Operational History

45 Squadron, based at RAF Station Tengah in Singapore, was the first unit to convert to the Brigand. The first Brigand was flown from RAF St. Athan to Singapore in November 1949, a trip that took 16 days to complete. After initial acceptance test flights were completed, this single Brigand commenced combat operations in support of British forces fighting against the Communist Guerrillas insurgents in Malaya. On December 19, 1949 the Brigand was flown on its first combat mission by Flight Lieutenant Dalton Golding along with radio/radar operator Peter Weston and were joined by four Beaufighters of No. 45 Squadron. The mission was to strike at targets in the jungle near Kluang, Malaya. The mission was successful and soon 45 Squadron completed the transition to the Brigand as more aircraft became available.

After the transition, Brigands of 45 Squadron were routinely involved in strikes against Communist insurgent targets around Malaya, eventually being joined by 84 Squadron. These missions involved direct strikes as well as close support missions for ground forces. The Brigands also provided air cover for convoys facing the possibility of ambush.

Bristol Brigand

It wasn't long before problems with the Brigand began to appear. One of the first problems involved the main undercarriage failing to lower. This problem was discovered to be caused by a failure of the rubber seals in the hydraulic jacks of the landing gear. The rubber seals gradually degraded due to exposure to the hot and humid environment in Malaya, an environment that the seals was not necessarily designed for. This problem was soon resolved but was by no means the only problem experienced, or even the most serious one. The losses of several aircraft during strafing runs and several more being damage led to the discovery of a deadly problem. The long cannon blast tubes that ran beneath the cockpit seemed to have the tendency of trapping propellant gases when the four cannons were fired. This gas would occasionally ignite when the aircraft used high explosive rounds, the resulting explosion would damage hydraulic lines and fire would severly damage the aircraft or cause it to crash . The solution for this was to limit the ammunition load and restrict the cannons to using only solid rounds.

Another inconvenient problem was the failure of the propeller assembly causing one propeller blade to depart the aircraft. This would quickly lead to complete propeller failure and the resulting unbalanced engine would inevitably tear itself off the wing, often leading to the aircraft crashing. The environment was again the culprit, this time the humidity lead to corrosion of the propeller locking rings. A revision to the maintenance program helped to alleviate this issue.

Bristol Brigand

At one point, the commanders of the units that operated the type began to have doubts over the wisdom of continueing operations. Eventually it was decided that the Brigand would remain in service as long as strict maintenance would be carried out, minimizing the threat of failure.

Unfortunately, an additional issue presented itself. The Brigands air brakes, used to slow the aircraft during a dive, were actuated by leather bellows. Once again the environment reared its relentless head and degrading the leather of the bellows. This would cause the air brakes to fail during deployment, leading to wing failure due to excessive airspeed, either in the dive or when the aircraft pulled out. The solution to this problem was to wire the air brakes shut, though this degraded the Brigand's performance when dive bombing.

In January 1952, No. 45 Squadron gave up it's Brigands and transitioned to de Havilland Hornets leaving 84 Squadron as the sole operator in the region. In February 1953, 84 Squadron disbanded, ending the squadron use of the Brigand in the region. The remaining Brigands were grounded soon thereafter and withdrawn from service. The Brigand was also used by No 8 squadron over Aden from 1950-1952.

When things went as they were designed to do the Brigand was a good aircraft and the pilots that flew the type considered it a pleasant aircraft to fly.

Gunston, Bill - The Encyclodepia of the Worlds Combat aircraft, 1976, Chartwell Books, Inc., New York
Green, William - War Planes Of The Second World War - Fighters - Vol. 2, 1961, Hanover House, NY