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Fairey Swordfish


By Sakhal

When in 1922 the Italian Regia Aeronautica was dedicated to project a "high-seas torpedo seaplane", their attempts to develop this new offensive use of the aerial weapon were followed with interest by several nations, but one of them in particular paid attention to these trials: Britain, which had been as well doing studies in the same direction. So, after years of investigations and trials, the British industry presented the 31st December 1935 the first prototype of the new torpedo bomber: the Fairey Swordfish. Truly, the design of this aircraft was anything but modern: it was a large biplane of open cockpit, and with so many struts and stays that soon it received the nickname "Stringbag". Albeit its speed was not impressive (about 260 kilometers/hour) its docility and maneuverability were very appreciated by the pilots who had chance to fly on it. The first Swordfish that entered service were the ones of the Torpedo Testing Unit at Gosport, the 19th February 1936. Robust and versatile aircraft, it was used also in other diverse roles, such as training of pilots, observers, telegraphists, machine gunners and, later, radar operators.

At the outbreak of the world conflict, in the scope of a decentralization program to favor productivity regarding criteria of war economy and security, the aircraft, until then manufactured solely by Fairey, was produced as well by Blackburn and other four subcompanies: Appleyards for the wings and the flaps; Greens for the landing gear; Hudswell for the ailerons and control surfaces; and Tates, which mounted the central section and the two cockpits for pilot and observer. The Swordfish was a biplane monomotor, with frame structure totally coated with fabric and foldable wings to allow its transport in aircraft carriers. In 1943, the lower surface of the lower wings was metalized to allow carrying and firing rockets. The engine, a radial Bristol Pegasus refrigerated by air, had a maximum power of 750 horsepower. This aircraft was produced in four versions, with some exemplars provided with seaplane floaters instead of landing gear: the Mk I, basic model, 689 units built by Fairey and 300 by Blackburn; the Mk II, with metalized underwings to carry eight 27-kilogram rockets, 1080 units built by Blackburn; the Mk III, modified Mk II fitted with exploration radar ASV Mk X, 320 units built by Blackburn; and the Mk IV, converted Mk II with closed cockpits, sold to Canada. Total production of all the versions reached 2393 exemplars.

Fairey Swordfish


Fairey Swordfish


The Sworfish, which equipped 13 squadrons at the start of the war, fought for the first time in Trondheim attacking with torpedos the German cruisers and achieved in war brilliant victories such as the one in Taranto ("Next stop, Taranto" reads the torpedo in the illustration) or the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. Besides it took part in other famous actions such as the Second Battle of Narvik, the war in the Mediterranean (Oran, Malta or Matapan) and the attacks against the German warships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen, when passing through the English Channel. Later in the late 1941 the Swordfish started to be used along with radar and depth charges as submarine hunter, and when in May 1943 it was provided with rockets for the Battle of the Atlantic and the escort of convoys in their way to Russia, it was a terrible weapon however its obsolescent formula. Its last war action was carried out by an aircraft of the 119th Squadron, attacking a German pocket submarine in the English Channel barely four hours before the surrender of Germany. At the end of the war the Swordfish equipped a total of 26 Squadrons in the Fleet Air Arm, two in the Royal Air Force and many training units.

Note from the author/translator: It is notable the fact that the "soft" structure of the Swordfish, made of wood and fabric, and its limited speed seem to have played a positive role on their attacks. The Germans aboard the Bismarck had to see how the projectiles of the anti-aircraft defense passed cleanly the aircraft without exploding. It seems that the timed fuzes of the larger projectiles were disappointing as well, for the unexpectedly low speed of the Swordfish caused the projectiles to explode too soon before reaching the aircraft.

Fairey Swordfish

Fairey Swordfish Mk III (NF374) NH.M of the 119th Squadron from the 16th Group of the Royal Air Force, Coastal Command, Belgium, April 1945; the Sworfish and Albacore of the 119th Squadron (painted fully in black) operated from the airfields located in the Belgian coastline during the last weeks of the war, against the German pocket submarines operating in the Dutch coastline. Note the ventral fairing containing the exploration radar and the supports for bombs under the wings.

Specifications for Swordfish Mk I

First flight: 31st December 1935

Type: Carrier-based torpedo bomber/bomber/reconnaissance aircraft

Wingspan: 13.87 meters (5.25 meters when folded)

Wing area: 56.39 square meters

Length: 10.87 meters

Height: 3.76 meters

Weight (empty): 1900 kilograms

Weight (full load): 3500 kilograms

Engine: Bristol Pegasus III M3 of 690 horsepower

Time to reach 1500 meters of altitude: 10 minutes

Service ceiling: 3250 meters

Maximum speed: 260 kilometers/hour as bomber, 237 kilometers/hour as seaplane, 267 kilometers/hour as reconnaissance aircraft

Maximum speed at 1500 meters of altitude: 225 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 210 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 1010 kilometers as torpedo bomber at full load without supplementary fuel tanks; 2408 kilometers as reconnaissance aircraft with supplementary fuel tanks

Defensive armament: One Vickers 7.7-millimeter machine gun firing through the propeller, one orientable/foldable Lewis or Vickers K 7.7-millimeter machine gun firing backwards in the rear cockpit

Offensive load: One 460-millimeter torpedo or one 680-kilogram mine or 680 kilograms of bombs under the wings or the fuselage



Specifications for Swordfish Mk II/Mk III

Entry in service: 1943

Type: Carrier-based torpedo bomber/bomber/attack aircraft/anti-submarine aircraft/reconnaissance aircraft

Wingspan: 13.87 meters (5.25 meters when folded)

Wing area: 56.39 square meters

Length: 10.87 meters

Height: 3.76 meters

Weight (empty): 2130 kilograms

Weight (full load): 3500 kilograms

Engine: Bristol Pegasus 30 of 750 horsepower

Service ceiling: 3250 meters

Maximum speed: 260 kilometers/hour as bomber, 237 kilometers/hour as seaplane, 267 kilometers/hour as reconnaissance aircraft

Maximum speed at 1500 meters of altitude: 225 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 210 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 1010 kilometers as torpedo bomber at full load without supplementary fuel tanks; 2408 kilometers as reconnaissance aircraft with supplementary fuel tanks

Defensive armament: One Vickers 7.7-millimeter machine gun firing through the propeller, one orientable/foldable Lewis or Vickers K 7.7-millimeter machine gun firing backwards in the rear cockpit

Offensive load: One 460-millimeter torpedo or one 680-kilogram mine or 680 kilograms of other offensive loads under the wings or the fuselage (including eight 27-kilogram rockets under the wings or depth charges)



Categories: Aircraft - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-05-04


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