Aviation History Blog - Armstrong Whitworth FK 3 and FK 8 in South America


Armstrong Whitworth FK 3 and FK 8 in South America

The signing of the Armistice in November 1918 ended a period of monumental growth in the war-goods manufacturing industries. Nowhere was this growth more marked than in aircraft-building. All over the country, shop-fitters, furniture-industries, piano-makers and shipbuilders had been geared up to turning out aircraft. Britain had begun the war with primitive aeroplanes and ended it with vast numbers of perfected fighting machines all built using taxpayer’s money. Now this vast programme had to be halted, a process that was far from straightforward. After the end of World War I, aircraft manufacturer Frederick Handley Page was quick to see that if sales were doomed at home there could yet be profits to be earned overseas. If markets for the company’s products were established in far flung corners of the globe this surely would compensate for any lack of domestic profitabilíty. The idea appealed to Frederick Handley Page and lavishly-equipped missions were soon on their way to India, Burma, South Africa, Brazil, the Argentine and many other places. At the same time there followed the enormous job of disposing of all the redundant military property. The Government tried selling to the public through huge auctions, but there were few takers amidst the war-weary civilians for tanks, guns and aeroplanes. Breaking up aeroplanes (many brand new) and burning them was an obvious solution - until MPs raised questions at Westminster on the issue of wasted taxpayers' money. There was also the matter of the huge store of engines and many tons of spares kept in London's Regent's Park. As aircraft disposal quickly turned into a National scandal and Parliament demanded action to halt the wastage, Frederick Handley Page suggested forming a consortium to buy the lot from the Ministry of Munitions for sale abroad. After over a year of its own inefficient attempts at clearing more than 100,000 aircraft, the Government accepted. So was formed a unique business - The Aircraft Disposal Company. Taking over one of the supremely inefficient Government aircraft factories at Croydon, this fledgling business offered the Chancellor a way out of his problem. However, in offering serviceable aircraft at cheap prices, this company's success virtually killed off the British Aircraft industry. Few could trade in a market awash with low-cost aeroplanes. On this occasion however, Handley Page seems to have taken an almighty leap over the díviding line which separates farsighted business policy from sheer foolhardiness. By the end of 1920 the HP-company accounts show that the debt incurrecl by the expedition to India and Burma had been written off at a cost of L 79,518 as had the South African expetlition at a cost of L 52,904. In all the total loss on expeditions hy 31 December 1920 was a staggering L 286,492. The Handley Page expedition in Argentina counted around 15 to 20 aircraft of various makes and models. Especially the Airco or de Havilland-types were well represented. Apart from the Handley Page-mission, Italy and France also sent military missions to Argentina and all three missions were stationed at the San Isidro airfield. In total thre were about 70 aircraft stationed at San Isidro. Handley Page-expedition leader was Major Shirley George Kingsley, MC. Kingsley was a WW1 flying officer who had fought in Egypt and Palestine as part of the secret air force seconded to T.E. Lawrence. He would stay in Argentina for 10 years, with occasional visists to the UK. Chief-pilot of the expedition was Lt. Sydney Stewart. Stewart was formery employed in Paraguay and on the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914 he entered the allied aviation force, in which he built up a fine record, flying on the Western front with No.27, 40 and 208 Squadron. He returned to Paraguay at the end of the war, but soon joined the Handley Page-mission. Among the Handley Page-fleet were an Armstrong Whitworth FK 3 and two FK 8’s. FK 8 G-EAVQ (formerly H4585 of the RAF) was registered to Handley Page Ltd. on 7 October 1920, followed by G-EAVT (ex H4573) on 20 October. Both registrations were cancelled on 10 January 1923 without further comment. Apparentely the FK 3 never received a civil registration. Nothing is known about the activities of the Armstrong Whitworths in Argentina in the early period, but that would change…

Civil war in Paraguay

The revolution of August 1904 which placed the Liberal Party in power in Paraguay began as a popular movement, but Liberal rule quickly degenerated into factional feuding between the Radicales and the Cívicos. The Radicales subsequently split into pro-Schaerer and pro-Gondra factions. Manuel Gondra, the leader of the latter group, won the presidential election of 1920, but Eduardo Schaerer, the leader of the defeated faction, worked to undermine him by forcing him to demand the resignation of his strongest supporter in the Cabinet, his Interior Minister José Guggiari. When Gondra rejected this demand 30 armed Schaeristas occupied the police headquarters in Asunción on October 29th, 1921 and supported by the 250 man Prison Guard Battalion demanded Gondra’s resignation. Although Colonel Manuel Schenoni Lugo, the Director of the Military College, assured the President of his support and that of the troops under his command, Gondra nevertheless submitted his resignation to Congress in order to avoid bloodshed. Congress refused to accept the President’s resignation but he remained obdurate and a political crisis ensued when the Vice President, Félix Paiva, refused to assume the Presidency in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Congress then placed the Presidency in the hands of the mildly Gondrista Senator Eusebio Ayala, on a provisional basis, pending elections. This proposal was accepted by Schaerer, who believed that he could dominate and manipulate Ayala as interim President. A new crisis however occurred on the nomination of Colonel Adolfo Chirife, the former Minister for War and Marine and a rabid Schaerista, as presidential candidate, with the support not only of his own Liberals but also of the opposition Colorado Party, which virtually assured his election. Ayala responded by exercising his constitutional right to veto the law authorizing the election whereupon the Schaerista dominated Congress, which nevertheless did not possess the requisite two-thirds majority to overthrow a Presidential Veto, called on the Army to enforce the now invalid electoral law. Initially only the IInd and IVth Military Zones, with their HQs at Paraguarí and Villarica and respectively commanded by the frustrated presidential candidate Colonel Chirife and Colonel Pedro Mendoza responded to this exhortation and rose in effective Rebellion against the authority of the President. These were subsequently joined by those of the Ist Military Zone at Concepción, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Brizuela and eventually by almost all troops outside the capital and its immediate environs,. Both the Colorado and Liberal Parties split with some members of each supporting the President and others the Insurgents who began to refer to themselves as the “Constitutional Army” and the situation rapidly escalated into a potential civil war.

The opposing forces

The “Constitutionalists” thus disposed of two full infantry battalions, plus an independent rifle company; a squadron of cavalry; two companies and two sections of heavy machine-guns, plus a group of mountain artillery with two batteries, totalling approximately 1700 effectives. The President could call on only a single company of infantry and a section of heavy machineguns; the Escort Squadron; another squadron of cavalry; a company of engineers and the cadets and faculty of the Military College, totalling approximately 600 in all, plus the 250 man Navy with the 150 ton gunboat ADOLFO RIQUELME (in fact, an armed yacht, mounting two 3 inch guns and used as a training ship); the 180 ton patrol craft (armed tug) TRIUNFO; and the 80 ton patrol craft CORONEL MARTINEZ  (another armed tug) – each mounting a single 3 inch gun -   as its only effective units. 


The Insurgents, led by Colonel Chirife,  initially massed at Paraguarí on May 27th being joined by large numbers of civilian sympathizers and delayed for almost two weeks - marked by futile peace negotiations which included an  offer by President Ayala to withdraw his veto of the controversial electoral law -  before commencing a slow advance on Asunción, pausing at Luque. By the morning of June 9th the Rebel forces had reached the outer suburbs of the capital where they were detained by entrenched Loyalist forces numbering only about 600 regular troops and an indeterminate number of civilian volunteers, which surprisingly included about 1000 members of the predominantly anarcho-syndicalist Marine Workers Union, the mobilized civilian elements being largely officered by the faculty and cadets of the Military College.  Despite a series of ferocious but costly attacks, which were partly successful in some areas, the Insurgents were eventually forced slowly back towards Paraguarí on June 14th, fighting delaying actions at Pirayú and Yaguarón, their morale having suffered severely at the failure of what should have been the easy conquest of the capital and which was due, at least in part, to an almost complete lack of efficient logistic support, a problem which was to plague them throughout the conflict.


Military aviation now made its appearance in Paraguay, both sides using a few aircraft, mostly flown by foreign mercenary pilots. Although a flying school had been established at Nú Guazú in 1920 no aircraft had yet been acquired and the Loyalists were the first to form an air arm. Towards the end of 1919 the Paraguayan government had sent two army officers to Argentina to learn tot fly. On January 14, 1920 2nd lt. Victorio Barbero, the former police commisioner, and 25-year old sergant Francisco Cusmanich entered the Escuela de Aviación Militar (School of Military Aviation) on El Palomar airfield in Argentina to be trained as military pilots. Eugen Kuzmanic (or Francisco Cusmanich in Paraguay)had Croatian roots. His father, Antun (Anthony) Kuzmanic lived as an economic immigrant for nearly 40 years in Paraguay. In Palomar he received the first lessons. However, Cusmanich was a restless spirit, difficult to conform, had stumbles that forced him to retire from El Palomar. Shortly afterwards he went to Europe where he entered a Civil Piloting School in Longchamp, near Paris. Here, too, he could not finish his studies, finally obtaining it in the Aeródromo "Cuatro Vientos" of Spain. On his return to the homeland he found that it had not yet been able to constitute a nucleus of compatriots to develop aerial activities and was forced to ambulate between Argentina and Paraguay trying to find the aeronautical organizations that would allow him to maintain his flight training. He settled in Buenor Aires. On 29 October 1921 Vicente Barbero, Cusmanich’ original fellow student, was killed during a traing flight on El Palomar. In Argentina Francisco Cusmanich had met Sydney Stewart. When war broke out in Paraguay both diceded to return home and join the loyalist forces. Major Shirley Kingsley later declared tot the English aviation magazine  ‘The Aeroplane’ that Stewart resigned from the English mission in order to go to Paraguay when the Revolution started, as he found civilian flying too dull for his adventurous temperament. Cusmanich and Stewart took with them one of the two old Armstrong Whitworth FK 8’s from the Handley Page-mission. The aircraft arrived in dismantled condition on June 1st, 1922 aboard the Argentine steamer “San José” and was transferred to Ñu Guazú airfield where it was assembled by its pilots. During flight, the observer was armed with a hand-held machine gun and the plane was alo fitted with a rudimentary device for dropping bombs, designed by Cusmanich. The bombs were placed on both sides against the fuselage. During the middle of June the Government also contracted another pilot/mechanic, Sergeant Nicolá Bo, a veteran of World War I who had been a member of the Italian air mission in Argentina. Bo contracted several other mercenary pilots in Argentina and brought with him six additional aircraft: a single S.P.A.D. Herbemont S.XX fighter, two S.A.M.L. A.3 reconnaissance aircraft, two Ansaldo SVA 5 fighter-bombers and a single Ansaldo SVA 10 bomber, all of which were concentrated at Nú Guazú.  Having carried out a test flight over Asunción, the Armstrong Whitworth carried out its first sortie in the afternoon of June 28th when it dropped pamphlets over Paraguari urging the revolutionaries to re-consider their actions or suffer the consequences. These were ignored and the same aircraft bombed the revolutionary positions on the following day, but without effect.  Five days later, on July 3rd, the Armstrong Whitworth launched another attack when it dropped three bombs on the revolutionary positions at Paraguarí. Continuing the mission, three stationery railway wagons were observed at a point between Cerro León and Pirayú and machine-gunned until the Loyalist aircraft ran out of ammunition. Unfortunately, instead of the supplies and munitions for the Rebel forces which they were assumed to contain, these wagons housed prisoners, members of the Paraguarí garrison who had refused to join the Insurgents, many of whom were either killed or wounded. On July 5th a flight of Loyalist aircraft consisting of the Armstrong Whitworth and an Ansaldo SVA 5 again dropped leaflets on Rebel positions at Pirayú, Paraguarí and Yaguarón. Three days later the same two Loyalist aircraft carried out another sortie over Paraguari, the Armstrong Whitworth this time carrying four bombs to drop on the Rebel HQ. Both aircraft took off simultaneously from Campo Grande but the Ansaldo, piloted by Bo, suffered mechanical problems and landed again almost immediately. Stewart, in the Armstrong Whitworth, continued on his mission but on being met by a hail of ground fire over Pirayú was obliged to take evasive measures during which the aircraft burst into flames and exploded, the wreckage falling near Pirayú railway station from which the badly burnt remains of its crew were recovered by Loyalist cavalry, taken to the town of Ypacaraí and from there sent by train to Asunción where they were buried the following day with full military honours amidst scenes of public emotion. Another version of the story has it that near the town of Pirayú the bomrelease gear caught fire, exploding the bombs. Later the bodies of Stewart and Cusmanich were sent by the rebel chief to the government forces with compliments and regrets. The government ordered that all shops should be closed as a sign of public grief on the day of the funeral. The civil war in Paraguay would last for another year and ended officially on 10 July 1923.

The Armstrong Whitworth FK 8 arrived in dismantled condition on June 1st, 1922 aboard the Argentine riversteamer “San José” in Asunscion, the capital of Paraguay.

The FK 8 is being prepared for transport to to Ñu Guazú airfield near Asunscion, where it was to be assembled by its pilots, Englishman Sydney Stewart and Paraguayan Francisco Cusmanich. It had already be emblazoned with the name 'Pte. Ayala', Ayala being the president of Paraguay. Aparentely Ayala's name was only painted on the starboard side of the FK 8.


Loyalist Aviators Nicolá Bo and Francisco Cusmanich pose in an Italian SVA 10, probably bought from the Italian military mission in Argentina. Note the hand-held Tommy-gun like machine gun and the rudimentary device for dropping bombs, designed by Cusmanich. The bombs were placed on both sides against the fuselage. Undoubtedly the Armstrong Whitworth FK 8 was armed in much the same way.

Aerofotos Lda.

During 1919-1920 Shirley Kingsley made some aerial photographs of the city of Buenos Aires. On November 28, 1924, the Public Works Commission of the Deliberative Council (Comisión de Obras Públicas del Concejo Deliberante) of the City of Buenos Aires gave a favorable sanction for the acquisition of 100 aerial photographic plans and material tob e made Kingsley to the amount of $26,000. Together with Sydney Holland, a former pilot of Kingsley’s Rioplatense de Aviación company, Kingsley formed a second company, Aerofotos Ltda, with offices at Reconquista 491 in Buenos Aires. Aerofotos Ltda is equipped with an ancient Armstrong Whitworth FK 3, probably bought in the UK from the Aircraft Disposal Company. Its identity is unknown. With Sydney Holland flying the FK 3, Argentine photographers Enrique Broszeit and Juan Bautista Borra take 800 vertical photographs and in this way create an aero-photographic map of the city that becomes known as "Plan Aero-Fotográfico de la Cuidad de Buenos Aires” (Aero-Photographic Plan Of the City of Buenos Aires). The photographic map made it possible to construct a map of the metropolis acquired later by the municipality through on November 28 of that year.

At the same time Kingsley represented the British aircraft companies Fairey, Blackburn and Hawker in Argentina, but it is in representing de Havilland that he is most successfull. In June 1927 he receives at San Isidro airfield, shortly before its definitive closure, the first DH.60Moth of Argentina. Kingsley later moved to San Fernando aerodrome, where he received about 30 Moths with a certificate of airworthiness issued in the United Kingdom in his name. The Moths are registered in Argentina in his name and Sydney Holland’s , or in the name of Aerofotos. Next the Moths are sold on the local market and to Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil. In Moth R-107 Patrick Hassett dies when colliding in flight with another during a festival in Bahía Blanca on the 11 of April of 1928. Kingsley registered the old DH.16 as R-137 in the name of Aerofotos in 1929 and then returned tot he UK for good. Sydney Holland kept up aerial photography and later Aerofotos Ltda was run by Cyril Taylor. The fate of the Armstrong Whitworth FK 3 is not known.


The unmistakable lettering 'AW' on the cowling of the FK 3. On the lower wing probably Argentine aerial

photographer Enrique Broszeit or Juan Bautista Borra.


The FK 3 during take-off.

In the middle photographer Juan Bautista Borra, on the right Aerofotos Lda.'s pilot, Sydney Hollander, posing with the FK 3

From left to right photographer Juan Bautista Borra, Aerofotos Lda.'s pilot, Sydney Hollander and two guests, posing with the FK 3.

Another picture with Borra and the two guests.

Photographer Juan Bautista Borra posing in the FK 3.

Photographer Enrique Broszeit also posing in the FK 3.

Another picture of Borra posing with the FK 3.