Fairey Battles over France in 1940

The Fairey Battle was a light bomber used by Great Britain during World War II.


The Battle had a wingspan of 54 ft, was 42 ft 4in long and 15 ft 6in high. Empty weight was 6,647 lb, and all up weight was 10,792 lb. Max speed was 257 mph at 15,000 ft and 210 mph at sea level. The Battle took 8 min 24 sec to climb to 10,000 ft, had a service ceiling of 23,500 ft and a range at 200 mph of 1,000 miles. Armament consisted of one 0.303in Browning machine gun in the starboard wing, a Vickers K Machine Gun in the rear cockpit and four 250 lb GP bombs in the wings, with occasional provision for two more to be carried on racks under the wings.[1]

The cantilever wing, constructed in five sections, accommodated not only the undercarriage retraction cells but also the bomb traps, each containing bays for two 250 lb GP bombs. The wing centre section was built integrally with the fuselage which, aft of the pilot's cockpit, was of semi-monocoque construction. The pilot’s cockpit was situated well forward, and in line with the wing leading edge, while the wireless/air gunner occupied a cockpit some ten feet further aft, with the intervening space being enclosed by a long transparent canopy. The bomb aimer/observer occupied a station in the centre fuselage, with his prone aiming position situated below and behind the pilot. This design was shown to the DTD in May 1934, resulting in Fairey being awarded a contract for one prototype on 11 June.[2]



The Fairey Battle was designed to Specification P.27/32, initially issued in August 1932 but not finalised until April 1933.[2] This called for an aircraft capable of carrying at least 1,000 lbs of bombs over a range of 1,000 miles at a speed of at least 200 mph, in order to serve as a replacement for the biplane Hawker Hart and Hawker Hind,[3] while also acting as a backup in the failure to produce a valid contender for Specification B.9/32, which called for a twin engine medium bomber.[4] Specification P.27/32 attracted designs from Armstrong Whitworth, Bristol, Fairey, Gloster, Hawker and Westland, but only those from Armstrong Whitworth - designated A.W.29 - and Fairey were deemed sufficiently realistic to attract prototype orders. At Fairey, Marcel Lobelle had been unable to tender more than an overall scheme in 1933, as Rolls-Royce did not finalise the geometric data for installation of their new P.V.12 engine - prototype of the Rolls-Royce Merlin - until the spring of 1934. Nevertheless, the engine manufacturers were confident in their power and weight figures, enabling Lobelle to embark on strength calculations of his airframe structure, which would be unrelated to any previous Fairey design.[2] Lobelle had originally designed the aircraft for the P.12 Prince engine, which was eventually rejected in favour of the Merlin.[4]


November 1935 saw an early Merlin C flight engine delivered to Fairey for ground running and system tests, followed by a 970 hp Merlin G for use in the P.27/32 prototype K4303, now named as the Battle, which first flew on 10 March 1936, before testing at Martlesham Heath in July. The aircraft, with a level speed of 258 mph and range of 980 miles, was generally well liked, and reported to be pleasant to handle, even when dived to 308 mph, although the rudder was considered heavy at low speeds. The wing design was amended to include 4 degrees of dihedral for production examples. The greatest criticism related to the bomb storage, as the fact that the bomds were carried in the wings meant that there was no means of ensuring the bombs were secure once loaded.[2]

The Air Staff were impressed with the Battle during the early construction of the prototype, resulting in the issuing of a production specification long before the first flight, with an order for 155 examples being signed in September 1935.[2] This made the Battle the first aircraft to go into production with the new Merlin engine, with aircraft taking their mark number from that of the engine. Ordered in previously unheard of quantities (over 1,500 examples), production built up faster than for any other new British aircraft. 15 bomber squadrons were equipped between May 1937 and May 1938.[3]

Entry into Service

The first production Battles were delivered to 63 (Bomber) Squadron at Upwood in May 1937, with all aircraft in the first batch – apart from K7558, the first production example – being built at the Heaton Chapel factory at Stockport. In August 105 (Bomber) Squadron at Harwell became the second unit to equip with Battles. A total of five squadrons had converted to the type by the end of the year. Due to the considerable trouble caused by the Merlin Is fitted to early Battle aircraft, engine production switched after the 136th example to the Merlin II, for use in the second production batch, which began to be delivered in March 1938.[1]

When World War II began, more than 1,000 were in service, and others were exported, with one - N2219 - going to Poland, 29 examples - (N2111-2117, N2120-N2123, N2130-N2131, N2149, N2153-N2155, N2211-N2218, N2220-N2222 and N2224) - purchased by Turkey in mid 1939 [5] - and Belgium, where 18 were built by Avions Fairey. In early September 1939 ten Battle squadrons flew to France, as the major offensive element of the Advanced Air Striking Force. They were plunged into furious fighting from 10 May 1940, and suffered grievously.[3] On the 12 May 1940, Fg Off Donald Garland of 12 Squadron led five aircraft from Amifontaine to attack the bridges over the Meuse at Maastricht, the attackers scoring at least one direct hit despite the intense flak, before four of the aircraft – including Garland’s - were shot down by Bf-109s on the return flight; the fifth returned with a dead gunner on board. Garland and his observer, Sgt Thomas Grey, won posthumous VC's – the first won by the RAF during the Second World War,[6] while the gunner,LAC Lawrence Reynolds, recieved no decoration, on the grounds that his contribution was not material to the outcome of the mission.[7] Four days later, in an all out attack on German pontoon bridges at Sedan, 71 Battles attacked and 31 returned. Within six months all Battles were being replaced in front-line units, and the survivors of the 2,419 built were shipped to Canada or Australia as trainers (many with separate instructor/pupil cockpits) or used as target tugs or test beds.[3] The last front line bomber unit to operate the Battle was 98 Squadron[6] which gave up its aircraft upon disbandment at Kaldadarnes, Iceland on 15 July 1941. [N 1]

Other users


The Royal Australian Air Force revieved a total of 336 Battles. The initial four examples - P2167, P2169, P5239 and P5247 - were sent to No 1 Aircraft Park at Grelong on 30 April 1940, with the first to be reassembled - P5239 - being test flown by Flt J. Lerew on 29 June. The last example delivered - target tug V1202 - was received by No 2 Aircraft Park at Bankstown on 7 December 1943. Mainly used by Bombing and Gunnery schools, most Australian Battles had been sent to scrapyards by early 1944.[9]



  1. 98 Squadron had already passed at least one Battle – T.T.I L5628 with Merlin III[5] – to 1423 (Fighter) Flight, when the latter unit was formed from one of 98 Squadron’s flights at Kaldadarnes on 10 June 1941.[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Mason, Francis K. The British Bomber since 1914. Putnam. 1994. ISBN 0 85177 861 5 Page 286 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "British Bomber p286" defined multiple times with different content
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Mason, Francis. 1994. Page 285
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Gunston, Bill. Illustrated Directory of Fighting Aircraft of World War II. Salamander Books. 1988. ISBN 0-86101-390-5 Page 378
  4. 4.0 4.1 Scale Aviation model International- June 2001"
  5. 5.0 5.1 Robertson, Bruce. British Military Aircraft Serials 1912-1966. Ian Allen Ltd. 1967
  6. 6.0 6.1 Mason, Francis. 1994. Page 287
  7. Aeroplane Magazine Database section - Fairey Battle. June 2016. Page 95
  8. Lake, Alan. Flying Units of the RAF. Airlife Publishing. 1999. ISBN 1-84037-086-6
  9. Aeroplane Database. June 2016. Page 96

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