Fairey Barracuda

The Fairey Barracuda was a British carrier-borne torpedo and dive bomber designed by Fairey Aviation. It was the first aircraft of this type operated by the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm (FAA) to be fabricated entirely from metal.

Fairey Barracuda Mk II
Role Torpedo bomber, dive bomber
National origin United Kingdom
Manufacturer Fairey Aviation
Blackburn Aircraft
Boulton Paul
Westland Aircraft
First flight 7 December 1940
Introduction 10 January 1943
Primary users Royal Navy
Royal Canadian Navy
Dutch Naval Aviation Service
French Air Force
Produced 1941–1945
Number built 2,602[1]

The Barracuda was developed as a replacement for the Fairey Albacore biplanes. Development was protracted due to the original powerplant intended for the type, the Rolls-Royce Exe, being cancelled; it was replaced by the less powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. On 7 December 1940 the first Fairey prototype conducted its maiden flight; early testing revealed it to be somewhat underpowered. However, the definitive Barracuda Mk II had a more powerful model of the Merlin engine, while later versions were powered by the larger and even more powerful Rolls-Royce Griffon engine. The type was ordered in bulk to equip the FAA; in addition to Fairey's own production line, Barracudas were also built by Blackburn Aircraft, Boulton Paul, and Westland Aircraft.

The type participated in numerous carrier operations during the conflict, being deployed in the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and the Pacific Ocean against the Germans, Italians, and Japanese respectively during the latter half of the war. One of the Barracuda's most noteworthy engagements was a large-scale attack upon the German battleship Tirpitz on 3 April 1944. In addition to the FAA, the Barracuda was also used by the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Dutch Naval Aviation Service and the French Air Force. Following its withdrawal from service during the 1950s, no intact examples of the Barracuda were preserved despite its once-large numbers, although the Fleet Air Arm Museum has ambitions to assemble a full reproduction.

Design and development


In 1937 the British Air Ministry issued Specification S.24/37, which sought a monoplane torpedo bomber to satisfy Operational Requirement OR.35. The envisioned aircraft was a three-seater that would possess both a high payload capacity and a high maximum speed.[1] A total of six submissions were received by the Air Ministry, from which the designs of Fairey and Supermarine (Type 322) were selected; a pair of prototypes of each design were ordered.[2] On 7 December 1940, the first Fairey prototype conducted its maiden flight.[3][1] The rival Supermarine Type 322 did not fly until 1943: as the Barracuda was already in production by then its development did not progress further.

The Barracuda was a shoulder-wing cantilever monoplane [1] It had a retractable undercarriage and non-retracting tailwheel. The hydraulically-actuated main landing gear struts were of an "L" shape which retracted into a recess in the side of the fuselage and the wing, with the wheels within the wing. A flush arrestor hook was fitted directly ahead of the tail wheel. It was operated by a crew of three, who were seated in a tandem arrangement under a continuous-glazed canopy. The pilot had a sliding canopy while the other two crew members' canopy was hinged. The two rear-crew had alternate locations in the fuselage, the navigator's position having bay windows below the wings for downward visibility.[4] The wings were furnished with large Fairey-Youngman flaps which doubled as dive brakes. Originally fitted with a conventional tail, flight tests suggested that stability would be improved by mounting the stabiliser higher, similar to a T-tail, an arrangement that was implemented on the second prototype.[1] For carrier stowage the wings folded back horizontally at the roots; the small vertical protrusions on the upper wingtips held hooks that attached to the tailplane.[5]

The Barracuda had originally been intended to be powered by the Rolls-Royce Exe X block, sleeve valve engine. However, production of this powerplant was problematic and eventually abandoned, which in turn delayed the prototype's trials.[1][6] Instead, it was decided to adopt the lower-powered 12-cylinder Vee type Rolls-Royce Merlin 30 engine (1,260 hp/940 kW) to drive a three-bladed de Havilland propeller; the prototypes eventually flew in this configuration.[1][7] Experiences gained from the prototype's flight testing, as well as operations with the first production aircraft, designated Barracuda Mk I, revealed the aircraft to be underpowered; this has been attributed to have largely resulted from the weight of extra equipment that had been added since the initial design phase. Only 23 Barracuda Mk Is were constructed, including five by Westland Aircraft, these aircraft were only used for trials and conversion training.[6]

Pilots came to appreciate the powerful flaps / airbrakes fitted to the aircraft; reportedly, performing a carrier landing while flying the Barracuda was relatively straightforward due to a combination of these flaps and good visibility from the cockpit. Retracting the airbrakes at high speeds whilst simultaneously applying rudder would cause a sudden change in trim, which could throw the aircraft into an inverted dive.[8][7] Incidents of this occurrence proved fatal on at least five occasions during practice torpedo runs; once the problem was identified, appropriate pilot instructions were issued prior to the aircraft entering carrier service.[8]

Further development

The definitive version of the aircraft was the Barracuda Mk II; this had the more powerful Merlin 32 (1,640 hp/1,225 kW) driving a four-bladed propeller.[9] A total of 1,688 Mk IIs were manufactured by several companies, including Fairey (at Stockport and Ringway) (675), Blackburn Aircraft (700), Boulton Paul (300), and Westland (13).[10] The Barracuda Mk II carried the metric wavelength ASV II (Air to Surface Vessel) radar, with the Yagi-Uda antennae carried above the wings.

The Barracuda Mk III was a Mk II optimised for anti-submarine work; changes included the replacement of the metric wavelength ASV set by a centimetric variant, the scanner for which was housed in a blister under the rear fuselage.[6][11] 852 Barracuda Mk IIIs were eventually produced; 406 aircraft by Fairey and 392 by Boulton Paul.

The Barracuda Mk IV never left the drawing board;[11] the next and final variant was the Barracuda Mk V, in which the Merlin was replaced with the larger Rolls-Royce Griffon engine. The increased power and torque of the Griffon necessitated various changes, which included the enlargement of the vertical stabiliser and increased wing span with tips being clipped. The first Barracuda Mk V, which was converted from a Mk II, did not fly until 16 November 1944; Fairey had only built 37 aircraft before the war in Europe was over.

Early Merlin 30-powered Barracuda Mk 1s were deemed to be underpowered and suffered from a poor rate of climb; however, once airborne, the type proved relatively easy to fly. During October 1941, trials of the Barracuda Mk 1 were conducted at RAF Boscombe Down, which found that the aircraft possessed an overall weight of 12,820 lb (5,830 kg) when equipped with 1,566 lb (712 kg) torpedo; at this weight, the Mk 1 showed a maximum speed of 251 mph (405 km/h) at 10,900 ft (3322 m), a climb to 15,000 ft (4572 m) took 19.5 minutes, with a maximum climb rate of 925 fpm (4.7 m/s)at 8,400 ft (2,560 m), and a 19,100 ft (5,822 m) service ceiling.[12]

The later Barracuda Mk II had the more powerful Merlin 32, providing a 400 hp (300 kW) increase in power. During late 1942 testing of the Mk II was performed at RAF Boscombe Down; when flown at 14,250 lb (6,477 kg) showed a climb to 10,000 ft (3048 m) in 13.6 minutes,[13] with a maximum climb rate of 840 fpm (4.3 m/s) at 5,200 ft and an effective ceiling of 15,000 ft (4,572 m).[12] During June 1943, further testing occurred at Boscombe Down, which demonstrated a maximum range while carrying either a 1,630 lb (750 kg) torpedo or a single 2,000 lb bomb (909 kg), of 840 statute miles (1,355 km), and a practical range of 650 statute miles (1,048 km), while carrying 6 x 250 lb (114 kg) bombs reduced the range to 780 miles (1,258 km) and 625 miles (1,008 km), respectively.[14]

During the earlier part of its service life, the Barracuda suffered a fairly high rate of unexplained fatal crashes, often involving experienced pilots.[15][16] During 1945 the cause was traced to small leaks developing in the hydraulic system; the most common point for such a leak to happen was at the point of entry to the pilot's pressure gauge and was situated such that the resulting spray was directed straight into the pilot's face. The chosen hydraulic fluid contained ether and, as the aircraft were only rarely equipped with oxygen masks and few aircrew wore them below 10,000 ft/3,000 m anyway, the pilot quickly became unconscious during such a leak, inevitably leading to a crash.[17] At the end of May 1945, an Admiralty order was issued that required all examples of the type to be fitted with oxygen as soon as possible, and for pilots to use the system at all times.

Operational history

British service

The first Barracudas entered operational service on 10 January 1943 with 827 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA), who were deployed in the North Atlantic.[7] Eventually a total of 24 front-line FAA squadrons were equipped with Barracudas. While intended to principally function as a torpedo bomber, by the time the Barracuda arrived in quantity relatively little Axis-aligned shipping remained, so it was instead largely used as a dive-bomber.[1][18] From 1944 onwards, the Barracuda Mk II was accompanied in service by radar-equipped, but otherwise similar, Barracuda Mk IIIs; these were typically used to conduct anti-submarine operations.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) also operated the Barracuda Mk II. During 1943 the first of the RAF's aircraft were assigned to No. 567 Sqn., based at RAF Detling. During 1944 similar models went to various squadrons, including 667 Sqn. at RAF Gosport, 679 Sqn. at RAF Ipswich and 691 Sqn. at RAF Roborough. Between March and July 1945 all of the RAF's Barracudas were withdrawn from service.[19][20]

During July 1943, the Barracuda first saw action with 810 Squadron aboard HMS Illustrious off the coast of Norway; shortly thereafter, the squadron was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea to support the landings at Salerno, a critical element of the Allied invasion of Italy.[21][11] During the following year, the Barracuda entered service in the Pacific Theatre.

As the only British naval aircraft in service stressed for dive bombing following the retirement of the Blackburn Skua[18] the Barracuda participated in Operation Tungsten, an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz while it was moored in Kåfjord, Alta, Norway.[1][6] On 3 April 1944 a total of 42 aircraft dispatched from British carriers HMS Victorious and Furious scored 14 direct hits on Tirpitz using a combination of 1,600 lb (730 kg) and 500 lb (230 kg) bombs for the loss of one bomber.[22][23] This attack damaged Tirpitz, killing 122 of her crew and injuring 316, as well as disabling the ship for over two months.[24] However, the slow speed of the Barracudas contributed to the failure of the subsequent Operation Mascot and Operation Goodwood attacks on Tirpitz during July and August of that year.[25][26]

On 21 April 1944 Barracudas of No 827 Squadron aboard Illustrious began operations against Japanese forces.[1][27] The type participated in air raids on Sabang in Sumatra, known as Operation Cockpit.[28] In the Pacific theatre, the Barracuda's performance was considerably reduced by the prevailing high temperatures;[N 1] reportedly, its combat radius in the Pacific was reduced by as much as 30%. This diminished performance was a factor in the decision to re-equip the torpedo bomber squadrons aboard the fleet carriers of the British Pacific Fleet with American-built Grumman Avengers.[30]

In the Pacific, a major problem hindering the Barracuda was the need to fly over Indonesian mountain ranges to strike at targets located on the eastern side of Java, which necessitated a high-altitude performance that the Barracuda's low-altitude-rated Merlin 32 engine with its single-stage supercharger could not effectively provide.[31][N 2] Additionally, the carriage of maximum underwing bomb loads resulted in additional drag, which further reduced performance.[32] However, the Light Fleet Carriers of the 11th ACS (which joined the BPF in June 1945) were all equipped with a single Barracuda and single Corsair squadron; by Victory over Japan Day, the BPF had a total of five Avenger and four Barracuda squadrons embarked on its carriers.[33]

A number of Barracudas participated in trial flights, during which several innovations were tested, including RATOG rockets for boosting takeoff performance, and a braking propeller, which slowed the aircraft by reversing the blade pitch.

Following the end of the conflict, the Barracuda was relegated to secondary roles, for the most part being used as a trainer aircraft.[11] The type continued to be operated by FAA squadrons up until the mid-1950s, by which time the type were withdrawn entirely in favour of the Avengers.[1]

Canadian service

On 24 January 1946, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) took delivery of 12 radar-equipped Barracuda Mk II aircraft; this was a Canadian designation, in British service these aircraft were referred to as the Barracuda Mk. III. The first acquired aircraft were assigned to the newly-formed 825 Sqn. aboard aircraft carrier HMCS Warrior. The majority of Canadian aircraft mechanics had served during the war and had been deployed on numerous British aircraft carriers, notably HMS Puncher and Nabob which, along with some Canadian pilots, the RCN crewed and operated on behalf of the RN. During 1948, the Warrior was paid off and returned to Britain along with the Barracuda aircraft.

Surviving aircraft

Over 2,500 Barracudas were delivered to the FAA, more than any other type ordered by the Royal Navy at that date. However, unlike numerous other aircraft of its era, none were retained for posterity and no complete examples of the aircraft exist today.[34][35]

Since the early 1970s, the Fleet Air Arm Museum has been collecting Barracuda components from a wide variety of sources throughout the British Isles; it has the long-term aim of rebuilding an example. In 2010, help was sought from the team rebuilding Donald Campbell's record-breaking speed boat, Bluebird, as the processes and skills involved were related to those needed to recreating the aircraft from the crashed remains, so between May 2013 and February 2015 'The Barracuda Project' operated as a sister project to the Bluebird rebuild. The tail section of LS931 was reconstructed using only original material. During September 2014, the wreckage of a rear fuselage was delivered to the workshops to undergo the same processes. In February 2015, the Barracuda sections were transported back to the Fleet Air Arm Museum, where the work continues.[36][37]

During 2018, the wreckage of a Fairey Barracuda was discovered by engineers surveying the seabed for an electricity cable between England and France. According to Wessex Archaeology, it is the only example of the type to have ever been found in one piece, and represents the last of its kind in the UK. During 2019, the wreckage was successfully recovered; it is intended to be reassembled and transported to the Fleet Air Arm Museum for preservation.[38][34]


Two prototypes (serial numbers P1767 and P1770) based on the Fairey Type 100 design.
Mk I
First production version, Rolls-Royce Merlin 30 engine with 1,260 hp (940 kW), 30 built
Upgraded Merlin 32 engine with 1,640 hp (1,225 kW), four-bladed propeller, ASV II radar, 1,688 built
Anti-submarine warfare version of Mk II with ASV III radar in a blister under rear fuselage, 852 built
Mk II (number P9976) fitted with a Rolls-Royce Griffon engine with 1,850 hp (1,380 kW), first flight 11 November 1944, abandoned in favour of Fairey Spearfish.
Mk V
Griffon 37 engine with 2,020 hp (1,510 kW), payload increased to 2,000 lb (910 kg), ASH radar under the left wing, revised tailfin, 37 built


 United Kingdom

Specifications (Barracuda Mk II)

Data from Fairey Aircraft since 1915,[42] British Naval Aircraft since 1912,[43] The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II[6]

General characteristics


  • Maximum speed: 240 mph (208 kn, 386 km/h) at 1,750 ft (533 m)
  • Cruise speed: 195 mph (170 kn, 314 km/h) at 5,000 ft (1,524 m)
  • Range: 686 mi (597 nmi, 1,104 km) with 1,620 lb (736 kg) torpedo, 1,150 mi without load
  • Service ceiling: 16,600 ft (5,080 m)
  • Wing loading: 32.6 lb/ft2 (159 kg/m2)
  • Power/mass: 0.12 hp/lb (0.20 kW/kg)
  • Climb to 5,000 ft (1,524 m): 6 min


See also

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists



  1. All aircraft are adversely affected by increased temperature and humidity. The effect is to lower engine output and increase the takeoff run. Additionally, windless conditions are common very near the equator, further increasing the takeoff run for carrier aircraft.[29]
  2. " Illustrious then exchanged her Barracudas for the Avengers of 832 and 851 before the next operation, an attack on the oil refineries at Soerabaya, Java. For this strike, the aircraft would have to fly across the breadth of Java. The mountainous spine of the island averages 10,000 ft in height, and this minimum height, coupled with the distance to be flown, about 240 miles, prohibited the use of the essentially low altitude Barracuda."[31]


  1. Fredriksen 2001, p. 106.
  2. Taylor 1974, p. 313.
  3. Taylor 1974, p. 314.
  4. Bridgman, Leonard. Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II. New York: Crescent Books, 1988. ISBN 0-517-67964-7. .
  5. Stemp 2011, p. 63.
  6. Bishop 1998, p. 401.
  7. Smith 2008, p. 337.
  8. Brown 1980, pp. 105–106.
  9. Stemp 2011, p. 60.
  10. "Fairey Barracuda." Flight International, 10 August 1944. p. 148.
  11. Stemp 2011, p. 61.
  12. Mason 1998, pp. 294, 306.
  13. Air Ministry, p. 19; at a weight of 13,900 lb, the normal takeoff weight with a 1,630 lb torpedo, the time to climb to 10,000 ft was 12.57 minutes, and climb rates were calculated with the maximum continuous power of the Merlin 32 engine, rather than the 5 minute combat rating.
  14. Mason 1998, p. 295.
  15. Popham 1974, p. 163.
  16. Kilbracken 1980, p. 197.
  17. Lord Kilbracken 1980, p. 203.
  18. Smith 2008, p. 333.
  19. Jefford 2001, Chapter The Squadrons.
  20. Halley 1988, pp. 411, 436, 451, 452, 457.
  21. Willis 2009, pp. 72–73.
  22. Willis 2009, pp. 74–75.
  23. Gunston 1995, .
  24. Smith 2008, pp. 337, 339.
  25. Roskill 1961, pp. 156, 161–162.
  26. "Bombs away." Gisborne Herald, 29 December 2018.
  27. Smith 2008, pp. 339-340.
  28. Willis 2009, p. 75.
  29. "Effect of temperature and altitude on airplane performance." pilotfriend.com. Retrieved: 26 September 2010.
  30. Willis 2009, pp. 75–76.
  31. Brown 1971, p. 257.
  32. Harrison 2002, p. 29.
  33. Watson, Graham. "Royal Navy: Fleet Air Army , August 1945." Archived 2 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine orbat.com, v.1.0 7 April 2002. Retrieved: 17 April 2010.
  34. "Lost WW2 Aircraft lifted from sea after more than 75 years." heritagedaily.com, 5 June 2019.
  35. Moss, Richard. "Fleet Air Arm reveals progress on project to restore last World War II Barracuda bomber." culture24.org.uk, 25 August 2011.
  36. "Barracuda Project". Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  37. "WWII Barracuda bomber to be rebuilt from crash wreckage." BBC News, 30 October 2013.
  38. "'Rare' WWII bomber lifted from sea 75 years after crash." BBC News, 7 June 2019.
  39. Thetford 1982, pp. 162, 172.
  40. Lewis 1959, p. 112.
  41. Lewis 1959, p. 124.
  42. Taylor 1974, p. 325.
  43. Thetford 1978, pp. 162–163.


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