The Fairey Swordfish was one of the most celebrated biplanes of World War II. It was Britain’s carrier-based torpedo bomber and it delivered some knockout blows to the Italian and German Navies. In an era of bloody industrialized war, the Fairey Swordfish seems like a throwback to a more romantic time. Of course, the Swordfish probably seemed considerably less romantic to those tasked with flying the fabric-covered biplane towards a 45,590 ton battleship bristling with anti-aircraft guns.
FAIREY SWORDFISH SPECIFICATIONS
According to Weapons of World War II, the Fairey Swordfish had the following specifications:
Engine: 1 Bristol Pegasus III M.3 Radial Engine with 690 horsepower
Top Speed: 138 miles per hour
Range: 543 miles
Service Ceiling: 10,860 feet
Weapons: 2 .303 Vickers Machine guns)::, 1 torpedo, or 1500 pounds of bombs.
According to Weapons of World War II, the Fairey Swordfish Mk1 was designed in response to a 1930 British Navy requirement and went into “serial production” in 1935.
The Fairey Swordfish had an impact on the war that was totally out of proportion to its frail build. It sank or damaged five Italian capital ships at the Taranto in 1940 and it also disabled the infamous German battleship Bismarck after she sank the H.M.S. Hood.
While the Fairey Swordfish seems hopelessly outdated, it did have a couple of advantages. First, since it was a biplane, with two wings, the Swordfish could generate extra lift needed to get off of a carrier deck safely. Second, since the Swordfish was relatively slow, she could skim the waves and launch a torpedo into the trough of a wave during rough seas.
According to a pilot interview on the popular History television show, Dogfights, when a Fairey Swordfish sucessfully attacked the Bismarck, the pilot flew so low many of the battleships guns could not be depressed low enough to shoot at them. The observer leaned out of the slow moving plane and helped the pilot time their torpedo launch so that the torpedo landed in a trough rather than in the crest of a wave.
Only a handful of Fairey Swordfish survive today. Warbirdregistry.org lists only 11 surviving airframes. Of those, several are in storage, static display, or in the process of restoration. The Royal Navy Historic Flight still has a flying Fairey Swordfish.
Boyne, Walter J. Clash of Wings. Simon & Schuster, 1997.
“Dogfights: Hunt for Bismarck,” Dogfights, Television Show, Season 1, Episode 11. 2007
Koenig, William, Epic Sea Battles, Chartwell Books, NJ, 1975
Ludeke, Alexander. Weapons of World War II, Parragon Press, Bath, UK, 2007.
“Fairey Swordfish,” Warbirdregistry.org