The Bristol Beaufighter first flew on July 17th, 1939. The Beaufighter was developed as a private venture by the Bristol Aeroplane Company. It was a two-seat, all metal fighter plane that used components from the Bristol Beaufort torpedo-bomber. During World War Two, the Beaufighter gained an excellent reputation as a night-fighter and as a maritime strike aircraft. By the end of World War Two, the Beaufighter had been operational with 52 RAF squadrons.
The first Beaufighter had twin Bristol Hercules III engines that each produced 1,400 hp. These gave the first Beaufighter’s a top speed of 309 mph. However, this was not considered to be overly impressive when the Hurricane, with a single engine, was faster. The designers had hoped for a top speed of 335 mph from the Beaufighter. Therefore, the original Beaufighter’s were not considered to be fighter aircraft but they were seen as being potentially very useful night fighters. They were fitted with the A1 Mk IV radar to enable the pilot to ‘see’ in the dark.
The Mk I’s armaments were four 20-mm cannon in the forward fuselage and six .303 machine-guns in the wings. The first radar-equipped Beaufighter entered service with Fighter Command in August 1940. The aircraft proved its worth and gained its first kill using radar on November 19th/20th 1940.
As the war progressed, the Beaufighter developed, as did most other successful aircraft in World War Two. The RAF was looking for a long-range day fighter and in May 1941, the Mk IC entered service in the Mediterranean. Such was its success in the Mediterranean, where the Beaufighter could be adapted to carry 250-lb and 500-lb bombs, that Coastal Command used the Beaufighter as its primary operator.
As the war progressed, the threat of night-time German bombing receded. Therefore, the need for a night-time fighter also receded. The Beaufighter was then used primarily in an anti-shipping role. The Beaufighter was used against U-boats in the North Sea and in the Bay of Biscay. As an extension of this role, some Beaufighters were fitted with torpedo-carrying gear from April 1943 on and rocket launchers.
By the end of the war, the Beaufighter had seen action in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Far East. Numerous variations were produced and the aircraft gained a very good reputation among those who flew it.