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Thread: Fairey Battle (& Merlin) Questions

  1. #31
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    "By the time it was being designed it was clear that fighter improvements were removing the speed edge of the Battle." Is this not a little premature?
    "At the same time it’s production was being cancelled, the Hurribomber was about to arrive." Very premature - there were two years between the decision to cancel further production of the Battle (1939) and the arrival of the Hurribomber (1941). Which incidentally had only half the payload (500lb) of the Battle. The Battle was retained longer in production but as a trainer.
    Both these statements have a strong air of hindsight, not available to the planners at the time.

    Adding weight to an aircraft doesn't make an immense difference to its top speed, although it will significantly reduce other performance factors such as ceiling, acceleration, climb rate, and most significantly here payload/range. Removing the bomb aimer and his equipment would compensate for much of the added weight suggested. This is however attempting to make a ground-attack aircraft from an existing conventional bomber, which is not a particularly good idea, although in all fairness the USAAF did do a fairly good job of this in the Pacific. Had the RAF been seriously interested in ground attack in the first place, the specification could have called for something other than a Battle. That takes us back to a main argument in Baughen's books, that the RAF avoided serious thought on close air support for as long as possible, until it was forced on them by war experience. What might have been considered, without too much wishful thinking, could have been much like a P4/34, which became the Fulmar, which with added bombracks isn't so far from a Hurribomber, which may suggest that there was nothing too far wrong with Fairey's approach and the original design configuration - it was just a little oversized.

    It is difficult to see how the Ju 87 was significantly superior to the Battle in terms of better crew protection, nor did it carry (at least in 1939) a greater payload. Arguably of course one big bomb is more effective than more smaller ones - though this does depend upon the target. It also suffered heavily when operating in the face of enemy fighters and heavy flak - but then so did the armoured Il 2.

    It is worth adding (just about) that the Battle did have a respectable war service as a light bomber in East Africa.

  2. #32
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    Premature? I read that the Hurricane prototype flew months before the Battle prototype. Across the world high speed fighters were being proposed. How could it not be realised that the Battle was soon going to lose the speed advantage?
    Re the Hurribomber, please consider the context I was using it. I am not suggesting it as a replacement for the existent Battle bomber. One therefore needs to compare your 1941 introduction date to a hypothetical date when the redesigned Battle/Sturmovik arrives.

  3. #33
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    You have to fight with what you've got DC #10/13.

    R&D Budget was given in parallel, 1933, to Battle Light and to Hampden/Wellington/Heyford Medium/Night Bombers. The public mood of the time was to Ban the Bomber. Not until PM Baldwin had safely seen off UK Bolshies/Fascists in 14/11/35's General Election could he re-arm to the extent of converting civil/export engineering resources. Heavies were promptly funded, and WW1 shadow scheme revived to convert auto et al industries to Munitions. Mussolini/Hitler/ Japan's territiorial encroachments, 1935/37, were seen by politicians as calling for UK Naval and Air response, as Deterrents to protect territory of UK National Interest - so keep Italy away from Iraq, Japan from Malaya: strengthen RAF/Middle and Far East, provide garrison, small Regular Army with RAF Co-operation for pacification of unruly proxy tribes. Battle, Blenheim, Lysander would do that, well, plus multi-role types on Illustrious-class.

    As 1937 became 1938 we saw we might need to deal again with Germany in Europe (not however with a large conscript Expeditionary Force, not funded until 4/39). Naval blockade, again, plus Air interdiction of internal supply/distribution. France behind the Maginot would hold the line, while Paralysers vaulted it: so, the 3 Heavies that were actually deployed, plus R&D for more (e.g Warwick, Supermarine T.317), with 1941 seen as likely brief campaign, as Germany had no means of sustaining a long one.

    The death traps funded in 1938 (endless: Battle, Blenheim, Botha, Hampden, Whitley, our scarce $ spent on paper kites) were intended as Interims - in scaling up production in the ex-auto plants, unskilled/female labour, and generating ground/aircrew to be ready for proper types in 1941. Defence/Foreign Policy went by the title cunctation, in a sense of gently catchee monkey.

    France was doing much the same. Hitler saw a chance for early-1940 to clear his rear before turning East, that would be eroded as the Allies brought this new kit into service in 1941. He was so nearly right. Air Staff, 5/1940, must send in the Forlorn Hope, Alamo-style: to buy time till the big guns could be brought up.

  4. #34
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    There was never any suggestion that the Battle would be faster than opposing fighters of the same generation, which has always been a chimera since the Fox, just faster than then-current light bombers. The Hurricane and the Spitfire initial studies were funded on the grounds of high speed research, although fighters were clearly in mind. Whereas there's legitimate doubt as to whether Fairey would have any insight into the advanced thinking of competitor project offices, his own was more than competent enough to realise that a smaller aircraft powered by the same Merlin would be faster than a Battle! As they say, that's not rocket science.

    It is too harsh to consider the Battle, Blenheim, Hampden and Whitley as deathtraps per se. (I reserve judgement on the later Botha, which appears to have had distinct shortcomings separate from the arguments in this thread.) These types were advanced for their time, as good their contemporary equivalents (A-17, SB, Do.17 etc), and up to anything they were likely to face in the second half of the 30s. As said elsewhere in this thread, no day bombers can operate in the face of enemy air superiority; though had more emphasis been placed by the RAF on escorting their bombers we'd not have seen the loss rates of mid-1940. Even the much-acclaimed Mosquito had loss rates in its initial period of day bomber operations higher than that of the preceding much-criticised Blenheim. (Though the Blenheim carried out fewer of the deep-penetration raids, thus being more exposed to enemy fighters, the Mosquito didn't attempt anti-shipping operations thus faced less fierce flak.)

    PS I entirely agree that you have to fight with what equipment you've got. The interesting questions become whether you actually made the best possible use of that equipment, whether they could have been better prepared in terms of standards of fit, and whether your operating planning was up to the job. Avoiding hindsight makes this difficult. In the case of the Battle, armour was fitted to some extent, self-sealing tanks were planned (which becomes a question of production capabilities and restrictions of the time), doing without a bombaimer was considered (and even applied sometimes?), but planning to use them on deep penetration missions in daylight has to be considered lunacy! Whereas additional forward firing armament perhaps requiring (my pet suggestion) external bomb racks would need a change in operational intentions that could only have come from a considerable shift in RAF planning (see post 33). Which benefits from considerable hindsight and leads us into the separate argument of excessive focus on the strategic bombing campaign to the neglect of more urgent priorities.
    Last edited by Graham Boak; 9th March 2018 at 13:01.

  5. #35
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    Malcolm,

    You are correct. The war went into a phase where short-range ground attack aircraft weren't necessary on the Channel front, but perhaps they could've been used elsewhere until the fighter-bomber concept was truly workable with adequate types. I'm not trying to argue that the Battle was as successful as the Ju 87 or Il-2, but rather that properly equipped with appropriately trained crews they could have provided similar results in certain mission sets to the other two types. As others have mentioned there was not one attack or bomber type that wasn't vulnerable during the war when not provided with adequate fighter protection.

    otis,

    I can already see that we won't ever begin to agree on this topic as I know from what perspective you are viewing the aircraft with, but I'll attempt to explain my thinking regardless. First off saying that it was marginally better than the aircraft it replaced is disingenuous to say the least. Of course the notion of a single-engine bomber was soon obsolete, thus the aircraft was, through not fault of its own, left without a true mission. The RAF's continued insistence on strategic bombing meant that the aircraft would never be truly re-roled into a battlefield attack type although the premise of the basic design meant it could have. Your comments regarding performance imply that no new engine was to be fitted. Had the aircraft been truly equipped with the necessary equipment for a battlefield attack role, then we can surmise it would have gotten a much larger engine (either a later Merlin or another type...many different engines were tested on the Battle to varying degrees of success. As mentioned the bomb aimer comes out of the aircraft with the new mission set so no weight penalty there. As someone else mentioned, there was a fair amount of time between the end of Battle production and the Hurricane being truly thrust into the fighter-bomber role. The last point regarding its lack of ability to escape also applies to all other bomber, attack types of the war.

    I think some of you guys are still missing the point. I'm not claiming that the Battle was a war-winning design nor am I saying it could have served the RAF throughout the entirety of the war in any frontline role. My point is that it is an example of an aircraft that could have been more than it was, and the sound basic design would have permitted that. High level thinking in the RAF being what it was however this was not to be the case. The common (i.e. coffee table history book description) perception of the aircraft was that of an obsolete design that was nothing more than a failure. I disagree with that assessment and place more of the blame for the aircraft's ultimate fate on a lack of innovation among the Air Staff. Hindsight is always 20/20, but the aircraft could have been turned into a useful design. The author does an excellent job of explaining this from a wide variety of different angles and perspectives. We shall agree to disagree.
    Fox-4!

  6. #36
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    As someone else mentioned, there was a fair amount of time between the end of Battle production and the Hurricane being truly thrust into the fighter-bomber role.
    I think there’s been some confusion around wording here. I said "At the same time it’s production was being cancelled, the Hurribomber was about to arrive." I believe Graham picked up on that, as the decision to cancel was made sometime in 1939? (I’ve not read the book). Actual Battle production continued through until late 1940. So the Hurricane models with cannons and the bomb-carrying variant did arrive with squadrons within only a few months of Battle production ending.

    You would therefore need to show it was worthwhile altering the overburdened Battle design for the ground attack role when that work had already been completed for the Hurricane.

    I don't think it's fair to say we are missing the point because we don't agree with you. It is just very unclear exactly what form this new Battle takes, when does it arrive, how much extra weight of weapons/armour and what engine? It just seems a vague set of various wish-lists at the moment.

  7. #37
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    I suspect, and I may be wrong, that much of the problems associated with the poor daylight record of aircraft like the Battle, Blenheim and others was the nature of RAF aerial gunnery training prewar. From most accounts that I have read live ammunition practice was minimal, restricted to annual attacks on drogues, while exercises pitting bombers against defensive fighters seemed rather like a game.

    A flight of slow bombers with poor maneuverability would fly along in a V formation while the "enemy" fighters flew around them at a slightly faster speed. The fighters would make passes and the pilot would make takatakatakataka noises to signify he'd fired and hit the bomber. While on the bomber a rather exposed AC or LAC quickly drafted for some air time would stand in a "turret" and point his single gun at the fighter and make corresponding takatakatakataka noises.

    At the end the bombers would fly serenely on to the target, drop their bags of flour, then fly away. The umpires would adjudicate and generally reach the conclusion that on the basis of the bombers having more people making takatakatakataka noises that the bombers had successfully breached the defense and then every one, except the ACs and the LACs, went off to the mess for a drink. That seems to have been the situation up until the fast 8 gun fighters arrived and even then their pilots had little live firing practice. If my summation is correct then it's no wonder that Battles and Blenheims proved to be death traps on real operations - years of poorly designed training had given them a tragically false perception.

    It compounded rather than challenged Baldwin's maxim that the bomber will always get through. WW2 came as a rude awakening for bomber crews everywhere. It was good thing for Britain that Dowding's development of Fighter Command's layered defensive system with its combination of detection and defensive action was in place. Even then the fighter pilots were hamstrung initially by hangovers from the gentlemanly prewar exercises like the V formation.

  8. #38
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    Canadian Battle R7439 was the sole aircraft to be equipped with the Wright R1820 Cyclone radial engine powerplant as a study of potential alternative engines in the event of supply interruptions of the Merlin. This engine did develop up to 1350 hp in later versions but not sure what version was actually used for this test, would be interesting to know how it performed. Since this was the only one converted I suspect the results were not very encouraging.
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    "I always wanted to procrastinate, but I just never got around to it."

  9. #39
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    Battle production only continued late into 1940 because of Beaverbrook's limiting priority to a handful of types, one of which was the Battle , which was seen as useful as an advanced and operational trainer. Not because the AM was seriously considering it for any other role except in desperation driven by circumstances. (As indeed were Tiger Moths.) Combat units with Battles continued to fly them until enough Blenheims were available as replacements.

    As for the Hurribomber, in concept this seems to have fallen almost directly into the role of a Hart replacement, but lacking the range of the Battle (or a Hart!). The RAF in the UK appears to have had no intention of using it in the close support role - even after allowing for the fact that there was no clash of armies in the theatre. Otherwise it would have been issued to Air Co-operation squadrons. It's difficult to determine just how it fitted into Air Staff thinking at all - except that it allowed bombs to be carried and dropped over the other side of the Channel with hopefully less losses than real bombers. All good for the Continuous Offensive of Trenchardian thinking, if totally ineffectual in actually winning the war. At least the later use in Channel Stop operations made more sense. The RAF in the UK appears to have had no intention of using it in the close support role - even after allowing for the fact that there was no clash of armies in the theatre. Otherwise it would have been issued to Air Co-operation squadrons. Thankfully it was a good idea really, which was used in the Desert War to develop tactics of genuine value. Which really is nothing to do with the Battle as intended by Air Staff doctrine and hence unsuitable for the real war, but the Hurribomber would have been seen as a direct replacement if the Battle had been conceived/designed/used as perhaps it should. In the end, it took the Hurribomber a couple of years to get the weapons and armour it needed for the role - and a more powerful engine to get the result off the ground!
    Last edited by Graham Boak; 10th March 2018 at 16:37.

  10. #40
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    Graham, thanks for clearing up the confusion caused earlier. Now that we have shown that the arrival of cannon and bomber versions of the Hurricane did arrive only a few months after Battle production ended, we need to establish whether it is worthwhile modifying the Battle at all, given the time difficulties you suggest?

    Was there ever any suggestion from Hurricane pilots that what they really needed was a larger/heavier plane with poorer performance?

  11. #41
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    What may be the case and is generally supported by the comments is that the Battle was a product of a tactical theory that was rendered obsolete, if not fatally so, by the realities of land war in France in 1939 -1940. The fast monoplane single-engined fighters used by the protagonists quickly demonstrated that a slow single-engined bomber, forced by its operational specifications to carry extra and redundant weight in the form of crew other than the pilot was going to be a sitting duck.

    Especially as one of the crew was given the unenviable task of trying to fend of multi-gunned fast fighters with a single hand held machine gun. The Battle's defensive armament was even worse than the pedal operated single gun turret in the Blenheim turret and that was no deterrent. The extra drag created by these ineffectual defensive aids only added to the problem not to mention the inevitability of the gunner being either killed or wounded once an attack commenced. The same may equally said for the Stuka and the Il-2 - but the latter at least had realistic armour fitted. The toll of Il-2 rear gunners was particularly out of proportion to actual losses of the complete aircraft. One wonders how many wartime volunteers and conscripts willingly went for those tasks.

    As for their task in the aircraft that preceded the Battle and in the Battle itself, if any consideration had been applied to the role it would have been apparent that fabric or light alloy aircraft skin simply couldn't stop bullets and once the gunner was disabled then the slow single-engined bomber was easy pickings because it was still encumbered with all that redundant weight. All sides displayed a reluctance to come to grips with the reality that their defensive practices were flawed to the point of being realistically non-existent.

    The realization, as the war progressed, that single-seat fighters with powerful engines and proper defensive armour plating was one step forward. The other was the development of the cab rank system which allowed close tactical support, which is what light bombers and fighter bombers were designed for, to best utilise the tactical effectiveness of this tactic. Oddly however this was a lesson learned in the closing stages of WW1 but for some reason inconveniently ignored until 20 years later. Perhaps a product of the role of the RAF in the 20s and 30s where its combat was largely directed at bombing recalcitrant tribes in the ME. Life for the single-engined bomber and the crew was simple, fly over a village drop a few bombs, then return to base and not an enemy fighter in sight. One wonders what direction RAF light bomber policy might have taken if some of these annoying tribes had had access to fighters to defend themselves.

  12. #42
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    Now I am genuinely confused. Having been struck by the huge size of the Battle vs other single-engined types, I had previously assumed that the fuselage length was dictated by the need to accommodate three crewmen in the cabin. Now I’m reading that the Battle was originally designed for a two man crew (pilot and bomb-aimer/gunner). The bomb aiming was done lying on the cabin floor. Was it this lying position that dictated the cockpit length and thus pushed up the length of the fuselage or was there something else going on? When sat in the gun seat he is a huge distance from the pilot!

    Another thought was whether it was the internal bomb-cells in the wings that pushed up the scale of things?

  13. #43
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    Well gents, we may all disagree but at least discussion is occurring on an under reported type. That's a start!

    Perhaps the fuel capacity required to get the range they wanted dictated some of the size?
    Fox-4!

  14. #44
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    https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarch...0-%202301.html

    Interesting internal layouts in this old article, but no answer to our questions. Consider the poor bomb aimer who has to squeeze into the hidden wing spar box, itself concealed in the fuselage with not much access to daylight. Lots of admiration for those poor chaps who must have had little prospect of escape in a shot down aircraft.

    Just found this in an earlier edition....."Little may be said of the military features of the Battle, but an examination of the illustrations shows that the crew are so placed that they obtain a very excellent view. The pilot is almost over the leading edge, and the gunner is in line with the trailing edge of the wing roots. Single-seat fighters would not find it too easy to attack a formation of these machines, even if the fighters had a considerable reserve of speed."
    Last edited by otis; 14th March 2018 at 22:34.

  15. #45
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    "Single-seat fighters would not find it too easy to attack a formation of these machines, even if the fighters had a considerable reserve of speed."

    Clearly written by someone who never had to actually fly in one of these badly misnamed aircraft.

  16. #46
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    Another interesting lead in a different magazine. Pre-war Air Correspondent confidently predicting that the Luftwaffe was large but naff. Fake News bigly? Sad.


    http://archive.spectator.co.uk/artic...rman-air-power

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