I recently published this picture taken outside the Guildhall, Portsmouth, during the 1943 Wings for Victory Week. I described the plane as a fighter but I was wrong.
Edward Gowing quickly got in touch to tell me it was a Fairey Battle light day-bomber.
This class of plane was out-fought by German fighters during the battle for France and was then relegated to training duties in Canada. But John Boxall tells me it was a Fairey Fulmar MkII.
I then received a letter from Gerald Lankenau, of Portchester, who knows the whole story. ‘What an excellent shot of a Fairey Battle light bomber on display in 1943,’ says Gerald.
‘Its delicate lines belie its total uselessness as a weapon. It was obsolete before the war, but the unfortunate airmen had to do their best with it resulting in their total decimation in France in 1940.
‘Trying to destroy the Maastricht bridges, Battle squadrons were massacred and the bridges untouched.’
He adds: ‘Any remaining Battles were withdrawn to serve as trainers but paradoxically, perhaps due to the blind enthusiasm of Lord Beaverbrook, the minister for war production and his obsession for figures, they remained in production until 1943.’
Gerald says the Fulmar, a ‘development‘ of the Battle, was equally ineffective with the Fleet Air Arm, having a top speed less than that of Italian torpedo bombers it was supposed to keep away from the fleet.
He continues: ‘Not until the Korean war did the genus become good with the introduction of the Firefly IV by which time we were on the verge of the jet age.’
As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, we should be aware how badly provided for were the men of those days which makes their achievement even more worthy. Even the Spitfire had drawbacks that were not rectified until many lives had been lost.