Fairey Swordfish Torpedo Bomber / Anti-Submarine / Reconnaissance / Trainer Aircraft
The Fairey Swordfish, despite its World War 1-era appearance, was an unsung hero of the Allied cause against Axis naval forces.
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The Fairey Swordfish was one of the unsung heroes of the Second World War. With Britain seemingly fighting the world war all on its own, much pressure fell upon its air force and navy branches to produce results. The Swordfish would go on to become a mythical hero in the conflict, partaking in the brave attacks on the strategic Italian port city of Taranto and inflicting the critical torpedo strike against the German battleship Bismarck, paralyzing it until its inevitable destruction at the hands of Royal Navy warships. In the end, this aircraft would become the stuff of legend - sporting a design look more in line with World War 1 and inter-war fighters than the sleek offerings appearing from 1940 and beyond. Despite this antiquated appearance, the Swordfish proved a vital cog in the Allied effort during the largest global conflict in history.
Origins of the Swordfish could be traced back to a private venture (known simply as the Fairey Private Venture or simply "PV") undertaken by Fairey. This aircraft design was developed in response to an Air Ministry need for a reconnaissance aircraft capable of serving as a naval gunfire spotter. Spotters were an essential component in follow-up shots from the big naval guns, often times increasing accuracy of the gun crews dramatically. The follow up S.15/33 specification expanded this role to include the delivery of torpedo munitions to replace the current crop of aged biplanes in service. While the PV took on the designation of TSR I, the revised design became the TSR II (TSR standing for "Torpedo-Spotter-Reconnaissance" to reflect the types intended roles). The TSR II achieved first flight on April 17th, 1934 and was put into production as the Swordfish the following year. 86 Swordfish Mk I systems were contracted in this initial production batch. Deliveries began in 1936 and the aircraft quickly became the standard Fleet Air Arm torpedo bomber, becoming the newest mount of No. 825 Squadron. The Swordfish replaced the aged Fairey Seal in service. By 1939, the Fleet Air Arm was moved away from Royal Air Force control and relocated as a permanent fixture under the banner of the Royal Navy.
Much like its World War 1 predecessors, the Swordfish was designed as a large-area wing, three-seat biplane aircraft. Pictures do not do this machine justice for this was a very large biplane aircraft. Unlike the seemingly meek construction of World War 1 fighters - sporting wooding substructures covered by fabric - the Swordfish featured an all-metal understructure covered in fabric. IN many ways, the Swordfish served as a sort of "bridge" between two distinct aircraft eras. To add to the types throw-back looks, the aircraft still featured an open-air cockpit (remedied in the final production variant with an enclosed cabin) and fixed undercarriage. A crew of three - consisting of the pilot, observer and radio operator/gunner - would man the various positions aboard the aircraft. The straight empennage was braced by a single tail wheel and featured a conventional single vertical tail fin. The radial engine was mounted at the extreme forward of the fuselage and featured a three-bladed propeller. All surfaces were rounded and contoured wherever possible. The slightly uneven-span biplane wing assemblies featured parallel struts with single bays and light cabling. While the lower wing component was relatively level, the upper component sported slight dihedral. Both wing components had the convenient function to fold (hinged at the wingroots) for easier storage aboard the space-strapped aircraft carriers of the time.
Swordfish performance was adequate considering the types origins and role. Power was supplied from radial piston engines made up of the Bristol Pegasus IIIM.3 at one point and later by the improved the Bristol XXX series with and output of 690 horsepower and 750 horsepower respectively. A top speed of 138 miles per hour was possible along with a range of 546 miles. A service ceiling of 19,250 feet was available with a rate-of-climb of 1,220 feet per minute - not exactly a hotrod, though the Swordfish had "it" where it counted.
The standard armament of the Swordfish was something more akin to the fighters of World War 1 than the Second World War. The pilot was afforded a single 7.7mm machine gun, fixed in a forward-firing position and mounted in the engine cowling. The rear cockpit gunner operated a single trainable 7.7mm machine gun to protect the aircraft's vulnerable rear. Where the real bread and butter of the system lay was in its ability to mount a single 1,670lb torpedo running centerline under the fuselage. The torpedo would become the choice armament of the high seas in World War 2 and an aircraft that could capably and accurately deliver such a payload was a god-send to any navy force. Additionally, Swordfish Mk II models (and later) could sport explosive rocket projectiles under the wings. By the time their true wartime worthiness had passed, Swordfish would go on to be armed with a single 1,500lb mine for anti-submarine duty.