Success of Defiant as night fighter?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by VinceReeves, Feb 20, 2013.

  1. VinceReeves

    VinceReeves Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2013
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    6
    Hello all,

    I'm wondering if anyone can quantify how successful the Boulton Paul Defiant was as a night fighter. I often read statements that in the early war period it "shot down more aircraft than any other type" but there's never any attempt to put this statement in numerical terms, which makes me suspect that its score was actually pretty low - just not as low as the Blenheim or Havoc.

    But than again, I think it was still in the night-fighting role until late 1942, so it may have genuinely had something going for it....
     
  2. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2009
    Messages:
    6,418
    Likes Received:
    64
    Trophy Points:
    48
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    Luftwaffe losses on night bombing raids during 1940 to 1941 averaged less then 1%. So it's safe to say the entire British night air defense system (fighters and AA guns) were ineffective during that time frame.
     
  3. VinceReeves

    VinceReeves Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2013
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    6
    Just got a number of 65 night kills (i.e. non-264/141 Sqn. kills up to Apr 42) from appendix III of Alec Brew's "Turret Fighters", as quoted elsewhere on t'internet.

    I'm assuming this number is more solid than the unreliable day claims, as it's single fighters against bombers whose wreckage would have generally fallen on home turf.

    So the Defiant actually was a reasonable success as a night fighter. I'm quite surprised.
     
  4. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2009
    Messages:
    7,533
    Likes Received:
    947
    Trophy Points:
    113
    I think that is wildly optimistic. Exactly the same "home turf" criteria apply to the RAF's day time claims and these too were largely exaggerated.

    There were serious doubts expressed in 1939/40 about the Defiant's ability to achieve day time interception "under operational conditions,and to make an attack on a bomber flying at 230 mph" as the Wing Commander,Armaments put it. He did express the view that the Defiants should "be relegated for night use only" but at night it would have had even less chance,something Dowding at least was well aware of.

    Cheers
    Steve
     
  5. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2012
    Messages:
    706
    Likes Received:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    0
    It's always ben my understanding that the first really efective night fighter the RAF had was the mossie, both because of it's performance and the advances in airborne radar that had occurred by the time it was introduced. The Beaufighter gave honest service before this, but Defiants, Hurricanes et al were really not much more than an attempt to be seen to be doing something. Still, I'd be interested to hear any figures that contradict this.
     
  6. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,743
    Likes Received:
    439
    Trophy Points:
    83
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Aircraft Engineer
    Location:
    Nelson
    #6 nuuumannn, Feb 21, 2013
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
    Putting that into context however, British night fighters in '39 - 40 left a lot to be desired. The Defiant was no better nor worse than any other British night fighter of the period; this was largely due to the unpreparedness of RAF fighter crews at night interception practise. The Defiant did have the advantage of two sets of eyes in a single engine airframe and it later proved it was an effective night fighter because of its unique armament, regardless of how much overclaiming there was. In '39 - '40, apart from a few Blenheims dedicated to night fighting, which were too slow, night interceptions were generally carried out by day fighter squadrons. 264 Sqn did make claims after night sorties prior to its removal from day duties in August 1940.

    Although I don't have figures to hand, actual night fighter kills achieved during 1940 were not very high for any specific type; I'd imagine they could be counted on one hand, if not slightly more. Some 13 RAF squadrons were partially or fully equipped with the Defiant between late 1940 and mid 1942; can't have been all that bad.

    We also forget how difficult it was to intercept an enemy bomber and manoeuvre into a favourable position to attack, let alone actually shoot the aircraft down by night. late 1940/early '41 was a huge learning curve for all British units engaged in night fighter duties, not just the Defiants, so successful interceptions were naturally few and far between.
     
  7. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2009
    Messages:
    7,533
    Likes Received:
    947
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Yes,but the suspicion was,as later proven,that the Defiant was just too slow.

    [​IMG]

    The Wing Commander even draws attention to something I'm always banging on about. There was a wide discrepancy between the performance of aircraft flown by operational crews in operational units and that attained by the test pilots of Boscombe Down,Martlesham Heath,Farnborough etc.

    There is also a world of difference between practiced tactical interceptions and real operations in which the enemy might actually try to avoid the interception.

    The top speeds and other parametres given for most types were attained by specialist test units of one sort or another and are often quoted across t'internet. They do of course represent the maximum speed or other parametre of any type under specific circumstances,but most service aircraft were achieving performance well below these figures.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  8. yulzari

    yulzari Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2010
    Messages:
    777
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Occupation:
    Gentleman
    Location:
    Limousin
    To get some context, what was the effectiveness of Luftwaffe attempts to deal with the early war RAF night bombers? I suspect we will find the Defiant did at least as well.
     
  9. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2009
    Messages:
    7,533
    Likes Received:
    947
    Trophy Points:
    113
    #9 stona, Feb 22, 2013
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2013
    They didn't do well,but at least the Bf 110 was about 40-50 mph faster than the Defiant. Speed,or lack thereof was the most often stated concern of the RAF regarding the Defiant.

    The Defiant was designed as a day fighter and the RAF envisaged it cruising alongside bomber formations,raking them with enfillade fire. It's ridiculous with hindsight. Dowding at the time had his doubts,see his bracketed comment in 4 below.

    [​IMG]

    Notice at the bottom that Dowding has copied in Park (A.O.C. 11 Group) whose opinion on tactical matters he valued greatly.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  10. VinceReeves

    VinceReeves Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2013
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    6
    I don't see the Battle Of Britain and Blitz period as being relevant tbh. From what I remember, there were 11 night kills by the Defiant and Hurricane combined over this period, which seems to be a believably poor performance.

    I'm guessing the majority of Defiant night kills would have been by the NF MkIA and Mk II Defiants, which both had AI Mk IV radar, with the Mk II having a more powerful Merlin XX engine.

    IIRC, AI-equipped Defiants didn't appear until July 1941, so I suspect the majority of Defiant night kills were between July '41 and April '42. There would have been fewer targets during this period, and a much lesser propaganda need to overclaim.

    So I suspect the 65 kills overall is a fair indication of its utility, which was reasonably good, but not outstanding.
     
  11. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2009
    Messages:
    7,533
    Likes Received:
    947
    Trophy Points:
    113
    But it's speed relative to its target,even for the later marks is what makes an interception so difficult. You might fit a more powerful engine,but you also fit a radar and its associated clobber. It's the aircraft's fundamental lack of speed that I'm trying to illustrate,and it was something the RAF was well aware of,even as the Defiants entered service in their original role.

    Trying to intercept an aircraft like a Ju 88 over which the Defiant has no performance advantage was always going to be difficult. At least the He 111 was a bit slower :)

    I'm not at home and can't look for a comparative figure from the German losses,but 65 looks very optimistic to me.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  12. VinceReeves

    VinceReeves Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2013
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    6
    Well, it was the Defiant's low speed that led to it being progressively replaced between Apr '42 and Sep '42.

    But I would have thought that comparative speed would only matter in night ops if the interceptor was spotted by the bomber crew - unless Luftwaffe intruders were going flat-out all the time.

    Anyway, a comparison with German losses will certainly give us a better idea.
     
  13. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,743
    Likes Received:
    439
    Trophy Points:
    83
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Aircraft Engineer
    Location:
    Nelson
    #13 nuuumannn, Feb 22, 2013
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2013
    Compared to what though? do we have figures for other types in RAF service at the same time period? I do agree with you Vince, regarding 1939 - 40 being irrelevant since, as I said earlier, Britian didn't really have a night fighter force to speak of. Also, why, Steve, is 65 night kills too high? Is it that hard for you to believe that the slow ole Daffy could manage that? Even if the actual number of kills is lower, presumably the Defiants got themselves into a firing position sufficiently for their gunners to engage and therefore visually reference a hit of some sort? They weren't just flying out there and making it up, they shot at the enemy and saw hits enough to make claims regardless of whether they actually shot the aircraft down or not.

    But not impossible. The very first kill by a Defiant was a Ju 88 on 12 May 1940. The first confirmed kill of a night fighter Defiant was also a Ju 88 on 17 September 1940 by 141 Sqn; the aircraft crashed on a housing estate in Maidstone. As for its slow speed, yep, I have to agree with you Steve, the Defiant was slow, I've read numerous accounts of interceptions where the enemy bombers got away because of the Daffy's slow speed.

    264 was the first and last frontline unit to use the type as an interceptor; for two years and five months that unit was equipped with the Defiant and when its crews were told they'd be going on to night duties in August 1940, they were not pleased at all. Despite everything, 264 Sqn personnel felt they were doing alright at the time. When 151 Sqn relinquished its Defiants for Beaufighters in late May 1942, its ORB recorded "The Defiant is definitely "Off the Board" for 151 Sqn; Goodbye Old Faithfuls", and this was a unit that had resisted the transition from Hurricanes to Defiants.

    Perhaps the biggest complaint about the Defiant by its crews was its turret was too cramped and difficult to get out of.
     
  14. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,743
    Likes Received:
    439
    Trophy Points:
    83
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Aircraft Engineer
    Location:
    Nelson
    Well, that's kinda debateable; Beaufighters were coming on line in greater numbers and the Daffy's obsolescence, which I guess includes its speed, was the main issue - it was initially intended as an interim until Beaufighter production really got underway, but as I said earlier, 13 squadrons were equipped with Defiant night fighters. Production ended in 1943, so the type was officially obsolete from then on.
     
  15. VinceReeves

    VinceReeves Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2013
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    6
    Ju-88 is the subject of a lot of claims/kills by slow planes: Skuas, Fulmars, and even, notoriously the Roc. Perhaps it was particularly vulnerable to walking-speed rifle-calibre bullets.

    I found a few pages here on Google Books from Alfred Price's "Britain's Air Defences 1939-45" (it's Osprey, so be careful)

    There's a table on page 42 showing Luftwaffe losses Feb-May 1941. There's a definite improvement shown in kills by single engine fighters from April onwards, which would reflect the introduction of GCI and AI radar.

    Whether the figures in the table are accurate is another matter, of course.
     
  16. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2009
    Messages:
    7,533
    Likes Received:
    947
    Trophy Points:
    113
    I'm not sure what that has got to do with achieving a successful night time interception,particularly when the interceptor is not at the point of a coordinated,radar guided air defence system. In certain circumstances I suppose a Sopwith Pup could shoot down a Spitfire.

    Production may have ended in 1943 but the Defiant was long gone from front line combat units by then. It proved useful in several other roles for a year or so before the inevitable. A target tug might not be out of production but it will almost certainly be obsolete.

    The Defiant was pressed into service as a stop gap nightfighter because it was not a competitive day fighter and as has been pointed out,there was nothing else. The lack of a coordinated night time air defence system in late 1940 was one of several things that cost Dowding his job. It wasn't his fault and he pressed hard for the technology to be developed.

    If that table is correct then Defiants scored kills in the twenties,in a few months,as part of a coordinated air defence system. It's not a bad swansong but hardly the stuff of legends.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  17. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2009
    Messages:
    9,773
    Likes Received:
    802
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    retired Firefighter
    Location:
    Central Florida Highlands
    The bigger failing of the Defiant than speed was the lack of fire power. Few Ju 88s ( or any other bomber) were zipping about over the British Isles at max speed. Most night fighter victories are obtained by the night fighter getting into firing position without the bomber being aware of the night fighter, or becoming aware too late to take effective evasive action.

    The four .303 mgs lacked the firepower to destroy bombers in a short period of time. Action reports mention repeated bursts of a number of seconds each. Night fighter crews tending to keep firing to make sure of the kill rather than trusting to luck and probabilities that the damaged aircraft is too badly shot up to make it back across the channel.

    Granted in some cases a single burst was enough but in other cases bursts were put into both engines ( with the Defiant crossing the path of the bomber to do so) and one or more bursts into the fuselage with the bomber going down with engines "smoking".

    Late production Defiants were target tugs without the turret. Other uses for them were air-sea rescue, turret gunner trainers and electronic warfare aircraft. AS actual "combat" aircraft they were all done in 1942 and that was too long.
     
  18. VinceReeves

    VinceReeves Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2013
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    6
    #18 VinceReeves, Feb 22, 2013
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2013
    Well, my conclusion on this is simply that if the number of night kills recorded by the RAF (65) is plausible, then the Defiant merits its reputation as the most useful of the early night fighters, and as a reasonably good (but not very good) night fighter per se.

    If subsequent analysis of Luftwaffe losses renders that number implausible, then we will have to reassess the Defiant as not much cop in the night fighter role as well. It appears to me that this analysis simply hasn't been done.

    Finally, if Luftwaffe losses confirm that the recorded Defiant kills are plausible, it still doesn't mean that these were indeed Defiant kills, as I suspect Luftwaffe bombers were FTR for all manner of reasons other than airborne interception. Nonetheless as these other reasons can't be proven, it doesn't invalidate the original conclusion.
     
  19. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2008
    Messages:
    10,679
    Likes Received:
    676
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    Urban Design/Strategic Studies Tutor
    Location:
    Orange NSW
    Id recommend John Foremans Air War Europe series. Its a day by day account of operations in the west, mostly from a RAF perspective, but cross referenced to German sources as well. There are multiple volumes, with each book taking more or less the same day by day account of operations. Its gives a pretty good account I think of what was happening, including operations by the Defiants.

    The kills are based on claims, but as Foreman makes some pretty good observations as to source material. Vol 2, which deals with the period April'41 through to the end of June is very accurate as to losses. It uses British claims, as th starting base, and then cross references those claims as much as he can to the records that are available for the LW. As a very rough generalization, for about every 4 claims made, the LW records show that 3 were actually lost during this period, so loss rates compared to claims were about 75%.

    Ive also got Vol3, which is January 1942 through to June 1943. I get the feeling the verification process he used in Vol 2 is not as rigorously followed for the later book. For Vol3, he gives some details on the nature of the loss claims which are tabulated on a daily basis . he states

    "The reported claims fall into three categories:

    1) Destroyed - where an aircraft was seen to be on fire, or crash, or where the pilot was seen to parachute
    2) Probably destroyed. Where an aircraft was left so severely damaged that in the opinion of the RAF pilot it was unlikley to have survived
    3) Damaged. Self explanatory

    Claims themselves have always been a problem, since people seem to regard them as shoot downs which they were not. They should be regarded as simply claims, and should be used as a general guide to the level of combat.......for the entire war in this period , the norm seems to be 3claims for every 2 actually shot down."

    It may be that night claims were a bit more accurate. Foreman notes that a big element of RAF overclaiming in day operations was the Me 109. He says "One factor in RAF overclaiming was the Bf109. The LW pilots, aware of the superior dogfighting quality of British fighters simply refused to do so. A dive from altitude , a fast firing pass then a long fast dive to safety was their usual tactic. The problem was that the DB engines produced great quantities of black smokewhen on full boost causing many innaccurate claims." he admits, for the massive overclaimimg of the FW 190, there is no obvious reason. But at night, it would have been easier to observe aircraft that were on fire, and actions tended to be one on one, rather than uncontrolled melees, so I have a feeling that the night claims are more accurate.

    The book is very much a primary data style source, but for individual actions it provides a very good basis....

    Always be very wary of accounts that unequivocal summaries of losses and victories. own losses are usually fairly accurate, but enemy losses, particulalry axis losses can be hard to verify, at least from an allied perspective. but it doesnt end there unfortunately. There are many revisionists who exploit that uncertainty of Axis losses to try and write down LW losses to little or nothing. So getting or forming an opinion on losses that is balanced can be a challenging task.
     
  20. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2009
    Messages:
    7,533
    Likes Received:
    947
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Nor were nightfighters unless being vectored onto a target,which could not be the case before an integrated night time air defence system was established. Until then,to paraphrase Dowding,they were simply flying around over London hoping that a target might turn up.

    I agree that with the advent of a functioning,radar guided,command and control system the Defiant became a functional night fighter,but just about any aircraft could have been.

    The Defiant was simply available in substantial numbers following its failiure to fullfil its intended role as a day time interceptor. It should be remembered that this failiure was due in part to the presence of single engined escort fighters in the Luftwaffe formations. Noone in 1939 imagined that France would be defeated and that such aircraft would obtain bases within range of mainland Britain.


    Even then the speed advantage of a Defiant over a bomber cruising at 230mph made interception difficult as the RAF admitted in 1939,albeit in the context of daylight operations.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
Loading...

Share This Page