Handley Page Halifax

The Halifax was the second of the four-engined heavy bombers to enter service with the Royal Air Force. The huge Stirling was already flying operations but the prototype Lancaster had yet to fly in November 1940 when #35 squadron began operations with what became affectionately known as the “Halibag.”

As the war progressed, the Halifax became overshadowed by the Lancaster which appeared capable of carrying ever-increasing bomb loads without serious degradation of its performance and handling capabilities. The Halifax, however, operated successfully in Bomber Command operations until the end of the war and was clearly superior to the Lanc in its multi-role capability.

The Halifax first flew in October, 1939 and entered operations thirteen months later. It quickly became apparent that the aircraft’s defensive armament was inadequate for daylight use and by the end of 1941 Halifaxes were used only by night in the bombing role. A significant design modification was made after some inexplicable losses of fully loaded aircraft had shown that it was possible for the Halifax to enter an inverted and uncontrollable spin. This problem was solved by replacing the triangular fins by larger units of rectangular shape. Despite this problem, the Halifax was a sturdy and reliable aircraft and was generally well liked by its crews, very few of whom expressed any desire to swap their aircraft for the “superior” Lancaster

At the peak of its service with Bomber Command some thirty-four squadrons operated the aircraft in Europe and four more in the Middle East. The Halifax was also operated by nine squadrons of the RAF’s Coastal Command for anti-submarine, meteorological, and shipping patrols. RAF Transport Command used the aircraft as casualty, freight, and personnel transports. As well, two “special duty” squadrons which had the task of dropping special agents and supplies into enemy territory flew Halifaxes.

Another vital use of the Halifax was made by the Airborne Forces. The Hali was the only aircraft capable of towing the large Hamilcar glider and Halis towed these and other glider types at the invasion of Sicily and Normandy as well as at Arnhem and the final crossing of the Rhine.

A total of 6176 Halilfaxes were built and a few remained in service with the Royal Air Force until 1947.

Canadians and the Halifax Bomber


All of the heavy bomber squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force were equipped with the Halifax for at least part of the war. The squadrons suffered grievous losses flying the Merlin-powered Mk II’s, but later models that incorporated an improved vertical stabilizer design and Bristol Hercules 14 cylinder radial engines made for a more powerful and stable aircraft and it became well respected amongst Canadian aircrew. As Lancaster production increased, in particular the of the Lancaster Mk X’s being manufactured in Canada, many of the Canadian squadrons were converted to Lancasters.

3675 RCAF airmen lost their lives flying in Halifaxes, more than any other aircraft type in Bomber Command. 3349 were lost in Lancasters and 2586 in Wellingtons.

Sadly, not a single example of the aircraft was placed in a museum following the war. However, in 1996 a Canadian group (Halifax57 Rescue) successfully raised Halifax NA-337 from 750 feet below the surface of Lake Mjosa in Norway. It has been restored and is on display at the RCAF Memorial Museum at Trenton, Ontario. Our museum is working with Halifax57 Rescue to recover an RCAF Halifax from the Baltic Sea off of Sweden, parts of which will be used to build a Halifax for the Bomber Command Museum of Canada.

Halifax Specifications


Loaded Weight:
Empty Weight:
Maximum speed:
four Rolls Royce V-12’s or Bristol Hercules radials
104 feet, 2 inches (31.72m)
71 feet, 7 inches (21.81m)
20 feet, 9 inches (6.32m)
68 000 pounds (30845kg)
39 000 pounds (17690kg)
312 miles per hour (502 km/h)