The Fairey Fulmar became the British Fleet Air Arm's first dedicated monoplane fighter when it was introduced in 1940. The type proved a critical component of the early British response during World War 2 (1939-1945) with some 600 produced and fielded extensively during the first three years of the conflict, showcasing itself no better than simply adequate. It was not until more capable carrier-based types such as the Martlet (Grumman F4F Wildcat), Sea Hurricane and Sea Spitfire came around that the Fulmar had see her best days behind her. Design of the Fulmar was attributed to Marcel Lobelle, a Belgian aviation engineer having relocated to Britain. Lobelle had a hand in developing several other notable Fairey products including the Firefly, Fox, Firefly II, Swordfish, Battle, Albacore and Barracuda.
The Fulmar emerged from an earlier Fairey design known as the P.4/34. This was a light bomber designed by Lobelle and first flown on January 13th, 1937. However, the type was not selected for production and totaled just two prototypes. It was this design, however, that would go on to form the basis of the Fulmar through Specification O.8/38. The Fulmar prototype competed successfully against submissions from Hawker and Gloster, first flying on January 4th, 1940. Formal introduction occurred on May 10th, 1940 and production spanned from 1940 to 1943.
In practice, the Fulmar performed below expectations, powered by the same single engine installation as the competing Hawker Hurricane. To this sole engine installation was added heavier and dimensionally larger airframe than the Hurricane which further reduced the type's potency as a quick and nimble fighter. It carried a two-man crew, seated in line under a long-running greenhouse style canopy, and the engine was conventionally fitted at the front, driving a three-bladed propeller assembly. The aft portion of the fuselage was tapered and fitted a typical tail unit with single vertical fin. Wings were low-set monoplanes with rounded tips, capable of folding rearwards against the fuselage sides for storage. The undercarriage was made up of two main legs and a tail wheel. An arrestor hook allowed for short runway landings on carrier decks. Armament was 8 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns, four to a wing. An optional, trainable, 7.7mm Vickers K machine gun could be fitted for the rear crewman. 2 x 100lbs or 2 x 250lb bomb could be carried for strikes.
Fulmars were in the British inventory (Roayl Air Force No. 273 Squadron) during the 1940 "Battle of Britain" (July - October) though they were not pressed into fighting. In November, they began operating from the deck of HMS Illustrious to partake in the Battle of Taranto and additional stocks made their way to HMS Ark Royal and HMS Formidable. Formidable-based Fulmars were used against the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto during the Battle of Cap Matapan. In 1942, Fulmars were sent to the Far East to defend against Japanese incursions threatening around the Indian Ocean and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). By this time, there totaled 127 Fulmar Mk I models.
To help bring more power to the line, the Fulmar Mk II was introduced during 1942 with its Rolls-Royce Merlin 30 V-12 engine of 1,260 horsepower. The aircraft now reached 272 miles per hour with a service ceiling up to 27,200 feet, a range out to 780 miles and a climb rate of 1,320 feet per minute. Despite this addition, Fulmar strength was limited and its capabilities as a fighter - especially when compared to the famous Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" carrier-based fighter - quickly shown the type outmoded. Fulmars managed a terrible service history against veteran Zero pilots of the Imperial Japanese Navy to the point that nearly all Fulmars were lost or disabled by the end.
The Royal Navy remained the sole operator of the Fairey Fulmar and the type was never exported. It stocked some 23 total squadrons for the Fleet Air Arm including several night squadrons.