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The Long Road to Redemption; The Boulton Paul Defiant.

You might be wondering about the slightly puzzling title, but it's simple. What most people think they know about the Boulton Paul Defiant can probably be disputed with some credibility. It is an aeroplane that has left a lingering odour of failure in the eyes of some, yet the reality behind it was further from that than is realised. To begin with, the Defiant was designed as a bomber destroyer; it should not have been used for standing patrols, convoy escort and offensive sweeps over the continent and had its failings, low speed and acceleration and paltry numbers been heeded, as they were known before the shooting started, and it was placed out of reach of single seat fighter escort, then perhaps its reputation might be better than it is.

Yes, it did not cover itself in glory during the Battle of Britain, but the odds were stacked against it. It was being used in roles that it should not have been used in and there were precious few of them, two squadrons, one of which only made one combat outing. Due to the failure of that squadron's commanding officer in understanding the aircraft's strengths and weaknesses, this led to the destruction of six of nine of them in less than a minute at the hands of some 30 Bf 109s. This disastrous result impacted the reputation of the type in the Air Ministry, and followed by a high rate of losses suffered by the remaining squadron operating the type, 264 Squadron, led to it being stood down as a day fighter at the end of August 1940.

Despite this however, the Defiant, affectionately known as the Daffy by its crews, did redeem itself in the combat arena with a successful career for the next two years as a night fighter, establishing an enviable record of intercepts during the darkest nights of the Blitz in April and May 1941. Those two squadrons were joined by some 11 others in operating the type at the coal face and it remained in service for another year before being replaced entirely by superior types, such as the Bristol Beaufighter and de Havilland Mosquito in April 1942.

Post war however, the Defiant's reputation suffered as its night time exploits and generally good qualities were forgotten. During the war however, pilots who flew the type appreciated its pleasant handling and ease of operation; notable test pilot Eric 'Winkle' Brown praising its viceless handling qualities. Gunners had a different opinion of it, as the turret was awkward to get in and out of and a number lost their lives owing to this difficulty. It was a well designed aeroplane, taking advantage of the most modern innovations in single engine fighter design at the time. Its unique armament, its raison d'etre was its Achilles heel however; in a fighter the concept of moving the armament and not the aeroplane to aim was flawed to begin with. Although in 1935, when the specification for the type was written, the advantages a gun turret appeared to offer gave those in the Air Ministry an alternative to tried and tested practise. The British led the way in gun turret development, and applied the device in all manner of new aeroplane specifications in the mid to late 1930s.

So, here is a walkaround of the Boulton Paul Defiant; misunderstood and fascinating in equal measure. Click on the image below to go to the Defiant's walkaround page.

The last surviving Defiant, Mk.I N1671 at the RAF Museum, Cosford, Shropshire, England.

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