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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2000
    United States

    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.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    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.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    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

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    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.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    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 at 13:15.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2015
    I think Faireys design dept must have started every project with "Right, let's make it really, really slow".

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    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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