Boulton Paul Defiant Mk. I by Airfix

1/72 scale
Kit No. A02069
Cost: $9.99
Decals: Two versions – RAF day fighter of No. 264 Squadron, Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, England, July 1940; and an RAF night fighter of No. 151 Squadron, RAF Wittering, Cambridgeshire, England, February 1941
Comments: Completely new tooling; engraved panel lines; detailed cockpit with raised sidewall relief, detailed radiator and gun turret assemblies, detailed wheel wells; choice of canopies; optional open or closed canopy; optional position landing gear; includes nicely detailed aircrew figures

History

The Boulton Paul Defiant was the only British turret fighter aircraft to serve with the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War. The Defiant was designed and built by Boulton Paul Aircraft as a “turret fighter”, without any forward-firing guns. It was a contemporary of the Royal Navy’s Blackburn Roc. As a turret fighter, it was based on the same design philosophy that had given rise to the successful Bristol F.2 fighter of the First World War.

In practice, the Defiant was reasonably effective as a bomber–destroyer, but vulnerable to the Luftwaffe’s more agile, single-seat Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. Lack of forward armament proved to be a major weakness in daylight combat operations, where it ultimately proved to be a failure as an interceptor. Its potential was only realized when it switched to night operations. It was supplanted in the night fighter role by the Bristol Beaufighter and de Havilland Mosquito. The Defiant was put to good use in gunnery training, target towing, electronic countermeasures and air-sea rescue operations. Among RAF pilots it had the nickname “Daffy.”

The concept of a turret-armed defensive fighter emerged in 1935, at a time when the RAF anticipated having to defend Great Britain against massed formations of unescorted enemy bombers. Advances in aircraft design during the 1920s and 1930s had resulted in a generation of multi-engined bombers that were faster than the single-engined biplane fighters in service. The RAF believed that its turret-armed bombers, such as the Vickers Wellington, would be able to penetrate enemy airspace and defend themselves without fighter escort and also that the German Luftwaffe would be able to do the same.

In theory, turret-armed fighters would get in amongst enemy bomber formations and coordinate their fire. The separation of the tasks of flying the aircraft and firing the guns would allow the pilot to concentrate on putting the fighter into the best position while the gunner could engage the enemy. Being heavily armed, it was believed that these turret fighters would be able to easily fend off any fighter attacks. But the reality by the late 1930’s was that fighter performance in terms of speed, firepower and manueverability had improved to the point that turret fighters lacking forward firing machine guns would operate in daylight at a deadly and rising cost.

In a very telling early engagement, on May 13, 1940 over the Netherlands, six Defiants flew on a patrol with a group of six Spitfires. The Defiants claimed four Junkers Ju 87 divebombers, but were subsequently attacked by Bf 109Es. The escorting Spitfires were unable to prevent five of the six Defiants being shot down by a frontal attack, against which the turret fighters were utterly defenseless.

Despite such early episodes, in general the Defiant was initially successful against enemy aircraft. Its best day was May 29, 1940, when No. 264 Squadron claimed 37 kills in two sorties: 19 Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers, mostly picked off as they came out of their dives, nine Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engined heavy fighters, eight Bf 109s, and a Ju-88. One Defiant gunner was lost after he bailed out, although the aircraft made it back to its base to be repaired.

Initially, Luftwaffe fighters suffered losses when “bouncing” flights of Defiants from the rear, apparently mistaking them for Hurricanes. German pilots got a rude shock when they first experienced the Defiant’s rearward-firing, concentrated defensive fire. For a time, the Defiants had a field day. But once the Luftwaffe clued in to the Defiant’s critical weakness, a complete lack of frontal armament, its fighter pilots were quick to recognize and outmanoeuvre the Defiant and attack it from below or dead ahead, where the turret could offer no defense whatsoever. Defiant losses quickly mounted, particularly among the gunners, who were often unable to leave stricken aircraft. The additional weight of the turret and the second crewman plus the aerodynamic drag gave the Defiant a lower performance than conventional single-seat fighter aircraft, despite its sleek lines and Rolls Royce Merlin powerplant.

With its relatively heavy firepower of four turret-mounted .303 Browning machine guns, the Defiant often gave a good account of itself in combat operations, but due to its slow speed (304 mph, about 40 mph slower than the Messerschmitt Bf109E) and lack of forward firing guns, its victories often came at significant cost. More than its speed, a key flaw was that it was keenly lacking in manueverability.  And once the German pilots became aware of its lack of frontal armament, it was nearly always easy prey. By August 26, 1940, as the Battle of Britain reached its climax, the Defiant was withdrawn from daytime fighter operations, and was thereafter largely restricted to its planned alternate role as a nightfighter, where it continued to enjoy success as the RAF’s deadliest night attack aircraft through 1941. It was later successfully employed as a special operations aircraft engaged in top secret radar and electronic jamming missions in 1942-43.

Specifications(Mk. I)

Power Plant: Rolls Royce Merlin III
Horsepower: 1,030 hp @ 16,250ft (4,953m)
Maximum Speed: 304 mph (489 kph) @ 17,000 ft
Climbing Rate: 1,900 ft/min (9.65m/sec)
Range: 465 miles (748 kms)
Empty Weight: 6,078 lb (2,757 kg)
Loaded Weight: 8,318 lb (3,773 kg)
Service Ceiling: 30,000 ft ( 9140 metres)
Wingspan: 39 feet 4 inches (11.9 metres)
Overall length: 35 feet 4 inches (10.77 metres)
Overall height: 11 feet 4 inches (3.45 metres)
Total Wing Area: 250 square feet (23.2 square metres)

The Kit

Airfix’ newly re-tooled Boulton Paul Defiant Mk. I is injection molded in grey and consists of 68 parts, 8 of them molded in clear plastic. The instructions are clear and well-illustrated throughout, but do not feature any text, and, as the construction of the kit is relatively straightforward, based on the illustrations, text may not be necessary. The instructions also provide a paint guide that refers to Humbrol numbers only.*

The four-view profiles for the two versions of this kit for which markings are provided are in color (matt dark earth and dark green over “matt beige green,” as the instructions refer to it, for the day fighter, or overall matt black for the nightfigher). For some reason, Humbrol apparently has dropped the terms “Sky” or “Duck Egg Green” in favor of Matt Beige Green.

The most impressive part of the kit may be the two fuselage halves, which feature both engraved panel lines and beautifully realistic recessed rivet detail. There is horizontally ribbed interior detail for the cockpit sidewalls. Also worth noting are the choice of engine exhausts (standard or fishtail) and the two extremely well detailed and proportional aircrew figures. There is an option to build the kit with the landing gear up or down, and with the canopy open or closed, and two different versions of closed canopies are provided. There is a simple yet reasonably detailed assembly for the quad-mounted .303 caliber Browning machine guns in the turret, as well as an option to install the gunner or leave him out. The landing gear are fairly well detailed, with boxed-in wheel wells (a separate part) and one-piece tires.

Finally, the instructions have one increasingly rare and delightful virtue in that they provide a paragraph on the history of the aircraft.

*A note on the kit’s paint references: American modelers should know that American paint distributors now alter the Humbrol numbers somewhat. For example, Humbrol 78 as referenced in the Defiant instructions can no longer be found at www.squadron.com as “hu78.” Squadron refers to this paint (in the enamel version) as ” HU1078.” Sprue Brothers alter it differently, referencing it as “HUME078.”

Markings

There are decals for two RAF versions. The first of for a day fighter of No. 264 Squadron, Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, England, July 1940. This calls for a matt camouflage scheme of Dark Earth and Dark Green over Sky. The second version if for an RAF night fighter of No. 151 Squadron, RAF Wittering, Cambridgeshire, England, February 1941 — calling for a paint scheme of overall matt Black.

Conclusion

This is a beautiful and long overdue example of an historic early WWII British fighter, an anachronism in that it was a perfectly valid fighter design when conceived, but already obsolete when entering service four years later due to rapid improvements in combat aircraft performance. As a result, the Boulton Paul Defiant was simultaneously deadly to enemy aircraft in certain situations, and almost totally dependent on robust fighter escort for its survival — at least in daylight. Highly recommended.

References

www.aviation-history.com
www.battleofbritain1940.net
www.wikipedia.com

 

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