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Fairey Swordfish

  • Speed – 143 mph with torpedo at 7,580 lb (230 km/h, 124 knots) at 5,000 ft (1,450 m)
  • Range – 522 mi (840 km, 455 nmi) normal fuel, carrying torpedo
  • Ceiling – 16,500 ft at 7,580 lb (5,030 m)
  • Climb rate – 870 ft/min (4.42 m/s) at sea level at 7,580 lb. (690 ft/min (3.5 m/s) at 5000 ft (1,524 m) at 7,580 lb)
  • Length – 35 ft 8 in (10.87 m)
  • Wingspan – 45 ft 6 in (13.87 m)
  • Wing area – 607 ft² (56.4 m²)
  • Height – 12 ft 4 in (3.76 m)
  • Engine – 1 × Bristol Pegasus IIIM.3 radial engine, 690 hp (510 kW)
  • Guns – 1 × fixed, forward-firing .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun in upper right fuselage, breech in cockpit, firing over engine cowling; 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis or Vickers K machine gun in rear cockpit
  • Bombs – 1 × 1,670 lb (760 kg) torpedo or 1,500 lb (700 kg) mine under fuselage or 1,500 lb total bombs under fuselage and wings.

The design dated back to the early thirties when the British Air Ministry issued specification S.9/30 for a “fleet spotter reconnaissance aircraft”. The Fairey Aviation Company submitted a privately financed design. Later design improvements led to the designation “Torpedo spotter reconnaissance”.

The Fairey Swordfish was a large, slow biplane with a low wing loading, ideal for actions off carrier decks. The structure was largely metal, covered with fabric. The first machine was powered by a Bristol Pegasus IIM air-cooled, nine cylinder radial, developing 635 hp. These were severely underpowered. The next, much improved, prototype used a Pegasus IIIM3 with 775 hp. First flown in 1934, this aircraft exceeded the governments demands, so an order was placed for the first 86 production examples in 1935. The first deliveries were made in the following year, further orders continuing well after the beginning of the war.

The three seater airplane could easily lift off a carrier deck with a standard 18 inch 1,610 lb. torpedo slung between the wheels under the fuselage. It’s ungainly looks gave it the nickname “Stringbag”, after a type of shopping bag used to carry all manner of things by old English ladies.

In spite of it’s seeming lack of sophistication, the Swordfish was to prove excellent in its intended role. Although highly vulnerable to attack by fighter planes, it’s low speed and stable stance made it easy to line up for a torpedo attack, coming in from abeam of a hostile vessel, while staying below the level the enemy ships could fire their guns. It’s slow flying speed made landings much safer on carriers…..into the wind, the closing speed could be as little as 30 knots.

Because they were helpless against fighters, these airplanes were usually only operated far out sea, where land based opposition could not reach. Swordfish based at Malta were operated at night and were all but invulnerable to the opposition. Starting in 1940, squadrons of Swordfish stationed here had sunk more than a million and a half tons of enemy shipping….a record never to be equaled. Maintenance was a breeze on such a simple design.