Fairey SWORDFISH MkII LS326

LS326 is one of the last remaining Swordfish in the world. The story of her survival is incredible and few who have seen her fly can begin to appreciate the luck, care and perseverance that have been expended keeping her in the air. All who have contributed to maintaining her airworthiness over the last sixty plus years have had to face every difficulty – virtually rebuilding the aircraft in 1955, and the engine in 1967, searching the world for spares.

The aircraft was even a movie star at one point, when she had a part in the film “Sink the Bismarck!”, demonstrating the pivotal role that the then near-obsolete Fairey Swordfish played in World War II when they dropped torpedoes on the mighty German battlecruiser, disabling the ship so it could be overtaken and targeted by the surface fleet.

LS 326 is a “Blackfish” built in 1943 by Blackburn Aircraft at Sherburn-in-Elmet. She served with  ‘L’ and ‘K’ Flights of 836 Squadron (the largest ever Fleet Air Arm Squadron) on board the Merchant Aircraft Carrier (MAC) ships Rapana and Empire MacCallum, on North Atlantic Convoy protection duties. Following her active service she was used for training and communications duties from the Royal Naval Air Station Culham near Oxford and Worthy Down near Winchester.

In 1947 Fairey Aviation bought LS326 and displayed her at various RAeS Garden party displays. The following year she was sent to White Waltham for storage and remained there gradually deteriorating until Sir Richard Fairey gave orders for the aircraft to be rebuilt. The restoration was completed in October 1955 and thereafter she was kept in flying condition at White Waltham registered as G-AJVH and painted Fairey Blue and silver.

In 1959 LS326 was repainted for a starring role in the film “Sink the Bismarck!”, playing a pivotal role for which the aircraft became famous for in WWII.

In October 1960 LS326 was presented to the Royal Navy by the Westland Aircraft Company and was delivered to Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton and has been operated from there ever since.

In 1962 she made her final flight from an aircraft carrier deck when she was flown off HMS Hermes in the English Channel in November, having earlier been winched on board for the annual Taranto Night dinner.

For many years she retained her “Bismarck” colour scheme and in 1984 D-Day invasion stripes were also added for the 40th Anniversary celebrations, when she overflew the beaches of Normandy. Since 1987 LS326 has worn her original wartime colour scheme for North Atlantic convoys with ‘L’ Flight of 836 Squadron.

Between 1999-2008 she underwent extensive work by BAE Systems Brough to her wings. She has being flying since 2008.

LS326 was adopted by the City of Liverpool, the name she proudly wears on her port side.

HISTORY

The Fairey design for the Swordfish began as a private venture to satisfy a need to replace Greek Fairey IIIF aircraft. The original was known as the TSR1 (Torpedo Spotter Reconnaissance), but was not too successful and was significantly re-designed as the TSR2 and re-engined with the Bristol Pegasus before being regarded as satisfactory. This aircraft first flew in 1934 and was taken into Royal Navy service in 1936 as the Swordfish Mk.I. By the start of WWII, technology had moved on apace and it was already regarded as obsolete, but with a large number already in service it was nonetheless put to good use. It earned its nickname ‘Stringbag’ because, like the shopping bags of the day, it could accommodate practically anything. It could carry a 1,610lb torpedo or a variety of depth charges, bombs, mines, rockets or flares.

Despite the Pegasus being the cutting edge of engine technology in 1934 it only managed to propel the ‘Fish at a stately 90 knots cruise when lightly laden and 82 knots with a torpedo underslung, though it did prove to be a very reliable engine. The crew of three were not afforded too much comfort, there being no heater and the fabric covering and open cockpit affording little shelter from the cold in winter. Highly manoeuvrable, not many disparaging remarks have been recorded except perhaps its lack of speed. This facet did however work in its favour because enemy guns found it difficult to off-set their sighting on such a slow target!

As with most Naval aircraft the wings fold to minimise the room taken up in a ships hangar. The undercarriage was designed to absorb a ‘firm’ arrival on the heaving flight deck of a ship at sea and she was fitted with an arrester hook to make a short landing, having caught a ‘wire’ on the carrier deck. Latterly some Swordfish were fitted with RATOG, a series of rockets that were fired to boost the aircraft to take off speed in a very short distance. The Observer navigated from the centre cockpit using stopwatch, compass and a considerable amount of intuition! The Telegraphist Air Gunner sat facing aft in the rear cockpit and operated the HF W/T radio set and the rearward facing .303 Lewis gun.

The type is famous for the attack on Taranto in November 1940, where 21 Swordfish effectively stopped the Italian battlefleet taking any aggressive part in WWII, (and which proved the blueprint for ‘Pearl Harbour’). The famous chase after the very fast and dangerous battleship ‘Bismarck’ ended when a Swordfish put a torpedo through the steering gear and the home fleet were able to sink her with gunfire. In February 1942, six Swordfish attempted to stop ‘Prinz Eugen’, Scharnhorst’ and ‘Gneisenau’ from moving up the English Channel in what is now known as the “Channel Dash”. The ships were very heavily defended by destroyers, E boats and a huge air armada and all six Swordfish were shot down. However, the bravery and fortitude of the crews in pressing home their attacks earned high praise and their Commanding Officer, Lt Cdr Eugene Esmonde was posthumously awarded the VC, one of only two such awards to Fleet Air Arm aircrew in WWII.

Probably the most important role the Swordfish played in the conflict was that of protection of the Atlantic and Arctic convoys. A large proportion of the war material needed came from North America, in convoys of ships which were being savaged by German submarine packs. Three types of shipping were employed: Naval Aircraft Carriers, Escort Carriers (merchant hulls modified to be dedicated aircraft carriers) and finally Merchant Aircraft Carriers (working oilers or grain ships with a flat deck welded above the hull known as MAC ships). Swordfish had the essential low speed handling characteristics to operate from these often small flight decks and yet still boasted a 4 hour endurance in the air. With constant daylight air cover, the submarines were kept below the surface where they were unable to move at more than 7 knots, thus rendering them less effective. Swordfish actually sank 21 submarines over the course of the war, most whilst escorting Arctic convoys to north Russia, and were responsible for the highest tonnage of enemy shipping sunk by any allied aircraft type.

The aircraft was incredibly versatile and has the distinction of being one of the few aircraft that remained in operational service throughout WWII, even outlasting its intended replacement the Albacore.

Tech Specs

143

Top Speed

522

Range

16,500

Ceiling

Full Specs

CREW – 3

FLIGHT SPECS

Speed – 143 mph with torpedo at 7,580 lb (230 km/h, 124 knots) at 5,000 ft (1,450 m)
Range – 522 mi (840 km, 455 nmi) normal fuel, carrying torpedo
Ceiling – 16,500 ft at 7,580 lb (5,030 m)
Climb rate – 870 ft/min (4.42 m/s) at sea level at 7,580 lb. (690 ft/min (3.5 m/s) at 5000 ft (1,524 m) at 7,580 lb)

PLANE

Length – 35 ft 8 in (10.87 m)
Wingspan – 45 ft 6 in (13.87 m)
Wing area – 607 ft² (56.4 m²)
Height – 12 ft 4 in (3.76 m)
Engine – 1 × Bristol Pegasus IIIM.3 radial engine, 690 hp (510 kW)
Guns – 1 × fixed, forward-firing .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun in upper right fuselage, breech in cockpit, firing over engine cowling; 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis or Vickers K machine gun in rear cockpit
Bombs – 1 × 1,670 lb (760 kg) torpedo or 1,500 lb (700 kg) mine under fuselage or 1,500 lb total bombs under fuselage and wings.