The Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA) attempted to replace its aging Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bomber line of World War 2 (1939-1945) through several more modern designs - the Fairey "Albacore" and the Fairey "Barracuda" - but neither of these would ever replicate the success and popularity of the 1930s Swordfish. The Albacore was a serviceable aircraft but its reach numbered under 800 units and crews still preferred their sturdy Swordfish platforms. The Barracuda was limited throughout its career by its choice of engine and was further delayed in its service entry by the British wartime production commitment. All of the aforementioned Fairey Aviation aircraft were designed around the torpedo delivery role with conventional dive bombing as secondary.
The Fairey Barracuda emerged from Specification S.24/37 of 1937 calling for an all-modern fast monoplane bomber. As the Albacore was designed to succeed the Swordfish, so too was the Barracuda designed to succeed the Albacore and, by default, the Swordfish, which remained in service during the war years despite its age. The Barracuda would be powered by the in-development Rolls-Royce "Exe" engine (named after the River Exe) which promised the required performance. A long, three-man cockpit was set under an equally lengthy greenhouse-style canopy. Window panes were added to the fuselage sides for improved observation of the surrounding terrain. The engine was mounted in the front of the airframe with a conventional tail unit fitted at rear - the tail featured its horizontal planes set high on the single rudder fin. The wing mainplanes were straight, high-mounted appendages, a departure from the biplane arrangements used in the Swordfish and Albacore. A wheeled, tail-dragger undercarriage was fitted with only the main legs retractable.
Fixed armament of the aircraft was 2 x 7.7mm Vickers K machine guns in the rear cockpit position. The bomb load maximum was approximately 1,800 pounds or 1 x 1,620 pound torpedo held underneath.
Development on the Rolls-Royce powerplant began in the 1930s and was intended for a new generation of FAA aircraft - the Barracuda being one of its earliest primary candidates. However, work on the powerplant was halted during August of 1939 and all commitment was officially ended the following year leaving the Barracuda prototype to fit the Rolls-Royce Merlin 30 engine of lower 1,260 horsepower output driving a three-bladed propeller unit. The ultimate abandonment of the Exe engine delayed the Barracuda program substantially and lowered performance expectations considerably - especially since the Barracuda was designed with a certain specialized equipment fit in mind, making for an inherently large and heavy aircraft.
A first flight was not recorded until December 7, 1940 by which time Britain was fully engulfed in another World War in Europe. As expected, the aircraft underperformed because of its weight and engine installation with testing eventually including two prototypes (P1767 and P1770 - Fairey company model Type 100). This led to the initial 30 production models - the Barracuda Mk I - being mainly seen as evaluation and trainers in service. By the time of the Barracuda Mk II production model, the engine was replaced with the Rolls-Royce Merlin 32 of 1,640 horsepower output now driving a four-bladed propeller unit. The Mk II ended as the quantitatively definitive production form with 1,688 being built. The Barracuda Mk III arrived later and was outfitted with ASV III radar in a rear fuselage blister for the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role to which 852 of this mark were completed. The Mk IV became an ultimately abandoned Barracuda model featuring the Rolls-Royce Griffon 1,850 horsepower engine. Its prototype first flew in November of 1944 but this design was given up in favor of the Fairey "Spearfish" instead. The Barracuda Mk V was the last in the line, being finalized with a Rolls-Royce Griffon 37 engine of 2,020 horsepower and ASH radar (the latter installed under the portside wing). Only 37 of this model were built.
Even after ordered for serial production, British factories were slow to deliver Barracudas to frontline FAA units as many resources were tied to meeting Royal Air Force (RAF) demands. The first Mk I models became available for service in January of 1943 (through No. 827 Squadron) and operated over the North Atlantic with first actions near Norway from the deck of the HMS Illustrious (July 1943). The Barracuda was further pressed in combat during the landings at Salerno (Operation Avalanche) during the Allied advance on Italy. During 1944, the Barracuda line was finally committed to combat actions in the Pacific Theater and served there until end of the war in September 1945 as one of the more high profile British aircraft in the region. The Barracuda's major claim to fame during its time aloft came in the April 1943 engagement of the German battleship Tirpitz in which British bombers were able to score direct hits against the vessel. While not directly sinking the warship, the damage was enough to remove the mighty vessel from active service for some two full months.
Large and relatively slow, the Fairey Barracuda certainly made a name for itself in the global conflict. The line suffered losses as did any other aircraft line and accidental crashes were somewhat common though the cause of the latter was blamed on leaking ether from hydraulic sources, thus rendering pilots unconscious in flight. Nevertheless, the aircraft became a proven battlefield performer and critical contributor to the British cause of World War 2, helping to secure the ultimate victory over the Axis powers in full.
Contributors to Barracuda production involved Fairey, Blackburn, Boulton Paul, and Westland. The Royal Canadian Navy and the Dutch-in-exile both exhibited the type in wartime service. The French operated the Barracuda only in the post -war years (through the Air Force branch). The RAF also stocked the type through squadrons Nos. 567, 618, 667, 679, and 691.
Status Retired, Out-of-Service
Production 2,609 Units
Fairey Aviation Company / Blackburn / Boulton Paul / Westland - UK
Canada; France (post-war); Netherlands; United Kingdom
- Ground Attack
- Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
39.76 ft (12.12 m)
49.21 ft (15 m)
15.16 ft (4.62 m)
9,370 lb (4,250 kg)
14,132 lb (6,410 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Fairey Barracuda production model)
16,667 feet (5,080 m; 3.16 miles)
687 miles (1,105 km; 597 nm)
833 ft/min (254 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Fairey Barracuda production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
2 x 7.7mm Vickers K machine guns in rear cockpit.
Up to 1,500 lb of conventional drop stores OR 1,800 lb of depth charges OR 1 x 1,620 lb torpedo.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Fairey Barracuda production model)
Barracuda - Base Series Name; initial prototype pair
Type 100 - Fairey Aviation company model designation
Barracuda Mk I - Initial production mark; fitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin 30 engine of 1,260 horsepower; three-blade propeller; 30 examples completed.
Barracuda Mk II - Definitive production mark; fitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin 32 engine of 1,640 horsepower;four-blade propeller; 1,688 examples completed.
Barracuda Mk III - Based on Mk II; Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) variant with ASV III radar under rear fuselage; 852 examples completed.
Barracuda Mk IV - Based on Mk II; proposed form with Rolls-Royce Griffon engine of 1,850 horsepower; not adopted.
Barracuda Mk V - Final production model with Rolls-Royce Griffon 37 engine of 2,020 horsepower; ASH radar fit under portside wing element; 37 examples completed.
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
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