Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
Canadian Warplanes 3: Bristol Beaufighter

Bristol Beaufighter

Data current to 4 March 2021.

Bristol Beaufighter

 (IWM Photo, CH13180)

Bristol Beaufighter-Mk. X, coded 2G, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, coded EE, being fitted with 3-inch 25 lb rockets.

The Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter (often referred to simply as the "Beau") was a multi-role aircraft developed during the Second World War in the UK.  It was originally conceived as a heavy fighter variant of the Bristol Beaufort bomber.  Upon its entry to service, the Beaufighter proved to be well suited to the night fighter role, for which the RAF initially deployed the type during the height of the Battle of Britain, in part due to its large size allowing it to accommodate both heavy armaments and early airborne interception radar without major performance penalties.

As its wartime service continued, the Beaufighter was used in many different roles; receiving the nicknames Rockbeau for its use as a rocket-armed ground attack aircraft, and Torbeau in its role as a torpedo bomber against Axis shipping, in which it came to replace the Beaufort which had preceded it.  In later operations, it served mainly as a maritime strike/ground attack aircraft, RAF Coastal Command having operated the largest number of Beaufighters amongst all other commands at one point.

The Beaufighter saw extensive service during the war with the RAF (59 squadrons), Fleet Air Arm (15 squadrons), RAAF (seven squadrons), RCAF (four squadrons), USAAF (four squadrons), RNZAF (two squadrons), SAAF (two squadrons) and the Free Polish Air Force (one squadron).  In addition, variants of the Beaufighter were also manufactured in Australia by the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP), often called the DAP Beaufighter

The unit codes for RCAF aircraft overseas, 1940 to 1946, indicate 9G or G9 stands for No. 441 Squadron (which did not fly Beaufighters).  Four RCAF squadrons flew Beaufighters using these codes: EE is for No. 404 Squadron, HU is for No. 406 Squadron, KP is for No. 409 Squadron, RA is for No. 410 Squadron.

In the fall of 1940, Luftwaffe bombers, unable to escape Allied fighters by day, started flying night missions, where they would encounter much less opposition.  Immediately, the Allies prepared their response: the improvement of interception radars used in ground controls, the use of twin-engine Bristol Beaufighters as night-fighter aircraft, and the development of the Mk. IV airborne interception radar.  Faster than a Junkers Ju 88, the Beaufighter displayed impressive firepower.  Three RCAF squadrons were involved in night fighter operations, Nos. 406, 409 and 410, created in the spring and summer of 1941.

"At approximately 2209 hrs, at about 9,000 ft. and about 45 miles East of Tynemouth Beaufighter attacked from level and dead astern. Pilot saw flashes in enemy aircraft fuselage. One flash very brilliant."  (Wing Commander D.G. Morris, No. 406 Squadron, RCAF, Combat Report, 30 Sep 1941).

 (IWM Photo, CH 17873)

Bristol 156 Beaufighter TF Mk.X (Serial No. NV427), coded EO-L, of RCAF No. 404 Squadron based at Dallachy, Morayshire, England, breaking formation during a flight along the Scottish coast, 17 Feb 1945.

No. 404 Squadron was formed at Thorney Island in Sussex, England, on 15 April 1941 under RAF operational control.  Tasked with coastal patrol and attack, the squadron initially flew the Bristol Blenheim Mk. IV & later the Bristol Beaufighter.  From May 1944 to September 1944 they were based at RAF Davidstow Moor in Cornwall, England.

As part of the RAF Dallachy strike wing of four Beaufighter-equipped squadrons, they took part in an attack on German ships on the Norwegian coast on 9 February 1945.  The ships included a destroyer and "flak" ships as well as merchantmen.  The ships were located in a fjord and German fighter aircraft scrambled in defence.  As a result of the heavy losses to the Dallachy Wing the attack was subsequently called "Black Friday".  The squadron disbanded on 25 May 1945.

 (IWM Photos, CH 17873)

Bristol 156 Beaufighter TF Mk.X (Serial No. NV427), coded EO-L, of RCAF No. 404 Squadron based at Dallachy, Morayshire, England, breaking formation during a flight along the Scottish coast, 17 Feb 1945.

 (IWM Photo, CH 13179)

Armourers attaching 3-inch rocket projectiles fitted with 60-lb warheads to the starboard wing rails of a Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk. X, RCAF No. 404 Squadron, coded 2-G, at Davidstow Moor, Cornwall in the UK, ca 1944. 

 (IWM Photo, CH 13183)

Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk. X of No. 404 Squadron RCAF, based at Davidstow Moor, Cornwall, firing a pair of 3-inch rocket projectiles on a range off the Cornish coast.

 (Ces Ashman Photo, Vince Elmer Memorial Library)

Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk. X of No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, at Tain, E-5 Scotland.

 (IWM Photo, C4546)

On 12 August 1944, Bristol Beaufighters with No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, and No. 236 Squadron, RAF, both operating from Davidstow Moor in the UK, attacked the  Sauerland, a German heavily armed Sperrbrecher (mine-detector ship) off La Pallice, France.  The ship was left floundering and later was finished off by the Royal Navy.  The aircraft flying overhead in this photograph is reportedly that of Wing Commander Ken Gatward, the CO of No. 404 Squadron, one of the leading anti-shipping 'aces' at that time.

(RCAF Photo)

Bristol 156 Beaufighter TF Mk. X (Serial No. NE255), coded EE-H, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, Banff, Scotland, 21 Aug 1944.  The aircraft is carrying rocket projectiles (RP) with 25 lb. warheads for anti-shipping operations.

 (IWM Photo, MH7465)

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X (Serial No. NE355), coded 2H, later EE-H, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, at Wick or Sumburgh, UK, 1944.

Early in 1941, German bombers were increasingly using the night to make many small raids.  This decreased their chances of detection and reduced the need for fighter escort.  No. 406 "Lynx" (NF) Squadron RCAF, was formed at RAF Acklington in the UK on 5 May 1941, to meet this threat.  Armed with four 20-millimetre cannons and up to six .303 machine guns, at a time when fighters were armed with only four to eight .303 calibre machine guns, the Beaufighter had devastating firepower.  Its twin-engine reliability ensured many a crew returned home safely that otherwise would have been lost.  Two crewmen meant a dedicated radar operator who handled navigation and interception, leaving the pilot to focus solely on flying the aircraft and engaging the enemy once visually sighted. It was a deadly combination. The squadron expanded its role as attacks on England diminished, and they took the fight to Europe, conducting Night Ranger missions, essentially flying up and down the French coast, looking for trouble.

No. 406 Squadron RCAF was formed at RAF Acklington in the UK on 5 May 1941, as part of No. 12 Group of Fighter Command to operate as night fighters.  The squadron was equipped with Bristol Blenheim Mk. IF heavy fighters, re-equipping with the improved Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IIF the next month.  They operated out of several airfields in the United Kingdom, changing to the Beaufighter Mk. VIF in mid-1942, and receiving the de Havilland Mosquito Mk. XII night-fighter during April 1944.  They upgraded to the Mosquito Mk. XXX in July 1944, and operated this aircraft for the remainder of the war.   In November 1944 it was renamed No. 406 (Intruder) Squadron, to carry out daylight offensive operations over mainland Europe.  In June 1945 the squadron was posted to RAF Predannack in Cornwall, where it disbanded in August 1945.

 (IWM Photo, MH 4560)

Bristol 156 Beaufighter Mk. IIF (Serial No. R2270), No. 406 "Lynx" (NF) Squadron RCAF, based at RAF Station Aklington, Northumberland, Jan 1942.  R2270 was the first production model, fitted with dihedral tailplanes and equipped with AI Mk. IV radar.

  (IWM Photo)

Bristol 156 Beaufighter Mk. IIF (Serial No. T3037), B Flight of No. 409 Squadron, RCAF, based at RAF Station Aklington, Northumberland, Jan 1942.  No 409 Squadron was Fighter Command's first Canadian night-fighter unit.  Members are shown here posing for a formal portrait with one of their Merlin-engined Beaufighter Mk. IIFs.

No. 409 Squadron, RCAF, was formed at RAF Digby in the UK in June 1941 for night operations with Boulton-Paul Defiants, moving in July to RAF Coleby Grange, where, in August, it was re-equipped with Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IIf aircraft, allowing detachments to be maintained elsewhere.  Two victories were claimed during the early days of the squadron's existence, but in June 1942 Beaufighter Mk. VI aircraft were received, and a greater degree of success was achieved.  In February 1943 a move was made to Acklington, with detachments maintained in at least four other locations.  In December a return to Coleby Grange was made, with the various detachments continuing their separate existences.  Little was seen during the year, but in March 1944 the squadron moved to Hunsdon, converting to the de Havilland Mosquito Mk. XII and joined No. 85 Group of the Second Tactical Air Force.  Intruder and offensive patrols commenced, and much action was seen over the Normandy beachhead in June; 11 victories were claimed during this month.  After some action against V-1 Flying Bombs, operations over Europe recommenced, and late in August the unit moved to Carpiquet in France, the first night fighters to be based on the mainland.  By mid-October, the squadron had settled in the Lille area, where it was to remain until April 1945.  On 19 April, a move was made to the Rhine in Germany, and from here the unit was able to claim six victories in a single night.  Shortly after this the war ended with the total victories at 61 12 claimed. The squadron's code letters during this period were KP.

No. 410 Squadron, RCAF, was formed during the Second World War and was based at RAF Ayr near Prestwick, Scotland.  Th squadrons's first official sortie was from RAF Drem, East Lothian, Scotland, on the night of 4 June 1942, when twelve Bristol Beaufighter crews took off, and it went on to become the top-scoring night fighter squadron in the RAF Second Tactical Air Force during the period between D-Day and VE-Day.

No. 410 Squadron supported the Allied forces during the Normandy Landings and the Battle of the Bulge, flew nightly patrols during this time and many of its pilots gained ace status.  Two members of No. 410 Squadron, Flight Lieutenant (F/L) Currie and Flying Officer (F/O) Rose, were the first members of the RCAF to see the German V-2 rocket in flight.  The squadron was disbanded in 1964 but reformed again in 1968.

 (IWM Photo, CH 3149)

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. IF, RAF (Serial No. R2198), coded PN-B, of No. 252 Squadron RAF, based at Chivenor, Devon, in flight over the snow-covered West Country.

 (RAF Photo)

Bristol Beaufighter, coded PN-B.

 (RCAF Photo, PL18853, via Mike Kaehler)

RCAF, RAF and USAAF aircraft at an airfield likely in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations.  USAAF Bristol Beaufighter undergoing maintenance in the foreground, RAF Beaufighters, RAF Douglas Bostons, USAAF Douglas A-20 Havocs, RAF Martin Baltimores, USAAF Martin B-26 Marauders (upper right).

 (IWM Photo, CH9769)

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, coded 2-G, later EE, being rearmed with a torpedo. 

 (IWM Photo, CH9767)

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, coded 2-G, carrying a torpedo fitted with a woden tail stabiser. 

 (IWM Photo, CH9768)

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X, No. 404 Squadron, RCAF, coded 2-G, being rearmed with a torpedo. 

 (Author Photo)

Bristol Beaufighter TF. Mk. X (Serial No. RD867), coded BQ-L, being restored at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  It is a semi-complete RAF restoration but lacks engines, cowlings or internal components.  It was received from the RAF Museum in exchange for a Bristol Bolingbroke in 1969.