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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 The Defiant was, therefore quickly withdrawn from daylight operations but continued to have some success as a night fighter, until being superseded by radar equipped Bristol Beaufighters and De Havilland Mosquitos.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 operated turret.



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