Fairey  Swordfish II (LS326)Fairey  Swordfish II (LS326)Fairey  Swordfish II (LS326)

Fairey  Swordfish II (LS326)  [@ RAF Waddington]

The Swordfish nicknamed the ‘Stringbag’ was derived from the private-venture Fairey TSR II (Torpedo-Spotter-Reconnaissance II).  The prototype first flew in March 1933 but was lost in an accident in the following September.  Undeterred, the Company's design team followed up with a slightly larger development, the TSR II.  The prototype powered by a Pegasus radial engine, K4190, flew for the first time on 17th April 1934 and a contract for 86 production Swordfish 1 (eventually 992 built) aircraft was placed on the 17th April 1935.  The Swordfish was armed with a single fixed Vickers 7.7 mm (0.303 inch) machine gun firing forward and a rear-mounted Vickers K or Lewis 7.7 mm gun handled by the radioman-gunner.  The type entered Fleet Air Arm (FAA) service with 825 Squadron in July 1936 with aircraft K5936 “978” on HMS Glorious.  By the outbreak of WW2 689 Swordfish had been delivered or were on order.  Thirteen squadrons were equipped with the type and a further 12 were formed during the war years.  In 1939 the RAF expressed an interest with the result that five Mk I aircraft, P4026-P4030, were delivered to RAF Seletar in August 1939, they became part of B Flight Spotter Unit based at RAF Seletar from 1st October 1939 and later 4 AACU Seletar until March 1941.

LS326 was built as a Swordfish II (a "Blackfish") by Blackburn and delivered to the Royal Navy at Donibristle, Scotland, on the 17th August 1943.  In the following October LS326 was allocated to 836 NAS (Navy Air Squadron) based at Maydown, Northern Ireland.  While with 836 Squadron LS326 flew anti-submarine sorties protecting the trans-Atlantic convoys, first with "L Flight" embarked on the oil tanker MV Rapana (MAC ship) and from February 1944 with "K Flight" operating from the grain ship MV Empire MacCallum (MAC ship).  On retirements from front-line duties LS326 finished the WW2 on training and communication duties at Royal Naval Air Station Culham, Oxfordshire, then at Worthy Down, Hampshire.  Purchased by the Fairey Aviation Company in 1945 and registered as G-AJVH LS326 was placed into storage at White Waltham Airfield, the home of West London London Aero Club, later in the year.  Restored in 1955, LS326 continued to fly from White Waltham Airfield.  In 1959 LS326 was repainted as aircraft "5A" from 825 NAS to play a starring role in the 1960 black-and-white British war film "Sink the Bismarck!" starring Kenneth More.  Presented to the Royal Navy by the Westland Aircraft Company in September 1960, LS326 kept the '5A' identity and colour scheme until 1986.  Re-covered at Booker Airfield in 1987 and re-painted in the 836 NAS "MV Rapana" colours and markings.  In the late 1990's LS326 was named the "City of Liverpool" in recognition of the part played by the people of Liverpool in the Battle of the Atlantic.  Grounded in early 2000 due to corrosion in the wing spars but following extensive work by BAE Systems at Brough LS326 resumed flying again in July 2008.  LS326 is owned by the Royal Navy Historic Flight which is based at RNAS Yeovilton.

Fairey  Swordfish II (HS618)Fairey  Swordfish II (HS618)

Fairey  Swordfish II (HS618)  [@ Fleet Air Arm Museum]

It was in the Mediterranean Theatre that the Swordfish really proved its worth.  Swordfish inflicted considerable damage on Italian shipping, culminating in the spectacular night attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto on the 11th November 1940 by 21 Swordfish of 815 and 819 Squadrons from HMS Illustrious.  At a stroke, the Italian battle fleet was reduced from six to three capital ships at a crustal period of the war and for the loss of only two Swordfish.

Other notable Swordfish actions included the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941, the crippling of the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941 by Swordfish from HMS Ark Royal and the gallant action against the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugene during the famous "Channel Dash" in February 1942, when all six Swordfish of 825 Squadron involved were shot down.

HS618 was built by Blackburn as a Swordfish II in 1943 ( a "Blackfish").  Delivered to the Royal Navy at Donibristle, Scotland, on the 30th April 1943 HS618 was allocated to 834 NAS (Navy Air Squadron) during May 1943 and embarked on HMS Hunter.  HMS Hunter was an Escort Carrier lent to Britain by the United States Government and served with the British Western Approaches Command mainly in the Atlantic convoy defence role.  During July HMS Hunter picked up 834 Squadron, flying a mix of Swordfish and Supermarine L.II Seafires to escort a convoy to Gibraltar arriving in August.  HS618 was badly damaged in the ships hanger when a Seafire broke loose during a gale on the 4th August.  Although no longer airworthy HS618 was allocated to the instructional airframe role.  HS618 could have taken part in the Salerno landings and subsequently transferring with 834 in September 1943 to HMS Battler for Aden and subsequently Bombay, to provide anti-submarine patrols and to give support to convoys in the Indian Ocean.  The Swordfish of 834 Squadron were replaced from April 1944 with the Grumman Wildcat V.  Following WW2 HS618 was allocated to the Royal Naval Engineering College Manadon, Plymouth, and then to the FAA Museum in 1965.

After 1942 the Swordfish was replaced in its torpedo-bombing role by the Fairey Albacore (also a biplane), Fairey Barracuda (a monoplane) and Grumman Avenger and so the Swordfish adopted the anti-submarine role and was provided with radar and with air-surface rockets.  The Swordfish II (1,080 built), which appeared in 1943, had metal covered lower wings, enabling it to carry rockets.  The Swordfish III (320 built) carried Air to Surface Vessel (ASV) radar in housing between the main landing gear legs.  The centrimetric radar had a range of about 25 miles against ships and in good conditions also against U-boats, but it would detect a Schnorkel only in very calm seas and at distances below 5 miles.  All three Swordfish variants were converted to Swordfish IV standard (closed, heated cockpit) for service with the Royal Canadian Air (RCAF) and many Is we're converted as twin-float seaplanes.

Fairey  Swordfish III (NF370)Fairey  Swordfish III (NF370)Fairey  Swordfish III (NF370)

Fairey  Swordfish III (NF370)  [@ RAF Duxford]

NF370 was built by Blackburn Aircraft Factory (a "Blackfish") at Sherburn-in-Elmet, Yorkshire, and entered Fleet Air Arm service on the 1st April 1944.  However during January 1945 NF370 was transferred to the RAF's 119 Squadron based at Bircham Newton in Norfolk.  This squadron specialised in anti-shipping patrols at night, their quarry being enemy E-boats and R-boats operating along the Dutch coast and was the only RAF squadron to operate the Swordfish III.  Formed on the 19th July 1944 from the Albacore Flight of 415 Squadron RCAF, the rest of the Squadron was transferred to Bomber Command.  In October 1944 119 Squadron moved to Belgium and midget submarines were added to its targets.  In January 1945 ASV-equipped Swordfish IIIs replaced the Albacores.  Three midget-submarines were destroyed before the Squadron flew on its last patrol on the 11th May 1945.  The squadron returned to the UK and was disbanded at Bircham Newton on the 25th May 1945.  NF370 returned in 1946 to the Royal Navy and was acquired by the Imperial War Museum in 1952.  Allocated to RAF Duxford in 1986 NF370 underwent restoration from 1998 in the attempt to return the airframe to an airworthy condition (NF370 is actually fitted with a non-functional Pegasus engine).  In 2005 was repainted in the livery of 119 Squadron (as shown in the photos).  Only two Mark IIIs are left in the world.  An aerial torpedo can be seen next to the aircraft.

The Swordfish was very successful in the anti-submarine role.  In general the Swordfish flew patrols at night, patrolling up to 145 Km ahead of the convoy.  Operating from escort carriers and MAC (Merchant Aircraft Carrier) ships, targets were located by the on board radar and investigated by dropping flares.  Swordfish production ended on the 18th August 1944 by which time 2391 aircraft had been built, 692 by Fairey and 1,699 by the Blackburn Aircraft Company (referred to as Blackfish) at Sherburn-in-Elmet.  The final Swordfish was delivered in August 1944 and the last front-line FAA flew Swordfish on the 21st May 1945 when 836 Squadron was disbanded.  The last training squadron was disbanded in the summer of 1946.