Battle Bomber K7602 of 52 Squadron

Battle Bomber K7602 of 52 Squadron at Upwood[1]

The Fairey Battle was a light bomber used by the Allies during the early years of World War 2.


Initial DevelopmentEdit

In April 1933, the Air Ministry issued Specification R27/32 calling for a two-seat single-engined monoplane day bomber with a minimum speed of 522km/h (200mph),with an ability to carry a 454kg (1.000lb) bomb-load over a distance of l,608km (1,000 miles). The specification's main objective was the replacement of the Hawker Hart, although it was also considered as a backup in case B.9/32, which called for a twin-engined medium bomber, should fail to produce a valid contender. Proposals for R27/32 were submitted by Armstrong Whitworth, Bristol, Fairey and Hawker, while B.9/32 resulted in the production of the Hampden and Wellington. On 11 June 1934, Fairey and Armstrong Whitworth received a contract to build a prototype each.

Fairey's design team, under the direction of head designer Marcel Lobelle, produced an elegant monoplane whose lines were more like those of a fighter than a bomber. The designer immediately noticed the limitations of the specification and submitted further proposals for a twin-engined version. Furthermore, Lobelle was hoping to power the aircraft with Fairey's own Prince engine, particularly the P.l2 which was designed to produce around 850hp. This engine was embodied in a mock-up which was completed at the Hayes facility in 1934, which also featured separate cockpits for pilot and rear gunner, the latter armed with a single 7.7mm (0.303in) Vickers K machine gun for rear defence, while a similar calibre Browning was installed in the starboard wing, firing forward.

The bomb load was carried in wing root bays which could take up to four 1l3.5kg (250lb) bombs, each fitted with an arm which swung it clear of the aircraft during a dive. A sliding panel in the floor was provided for the bomb~aimer. The aircraft incorporated a whole series of novelties for its day, particularly the entire construction in light alloy and stressed skin. It also featured a semi-retractab1e main undercarriage which hinged back into the two¯spar low mounted wing, the wheels affording a certain degree of protection in the case of a wheels-up landing.

Soon, however, changes had to be made to the original design as the Air Ministry insisted on the addition of a third crew member, arguing that rear defence would be prejudiced while the second crew member was acting as bomb aimer. Thus the cockpit was redesigned into one long glass-house covering all three stations. Fairey found no support for its Prince engine, and Lohelle had to turn to Rolls-Royce and their PV~12 which eventually became the Merlin. This posed some difficulties. as delays experienced during the Merlin's early production life disrupted Fairey's schedule several times.[2]

Into the AirEdit

The prototype (K4303), in a resplendent silver finish, performed its first flight from Great West Aerodrome on 10 March, 1936 with Chris Staniland at the controls. It was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin 'F' driving a Fairey-Reed three-bladed fixed-pitch propeller. Although a prop spinner was fitted at that time, this soon disappeared and the 'spinner-less' appearance became a feature of future production aircraft. Soon, trials were transferred to Martlesham Heath where the Fairey bomber produced some surprising results.A maximum speed of 413km/h (257rnph) was recorded at 4,575m (15.000ft), while range at a cruising speed of 322 km/h (200mph) with a bomb load of 454kg (l,000lb) was l,577km (980miles).[3]

These values, however. plummeted with the appearance of the full production Battle, as the Fairey bomber was named. An initial order to Specification R23/35 for 155 Battles within Scheme 'C' of the Royal Air Force's (RAF) expansion programme, was placed with Fairey in 1935. By the time the first production aircraft (K7558) left the litre at Heaton Chapel (Stockport) in April 1937, its range was considered insufficient, and so was its bomb load, especially when compared to the contemporary twin-engined medium bombers that were emerging. Clearly obsolescent. the single-engined bomber from Fairey found little enthusiasm within official circles; it went into mass production nonetheless. On the credit side, the Battle was the first Merlin-powered aircraft to enter production, establishing this Rolls- Royce engine as one of the most important aero-engines ever to be built.

Meanwhile, this specification embodied all the changes considered necessary for service use,including the addition of the third crew member, external exhaust manifolds,the fitting of a de Havilland variable-pitch propeller and revised equipment. Far more substantial orders were made in Scheme 'F' of 1936, with Fairey receiving an extension of its first order by 500 examples in May. To this, 400 more Battles were ordered from Fairey's 'shadow factory', Austin Motors at Longbridge, in August, plus materials to cover a further 100 examples.

At one time, the Air Ministry seems to have had a change of heart: 189 aircraft which Fairey seemed unlikely to deliver by the target date of March 1939 were cancelled in late 1937, only to be reinstated the following year. Austin, which was to switch to building Wellingtons on completion of its order, received an order for a further 363 examples. The height of folly was probably reached when Battles were being ordered just to keep both plants in work, with Fairey being presented with orders for sonic 450 examples between November 1938 and February 1939, a further 100 each for Fairey and Austin in lune and September respectively, while on the outbreak of war 300 target tugs were ordered oil Austin. Of all these, only 234 examples were cancelled (November 1940), bringing production to a grand total of 2,201 Battles![1]

Into ServiceEdit

Although externally identical to all others, some Battles were fitted with dual controls for crew training. Second production aircraft K7559, fitted with dual controls and powered by a Merlin I, was delivered tn No 63 Squadron at Upwood on 20 May, 1937, marking the Battles introduction tn service life The unit received three more in lune and by the end of that year had completely converted from the Hawker Audax to the new type when it had reached at complement of 15. Deliveries followed l0 No 105, ZZ6, S2 and 88 Squadron, while No 63 performed Battle development trials in March 1938 operating three of its aircraft.

Austin's first production machine, L4935, flew fur the first time fin 22 July 1938 powered by a Merlin II and was delivered to No 63 Squadron in Octubcr.As the engines supplied to Fairey and Austin varied from the Merlin I to the Merlin V. the ' Battle was identified by the type of engine installed, thus a Merlin l powered aircraft became a Battle Mk I, a Merlin II powered Battle a Mk ll, and so on. By May of 1939, 17 Battle squadrons had been formed, these being No 12, 15, 40, 88, 103, I05, l4Z, 150118 and Z26 within No l Group; 35. 52, 63, 98 and Z07 within No 2 Group; and No 106 and 185 Squadron within No 5 Group, By September 1939, all units within No 2 Group were transferred to No 6 (Training) Group, some of which then formed Operational Training Units (OTU) early in 1940.[1]

The Phoney WarEdit

Following the invasion of Poland by Germany on 1 September 1939, Great Britain publicly proclaimed full mobilisation, No l Group with its ten squadrons was transferred to France the following day as an Advanced Air Striking Force, taking up station at primitive landing grounds in the Rheims area. Shortly after 11.00am of 3 September, Britain was officially at war with Germany, and the Battles were the closest RAF units to enemy territory. They had been dispatched there so that should the Luftwaffe launch bombing attacks against Britain, the Battles could retaliate with strikes against Ruhr targets. No one threw the first stone' for months on end, the Battles performing only daylight armed reconnaissance sorties over the Siegfried Line, and this non-combatant period became known as the 'Phoney War'.

This does not mean that there was no fighting at all; in fact on Z0 September No 226 Squadron rear gunner Sgt E Letchford claimed the first enemy aircraft to be shot down by a Battle, a Messerschmitt Bf 109, which also marked the first air combat kill for the RAF. This followed the loss of two Battles of No 88 Squadron that same day. The Battle's weakness against modern fighters re-emerged ten days later, when five aircraft from No 105 Squadron were attacked by Bf l09s; three Battles were shot down, another suffered heavy damage, while t.he fifth - also damaged - caught fire after a forced landing.[1]

An extremely weak spot for the Battle was its total lack of defence when attacked from below. An effort to counter this by the installation of a ventral gun position proved difficult to operate; some light armour plating was also installed to afford some protection to the crew members. In December, No 15 and 40 Squadrons returned to England to re~equip with Blenheims (SAMI Vol 6, No 6, June 2000) while the rest of the Battle force were confined to navigation training and the occasional leaflet dropping sorties. Some 110 Battles languished in France throughout the spring of 1940 without seeing much action, until 10 May when Germany launched a full-blown offensive against France and the Netherlands. At mid~day, a first wave of Battles was launched (without fighter escort) on their first major offensive of the war, a low-level attack against German troops advancing through Luxembourg.[4]

Flying at an altitude of 75m (250ft) in an effort to evade enemy fighters, the Battles suffered the onslaught of intense ground fire which resulted in the loss of three aircraft. A second wave fared even worse; in all, l3 out of 32 Battles committed to action that day failed to return while all the rest were damaged to varying degrees. Out of eight aircraft dispatched the following day from No 88 and 218 Squadrons, only one managed to return. Five crews from No 12 Squadron volunteered to bomb two bridges over the Albert Canal in an effort to check the German advance towards Brussels on 12 May. All were shot down, although one of the bridges was heavily damaged. Fg Off D. E. Garland and his observer Sgt T. Gray who flew the leading Battle against this bridge, were posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), the first RAF VCs of the Second World War.

Some positive success Was scored on the morning of 14 May when Battles from No 103 and 150 Squadrons attacked German pontoon bridges in the Sedan area without any losses. A repeat performance in the afternoon was significantly different. A 63- strong Battle force from all the squadrons went into action but this time they met formidable Bf 109 opposition: 35 did not return, the highest proportion of losses being four out of five aircraft from No 12 Squadron.

From then on, the Battle units were constantly on the move, retreating from airfield to airfield. For the next 30 "days, these aircraft were restricted to night sorties and on 15 lune the few remaining serviceable aircraft returned to England. No 1 Group was reformed and re-equipped (with Battlesl); No 300 and 301 (Polish) Squadrons were also formed on Battles in July 1940, originally within No 6 (Training) Group. Operations against continental targets continued, particularly against Dutch and French ports where invasion craft were being assembled for Operation Sea Lion, Germany's plan for the invasion of England. The type's last operational sorties were flown on 15/ 16 October 1940 by No 12, 142 and 301 Squadrons against Calais, after which most of No 1 Group's units began conversion onto the Wellington.

Meanwhile, No 88 and Z26 Squadrons had transferred their Battles to Sydenham (Belfast), flying regular patrols along Northern Ireland's coast well into 1941. Another long survivor with the Battle was No 98 Squadron which formed part of No 15 Group, Coastal Command, operating from Iceland.[5]

Battles in Foreign LandsEdit

Interest in the Battle was shown by the Belgian Air Force, which placed an order for16 examples in 1937. Deliveries started in March 1938, the aircraft eventually forming No 5 and 7 Squadrons of the 3rd Air Regiment. Externally they differed from RAF Battles in having a lengthened radiator and redesigned exhaust stacks. Of the 14 aircraft still on strength on 10 May 1940, four were destroyed on the ground by enemy action. Nine of the survivors flew their only mission of the war, against three bridges over the Albert Canal; during this attack, six Battles were shot down.

An initial batch of four, already finished with Turkish markings, was impounded before delivery, but then 29 examples from RAF production were transferred to Turkey where the type enjoyed great popularity with the crews that flew them. 1n May 1940 another example was delivered, bringing the total to 30. N2219 and N22Z0 were shipped to Poland on 10 August 1940; one is recorded as having been diverted to the 'Middle East'. Also impounded at first were nine examples earmarked for Greece, later replaced by 12 aircraft delivered from RAF stocks towards the end of I939. These formed 33 Mira of the Royal Hellenic Air Force and saw limited action when Greece was attacked by Italy in October 1940. The single Battle within the ranks of the Irish Army Air Corps (V I202) was interned by neutral Eire on Z4 April I941, when an RAF crew lost its way whilst on a training fiight from Northern Ireland. Renumbered '92'. it served as a target tug until struck off charge in May 1946.

Following the evaluation of an example in April 1939, the South African Air Force (SAAF) acquired a small number of Battles for No 11 Squadron. These went into action against Italian forces in East Africa in August 1940. Two more aircraft were delivered to No 12 Squadron, SAAF. In July I941, No II transferred it's Battles to No 15 Squadron where they flew operationally until mid-August of that year.[5]

Trainers and TugsEdit

RCAF Battle Target Tug

Battle Target Tug in RCAF service[1]

With its days as a light bomber well and truly in their limelight, Battles produced as from mid-1939 were practically all in either trainer or target-tug configuration. Test installation of a flag target box and winch was carried out by Fairey toward the middle of I939. An example was then taken off the Austin production line to act as prototype early in 1940, followed by 200 examples built to that standard.

The availability of dual controls on some Battles, already mentioned, spurred the (T) version. Fairey reverted to its original design of two separate cockpits, with identical windscreens, sliding hoods, controls and rear fairing. Z00 examples were built by Fairey. The type was also found to be extremely useful in gunnery training when a Bristol Type I turret with a single 7.7mm (0.303in) machine gun was installed instead of the second cockpit.A number of Battles were converted to this configuration, though none are known to have been built originally in this form.

Although significant numbers of Battle trainers and target tugs were employed in the UK, they formed the basic type to be offered for the Commonwealth Air Training Plan (CATP) which incorporated Australia, Canada and New Zealand, with South Africa joining later on. First recipient in this plan was Australia, where Battles began to arrive in April 1940. Between that date and December of 1943, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) received 304 Battles together with a further 30 target tugs. Most of these served in Bombing and Gunnery schools until 1945, being finally phased out of service in 1949.

Apart from the Battles which were used on operational duties, the SAAF received 150 Battles for training purposes, including some target tugs, serving with Nø 41, 42 and 43 Air Schools when South Africa joined the CATP.

The lion's share of Battle trainers, however, went to Canada where some 740 examples were delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), as from August 1939. More than Z00 of these were converted by Fairchild in Quebec with the installation of the Bristol turret; one of these (R7439) was also fitted with an 840hp Wright Cyclone GR'l820~G3B as insurance against possible difficulties with supplies of spare Merlin engines. Limited to the training and target~tug roles, the Canadian Battles obviously never saw action; however their contribution to the war effort must not be forgotten' Together with other Battles within CATP, and those offering training facilities in the UK, thousands of aircrews were moulded for the real 'battle' which they had to face in operational service.[5]


  • Type: Two/three-seat, monoplane light bomber
  • Power Plant: One Rolls-Royce Merlin I, 12-cylindervee liquid-cooled engine of 1,030hp at 15,000 ft (4,575m)
  • Performance: Maximum speed – 252 mph (406km/h) at 15,000 ft (4,575m); cruising speed 200 mph (322km/h) at 15,000 ft (4,575m); climb to 15,000 ft (4,575m) 16 mins; service ceiling - 7,925m (Z6,0D0ft); range -1,065miles (1,713km) at cruising speed
  • Weights: Empty 7,410 lb (3,360kg), normal take-off 4,945kg (10,900 lb), maximum take-off -11,700lb (5,305kg)
  • Armament: One fixed forward firing 7.7mm (0.303in) Browning machine gun with 400 rounds; one Vickers 'K' 7,7mm (0.303in)machine gun on a swiveling mount for rear defence with five magazines; 1,000 lb (454kg) bombs in internal wing bays, and optional addition of 500lb(227kg) of bombs externally under wing racks
  • Dimensions: Span – 54ft(16.45m); length - 42ft 5in (12.93m); height - 15ft(4.57m); wing area 422sq ft(39.20m2)[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 SAMI July 2001 Page 539
  2. Scale Aviation Modeller International Magazine. Sam Publications. July 2001 Page 537
  3. SAMI July 2001 Pages 537 and 539
  4. SAMI July 2001 Pages 539 and 542
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 SAMI July 2001 Page 542

British Bombers
Torpedo Bombers
Fairey Albacore I Fairey Barracuda I Fairey Swordfish I Blackburn Shark I Vickers Vildebeest
Light Bombers
Fairey Battle I Bristol Blenheim I De Havilland Mosquito (Bomber versions) I Fairey Gordon I Hawker Hart I Hawker Hind I Vickers Wellesley
Medium Bombers
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley I Avro Anson I Bristol Beaufort I Handley Page Hampden I Blackburn Botha I Vickers Wellington
Heavy Bombers
Avro Manchester I Avro Lancaster I Avro Vulcan I Handley Page Halifax I Handley Page Victor I Short Stirling I Vickers Valiant I Vickers Warwick