Corgi AA36308 Royal Navy Fairey Swordfish Mk. III Torpedo Plane - Lt. Cmdr. Eugene Esmonde VC, Fleet Air Arm, 825 Naval Air Squadron, February 1942 (1:72 Scale)
"In my opinion the gallant sortie of these six Swordfish aircraft constitutes one of the finest exhibitions of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty the war had ever witnessed."
- Admiral Sir Bertram Home Ramsay
The Swordfish was a three-man torpedo-bomber and reconnaissance biplane with a basic structure of fabric-covered metal. The wings folded for storage on the crowded deck of an aircraft carrier. Armament included one forward-firing Vickers machine gun and one swiveling Vickers in the rear cockpit. Primary offensive power took the form of depth charges, mines, bombs or, especially, a torpedo. Unfortunately, this outstanding plane was too slow to withstand the punishment of German anti-aircraft fire. Long, accurate approaches to the target made the Swordfish very vulnerable when delivering its torpedo. Thus came re-deployment in an anti-submarine warfare role, using depth charges and, later, rockets.
As with many wartime aircraft, Swordfish were produced by more than one manufacturer. Well over half (almost 1700) were built by the Blackburn company in Sherburn in Elmet, UK.
Pictured here is a 1:72 scale replica of a Royal Navy Fairey Swordfish Mk. III torpedo plane that was piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Eugene Esmonde VC, who was attached to the Fleet Air Arm, 825 Naval Air Squadron, during February 1942.
Release Date: April 2009
Historical Account: "Kingsmill" - Lieutenant Commander Eugene Kingsmill Esmonde VC DSO, F/Lt, RAF, Lt-Cdr (A) RN (March 1st, 1909 – February 12th, 1942) was a distinguished pilot who was a posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy awarded to members of Commonwealth forces. Lt-Cdr Esmonde earned this prestigious award while in command of a Naval torpedo bomber squadron serving in the British Fleet Air Arm in World War II.
Esmonde earned his Victoria Cross when he led his squadron against elements of the German Fleet which made the "Channel Dash" (Operation Cerberus) from Brest in an attempt to return to their home bases at Wilhelmshaven and Kiel through the English Channel. On February 12th, 1942, off the coast of England, 32 year old Lieutenant Commander Esmonde led a detachment of six Fairey Swordfish in an attack on the two German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen (which had already managed to get from Brest without hindrance). These ships, along with a strong escort of smaller craft, were entering the Straits of Dover when Esmonde received his orders. He waited as long as he felt he could for confirmation of his fighter escort, but eventually took off without it. One of the fighter squadrons (10 Supermarine Spitfires of No. 72 Squadron RAF) did rendezvous with Esmonde's squadron, and the two squadrons were later attacked by enemy fighters of JG 2 and JG 26. The subsequent fighting left all of the planes in Esmonde's squadron damaged, and caused their fighter escort to become separated from the torpedo bombers.
The torpedo bombers continued their attack, even with their damaged aircraft and lack of fighter protection. Heavy anti-aircraft fire from the German ships now added to their peril, and Esmonde's plane sustained a direct hit from anti-aircraft fire that destroyed most of one of his port wings (the Swordfish, an antiquated aircraft made of laminated cloth stretched over a wooden frame, had two wings). Esmonde's squadron continued their attack run despite their damage, and Esmonde led his flight through a screen of the enemy destroyers and other small vessels protecting the battlecruisers. He was still some 2,700 metres from his target when he was again hit, resulting in his aircraft bursting into flames and then crashing into the sea. The remaining aircraft continued the gallant attack, but all were shot down. Only five of the squadron's 18 men flying that day survived the action, and four of these survivors were wounded. Of the survivors, four officers received the Distinguished Service Order, and the lone enlisted survivor was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. The disproportionate ratio of officer to enlisted survivors was most likely due to the fact that the officers, who were the aircraft pilots, sat furthest forward in the aircraft and were closest to the aircraft's large radial engine, which served as a shield from enemy fire. The enlisted members sat behind the pilots in rear facing seats and were exposed to more enemy fire as a result.