Parading the Colors

A Fairey Swordfish Mk. II torpedo bomber of the Royal Navy proudly flies the White Ensign. The venerable "Stringbag" served from the beginning of World War II until VE Day, even outlasting the aircraft intended to replace it. Among its exploits was the famous strike against the Italian fleet at Taranto (11-12 November 1940). Flying from the carrier HMS Illustrious, 20 Swordfish of 813, 815 and 819 Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm attacked with torpedoes and bombs, badly damaging three Italian battleships, one of which never returned to service.  On 26 May 1941 a torpedo attack by Swordfish from HMS Ark Royal inflicted the damage that crippled the German battleship Bismarck, leaving her a prey to the British Home Fleet.

Despite its antique appearance the Swordfish proved tough and capable. Though retired as a torpedo strike aircraft in 1942, it continued to serve in combat. Armed with depth charges and rockets and flying from escort carriers, Stringbags accounted for 14 U-boats. The last operational Swordfish unit, 836 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm, was disbanded on 21 May 1945.



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