The Fairey Battle was designed to meet Specification P27/32 which called for a day bomber to replace the Hawker Hart and Hind. Designed by Marcel Lobelle, the prototype first flew on 10th March 1936 and shortly thereafter, as the pre-war expansion of the RAF began, an order was placed for 2,419 machines to a modified Specification P23/35. The Battle entered service with No 63 Squadron at RAF Benson in June 1937.
Powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin of 1,030 hp, its crew of pilot, navigator and gunner were seated in tandem under a single canopy. The aircraft’s armament comprised one .303 in Browning machine gun in the port wing and a single trainable .303 Vickers K machine gun in the cockpit’s rear seat position. A standard payload of 4 x 250 lb bombs accommodated in cells within the wings could be supplemented by an additional 500 lb of bombs carried on under-wing racks.
The Battle was woefully underpowered and desperately lacked defensive armament. Obsolete by the start of the 2nd World War, it nevertheless remained a front-line aircraft due to a lack of any replacement. Ten squadrons were despatched to France on 2nd September 1939 and it was on 20th September that a Battle achieved the RAF’s first aerial victory – a Me Bf109 shot down near Aachen. It was no match for the Luftwaffe fighters, however, and suffered appalling attrition during the German advance through the Low Countries. In the six weeks leading up to its withdrawal from France on 15th June 1940, some 200 Battles were lost, 99 of them in the final five days. Combat sorties from the UK continued through to October 1940 against shipping massed in the Channel Ports. A small number of aircraft were used for coastal patrol work in Northern Ireland whilst others continued to operate as bombers in the Italian East African Campaign until towards the end of 1941. Thereafter it served as a trainer and target tower with several allied nations until the end of the war and was finally retired for the RAF in 1949.
The Battle equipped 26 RAF squadrons at one time or another and was operated by the air arms of 8 other countries. A total of 2,185 were built (the original order having been curtailed with the end of production in September 1940). Some 5 survivors are exhibited at Museums with an excellent example on display at the RAF Museum, Hendon.