The Boulton Paul
Defiant was designed to intercept unescorted bombers. The
Defiant’s design philosophy harked back to the very
successful F2b Bristol Fighter of World War I and the Hawker
Demon of the early 1930’s. However, unlike these two
earlier two seat fighters the Defiant had a fundamental flaw;
it had no forward firing guns to supplement the concentrated
fire of the four machine guns from its power operated turret.
The weight of a second crewman and the power operated turret
also hampered the Defiants flying characteristics and speed.
The Defiant first flew in 1937 but did not enter Squadron
service until 1939 by which time contemporary fighters could
easily intercept bombers and were considerably faster and
more manoeuvrable than the two seat Defiant.
The Defiant, like its stable mates the Spitfire and Hurricane,
was powered by the Rolls Royce Merlin and could easily be
mistaken at a distance for the Hurricane. In early brushes
with fighters of the German Luftwaffe over Dunkirk it is possible
that German pilots did indeed mistake Defiants for Hurricanes
only to find themselves attacking from astern into the fire
of the Defiants guns. Defiant crews therefore gained notable
successes in May 1940 in the skies over Dunkirk. 264 Squadron
in particular, who would later be based at Hornchurch during
the Battle of Britain, achieved notable successes against
JU87 “Stukas” and twin engined Messchescmitt Bf110s.
These included 12 kills by 264 squadron’s highest scoring
crew, Sergeants Fred Barker and Edward Thorn.
Once German pilots got wise to the Defiant, however, their
losses quickly became critical as the faster and more agile
Messerschmitt Bf 109’s could easily chose their angle
of attack to avoid the Defiant’s guns. The Hornchurch
based 264 Squadron experimented with some success in forming
defensive circles during the Battle of Britain but losses
were still unacceptably high, especially amongst gunners who
could not easily exit a stricken plane. The Defiant was, therefore
quickly withdrawn from daylight operations but continued to
have some success as a night fighter, until being superseded
by radar equipped Bristol Beaufighters and De Havilland Mosquitos.
Only a single Boulton Paul Defiant has survived to be exhibited
at the RAF Museum, Hendon.
Type: Two seat monoplane fighter
Powerplant. 1,260 hp Rolls Royce Merlin XX V12
Maximum Speed: 304 mph
Maximum Altitude: c 30,400 feet
Range: c 500 miles
Armament: 4 x .303/7.7mm Browning Machine guns in rear power