Fairey Fulmar Mk. I/II by Smer

1/72 scale
Kit No. 876
Cost: $15.00
Decals: Two versions by Propagteam, both Fleet Air Arm aircraft — 803 Squadron, aboard HMS Formidable, 1941; and 809 Squadron, aboard HMS Victorious, covering Operation Torch landings in Morocco, November 1942 (with U.S. national markings)
Comments: Engraved panel lines

History

The Fairey Fulmar was a moderately successful fighter developed from the larger Fairey Battle, a light bomber that was withdrawn from service soon after the Allied collapse in France in June 1940, due to its slow speed and high casualty rates. Despite this questionable heritage, the Fulmar was successfully employed by the British Fleet Air Arm for fighter protection from 1940 to 1943. With a top speed of 272 mph it was considered somewhat underpowered, initially had a poor climb rate, and did not compare favorably with contemporary land-based fighters, against which it was a slow, unwieldly opponent. In this regard the Fulmar suffered from the Admiralty’s insistence on two-seat fighters in the immediate pre-war years, due to the belief that a dedicated navigator was essential if a pilot was to find his way over the open sea.

On November 12, 1934, the British Air Ministry issued Specification P.4/34, for a light bomber to replace the Hawker Hart. The new aircraft had to have a high top speed and be able to carry a 500lb bomb load for 600 miles. It was to be used as a day-bomber, dive-bomber, reconnaissance aircraft and fighter-bomber. Fairey responded with a design by Marcel Lobelle that was based on the Battle. Its wingspan was shorter than the Battle’s by five feet, its length by two feet. It was also lighter than the Battle with a cleaner fuselage and better canopy design, offering improved visibility for the pilot. The new Fairey design lost out to the Hawker Henley, although two prototypes were ordered. The first made its maiden flight on January 13, 1937, the second on April 19th. Early tests suggested that the new aircraft was pleasant to fly.

Early in 1938 the Fleet Air Arm issued a request for a new two-seat fighter. It had to be able to reach 265 mph at 10,000 feet with an endurance of six hours at 138 mph or three hours at 175 mph. It was to be armed with eight .303 inch guns, with 400 rounds each (increased to 750 rounds in production models), and to be able to carry two 250 lb. bombs under each wing. The wing span had to be under 46 feet to allow the aircraft to fit onto aircraft carrier elevators. The second P.4/34 prototype, which had been returned to Fairey, became the test bed for this specification. The wings were shortened and a Merlin Mark VIII engine installed. At the same time plans were made to install the eight guns in the wings.

The P.4/34 already had many of the characteristics that would make it a good naval aircraft. It was stressed for dive bombing, which made it robust enough for catapult launches and deck landings, and its wide-track undercarriage made it easy to land, as did the good visibility from the cockpit. It also had the long range required for a good naval fighter. Most changes involved the installation of naval equipment: folding wings, catapult and arrestor hooks, a dinghy and naval radios, as well as the new wings with room for the eight guns. These changes meant that the Fulmar would have the same loaded weight as the Battle, although it remained faster by some 30 mph.

Fairey’s design was accepted by the Admiralty in May 1938, although the 127 aircraft that had been ordered could not be delivered before March 1940. There were only two production versions of the Fulmar. The Mk.I was powered by the Merlin VIII, while the Mk.II used the Merlin 30. This new engine significantly improved the Fulmar’s rate of climb, improving its ability as an interceptor.

Entering service in May of 1940 at a time when fighters were sorely needed, the Fulmar performed relatively well at lower altitudes, making it effective against torpedo bombers, and it was well armed with eight .303 caliber machine guns, four mounted in each wing. The Fulmar generally gave a good account of itself, for it was intended primarily to provide fleet defense in areas of open ocean outside the range of land-based fighters, by which it was generally outclassed. Fulmars encountering faster single-seat enemy fighters, as happened in the Mediterranean Theatre, were frequently shot down. But it largely contended not against fighters, but Heinkel He 111’s, Junkers Ju 88’s, Focke Wulf Fw 200 Condors, and other aircraft employed in the reconnaissance and anti-shipping role. Fairey Fulmar pilots claimed 112 enemy aircraft destroyed by wars end.

By 1942 Fairey Fulmars were being replaced by Grumman Martlets (U.S. Wildcats) for fleet fighter protection, but the Fulmars continued in service as naval reconnaissance aircraft and night fighters until 1945. 600 Fairey Fulmars were built, 150 Mk Is and 450 Mk IIs. Some of the last Mk IIs had the eight .303in guns replaced with four .50in guns to give the aircraft more stopping power.

Combat Record

A pair of Mk. I Fulmars covering a British convoy en route to the Mediterranean Sea, 1941.

The Fulmar was deployed to twenty one front-line Fleet Air Arm squadrons, serving on the Home Front, on the Russian convoys and in the Far East, although its main use was in the Mediterranean. It was also used on the early Catapult Armed Merchantmen, or CAM-ships. Most squadrons replaced their Fulmars during 1942 or 1943, although No.835 Squadron flew the Fulmar until April 1944 and No.813 until March 1945.

The Admiralty was well aware that the two-seat naval fighter would not be able to match the performance of its dedicated single-seat land-based enemy counterpart, but until 1940 didn’t believe that its naval fighters would be operating within range of enemy fighters. To a certain extent, this view was justified – like the Spitfire, the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Germany’s primary fighter at the time, had a very limited range, which meant that it would only be found close to coastal areas held by the Germans, places where Britain’s fleet carriers were unlikely to venture.

However, this belief would be shattered during the spring and summer of 1940. The German invasion of Norway saw the Fleet Air Arm clash with high performance German fighters, although still on a limited basis. The fall of France was more serious, giving the Germans fighter bases just across the English Channel. But perhaps the most dangerous development was the appearance in strength of the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean. Older British fighters, including the Blackburn Skua, were outpaced by the quicker German bombers, and when it entered service the Fulmar would also turn out to be a little too slow, although still a great improvement.

The Fulmar’s first combat came on September 2, 1940, when fighters of No. 806 Squadron from HMS Illustrious shot down four Italian Savoia Marchetti SM 79s, and claimed a Cant Z501 flying-boat later that same day. The Illustrious took part in fighting around Crete and an attack on Benghazi after the start of the short-lived Italian invasion of Egypt.

HMS Ark Royal was next to take her Fulmars into combat, bringing No.808 Squadron to join Force H in Malta. Her early clashes were with the Italians, but early in 1941 the Germans appeared on the scene, when X Fliegerkorps was moved to Italy to help Mussolini. The Illustrious was blooded first, during a convoy to Malta in January 1941. On January 10th Italian torpedo-bombers were driven away by the Fulmars, but they were followed by 43 German Ju 87 Stukas. This time the Fulmars were swept aside and the Illustrious heavily damaged. The Fulmars had to fly off to Malta, where they were eventually joined by the carrier. No.806 Squadron operated as a shore-based squadron for some time after this, spending one month on Malta before moving to Crete. This early contact with the Germans was not encouraging. The Fulmar didn’t have the speed to catch most German aircraft, or to stay with them long enough to do serious damage with its .303in guns.

Fulmars took part in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941, when a flight from No. 800 Squadron, from the HMS Victorious, helped locate and then shadow the Nazi vessel long enough for an attack by the Victorious’s Swordfish torpedo bombers to be mounted. After the failure of this attack the Victorious fell out of the hunt, and took up a new position blocking the routes into the South Atlantic.

The Fulmar was granted a second life in the Mediterranean once Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The Luftwaffe withdrew from Italy to support the invasion, leaving the Italians to fight alone. Once again the Fulmars were able to score a series of victories, although they were unable to prevent heavy losses being suffered by the Malta convoys.

The Fulmar was used in action by a number of shore-based squadrons. As mentioned above Nos.803 and 806 Squadrons were shore-based after the damage to the Formidable. No.803 kept its Fulmars, and used them during the campaign in Syria and the Lebanon in the summer of 1941. The Fulmar did not acquit itself well against the Dewoitine D.520, a high performance French fighter flown by Vichy forces in hat region, although it was more successful against Glenn Martin bombers.

The Fulmar faced difficulties in the far north, where it was used to escort arctic convoys to Russia and to support attacks on German positions in northern Norway. The Fulmar was unable to cope with the Bf 109 or Bf 110, leaving the aircraft they were escorting vulnerable to attack.

In August 1942, Nos.809 and 844 Squadrons took part in Operation Pedestal, in which five carriers escorted a critical convoy through to Malta against repeated enemy air attacks. Both squadrons were based on HMS Victorious, but by now the Fulmar was not the Fleet Air Arm’s main fighter – that role had been taken by the Sea Hurricane and the American Grumman Martlet. The Fulmars scored some victories during this campaign, but suffered equal losses. No.809 returned to the area once more, taking part in Operation Torch from November 8-13, 1942. During this short period the Fulmars acted as army support and tactical reconnaissance aircraft.

While the Fulmar had its imperfections as a fighter, it was successfully thrown into battle — albeit at some cost — in multiple theatres at a time when Britain and its Allies were desperate to check the Axis advance in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Better than its predecessors but still not good enough to contend with modern fighters, the Fulmar nonetheless held the line at a time when the British Royal Navy was compelled to use what was at hand in a life and death struggle — at least until the arrival of Sea Hurricanes and American-made Martlets.

Specifications

Fairey Fulmar Mk.I
Engine: Rolls Royce Merlin VIII
Power: 1,080hp from sea level to 1,000ft
Crew: 2
Wing span: 47ft 4in
Length: 40 ft. 2 in.
Height: 11 ft. 6 in. (tail down)
Empty Weight: 6,915 lb.
Maximum loaded weight: 10,700 lb.
Max Speed: 265 mph at 7,500 ft., 230 mph at sea level
Service Ceiling: 21,500 ft.
Endurance: 4 hours with combat reserves
Armament: Eight .303 in. machine guns (750 rpg)
Bomb load: Eight 20 lb. or 25 lb. anti-personnel bombs

Fairey Fulmar Mk II
Engine: Rolls Royce Merlin 30
Power: 1,300 hp from sea level to 1,000 ft.
Crew: 2
Wing span: 47 ft. 4in.
Length: 40 ft. 2 in.
Height: 11 ft. 6in.
Empty Weight: 8,650 lbs.
Maximum loaded weight: 10,350 lbs.
Max Speed: 266 mph at 9,600 ft.; 259 mph at 9,000 ft.; 245 mph at 15,000 ft.
Service Ceiling: 21,500 ft.
Endurance: 5 hours 30 minutes with combat reserves
Armament: Eight .303 in. machine guns (1000 rpg) or four .50in machine guns
Bomb load: Eight 20-25 lb. bombs or one 500 lb. bomb under fuselage

Cruising speed: 235 mph
Maximum speed: 272 mph
Service ceiling: 27,200 feet
Range: 780 miles

The Kit

Smer’s Fairey Fulmar Mk. I/II is molded in grey and consists of 38 injection molded plastic parts, three of them clear. The first impression one gets of the kit upon seeing the sprues, particularly the one containing the fuselage halves, is that someone made a mistake in labelling the box and it is really a 1/48 scale kit. Not so. This impression underscores the sheer size of the Fulmar, even in 1/72 scale, as it was a rather large two-seat fighter. Although some of the parts are marked by a bit of flash, most of them are crisply done, adorned with engraved panel lines and very gentle subtle but noticeable fabric-over-frame effects on its control surfaces.

Produced in 1997, this kit justifies Smer’s claim to be one of Europe’s leading model manufacturers, as it is simple but has exceptional exterior detail. The cockpit is fairly simple, consisting of a floor, two plain seats, separate control yoke and rudder pedals for the pilot, as well as a main instrument panel with sunken machined circles representing the dials. The large greenhouse canopy, which could easily be two smaller parts, is a single clear plastic part that is not quite clear throughout; it is molded so that the framing and section of fuselage between the two canopy areas (portions that must be painted) appear textured and translucent rather than clear — this is fairly sophisticated molding. There is likewise a slightly different texture to the landing gear tires.

The kit offers a choice between the Mark I and Mark II versions of the Fulmar, the only differences between the two, based on the kit parts, are that the Mark II features two air scoops on either side of the Fulmar’s chin radiator, which was the major external difference between the variants. The Mark II also had a more powerful engine and weighed less, with the result that it had an improved rate of climb over the Mark I, but it was not appreciably faster in terms of all-out speed in level flight. The Mark II also increased the available firepower from 750 to 1000 rounds per gun.

Decals

The decals are by Propagteam and have a semi-gloss finish. There are two versions: One is the subject of a four-view illustration included in the kit instructions (which include a paint guide calling out Humbrol colors), and is a machine of No. 803 Squadron, serial no. N4129, aboard the HMS Formidable during 1941. The other is for serial no. DR 641, a Fulmar that covered the American Operation Torch landings in Morocco in November 1942. Both versions call for a camouflage paint scheme of Slate Grey and Dark Sea Grey over Sky. All markings have realistic color and are completely in register with the exception of the fuselage markings for the national insignia for both versions. The American national insignia, which were painted over the British roundels in the case of the Operation Torch Fulmars, added a yellow outer circle around the standard American insignia of a white star on a blue circle.
Upon close examination, this yellow outer circle appears to be superimposed over a white outer circle underneath that is not quite concentric. The same is true for the British national insignia on the fuselage of the No. 803 Squadron aircraft — it bears a yellow outer circle that appears to be superimposed over a white outer circle that also is not quite concentric. It is not clear how clearly this defect will show up on the finished model once the decals are applied, but the truly perfectionist modelers out there should be aware of this flaw and consider alternative aftermarket markings.

Conclusion

This is a simple yet detailed kit of an historic aircraft that — in an example of the “use what you’ve got” crisis philosophy of wartime — was pressed into service despite the fact that it was outclassed by the competition, and held its own until confronted by the very best that the enemy could put into the sky. Highly recommended.

References

  • www.worldwar2headquarters.com
  • www.historyofwar.org (Rickard, J (15 July 2010), Fairey Fulmar , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_fairey_fulmar.html
  • www.airvectors.net – “The Fairey Battle, Fulmar, and Firefly”

A Fulmar flares for a landing aboard a British aircraft carrier. While inadequate against most single-seat enemy fighters, Fulmars were nonetheless desperately needed in the 1940-42 period.

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