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Fairey Battle (& Merlin) Questions

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    Fairey Battle (& Merlin) Questions

    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.

    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.


      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


        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.


          Firstly in answer to Phantom IIs question 2 on bomb load:
          Yes, the designed bombload was
          1000lb as 4 x 250lb, one each in the four wing bays, plus
          an overload of 500lb, as 2 x 250 lb on the two external racks under the outer wing panels.

          What the performance penalty was at 1500lb, part external, vs standard internal 1,000lb load, cannot say.
          Whether the size of the wing bays could have taken as alternative load the then usual Small Bomb Container Mk 1a, each carrying equivalent (~250lb) smaller ordinance, cannot say.

          PR Moyes Fairey Battle (Profile No 34)
          W Harrison Fairey Battle (Warpaint No 83)

          Next, in answer to his question on Battle bomber Marks, their Merlins and other differences, from Harrison (above) p44, 46.
          "Battle B Mk I
          Powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin I V-type 12-cylinder ethylene-glycol cooled piston engine with single-speed supercharger.
          Rated at 890 hp (656 kW) for take-off at sea level - developing 1,030 hp (768kW) at 16,250 ft (4940 m) at 3,000 rpm for short periods using 87 octane fuel.
          De Havilland 3-blade 12 ft 6in variable-pitch propeller DIS 15 Type 5/4

          Battle B Mk II
          Powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin II to replace the unsatisfactory Mk I ramp type of cylinder head with a Rolls-Royce Kestrel style flat combustion chamber.
          With single-stage, single-speed supercharger it was rated at 880 hp (664kW) for take-off at sea level - developing 1,440 hp (1,074kW) at 5,500 ft (1,680m) at 3,000rpm for short periods using 87 octane fuel.
          De Havilland 3-blade 12 ft 6 in variable-pitch propeller DIS 14 Type 5/5.

          Battle B Mk III
          Identical to B Mk II aircraft but fitted with a Rolls-Royce III engine rated the same as for the Battle Mk II but with the Merlin III adapted to use a constant-speed propeller and constant-speed unit.

          Battle B Mk IV
          Same as for the Battle Mk III but utilising a Rolls-Royce Merlin IV rated the same as for the above but using a pressurised 70% water/30% ethylene-glycol mixture for better engine cooling.

          Battle B Mk V
          Same as for the Battle Mk III but using a three-blade dual pitch propeller."

          B indicates Bomber ( vs T Trainer, TT Target Tug)
          Minor scanner errors and typos silently corrected.

          W Harrison Fairey Battle (Warpaint No 83) is currently available new or 2nd hand via the usual sources, all readily found via
          Last edited by DonClark; 13th February 2018, 13:15.
          Don Clark


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


              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.


                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.


                  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.


                    Re Snibble (6 above), I quite agree Graham (7 above): plus the Fairey Long Range Monoplane (1928-1933), perhaps.
                    The Fairey Battle itself was intended as a day-bomber replacement of the Hawker Hind, compared to which it was at the time a significant advance.

                    The Ten Year Rule on anticipating European war, with it's tight budgets (incl for the RAF), was brought to a close only in 1932.
                    Following the failure of the 1932-1934 Geneva Disarmament Conference, from 1934, successive RAF Expansion Schemes called for ever increasing numbers of Squadrons and aircraft (of both current and more modern types).

                    The RAF and the Air Council were acutely aware of the difficulties and complexities of the expansion task and wholesale re-equipment with more modern types which were already in design then. Such a major change can't be completed by the flick of a Parliamentary pen or overnight.

                    Industry had to increase skilled manufacturing capacity to produce aircraft in growing numbers, matched with newer more powerful engines in quantity (plus development of ever higher octane fuels and their supply in quantity).

                    All that had to be matched with increasing numbers of skilled pilots (and, in time, other aircrew), skilled maintenance staff on the ground, more skilled instructors and training schools for each, suitable training aircraft in numbers, and thus more airfields, more hangarage and, by wartime, paved runways. Not to mention developing better machine guns and cannon, better vector and tachometric bomb-sights, the mid-1930s redevelopment of the GP series of MC bombs and their production, the ADGB and RDF system on the ground and in the air, and so on.

                    All this had to be kept in balance and within whatever expenditure allocation could be argued for from the Exchequer: the RAF was not the only UK Force re-arming. It was a time of great change which only accelerated once war finally came.

                    See eg
                    Cabinet papers/Rearmament plans
                    The RAF in the Bomber Offensive Against Germany Vol I Pre-War Evolution of Bomber Command 1917 to 1939 (AHB RAF/MLRS Books)

                    Battle postscript:
                    You're welcome Phantom II. As to production numbers by Mark, my brief perusal of production tables in published sources at hand found no comprehensive or consistent breakdown. Looked quickly and found several reliable refs to the outboard mountings. Eventually found a rear qtr air to air view, in Thetford Aircraft of the Royal Air Force Since 1918 (Putnam 1976) and another in Halley The K File: RAF Aircraft of the 1930s (Air Britain 1995) but both (certainly the latter) show Light Series Carriers, designed for external mounting of the new 40lb and 20lb ordinance of the time but not the 250lb GP: presumably a Universal Carrier could be mounted instead if going for maximum overload, but no image found so far.

                    Click image for larger version

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                    106 Squadron Battle in flight, pre-war going by the Squadron number but after Munich. Aircraft serial no K7639 though undiscernible in the plate clag, allotted to 106 Sqn on 8 October 1938 after prior service with 88 Sqn from Jan 1938. Shows the Port underwing rack, apparently not of the Universal Carrier series and more likely a Light Series Carrier, apparently without ordinance. Photo credit as shown in Thetford p252.

                    Click image for larger version

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                    88 Squadron Battle K7635 on charge Dec 37 to early Oct 1938 clearly showing a Light Series Carrier beneath the Port wing. This aircraft then went to 106 Squadron. Image from Halley (above) p130.

                    Click image for larger version

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                    Enlargement from above showing LSC, centre, again without ordinance.

                    Further info on early WW2 RAF bombs, armament and mountings etc on my 211 Squadron site at
                    Last edited by DonClark; 16th February 2018, 03:47. Reason: Addnl, order, punct, sp
                    Don Clark


                      I've always thought that as Luftwaffe (or the Arme 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.


                        Apparently they worked quite well as target tugs in the RAAF.


                          Indeed, clarkejw: Battles were withdrawn from Squadron ops from late 1940 and quite quickly redeployed in quantity at Bombing and Gunnery Schools in UK, Canada and Australia, both as trainers and as target tugs, under the EATS/BCATP/JATP system of aircrew training.
                          ADF Serials work indicates 375 or 377 Fairey Battles in RAAF use.
                          Overall listing:
                          For detail (incl Mark, TT eg) see the Airframe Histories links by serial no range
                          In Canada, some 800 of various Marks were taken on by the RCAF for aircrew training, though I've not made a thorough Source search.

                          You have to fight with what you've got and learn the lessons resulting even as you fight and still fight while bringing later equipment into being and into operations.

                          Command and more senior RAF staff had concerns about the risks being taken and their cost. Once war did come, Dowding, eg, was very concerned about the number of Fighter squadrons being deployed in France or being sought there in the Spring of 1940, while just before the Battle of France began, Portal as CinC Bomber Cmd was signalling of the Air Striking Force Battles and Blenheims
                          "I am convinced that the proposed use of these units is fundamentally unsound...we shall be lucky if we see again as many as half the aircraft we send out each time".
                          He was right, as was the CAS less than a week later, observing "we cannot continue indefinitely at this rate of intensity". It was a very difficult situation with limited resources and the end cost was very high.

                          Blenheims did make a fair contribution in the early Middle East period despite the Regia Aeronautica and eg helped keep Egypt and the Canal from being overrun by the Italians in 1940, and in Greece from late 1940 into early 1941. By Spring 1941 in Greece they were to suffer at the hands of the Luftwaffe. The Blenheim Squadrons of the Dec 41 to Mar 1942 Far East campaign also took a terrible mauling, as did others, for little cost or delay to the enemy.

                          It was all very difficult. But you could say the same in 1940, 1941 and 1942 for the Army and the Navy, let alone the Merchant Navy, at Home, in the Atlantic, in the Mediterranean and Middle East, and in the Far East. It wasn't just the Battle Of Britain that was a damned close-run thing.

                          In 1937 the Battle and the Blenheim had been big advances, even as development of multigun monoplane fighters pointed to what was likely to happen in the end. By 1940, these aircraft were at best obsolescent for daylight tactical ops without heavy close escort or air superiority. It was all very difficult and very costly of men and machines but in the end pointed to changes in doctrine and tactics that were to be more effective from, say, 1942 if not earlier.

                          I suppose I should note that I've added this last little ramble largely from memory while briefly referring to earlier work of my own.

                          Perhaps I also ought to say that my late father completed his training as a Sgt Observer on Battles in the UK in the Spring and Summer of 1940 (as well as Ansons and Heyfords!) before his posting in August 1940 to the Middle East, where he completed a tour of 40-odd ops on the Blenheim Is of 211 Squadron RAF from Sep 1940 to June 1941 in Egypt, Greece and Palestine before they were withdrawn to the Sudan to set up an Operational Training Unit. From there he was posted in January 1942 to South Africa as a Navigation and Bombing instructor. At that time 211 Squadron, with some old hands from the Desert and Greece, went to Sumatra and Java where they fought their aircraft to a standstill before being evacuated or falling captive to the Imperial Japanese Army in March 1942.

                          Don Clark
                          Last edited by DonClark; 16th February 2018, 03:51. Reason: Addnl Added RAAF RCAF counts
                          Don Clark


                            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.


                              Apparently they worked quite well as target tugs in the RAAF.

                              They worked even better as targets.


                                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.


                                  If my recall is right, tactics on unescorted daylight ops were three-fold:

                                  1. Seek cloud cover
                                  In Greece, eg, raids on Albania were ordered to T/B if no cloud cover over target area. BAFG had only a handful of Blenheim Squadrons on hand: conserve resources and attack rear bases and supply lines was the general strategy against the Italians: that and reconnaissance. The Greeks of course would rather have had close support of their troops on the NW front.

                                  2. Keep close formation and concentrate fire
                                  Close formation and concentrated fire under attack took serious skill and steady hands, from all the pilots and gunners.

                                  The Battle had a single free-mounted VGO in an essentially open cockpit, with 100 round drums good for 6 secs continuous fire before reaching for and clipping on another drum from the spares on the fuselage hooks. I don't recall how many in a Battle but at the time a total of 5 drums 500 rounds was usual.

                                  3. Attempt to evade by diving to low, very low, level.
                                  According to some, a last resort. Sometimes successful as noted. I seem to recall that the late Terence "Pat" Obrien succeeded over France in a Blenheim, open to correction.

                                  The 211 Blenheims in Greece, when operating in daylight over Albania, stuck to 1. and 2. for the most part from October 1940 to February 1941, when Gladiator and then Hurricane escort became available.

                                  The German attack on Greece began 6 April and BAFG losses mounted quickly. So no escort for 211 Squadron on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, 13 April 1941. Two Flights of three aircraft (maximum effort on the day) were sent from Paramythia to attack the German advance at Monastir. Intercepted by Luftwaffe Me109s soon after, they had run out of cloud and were ordered to dive. All six aircraft were hacked down. Of the 18 aircrew only two survived the immediate action.

                                  Battle Vne 258mph (sic: 340mph, see following posts for discussion)
                                  Blenheim I Vne 285mph (Pilot's Notes: maximum diving speed)
                                  Last edited by DonClark; 16th February 2018, 03:53. Reason: revise Vne
                                  Don Clark


                                    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


                                      Well, Baz, I was tempted to ramble on about published specs vs in the air, but chose just the bald figs. A bit careless on my part?

                                      When the rounds are rattling through the fuselage like dried peas in a colander (Dad), any supposed 5 min boost/rpm limits or max dive speed were as you say.

                                      Your thoughts re Vne for a Battle may well be nearer the mark - the trouble with later published stuff is it's often not consistent.
                                      For comparison, the Blenheim max dive speed is in the Pilot's Notes and at 285mph, some 20mph faster than the supposed max level speed at 15,000ft.

                                      At the time, they would have been driving on revs and boost, seeing the result on the ASI in mph and probably not trying to peg to a speed as such, more keeping together, while keeping an eye on the fuel gauges.

                                      So the figures I saw were all mph, but I'm sorry, I can't now spot the Battle supposed Vne again.

                                      Thanks Baz.
                                      Last edited by DonClark; 15th February 2018, 13:08.
                                      Don Clark


                                        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