The Fairey Swordfish Stringbag

Great Britain
Great Britain

side view front view under view

'Stringbag' was the nickname of this aircraft, and when you view the picture below you can see why. The aircraft excelled in bad performance, and thus was called one of the finest warplanes in World War 2, I'm not joking! The Swordfish came to that reputation largely because it was an anachronism. Not only was it a biplane in the time of high performance monoplanes, but also with such low performance that it was difficult for monoplane fighters to fly slow enough to hold it in their sights for more than a very short moment and for anti-aircraft guns to track it with sights calibrated for use against faster warplanes. Also, the Swordfish was rugged, reliable, versatile in terms of weapons and equipment, and had such excellent handling characteristics that it could be flown in most weather conditions from any aircraft or escort carrier.

Versions:

Further pictures:

The Fairey Swordfish prototype
The Fairey Swordfish prototype

 

Technical data on the Fairey Swordfish Mk I
Powerplant 1 × Bristol Pegasus IIIM.3 radial, rated at 775 hp (577.75 kW) Role during war
  • Scout Bomber
  • Torpedo Bomber
  • U-boat Destroyer
  • Anti-shipping Aircraft
  • Mine-layer
Length 36 ft 4 inch with tail up, 36 ft 1 in with tail down Height 13 ft 5.75 inch with tail up, 12 ft 10.5 in with tail down
Empty weight 4700 lb Operational weight 7510 lb typical,
8700 lb max
Wing Span 45 ft 6 inch unfolded, 17 ft 3 in folded Wing Aspect ratio Bi-plane
Wing Area 607 sq ft Service ceiling 12400 ft
Maximum speed 139 mph at 4750 ft Cruising speed 128 mph at 5000 ft
Initial climb rate Climb to 5,000 ft in 10 min 30 sec Range 546 miles typical,
1030 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 167.5 Imp gal (201 US gal), plus an additional 69 Imp gal (82.8 US gal) tank installed in observers place, or 60 Imp gal (72 US gal) tank carried under the torpedo crutch Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns
  • 1 × 0.303 inch fixed forward firing on the starboard side of the upper nose
  • 1 × 0.303 inch rearward firing from rear cockpit, 582 rounds
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 1,600 lb on nine hardpoints:
  • 1 × under fuselage rated 1,600 lb
  • 2 × inboard wing hardpoints rated 500 lb
  • 4 × intermediate wing hardpoints rated 250 lb
  • 2 × outboard wing hardpoints rated 80 lb
up to 1,500 lb of bombs made up of varying numbers of 500 lb, 250 lb and 20 lb weapons carried under the fuselage and wings
Torpedoes/rockets
  • 1 × 1,610 lb torpedo of 18 in diameter under center fuselage, or
  • 1 × 1,500 lb mine under fuselage
Crew 2: (or 3) pilot, navigator/observer, radio operator/gunner Naval or ground based Ground and Naval
First flight (prototype) 17 April 1934 Operational Service July 1936 - May 1945
Manufacturer Fairey Aiviation Co. Ltd. Number produced 2.393 total, 992 this version
Metric system
Length 11.07 m with tail up, 3,92 m with tail down Height 4.11 m with tail up, 3,92 m with tail down
Empty weight 2132 kg Operational weight 3407 kg typical,
3946 kg max
Wing Span 13.87 m unfolded, 5,26 m folded Wing Aspect ratio 1
Wing Area 56.39 m² Service ceiling 3780 m
Maximum speed 224 km/h at 1448 m Cruising speed 206 km/h at 1524 m
Initial climb rate Climb to 1.524 m in 10 min 30 sec Range 879 km typical,
1658 km max
Fuel capacity internal 761 liters, plus an additional 314 liters tank installed in observers place, or 273 liters tank carried under the torpedo crutch Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns
  • 1 × 7,7 mm fixed forward firing on the starboard side of the upper nose
  • 1 × 7,7 mm rearward firing from rear cockpit, 582 rounds
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 726 kg on nine hardpoints:
  • 1 × under fuselage rated 726 kg
  • 2 × inboard wing hardpoints rated 227 kg
  • 4 × intermediate wing hardpoints rated 113 kg
  • 2 × outboard wing hardpoints rated 36 kg
up to 680 kg of bombs made up of varying numbers of 227 kg, 113 kg and 9 kg weapons carried under the fuselage and wings
Torpedoes/rockets
  • 1 × 730 kg torpedo of 457 mm diameter under center fuselage, or
  • 1 × 680 kg mine under fuselage

Here is a quick overview of all different versions, without the full technical specifications:

Different versions of the Fairey Swordfish  Stringbag
Fairey Swordfish Mk I First production model, see above.
Number built: 992
Fairey Swordfish Mk II Equal to the Swordfish Mk. I, but with a strengthened lower wing, with metal-skinned undersurfaces. this way it could carry and fire eight air-to-surface rockets. The rockets could be one of two types:The 60 lb (27.2 kg) high explosive (against coastal shipping), or 25 lb (11.3 kg) armor-piercing models (against submarines and coastal fortifications).
Number built: 1080
Fairey Swordfish Mk III Equal to the Swordfish Mk II, but fitted with a ASV.Mk X ASv Air-to-Surface search radar. Other differences are details such as their empty weight of 4,700 lb (2.132 kg), typical weight of 6,750 lb (3.062 kg), and max take-off weight of 9,250 lb (4.196 kg).
Number built: 320
Fairey Swordfish Mk IV Conversions of Mk II's, with an enclosed cockpit for colder areas (eastern coast of Canada).
Number converted: unknown

Remarks:

Talk of Irony: the Swordfish was so bad that it was very good at evading enemy fire... But not only that. The real stunning facts are that it out-lived 2 years of front-line service over its so called successor (the Fairey Albacore), and that it sank more Axis ships-tonnage that any other warplane…

The first Swordfish action saw the first coordinated torpedo attack in the history of air warfare: Swordfishes attacked two destroyers in Trondheim Norway, sinking one of them. Two days later, one Swordfish achieved an incredible feat during the 1st Battle of Narvik: spotting for the 15 in (381 mm) guns of the battleship HMS Warspite, the Swordfish performed so well that the Warspite and her escorting destroyers sank or caused the scuttling of seven German destroyers, and the Swordfish then dive-bombed a German submarine that promptly sank. By this time other squadrons were heavily involved in the British minelaying effort and also in the bombing of German-held ports together with the coastal shipping plying between them.
After Italy’s entry into the War in June 1940, Swordfish's based on Malta started to play havoc with Italy’s Mediterranean shipping: over a period of seven months, a force that never exceeded 27 aircraft sank a monthly average of more than 50,000 tons. Undoubtedly the greatest feat of the Swordfish, however, was the crippling of the Italian fleet in Taranto harbor: for the loss of only two aircraft, 20 aircraft attacked by night and succeeded in sinking the battleship RN Conte di Cavour and 2 auxiliary ships, severely damaging two other battleships including one that had to be beached and two cruisers, and damaging two destroyers

Further credits to the Swordfish in its primary torpedo-bombing role included the crippling of the German battleship KMS Bismarck during her Atlantic sortie of May 1941, allowing British surface forces to close and sink her, and the incredibly gallant but futile attempt by No.825 Squadron, which lost all six of its aircraft and 13 out of 18 men, to cripple the German battle-cruisers KMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, together with the heavy cruiser KMS Prinz Eugen, as they ran up the English Channel from Brest in north-western France to Germany during February 1942. This was the last major torpedo-bomber effort made by the Swordfish, which came increasingly into its own as a destroyer of coastal shipping and submarines with rockets.

Strengths:

Weaknesses:

 

 

© by Frans Bonné, 2000
Last revision: 9/20/00