The Blackburn Skua dive-bomber and a fighter was the Fleet Air Arm’s first monoplane and became first British aircraft to bring down an enemy aeroplane in the Second World War.
The Skua was an all-metal duralumin, low wing, two-seater, carrier-borne aircraft that was designed by Blackburn Aircraft Limited’s chief designer, GE Petty. The Skua was the Fleet Air Arm’s first monoplane and had an enclosed cockpit, unlike the Swordfish biplane torpedo bomber.
The Skua first flew on 9 February 1937 and was introduced into service with the Fleet Air Arm in November 1938. A total of 192 Skuas were delivered. The aircraft was fitted with an 890hp Bristol Perseus XII 9-cylinder radial engine that gave it a maximum speed of 225mph at 6,500 feet, which compared unfavourably with the 290mph that could be achieved by the Messerschmitt Bf 109.
The Skua is believed to be the first British aircraft to have brought down an enemy aeroplane in the Second World War, when three Skuas of 803 Naval Air Squadron from HMS Ark Royal attacked a Dornier Do 18 on 26 September 1939 over the North Sea. On 10 April 1940 Lieutenant Commander William Lucy led sixteen Skuas from 800 and 803 Naval Air Squadrons based at RNAS Hatston in the Orkney Islands in an attack that sank the German cruiser Königsberg in Bergen Harbour. On 15 June 1940 a further fifteen Skuas attempted to sink the German battleship Scharnhorst at Trondheim in Norway. Eight of the aircraft were shot down.
The Skua was withdrawn from front-line active duties in 1941 due to the heavy losses the aircraft experienced, especially at the hands of the faster and more manoeuvrable German fighters. It was replaced by the Fairey Fulmar, which could achieve a further 50mph. The Skua was relegated to advanced trainer duties and was finally retired in March 1945.
The Blackburn Roc was designed by Boulton & Paul Aircraft Limited and was derived from the Skua. The primary difference consisted of a powered dorsal turret, which housed four .303-inch Browning machine-guns. The aircraft could also carry eight 30lb bombs. The Roc first flew on 23 December 1938 and was introduced into service in April 1939. In all, some 136 were built. The aircraft served primarily in 1940 at Scapa Flow in Scotland to protect the fleet, they also flew from HMS Glorious and HMS Ark Royal during the Norwegian Campaign. They also performed air support duties during the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk between 26 May and 4 June 1940 as part of Operation Dynamo and with further evacuations from northern French ports during Operation Aerial between 15 and 25 June 1940.
From Heroes and Landmarks of British Aviation by Richard Edwards.