The Fairey Swordfish was a torpedo bomber used by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy during World War II. Affectionately known as the “Stringbag” by its crews, it was already outdated when the war started, but was operated as a primary attack aircraft into 1942.
The Swordfish was based on the Fairey PV and was offered to the Royal Navy to fulfill a reconnaissance and torpedo attack role. The prototype TSR II first flew on April 17, 1934. It was a large biplane with a metal frame covered in fabric, specifically for carrier use it had folding wings. An order was placed in 1935 and the aircraft entered service in 1936. By 1939 the Royal Navy had thirteen squadrons equipped with the Swordfish.
The primary weapon was the torpedo, but the low speed of the biplane and the need for a long straight approach made it difficult to deliver against well defended targets. However, Swordfish flying from HMS Illustrious made a very significant strike, on November 11, 1940, against the Italian navy at Taranto, Italy and in May 1941 a Swordfish strike was vital in damaging the German battleship Bismarck, they also flew anti-shipping sorties from Malta.
The problems with the aircraft were starkly demonstrated in February 1942 when a strike on German cruisers in the English Channel resulted in the loss of all attacking aircraft. With the development of new torpedo attack aircraft the Swordfish was soon redeployed in an anti-submarine role, equipped with depth-charges or ten 27 kg rockets and flying from the smaller escort carriers or even Merchant Aircraft Carriers (MAC) with RATO. The Swordfish was meant to be replaced by the Fairey Albacore, also a biplane, but actually outlived its intended successor. It was, however, succeeded by the Fairey Barracuda monoplane torpedo bomber.
The Mark II and Mark III variants were both introduced in 1943. The Mark II had metal lower wings to allow the use of rockets and the Mark III added a large centrimetric radar unit. Production ended in 1944 with the Mark IV, which had an enclosed cabin for use by the RCAF, and the aircraft was withdrawn from active service on May 21, 1945. Almost 2391 had been built, 692 by Fairey and 1699 in Sherburn by the Blackburn Aircraft Company, which were sometimes dubbed the “Blackfish”. The most built was the Mark II of which 1080 were made.