Vickers Vildebeest

The Vickers Vildebeest and the similar Vickers Vincent were two very large 2- to 3-seat single-engined British biplanes designed and built by Vickers and used as a light bomber, torpedo bomber and in the army cooperation roles. While first flown in 1928, it remained in service at the start of the Second World War, with the last Vildebeests flying against Japanese forces over Singapore and Java in 1942. 

Vickers Vildebeest
Class Aircraft
Type Bomber
Manufacturer Vickers Limited
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1928
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Iraq View
Spain View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1933 1942 View
New Zealand View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Vickers Limited 406 View

The type was purchased in moderately large numbers by the Royal Air Force from 1931 and used as a torpedo bomber. It entered service with No. 100 Squadron in 1932. Trials were conducted in India with a Vildebeest in the Army co-operation role leading to the 'development' of the Vincent, by deleting the torpedo equipment and adding provision for a drop tank instead. 101 Vildebeest and Vincents remained in service at the outbreak of World War II, serving in Aden, Iraq, Sudan and Egypt. British machines in Singapore saw action against the Japanese invasion fleet off Malaya in December 1941. Operational use ended in 1942. 

Spain and New Zealand also operated the Vildebeest. 

United Kingdom

The Vildebeest was purchased in moderately large numbers by the Royal Air Force from 1931 and used as a torpedo bomber. It entered service with No. 100 Squadron at RAF Donibristle in Scotland in October 1932, replacing the Hawker Horsley. Four frontline torpedo-bomber squadrons were equipped with the Vildebeest, two at Singapore (100 Squadron, which moved from the United Kingdom in 1933 and 36 Squadron, which replaced its Horsleys in 1935), and two more in the United Kingdom.

The Vincent entered service with No. 84 Squadron RAF at Shaibah, Iraq in December 1934, re-equipping General Purpose squadrons throughout the Middle East and Africa. By 1937, it equipped six squadrons in Iraq, Aden, Kenya, Sudan, and Egypt.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, 101 Vildebeests were still in service with the RAF. The two British-based squadrons flew coastal patrol and convoy escort missions until 1940 when their Vildebeests were replaced by the Bristol Beaufort. The two Singapore-based squadrons were still waiting for their Beauforts when Japan invaded Malaya in December 1941 and the obsolete biplanes had to be deployed against the Japanese attackers, making an abortive torpedo attack on a Japanese cruiser off Kota Bharu on 8 December.

The Vildebeests continued to attack the Japanese as their forces advanced down Malaya, sustaining heavy losses from Japanese fighters, particularly when no fighter cover could be provided. On 26 January 1942, the Japanese landed at Endau, 250 miles from Singapore, and 12 Vildebeests of 100 and 36 Squadrons were sent to attack the landings. Despite an escort of Brewster Buffalo and Hawker Hurricane fighters, five Vildebeests were lost. The attack was repeated later that day by eight Vildebeests of 36 Squadron and three Fairey Albacores, resulting in six more Vildebeests and two Albacores being shot down. The surviving Vildebeests were withdrawn to Java on 31 January and attacked another Japanese landing force off Rembang, claiming eight ships sunk but sustaining further losses. The final two Vildebeests of 36 Squadron attempted to escape to Burma on 6 March but were lost over Sumatra. The last Vildebeests in RAF service, operated by 273 Squadron at Ceylon were retired in March 1942.

While the Vincent had started to be replaced by more modern aircraft such as the Vickers Wellesley and Bristol Blenheim bombers, 84 remained in service with the RAF on the outbreak of the Second World War. Vincents were used for bombing missions against Italian forces in the East African Campaign and for coastal patrols from Aden, one attacking the Italian submarine Galileo Galilei. Other Vincents bombed Iraqi forces during the Anglo-Iraqi War of 1941. The last frontline Vincents retired in January 1943, with the type continuing in second line service (which included pesticide spraying against locusts in Iran) until 1944.


The Vildebeest was ordered by the Spanish Republic in 1932 and licence production of 25 Vildebeest for the Spanish Republican Navy was undertaken in Spain by CASA most receiving the Hispano-Suiza HS 600 inline engine, though some other engines were also used. Around 20 survived to fight with the Spanish Republican Air Force on the loyalist side of the Spanish Civil War, some equipped with floats.

A Vildebeest was the first victim of Francoist ace Joaquin Garcia-Morato.

New Zealand

12 Vildebeests were purchased by the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1935 for coastal defence, with a further 27 acquired from RAF stocks in 1940-41. In addition, 60 or 62 of these machines, (depending on source), were passed on to the RNZAF.

New Zealand Vildebeests were also used for photo mapping. A few were used for maritime patrols against German surface raiders, and Japanese submarines, (a handful were based in Fiji in December 1941), but the main wartime role of the New Zealand aircraft was as particularly unwieldy pilot trainers, until replaced by North American Harvards in 1942.

Role Torpedo Bomber / Army Co-operation
Manufacturer Vickers
First flight 1928
Introduction 1933
Retired 1942
Primary users Royal Air Force
Royal New Zealand Air Force
Number built 209 (Vildebeest)
197 (Vincent)

General characteristics

  • Crew: three, pilot, navigator, and observer
  • Length: 36 ft 8 in (11.18 m)
  • Wingspan: 49 ft 0 in (14.94 m)
  • Height: 14 ft 8 in (4.47 m)
  • Wing area: 728 ft (68 m)
  • Empty weight: 4,773 lb (2,165 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 8,500 lb (3,856 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: lb (kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 x Bristol Pegasus II-M3 radial, 635 hp (474 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 143 mph (230 km/h)
  • Range: 630 mi (1,014 km)
  • Service ceiling 17,000 ft (5,182 m)
  • Rate of climb: 630 ft/min (3.2 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 12 lb/ft (57 kg/m)
  • Power/mass: 0.07 hp/lb (0.12 kW/kg)


  • 1 x fixed, forward-firing .303 Vickers machine gun
  • 1 x flexible, rearward-firing .303 Lewis machine gun
  • 1,000 lb (454 kg) of bombs or
  • 1 x 18 in (457 mm) torpedo

End notes