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European and Pacific Campaigns

(Including DAP Beaufighter)

Bristol Beaufighter
Role Heavy fighter or light bomber
Crew Two
Length   12.70m
Wingspan   17.65m
Wing area    
Maximum take-off    
Engines Two Bristol Hercules XVIII radial engines
Power 1,770hp  
Maximum speed   485km/h
Combat range    
Ferry range    
Service ceiling   4580m
Rate of climb    
The Beaufighter was a long-range heavy fighter.  A heavy fighter is a fighter aircraft designed to be used in the long-range role, or while carrying heavier weapons loads. Twin-engine heavy fighters were a major design class prior and into World War II, but as the performance of aircraft engines grew dramatically during the war, many single-engine planes soon had similar performance, and the class became less common. The Beaufighter was a modification of the Bristol Aeroplane Company's earlier Beaufort torpedo bomber design. Unlike the Beaufort, the Beaufighter had a long career and served in almost all theatres of war, first as a night fighter, then as a strike fighter. A strike fighter is a fighter aircraft used to attack surface targets of high value, including ships. It differs from an attack aircraft in that the aircraft remains a fighter, able to fight other fighters, whereas an attack aircraft typically has no, or very limited, capability in this regard.

In the early 1940's, the Beaufighter was no less a war asset than the F-117 Nighthawk. It's design was flexible and adaptable to carry the latest forms of weaponary from rapid fire high calibre machine guns to rockets and torpedos.  Eventually the Beaufighter replaced the Beaufort as a torpedo bomber, mostly in the Atlantic and Mediterrean Theatres where it regularly terrorised the German and Italian warships.  In the Pacific the firepower was so great they regularly sank Japanese transport vessels without the use of torpedos.

Built as a company-funded project to fill F.11/37, the prototype Beaufighter first flew on July 17, 1939. This was little more than eight months after the design had started, and hints to its widespread use of the Beaufort's design and parts. A production contract for 300 machines had already been placed two weeks before the prototype flew, as F.17/39.

In general the differences between the Beaufort and Beaufighter were minor. The wings, control surfaces, retractable landing gear and aft section of the fuselage, were identical to those of the Beaufort, while the wing centre section was similar apart from certain fittings. The bomb-bay was faired over and used to mount a forward-firing armament of four 20mm cannons, and the areas for the rear gunner and bomb-aimer were removed, leaving only the pilot in a smoother fighter-type cockpit, and the navigator far to the rear in a small bubble where the dorsal turret used to be.

The earlier Taurus engines were replaced by the much-improved Hercules, whose extra power presented problems with vibration.  In the end they were mounted on longer, more flexible struts, which stuck out from the front of the wings. This had the side effect of moving the centre of gravity forward, generally a bad thing for an aircraft design. It was then moved back into place by cutting back the nose area, which was no longer needed for the bomb-aimer in the fighter role.  This put most of the fuselage behind the wing and moved the CoG back to where it should be, leading to the Beaufighter's famous stubby appearance.

By fighter standards the plane was rather heavy, and rather slow.  It had an all-up weight of 16,000 lbs and a maximum speed of only 335 mph at 16,800 feet.  Nevertheless this was all they had at the time, as the otherwise excellent Westland Whirlwind had already been cancelled due to production problems with its engines.

The Beaufighter's main claim to fame would be that it was coming off the production lines at almost exactly the same time as the first British airborne radar sets were.  With the weapons mounted in the bomb-bay, the nose area was left clear for mounting the radar antennas, and the planes were adapted as night fighters as quickly as possible.  Even loaded down to an even heavier 20,000 lbs, their slow performance was more than enough to catch the even slower German bombers.  By early 1941 they had put an end to Luftwaffe bad-weather and night raids.

Improved versions of the Hercules continued to improve the load capacity of the fighter, although performance didn't tend to increase. As the faster De Havilland Mosquito took over in the night fighter role, the heavier Beaufighters found use in anti-shipping and ground attack roles.

However well the Beaufighter performed, the Short Stirling bomber program had a higher priority for the excellent Hercules engine by late 1941, and the Rolls Royce Merlin XX powered Mk.II was the result. There were no Mk.III's or IV's, and only two Mk.V's. The Hercules returned with the next major version in 1942, the Mk.VI, which was eventually built to over 1,000 examples.  The last major version (2,231 built) was the Mk.X, probably the finest torpedo and strike aircraft of its day.  By the time the line shut down in September 1945, 5,562 Beaufighters had been produced, the majority of them the later models.

The Beaufighter was also operated by a variety of air forces of the British Commonwealth, including the Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal South African Air Force.  Following the war, it was used by the Portuguese Air Force and briefly by the Israeli Air Force.

Air Force Units of the Bristol Beaufighter

Royal Australian Air Force

RAAF, Pacific Campaign:
  • No. 22 Squadron
  • No. 30 Squadron
  • No. 31 Squadron
  • No. 92 Squadron
  • No. 93 Squadron
RAAF, European Campaign:
  • No. 455 Squadron (maritime strike fighter)
  • No. 456 Squadron (night strike fighter)

Royal New Zealand Air Force

  • No. 488(NZ) Squadron RAF [June 1942 March to 1943 Bristol Beaufighter Mk.IIf] and [March 1943 September 1943 Bristol Beaufighter Mk.VIf]
  • No. 489(NZ) Squadron RAF [November 1943 to August 1945 Bristol Beaufighter Mk.X]

Royal Air Force

  • No. 5 Squadron
  • No. 17 Squadron
  • No. 20 Squadron
  • No. 22 Squadron
  • No. 25 Squadron
  • No. 27 Squadron
  • No. 29 Squadron
  • No. 34 Squadron
  • No. 39 Squadron
  • No. 42 Squadron
  • No. 45 Squadron
  • No. 46 Squadron
  • No. 47 Squadron
  • No. 48 Squadron
  • No. 68 Squadron
  • No. 69 Squadron
  • No. 84 Squadron
  • No. 89 Squadron
  • No. 96 Squadron
  • No. 108 Squadron
  • No. 125 Squadron
  • No. 141 Squadron
  • No. 143 Squadron
  • No. 144 Squadron
  • No. 153 Squadron
  • No. 173 Squadron
  • No. 176 Squadron
  • No. 177 Squadron
  • No. 211 Squadron
  • No. 217 Squadron
  • No. 219 Squadron
  • No. 227 Squadron
  • No. 235 Squadron
  • No. 236 Squadron
  • No. 239 Squadron
  • No. 248 Squadron
  • No. 252 Squadron
  • No. 254 Squadron
  • No. 255 Squadron
  • No. 256 Squadron
  • No. 272 Squadron
  • No. 287 Squadron
  • No. 288 Squadron
  • No. 307 Squadron
  • No. 285 Squadron
  • No. 404 Squadron
  • No. 406 Squadron
  • No. 409 Squadron
  • No. 410 Squadron
  • No. 455 Squadron
  • No. 456 Squadron
  • No. 488 Squadron
  • No. 489 Squadron
  • No. 515 Squadron
  • No. 577 Squadron
  • No. 598 Squadron
  • No. 600 Squadron
  • No. 603 Squadron
  • No. 604 Squadron
  • No. 618 Squadron
  • No. 684 Squadron
  • No. 695 Squadron


Fleet Air Arm

  • No. Squadron 721 FAA
  • No. Squadron 726 FAA
  • No. Squadron 728 FAA
  • No. Squadron 733 FAA
  • No. Squadron 736 FAA
  • No. Squadron 762 FAA
  • No. Squadron 770 FAA
  • No. Squadron 772 FAA
  • No. Squadron 775 FAA
  • No. Squadron 779 FAA
  • No. Squadron 781 FAA
  • No. Squadron 788 FAA
  • No. Squadron 789 FAA
  • No. Squadron 797 FAA
  • No. Squadron 798 FAA


Royal Canadian Air Force

  • No. 404 Squadron
  • No. 406 Squadron
  • No. 409 Squadron (Nighthawk Squadron) AUG1941 - MK.11f', JUN 1942 Mk.VI
  • No. 410 Squadron


South African Air Force

  • No. 16 Squadron
  • No. 19 Squadron (also known as RAF No. 227 Squadron)


Royal Norwegian Air Force

  • Squadrons ID's unknown

Royal Norwegian Air Force

  • Squadrons ID's unknown

Polish Air Forces (in exile in Great Britain)

  • No. 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron "Lwowskich Puchaczy"

Aviação Naval Portuguesa [Portugal]

  • Aviação Naval Portuguesa [Portugal bought 15 TF.X aircraft delivered during March and April 1945. Next two aircraft were delivered in 1946 after overhaul by Bristol company. All aircraft were delivered from RAF stocks.]

Turkish Air Force

  • First Beaufighters TF.X (at least nine) were delivered in 1944 straight from frontline units. Another 23 TF.X aircraft were bought in 1946.

Fuerza Aérea Dominicana [Dominican Republic]

  • Escuadron de Caza-Bombardeo received 10 TF.X (rebuilt back to VIF standard) aircraft in 1948. Aircraft received numbers from 306 to 315 and were used until June 1954.

Israeli Air Force

  • No. 103 Squadron (operated 4 TF.X aircraft between July and November 1948)
Bristol Beaufighter in Israeli Service

The story of the Beaufighter's arrival in Israel is one of the more original and entertaining ones in the early history of Israeli military purchases.  After much research, it is probably the most comprehensive report available on these six Beaufighters and their post-war war-story.

The Israeli Air Forces acquisition of the Bristol Beaufighter is a fascinating story. An elaborate plan was devised to smuggle them out of the UK, in order to avoid a weapons embargo against all sides of the Israeli War of Independance, which finished four months after their arrival.  Although the jet age had arrived in the last few years, the Beaufighter was still among the most highly dangerous attack aircraft available.  Their use however was now redundant.  WWII was over for almost three years.  It was now obvious that with the removal of the former Axis power brokers in Europe and Asia decapitated from power, there was to be no resurgence.  There was no need for aircraft like the Beaufighters and they were being scrapped.

The Israeli plan was to sneak six fighting aircraft out of Britian under the disguise of working props for a theatrical movie.

Israeli, Imanuel Tzur, was in charge of IAF aircraft acquisition in Britain, the home of the Beaufighter.  He located a workshop near London whose owner was willing to sell six Beaufighters he had purchased as war surplus.  He wanted £1,500 for the aircraft, including the cost of all repair work to make all six airworthy. The aircraft had not been taken care of for some time and were devoid of their essential avionics, navigation gear and guns, and an extensive overhaul was required.  All six were overhauled by Fairey Aviation Ltd. of Ringway, in 1947, being placed on the UK civil register on 10th April 1947.

In order to disguise the deal, the aircraft were bought under the name of a pilot who had served in the RAF during WWII, R. Dixon.  A strenuous repair effort resulted in only five of the planes being brought to flight readiness.  The five were registered to R. Dickson and Partners (the fake production company) in 1948, but on 28th July one crashed on delivery killing the pilot, Mitchell Campbell, as he made his approach to the runway to Thame.  [The Beaufighter was not an easy plane to land, and even worse to take off due to it's power and propellor spin.  Pilots needed to be continuallly aware and flying them regularly.]  But there remained the challenge of smuggling them from Britain to Israel.

A New Zealand-born girlfriend of one of the the pilots scheduled to fly the airplanes came up with a moderatly simple plan.  With the re-emergence of the British post war film industry, she reported that British filmmakers had approached her with an offer to assist in the production of a film about New Zealand's participation in the war effort during WW2.

Thus a rather creative approach to the problem was devised and it was carried out by citizens from Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Israel.  The synopsis was around the daring exploits of New Zealand's fighter pilots, which would include a scene in which, conveniently, the Beaufighters took off and flew into the skies. When the scene was shot, the Beaufighters would disappear over the horizon - but instead of returning to base, they would continue onwards, to Israel!

In order to realize the scheme, a fictitious film studio was established, again under Mr. Dixon's name, which served as a front for hiring the British pilots, of which there was no shortage.  A hastily script was written.  A scene included the lead actress parting tearfully from her beau, a fighter pilot.  He must leave in order to fly his Beaufighter on a combat mission against Japanese planes.  It should be noted at this point that the New Zealanders didn't have Beaufighters in the Pacific War, their two squadrons No.488 and No.489 were dedicated to the European conflict.  Although No.488 was initially stationed in Kallang (Singapore), Palembang (Sumatra) and Tjililitan (Java) for 6 months in 1941-42, they only flew single seater fighters, Brewster Buffalo Mk.I and Hawker Hurricane.  No Beaufighter of either Squadron was ever in the Pacific or even flown back to New Zealand.  The bogus film script called for the planes to continue towards Scotland after takeoff, since the landscape there resembles New Zealand's.

All went according to plan.  The film shoot was carried out in front of a large crowd of spectators.  At the appointed hour, in early August 1948, the airplanes and the pilots were ready for their mission.  Just as the script called for, the technicians ran towards the planes; the pilots, who were already seated, started the engines; but instead of flying to Scotland, the four Beaufighters made their way to Ajaccio on the west coast of the island of Corsica!

The aircraft's owner made sure that air control in Scotland was only notified of the takeoff several hours after it had taken place, to avoid arousing suspicion when the aircraft were late to land.  4½ hours later, the Beaufighters were in Iaccio.  The authorities in Britain were still unaware that they had disappeared!

From Corsica they flew to an airfield the Yugoslav government had allowed the IAF to operate from and the airmen spent the night in a small town near the airfield.  They took off for Israel the next day.  5 hours' flight later, they landed during the second lull in the fighting in the Arab Israeli war at Ramat David Airbase, Ekron.

The Beaufighters were quickly re-coded D-170, D-171, D-172, D-173, as this was written in Hebrew, so the D followed the numbers, thus 170.D, 171.D, 172D, 173.D,  The Hebrew letter D looks similar to a 'T'. For the purpose of this article, convention has been used with the "D" prefix separated by a "-" dash.

They joined the 103rd bomber and transport squadron as 'B' flight.  This was lead by 'Mahal', an overseas volunteer.  Mahal was 25 year old Leonard Elmer Fitchett, an ex-Canadian WWII Air Force Mosquito pilot of No.409 Squadron.  Note, Israeli records spell his name as L Pitchett.

Fitchett was recruited into the Israeli Air Force by John Frederick McElroy, another former Canadian fighter pilot.  It's interesting to note that after WW2 many Americanadians, signed up with the newly formed Israeli Air Force.  On December 30th 1948 McElroy claimed an MC205 and on January 7th 1949 he shot down two former RAF Spitfires while flying with Slick Goodlin who also shot down a third former RAF Spitfire on the same day.  One of the Spits shot down by McElroy was piloted by Tim McElhaw whom he visited later in hospital. To bring home the futility of the Arab Israeli war, both sides enlisted former Canadian, American and British Air Force crews from WWII who tragically ended up in deadly dog fights against each other.

From Phoney Movie to Real War. The aircraft in the Arab Israeli War, aka Israeli War of Independence:

During the first few weeks of their operation, the Beaufighters were employed on pilot training missions, during which D-173 had crash-landed and subsequently taken out of service and cannibalized for spare parts for the other three.  Those three were readied for operational duty and integrated into the Transport Squadron at the Ramat David Airbase, alongside 5 Dakotas. They were deployed for operations along the southern front.

On October 15th 1948 Operation 'Yoav' began.  The plan was to break through the Egyptian salient across southern Israel which cut off the Negev from the rest of the country.  The IAF, with 75 battle-worthy aircraft at its disposal, played an important role in this operation. Its assignments were to destroy enemy air assets, to attack enemy strategic and tactical targets, and to directly assist the fighting units.

The plans called for the bombers and transports - the B-17's, Dakotas and Commandos - to carry out high-altitude bombing, while the Spitfires and Beaufighters executed low-altitude bombing raids.  The Beaufighters took part in bombing Egyptian targets in this operation, including el-Arish and Faluja.

On October 15th 1948, with the onset of operation "Yoav" to break the Egyptian siege of the Negev, the Beaufighters flew their first combat mission since the end of WWII.  A pair of aircraft attacked the Egyptian air base at El-Arish, damaging the runway and a number of aircraft and hangars.  Beaufighter D-171 was damaged in the attack and was forced to land in Ekron AFB.

Beaufighter D-170 was still not yet airworthy, but the remaining 2 Beaufighters D-171 and D-172 nonetheless continued to fly attack missions against the Egyptians on the southern front and on October 16 it conducted two daylight raids on the Egyptian stronghold of Faluja.

On the morning of October 19th, Flichett piloted Beaufighter D-171 to assist the Israeli Navy on a sortie to bomb the Egyptian flagship "The Emir Farouk".  However he encountered an Egyptian Hawker Fury flown by Squadron Leader Abd Al-Hamid Abu Zayd, commanding officer of Egypt's 2nd squadron REAF KIAS/L.  Aware that the Beaufighter stood little chance in a dogfight, the pilot, Len Fitchett, jettisoned his bomb load and put his bomber into a dive low over the water.  This was a tactic to hit the deck at low level and at full throttle and was deployed to out run fast enemy fighters during WWII.  Followed by the Egyptian, Fitchett deployed a tactic that if anything, showed he was a pilot with intense skill and nerve, whilst diving to sea level, he abruptly pulled up just above the water.  Squadron Leader Abd Al-Hamid Abu Zayd stood little chance in replicating the manouvre as he attempted to pull Fitchett's Beaufighter into his gunsights. Fitchett looked back just in time to see the Fury crash directly into the sea.  This became Fitchett"s third confirmed kill, adding to a He111 (1944) and Ju52/3m (1945) over Germany.  The same day he saw his Beaufighter bombing the Egyptian stronghold of Iraq-Suidan.  However, within 24hrs, his luck, and that of D-171, was about to run out.

On October 20th 1948, Beaufighters D-171 and D-172 went up to make a low-altitude attack on the Iraq el Sueidan Police fortress in the Negev. The Beaufighters were flown by Leonard Pitchett, Navigator Dov Shugerman of Britain and Pilot Stanley Andrews of the USA in the lead plane, and Sid Kenridge and Danny Rosen in the no. 2 position. The planes flew at treetop altitude in order to avoid AAA, but met heavy AAA when they reached their target.

At the target, D-171 fired its cannon and successfully dropped its bombs on the Iraq el Sueidan Police building.  The second Beaufighter initially had trouble operating its weapons, but participated in the second bombing run.  Ignoring orders, Fitchett made a second pass at the target and suffered a hit in the port engine by anti-aircraft fire and it disappeared, eventually crash landed in Egyptian controlled territory near the Arab village of Ishdud.  It's believed all three survived, but were captured, murdered and mutilated by Egyptian troops.  When Israeli forces finally gained control of the crash site, only Fitchett's body was recovered.

The downed Beaufighter was not found for 48 years and only in November 1994 was it unearthed from the sands of southern Israel, its remains found in a construction site.  What small parts of it that remain are today displayed in the IAF museum at Hazterim.

Leonard Fitchett is buried in Haifa Military Cemetery and his crew were Dov Shugerman and Stanley Andrews and go down in history as the last known Beaufighter crew killed in action worldwide.  The remains of his two crewmen, pilot Stan Andrews of the USA and navigator Dov Sugarman of Britain, were never found.

In 1949, when the War of Independence was over, the remaining Beaufighter was retired from service.

 Israeli Beaufighters - Individual Aircraft earmarked for Israeli service (IAF serial allocation requires confirmation):
  1. G-AJMB Beaufighter TF Mk.X, ex RAF RD135 (ex 132 OTU a/c) - allocated IAF serial D-170 on arrival, re-serialled 2201 in November 1948.
  2. G-AJMC Beaufighter TF Mk.X, ex RAF RD448 - allocated IAF serial D-171. 
  3. G-AJMD Beaufighter TF Mk.X, ex RAF RD427 (ex 404 and 455 Sqdn a/c) - allocated IAF serial D-172 on arrival, later re-serialled 2202.
  4. G-AJME Beaufighter TF Mk.X, ex NT929 - NB. Usualy noted as ND929 (a Lancaster Bomber) NT929 was at one time "PL-Z" of 144 Sqdn.
  5. G-AJMF Beaufighter TF Mk.X, ex NV306
  6. G-AJMG Beaufighter TF Mk.X, ex RAF LZ185 (ex 404 Sqdn a/c) - allocated IAF serial D-173.
Their Fate:
Only four of these Beaufighters reached the IDFAF (D-170, D-171, D-172, D-173).  On the eve of Operation Yoav, D-170 was under repair following an accident.  So only
D-170 and D-172 made it to B flight of 103 Sqn. One was renumbered as 2201 and both were withdrawn from use by November 1948, yet there is the story of at least one being photographed with Suez type markings and IIRC it was shown in an Air Enthusiast mag some years ago.
  1. G-AJMB Beaufighter - D-170 Believed to have failed airworthyness and in November 1948 at the end War of Independence withdrawn from use.
  2. G-AJMC Beaufighter - D-171. shot down by Egyptian AAA on 20th October 1948.  It was the last recorded Beaufighter to confirm a tactical kill one day earlier.  The remains of the Beaufighter were not found for 46 years, in 1994.
  3. G-AJMD Beaufighter - D-172 Believed to have carried on after the War of Independence as a trainer, being withdrawn from use in 1949.  The last Beaufighter to engage in action.
  4. G-AJME Beaufighter - NT929.  On approach to Thame from Ringway, it crashed with the death of the pilot, Mitchell Campbell on 28th July 1948.
  5. G-AJMF Beaufighter - NV306.  It was confiscated and was later scrapped at Manchester Ringway in 1948.  Soon after it was flown out of the UK for spare parts for the other 5 in H.P Halifax PP263 (G-AJPJ which crashed on arrival in Israel.
  6. G-AJMG Beaufighter - D-173.  Force landed and crashed on its first flight circa August 1948 after its arrival and was from then used for spares for the other three.

In late November 1948 when the Israeli Air Force changed the Beaufighters serials for the second time, the two remaining long range strike fighters D-170 and D-172 received the serials 2201 and 2202 (respectively?).  With the war's end, the Beaufighters became a training aircraft.  One Beaufighter crashed on one of its training sorties and although returned to service, it was nonetheless retired shortly later.

The last battle active Bristol Beaufighter
The last airworthy Beaufighter D-172 continued to take part in various IDF operations.  On October 28th 1948 it participated in fighting against the Syrians and Iraqis in the Galilee and in December 23rd in another attack on the El-Arish air base.

There ultimate fate of either fuselage is unknown to the author.

The last Beaufighter kept in servcice in any Air Force

In Australia, an Australian variant of the Bistol Beaufighter known as the DAP Beaufighter continued in operational training roll with the RAAF well into the 1950's as a target towing aircraft.  After being retired, it was left derilict and is now fully restored at the Moorabbin Air Museum in Victoria, Australia.


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Bristol Beaufighter".