformed around the Canberra, and they would remain the sole SAAF operator of the aircraft.
This SAAF Canberra has typical early weapons laid out in front of it: the four Hispano Mk.V cannons of the gunpack with associated ammo belts laid out in front of the bombs, two SNEB launchers with rockets ahead, and French/British explosive bombs would mostly be phased out over time.
However, interim very soon became permanent as the Labour government that came to power in the United Kingdom in 1963 was keen on supporting the then-voluntary arms embargo against Apartheid South Africa. Without any further access to British bomber aircraft past the original order of 16 Buccaneer S.50s and 9 Canberras, and the Mirage IV still being too expensive, the SAAF would need to make the most of what they had. Because the Buccaneer was the primary strike aircraft of the SAAF, the Canberras were pressed into photo reconnaissance duty where their high flying ability proved to be useful. They were still more than capable of standard strike missions, though, as evidenced by their successful participation in Operation Vanity during the Rhodesian Bush War, where they secretly provided assistance against a ZIRPA target in Angola.
3. New Threats
While the Canberra performed in its role, it would soon begin to face stiff opposition over Angola. With Soviet support pouring in, the defenses the SAAF had to face were rapidly improving. Besides modern Soviet jet fighters like the MiG-23, the main threat to South African aircraft was SAMs. SA-7 and SA-9 missiles were the primary threat at low level, while at high level aircraft were at risk of interception. One Canberra B(I).12, 452, was lost over Angola and believed to have been shot down in 1979. Whatever the circumstances, losses of other aircraft types such as the Impala and Mirage prompted the SAAF to begin an ECM modernization program to defend against radar and IR guided missiles.
This Canberra, 453, is seen banking here, providing a clear view of the countermeasure dispenser buried in the starboard wing. A “biscuit tin” RWR antenna is extended just in front of the bomb bay - this experimental system was not carried over to the rest of the fleet.
The exact specifics are unclear, but all five remaining SAAF B(I).12s were fitted with a new ECM suite. This included a radar warning receiver, which appears to be based on the Marconi Sky Guardian. It had one antenna on each side of the nose, one antenna on the port wing in a fairing pointing out from the leading edge, and one antenna on the rear tail cone. For protection against missiles, there was a countermeasures dispenser buried in the starboard wing. The Canberras appear to be the first SAAF planes to be refitted with countermeasures and had done so at the turn of the 80’s. Interestingly, the RAF began upgrading their Canberra PR.9s in 1982 and fitted them with the Sky Guardian RWR as found on the Buccaneer S.2. While South African inspiration is purely speculative, the PR.9 ended up with somewhat similar systems and their layout on the plane somewhat echoes the South African upgrades. Besides the new ECM, SAAF Canberras got a new radio antenna in the tail (same as the PR.9), TACAN system in front of the tail on the spine, and some antennae buried in the belly behind the bomb bay. Unfortunately, it’s not entirely clear what the last item was for.
This picture shows 15 low-drag Mk 81 bombs in the bomb bay of an SAAF Canberra B(I).12. The shift to U.S. ordnance came with the obsolescence of the SAAF’s British weapon stocks, which they had no hope of replenishing.
In terms of weaponry, the Canberra was updated as well. At some point, the gun pack gondola began being used to hold reconnaissance cameras. Gun support was handled well by the Impala Mk II, so the Canberra was most likely not used in this role very much. With dwindling stores of British and French munitions, the SAAF turned to low-drag Mk 81 and Mk 82 bombs. These, like other weapons, were smuggled into South Africa in defiance of the now-mandatory arms embargo. The Canberra could actually carry up to 21 Mk 81 bombs or 13 Mk 82 bombs. Mk 83s were probably possible, but the SAAF doesn’t appear to have acquired any until after the embargo lifted.
4. The End of an Era
All things come to an end, and the Canberra’s service life with the SAAF was no different. Despite successes in the Border War, in 1991, the Canberras, along with many other aircraft, were retired in the face of the SAAF’s rationalization efforts. This reorganizing of the air force meant that the obsolete Canberra needed to go somewhere. South Africa managed to sell six of the eight remaining Canberras in their fleet to the Peruvian Air Force: five B(I).12s and one T.4. The other two T.4s were retained in South Africa and are kept in a museum.
This ex-SAAF Canberra B(I).12, now in Peruvian livery, can be easily identified by the distinctive TACAN antenna, device behind the bomb bay, and RWR antenna on the side of the nose.
Peru was quite an enthusiastic operator of the Canberra and only retired their final aircraft in 2008. Overall, SAAF Canberras saw service for up to 45 years, with 28 of those spent in action with South Africa. While the T.4s remaining in South Africa have been somewhat taken care of, Peru’s Canberras have mostly become derelict - even the most adaptable aircraft will struggle in the face of the elements. No B(I).12s remained in South Africa after the rationalization.
English Electric Canberra B(I).12
- Span: 64 ft 0 in (19.51 m)
- Length: 65 ft 6 in (19.96 m)
- Height: 15 ft 8 in (4.77 m)
- Wing area: 960 ft² (89.19 m²)
- 22,707 lb (10,300 kg) empty
- 38,052 lb (17,260 kg) full fuel
- 57,022 lb (25,865 kg) MTOW
Propulsion: 2 x Rolls-Royce Avon Mk.109
- 7,400 lbf (3,357 kgf) thrust each
- 14,800 lbf (6,713 kgf) thrust total
Thrust/weight ratio (full fuel, static thrust): 0.39
Maximum speed: 540 mph (870 km/h)
- 4 x Hispano Mk.V 20mm cannon (500 rounds/gun, 2,000 rounds total) in a detachable gun pack
- Up to 21 x Mk 81 250 lb bomb
- Up to 13 x Mk 82 500 lb bomb
- Up to 13 x G.P. 500 lb bomb
- Up to 8 x SAMP Type 21 400 kg bomb
- Up to 8 x G.P. 1,000 lb bomb
- Up to 2 x Matra 155 rocket pod (18 rockets each, 36 total)
- Drop tanks:
- Up to 2 x 250 gallon wingtip drop tank
Crew: 3 (pilot, navigator, bombardier)
- RIMS countermeasure dispenser (chaff/flare)
- Radar warning receiver (unknown make)
- Bomb sight
Why it should be in War Thunder
The Canberra B(I).12 continues the SAAF tradition of making the most of what’s at hand. With more options for ground attack and better defenses against pesky missiles than the otherwise similar B(I).8, the B(I).12 would excel at the job it was first designed for: low level interdiction. It would be an all-around improvement to the current Canberras and I think it would be a very fun tech tree vehicle to support the 8.3/8.7 ground lineup for the British tree. Alternatively, the B(I).12 would be a fun premium/event/squadron counterpart to the RAF-operated B(I).8 in the tech tree.
- Aircraft of the South African Air Force by Herman Potgieter and Willem Steenkamp
- In the Beginning – Buccaneer S Mk50 – 24 SQN Buccaneers
- What happened to the Canberra
- Thunder & Lightnings - English Electric Canberra - Survivor 253 (ex XM273)
- Canberra - Gun Packs and Nukes
- Canberra B (I) Mk 6 - War Thunder Wiki (specifications should generally be similar with some possible slight variance in weight)
- The South African Air Force
- The Canberra Experience