|Fairey Battle trainer|
|National origin||United Kingdom|
|Manufacturer||Fairey Aviation Company|
|First flight||10 March 1936|
|Status||5 remain in museums|
|Primary users||Royal Air Force
Belgian Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Free Polish Air Force
The Fairey Battle was a British single-engine light bomber built by the Fairey Aviation Company in the late 1930s for the Royal Air Force. The Battle was powered by the same Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engine that gave contemporary British fighters[N 1] high performance; however, the Battle was weighed down with a three-man crew and a bomb load. Despite being a great improvement on the aircraft that preceded it, by the time it saw action it was slow, limited in range and highly vulnerable to both anti-aircraft fire and fighters, having only two defensive .303 in machine guns.
During the "Phoney War", the Fairey Battle recorded the first RAF aerial victory of the Second World War but by May 1940 was suffering heavy losses of well over 50% per mission. By the end of 1940 the Battle had been withdrawn from combat service and relegated to training units overseas. For such prewar promise, the Battle was one of the most disappointing of all RAF aircraft.
Design and development
The original Fairey Battle was designed to Air Ministry Specification P.27/32 as a two-seat day bomber, to replace the Hawker Hart and Hind biplane bombers, and to act as an insurance policy in case heavier bombers were banned by the 1932 Geneva Disarmament Conference. At the time Britain expected any future war would see France as its enemy and so the distance to Paris was a factor in determining the range it needed.
The resulting design was an all-metal single-engine low-wing cantilever monoplane, equipped with a retractable tail wheel landing gear. Its clean design with its long and slim fuselage and cockpit for three (pilot, navigator and gunner) seated in tandem with a continuous glazed canopy, was similar to a large fighter rather than a bomber. The armament and crew were similar to the Blenheim: three crew, 1,000 lbs bombload and two machine guns, although the Battle was a single-engine bomber, with less horsepower available. The Battle's standard payload of four 250 lb (110 kg) bombs was carried in cells inside the wings and an additional 500 lb (230 kg) of bombs could be carried on underwing racks. As the engine occupied the nose, the bomb aimer's position was under the wing centre section, sighting through a sliding panel in the floor of the fuselage using the Mk. VII Course Setting Bomb Sight.
The prototype Battle first flew on 10 March 1936. When the RAF embarked on the pre-war expansion programme the Battle became a priority production target, with 2,419 ordered and an initial production order placed for 155 Battles built to Specification P.23/35. The first of these was completed at Hayes, Middlesex in June 1937 but all subsequent aircraft were built at Fairey's new factory at Heaton Chapel, Stockport and tested at the company's Manchester (Ringway) facility. Subsequently the Shadow factory operated by Austin Motors at Cofton Hackett, Longbridge, manufactured 1,029 aircraft to specification P.32/36. Total production was of 2,185 machines, as production lines were closed in advance, in September 1940. Production Battles were powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin I, II, III and V.
Replacing the RAF's Hawker Harts and Hinds when it entered service in 1937, the Battle was obsolescent even then as fighter technology had outstripped the modest performance gains that the light bomber possessed over its biplane antecedents. The Battle was armed only with a single Browning .303 in machine gun fixed ahead and with a trainable Vickers K in the back; this was desperately inadequate. Moreover, it lacked an armoured cockpit and self-sealing fuel tank.
The first RAF squadron to be equipped with Fairey Battles was No. 63 Sqn. in June 1937. The Battle had the distinction of becoming the first operational aircraft to enter service with a Merlin engine, beating the Hawker Hurricane's debut by a few months.
The Battle was obsolete by the start of the Second World War, but remained a front-line RAF bomber owing to a lack of a suitable replacement. On 2 September 1939, during the "Phoney War", 10 Battle squadrons were deployed to France to form a vanguard of the Advanced Air Striking Force. On 20 September 1939, a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 was shot down by Battle gunner Sgt. F. Letchard during a patrol near Aachen, marking the RAF's first aerial victory of the war.
Nonetheless, the Battle was hopelessly outclassed by Luftwaffe fighters, being almost 100 mph (160 km/h) slower than the contemporary Bf 109 at 14,000 ft (4,300 m). The Battle's defence consisted of a single .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K machine gun mounted in the rear cockpit and a single forward-firing .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun in the starboard wing.
When the Battle of France began, Battles were called upon to perform unescorted, low-level tactical attacks against the advancing German army. This put the aircraft at risk of attack from Luftwaffe fighters and within easy range of light anti-aircraft guns. In the first of two sorties carried out by Battles on 10 May 1940, three out of eight aircraft were lost, while a further 10 out of 24 were shot down in the second sortie, giving a total of 13 lost in that day's attacks, with the remainder suffering damage. Despite bombing from as low as 250 ft (76 m), their attacks had little impact on the German columns.
On 11 May, nine Battles of the Belgian Air Force attacked bridges over the Albert Canal on the River Meuse, losing six aircraft, and in another RAF sortie that day against a German troop column, only one Battle out of eight survived. During the following day, five Battles of 12 Squadron attacked the bridges; four of the aircraft were destroyed with the final aircraft crash-landing back at its base. Two Victoria Crosses were awarded posthumously for the action, to Flying Officer Donald Garland and air observer/navigator sergeant Thomas Gray of Battle serial P2204 coded PH-K, for pressing home the attack in spite of the heavy defensive fire. The third crew member, rear gunner Leading Aircraftsman Lawrence Reynolds, did not share the award. Both fighters and flak proved lethal for the Battles. Although Garland's Battle destroyed one span of the bridge, the German army quickly erected a pontoon bridge to replace it.
On 14 May 1940, in a desperate attempt to stop German forces crossing the Meuse, the Advanced Air Striking Force launched an "all-out" attack by all available bombers against the German bridgehead and pontoon bridges at Sedan. The light bombers were attacked by swarms of opposing fighters and were devastated. Out of a strike force of 63 Battles and eight Bristol Blenheims, 40 (including 35 Battles) were lost. After these abortive raids, the Battle was switched to mainly night attacks, resulting in much lower losses.
A similar situation befell the German Luftwaffe during the early days of the Battle of Britain, when the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber suffered equivalent losses in a similar role. With the exception of a few successful twin-engine designs such as the de Havilland Mosquito, Bristol Beaufighter and Douglas A-20, low-level attack missions passed into the hands of single-engine, fighter-bomber aircraft, such as the Hawker Hurricane, Hawker Typhoon and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt.
On 15 June 1940, the last remaining aircraft of the Advanced Air Striking Force returned to Britain. In six weeks almost 200 Battles had been lost, with 99 lost between 10 and 16 May. After the return from France, for a short period of time, the RAF continued to rely on the light bomber. Reforming No. 1 Group and later equipping four new Polish squadrons with the type, it continued to be deployed in operations against shipping massed in the Channel ports for Operation Sealion. Their last combat sortie was mounted on the night of 15/16 October 1940 by No. 301 (Polish) Squadron in a raid on Boulogne, and Nos 12 and 142 Squadrons bombing Calais. Shortly afterwards Battle squadrons of No. 1 Group were re-equipped with Vickers Wellington medium bombers. Battles were operated into 1941 by 88 and 226 Squadrons in Northern Ireland and 98 Squadron in Iceland, for coastal patrol work.
Meanwhile, the South African Air Force had been supplied with some Battles. In August 1940, No. 11 Squadron took possession of at least four, which were flown north to be operated in the Italian East Africa (Ethiopia, Italian Somaliland and Eritrea) campaign. They conducted bombing and reconnaissance operations. Whereas in France the RAF's Battles had encountered modern German fighters in large numbers, the South Africans faced a smaller number of Italian biplane fighters (Fiat CR.32 and CR.42s), which enabled the aircrews to contribute more effectively to the campaign; but not without several losses, especially when surprised above some predictable targets (air bases, ports etc.), since Italian biplanes dived as fast as possible over the bombers, trying to shoot them down in the first pass.
The last combat operations carried out by Fairey Battles were during the Italian and German invasion of Greece, from the end of 1940 until April 1941. A few Fairey Battles of the RAF and about a dozen belonging to the RHAF - serial numbers starting from B274 - participated in secondary bombing roles against enemy infantry. Most of them were destroyed on the ground by Luftwaffe air attacks on the airfields of Tanagra and Tatoi north of Athens between end of March and mid April 1941. No significant contribution of this type was reported during this period, although some hits were recorded by the Greek Air Force.
Before World War II, in spring 1939 the Polish government ordered 100 Battle bombers, but they had not been delivered before the war. The first 22 aircraft were sent in early September 1939 on two ships to Constanta in Romania, to be received there by the Polish crews, but the ships were ordered back, while in Istanbul, due to the inevitable fall of Poland. They were next offered to Turkey.
As the dual-control Fairey Battle T, it served as a trainer. As the winch-equipped Fairey Battle TT target tug it was used as a target-towing aircraft for training in air gunnery. The Battle served as a trainer with the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the South African Air Force. From August 1939, 739 Battles were stationed in Canada as trainers in the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Most were used for bombing and gunnery training with a small number equipped as target tugs. Some aircraft had the rear cockpit replaced with a Bristol Type I turret for turret-gunnery training.
Although the Battle was retired from active use in Canada after 1945, it remained in RAF service in secondary roles until 1949.
While the Battle was no longer used as a combat aircraft, its benign handling characteristics made it an ideal platform for testing engines, and it was used in this rôle to evaluate engines up to 2,000 hp (1,500 kW) including the Rolls-Royce Exe and Fairey Prince (H-16). Battle K9370 was used to test the Fairey Monarch 2,000+ hp (1,490+ kW) aero-engine with electrically-controlled three-bladed contra-rotating propellers in 1939. According to Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1946-47, the aircraft was shipped to the U.S.A. after 86 hours test time.
- Fairey Day Bomber
- Prototype (K4303).
- Battle Mk I
- Three-seat light bomber version. This was the first production version, which was powered by a 1,030 hp (770 kW) Rolls-Royce Merlin I inline piston engine.
- Battle Mk II
- Three-seat light bomber version. Powered by a 1,030 hp (770 kW) Rolls-Royce Merlin II inline piston engine.
- Battle Mk V
- Three-seat light bomber version. Powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin V inline piston engine.
- Battle T
- After May 1940, a number of Battle Mk Is, IIs and Vs were converted into training aircraft.
- Battle IT
- After May 1940, a number of Battle Mk Is, IIs and Vs were converted into training aircraft with a turret installed in the rear.
- Battle IIT
- In October 1940, a sole RCAF Battle Mk I was converted into a prototype for a future series, powered by an 840 hp Wright Cyclone R-1820-G38. The Battle IIT was conceived as a stopgap conversion in the likelihood that supplies of RR Merlins were unavailable.
- Battle TT
- After May 1940, a number of Battle Mk Is, IIs and Vs were converted into target tug aircraft; 100 built.
- Battle TT.Mk I
- Target tug version. This was the last production version; 226 built.
In total, 2,185 Fairey Battles were built during the machine's production life; 1,156 by Fairey and 1,029 by the Austin Motor Company. A further 16 were built under licence by Avions Fairey at Goselies, Belgium for service with the Belgian Air Force. The 16 Battles were delivered early in 1938 and were differentiated from British-built examples by having a longer radiator cowling.
In addition to the units listed, a many Battles were operated by training schools, particularly for bombing and gunnery training.
- Belgian Air Force operated 18 aircraft (some sources say 16)
- Royal Canadian Air Force received 739 aircraft.
- Irish Air Corps impounded 1 ex-RAF target tug.
- Hellenic Air Force received 12 aircraft.
- Polish Air Forces on exile in Great Britain
- Turkish Army Air Force received 30 aircraft.
Accidents and incidents
On 2 August 1940, Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth, a racing motorist, aviator and prolific collector of veteran cars and aircraft was killed when Fairey Battle L4971 of No. 12 Operational Training Unit RAF Benson crashed into a hill during a solo night flying exercise.
Media related to Fairey Battle museum aircraft at Wikimedia Commons
Five examples of the Fairey Battle are held by various museums, none in flying condition.
- L5343 is displayed at the RAF Museum in Hendon. In July 1940, it was with No. 98 RAF Squadron, based at Kaldadarnes, Iceland for anti-invasion operations supporting British forces. L5343 was the first RAF aircraft to land on Icelandic soil, and crashed during subsequent operations. In 1972, the RAF recovered the wreck for restoration, which was completed at the Michael Beetham Conservation Centre of the RAF Museum in Cosford, England.
- Battle R3950 is in the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History collection in Brussels, Belgium. This aircraft spent much of its career in Canada. It was acquired by the Brussels museum in 1990 as representative of aircraft that served with the Belgian Air Force in 1940.
- The wreck of a Battle was discovered in an Icelandic glacier in 1995, although there are no plans to restore it.
- The Canada Aviation and Space Museum has a Battle T (marked as R7384/35), which was built as a pilot trainer in 1940, and taken on strength by the RCAF in 1941. Converted to a gunnery trainer with a turret in 1942, it was used until stored in 1943. The aircraft was transferred to the Canada Aviation Museum in 1964, and was restored in the 1990s. During the mid-1960s, RCAF pilot Lynn Garrison acquired four Fairey Battles from farmyards in Alberta and Saskatchewan for his collection of historic aircraft in Calgary, Alberta. Their locations are unknown. Although incomplete, another Canadian-based Battle trainer is currently being restored at the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum at Brandon, Manitoba.
- The South Australian Aviation Museum at Port Adelaide, South Australia is restoring the remains of a Battle which was recovered from a tidal swamp near Port Pirie in South Australia.
- The Clyde North Aeronautical Preservation Group also has two unidentified and unrestored cockpit sections from Fairey Battles located in Wagga Wagga, Australia.
- The RAAF Museum at Point Cook, Victoria has an unidentified and unrestored cockpit section.
Data from Fairey Aircraft since 1915
- Crew: 3
- Length: 42 ft 4 in (12.91 m)
- Wingspan: 54 ft 0 in (16.46 m)
- Height: 15 ft 6 in (4.72 m)
- Wing area: 422 ft² (39.2 m²)
- Empty weight: 6,647 lb (3,015 kg)
- Loaded weight: 10,792 lb (4,895 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin II liquid-cooled V12 engine, 1,030 hp (768 kW)
- Maximum speed: 257 mph (223 kn, 413 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4,600 m)
- Range: 1,000 mi (870 nmi, 1610 km)
- Service ceiling: 25,000 ft (7,620 m)
- Climb to 5,000 ft (1,520 m): 4 min 6 sec
- 4× 250 lb (110 kg) bombs internally
- 500 lb (230 kg) of bombs externally
- Related development
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Related lists
- Ethell 1995, p. 177.
- Air International March 1981, p. 127.
- Buttler, British Secret Projects: Fighters and Bombers 1935-1950 2005 Midland. p65
- Orbis 1985, p. 1693.
- "Fairey Battle - Designed for Mass Production." Flight , 19 August 1937, pp. 189–192.
- Air International March 1981, p. 128.
- Mason 1994, p. 285.
- Moyes 1971, p. 120.
- Matricardi 2006, p. 249.
- Taylor 1969, p. 358.
- Boyne 1994, p. 52.
- "RAF Timeline 1939." Royal Air Force. Retrieved: 24 July 2008.
- Richards 1953, pp. 113–114.
- Garcia 2001, pp. 67—68.
- Richards 1953, p. 115.
- Richards 1995, pp. 59–60.
- Richards 1953, pp. 116–118.
- Richards 1953, p. 120.
- March 1998, p. 105.
- Richards 1995, p. 61.
- Gifford 2004, p. 24.
- Moyes 1971, p. 115.
- Moyes 1968, p. 79.
- Gustavsson, Håkan (2007), "Sergente Maggiore Athos Tieghi", Biplane Fighter Aces from the Second World War, Håkan Gustafson, retrieved 20 August 2011
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- Boyne, Walter J. Clash of Wings. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. ISBN 0-684-83915-6.
- "Elegantly Obsolete...the Fairey Battle". Air International, Vol. 20, No. 3, March 1981, pp. 127–134. ISSN 0306-5634.
- Ethell, L. Jeffrey. Aircraft of World War II. Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995. ISBN 0-00-470849-0.
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- Huntley, Ian D. Fairey Battle, Aviation Guide 1. Bedford, UK: SAM Publications, 2004. ISBN 0-9533465-9-5.
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- Matricardi, Paolo. Aerei Militari: Bombardieri e da trasporto (in Italian). Milan: Mondadori Electa, 2006. No ISBN.
- Molson, Kenneth M. et al. Canada's National Aviation Museum: Its History and Collections. Ottawa: National Aviation Museum, 1988. ISBN 978-0-660-12001-0.
- Moyes, Philip, J.R. "The Fairey Battle." Aircraft in Profile, Volume 2 (nos. 25–48). Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications, 1971. ISBN 0-85383-011-8.
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- Pacco, John. "Fairey Battle" Belgisch Leger/Armee Belge: Het Militair Vliegwezen/l'Aeronautique Militare 1930-1940 (bilingual French/Dutch). Aartselaar, Belgium: J.P. Publications, 2003, pp. 52–55. ISBN 90-801136-6-2.
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- Richards, Denis. Royal Air Force 1939–1945: Volume I, The Fight At Odds. London: HMSO, 1953.
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- Willis, David. "Battles for Power." Flypast, January 2009.
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