The Fairey Barracuda was a monoplane torpedo bomber designed in the late 1930s to replace the biplane Albacores and Swordfish. The Barracuda didn’t enter service until 1943, but it soon became a mainstay of the Fleet Air Arm, operating in home waters, the Mediterranean and the Far East.
Work on the Barracuda began in 1937 in response to Air Ministry specification S.24/37. Like a large number of aircraft of the period, the development of the Barracuda was delayed by the failure of the chosen engine, in this case the Rolls Royce Exe (or X). The aircraft was modified to take the Rolls-Royce Merlin, but the versions available in 1940 were not powerful enough for the increasingly heavy Barracuda. Even with the Merlin 30 used on the first production aircraft in 1942 the aircraft was still underpowered.
The Barracuda was a high-winged monoplane, with a crew of three. The wings carried large Fairey-Youngman flaps below the trailing-edge, which could be set to 20 degrees to increase lift during take-off or to 30 degrees to act as dive brakes, making the Barracuda a competent dive bomber.
Work on the Barracuda slowed down dramatically after the outbreak of the Second World War. The prototype made its maiden flight on 7 December 1940, only one month after the Albacore went to sea for the first time. With a new torpedo bomber already entering service, the Barracuda received a low priority – we now know that the battle of Britain was over and that the blitz would not last too long into 1941 before the Luftwaffe began to move east, but in late 1940 the Germans were expected to return in strength in the spring, and so fighter aircraft got top priority, followed by heavy bombers. As a result the second prototype Barracuda didn’t make its maiden flight until 29 June 1941, and the first production aircraft was not ready until 18 May 1942.
The Barracuda finally entered service on 10 January 1943, with No.827 Squadron. Over the next year twelve Fleet Air Arm squadrons received the type, and it replaced the Swordfish and Albacore on all of the large fleet carriers. Unlike the Albacore the Barracuda also served on the smaller escort carriers, using rocket assisted take-off gear to allow it to work on their smaller flight decks.
The Barracuda’s combat debut came during the Allied landings at Salerno in September 1943, but it did not come to prominence until April 1944. That month a strike force made up of the carriers Furious, Victorious, Emperor, Fencer, Pursuer and Searcher launched 42 Barracudas and 80 fighters in an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz, then lurking in Kaafiord, at the northern tip of Norway, from where the great ship posed a constant threat to the Russian convoys. The attack was made on 4 April, and the Germans were caught entirely by surprise. The Tirpitz was hit by fifteen 500lb and 1,000lb bombs, at the cost of three Barracudas and one fighter. Follow-up attacks on 15 May, 14 July, 22, 24 and 25 August 1943 were less successful, and only a single 1,000lb hit was scored.
During 1944 the elimination of the Italian fleet and the ever-decreasing threat from the remaining German capital ships meant that the Royal Navy was able to return to the Pacific theatre in strength. The Barracuda made its Pacific debut in April 1944 when aircraft from Nos.810 and 847 squadrons on HMS Illustrious joined in an attack on the Japanese submarine base and oil-tanks at Sabang, Sumatra. Another four Barracuda squadrons fought in the Pacific, from HMS Indomitable and HMS Victorious. The final Barracuda combat mission of the war also came in the Far East, at Hong Kong on 1 September 1945, and was against Japanese die-hards who refused to surrender.
At the end of the war the Barracuda was rapidly withdrawn from front line service, but the end of lend-lease forced the Navy to scrap or return its American built aircraft and in December 1947 No.815 Squadron was re-equipped with twelve Barracuda IIIs, retaining them until May 1953.
The first 30 production aircraft were built as the Barracuda I, powered by the 1,260 Rolls Royce Merlin 30 engine. The Mk Is differed from the prototype in having a high-mounted horizontal tail plane, the low-mounted tail of the prototype having proved vulnerable to turbulence from the Fairey-Youngman flaps. All 30 Barracuda Is were produced during 1942, 25 by Fairey and 5 by Westland
The Barracuda II was the main production version of the aircraft, with 1,688 completed. It was powered by the 1,640hp Merlin 32, which solved many of the problems caused by the failure of the original engines. It was otherwise similar to the Mk I.
The Mk.III was an anti-submarine and reconnaissance version of the Barracuda, producing by installed ASV Mk.X radar. The scanner was installed in a radome installed under the rear fuselage. 852 Mk IIIs were built.
With 2 prototypes, 30 Mk Is and 1,688 Mk IIIs this gives a total of 2,572 Merlin powered Barracudas. However some sources give a lower figure for the total number of Albacores produces of 2,150 (1,190 at Fairey, 550 by Blackburn, 392 by Boulton Paul and 18 by Westland). The difference of just over 400 aircraft may be an error, but given the limited difference between the Mk II and Mk III might be accounted for by conversions of Mk IIs to Mk III standard.
The Barracuda IV was to have been the first version of the aircraft powered by the Rolls Royce Griffon engine, but it never progressed beyond the design stage.
The Barracuda V was thus the only version of the Barracuda to be powered by the Griffon. It was designed for service in the Pacific, but the war ended before the first production aircraft was complete, and only thirty were ever completed from new.
To cope with the extra power of the Griffon the Barracuda was given 4ft wider wings, with squared off tips, and the fuselage and wings were made stronger. The rear gunner was dropped, so the Barracuda carried a crew of two – pilot and navigator/ radio operator. The prototype Mk V, converted from a Barracuda II, made its maiden flight on 16 November 1944. Another year passed before the first production aircraft made its maiden flight, on 22 November 1945. The Barracuda V was used as a training aircraft, and never entered front line service.
Stats - Barracuda II
Engine: Rolls Royce Merlin 32
Wing span: 49ft 2in
Length: 39ft 9in
Height: 15ft 1in
Maximum weight: 14,100lb
Max speed: 228mph at 1,750ft or 210mph at 2,000ft
Service ceiling: 16,600ft or 17,500ft
Maximum range: 1,150 miles with no bombs and 342 gallons of fuel, 684 miles with 1,572lb torpedo
Armament: Two Vickers K machine guns in rear cockpit
Bomb load: One 1,620lb torpedo or 1,000lb bomb under fuselage, or 1,800lb of bombs under the wings