The Blackburn "Skua" (B-24) was a pre-World War 2 naval (carrier-capable) two-seat, single-engine dive bomber / fighter design of Britain. The aircraft was designed by G.E. Petty and first-flew in prototype form on February 9th, 1937, saw series introduction in November of 1938 and fought on until 1941 by which time it was made obsolete as a frontline solution. It continued in second-line roles up until March 1945 and the war in Europe ended that May. A total of 192 Skua aircraft were built for the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) of the British Royal Navy for service in the war (notable as its first monoplane fighter).
The Skua was born from Air Ministry Specification O.27/34 of 1934 and was of an all-modern design for its time (biplanes with open-cockpits were still the relative norm for the FAA). Metal skinning was used throughout its construction and an enclosed cockpit and retractable undercarriage was featured along with the aforementioned monoplane wings. The engine was set conventionally at the nose and drove a three-bladed propeller unit. The tail unit was comprised of a single, rounded vertical fin and low-mounted stabilizers. The crew of two were seated in tandem (back-to-back) under a lightly-framed canopy.
After its successful testing and evaluation phase, the aircraft was brought into service with the 800 Naval Air Squadron in late-1938. The type then found its way aboard British Royal Navy carriers heading into 1939 so, when war broke out in September of 1939, the Skua was on hand in useful numbers and pushed into service by the FAA.
Despite their classification as fighters, Skuas performed poorly in the dedicated fighter role due to their design being underpowered and heavy but they excelled in the dive bombing role for which they were also designed. A shortage of modern fighters by the British forced the type to see more combat in the dedicated fighter role despite their being outclassed by German types like the Messerschmitt Bf 109 series. Nevertheless, Skuas were credited with shooting down the first German aircraft of World War 2, this on September 25th, 1939 (a Luftwaffe Dornier 18). Skuas were then pressed into service for the Norway Campaign where their dive bombing capability was put to good use and several enemy ships were claimed (including KMS Konigsberg sunk by three direct hits).
Beyond this action, the series operated in all of the early fronts involving British navy warplanes: the North Sea, Atlantic and Mediterranean. More and more they were pressed into the escort role for other bomber types and it was not until 1941 that better alternatives became available - namely the Fairey Fulmar and the Hawker Hurricane. As such, the Skua was relegated to secondary roles of trainer and target tug until the end of the war in 1945.
A true unsung hero of the early-going for the British in World War 2, no fewer than 27 Fleet Air Arm squadrons were equipped with Skua fighters. The Royal Air Force (RAF) also operated a contingent as part of the Anti-Aircraft Co-operation force.
There were only two variants of the Skua line built, Skua Mk.I and Skua Mk.II. The former covered two prototypes outfitted with Bristol Mercury engines. The latter were production-quality, in-service aircraft carrying Bristol Perseus engines in revised cowlings. The Blackburn "Roc" (detailed elsewhere on this site) was a notable Skua offshoot that introduced a fully-powered, multi-machine-gun turret over the rear fuselage (as in the Bolton Paul Defiant fighter). One-hundred thirty-six of these were made.
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4 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns in fixed, forward firing mounts.
1 x 7.7mm Lewis OR Vickers K medium machine gun on flexible mounting in rear cockpit.
1 x 500lb conventional drop bomb under fuselage centerline.
8 x Smaller-diameter bombs (conventional or practice) at underwing hardpoints.
Skua - Base Series Name
Skua Mk.I - Prototype models with Bristol Mercury engine; two examples, differing in nose section.
Skua Mk.II - Fitted with Bristol Perseus engine; revised nose section; 190 examples.
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