Fairey Battle (& Merlin) Questions

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So I decided to purchase a book on the Fairey Battle as I was reading some things about Dunkirk & the early days of WWII recently, and I just decided to look a little more into an aircraft that I'm really only familiar with in the context of its service during the earliest days of WWII (the struggles in France, etc.). To be honest I very much view it as a contemporary of the Stuka, and I wonder if it would have had the same successes as the Stuka in some situations given different circumstances...I suppose that debate will never truly be known. History being what it is however, I felt some brief reading on the subject before the book arrives would be worthwhile and with that I have a few questions I was hoping some might be able to answer: 1. Supposedly the Battle bomber variants were designated based on the variant of Merlin that was installed in a given airframe. Anyone know more about this particular situation? Any major changes between the various bomber Marks or was each limited to strictly changes in the engine? (Was there even a Merlin IV or V..........same question for Battle IV or V?) 2. The aircraft is said to have a 1,000 lb. bomb load, with a 250-lb. GP bomb in each of four underwing "bays." I've also read that it had underwing racks for 500-lb. bombs (not sure if that means two more 250-lb. bombs for a total of 500-lbs. or two 500-lb. weapons in lieu of the wing "bay" bombs. Any thoughts? P.S. The book is entitled "The Fairey Battle: A Reassessment of its RAF Career" by Greg Baughen. No idea it is any good, but I figured I'd give it a shot.
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The Battle was one of the first aircraft to rack-up hours on the new, early-mark Merlin engine. Unfortunately, those early engines were not all that great. Failure rate was high in comparison to some more established engine types. This rather disturbed R-R, and they undertook an in-depth and expensive rectification program, where they took engines off the line at random, and then test-cell ran them until they failed. This worked well, identifying weaknesses. And this was no Air Ministry initiative -- the people at R-R could see the war-clouds gathering, could practically hear the goose-stepping, and wanted the best engine in the industry to support whatever was coming. Of course it became profitable too, but at the early stage there was great concern. This engine had started out as a private venture, the PV-12, and it was a bit of a gamble. (Not all their gambles paid off -- the Peregrine for example, or the Vulture.) Good thing they did it -- by late summer of 1940 the pilots had to worry about tactics and endurance, but seldom about their engines.
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To be honest I very much view it as a contemporary of the Stuka
The Blackburn Skua might be considered a closer contemporary of the JU87 than the Battle - the Skua was actually quite a good dive bomber but like the JU87 would have needed close escort if enemy fighters were around. Shame they could not have got more power into the Skua + a little aerodynamic 'clean up' - might have been a more useful a/c

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Greg Baughen's book is well worth reading. He has very strong views on the RAF's emphasis on strategic bombing, and their inability to offer direct support to land operations. Particularly (in this case) how this affected the RAF's attitude to, and use of, the Battle. I don't think, however, that he has as good a grasp on aircraft design, in particular just what can be done (and how long it takes) to significantly modify an aircraft once it is established in production as opposed to what can be done at the project and design stages. Similarly on the pressures and other priorities facing the Air Ministry at the key period of 1939-40. It is easy to claim - as he does - that it would have been better to utilise the Henley rather than the Battle, but he doesn't realise (or at least fails to note) that in practice more Henleys would have meant less Hurricanes. This is not so good an idea, and that even the 200 Henleys only means long term support for four squadrons. Rather a limited influence given they would still have had to operate in the face of enemy air superiority. He does say that this book was written partly because of publisher's pressure, on the back of his more thorough work on the relationship between the RAF and the Army in the interwar period, and I believe that this is apparent. (I've yet to read this other book.) It does however draw the reader's attention to some significant if often overlooked features - for example that the aircraft was designed and planned, even in 1940, for use in the strategic role. He quite rightly does highlight the less credible nature of the later suggestions! I'd recommend this book, with qualifications as noted above on its somewhat blinkered approach. I think that most readers would learn something they didn't already know, and be given food for thought in a number of directions. It is not however a full history of the type, offering nothing on its longer and worthy role as a trainer.

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I think Faireys design dept must have started every project with "Right, let's make it really, really slow".

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Quite the contrary: it was Fairey who introduced the concept of the fast bomber with its Fox, but only by committing the cardinal sin of importing a US engine. For a 1932 design, the Battle was quite fast, but the single-engined bomber was a dead end for there's only so much you can do with an early Merlin. Fairey did want to see more development with their own engine the Prince, but the Ministry didn't have enough money to go around the then-current engine producers without creating another one.
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The Blackburn Skua might be considered a closer contemporary of the JU87 than the Battle I can easily see how that argument could be made. Although I don't believe it was designed as a dive bomber, I just meant the general configuration, timeline, and armament, etc. between the earlier Stuka variants and the Battle is similar. Graham, I appreciate your analysis of the book. I'll give it a read (should get here tomorrow) and hopefully draw some of my own conclusions as well. As with most subjects, the truth is not always quite the standard tagline (in the case of the Battle that would be..."suffered losses over France, not a good airplane etc."), but rather somewhere in the middle of what you seem to see most commonly mentioned in reference works websites, etc. Don, I appreciate the breakdown of the bomber variants. It would seem that the Merlin III powered most Battles in service. Thanks for that clarification. Also I appreciate the breakdown of the bomb bay/underwing pylon question. It's difficult to find photos of Battles with weapons, and I don't think I've seen one with underwing bomb racks although I can imagine the drag and weight penalty wasn't good for an already underpowered design.

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The Pilots Notes for the Battle warns against long, sustained dives in the Battle as this could cause the fuel supply to be interrupted. Unfortunately, this was exactly what the pilots had to do when attacking bridges in France in 1940.

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I've always thought that as Luftwaffe (or the Armée de l'Air, for that matter) was no better off in terms of its light bombers than the RAF a death trap like the Battle was cancelled out by their death traps. But then the Blenheim was a death trap as was any poorly defensively armed bomber operating in daylight against the calibre of fighters available to the combatants in 1940. Full credit to the bravery of the crews assigned to these aircraft.

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Apparently they worked quite well as target tugs in the RAAF.
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Originally posted by steve_p The Pilots Notes for the Battle warns against long, sustained dives in the Battle as this could cause the fuel supply to be interrupted. Unfortunately, this was exactly what the pilots had to do when attacking bridges in France in 1940.
They also had to do it when evading attacking 109's - in The Journey by Ted Cowling DFC,Ted started his war as a Wop/AG on Battles and he describes a screaming vne dive whilst they were trying to escape an attacking 109. ISTR that in Sigh For A Merlin - Alex Henshaw wrote that they used to dive the Battles to 340 mph as part of the production flight test. Ted Cowling was eventually commissioned and later retrained as a Pilot - finishing the war as a Sqn Ldr.

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Apparently they worked quite well as target tugs in the RAAF. They worked even better as targets.
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Originally posted by PhantomII The Blackburn Skua might be considered a closer contemporary of the JU87 than the Battle I can easily see how that argument could be made. Although I don't believe it was designed as a dive bomber, I just meant the general configuration, timeline, and armament, etc. between the earlier Stuka variants and the Battle is similar.
The Skua was originally designed as a Dive Bomber as well as Fleet Fighter,it had speed limiting dive Flaps and a trapeze type bomb release so that a dropped bomb would clear the prop at steep diving angles,they carried out a very successful attack on the Cruiser Konigsberg on April 10th 1940 when 16 Skuas of 803 and 800 sqns FAA took off from RNAS Hatston and attacked Konigsberg in Bergen Harbour.The ship had already been damaged by a Norwegian shore battery and 4 very near misses of SAP bombs onto the Mole really finished the ship off.There had been at least 2 direct hits on the ship but the Konigsberg's Captain later reported that the 4 near misses did the worst damage. Some of the pilots used steep attacks and some used more shallow attacks on this and subsequent actions but they were not limited by the a/c - it could dive at 90 degrees if required.
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Hi Don I had got my autobiographies mixed up : ) The Battle test flying was actually mentioned in the Geoffrey Alington autobio A Sound In the Sky where he relates diving the Battles to 350 mph during production testing. The Battle is usually quoted as having a max level speed of 257mph at 15,000 feet,with a cruising speed of circa 210mph. Is your 258 figure actually in knots ? that would convert to 296 mph which would seem a more suitable VNE for this fairly robust aircraft ? Also with a 109 on ones tail - the 'book' VNE would be out the window although going faster than 300 mph might well necessitate careful use of elevator trim to pull out of the dive. rgds baz
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Hi Don Performance figures are always tricky - thats for sure :) I love your Dads analogy of dried peas in a colander :) I would suspect that the 'book' VNE figure for the Battle would have been set at the speed at which the pilot had a reasonable chance of pulling out of the dive safely without having to resort to using elevator trim to assist the pullout (always fraught with danger of overstress). rgds baz
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Excellent stuff Don :) Glad the VNE turned out to be over 300mph as I found some dive bombing trials figures for the battle and one of the noted pull out speeds was 338mph :)

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Was not aware that the Battle was considered as a dive-bomber. In this role was the aiming done by the pilot, as in the Ju87? This would make one of the crew members and several other aircraft features redundant.
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So I finished the book, and I have to say that I now have a very different perspective on the Battle and its legacy. Suffice to say I've always view its crews and those who worked on it with a great deal of respect, but I now have a better understanding of the aircraft itself. Turns out it wasn't such a bad design. The basic aircraft itself would appear to have been an excellent design that was never used or modified to reach its full potential. I hope others will pick up this fascinating read as I bet you will learn a great deal that you didn't already know. Top notch book! Title: The Fairey Battle: A Reassessment of its RAF Career Author: Greg Baughen Year: 2017 The only downside I would give this particular book is that it doesn't cover the aircraft's life as a trainer, target tug, engine testbed, etc. Granted, I don't think that was the focus of this particular work, but some words on the lesser known stories of an under-reported (& widely misunderstood) aircraft would have been nice. otis, To answer your question about the Battle's dive bomber capabilities, apparently it was able to perform as a dive bomber and although never intended strictly as such (no dive brakes for starters), the aircraft was imminently more capable than some of its contemporaries (Blenheim, Maryland, etc.) in this role although it was never utilized in that mission to a large extent.)

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I’m curious as to what could have been done more for the Battle. In daylight it was too big, too slow and vulnerable. For ground attack you need either a dedicated dive-bomber or a cannon-armed fighter-bomber. Night bombers need to carry a worthwhile bombload over reasonable range. That the Battle showed no prospect of being easily improved showed it to be a rather poor design?
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Well you have to start off by viewing the aircraft from a different perspective in terms of what roles it might be suited for. It's obvious that the idea of a single-engined bomber in the conventional sense was an anachronism from the 1920s and early 30s. The aircraft was designed to replace designs from that era (Hawker Hart, etc.) and in that regard it was excellent. It's performance far exceeded the design specifications it was intended for, and the general design was actually quite good in terms of handling, agility, and other features (it used an excellent albeit not perfect engine for example). The problem that the Battle faced was that around the time it came about some other designs came along (Blenheim, Wellington, Hampden, etc.) that the Air Ministry became more focused on and this was because they viewed these designs as one step closer to the ultimate arrival of the four (& one twin) engine heavies they so badly wanted (Striling, Halifax, & Manchester....later redesigned into the Lancaster) Long-range strategic bombing was still very much on the minds of those in the upper ecehelons of the RAF and so they immediately viewed the Battle as obsolete even though in reality in terms of its design it wasn't. From the very beginning, they should have discarded any notion of using it in a strategic context. I can't think of many other single-engine designs that were intended to be used this way and even worse, the crew training was based on this idea which meant that when the Battle found itself in tactical situations such as in France, the crews didn't have the training they should have to make the most of their aircraft. This isn't to say the aircraft didn't have its limitations, but the simple solution was to re-role the aircraft into a tactical bomber in the same vein as the Ju-87 & Il-2. Granted the Il-2 came about just a bit later and the Ju-87 was a dedicated dive bomber, but the comparisons are still valid. Broadly similar dimensions, weights, & warloads in their initial incarnations mean that the Battle could have been developed to be much more had the necessary emphasis been placed on solving its weaknesses which were as follows: Only a single forward firing rifle caliber gun (which was used quite often)...This should have been supplemented with further machine guns or perhaps cannon. The aircraft and wing could have dealt with this design change and you would have had an aircraft that would have been far more effective in a tactical battlefield role. Self-sealing tanks...these were actually designed and delivered but apparently never really fitted (certainly not prior to combat in France) and this is largely to do with the lack of focus on the aircraft as it was viewed already as a waste of resources. Increased range...this could have been provided by additional fuel tankage and some weight savings could have been gained by removing the bomb aimer and his equipment as for the battlefield role, this would have been unnecessary. (See the Ju-87 & two-seat variants of the Il-2...) More engine power...several additional powerplants were looked at to replace the early Merlin and although some tests were successful, it was not proceeded with as pretty much by the time the aircraft entered service the powers that be had moved on. The point I'm trying to make is that the aircraft had a good sound design and a variety of improvements would have helped turn it into a likely fairly successful attack aircraft that could have helped hold the line until dedicated fighter-bomber types such as the Typhoon & Tempest came along. You say that for ground attack you require a cannon-armed fighter-bomber and it must be realized that this concept didn't really come into play until a bit later in the war although the Stuka & Il-2 certainly showed that dedicated attack types had their place. (Yes, they were both vulnerable to fighters, but there were few bombers of any type during WWII that weren't. I think that properly equipped Battles with crews trained to perform the battlefield mission could have done their bit through the first few years of the war until the advent of newer fighter-bomber types. The post is getting long so if you want to talk about specific aspects individually that might be easier. The author covered a lot of ground in the book, and I think he made some incredibly valid points. I don't know what your particular perspective or experiences are as they pertain to the Battle, but based on your response I tend to think your are viewing the Battle in the "traditional" way that indeed I used to. Thus, I do not think it was a poor design, but one that wasn't developed to its full potential.

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Well there is always the problem that at the time the Battle proved hopelessly inadequate which was the Battle of France, the British retreated to Britain and for the foreseeable future there was no need for a short range ground attack aircraft. Especially one as anachronistic as the Battle. The necessity for such an aircraft first arose after the BoB in the Nth. African campaigns and there it was fighters which did that particular task and did it well. In the west these would continue that role. I'm afraid I can't see much of a parallel between the Battle and the Il 2 and the Stuka. Both of those types suffered very heavy losses but on the other hand were capable of delivering a far greater punch than the Battle and had better crew protection. A Battle bought up to their standard would have been a totally different aircraft, but still would have suffered high losses. This becomes an exercise in finding a WW2 version of an A10 - and the A10 is not designed for operation in an interceptor rich environment.