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Good books on the Fulmar?


Procopius
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Hullo all,

 

I was hoping someone could recommend some books on the Fulmar to me. Aside from the Warpaint, 4+, and Profile Publications booklets, there seems to be very little out there. Are there any memoirs by aircrew where the Fulmar features prominently?

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1 hour ago, Troy Smith said:

Some chaps  who might know @Grey Beema IIRC there was a Fulmar ace?  @iang  a font of much FAA info.

Several.

 

Fulmar destroyed more E/A than any other type (might be all other types).  806 NAS were the top scoring Squadron.

 

The Pilots named below were some of the top scoring pilots of the FAA.  All of them scored some or all of their victories flying the Fulmar:-

 

SG Orr 806

WL Barnes 806

RC Tillard 808

AJ Sewell 806

RA Brabner 806 / 805

RC Hay 801

GA Hogg 806

JM Bruen 803

PDJ Sparke 806

CLG Evans 806

EWT Taylor 800 / 808

ILF Lowe 806

 

Now the downside.  Figuring out which Fulmar ain’t so easy...

 

Get a copy of “806 Naval Air Squadron” by Brian Cull & Fredrick Galea.  It’s a good read but please note I have had issue trying to corroborate the serial numbers he talks about in the book.

 

Osprey Aircraft - “Royal Navy Aces of World War 2” Andrew Thomas is also a good starting point for FAA in WW2

 

Just beware though, 

I have built a Fulmar (1/48 Special Hobby) for SG Orr and another for WL Barnes and have three further in the stash (Brabner, Bruen and Sewell)...

One is never enough...

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I think I remember reading that Sub Lt. Graham Hogg was the top scoring Fulmar ace, with 12 kills, but I do not recall with which squadron, aircraft carrier, or details of his Fulmar. Sorry! I'm pretty sure I read this in the Osprey FAA Aces of WW2 that a modeling buddy loaned me to read a while back, so you might try to obtain a copy. Pretty amazing that the Fulmar is credited with more kills than any other FAA type, but I'm guessing that was a target rich environment,the pilots were extremely skilled, and their opponents weren't. That's a BIG airplane to be throwing around in an air to air scenario- those FAA pilots must have had big anodized brass ones!

Mike

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2 hours ago, 72modeler said:

I think I remember reading that Sub Lt. Graham Hogg was the top scoring Fulmar ace, with 12 kills, but I do not recall with which squadron, aircraft carrier, or details of his Fulmar.

Mike

According to the FAA SLt Hogg - 4 Destroyed 8 Shared destroyed.

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9 hours ago, 72modeler said:

Pretty amazing that the Fulmar is credited with more kills than any other FAA type, but I'm guessing that was a target rich environment,the pilots were extremely skilled, and their opponents weren't. That's a BIG airplane to be throwing around in an air to air scenario- those FAA pilots must have had big anodized brass ones!

Most 'kills' were achieved in the Mediterranean theatre, where Fulmars were employed in typical naval fighter tasks protecting British carriers and battle forces from enemy reconnaissance and bomb/torpedo attack. The Royal Navy introduced radar-based fighter direction in 1940: operational use of fighter direction officers (FDOs) aboard Illustrious and Ark Royal was a 'first' in the world. Although skills still had to be learned, this embryonic integrated air defence environment was very effective, allowing FDOs to position their limited fighter resources in the right place at the right time. That is, unless the enemy was able to saturate defences, as in the case of Illustrious in January 1941.

Of course, FAA pilots were extremely skilled, however in most cases they were not 'throwing around' their Fulmars in fighter-vs-fighter combat, in which case things did not always go well: one that comes to mind is the combat between Fulmars of 803 Sqn. and Dewoitines of the Vichy French Air Force in Syria, where 5 out of 6 were damaged or lost.

In that case, however, Fulmars were protecting a Royal Navy cruiser squadron providing offshore support to land forces, probably without the benefit of an FDO. On the other hand, it was seldom possible for land-based Italian or German fighters to escort strikes against a British battle fleet. Against bomber or reconnaissance types, that is, Cant Z. 501, Cant Z. 506, Do. 24, He. 111, S. 79, S. 81 and even Ju. 88, Fulmars directed by a skilful FDO could have extremely good chances. The combination of good endurance and ammunition load, together with the availability of radar-based fighter direction are probably the key reasons of the Fulmar success and comparative longevity in the fleet fighter role.

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That and two other facts

 

1. No better fighter became available in numbers for the fleet carriers until the second half of 1941. Fixed wing Sea Hurricanes went aboard Indomitable when she completed in Oct 1941. Folding wing Martlets were only delivered when Illustrious returned to the U.K. in Dec 1941. Both those ships and Formidable then spent the first 7 months of 1942 in the Indian Ocean. It was later in 1942 before large numbers of the latter became available

 

2. Until those Martlet II appeared, the Fulmar was the only modern fighter that could be struck down into the hangars of the first 3 Illustrious class. So Victorious was stuck with being able to operate only a handful of Sea Hurricanes from mid-1942 or later, Seafires parked on outriggers. Indomitable benefitted from a larger forward lift allowing Sea Hurricanes, and in 1943 Seafire II to be struck down into the upper hangar only.

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Though not universally popular among FAA pilots.  S/Lt J.G.S. Forrest (880 Squadron) referred to the Fulmar as "seven tons of uselessness". 

 

 

And I've now found the photo with the annotation from the line-book:

e339cdf8-791f-4c42-8049-4634c4eee28c.png

Edited by iang
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Phew, for a second there I thought you were talking about me, Ian.

 

More on task, this makes me think about the Admiralty desire for 20mm armament, and also realize that the theory "our fighters don't have to be fast because the enemy will come to them" [in order to get at the fleet], coupled with radar-directed earlier warning, might not be quite as outrageous as it first seems- though it still seems a bit optimistic!

Edited by gingerbob
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Although speed isn't everything, the top speed of the Fulmar is quoted as 265 MPH at 7,500 ft. This is about the same as the Gloster Gladiator (257 MPH), though the Fulmar was better armed and had a longer range.   

Edited by iang
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1 hour ago, iang said:

Although speed isn't everything, the top speed of the Fulmar is quoted as 265 MPH at 7,500 ft. This is about the same as the Gloster Gladiator (257 MPH), though the Fulmar was better armed and had a longer range.   

I understand though it couldn’t chase down a He111, and was far outpaced by S.79s and Ju88s although they did have some success.  As has been said - right place, right time..

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19 hours ago, Grey Beema said:

I understand though it couldn’t chase down a He111, and was far outpaced by S.79s and Ju88s although they did have some success.  As has been said - right place, right time..

With height advantage, 7 tons allowed speed to build up in a dive. Maybe not entirely useless, as long as the poor Fulmar pilot was given enough time to climb above his target.

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When protesting the fleet, a bomber running away is a victory for the fighter - and there were a lot of fighters that could be outpaced by the Ju.88, including every contemporary carrier borne fighter worldwide.  This included such land-based types as the Fulmar's later immediate replacement/supplement and only possible alternative.  But we are comparing level top speeds of clean light aircraft.  A loaded SM.79 cruising out in formation could not outrun a Fulmar, and a disrupted formation is much less effective.  The job of a defending fighter is not to notch up kills but to defend the fleet: it is obviously better to do both but the priority is with keeping the ships on the water not under it.

 

Stepping back, the problem facing the Admiralty and Air Ministry was between defending the fleet as well as possible or defending the UK as well as possible.  Should significant numbers of Hurricanes have been ordered instead of Fulmars, at the expense of Fighter Command in the foreseen battles to come, and offering fewer fighters on carrier decks?  I don't think so.

 

Stepping even further back, should the Admiralty have given more thought to better fighters, perhaps instead of getting hung up on mere ownership?  Yes, but given the doctrine that fighters were to chase away shadowers, and be taken below decks in the event of a real attack to clear the skies for the gunners, this seems unlikely to have produced any better result.  It is fair to add that better fighters were being considered, including a folding wing derivative of the Spitfire (not the eventual Seafire), but the only available factory was Fairey's.  Richard Fairey pointed out that designing, setting up for production, developing, and testing such a design would take much longer than placing the near-future Fulmar in production.  Time was much more important than paper promises of somewhat greater performance.  

 

Personally, I think it would have been quicker to produce a folding wing Hurricane than any new design, but even that would have taken longer than the Fulmar meaning fewer fighters on carriers in the time of need - and run the later risk of production being diverted to Fighter Command in time of need.  

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Hi Edward,

 

You might also want to look this book up:

 

No Place For Beginners, Battle over Malta June 1940 - September 1941

Author our very own @tonyot - hope this helps. I recently finished the 1:48 Special Hobby Mk.I - good luck whatever your endeavour!

 

Cheers,

 

Roger

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1 hour ago, Graham Boak said:

 

 

Stepping even further back, should the Admiralty have given more thought to better fighters, perhaps instead of getting hung up on mere ownership?  

 

But taking back ownership of the FAA was the first step in sorting out the problems that the Admiralty faced with the RAF and Air Ministry inter-war. The Inskip Report was given to Govt in Dec 1937 and the FAA returned to full Admiralty control on 24th May 1939.

 

Question for you. How many senior RAF officers in WW2 came from the RNAS? Despite the RFC and the RNAS being of similar size when the RAF formed on 1 April 1918 it was the RNAS part, coastal patrol etc, that suffered most heavily in the post WW1 cutbacks. The effect of that is then seen in RAF senior officer ranks in WW2 - very few from the RNAS. So as time went on there are fewer senior RAF officers with knowledge of naval aviation.

 

After 1918 the Air Ministry went so far as banning RAF officers from maintaining direct contact with the Admiralty on policy matters or the evolution of air tactics. Perhaps understandable as the new boys on the block marking out their territory. Contact between the Admiralty and Air Ministry was supposed to via a series of Committees. But these were AM committees and drew most of their membership from the AM and RAF. RN representation was limited to junior officers with little staff experience.

 

Despite the cost of naval aircraft coming from the RN budget, all sourcing had to be done via the AM, and they really only wanted to adapt RAF types for naval use inter war, presumably to keep the overall cost of development to them down. The RN wasn’t allowed direct contact with the aviation industry. And industry kept in with the AM for obvious commercial reasons when orders for new aircraft were few and far between. But the effect was that over time the Admiralty lost touch with what was and was not possible in aircraft design. That led to it continuing to push design criteria that limited aircraft performance come the latter part of the 1930s.

 

When you compare British naval aircraft design with that of the US and Japan, there is not a lot to choose between them until about the mid / late 1930s. Design of both the US Douglas TBD Devastator and the British Blackburn Skua start about 1934. It is usually forgotten that in 1939 the USN was still flying biplane fighters and dive bombers. Those 2 extra years of peace made a big difference to it.

 

Then what about the career path for naval aviators? The RN provided about 50% of FAA pilots and all the observers. But the highest aviation related rank would be as commander of a flight (1920s) or squadron (1930s). The options then are back to mainstream RN or transfer to RAF to continue an aviation career. And RAF officers didn’t want to be in the sideshow of the FAA. The action was with the RAF bomber force which would win the next war single handed according to the theories of the time.

 

And as WW2 approached new aircraft for the FAA very much played second fiddle. So the Barracuda whose design started in 1937 finally reached squadron service in Jan 1943 instead of 1940/41, by which time it was outclassed. The RAF had priority for virtually everything, but it meant that the FAA had to go to war with what it had. Admiralty thinking can begin to be seen with the Specs that were issued in 1940 for new fighters when they requested both two seat and single seat types. Those led to the Firefly and Firebrand respectively. 

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I've no great desire to repeat all the implications of this argument, but would like to answer a few of points you raise.  The career paths of aviation officers in the RN was entirely a matter of the Admiralty to decide: the restriction on promotion was based  on their lack of "General Duties" (i.e. ship handling) experience.  This is something that could have been adjusted as part of their career development.

 

As for the comparative performance of aircraft, the point is clear that as long as the RAF had control, the FAA received comparable or superior aircraft to anyone else.  It was when the Admiralty took over that this fell behind.  This is simply because the nation had greater priorities - specifically the generation of the fighter defences of the UK which saw much more attention in the late 1930s than the design of heavy bombers.   And the Admiralty's priorities were its battleships not its aircraft.  It is difficult to see this being much different whichever service controlled the procurement from whatever date.

 

For specific aircraft design: the Admiralty called for two-seat fighters to fulfil the escort fighter role.  The second crew member was required because of the operation of W/T equipment, as opposed to R/T.  This in turn was required because of the RN's insistence (not unreasonably, in my opinion) on radio silence for its operations.  That the US did not enforce such  but relied upon radio beacons is why US fighters could be single-engined for other than local air defence.  Technology moved on from the design position of the late '30s.  In this case it is difficult to criticise the Admiralty's 1930s decision other than with the knee-jerk reaction of "two seat fighters bad".  The situation was more complicated.

 

The Barracuda was designed for the Exe, which RR was unable to develop in time.  It was one of the engines cancelled, alongside the Vulture and Peregrine, to concentrate on the Merlin and to a lesser extent, the Griffon for the Firefly.   RR had too many irons in the fire to cope.  I would suggest that it would have been a better decision to put the Griffon in the Barracuda and dump the Firefly, but that's largely with the benefits of hindsight.  It is possible, I haven't seen it argued, that the Barracuda was delayed like other types by Beaverbrook's post-Dunkirk restriction on types receiving priority, but that's hardly the RAF's fault.  The Admiralty's insistence on ideal vison for gunnery spotting was to blame for the high wing and awful undercarriage - Fairey's low wing design project of the period look much more reasonable and suggest a more rapid development period.

 

The standard line that the RAF was to blame for all the shortcomings of the FAA simply doesn't hold water.  I recognise that the relationship between the RAF and RN between the wars was not ideal, but that in part had its origins in reactions to the Admiralty (and War Office) attempts to have the RAF disbanded altogether.  

 

However, I think we should stop here because once the basic points have been aired then this really has little to do with the main theme of this thread, not least because of the broad spread of reasons, causes and personalities involved.  On which we have barely touched....

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