The Fulmar, a navalised version of the Fairey P4/34, was designed to meet Specification O8/38 which called for a fleet defence fighter. The provision of an observer/wireless operator was considered essential to cope with long over-sea flights. A simple derivative of the P4/34, the Fulmar was expected to become available in quick time and an order for 127 machines was consequently placed in mid-1938. The prototype and first production Mk I took to the air on 4th January 1940 and delivery to the Fleet Air Arm began shortly thereafter; the aircraft entered service with No 806 Squadron July 1940 and was soon embarked on HMS Illustrious.
Fulmar MK II production began in January 1942 and entered service two months later. Powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin 30 V12 engine of 1,300 hp, the Mk II’s armament comprised 8 x .303 in Browning machine guns or, in the case of some later models, 4 x .50 in Brownings. Provision was made for the carriage of 2 x 100 lb or 250 lb bombs fuselage-mounted. A later version was equipped with either a Mk IV or Mk X Air Interception radar and deployed as a night fighter.
As quickly became apparent in the Mediterranean Theatre, the Fulmar was somewhat unwieldy when it came into contact with single-seat land-based opposition. Nevertheless, it was able to achieve victories against Italian and German aircraft during its role protecting convoys en route to Malta. It was deployed to good effect in carrier-borne reconnaissance during the May 1941 chase of the Bismark and saw action in the unsuccessful raid on Kirkenes and Petsamo in July of the same year. By 1942, the Fulmar was being replaced by Seafires in the fighter role but continued to provide good service thereafter in the long range reconnaissance role until February 1945.
At one time or another 20 FAA squadrons were equipped with the Fulmar. Of the 600 aircraft built, there is but one known survivor – the prototype which is on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton.