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Fairey Battle

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Designed as a light bomber when the Battle entered service during May 1937 it would be the first operational aircraft to be powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin and would score the first Royal Air Force aerial victory of the Second World War. Used as a ground attack aircraft during the Battle of France the Fairey Battle would suffer horrendous losses during May and June 1940 as a result of its lack of self-sealing fuel tanks and armour.

Quick Facts
Sorry, no image available
First flight
10th March 1936
Entered service
20th May 1937
Total built

Front view
Battle front view photo
Side view
Battle side view photo
Rear view
Battle rear view photo

On the 12th April 1933 the Air Ministry issued Specification P.27/32 for an aircraft to replace the Hawker Hart as a light day bomber. This called for a single-engined two-seater monoplane able to fly 1,000 miles and have a speed of 200 mph whilst carrying a bomb load of 1,000lb. The Fairey design team, led by Marcel Lobelle, produced an aircraft with a single cockpit which housed a crew of three. Pilot, observer/navigator and wireless operator/gunner.

With a revised Specification P.23/35 a production order for 155 aircraft was placed during June 1935 before the prototype had flown, which it did on the 10th March 1936. Flight Lieutenant Christopher Staniland, Fairey test pilot, was at the controls for this flight. The 2nd April 1936 saw the aircraft named the Battle. This was followed on the 27th June 1936 with an appearance at the RAF Display, Hendon. Next month saw the aircraft arrive at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, Martlehsam Heath for trials.

The first production aircraft was built on the 14th April 1937 and was powered by the 1,030-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin I, it was the Battle that the Merlin would first see service with Royal Air Force aircraft as this was the very first order for the famous engine. The Battle Mk I had a top speed of 257 mph, range of 1,000 miles and a service ceiling of 25,000 ft. Armament consisted of a sole 0.303-in machine-gun firing forward and a Vickers 'K' gun in the rear and 1,000lb bombs. One major design flaw with the Fairey Battle was with the rear gunners position as the screen intended to protect him was poorly designed and as result a downdraught was deflected into his face, making rear visibility poor.

Whilst both the prototype and first production Battles were built at Hayes, future aircraft would be built at a brand new factory in Stockport, before also being built by Austin Motors based at Birmingham after winning a sub-contract as a result of further orders for Battles being placed. During 1937 the Fairey Battle started to enter RAF service with No. 63 Squadron at RAF Upwood receiving their first on the 20th May 1937. By January 1939 the Royal Air Force could call on over 400 Battles.

With the German invasion of Poland on the 1st September 1939 and war now imminent, the 2nd September 1939 saw ten Fairey Battle squadrons sent to France as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force. Early successes saw a Battle of No. 88 Squadron claim the first Royal Air Force aerial victory of the Second World War (1939 - 1945) when it shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 on the 20th September 1939, followed on the 27th September 1939 when a Battle from No. 103 Squadron claimed another Bf 109. Three days later, on the 30th September 1939, a disastrous raid saw No. 150 Squadron lose four of five Battles, with the remaining aircraft crashing on landing, which had been sent to attack enemy position in the Saar.

The following year on the 10th May 1940 the German invasion of France and the Low Countries began and the desperate situation saw the Battle used more and more for ground attack sorties and normally without an escort. As it wasn't intended for this role it lacked self-sealing fuel tanks and an armoured cockpit which lead to heavy losses over the next five days, when out of a total of 118 aircraft used, just over half of the aircraft, 77, were lost. During one of these missions, an attack on the Veldwezelt bridge in the Netherlands, on the 12th May 1940 Flying Officer Donald Garland and Sergeant Thomas Gray became the first RAF recipients of the Victoria Cross in the Second World War, these were awarded posthumously. Leading Aircraftman Lawrence Reynolds who was also part of the No. 12 Squadron crew and died in the attack did not receive an award. The 15th June 1940 saw the remaining Advanced Air Striking Force Battles carry out their final attack before returning to the UK. In the period from the 10th May 1940 to the 20th June 1940, 137 of the type had been lost and these losses saw the Battle begin to be removed from frontline service.

With the Battle of Britain (10th July 1940 - 31st October 1940) underway six Fairey Battle squadrons, including two newly formed Polish squadrons Nos. 300 and 301, would make up the recently reformed No. 1 Group, Bomber Command and were used during the battle. The 21st July 1940 saw the aircraft begin operations when six, comprised from Nos. 103 and 150 Squadron, attacked oil storage tanks in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The 15th October 1940 saw the last of 289 Fairey Battle sorties performed during this period, and the last operation as a bomber by UK based squadrons, when Boulogne and Calais in France were raided. During this period only six aircraft were lost. After this the Battle squadrons were re-equipped with the Vickers Wellington. The type would still serve as a bomber overseas until mid 1941.

Although there were three more light bomber variants of the Battle these were effectively the same aircraft but powered by a different version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin. The Battle Mk II was powered by the 1,030-hp Merlin II, the Battle Mk III powered by the 1,030-hp Merlin III and the Battle Mk V powered by the 1,030-hp Merlin V.

The type would also serve as a target tug known as the Battle TT, with July 1939 seeing the first example converted for this role, and also as a trainer. The first trainer version known as the Fairey Battle T flew on the 27th October 1939 at Ringway with Duncan Menzies at the controls. This was noticeably different as instead of the standard cockpit it had two individual cockpits. The Battle IT was the other trainer variant and this was used for gunnery training and had a rear turret installed. A number of aircraft also served as test beds including with the Bristol Aeroplane Company who would use a number of airframes to test engines. These included the engine intended to power the Fairy Albacore, the 1,065-hp Bristol Taurus II and later the 1,180-hp Taurus XII. Other engines tested included the 1,375-hp Bristol Hercules II and Hercules XI.

Sixteen light bomber versions would serve with the Belgian Air Service. These were ordered after Duncan Menzies, Fairey test pilot, had displayed the aircraft to the Belgian Air Ministry on the 19th June 1937. These would be used during the German invasion in May 1940.

By the time the last production aircraft was delivered on the 2nd September 1940, a Battle TT, 2,200 Fairey Battles had been built.

Technical Details

Click on the aircraft image to view a larger version.

Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
Battle Mk I 257 mph 1,000 miles 25,000 ft one 0.303-in machine-gun
one Vickers 'K' gun
1,000lb bombs
Battle Mk II Like the Mk I but powered by a 1,030-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin II.
Battle Mk III Like the Mk I but powered by a 1,030-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin III.
Battle Mk V Like the Mk I but powered by a 1,030-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin V.
Battle T Training aircraft.
Battle IT Training aircraft with a rear turret installed.
Battle IIT One prototype with a 840-hp Wright Cyclone R-1820-G38 engine which was to be used if Rolls-Royce Merlins became unavailable.
Battle TT Target tug.


Click on a photo to view a larger version.
Battle Mk I

See This Aircraft

(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

Battle Mk I Royal Air Force Museum, London

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