The Fokker T.V; Flying “Cruiser”!

August 31, 2023

When it comes to nations that were at the forefront of military thinking in the 1930s the Dutch don’t generally get much of a mention. But in terms of air warfare concepts, they had some pretty interesting ideas which certainly caught much wider attention that you would think.

Take the Fokker G.I, for example. When this was unveiled in late 1936 it caused a sensation amongst in the aviation world.

In an era when many major air forces were still fielding aircraft with open cockpits and twin machine gun armaments – indeed some still putting new biplane designs into production – the Fokker G.I was a fast, sleek, massively armed twin-engine beast of a plane. In fact, several other countries were working on similar concepts, but Fokker were the first to go public with an aircraft.

But as with every other nation at the time, with every idea that turned out to have some merit, there were plenty that didn’t really stand up to the test when reality came calling. And that kind of sums up the aircraft we are looking at here.

The Fokker T.V.

Because though this aircraft would appear to be a fairly typical bomber of its time, it was in fact originated from a similar concept specification as the G.I – the concept of the so-called “aerial cruiser”.

In the late 1920’s and early -30’s, air warfare theorists and air force planners were trying to wrap their heads about how modern bombers were going to change warfare. The ideas of the Italian theorist Douhet – that bombers could destroy an enemy’s ability to fight by terror bombing their home cities – certainly caught a lot of attention.

The Dutch, as a neutral nation that had managed to avoid getting embroiled in the First World War, had little interest in bombers at that time as they were thought of them as offensive weapons rather than defensive ones. But they did recognise that other nations may one day use bombers against them and wanted something to counter potential enemy raids.

Obviously, radar wasn’t a thing then for providing early-warning and the contemporary fighters had limited performance, thus meaning that the time available to get interceptors to altitude was extremely limited. For a country as small as the Netherlands and with potential bomber raids likely to appear at short notice, scrambling fighters to deal with a threat would probably be far too late. So, the Dutch authorities came up an idea of building an aircraft with heavy armament and long loiter times that could patrol for extended periods and so be available to locate and engage any raiders.

To be fair, this was again a concept that had been explored before by other nations, the Supermarine Nighthawk being a great example.

But as things dragged on, the Dutch ideas on what these aircraft would do kind of morphed. The Netherlands in the first half of the 1930’s had a practically pathological aversion to spending money on military hardware. To be fair, much of this can be attributed to the dreadful condition the economy was in at the time with the Great Depression, plus the fact they didn’t really see as there being any substantial threat to them.

So, it wasn’t until 1936 that the Dutch government looked at developments in neighbouring Germany – and the fact the whole of Europe was getting increasingly precarious – and thought that it be an idea to look at the state of their air defences.

Which were a complete joke, to be honest. Their best fighter was the Fokker D.XVII, which first flew in 1931 and of which they had something like ten of.

In May 1936 money was allocated to develop new aircraft to explore the aerial cruiser idea, which would serve as both heavy fighters to destroy enemy bombers and be capable of carrying a bombload for offensive operations. The “light” design evolved as the Fokker G.I. The “heavy” version was the T.V.

By this point the Dutch military were desperate to get new aircraft into service. They had no effective interceptors for the new fast bombers that were coming into service with potential opponents and their most up-to-date bomber aircraft was the Fokker C.X, a biplane which was essentially obsolete.

But despite their obvious need for modern aircraft the procurers at the Dutch Ministry of Defence seem to have been obsessed with sorting out tiny details in the aircraft’s disposition, such as exactly what sort of payload it would carry. This led to the Chief-of-Staff of the Dutch army, General Isaac Reijnders, issuing a formal protest over the continuing delays to finalise the design, but even this didn’t move things along particularly quickly and it wasn’t until December that an order for sixteen of the new aircraft was placed, with the expectation that an order for another thirty-two would follow after, allowing three squadrons to be formed.

The T.V used the standard Fokker build method of the time, being of mixed construction.

The wing was built of wood as was the central section of the fuselage. The rear fuselage was constructed of a steel tube framework covered in fabric while the front of the aircraft was built of aluminium alloy.

Powerplant was two Bristol Pegasus radial engines which produced 915hp each and which gave the aircraft a top speed of 260mph (417km/h). Though this all put in broadly in the range of contemporary bombers, in terms of its armament the Fokker T.V was more heavily armed because of its odd secondary role as a bomber interceptor.

The T.V would be equipped with four 7.92mm machine guns which were located in dorsal, ventral and tail positions, with another being mounted in the aircraft waist and which could be switched from side to side. But in a flexible position in the nose was fitted a Solothurn 20mm anti-tank rifle.

This was a semi-automatic weapon which only had a ten-round magazine, hardly ideal for air combat and almost certainly a unique use for such a cannon. But it was extremely hard hitting and in line with the Dutch thinking that their “Aerial Cruiser” could approach enemy aircraft and shred them with accurate 20mm cannon shells.

In terms of bombload, however, things suffered from all the delays and committee meetings on what exactly the Fokker T.V was expected to deliver. This hadn’t even been finalised when the first aircraft was ordered, and this had an improvised bomb bay while discussions continued over what types of bombs would be carried by the T.V and what sort of racks should be used.

The final plan was that in its bomber role the aircraft should be able to carry a payload of four 300kg (661lbs) bombs for a maximum load of 1,200kgs (2,466lbs), which would certainly be a reasonable load for an aircraft of its type and time. But the Netherlands didn’t have any decent bomb rack manufacturers that could deliver the required mechanisms.

Plans were laid to purchase a sets of bomb racks from Germany for the first two aircraft while a Dutch equivalent was developed. But this proved beyond the capability of indigenous engineering companies, and it was eventually decided to licence build a copy of the German design.

Unfortunately, this all took so long – a repeat event in the story of both the Fokker T.V and Dutch military procurement at the time – that only the first two aircraft would get the correct bomb racks while all the others had to settle for old models that were in storage and had been built for much older aircraft. This meant that the majority of the T.V’s built only had a maximum payload capacity of 600kgs (1,233lbs), half of what was wanted.

First flight occurred in October 1937 and the Fokker T.V proved to have generally better performance than expected. But as more of the aircraft began to enter service numerous issues began to be identified, providing more examples of how the military procurers obsession with details overlooked some critical factors that would have been a better usage of their time.

For starters, having recognised that they wanted a twin-engine and five man crew configuration, two of them being pilot and copilot, as the T.V’s came into service it became apparent that the Dutch Air Force didn’t enough trained flight crews for aircraft of this type. A rapid deal had to be done with the national airline, KLM, to create a crash course with experienced crew and suitable aircraft to cope with this.

The T.V also had problems with its hydraulic system, which ultimately needed to be completely replaced in the completed aircraft, and the Pegasus engines burnt off far more oil than anticipated during flight which limited the aircraft’s endurance and wasn’t great as that had been a key requirement after all.

In 1938 the follow up order was cancelled, and Fokker contented itself to gradually completing the outstanding contract and to begin development of a new aircraft, the T.IX. So it was that when the war that the Netherlands had hoped to avoid by staying neutral crashed across their borders on 10 May 1940, the Dutch Air Force had on hand a total of nine Fokker T.V’s available for combat.

As the Netherlands most modern and capable attack aircraft they were thrown into heavy fighting immediately. And somewhat intriguingly, their first action was in their role as aerial cruisers.

The majority of the Fokker T.V’s were airborne when the German attack began, and so avoided being destroyed on the ground in the initial strikes. And they had been sent up without bombs and with orders to engage the German fleets of bombers and paratrooper transports that were swarming over the Netherlands. These first actions saw the T.V’s engage a number enemy aircraft and they were officially credited with achieving two kills.

But the rest of that first day would take a heavy toll. The T.Vs were committed to ground attacks to attempt to stem the German invasion. By the end the end of that first day seven of the nine available Fokker T.V’s had been lost.

Like many contemporary designs the T.V didn’t have self-sealing tanks and, combined with its partially wooden construction, displayed an alarming propensity to burn when hit, especially by heavy hitting cannon such as used on the Bf-110

The remaining two fought on and the next day launched strikes on the bridges that the Germans had managed to capture in Rotterdam. They were bounced by Messerschmidt Bf 110s who shot down one of the T.V’s, though at the cost of one of their own to the aircraft’s tail gunner.

With only one T.V remaining the decision was made that it would have to be reserved for the most critical mission possible, which with the Dutch military rapidly being overwhelmed despite some fierce resistance, was to occur on the 13th.

The German advance had linked up with their paratrooper elements who had seized the Hollands Diep bridges and it was decided that this needed to be destroyed to slow them down. The final T.V was loaded with two 300kg bombs and in order to improve the chances of success with the important mission the pilot elected to make two runs on the target. The first bomb splashed harmlessly into the water, but the second did manage to hit the bridge, though unfortunately it didn’t explode.

If this wasn’t bad enough the aircraft then run into enemy fighters on its trip home and it too was shot down with the loss of the whole crew.

Ironically, the next day an event occurred that the potential combating of had inspired the initial construction of the Fokker T.V in the first place – the Blitz of Rotterdam. Almost one hundred bombers were dispatched to attack the city to force its surrender, a terror bombing that seemed to bear out the predictions of Douhet and for which the T.V original specification as a heavily armed aerial cruiser had been drawn up.

But there were now no more of the aircraft to meet the challenge, and the bombardment of Rotterdam swiftly led to the capitulation of the city and then the Netherlands.

The remaining Fokker T.V’s under construction fell into German hands, though there doesn’t seem to be any records of what-if-any use they were put to, and the type vanished into obscurity.

And that is the Fokker T.V; an interesting though likely flawed concept which created what had the makings for a capable bomber, unfortunately beset by muddled thinking and the general malaise that afflicted Dutch defence planning and spending throughout the interwar period.

 

Sources/Related:

http://www.waroverholland.nl/index.php?page=fokker-t-v-bomber-t-5

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fokker_T.V

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