Fairey Albacore

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Fairey Albacore ExCC.jpg
L7075, the second prototype of the Fairey Albacore in flight. The markings place it around 1940.
Role Torpedo bomber
National origin United Kingdom
Manufacturer Fairey Aviation
First flight 12 December 1938
Introduction 1940
Retired 1949[a]
Primary users Royal Navy
Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Number built 800

The Fairey Albacore is a British single-engine torpedo bomber built by Fairey Aviation between 1939 and 1943 for the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and used during the Second World War. It had a crew of three and was designed for spotting and reconnaissance as well as level, dive, and torpedo bombing. The Albacore, popularly known as the "Applecore", was conceived as a replacement for the Fairey Swordfish, which had entered service in 1936. However, the Albacore served alongside the Swordfish and was retired before it, being replaced from 1944 by two monoplane designs, the Fairey Barracuda and Grumman Avenger.

Design and development[edit]

The Albacore prototypes were built to meet Specification S.41/36 for a three-seat TSR (torpedo/spotter/reconnaissance) for the FAA to replace the Swordfish. The Albacore was designated TBR (torpedo/bomber/reconnaissance) and like the Swordfish, was capable of dive bombing:

The Albacore was designed for diving at speeds up to 215 knots (400 km/h) IAS with flaps either up or down, and it was certainly steady in a dive, recovery being easy and smooth...

— Brown[1]

and the maximum under wing bomb load was four 500 lb (230 kg) bombs.[1][2] The Albacore had a constant speed propeller, a more powerful engine than the Swordfish and was more aerodynamically refined. It offered the crew an enclosed and heated cockpit and had an automatic liferaft ejection system that triggered in the event of the aircraft ditching.[3]

The first of two prototypes flew on 12 December 1938 and production of the first batch of 98 aircraft began in 1939.[4] Early Albacores were fitted with the Bristol Taurus II engine and those built later received the more powerful Taurus XII. Boscombe Down testing of the Albacore and Taurus II engine, in February 1940, showed a maximum speed of 160 mph (140 kn; 260 km/h), at an altitude of 4,800 ft (1,463 m), at 11,570 lb (5,259 kg), which was achieved with four under-wing depth charges, while maximum speed without the depth charges was 172 mph (149 kn; 277 km/h).[5] An Albacore fitted with the Taurus II engine and carrying a torpedo weighed 11,100 lb (5,045 kg).[5]

A total of 800 Albacores were built, including two prototypes which were all built at Fairey's Hayes Factory and test flown at London's Great West Aerodrome, what is now London Heathrow Airport.[4][6][7]

Operational history[edit]

Fairey Albacore N4389, 827 Naval Air Squadron, HMS Victorious. Shot down during raid on Kirkenes, July 1941. Salvaged, rebuilt and now on display in the FAA Museum

No. 826 Naval Air Squadron was specially formed to operate the first Albacores in March 1940, being used for attacks against harbours and shipping in the English Channel, operating from shore bases and for convoy escort for the rest of 1940.[8] HMS Formidable's 826 and 829 Squadrons were the first to operate the Albacore from a carrier, with operations starting in November 1940.[6] Initially, the Albacore suffered from reliability problems with the Taurus engine, although these were later solved, so that the failure rate was no worse than the Pegasus equipped Swordfish.[4] The Albacore remained less popular than the Swordfish, as it was less manoeuvrable, with the controls being too heavy for a pilot to take much evasive action after dropping a torpedo.[4]

Eventually, there were 15 first-line FAA squadrons equipped with the Albacore which operated widely in the Mediterranean.[8] Albacores played a prominent role in the ill-fated raid on Kirkenes and Petsamo in July 1941. Albacores participated with more success in the Battle of Cape Matapan and the fighting at El Alamein as well as supporting the landings at Sicily and Salerno. During the period September 1941 to end of June 1943, No. 828 Squadron, based at RAF Hal Far, Malta, operated a squadron of Albacores under severe blitz conditions during the siege of Malta, mainly against Italian shipping and shore targets in Sicily.

Albacore in flight. The markings place it around 1940.

On 9 March 1942, 12 Albacores from HMS Victorious were launched to attack the German Bismarck-class battleship Tirpitz at sea near Narvik. Based on information from one of six radar-equipped aircraft already airborne, Albacores from 817 and 832 Squadrons launched torpedoes and some also attacked with their machine guns. One attack came within 30 feet (9.1 m) of success at the bow, but the FAA's only torpedo attack on Tirpitz at sea failed, with the loss of two aircraft and damage to many others.

In 1943, the Albacore was progressively replaced in Fleet Air Arm service by the Barracuda. The last FAA Albacore squadron, No. 841 Squadron, which had been used for shore-based attacks against shipping in the Channel for the whole of its career with the Albacore, disbanded in late 1943.[8]

The Royal Air Force deployed some Albacores; No. 36 Squadron based at Singapore acquired five to supplement its Vickers Vildebeests at RAF Seletar in December 1941.[9] The remnants of the squadron was captured by the Japanese in March 1942. In 1943, No. 415 Squadron RCAF was equipped with Albacores (presumably ex-FAA) before the Flight operating them was transferred and reformed as 119 Squadron at RAF Manston in July 1944. The squadron deployed later to Belgium and their Albacores were disposed of in early 1945, due to spares shortages, in favour of the inferior but ASV radar-equipped Swordfish Mk.IIIs that the squadron kept until the end of the war on 8 May.[10] This was to combat German mini-submarines attacking Allied shipping entering the River Scheldt on its way to Antwerp Port. The Aden Communication Flight used 17 Albacores between the middle of 1944 and August 1946. Some of these were delivered by sea on the SS Empire Arun in December 1945 (all from Royal Navy stock).

The Royal Canadian Air Force took over the Albacores and used them during the Normandy invasion, for a similar role until July 1944. The Albacore was the last biplane to be used in combat by the RCAF.[11]


A Fairey Albacore Mk I of 820 Naval Air Squadron operating from HMS Formidable during the North African landings, November 1942

Royal Canadian Air Force

 United Kingdom

Royal Air Force

Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm[6]

Surviving aircraft[edit]

Albacore (N4389) at the Fleet Air Arm Museum

Only one Albacore is known to survive, on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, which was built using parts of Albacores N4389 and N4172 recovered from crash sites.

Specifications (Albacore with Taurus XII)[edit]

Fairey Albacore Mk.1

Data from Jane's all the World's Aircraft 1943-44,[12] British naval aircraft since 1912,[8] The British Bomber since 1914,[4] The Hamlyn Concise Guide to British Aircraft in World War II

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2 (torpedo bomber) or 3 (reconnaissance mission)
  • Length: 40 ft 1+18 in (12.22 m) in tail-up rigging position (landplane)[2]
41 ft 7+18 in (12.68 m) in tail-up rigging position (seaplane)[2]
  • Wingspan: 50 ft 0 in (15.24 m)
  • Width: 17 ft 9 in (5.41 m) wings folded[2]
  • Height: 12 ft 10+12 in (3.92 m) (landplane) tail down, propeller tip down[2]
  • Height (seaplane): 16 ft 8+14 in (5.09 m) in tail-up rigging position[2]
  • Wing area: 623 sq ft (57.9 m2)
  • Empty weight: 7,250 lb (3,289 kg) (torpedo bomber)
7,200 lb (3,300 kg) (reconnaissance mission)
  • Gross weight: 10,460 lb (4,745 kg) (torpedo bomber)
9,615 lb (4,361 kg) (reconnaissance mission)
  • Max takeoff weight: 12,830 lb (5,820 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Bristol Taurus II 14-cylinder two-row sleeve-valve radial piston engine, 1,065 hp (794 kW) for take-off
or Bristol Taurus XII at 1,130 hp (840 kW) for take-off ; 1,130 hp (840 kW) at 3,500 ft (1,100 m)
  • Propellers: 3-bladed constant-speed propeller


  • Maximum speed: 161 mph (259 km/h, 140 kn) (torpedo bomber) at 4,500 ft (1,400 m)
169 mph (147 kn; 272 km/h) (reconnaissance mission) at 4,500 ft (1,400 m)
  • Cruise speed: 140 mph (230 km/h, 120 kn) maximum
  • Stall speed: 54 mph (87 km/h, 47 kn) flaps down[13]
  • Range: 710 mi (1,140 km, 620 nmi) with torpedo[1]
  • Ferry range: 930 mi (1,500 km, 810 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 18,800 ft (5,700 m)
  • Time to altitude: 6,000 ft (1,800 m) in 8 minutes


  • 2,000 lb (910 kg) of bombs

See also[edit]

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists


  1. ^ in Canada


  1. ^ a b c Brown, Eric (CBE, DCS, AFC, RN); Green, William; Swanborough, Gordon (1980). Wings of the navy : flying allied carrier aircraft of World War Two. Janeʼs. pp. 60–69. ISBN 0-7106-0002-X.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Harrison, W.A. (2002). Fairey Swordfish and Albacore. Marlborough: Crowood. pp. 77–80. ISBN 1-86126-512-3.
  3. ^ Goebel, Greg. "The Fairey Swordfish, Albacore, & Barracuda." vectorsite.net, 2009. Retrieved: 25 October 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d e Mason, Francis K. (1994). The British Bomber Since 1914. London: Putnam Aeronautical Books. pp. 321–323. ISBN 0-85177-861-5.
  5. ^ a b Mason, Tim (1998). The secret years : flight testing at Boscombe Down 1939-1945. Manchester, UK: Hikoki. pp. 292, 306. ISBN 0-9519899-9-5.
  6. ^ a b c Harrison, W.A. (2004). Warpaint Series No.52 : Fairey Albacore. Bedfordshire: Warpaint Books Ltd. pp. 11, 13, 17.
  7. ^ Mondey, David. The Hamlyn Concise Guide to British Aircraft in World War II. Hamlyn. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-753714-62-1.
  8. ^ a b c d Thetford, Owen (1991). British naval aircraft since 1912 (6th rev. ed.). London: Naval Institute Press / Putnam. pp. 153–157. ISBN 1-55750-076-2.
  9. ^ a b Shores, Christopher; Cull, Brian; Izawa, Yasuho (1992). Bloody shambles. London: Grub Street. p. 146. ISBN 0-948817-50-X.
  10. ^ Jefford, C.G. (Wing Commander OBE, BA, RAF(retd)) (2001). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing. p. 60. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  11. ^ Rucker, D. "Fairey Albacore". fleetairarmarchive.net. Archived from the original on 31 October 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  12. ^ Bridgman, Leonard, ed. (1944). Jane's all the World's Aircraft 1943-44. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co. p. 30c.
  13. ^ Air Transport Auxiliary Ferry Pilots Notes (reproduction). Elvington, York, UK: Yorkshire Air Museum, 1996. ISBN 0-9512379-8-5.

Further reading[edit]

  • Smith, Peter C. (1982). Dive bomber : an illustrated history. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-930-6.
  • Taylor, H.A. (1974). Fairey aircraft since 1915. London: Putnam & Company Ltd. ISBN 0-370-00065-X.

External links[edit]