Bristol Beaufighter (1940 - 1960)

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Beaufighter in its element. Well-worn Mk VIF X8079 of 108 Sqn somewhere over the Balkans just after the war's end.

The Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter was a private venture fast, long-range, fighter which attracted interest in the form of specification F.17/39. The prototype, R2052, with the Hercules powerplant first flew on 17 July 1939 and as the Fighter Command Mark IF night fighter version joined 25 Sqn in September 1940. With additional radio and navigational aids the Mark IC was the Coastal Command variant. The Mark IIF was powered by the Merlin XX. The Mark III (Type 158) was to have had a slimmer fuselage while the Mark IV was to have been powered by the Griffon engine; in the event neither variant was produced. The Mark V was fitted with a four-gun turret behind the cockpit but the variant was not successful.

beauMk IF X7583/WM-E of 68 Sqn with original tailplane

beauMk IC ND-? of 236 Sqn

beauMerlin-engined Mk IIF R2402/XD-G of 255 Sqn

beauPrototype Mk V R2274

Mark VI The Mark VI reverted to the Hercules, now the more powerful Mark VI or XVI. Again the Beaufighter came in VIF and VIC variants, the latter employing a single Vickers machine gun in the navigator's cockpit and in due course fitted to fire eight 90lb rockets and two 250lb bombs. In common with the Mark I the VIF had four 20mm nose cannon and six .303 in machine guns in the wings. 50 Mark VIC were fitted with dive brakes and provision for carrying a torpedo; they were designated Mark VI (ITF) (interim torpedo fighter). Apart from the engines the most obvious change against earlier versions was the introduction of dihedral on the tailplane.

Service (post 1945) Training AICF; 1653 CU;54 OTU TF

beauAnonymous Mk VIF "K"

beauMk VIC JL832/A

beauInterim Torpedo Fighter Mk VI JL949

Mark X The Mark X was the next variant in service (the Mark VII, Mark VIII and Mark IX designations were provided for Australian production and not used). It was essentially similar to the Mark VI (ITF) being optimised as an anti-shipping strike fighter powered by the Hercules XVII and in due course with ASV Mark VIII radar. In due course the additional weight of armament and radar changes caused some deterioration of handling and a dorsal fin was introduced, retrospectively fitted on earlier aircraft and some Mark VIs.

Service (post 1945) Strike fighter 27, 42, 45, 84, 252, 254 Training 236 OCU; 132 OTU; PAU Communications 6, 684; Hong Kong CS; Malta CTTF; Tengah SF; 109 MU Other ASWDU; TFU

beauMk X NT950/MB-T of 236 Sqn wearing invasion stripes, 1944.

beauMk X with external fuel tank and RP rails

TT Mark 10 The designation was applied to 35 Mark Xs equipped for target towing post-war. All armament and the radar was removed and a winch fitted in the rear fuselage.

Service Target towing 5, 17, 20, 34, 577, 695; 26, 27 APC; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 CAACU; Malta CTTF; FETS; 226, 229 OCU; 17 RFS; Kai Tak, Seletar SF; Nicosia, Shallufa TTF Trials AFEE; RAE

beauTT Mk 10 RD788 of Malta Comms and TT Sqn 1956. The dorsal fin is evident.

To complete the record, the Mark XI was similar to the X but without the torpedo fit while the Mark 21 was an Australian variant with armament changes. The former was out of service by 1946 while the latter was never in RAF service.

beauMk XI 2-G of 44 Sqn basking in Scottish sunshine 1944.

beauMk 21 A8-328 with the distinctive bulge on the nose to accommodate the Sperry autopilot.

Specification and production

Mark Role Engine HP Weight

lbs

Speed

mph

Numbers
I Fighter 2 Hercules III 1,400 21,000 330 910
II Fighter 2 Merlin XX 1,280 21,000 330 450
III Fighter 2 Merlin not built
IV Fighter 2 Griffon not built
V Fighter 2 Merlin XX 1,280 21,000 330 2*
VI Fighter 2 Hercules VI 1,670 21,600 333 1,832
VII Fighter 2 D Cyclone 1+
VIII Fighter 2 D Cyclone not built
IX Fighter 2 D Cyclone not built
TF X Torpedo fighter 2 Hercules XVII 1,770 25,200 323 2,205
TT 10 Target tug 2 Hercules XVII 1,770 23,000 330 61#
XI Fighter 2 Hercules CVII 1,770 25,200 323

Notes

* Mk II conversions

+ Mk 1 conversion for possible Australian build

# Rebuilt Mark X

Further reading

Bowyer, C Beaufighter William Kimber, London, 1987

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Beaufighters Mk X, at Istres 1946, unit unknown. Nearest the camera is NE407/SNAKE - the latter marking indicated that the aircraft was not to be diverted en route to the Far East.