An amazing bag of string

Foxbat

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#1
Nicknamed the Stringbag, the Fairey Swordfish was already obsolete by the beginning of World War Two. And yet, amazingly, it sank more tonnage than any other allied aircraft. When you think of the titanic carrier battles in the Pacific, you'd think it would be something like the Corsair that would take the prize for greatest tonnage but, no. It was the Stringbag.

Incredibly, 27 Swordfish operating in the Med in 1940 were sinking an average of 50000 tonnes per month and hit a peak at 98000 tonnes. They attacked enemy convoys at night to achieve this - without any night instrumentation. Used successfully against the Italian fleet at Taranto (an attack which the Japanese used as a blueprint for Pearl Harbour), and against Bismark (disabling her rudder and leaving her vulnerable for the Home Fleet to finish off) in the Atlantic, it was during the channel dash of Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen that their vulnerabilities finally came home to roost. All attacking Swordfish were shot down by 109s with thirteen of the eighteen crew members killed.

After that, they were assigned to anti-submarine duties, where they excelled in attacking and sinking U Boats. The Swordfish was also the first aircraft to pioneer the use of air-to-surface radar. 22 U Boats were lost to Swordfish attacks.

An absolutely incredible record for a plane that shouldn't have even been flying in WW2!

Fairey Swordfish
 

Edward M. Grant

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#2
From what I remember, one reason it was successful was because it was such an old design that it was actually really hard to damage. I remember reading about one of the attacks in WWII where the pilot said he was literally sitting there with his ass in the wind because a shell from the ship tore out the entire belly of the plane and took his trousers with it, but the plane kept flying anyway. If you didn't hit the crew, the engine or an essential part of the wings or controls, it could keep on going.

As you say, though, they were sitting ducks for any kind of modern fighter.
 

WarriorMouse

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#3
I believe there are only 2 of the Swordfish that are in flight worthy condition. One in Britain and one in Ontario Canada.
The one in Canada was restored in the 80's and first flown again Sept 1 1991. I was at the airshow in which it was supposed to be reflown again one month earlier but the official flight worthiness certificate did not come in time. So I only got to see it do some tail up taxi runs. The airplane is quite surprisingly large.
 

Foxbat

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#4
From what I remember, one reason it was successful was because it was such an old design that it was actually really hard to damage
I remember reading an article on why so many RAF pilots preferred the older Hurricane to the newer Spitfire and it was (like the Swordfish) the amount of damage it could take and keep going. The Spitfire was the faster, more nimble of the two but didn't take a lot of punishment very well. I'd imagine the old, large and slow Swordfish probably also made an excellent and stable platform from which to launch a torpedo.

Edit to my first post: when I said Corsair, I actually meant Dauntless Dive Bomber. Corsair was primarily a fighter:oops:
 

Venusian Broon

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#5
...sinking an average of 50000 tonnes per month and hit a peak at 98000 tonnes.
Foxbat, you seem to be wading deep into the literature, so I have a question for you. Putting the "sinkage" as tonnage is sure impressive...but actually how many ships does that equate to? Did they meticulously find out what ships were sunk and add up the unladed weight? (Did they include cargo?) Or was it estimated on reported size?

I assume there must be at least something like a formula or official measurement for it, because the statistics for the battle of the Atlantic are regularly quoted. It feels like there was a beancounter in the UK government compiling stats on this during the war.

I just can't get my head around the numbers. Is it tens of ships or hundreds? (Or is it a couple of big oil tankers or a thousand armed trawlers???)
 

Foxbat

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#6
Firstly, the tonnage rates for the Med appears refer mostly to night raids on enemy convoys so I'm assuming most were merchant ships. Also, if today is anything to go by, merchant ships tend to be much greater in size than your average frigate (around 4000 tons) or destroyer (around 8000 tons). Today's destroyer is roughly equivalent to a WW2 light cruiser.

I'm no expert but I'd say that 50000 tons of merchant shipping could be about three or four a month (assuming around 15000 tons per ship)?

I have no idea on whether cargo was taken into account but I'd assume (again) that the ships were identified and their tonnage taken from official records. Of course, all this is pure conjecture on my part:(
 

Foxbat

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#7
Foxbat, you seem to be wading deep into the literature,
Not as deep as you think;) I have a Fairey Swordfish in my model stash that I intend to build sometime this year. I just like to do some background work on whatever I'm building - nothing more:)
 

Venusian Broon

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#8
I tend to see actual numbers of ships when warship are involved (i.e. number of u-boats sunk each month) and I do think tonnage refers in some manner to merchant shipping soley.

I shall perhaps do a bit of internet sleuthing later and see!

And yes, biplanes much more fun to airfix - loads more bits to glue together, than a streamline mono-wing :)
 

Foxbat

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#9
And yes, biplanes much more fun to airfix - loads more bits to glue together, than a streamline mono-wing :)
Tell me about it! Busy working on a Revell Fokker D VII right now and I made a fatal mistake: I followed the instructions. Instead of fixing the struts to the lower wing as stated, I should have gone with my instinct and fitted them to the upper wing first. So much easier to fit that way.

Still, my airbrushing's getting a lot better:)
 

Edward M. Grant

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#10
I remember reading an article on why so many RAF pilots preferred the older Hurricane to the newer Spitfire and it was (like the Swordfish) the amount of damage it could take and keep going.
Yeah, I believe the Hurricane was another canvas-over-frame design, while the Spitfire was steel skinned. I remember that being one reason a damaged Hurricane could often be back in the air much faster than a damaged Spitfire: just stick a few patches on the canvas rather than having to weld in repair sections.

I've read that the Hurricane gun layout was also easier to hit things with. So it was well-suited to shooting down bombers while the faster Spitfires dealt with any fighters that had come with them.
 

Venusian Broon

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#11
I'm no expert but I'd say that 50000 tons of merchant shipping could be about three or four a month (assuming around 15000 tons per ship)?
From a quick gander at a variety of sources, I believe the tonnage we might be talking about is Gross Register Tonnage which represents the total internal volume of a vessel, where one register ton is equal to a volume of 100 cubic feet. So it's more a measure of volume really. (Possibly this is measurable from the attacking planes/uboats - if you can see a shape you are aiming at - you can possibly get a rough length/height and therefore an estimate of volume?)

It would appear that, from other quotes I've found, that 50,000 tons would equate to about 8-10 ships as a sort of rough ball-park figure, although clearly if they were GRT tons it should matter what size of ship you sink.
 

Foxbat

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#12
From a quick gander at a variety of sources, I believe the tonnage we might be talking about is Gross Register Tonnage which represents the total internal volume of a vessel, where one register ton is equal to a volume of 100 cubic feet. So it's more a measure of volume really. (Possibly this is measurable from the attacking planes/uboats - if you can see a shape you are aiming at - you can possibly get a rough length/height and therefore an estimate of volume?)

It would appear that, from other quotes I've found, that 50,000 tons would equate to about 8-10 ships as a sort of rough ball-park figure, although clearly if they were GRT tons it should matter what size of ship you sink.
Alternatively, perhaps the tonnage actually refers to displacement
Displacement (ship) - Wikipedia
 

Venusian Broon

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#13
Alternatively, perhaps the tonnage actually refers to displacement
Displacement (ship) - Wikipedia
The reason I thought it might be GRT is because someone on 'U-boat' website explicitly mentioned it as a measurement.

GRT would have the advantage of being constant no matter if the ship had cargo or not?

Anyway I think we sort of have an answer (ish) :D
 

Foxbat

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#15
Wow! I'm stunned that one Swordfish survived 175 hits. Just incredible!
Also, ironic that what appeared to be weaknesses (fabric construction, slow air speed) were actually strengths.The video actually gives a better understanding of why such an (apparently) obsolete plane became so successful in sinking enemy shipping. :)
 

Foxbat

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#17
I seem to recall a TV programme once saying the same about Hurricanes vs Messerschmitts.
Yes, you probably did hear that. The Hurricane had a fabric covered frame rather than an all-metal construction. This meant that it was much easier to repair and could take more damage (bullets often just passing through the fabric). One weakness it had in the amount of punishment it could take was the fact that it used an in-line liquid cooled (water/glycol) engine. It was a much more effecient engine and much easier to create a streamlined shape than using an air-cooled radial. The radial, however could take a lot of punishment, lose cylinders and still operate. One hit to the cooling jacket of a liquid-cooled and it was going to fail pretty quickly.
 

BigBadBob141

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#18
I remember reading "Fly For Your Life" about Robert Stanford Tuck.
He always said that the first thing that would happen if hit in the engine, the windscreen would be covered in coolant!
But inline engines are much more streamline then radials.
 

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#19
There is a true story written by a WW2 American Army pilot of one of his first flights over France in a P-47D Thunderbolt (Jug). A German ace tried 3 times to shoot or force him down on that flight. He was injured and the plane shot to pieces but it kept flying and he nursed it back to England. The plane was so shot up that it never flew again. It had a Prat and Whitney radial engine which had 2 cyl heads shot off, but it kept going. Fascinating story that I read years ago.
 

Foxbat

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#20
There is a true story written by a WW2 American Army pilot of one of his first flights over France in a P-47D Thunderbolt (Jug). A German ace tried 3 times to shoot or force him down on that flight. He was injured and the plane shot to pieces but it kept flying and he nursed it back to England. The plane was so shot up that it never flew again. It had a Prat and Whitney radial engine which had 2 cyl heads shot off, but it kept going. Fascinating story that I read years ago.
I read recently that the P47 was a complete and utter beast of a plane and took a hell of a lot of punishment before it could be put out of action. Apparently, pilots were initially sceptical of this plane but soon grew to love it:)
 

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