Did a Swordfish sink the Bismarck?

Did a Swordfish sink the Bismarck?

World War 2

No.820 Squadron Fairey Swordfish I passing overhead HMS Ark Royal in 1939.
No.820 Squadron Fairey Swordfish I passing overhead HMS Ark Royal in 1939.

The Swordfish did not sink the Bismarck. However, one aircraft managed to damage Bismarck so much that it could not steer. And became prey for the Royal Navy.

The Fairey Swordfish was a biplane torpedo bomber that served in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm during World War II.

The Fairey Swordfish was developed by the British aircraft manufacturer Fairey Aviation Company in the 1930s. The initial design concept was for a carrier-based torpedo bomber to replace the aging Hawker Hart and Hawker Osprey biplanes that were then in service with the Royal Navy.

Workers carrying out work on a wing of a Swordfish

The first prototype of the Swordfish, then known as the TSR.II (Torpedo-Spotter Reconnaissance Mark II), flew in April 1934. The aircraft featured a wooden frame covered in fabric, with folding wings to allow for storage on aircraft carriers.

Powered by a Bristol Pegasus radial engine, providing 690 horsepower!

The Bristol Pegasus is a nine-cylinder, air-cooled, radial aircraft engine that was developed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company in the 1930s. It was widely used on British military aircraft during World War II and was one of the most successful radial engines of its time.

Bristol Pegasus fitted to a Fairey Swordfish

The Pegasus, initially developed as a private venture by the Bristol company, with the aim of producing a more powerful and reliable engine for aircraft use. The first prototype of the engine, known as the Pegasus I, became produced in 1926. And featured a displacement of 1,352 cubic inches (22.1 litres) and a power output of 550 horsepower.

Over the next decade, the Pegasus engine became continually developed and improved. With later models featuring increased displacement, improved cooling, and higher power outputs. The Pegasus XX, used on the Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber, had a displacement of 1,752 cubic inches (28.7 litres). And produced up to 1,000 horsepower.

Saro London

The Pegasus engine became highly regarded for its reliability and durability. And widely used on British military aircraft during World War II.

A Swordfish III of RAF 119 Squadron being refueled at Maldegem, Belgium, (1944–1945). The fairing of the aircraft’s centimetric radar can be seen below the engine

In addition to the Swordfish, a variety of other aircraft utilized the engine. Including the Bristol Blenheim bomber, the Hawker Hurricane fighter, and the Short Sunderland flying boat.

In total, over 30,000 Pegasus engines became produced. Making it one of the most successful aircraft engines of its time. The engine’s success paved the way for further developments in radial engine technology and helped establish Bristol as a leading aircraft engine manufacturer in the mid-20th century.

A Swordfish I during a training flight from RNAS Crail, circa 1939–1945

The Swordfish entered service with the Royal Navy in 1936, and production continued throughout the 1930s. Various improvements were made to the aircraft, including the addition of armor plating for the crew and a more powerful engine. By the outbreak of World War II, over 300 Swordfish had become produced. That number would reach into the thousands. Some 2,400 according to estimates.

However, despite its outdated appearance and technology, the Swordfish earned a reputation as a legendary aircraft.

There are several reasons why the Swordfish was so highly regarded, beyond simply citing the Battle of Taranto & the Bismarck.

Firstly, versatility!

Three Swordfish armed with rockets
Three Swordfish armed with rockets

The Swordfish was incredibly versatile, capable of performing a range of roles including torpedo bombing, reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare, and even as a bomber. Furthermore, used in a wide variety of missions, from attacking enemy ships to providing air support for ground troops.

The Swordfish became built to withstand heavy damage. As a result, designers picked a fabric-covered wooden frame resistant to small arms fire. Thus, making it more resilient than other aircraft. In addition, allowing it to continue flying even after sustaining significant damage.

A Fairey Swordfish floatplane being hoisted aboard the battleship HMS Malaya in October 1941

Furthermore, the Swordfish had a long range, which allowed it to fly extended missions and reach targets that other aircraft could not. Especially important in the North Atlantic, where the Swordfish hunted German U-boats.

And of course at the end of the day, Swordfish enjoyed incredible success in battle!

A formation of three Swordfish IIIs of No. 119 Squadron RAF over the North Sea, 1939–1945

Moreover, the Swordfish played a crucial role in several key naval battles, including the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck and the attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto. Lastly, these successes helped to establish the Swordfish as a highly effective weapon of war.

In conclusion, the Fairey Swordfish’s combination of versatility, durability, range, and success in battle helped to make it a legendary aircraft of World War II. The Swordfish’s contributions to the war effort cannot become overstated.

Swordfish on the after deck of HMS Victorious, 24 May 1941. The next day, nine Swordfish from Victorious attacked Bismarck.
A Swordfish, circa 1943–1944

Battleship Assassin Fairey Swordfish : Why Was The Fairey Swordfish So Good?

Battleship Bismarck & Her Armor Protection : An Extensive Analysis

German U Boats WW2 Facts : From Predator to Prey

Did a Swordfish sink the Bismarck?