Boulton Paul Defiant

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Apr 11, 2005
South East Queensland
Gents, as I know very little about this a/c, I was wondering, when the limitations of the turrent fighter were painfully learnt when the Luftwaffe changed tactics to head on attacks, were any Defiants modified or fitted with forward facing guns for the pilot? I understand that a turrent-less prototype was designed (P.94) which was a pure fighter and armed with 12x.303 guns in the wings. Therefore my question is why weren't forward facing guns fitted when the Defiants started to take crippling losses? Was it a question of weight, loss of speed or because when finally employed in the NF role forward guns were deamed unnecessary?
As far as I'm aware the turret on the Defiant could be rotated and set to fire forward, with the four .303 brownings firing either side of the pilot's cockpit. I believe that it that position the pilot may have had a remote button to fire the guns. However, it could hardly have been an ideal solution. The noise in the pilots ears must have been tremendous! Seriously though, having the ability to fire the guns in this way was surely an acceptance of the fact that the Defiant was never intended as a dogfighter. For that purpose it must have been too heavy with all that weight and drag of the second crew member and the turret itself. The sole design rationale was for the Defiant to formate on the blind spot of a stream of bombers and hack away with immunity. In that respect maybe it was such a bad idea... in theory. However the rifle calibre guns would barely have sufficient punch and range. Not the mention that the german bombers were bristling with guns (often more guns than they had crew members to man them). However, all said and done, the Defiant was a valiant attempt to address a potential comabat tactic that could have worked. For proof of this you only need to look at the suuccess the germans had with their upwards firing guns slicing away from underneath at the undefended bristish heavy bomber fleet. It does beg the question though, if the people who came up with the idea for the Defiant could see the hazards of a blindspot on a bomber's defences, why wasn't more done to provide bristish bombers with better all round defences?
It would have been too late to fit wing guns to the Defiant after its short comings were painfully demonstrated by the Me 109s.
In WW1 the RFC had the Bristol two-seat Fighter (Brisfit). It was successful because it was armed with guns fore aft, and its large engine gave it a comparable speed with other fighters.
In the 30s the RAF had (if memory serves me correct) the two-seat Hawker Demon. As I recall, it was a fighter version of the revolutionary Hawker Hind (it was faster than most current fighters), and it to had guns fore aft.
The RAF wanted a replacement for the Demon, but they didn't have a bigger engine that would give it the power/weight ratio of a Hurricane or Spitfire. In theory this wouldn't matter as it was only expected to meet bombers.
Yet that being the case, why was it stationed in range of the 109s - theory again said that they had the tactics to deal with them; in practise only once!
Dowding didn't believe the publicity of the potential effectiveness of the Defiant, others were more enthusiastic - Sholto Douglas.
To my mind, it seems quite plausible that the P94 (Defoe?) should have been ordered - with the jigs tools readily available, aircraft could have been completed quite quickly. However I can't help but wonder, if it was a case of 'vested interest' i.e. to have the single seater version in service will show what fools we (those who championed the Defiant) are!!
No, but I know that they were used at the time of Dunkirk on missions when they got absolutely chopped to pieces. I play a game called Achtung Spitfire and I prefer to play the mission doomed Defiants as the Luftwaffe rather than the Allies because I think from memory the loss ratio ends up at 1:4 or something in the Luftwafe's favour.
Even if the guns could be fired when facing forward by the pilot, it seems he did not have a gun sight (wiki), so basically useless anyway. Maybe guns weren't fitted in the wings due to the simple fact that the fuel tanks were located there, and with the added guns comes smaller tanks and greater weight, which in turn lessens the range/endurance.
I don't think the rebuild would have been worth it. Remember that the aircraft was designed around the turret. Once the turret proved to be inadequate, the entire aircraft followed suit. The aircraft wasn't designed as a conventional fighter.

On the other hand, it surely was a waste of so many aircraft. But England's bottleneck wasn't aircraft, it was pilots. So it was better to put the pilots in better Spitfires and Hurricanes instead of in a stopgap modified Defiant.

And in the end, those Defiants still served a purpose as nightfighters and glider tugs.

I always thought that the Defiant could have been turned into a decent GA plane.
Take the turret out save a huge amount of weight, put in a rear gunner. Couple of 20's in the wings and still have around 1,000lb for a payload.

Bingo a 300mph (clean), pretty agile GA plane. OK its no IL2 for taking damage but its a lot better than nothing which is basically what the RAF had for GA work.
Being a Defiant pilot is like winning ten cents in the lottery. You're a fighter pilot sure enough but you don't get to shoot anything.
The Defiant was designed on the assumption that it would only have to attack unescorted bombers. It was not envisaged that the Luftwaffe would have the use of French bases from which they could launch their fighter escorts.

In its intended role it would probably have been very effective. The Luftwaffe bombers of 1940 were actually very poorly armed, with only a small number of rifle-calibre guns, and they were hand-aimed, not mounted in powered turrets, which reduced their effectiveness quite considerably.

The Defiant was not a bad plane; it just had to fight a war for which it wasn't designed, and the addition of fighter escorts for the bombers destroyed its rationale. It provides a lesson in the dangers of designing armament which is specialised for one particular scenario, but not much good for anything else.
Yes, it did. I suppose it formed a good temporary night-fighter until the RAF could pull its finger out and get their beaufighters with radar online. It was not bad but it was just caught up by events. However, if the RAF had switched it to night attack earlier it could have provided a building up of night tactics that could have proved useful earlier in stopping Luftwaffe night visits...
Firstly, to answer the orginal question regarding forward firing of the turreted machine-guns.
I quote from Tony Buttler's 'British Secret Projests: Fighters Bombers' p.52
"Boulton and Paul P.82
This project had a completely rotating turret behind the pilot's cockpit fitted with four 0.303in(7.7mm) Browning machine guns, which covered a field of fire equal to nearly the whole of the upper hemishere. Firing forward over the airscrew and backward and alongside the rudder was made possible by retracting local portions of fairing fore and aft of the turret."
It can be seen from this that use of any 'interupter gear' to protect the propeller was irrelevant.

Secondly, in reply to Civettone's comment on the P.94, I again I quote p.55/56 :
Boulton Paul P.94
Prototype Defiant K8320 eventually had its turret removed and in August 1940 was flown as an unarmed flying demonstrator for a fixed-gun version called P.94, which was intended for rapid production using many complete Defiant components. The P.94 had the turret replaced by twelve 0.303in (7.7mm)Brwning machine guns disposed in each side of the wing centre section in nests of six.
P.94 had a 1,100 hp (820kW) Merlin XX which offered a maximum speed of 360mph (579km/h) at 21,700 ft (6,614m), a sea level rate of climb of 3,235ft/min and would get the aircraft to 25,000ft in 8.1 minutes.
Some 'stopgap aircraft'. A vast improvement over the Defiant's performance of 304mph!
Yet Tony states: "In April 1940 the Air Council agreed that, as an operational type, the Defiant had entered service two years too late and was thus verging on obsolescence."
Yes, in late August and September, the problem in the Battle of Britain was the shortage of pilots, but it seems to me the 'window of opportunity' was there for the P.94 to be available at the start, and what's more - with that performance to join with the Spifires in combating the 109's.
And who knows if there were enough of them, maybe the surplus Hurricanes may have been converted to hurri-bombers in time for the invasion !!
Worthwhile mentioning the Hawker Hotspur. Designed to the same specification F.9/35.

Hawker Hotspur - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Flew some ten months after the Defiant. Compared with the Defiant the Hotspur was somewhat smaller and lighter and, when fitted with a similar Merlin, proved to be faster by about a dozen miles per hour.
Four gun turret PLUS a single forward firing Vickers gun.
However the Hotspur was considered by Camm more as an insurance against any unforeseen difficulties with the Hurricane. Never happened.

Regarding the purpose of the Defiant. Francis Mason in 'The British fighter' mentions that the Defiant was introduced to replace the Hawker Demon. The trouble with the Specification lay not so much in the constantly changing requirements but in the conflicting views as to whether the two-seat interceptor had any place at all in the fighter defence system, for it should be recalled the the Demon had only been introduced with one purpose in mind - that of intercepting it's related light bomber version, the Hart. Such an aircraft posed no strategic threat to Britain and the manner in which Boulton Paul and Hawker interpreted the requirement brought forth aeroplanes that were hopelessly inept.
It does beg the question though, if the people who came up with the idea for the Defiant could see the hazards of a blindspot on a bomber's defences, why wasn't more done to provide bristish bombers with better all round defences?

The simple answer is it wasn't required...

It's not a design flaw in British bombers that they didn't have ball turrets.. One might think that they'd feel safer having a ball turret, possibly 2 waist gunners, an observers gun, maybe 2 chin guns... but then you'd have the B17.. and you'd also feel safer with an elastic band wrapped around your wrist, your lucky underpants on and a small teddy in your flight jacket...

The facts are the ball turret fired bugger all rounds and the visibility was wowfull... the noise it make might be comforting mind..

I'm not against a ball turret in the B17 and B24, it's position and weight helps to 'anchor' the CoG of the plane within correct tollerances whilst at the same time allowing more 0.5" ammo for the tail turret.. Also bear in mind how much futher forward the upper turret is on a B17/B24 so far forward it's in front to the verticle datum line this helps massively with the design descision to include a ball turret... It might actually have been the case that without a ball turret, ballast would have to have been fitted (this is a guess) to maintain the planes correct handling characteristics, and it's better to fit a gun surely...

Consider the position of the upper turret on the early B24's without ball turrets used by the RAF.

On the subject of the defiants turret I'm not sure it was a complete failure as a mossie prototype with a similiar turret was built... even if this was rejected it shows that there were 'pros' and well as 'cons' to be considered.



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