Staff Writer (Updated: 5/1/2015):
The Battle was born from Specification P.27/32 appearing during 1933 which called for a two-seat, light-class bomber aircraft to replace the aging stock of Hawker biplanes in the same role. At this time in history, British thinking centered on a compact, light-class bomb delivery platform with France being the assumed future enemy of Britain - thusly range proved of little import. The storied Fairey concern returned with a modern, two-seat, low-wing monoplane which recorded its first flight on March 10th, 1936. By the time the aircraft made it aloft, it had changed considerably from the original direction, now incorporating a greater bomb load capability as well as a third crewmember to help take on more of the operational workload. This forced a long slender fuselage with a long-running, greenhouse-style canopy to be implemented and these changes regrettably increased the airframe's intended weight with the result becoming degraded performance.
Even before the readied prototype (K4303) had even flown, the Air Ministry contracted for 155 of the modern aircraft to offset its outclassed interwar-era biplanes (many air forces were incorporating all-metal, enclosed cockpit aircraft during the period). Production followed as quickly as possible and order numbers grew despite limitations in the design already understood by commanders who would be managing the fleet during wartime. No. 63 Squadron became the aircraft's first recipient during May of 1937 as Europe grew more and more unsettled and by September of 1939, 1,000 Battles stocked the Royal Air Force (RAF) inventory in preparation for total war. Initial variants were recognized rather simply as "Battle Mk I" and these were powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin I inline piston engine of 1,030 horsepower - the same engine that would make stars out of the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire in due time. Armament was just 1 x .303 (7.7mm) Browning machine gun in a fixed, forward-firing mounting along the right-hand-side wing leading edge with 1 x Vickers K machine gun in an aft mounting in the cockpit. The Battle managed an internal bomb load of 4 x 250lb conventional drop bombs and an additional 500lbs of external stores.
World War 2 (1939-1945) began on September 1st, 1939 when German forces began their campaign to conquer Europe, crossing into sovereign Poland. They were soon joined weeks later by the Soviet offensive in the East which divided Poland in two. Prior to the invasion, the British had already delivered some ten squadrons of Fairey Battles to French soil in anticipation of war.
When Battles were put to the test, it proved itself an already outclassed aircraft type - too slow to counter enemy fighters and holding too small of a bomb load to be an effective strike aircraft. Self-defense was truly lacking and its size worked against the crew, providing a large target and revealing many vulnerable approach angles to the enemy. If left on their own, Battles fended poorly during sorties than when under fighter escort protection - Battles were neither true bombers nor dedicated fighters, instead something of an obsolete cross-breed that realistically held little value in the upcoming war of fluid fronts. During one mission undertaken in September of 1939, five Battles fell to German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters with little trouble - such was the German fighter advantage when facing unprotected Battle aircraft.