|The aircraft used in the British aerial attacks on the
|The Battle of Matapan may have been considered by
Churchill as the greatest Royal Navy victory since Trafalgar, but it
relied heavily on its air arm.
|At the bottom of this page there are a couple of extracts from the
obituaries some Swordfish pilots, Torrens-Spence,
and Ken Pattisson.
|Fairey Fulmar (fighter)
|More to follow on the specification of the aircraft.
|Fairey Swordfish (torpedo
|The Swordfish came about in response to a 1933
Admiralty requirement for an aircraft that would fulfil every naval
requirement except air defence of the fleet. Six of the
requirements were; reconnaissance, at sea and over the land; shadowing,
by day and night; 'spotting' the fall of shot from ship's guns; convoy
escort duties such as anti-submarine searches and attack; torpedo and
dive-bombing attacks against shipping; minelaying - and the carrying of
other heavy loads - which in the Second World War varied from
searchlights to rockets, plus depth-charges, bombs and flares.
|It is difficult not to admire the courage of the men who
flew these old bi-plane aircraft into the barrage of AA that they faced
in their attacks on large battleships. A short biography of one of
them is given below.
|A personal account of how it was to go to War in a
Stringbag, by Charles Lamb. An excellent book. I have put
some extracts from the book on a separate page.
|Fairey Albacore (torpedo bomber)
|While still looking very old, this was in fact the
replacement for the Swordfish.
Torrens-Spence, DSO, DSC, AFC.
The following are a couple of extracts from the obituary
to Torrens-Spence from the December 13, 2001 copy of The Times.
|Torrens-Spence took part in the attack on the Italian
battleships in Taranto harbour, as well as the Battle of Cape
Matapan. At Taranto; "Torrens-Spence was in the second
wave. His observer, Lieutenant (later Captain) Alan Sutton [see
below] recalled being able to see the anti-aircraft fire from ten miles away
and recounted how, once inside the harbour, their torpedo failed to
release until the second attempt. Already very low, Torrens-Spence
actually hit the water with his wheels when making his escape.
Three battleships, two cruisers and several auxiliaries had been
incapacitated for the price of two Swordfish that failed to
return. With the other aircrew, Torrens-Spence was awarded the
He was also involved when the Illustrious was very badly
damaged; "..Illustrious was escorting a convoy to Malta when
she was attacked by three squadrons of Stuka
dive-bombers, the efficient German air force having recently arrived in
this theatre. Suffering multiple bomb hits and more than 200
casualties, Illustrious limped to Malta and eventually to America
for repairs. Her aircraft were disembarked in Malta and
Torrens-Spence flew to Eleusis, near Athens, with elements of 815 and
819 Squadrons for an active anti-shipping campaign which later earned
him the award of the DSO."
Matapan, and his involvement, is described on a separate page,
however, one extract from the obituary; "Torrens-Spence had arrived
in the vicinity of the Italian force before the Formidable's
aircraft and witnessed their attack through a thick and all-enveloping
smokescreen. He saw no hits, and was able, after their departure,
to find a gap and attack a heavy cruiser, which turned out to be the Pola.
His typically professional and unemotional account reports 'no results
observed'. But the cruiser was brought to a standstill in the
water and, given his experience and skill, it seems entirely likely that
Torrens-Spence was the architect of the victory at Cape
Matapan." There are many references to Torrens-Spence in
Charles Lamb's book "War in a Stringbag".
|The page on the battle
of Matapan explains how the Pola, which
was immobilized, became the focal point for the Italian and British
forces, for different reasons, and caused them to become engaged.
Pattisson. From his obituary in the Daily Telegraph, 8
|Although not strictly related to this site, I could not
miss the opportunity to include Lt-Cdr Pattisson in this Swordfish
section, as he put the torpedo into the stern of the Bismarck. It
gives some idea of the courage of the men who flew these machines.
|In the first
attack, launched from the carrier Ark Royal on May 26 1940,
Pattisson was mistakenly led down on the British cruiser Sheffield,
which was shadowing Bismarck. But he recognised her
silhouette and withheld his fire, unlike his 14 colleagues whose
torpedoes fortunately detonated in the heavy seas before reaching her;
when Sheffield saw the next attack of Swordfish arriving she
calmly signalled that the enemy was 15 miles north.
with torpedoes, now equipped with impact detonators and set to run
shallower, 810 squadron was launched again in worsening weather.
Climbing to 9,000 ft Pattisson lost contact in a snow squall with
everyone but his leader, "Feather" Godfrey-Faussett who led
him into an attacking dive. Shrapnel started to tear away the
flimsy canvas covering his wooden airframe. Breaking through the
cloud at 900 ft, Pattisson found himself alone as he saw the Bismarck
on his starboard side. Although conscious that his lumbering
"stringbag" made an easy target for Bismarck's gunners
as he flew straight and level towards her, Pattisson waited until he was
900 yards off and 90 ft above the waves before firing. He then
started to jink wildly from side to side to put the Germans off their
modestly admitted that it was "highly probable" that his
torpedo hit Bismarck's stern and jammed her rudders, though
others, who saw a large column of water rise up on her starboard side
right aft, were more certain. Bismarck steered in circles
throughout the night before the Home Fleet caught up with her. At
dawn next day, 810 squadron was launched again, but was told to hold off
while King George V and Rodney pounded her.
Pattisson then watched from the air as Bismarck capsized, leaving
the heads of the survivors, he recalled, "bobbing like turnips in a
field". He was awarded a DSC for his part in the
operation. A piece of shrapnel which had lodged in his aircraft
became a prized souvenir; but while returning to Britain as a passenger
in Springbank in Convoy HG73, he lost all his possessions when
she was sunk by a U-boat. Jumping from her on to the deck of the
corvette Jasmine, Pattisson broke three ribs, though this was his
only injury, bar one high landing, in 20 years service.
Swanton, from his obituary in the Daily Telegraph Feb 26 2003.
|Alan Swanton was involved in the action against the Bismarck
and also won his first DFC in Operation Harpoon, 1942, one of the last
Malta convoys. The following is an extract from his obituary.
|Commander Alan Swanton was one of the young
naval pilots involved in crippling the German battleship Bismarck
north-east of Brest in 1941. On May 26 he flew off for what was
thought to be the last air strike of the day in such appalling weather
that his squadron mistakenly directed its attack against the shadowing
British cruiser Sheffield. When they returned to the
carrier Ark Royal, the undercarriages of three of their planes
were destroyed as the stern rose and fell 60 feet, although no one was
|Further air operations were thought
impossible, but Swanton and his friends obtained permission for another
go, and 15 aircraft from 810, 818 and 820 Fleet Air Arm Squadrons were
readied. It was blowing 50 knots along the flight-deck, close to
the stalling speed for a Swordfish, as the carrier turned into the wind
for the aircrafts' take-off. Most of them became separated in the
thick cloud, but Swanton's flight kept its formation and, after circling
astern of the Bismarck, flew out of a gap in the cloud 1,000
yards from her port side.
|The radar-controlled German flak was extremely
accurate even before the aircraft could see the battleship, and both
Swanton and his telegraphist, Air Gunner "Flash" Seager, were
wounded. Despite the loss of blood, Swanton flew on for 25
minutes, before making a skilful landing with 175 holes in his plane's
fuselage. Then, as the Swordfish crews made their reports, it
gradually became clear that they had crippled the Bismarck with
two or three hits.
|In his logbook Swanton noted laconically:
"Failed to locate enemy BS and attacked HMS Sheffield in
error. Second striking force led by Lt-Cdr Coode eventually
located enemy BS and attacked. Intense AA fire. Launched
torpedo successfully but A/G and self both wounded." He went
on to fly in the Pacific and won a second DFC in the Korean
||The Daily Telegraph for 26 May 2006 had the obituary for Lt-Cdr
John Wellham, the last surviving Swordfish pilot from the Taranto
raid. His observer on the raid was Lt. Pat Humphries. They
were in the second wave and their aircraft was hit quite badly, but he
got it back to Illustrious. As he throttled back for landing
"E5H became uncontrollable, flopping through the air and
threatening to stall until he cut the engine early to thump onto the
deck." The port aileron rods were broken.
|John Wellham died on May 9th 2006.
||On 18 November, 2008,
the Daily Telegraph carried an obituary to Captain 'Alfie' Sutton;
Fleet Air Arm observer who was the last survivor of the raid against the
Italian Navy at Taranto. Sutton flew the Taranto raid with
Torrens-Spence whose obituary comes earlier on this page.
Following this he became naval liaison officer to the RAF in
Greece. Sutton was part of the evacuation from Greece to Maleme on
Crete. After the invasion he organized a platoon of sailors and
RAF groundcrew to fight alongside the New Zealanders in trying to retake
|Three surviving Swordfish out of 22 flew on to
Egypt, while Sutton tramped over the White Mountains to Sphakia.
At Spahkia, where the defeated Allied forces were being evacuated by the
Navy, he appointed himself beachmaster and, after several thousand men
had been taken off, got away himself in one of the last boats. He
was awarded a bar to his DSC for his outstanding gallantry, fortitude
and resolution. After a few days in hospital for repairs to his
feet which, having worn out his shoes, were like "horse's
hooves", he quickly returned to duty. He then went on to
other posts as detailed in the obituary. The picture below was
with the obituary, presumably the raid on Taranto, bit there was no
indication of the artist.