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Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Royal Navy Fairy Swordfish Plane (String Bag)






The Fairy Swordfish (nicknamed: the string bag) was an outdated biplane that performed amazingly well during the early stages of the World War II. She was used on board British aircraft carriers and to good effect. I think much of her success was because the plane could function in areas where she had no competition from much faster fighter aircraft. At sea, land-based fighter aircraft, that the enemy might try to send out, where out of range. She could attack enemy fleets at sea. Italy and Germany never used aircraft carriers. Germany had one but it was never modified to go into action.

On one occasion the British used the string bag to attack the Italian fleet when docked at Taranto. It was a night attack and it took the Italians by surprise. It caused tremendous damage to the Italian Navy and the string bag would be responsible for other major hits upon the Italian fleet at sea.

The string bags were also responsible for crippling the German Battleship Bismark by dropping torpedoes. One of these damaged and jammed the great ship's rudder. It allowed the Royal Navy to close in on the stricken ship from all directions and sink the German ship. This caused tremendous damage to Germany's surface fleet in WWII. It elevated the slumbering Swordfish to hero status among the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. So much damage by an almost obsolete biplane.

Perhaps the string bags became over confident with such an affectionate and overinflated reputation. It had performed and punched above its expected weight. After these early successes, the Fleet Air Arm of the \Royal Navy, became overbold because they attempted to use the string bag in an attack upon German ships in the Channel close to northern France. This operation went preposterously wrong. Close to land, the Germans sent up intercepting fighter planes and every string bag was lost as the mission failed in diabolical shambles. 

As the string bags attempted to abort and return to base they were so slow that the German fighters pursuing overshot the lumbering British planes before a concentrated fire could be focused on the fleeing Swordfish. The German fighters realised they had to lower their landing wheels to slow down enough as they fell behind the lumbering string bags. This allowed them to remain in range long enough to let off a substantial burst of machine gun fire. 

This incident brought home the reality of the Fairy Swordfish's limitations. She remained a much-loved plane because of early exploits in the war and her allure is affectionate because of some amazing feats performed by such a modest craft. There are still some left today, and I have seen them at air shows. The Fairy Swordfish (string bag) is still a great favourite of mine.

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