An amazing bag of string

  1. Foxbat

    Foxbat None The Wiser

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    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
     
    Apr 17, 2018 at 1:04 PM
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  2. Edward M. Grant

    Edward M. Grant Well-Known Member

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    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.
     
    Apr 17, 2018 at 5:15 PM
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  3. WarriorMouse

    WarriorMouse My education started the day I finished school.

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    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.
     
    Apr 18, 2018 at 1:33 AM
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  4. Foxbat

    Foxbat None The Wiser

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    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:
     
    Apr 18, 2018 at 4:04 AM
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  5. Venusian Broon

    Venusian Broon Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity

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    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???)
     
    Apr 18, 2018 at 11:27 AM
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  6. Foxbat

    Foxbat None The Wiser

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    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:(
     
    Apr 18, 2018 at 12:06 PM
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  7. Foxbat

    Foxbat None The Wiser

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    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:)
     
    Apr 18, 2018 at 12:08 PM
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  8. Venusian Broon

    Venusian Broon Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity

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    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 :)
     
    Apr 18, 2018 at 12:25 PM
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  9. Foxbat

    Foxbat None The Wiser

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    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:)
     
    Apr 18, 2018 at 1:03 PM
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  10. Edward M. Grant

    Edward M. Grant Well-Known Member

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    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.
     
    Apr 18, 2018 at 7:16 PM
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  11. Venusian Broon

    Venusian Broon Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity

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    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.
     
    Apr 19, 2018 at 12:22 AM
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  12. Foxbat

    Foxbat None The Wiser

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    Alternatively, perhaps the tonnage actually refers to displacement
    Displacement (ship) - Wikipedia
     
    Apr 19, 2018 at 10:04 AM
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  13. Venusian Broon

    Venusian Broon Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity

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    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
     
    Apr 19, 2018 at 10:21 AM
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