GUN TURRET FN.4A
Image: MARK J. CAIRNS
History of the FN.4A Gun Turret
This Nash & Thompson FN.4A gun turret would have been at the rear end of an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley A.W.38 Heavy Bomber and also the Shorts Stirling bomber, hence the term 'Tail End Charlie'.
You would have had to be no more than 5' 3'' to get into it. The gunner would have been frozen stiff after hours of flying even with layers of clothing and leathers. He would have been the first to be attacked (and probably killed) by enemy fighters.
The noise from the guns would have been deafening. He would have been blinded by his own guns' tracer fire.
This FN.4A gun turret lay in Seaford Scrap Metals' yard in 1994 rotting away. Luckily the yard's proprietor Lawrence Killen had recognised its historic worth, and after the turret had been viewed and identified by Society members, it was moved to join the collection, then at Langford Lodge.
It was then restored over a number of years by UAS member John Blair at his home.
Nothing is known about the UAS turret's actual history, but it is believed to have been recovered during the 1950s from RAF Bishopscourt where it may have been used for instructional purposes during the Second World War by No.12 Air Gunners’ School.
History of the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley A.W.38 Heavy Bomber
The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley A.W.38 entered service with the RAF in 1937. When war was declared in 1939, Bomber Command had six Whitley squadrons, with the Mark III being the standard version in service.
These were soon to be replaced by the first Merlin-powered version the Mark IV, and then the definitive Mark V. The Whitleys' first operations of the war ironically were not to drop bombs, but propaganda leaflets, and these duties continued well into 1940. The first bombing raids on Germany were made in May 1940 with the first raid on Berlin in August.
Because of its better range, Whitleys were used on some of the longest-range sorties in the early war. Whitleys first appeared in Northern Ireland in November 1938, when No 51 Squadron came to RAF Aldergrove from Linton-on-Ouse for a short stay to use the facilities of No 2 Armament Training Station. It was March 1940 before more of the type appeared when four were taken into the temporary care of No 23 Maintenance Unit at Aldergrove.
They were the first batch of a large total handled by No 23 MU between that date and the latter half of 1943. On 3rd September 1940, three Whitleys of No 102 Squadron, Bomber Command arrived at Aldergrove, the first of a small detachment which operated in conjunction with the Ansons of No 502 Squadron in Coastal Command until recalled to Prestwick on 8th October.
One of the Whitleys concerned was captained by Pilot Officer GL Cheshire of later 'Pathfinders' fame. No 502 Squadron began to re-equip with Whitleys in September 1940 and by the time the squadron moved its base to RAF Limavady in January 1941 it was fully equipped with the type.
By mid-1942, Whitleys were also to be seen occasionally at RAF Stations Long Kesh and Nutts Corner, in their role as tugs for the Glider Ferry Service which operated between Netheravon and Northern Ireland to provide training for men of the Airborne Division.
Other centres of Whitley activity were Sydenham, where records indicate that some were processed by the Civil Repair Organisation at Short & Harland during the period 1940-44, and at RAF Ballykelly where a few were on strength with the Coastal Command Development Unit which was based there from December 1941 until June 1942.