The Fairey Fulmar was a British carrier-borne fighter aircraft that served with the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) during the Second World War. A total of 600 were built by Fairey Aviation at its Stockport factory between January 1940 and December 1942. The Fulmar's design was based on that of the earlier Fairey P.4/34 that was in turn developed in 1936 as a replacement for the Fairey Battle light bomber. Although its performance (like that of its Battle antecedent) was lacking, the Fulmar was a reliable, sturdy aircraft with long range and an effective eight machine gun armament.
The first squadron to be equipped with the Fulmar was No. 806 Squadron FAA in July 1940, and this squadron began operating from HMS Illustrious
shortly afterwards. The Fulmar was not well matched with land-based
fighters. The Navy had specified a two-seat machine, feeling that a
navigator was needed to cope with the challenges of navigating over the
open ocean. As a result, the Fulmar was far too large and unwieldy when
it came into contact with single-seat, land-based opposition, as it did
in the Mediterranean Theatre. Yet its long range was useful at times as evidenced in the 1941 chase of the German battleship Bismarck where Fulmars acted as carrier-borne spotters, tracking and trailing the fleeing battleship.
First seeing action on Malta convoy protection patrols in September
1940, the sturdy Fulmar was able to achieve victories against its far
more agile Italian and German adversaries. By the autumn, Fulmars had
shot down ten Italian bombers and six enemy fighters, while giving top
cover to the Swordfish raid on Taranto.
Fulmars played a prominent role in the ill-fated raid on Kirkenes and Petsamo in July 1941.
By 1942, the Fulmar was being replaced by single-seat aircraft adapted from land fighters such as the Supermarine Seafire or by American single seat fighters such as the Grumman Martlet. It saw useful service in nighttime roles as a convoy escort and intruder and was used to train crews for the Fairey Barracuda.
On the other hand, its flight characteristics were considered pleasant,
its wide undercarriage provided good deck handling capacities and it
had excellent fuel capacity and range. Fulmars were used in long-range reconnaissance after they were withdrawn as fighters. Most Fleet Air Arm fighter aces scored at least part of their victories in Fulmars, for example, Sub Lieutenant S.G. Orr, finished the war with 12 confirmed air victories, as the third-highest scoring pilot in the FAA.
At one time, 20 squadrons of the FAA were equipped with the Fulmar. It flew from eight fleet aircraft carriers and five escort carriers. No. 273 Squadron RAF operated them for some months in 1942 from China Bay, Ceylon, seeing action against Japanese forces during the raid on 9 April 1942;
though about half the squadron personnel were Navy. Fulmars destroyed
112 enemy aircraft, which made it the leading fighter type, by aircraft
shot down, in the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War. The Fulmar
ended its front line operational career on 8 February 1945, when a
Fulmar MK II night-fighter from No. 813 Squadron had a landing accident
at the safety barrier on HMS Campania and was written off.
Approximately 100 Fulmars were converted to a night fighter variant, but had limited success in this role.
The Vichy French
captured one Fulmar Mk I which force-landed while flying a
reconnaissance mission over Senegal in March 1941. The Fulmar was
repaired and used by the Group de Chasse I/4.
Some of the early marks of the aircraft were operated from CAM ships.
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