Looking like a relic from the previous war, the Fairey Swordfish proved to be a good weapon for a variety of missions. It served from the first day of World War II to the last and outlasted its replacement.
After the jump, the Royal Navy’s premier Torpedo Bomber.
The Swordfish first flew in 1934, making it one of the very oldest aircraft to be successful during World War II. It was designed to be a Torpedo Bomber, Scout plane, and all purpose naval bomber. With a top speed below 150 mph, there’s no doubt it was vulnerable to interception. But the Royal Navy did not initially consider this a major problem for a couple reasons; mainly, Fleet Air Arm (FAA) doctrine expected that carrier based aircraft would operate at sea, away from shore based air power. Second issue was that until just a few months prior to the start of World War II (May of 1939), the FAA was a part of the RAF. And the RAF was not very interested in spending any of its limited development budget on aircraft for the Royal Navy.
So the FAA was stuck with leftovers, at best. Fortunately, the Swordfish proved to have many virtues. Many pilots described as the most aerodynamically perfect machine they ever flew. Its flight characteristics at almost any speed and with any load were docile and predictable. This is ideal for operating in a carrier environment. It also proved adaptable to a variety of load outs and missions; from torpedo strike, to tactical support, to anti U-Boat patrols. This last would keep it in business even after bigger, faster types took over the more aggressive missions.
Its low speed handling would also be a huge asset on smaller flight decks. Two responses to the U-Boat threat were MAC ships and Escort Carriers. The MAC ships, 30 of them, were Merchent Aircraft Carriers. That is, a commercial cargo vessal with a flight deck on its upper works. This was good for maybe a dozen aircraft, usually all Swordfish. The Escort Carrier was a true aircraft carrier, converted from a cargo ship or tanker. 130 of these “Baby Flat Tops” were made during the war by the US and Great Britain. They usually carried around 30 aircraft, usually a mix of fighters and patrol bombers. The Swordfish found itself employed on many British Escort Carriers to the end of the war.
Later Swordfish would carry search radar, depth charges, bombs and rockets. Its affectionate British nickname was “Stringbag”, which is apparently calling it an old woman’s purse. It could carry anything.
But this Swordfish is armed for big game. It was based on the HMS Ark Royal in May of 1941 when it participated in torpedo attacks on the German battleship Bismark. Two airstrikes were launched in appalling weather conditions. The second strike managed to put two torpedoes in the Battleship. One of which jammed the rudder at 15 deg port. That meant the Bismark was crippled, and a sitting duck for British Battleships King George V and Rodney the next morning.
If you get a chance, I highly recommend the classic 1960 movie Sink the Bismark starring Kennith More. The main character, Captain Shepard is a composite, but the flow of events is accurate and well done. Some fun trivia; after giving the British the slip, the Bismark was re-acquired by a Catalina flying boat. This had recently been lend leased to Britain for the US. So recently, it has been discovered that it was flown by a US Navy pilot (this is while the US was still “neutral”)
Then listen to the Johnny Horton classic song Sink the Bismark, and just try to get it out of your head afterwards…
This model is the Tamiya kit, with the separate photo-etch set (mostly for the rigging). The decals are from Aeromaster. This was a fun build. Tamiya kits are always a delight, nicely detailed and perfectly engineered for fit. And the pure complexity of this subject made for a lengthy but fun project.