From the Planes You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of Department of Wingspan, we bring you the Fairey Barracuda.
When the Royal Navy entered WWII, its primary carrier-based attack aircraft looked like it would have been more at home in the previous war. The Fairey Swordfish, a biplane nicknamed the Stringbag, nevertheless took part in some of the most important naval battles of the war, and became famous for is role in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. Though the Swordfish continued to do yeoman’s work throughout the conflict, it was clear that the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) needed to find a replacement, one that was more rugged and more powerful, a modern bomber for the modern era. Thus, the Swordfish was replaced by another pelagic predator, the Barracuda.
The Barracuda was the first FAA monoplane dive/torpedo bomber and the first to be built entirely from metal. Compared to its predecessor, it was a significantly larger aircraft and featured a shoulder-mounted cantilever wing with special Fairey-Youngman flaps to control the aircraft in a dive. The fuselage held a three-man crew seated in tandem, and windows placed in the side of the fuselage improved downward visibility. The Barracuda was initially powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin 30 engine turning a three-bladed propeller, but that engine proved to be underpowered as the Barracuda gained weight, and the Mk II variant received a more powerful Merlin 32 turning a four-bladed propeller. This became the definitive variant, with nearly 1,700 produced. The Mk III variant added radar for antisubmarine warfare (ASW) missions, and the Mk V variant introduced a Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, though this variant was only built in small numbers.
The Barracuda entered service in 1943 in the North Atlantic, eventually equipping 23 squadrons and serving from Norway to the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific. Armed with two .303 Vickers K machine guns in the rear cockpit and carrying a single 1,620-pound torpedo or 1,800 pounds of depth charges or 1,500 pounds of bombs, the Barracuda took part in the landings at Salerno, Italy in Operation Avalanche, and is best known for its role in the attack on the German battleship Tirpitz, Operation Tungsten. Though the Barracuda proved its mettle in combat, it did have its problems. As development progressed, the requirements for a simple dive/torpedo bomber evolved and more and more equipment was added, greatly increasing the Barracuda’s weight. Thus, even with the more powerful Merlin 32 engine, it was not particularly fast, and was susceptible to fighter interception. Even experienced pilots were known to crash into the sea when the dive brakes were improperly retracted, and leaks in the cockpit hydraulic pressure gauge caused hydraulic fluid, which contained ether, to spray in the pilot’s face, leading to a loss of consciousness and crash. Oxygen masks were mandated in 1945.
The Barracuda continued to serve the FAA into the 1950s, and a total of 2,607 of all Marks was produced, the most of any single type ever ordered by the Royal Navy. Despite these numbers, however, not a single complete example survives today. In the 1970s, the Fleet Air Arm Museum undertook the Barracuda Project to rebuild a Barracuda from parts scavenged from all over the world. They currently have a nose, center section and wing components, and recently completed a rebuilt tail section from a mixture of original and remanufactured parts. Unfortunately, funding difficulties continue, and it is unknown when, or even if, the project will be completed.
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