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Sir Barnes Wallis

1887 - 1979

Sir Barnes Wallis
Sir Barnes Wallis

Barnes Neville Wallis was born in Ripley Derbyshire England in 1887 and educated at Christ's Hospital School in London. He left school in 1904 with no qualifications but went to train as a marine engineer at an engineering company on the Isle of Wight. After several periods of unemployment, Wallis went to work for Vickers as Chief Assistant of Airship Design in 1913. The R.9, R.23 and R.26 airships were all in service by the end of World War I in which he briefly served as a private. He designed the R.80 airship in 1924, this was said to be the best of its day. He later designed the R.100 which used his revolutionary geodetic design principle. This saved weight and allowed the R.100 to be larger than any other airship. In 1930, the R.100 made a successful maiden voyage to Canada. The R.100 built by Vickers was a technical success and may have revolutionised air transport. Unfortunately, the Government produced a rival airship to the R.100 which was ill designed and constructed too quickly in an attempt to catch up. Too many corners were cut and tragically on its maiden voyage the airship crashed in France and killed 48 crew. This incident represented a huge loss in national pride and confidence in airships. The R.100 was tarred with the same brush and the entire airship industry was scrapped in favour of the aeroplane industry which had made massive advancements.

R100 Airship
R100 Airship
Geodetic Design
Geodetic Design

Wallis continued at Vickers but moved to aeroplane design becoming Chief Structures Designer. Wallis used his geodetic design principle from airships in aeroplane design. This type of construction could withstand greater stresses than conventional airframe designs and also greater damage as later air combat proved. Although the geodetic design seemed more complex, semi-skilled workers in wartime were able to produce the lattice airframes at an incredible rate.
The first aeroplane Wallis designed which used the geodetic construction was the Wellesley in 1935. This was later redesigned and became the famous Wellington bomber in 1936 as the prospect of war loomed. Use of the geodetic construction was met with fierce opposition by many high powers who favoured a more conventional design approach. Both the Wellesley and Wellington proved the advantage of the geodetic construction. The Wellington bomber was able to carry double the bomb load twice the distance than was agreed on the original contract specification. Vickers manufactured 11,460 Wellington bombers - more than any other British bomber in history. The Wellesley also set a non-stop distance record in 1938 of 7,158 miles.

Vickers Wellington Bomber
Vickers Wellington Bomber
Vickers Wellesley Bomber
Vickers Wellesley Bomber

When war broke out in 1939, Wallis turned his attention to what he could do for Britain and how to defeat the axis powers more quickly. Both Vickers and the air ministry were anxious that Wallis continue his work on aeroplane development. However he spent much of his spare time pursuing ideas which lead to Upkeep and later Tallboy and Grandslam.

More information about Upkeep can be found at Upkeep and Developing Upkeep

After the Dambusters raid, Wallis turned his attention to larger bombs which used his earthquake principle. Tallboy was a 12,000lb bomb which was dropped from 20,000 feet. It was developed by Wallis in 1944 and used to bomb V1 rocket launch sites, E-boat pens and sink the Tirpitz battleship. Later in 1945 the ten-ton Grandslam bomb followed.

Tallboy Bomb
Tallboy Bomb
Grandslam Bomb
Grandslam Bomb

After the war he led aeronautical research and development at the British Aircraft Corporation until 1971. Unfortunately due to financial limitations and political 'red tape' his obvious genius on later projects was never allowed to flourish. Wallis was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1954 and knighted in 1968.

Wallis died on 30th October 1979.

Sir Barnes Neville Wallis was one of Britain's best engineers and inventors. An incredible man who certainly did much to help shorten and win World War II.

Barnes Wallis
Barnes Wallis


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