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  #1  
Old 21st July 2007, 15:04
tcolvin tcolvin is offline
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Placing the Fairey Battle.

Many, and probably all, historians dismiss the Fairey Battle as having been obsolescent in 1939.
John Terraine explained his use of obsolescent by calling the Battle under-powered and lacking in both speed and defensive fire-power. Obsolescent usually means outdated and technically surpassed by Vorsprung durch Teknik..
But the Fairey Battle was not technically outdated. It first flew in 1936, which was the same year as the Whitley, Wellington, Blenheim, Hampden, Hurricane, Spitfire, and Bf110. This was a year after the Bf109, He111, Ju87, and two years after the first flight of the Do17. None of these contemporary and older aircraft has been called 'obsolescent' in 1939.
If the Battle's problem had been lack of power, then it could presumably have been re-fitted with an engine more powerful than the Merlin. If it had lacked defensive fire-power then it could have been fitted with a turret - as indeed it later was when used as a trainer for gunners - or with a gunner like later versions of the IL-2.
The Fairey Battle was designed as a strategic bomber. It was sent to France in the AASF in great numbers to attack the Ruhr and give Germany a knock-out punch. "The bomber will always get through".
By December 1939 this strategy had been revealed as delusional because by December 1939, Blenheims, Hampdens and Wellingtons had been shot out of the daylight skies by LW fighters and Flak and Bomber Command had switched to operating at night. In May and June 1940, the AASF was told to support the BEF. It sent Battles to attack the Meuse bridges in a disastrous charge of the Light Brigade.
The RAF therefore changed its story. It blamed the Fairey Battle for being 'obsolete', forgetting that the RAF had drawn up the specification; that the RAF had tested the aircraft; and that the RAF had ordered 2,500 of them to give themselves the power to deliver Germany a knock-out blow and end the war all on their own.
So what was obsolete was not the Fairey Battle but the strategic thinking of the RAF. After the Meuse Bridge disaster the RAF had only one idea, which was to area-bomb at night with 4-engined heavies and cause a breakdown in civilian morale.
The RAF covered its tracks, and like the bad workman switched the blame for its own shortcomings onto its tools.
That no one saw through this RAF spin until too late was the true disaster, because the RAF was able to continue with its delusion that the war could be won single-handedly by bombing German civilians.
Or is there some objective evidence that the Fairey Battle was indeed a lousy aircraft in 1939?
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Old 21st July 2007, 19:55
Franek Grabowski Franek Grabowski is offline
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Re: Placing the Fairey Battle.

Battle was an outdated concept and lacked development potential, ie. it was not possible to turn it into something more useful. That was the case of Defiant as well, which while quite modern in technology, was so outdated (or misfit) in concept. Of the mentioned aircraft, Blenheim, Whitley, Hampden, Do17, He 111, Me 110 and partially Ju 87 were found not fitting intended purposes and were either removed from service or send to other duties.
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Old 21st July 2007, 20:35
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Re: Placing the Fairey Battle.

No bomber in the early phase of the war was able to "fit intended purposes" and "were either removed from service or send to other duties". However this is very much a blanket statement. Since RAF and Luftwaffe bombers couldn't fulfil the vision of unescorted bombing and winning wars in a few days.

But not even the B-17 was able to fulfil its intended* purpose and tactics had to be adjusted. And even if accepting that fact it may have had more to do with the output of new a/c and aircrew than tactics, thus winning a battle of attrition.

The Ju 87 was a specialist a/c, just like the A-10. In the Gulf the latter was a great success, but I always wonder about its intended mission, protecting the Fulda Gap against a Soviet onslaught, facing an umbrella of (then) modern SAM and AAA and aerial opposition. We'll never know...

*actually its official design made it a coastal bomber, but during the NEI campaign it was less successful than the obsolete B-10/12 fulfilling intended purpose.
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Old 21st July 2007, 21:48
Franek Grabowski Franek Grabowski is offline
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Re: Placing the Fairey Battle.

Not exactly, because of the mentioned aircraft, Hurricane, Spitfire, Wellington and Me 109 turned to be effective enough to remain in the service. As a general rule, I would say that the first generation of metal warplanes from mid-1930s turned out generally misfit and ineffective. Forthcoming generation that appeared at the end of 1930s/beginning 1940s seems much more nature. That said, Battle must be considered a failure, or perhaps a magnificent failure.
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Old 22nd July 2007, 00:37
tcolvin tcolvin is offline
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Re: Placing the Fairey Battle.

Some aircraft were failures like the Whirlwind, Typhoon, Manchester, Bf210, and He177. But they were and never are called obsolescent. Just failures.
Some aircraft were a raging success like the Ju88, Mosquito and P51 whose wing-form was revolutionary.
I come back to the problem of placing the Battle.
Do we agree that technically it was par for its age, like the B17? It was not a failure.
In which case it was the RAF's requirement for the Battle and the aircraft specification met by the Battle that were obsolescent, and not the Battle itself. The RAF had no need for a day-bomber that lacked the speed of a fighter.
That was why the RAF never acquired the B17. And the USAAF's own need for the B17 was saved from obsolescence by the advent of the P51 which removed the LW's day-fighter threat.
Ironically the night-fighter threat remained to decimate Bomber Command, which then started flying by day in October 1944. The P51 would have made it safe then even for an updated Battle to return. Its obsolescence in RAF-speak would then have disappeared.
I rest my case.
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Old 22nd July 2007, 01:59
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Re: Placing the Fairey Battle.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tcolvin View Post
Some aircraft were failures like the Whirlwind, Typhoon, Manchester, Bf210, and He177. But they were and never are called obsolescent.
You really have a thing about the Typhoon, don't you? But I thought we'd had that argument. The Battle had a slight problem in taking a three-man crew and a bomb-load aloft on one Merlin. The crew-to-engines ratio was all wrong if later experience is anything to go by. I don't know what "more powerful engine" you had in mind for the Battle in 1939/40, though.

The whole "ill-conceived" vs. "obsolescent" argument just seems like semantics to me. The aircraft in question proved not be a lot of use in the war that actually happened. Some had development potential, some didn't; some found other roles, some didn't.

BTW: I've seen the Swordfish described as "obsolescent" often enough but it did pretty well, didn't it? I do sometimes wonder how Fairey came to turn out so many ungainly-looking aircraft: Swordfish, Battle, Barracuda, Albacore, Fulmar...
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Old 22nd July 2007, 04:02
RodM RodM is offline
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Re: Placing the Fairey Battle.

With all due respect, you do have a particular axe to grind and do make some sweeping statements.

"After the Meuse Bridge disaster the RAF had only one idea, which was to area-bomb at night with 4-engined heavies and cause a breakdown in civilian morale."

While this was true from 1942 onwards (not 'after the Meuse Bridge disaster', as you imply), you fail to appreciate the reasons behind the area bombing decision. You also fail to appreciate the percentage of effort put in by Bomber Command from 1944 onwards against non-city targets, and, frankly, your arguments sound like the type of simplified stuff repeated on the History Channel. While the BC effort specifically against German cities from late 1944 and during 1945 was mis-guided, I suggest that you do some study and gain an appreciation on how much effort by both the RAF and USAAF during the winter of 1944/45 effectly did result in 'area attacks' and the reasons why this was so. The OKL situation reports on attacks on Germany during Feb-Mar 1945 are also available.

Following, as an example, are the statistics, as detailed in USSBS Report 2a - "Statistical Appendix - Overall Report (European War)", relating to the tonnage of bombs specifically dropped on oil, chemical and rubber targets in Germany by the USAAF and RAF between Apr/44 and Apr/45:

MONTH/YEAR - USAAF TOTAL - RAF TOTAL

Apr/44 - 201 - 0
May/44 - 2,459 - 0
Jun/44 - 6,280 - 4,597
Jul/44 - 6.655 - 4,770
Aug/44 - 8,525 - 3,541
Sep/44 - 3,542 - 4,603
Oct/44 - 6,926 - 5.315
Nov/44 - 16,595 - 15,947
Dec/44 - 7,232 - 4,058
Jan/45 - 2,298 - 6,218
Feb/45 - 5,532 - 13,076
Mar/45 - 10,219 - 14,754
Apr/45 - 2,312 - 5,146


These statistics seem to defy your notion that: ...RAF had only one idea...

"Ironically the night-fighter threat remained to decimate Bomber Command, which then started flying by day in October 1944..."

You seem to be inferring that Bomber Command 'remained' being 'decimate(d)' at night, and a switch was made to day bombing (because of this?). Once again, back up your opinions with facts. From July 1944 onwards, the operational attrition rate of Bomber Command at night steadily decreased, and remained (on average) relatively low (compared to pre-July 1944) during the remainder of the war. Where was the decimation? In fact, from December 1944 onwards, at least, the Nachtjagd loss rate on Defence of the Reich ops was at least double that of Bomber Command (sources: RAF BC ORS Night & Day Raids Reports / RAF BC ORS Interception Tactics Reports / OKL FüSt Ic statistics and air situation reports)

Therefore, may I respectfully ask that you back up your options/statements with evidence/facts. There is no problem putting forward a hypothesis, provided that if it can be backed up with reliable evidence.

As to the Battle, the problem of it's survivability may have pre-dated May 1940 - look at some of the recon missions from the Phoney War...

Cheers

Rod

Last edited by RodM; 22nd July 2007 at 09:20.
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Old 22nd July 2007, 11:29
tcolvin tcolvin is offline
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Re: Placing the Fairey Battle.

Re Nick: we had an argument about the Typhoon and Vengeance. My impression was you were convinced by evidence emanating from the Antipodes where they still remember these things.

Re Rod: of course I have an axe to grind. But the only way of judging the validity of tentative conclusions is to post a hypothesis and see if any one can shoot it down. Thanks for having a go.

Survivability was of course the problem by day and by night. That is a statement of the obvious. The Battle could not survive. True. Are you saying that was the reason for calling it obsolescent? If so then then every other aircraft in BC in 1939 was also obsolescent.

Why do you say I fail to appreciate the reasons behind area bombing? The reason was clear. BC couldn't survive by day, and it couldn't do precision bombing at night. Some in BC couldn't even find the right country to bomb in daylight; Squadron Leader P.I. Harris in Wellington L4302 bombed Esbjerg in neutral Denmark on September 4, 1939 and killed Mrs Ethel Hansen. There were no consequences and he was subsequently promoted Group Captain. So BC came up with the 'policy' of area bombing. What other idea could BC have had except to fold its tent? That was not realistic given its effect on the career prospects of the decision-makers.

You ask for evidence about BC going back to day bombing once the USAAF had made safe the daylight skies? On December 18, 1939 BC attacked shipping in the Jade and Schillig Roads, and were worse than decimated - they lost 55% (12 Wellingtons out of 22). The trauma in BC over the folloeing Christmas period is described in Revie's 'The Lost Command'. It's worth reading. After that dismal Christmas BC went to Wlhelmshaven only by night until October 15, 1944. By then the USAAF had established aerial supremacy over Germany in the face of RAF predictions that it was impossible for technical reasons x, y and z. Would you buy a used car from such people?

Please keep shooting. We might then both benefit.
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Old 22nd July 2007, 11:37
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Re: Placing the Fairey Battle.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RodM View Post
With all due respect, you do have a particular axe to grind and do make some sweeping statements.

"After the Meuse Bridge disaster the RAF had only one idea, which was to area-bomb at night with 4-engined heavies and cause a breakdown in civilian morale."

While this was true from 1942 onwards (not 'after the Meuse Bridge disaster', as you imply)...
Cheers

Rod
Just to back up to what Rod said. The RAF did not have "only one idea", it had a new situation where British forces were not engaged on land in Northern Europe and thus the missions required were different.

Home air defence was a pre-war "idea" I suppose but it seems to have worked OK. The all-out bomber effort against the invasion fleet was next. Another "idea" was the rapid development of anti-submarine warfare. Then there was the evolution of tactical support in North Africa and the anti-shipping strikes in the North Sea.

All of these were responses to necessity. You could even say the same of the area bombing offensive. The pre-war theories of strategic bombing fell apart fast (and as Max Hastings pointed out in "Bomber Command" nodody seems to have made the preparations for putting those theories into practice) and the RAF looked for means to "hit back" at Germany with the means that Britan had.
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Old 22nd July 2007, 11:57
RodM RodM is offline
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Re: Placing the Fairey Battle.

Some in BC couldn't even find the right country to bomb in daylight....

You ask for evidence about BC going back to day bombing.....

That was not realistic given its effect on the career prospects of the decision-makers

Hi,

With regards to the first quotation, there were aircraft of the USAAF (and possibly other RAF Commands) that had the same problem in daylight, even in 1945, so what is your point?

With regards to the second quotation, I was not asking for evidence that BC went back to daylight bombing, I was questioning the validity of your implied statement that BC switched to daylight attacks because they were being 'decimated' at night.

As to the third statement, I would wager that there was more at stake for Britain, both politically and militarily, than just the "career prospects of the decision-makers"...

It's not so much the hypothesis that you are trying to put forward, but the way your frame your arguments that I question - i,e, some emotive statements that, when broken down, don't stand up to scrutiny. If your statements exhibited more objectivity, backed by evidence, then I wouldn't be saying boo...

As a point, a while back, someone posted stats from some book comparing the USAAF against Bomber Command to prove an argument. What was not mentioned is that the stats stacked up the efforts of at least three different USAAF AFs against one RAF Command, and, while implicitly noting the tonnage of incendiaries dropped by BC, failed to give a corresponding figure for the USAAF, thus implying that they didn't drop any.


As to the obsolescence of the Fairy Battle, you have a point but only from a limited perspective. The fact that the aircraft could no longer be effectively used in it's primary role, even at night, and could not be easily converted to another operational role meant that it had become obsolescent (i.e. outmoded, no longer of use). This is irregardless of pre-war doctines or specifications.

Was the Swordfish also obsolescent during the first two years of the war? Maybe from a technical standpoint but not from an operational point-of-view...

Cheers

Rod

Last edited by RodM; 22nd July 2007 at 12:27.
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