The Fairey Barracuda – a brief history

The Fairey Barracuda was a British carrier-borne torpedo and dive bomber used during the Second World War, the first of its type used by the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm to be fabricated entirely from metal. It was introduced as a replacement for the Fairey Swordfish and Fairey Albacore biplanes. It is notable for its role in attacking the German battleship Tirpitz and known for its generally ungainly appearance and quirks of performance.

The Barracuda resulted from Air Ministry Specification S.24/37 issued in 1937 for a monoplane torpedo and dive bomber. Of the six submissions, the designs of Fairey Aviation and Supermarine were selected and two prototypes of each ordered. The first Fairey prototype flew on 7 December 1940; the Supermarine Type 322 first flew in 1943 but with the Barracuda already in production it did not progress further.

The Barracuda was a shoulder-wing cantilever monoplane with an oval, all-metal fuselage. It had a retractable landing gear and non-retracting tail wheel. The hydraulically-operated main landing gear struts were of an "L" shape and retracted into a recess in the side of the fuselage, with the wheels held in the wing. A flush arrestor hook was fitted ahead of the tail wheel. The crew of three was housed in tandem under a continuous glazed canopy; the pilot had a sliding canopy and the other two crew members' canopy was hinged. The two rear crew members had alternate locations in the fuselage, with the navigator having bay windows below the wings for downward visibility. The wings had large Fairey-Youngman flaps that doubled as dive brakes. Originally fitted with a conventional tail, flight tests suggested stability would be improved by mounting the stabiliser higher to form a T-tail, which was implemented on the second prototype.

Folded Wings

The Barracuda was originally intended to use the Rolls-Royce Exe sleeve valve engine, but production of this power plant was abandoned, delaying the prototype's trials. The prototypes eventually flew with the lower-powered 12-cylinder Rolls-Royce Merlin 30 and a three-bladed de Havilland propeller. Further experience with the prototypes and the first production Mk l machines revealed the aircraft to be underpowered, as a result of the weight of extra equipment that had been added since the initial design. Only 30 Mk Is were built and they were only used for trials and conversion training; replacing the Merlin 30 with the more powerful Merlin 32 and a four-bladed propeller resulted in the definitive Barracuda Mk II variant of which 1,688 were manufactured by Fairey, Blackburn Aircraft, Boulton Paul and Westland.

The Barracuda Mk III was the Mk II optimised for anti-submarine work, and the Barracuda Mk IV never left the drawing board; the final variant was the Barracuda Mk V, powered by the Rolls-Royce Griffon. The increased power and torque of the Griffon required various airframe changes including a larger tail and increased wingspan.

A total of 2,607 of all marks of Barracuda were built.

As noted, early Merlin 30-powered Mk I Barracudas were underpowered and suffered from a poor rate of climb; once airborne however, the type proved easy to fly. Pilots came to appreciate the powerful flaps which when combined with the good forward visibility, made carrier landings relatively simple.


It was found that retracting the airbrakes at high speeds whilst simultaneously applying rudder caused a sudden change in trim which could throw the aircraft into an inverted dive; this proved fatal on at least five occasions during practice torpedo runs, but the problem was identified, and appropriate pilot instructions issued, before the aircraft entered carrier service. Similarly, during the earlier part of its service life the Barracuda suffered a fairly high rate of unexplained fatal crashes, often involving experienced pilots. In 1945 this was traced to small leaks developing in the hydraulic system, with the resulting spray going straight into the pilot's face. The fluid contained ether and as the aircraft were rarely equipped with oxygen masks the pilot quickly became unconscious; an Admiralty order required all examples of the type to be oxygen fitted and for pilots to use the system at all times. Further quirks of handling included a radiator flap that had to be open at the start of the take off run to aid engine cooling, but which caused significant drag and required early retraction if the aircraft was to reach a suitable take off speed. Asymmetric retraction of the large main undercarriage could also cause a sudden loss of a few feet of height, which saw a few Barracudas back on the ground rather sooner than the pilot intended.


Barracuda crews sang a song about their aircraft, to the tune of ‘Any Old Iron’-

Old Iron

“Any old ire, any old ire,
Any, any, any old iron
Down at Lee you get them free,
Built by Faireys for a crew of three
Bags of fun, no front gun,
An engine you can't rely on
You know what you can do
With your Barracuda too
Old iron, old iron.”

Operational history

The first Barracudas entered service on 10 January 1943 with 827 Squadron and were deployed in the North Atlantic; the type would eventually equip 24 front line squadrons. The Barracuda first saw action with 810 Squadron aboard HMS Illustrious off the coast of Norway in July 1943 before deploying to the Mediterranean to support the Salerno landings; the following year they entered service in the Pacific Theatre.

The Royal Air Force used the Barracuda Mk II, initially in 1943, though all the aircraft were withdrawn by July 1945, and the Royal Canadian Navy operated the type between 1946 and 1948.

Barracudas played a part in a major attack on the German battleship Tirpitz. On 3 April 1944 (Operation Tungsten), 42 aircraft from British carriers HMS Victorious and Furious scored 14 direct hits on Tirpitz with 1,600 lb (730 kg) and 500 lb (230 kg) bombs at the cost of one bomber; the attack disabled Tirpitz for over two months.

From April 1944, Barracudas of No 827 Squadron aboard Illustrious started operations against Japanese forces, taking part in raids against Sabang in Sumatra (Operation Cockpit). The Barracuda's already average performance was further reduced by the high temperatures of the Pacific, with its combat radius being reduced by as much as 30%, and the torpedo bomber squadrons of the fleet carriers of the British Pacific Fleet were quickly re-equipped with Grumman Avengers.

Barracudas were used to test several innovations including RATOG rockets for takeoff and a braking propeller which slowed the aircraft by reversing the blade pitch.

The Barracuda continued in Fleet Air Arm service until the mid 1950s, by which time they were all replaced by Avengers.

In Flight

Leading particulars

  • Crew: 3
  • Length: 39 ft 9 in
  • Wingspan: 49 ft 2 in
  • Height: 15 ft 2 in
  • Wing area: 405 ft²
  • Empty weight: 9,350 lb
  • Loaded weight: 13,200 lb
  • Max. takeoff weight: 14,100 lb
  • Power plant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin 32 liquid-cooled V12 engine, 1,640 hp


  • Maximum speed: 228 mph
  • Cruise speed: 195 mph
  • Range: 686 miles
  • Service ceiling: 16,600 ft (5,080 m)
  • Climb to 5,000 ft (1,524 m): 6 min


  • Guns: 2 × 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K machine guns in rear cockpit
  • Bombs: 1× 1,620 lb (735 kg) aerial torpedo or 4× 450 lb (205 kg) depth charges or 6× 250 lb (110 kg) bombs


 Line Drawing