When British naval intelligence determined that a large number of
Italian warships lay at anchor in Taranto harbour in November 1940, an
attack was organized, to be carried out by 21 single-engine
carrier-based biplanes. The operation was a huge success -- three
battleships were severely damaged, a cruiser and two destroyers were
hit, and two other vessels were sunk. In the space of one hour the
balance of naval power in the Mediterranean had been altered forever.
unlikely cause of this destruction was one of the warplane legends of
World War Two, the Fairey Swordfish Mk.1,
first flown on 17 April 1934. It was a three-man torpedo-bomber and
reconnaissance biplane with a basic structure of fabric-covered metal.
The wings folded for storage on the crowded deck of an aircraft
carrier. Armament included one forward-firing Vickers machine gun and
one swivelling Vickers in the rear cockpit. Primary offensive power
took the form of depth charges, mines, bombs or, especially, a torpedo.
Unfortunately, this outstanding plane was too slow to withstand the
punishment of German anti-aircraft fire. Long, accurate approaches to
the target made the Swordfish very vulnerable when delivering its
torpedo. Thus came re-deployment in an anti-submarine warfare role,
using depth charges and, later, rockets.
with many wartime aircraft, Swordfish were produced by more than one
manufacturer. Well over half (almost 1700) were built by the Blackburn
company in Sherburn in Elmet, UK.
Mk II model was introduced in 1943, and
featured strengthened and metal-skinned lower wings to allow the firing
of rockets from underneath. Later that year, the Mk III
appeared, which featured a large ASV anti-submarine radar unit mounted
between the landing gear legs which allowed detection of submarines up
to 40 km away. For operation over the cold waters of Canada, the
Swordfish Mk IV was fitted with an enclosed
When production ended in 1944, the
Swordfish had had been introduced into a full range of duties for the
fleet: Torpedo-bomber, minelayer, convoy escort, anti-submarine warfare
(ASW) aircraft and training craft. Today, four Swordfish are airworthy
-- two in Britain and two in Canada.
[History by Jeff VanDerford]
Stringbag; Blackfish (Blackburn-built Swordfish)
Specifications (Swordfish Mk II):
Engine: One 750-hp Bristol Pegasus XXX 9-cylinder radial piston engine
Weight: Empty 4,700 lbs.,
Max Takeoff 7,510 lbs.
Wing Span: 45ft. 6in.
Length: 35ft. 8in.
Height: 12ft. 4in.
Maximum Speed: 138 mph
Ceiling: 10,700 ft.
Range: 1,030 miles
Armament: Two 7.7-mm
(0.303-inch) Vickers machine guns (one forward-firing and one one in a
Fairey High-Speed Mounting in rear cockpit); plus one 1,600-pound
torpedo, or 1,500 pounds of depth charges, bombs or mines; or up to
eight rockets on underwing racks.
Number Still Airworthy: