- Fairey Swordfish
name = Fairey Swordfish
first flight =
April 17, 1934
introduced = 1936
primary user =
more users =
Royal Air Force Royal Canadian Air Force Royal Netherlands Navy
number built = about 2,400
unit cost =
variants with their own articles =
The Fairey Swordfish was a
torpedo bomberbuilt by the Fairey Aviation Company and used by the Fleet Air Armof the Royal Navyduring World War II. Affectionately known as the "Stringbag" by its crews, it was outdated by 1939, but achieved some spectacular successes during the war, notably the destruction of the Regia Marina(the Italian Navy) in the Battle of Tarantoand the famous crippling of the "Bismarck". It was operated primarily as a fleet attack aircraft, however, during its later years it was also used as an anti-submarineand training craft. Designed in the 1930s, the Swordfish outlived several types intended to replace it and remained in frontline service through to the end of the war in Europe in 1945.
Design and development
The Swordfish was based on a Fairey Private Venture (PV) design; a proposed solution to the
Air Ministryrequirements for a Spotter-Reconnaissance plane - Spotter referring to observing the fall of a warship's gunfire. A subsequent Air Ministry specification S.15/33, added the torpedo bomber role. The "Torpedo-Spotter-Reconnaissance" prototype TSR II (the PV was the TSR I) first flew on April 17, 1934. It was a large biplanewith a metal frame covered in fabric, and featured folding wings for carrier use. An order was placed in 1935 and the aircraft entered service in 1936, replacing the Fairey Sealin the torpedo bomber role.
By 1939 the Royal Navy had 13
squadrons equipped with the Swordfish Mark I. There were also three flights of "Swordfish" equipped with floats, for use off catapult-equipped warships. One such, from HMS "Warspite" spotted fall of shot (i.e., radioed gunnery corrections back to the ship) during the Second Battle of Narvik in 1940 and subsequently sank the U-boatU-64.
Swordfish flew from
merchant aircraft carriers ("MAC ships"), 20 civilian cargo ships modified to carry three or four aircraft each, on anti-submarine duties with convoys. Three of these ships were Dutch manned, flying "Swordfish" from 860 (Dutch) Naval Air Squadron.
Almost 2,400 had been built, 692 by Fairey and 1,699 in Sherburn by the
Blackburn Aircraft Company, which were sometimes dubbed the "Blackfish". The most numerous version was the Mark II, of which 1,080 were made.
The primary weapon was the
torpedo, but the low speed of the biplane and the need for a long straight approach made it difficult to deliver against well-defended targets. Swordfish torpedo doctrine called for an approach at 5000 feet (1500 meters) followed by a dive to torpedo release altitude of 18 feet (5.5 meters).Emmott, Norman W. "Airborne Torpedoes". "United States Naval Institute Proceedings", August 1977.] Maximum range of the early Mark XII torpedo was 1500 yards (1400 meters).Naval Weapons of World War II by Campbell, John: Naval Institute Press (1985) ISBN 0-87021-459-4 p.87.] The torpedo traveled 200 yards (180 meters) forward from release to water impact, and required another 300 yards (270 meters) to stabilise at preset depth and arm itself. Ideal release distance was 1000 yards (900 meters) from target if the Swordfish survived to that distance. However, Swordfish flying from HMS "Illustrious" made a very significant strike, on November 11, 1940, against the Italian navy during the Battle of Taranto, Italy, sinking or disabling three Italian battleships and a cruiser. The successful Taranto attack may have given inspiration or confidence to the Japanese who would later attack Pearl Harbor. Swordfish also flew anti-shipping sorties from Malta.
In May 1941 a Swordfish strike from HMS "Ark Royal" was vital in damaging the German battleship "Bismarck", preventing it from escaping back to France. The low speed of the attacking aircraft may have acted in their favour, as the planes were too slow for the fire-control predictors of the German gunners, whose shells exploded so far in front of the aircraft that the threat of
shrapneldamage was greatly diminished. Fact|date=July 2008 The Swordfish also flew sufficiently low that most of the Bismarck's flak was unable to hit them. Fact|date=July 2008 (These two points are disputed and may be an urban myth.) The Swordfish aircraft scored two hits, one which did little damage but another which disabled the Bismarck's rudder, preventing it from maneuvering and thus sealing its fate. The Bismarck was destroyed less than 13 hours later.
The problems with the aircraft were starkly demonstrated in February 1942 when a strike on German
battlecruisers during the Channel Dashresulted in the loss of all attacking aircraft. With the development of new torpedo attack aircraft, the Swordfish was soon redeployed successfully in an anti-submarine role, armed with depth-charges or eight "60 lb" (27 kg) RP-3 rockets and flying from the smaller escort carriers or even Merchant Aircraft Carriers when equipped for rocket-assisted takeoff (RATO). Its low stall speed and inherently tough design made it ideal for operation from the MAC carriers in the often severe mid Atlantic weather. Indeed, its take-off and landing speeds were so low that it didn't require the carrier to be steaming into the wind, unlike most carrier-based aircraft. On occasion, Swordfish were flown from a carrier at anchor.]
Swordfish-equipped units accounted for 14 U-boats destroyed. The Swordfish was meant to be replaced by the
Fairey Albacore, also a biplane, but actually outlived its intended successor. It was, however, succeeded by the Fairey Barracuda monoplanetorpedo bomber.
The last of 2,392 Swordfish aircraft was delivered in August 1944; the last operational squadron was disbanded on
21 May, 1945, after the fall of Germany; and the last training squadron was disbanded in the summer of 1946.
Origin of the "Stringbag" nickname
The Swordfish received the "Stringbag" nickname not because of its construction but because of the seemingly endless variety of stores and equipment that the aircraft was cleared to carry. Crews likened the aircraft to a housewife's string
shopping bagwhich was common at the time and, which due to its having no fixed shape, could adjust to hold any shape or number of packages. Like the shopping bag, the crews thought the Swordfish could carry anything.Fact|date=March 2008
;Swordfish I:First production series.;Swordfish I:Version equipped with floats, for use off of
catapult-equipped warships.;Swordfish II:Version with metal lower wings to enable the mounting of rockets, introduced in 1943.;Swordfish III:Version with added a large centrimetric radarunit, introduced in 1943.;Swordfish IV:Last serial built version (production ended in 1944) with an enclosed cabin for use by the RCAF
Royal Canadian Air Force;NLD:
Royal Netherlands Navy Dutch Naval Aviation Service
**No. 860 Squadron;ESP : Fact|date=March 2008;UK:
Royal Air Force
No. 119 Squadron RAF
No. 202 Squadron RAF
Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm
**No. 811 Squadron
**No. 812 Squadron
**No. 814 Squadron
**No. 815 Squadron
**No. 816 Squadron
**No. 818 Squadron
**No. 819 Squadron
**No. 820 Squadron
**No. 821 Squadron
**No. 822 Squadron
**No. 823 Squadron
**No. 824 Squadron
**No. 825 Squadron
"This is an incomplete list."
Two aircraft, Swordfish Mk.I W5856 and Swordfish Mk.II LS326 are in flying condition and form part of the Royal Navy Historical Flight. A third aircraft, Swordfish Mk.III NF389 is being restored to airworthy condition by the Flight.
Swordfish Mk.III, NF370 is displayed at the
Imperial War Museum Duxford. A Swordfish Mk.II, with an unknown serial number, is at the Canada Aviation Museum.
A Mk. II Swordfish, converted to Mk. IV, HS469 is on display at the
Shearwater Aviation Museum. It was restored to air-worthy condition and flew once, in 1994.
An unrestored aircraft, HS491, is part of the collection of the Malta Aviation Museum and is currently awaiting restoration.
pecifications (Fairey Swordfish)
plane or copter?=plane
jet or prop?=prop
crew=Three (pilot, observer, and radio operator/rear gunner)
length main=35 ft 8 in
length alt=10.87 m
span main=45 ft 6 in
span alt=13.87 m
height main=12 ft 4 in
height alt=3.76 m
area main=542 ft²
area alt=50.4 m²
empty weight main=4,195 lb
empty weight alt=1,900 kg
loaded weight main=7,720 lb
loaded weight alt=3,500 kg
max takeoff weight main=
max takeoff weight alt=
Bristol PegasusIIIM.3 or XXX
type of prop=
number of props=1
power main=690 hp
power alt=510 kW
power more=(750 hp (560 kW) for Pegasus XXX)
max speed main=138 mph
max speed alt=222 km/h
max speed more=at 5,000 ft (1,500 m)
range main=546 mi
range alt=879 km
ferry range main=1,025 mi
ferry range alt=1,650 km
ceiling main=19,250 ft
ceiling alt=5,870 m
climb rate main=1,220 ft/min
climb rate alt=6.2 m/s
*1x 0.303 in (7.7 mm)
Vickers machine gunin engine cowling
*1x 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis or
Vickers K machine gunin rear cockpit
bombs=1x 1,670 lb (760 kg)
torpedoor 1,500 lb (700 kg) mine
rockets=8x 60 lb (27 kg)
RP-3rocket projectiles (Mk.II and later)
List of aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm
* Brown, Eric, CBE, DCS, AFC, RN.; Green William and Swanborough, Gordon. "Fairey Swordfish". "Wings of the Navy, Flying Allied Carrier Aircraft of World War Two". London: Jane's Publishing Company, 1980, p. 7–20. ISBN 0-7106-0002-X.
* Harrison, W.A. "Fairey Swordfish and Albacore". Wiltshire, UK: The Crowood Press, 2002. ISBN 1-86126-512-3.
* Harrison, W.A. "Swordfish at War". Shepperton, Surrey: Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., 1987. ISBN 0-7110-1676-3.
* Harrison, W.A. "Fairey Swordfish in Action" (Aircraft Number 175). Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 2001. ISBN 0-89747-421-X.
* Harrison, W.A. "Swordfish Special". Shepperton, Surrey: Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., 1977. ISBN 0-7110-0742-X.
* Kilbracken, Lord, "Bring Back My Stringbag: A Swordfish Pilot At War". London: Pan Books Ltd, 1980. ISBN 0-330-26172-X. First published by Peter Davies Ltd, 1979.
* Lamb, Charles. "War in a Stringbag". London: Cassell & Co., 2001. ISBN 0-304-35841-X.
* Stott, Ian G. " The Fairey Swordfish Mks. I-IV" (Aircraft in Profile 212). Windsor, Berkshire: Profile Publications, 1971. No ISBN.
* Sturtivant, Ray. "The Swordfish Story". London: Cassell & Co., 1993 (2nd Revised edition 2000). ISBN 0-304-35711-1.
* Taylor, H.A, "Fairey Aircraft since 1915". London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1974. ISBN 0-370-00065-X.
* Thetford, Owen. "British Naval Aircraft Since 1912" (Fourth Edition). London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1994. ISBN 0-85177-861-5.
* Wragg, David. "Stringbag: The Fairey Swordfish at War". London: Pen and Sword, 2005. ISBN 1-84415-130-1
* [http://www.photoboxgallery.com/MaritimeAviationNews Images of Swordfish W5856]
* [http://www.kbismarck.com/article2.html Swordfish Story of the Torpedoing of the Bismarck]
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