Aircraft History

Fairey Swordfish

Fairey SWORDFISHAlthough the Swordfish first entered service with the Royal Navy in 1935, it served on 25 front line squadrons during World War II despite its obsolescence. A total of 2399 Swordfish were built and in spite of its age the Swordfish participated in a number of notable sea battles.

The Swordfish first achieved international fame in November 1940 when 20 Swordfish crippled the Italian Navy in the much heralded attack on Taranto harbour. The attack eliminated the possibility of Italian warships increasing German naval strength in the Mediterranean.

In May 1941, Swordfish from the aircraft carriers HMS Victorious and HMS Ark Royal were involved in the search for and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck . The first Swordfish attack, lead by Lieutenant Commander Esmonde, was launched from Victorious . However, none of the torpedoes from the nine aircraft made a telling blow. The second attack, consisting of 20 Swordfish, was launched from Ark Royal . One of the Swordfish torpedoes severely damaged Bismarck's rudder, seriously limiting her manoeuverability and allowing the pursuing British task force to finally sink Bismarck with naval gunfire.

In February 1942 the German battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen slipped out of the French port of Brest and forced passage of the English Channel to join the Norwegian campaign. Six Swordfish from the hastily reformed 825 Squadron (Fleet Air Arm), with no time to work up to operational readiness following the sinking of the Ark Royal , were the first to attack the German ships in the English Channel. Because of their vulnerability and slow speed, the Swordfish stood little chance for success. All six Swordfish reached the outer screen of destroyers around the capital ships and the first three dropped their torpedoes; the other three had only a mile to go to the dropping point when last seen. None of the torpedoes hit their mark and all six aircraft were shot down with only five of the 18 crew members surviving. For his coolness, determination and leadership under fire, Lieutenant Commander E. Esmonde, the leader of the attack, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

During the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II there were insufficient aircraft carriers to escort convoys across the ocean, therefore, the British converted 19 grain ships and oil tankers to Merchant Aircraft Carriers (MAC). The grain ships, fitted with a 400 foot flight deck, hangar and elevator, operated four Swordfish while the tankers with a 460 foot flight deck had no hangar to accommodate their three Swordfish. To service the Swordfish as they were flown ashore from their MAC Ships upon entering Halifax harbour, the Royal Navy formed Royal Naval Air Section HMS Seaborn at RCAF Station Dartmouth in September 1940. As the Swordfish suffered high attrition flying from their small MAC Ships in the heavy North Atlantic weather, replacement Swordfish were shipped in crates in holds of other merchant vessels to Halifax, Nova Scotia where they were assembled and test flown at HMS Seaborn for the MAC Ships returning to England. Many of the reassembled Swordfish were also flown to RCAF Station Yarmouth, Nova Scotia where they were used as training aircraft for the Royal Navy's Telegraphist Air Gunner School.

When HMS Seaborn was decommissioned on 28 January 1946, the Royal Navy donated the 22 Swordfish currently at HMS Seaborn to the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). The newly acquired Swordfish were used to form Fleet Requirements Unit 743 where they were used for general purpose duties. With approval to form a RCN air arm reserve, some of the veteran Swordfish were ferried to 11 Naval Divisions across Canada for ground crew instructional purposes.

Type: Three seat torpedo bomber and maritime reconnaissance biplane

Wing Span:
13.87 m (45 ft 6 in)

10.87 m (35 ft 8 in)

3.76 m (12 ft 4 in)

Max. Speed:
222 kph (138 mph)

Service Ceiling:
3260 m (10,700 ft)

1658 km (1030 mi)

Max. Weight:
3406 kg (7510 lb)

Empty Weight:
2132 kg (4700 lb)

Power Plant:
One 559 kW (750 hp) Bristol Pegasus XXX, 9 cylinder radial piston engine

One forward firing 7.7 mm (0.303 in) machine gun in fuselage; and
one 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Lewis gun in rear cockpit; plus
one 730 kg (1610 lb) torpedo
or 680 kg (1500 lb) of bombs
or eight rocket projectiles on under wing racks