The British Bristol Beaufighter filled the need for an effective night fighter in the U.S. Army Air Forces until an American aircraft could be produced. The Beaufighter had first entered operational service with the Royal Air Force in July 1940 as a day fighter. Equipped with a very early Mk IV airborne intercept radar, the powerful and heavily armed night fighter version entered service just as the Luftwaffe (German air force) began its "Blitz" night attacks against London in September 1940. Beaufighter crews accounted for over half of the Luftwaffe bombers shot down during the Blitz.
When the USAAF formed its first radar-equipped night fighter squadron in January 1943, the only American night fighter available was the makeshift Douglas P-70, a modified A-20 bomber using the U.S. version of the Mk IV radar. After initial training in the P-70, the first USAAF night fighter squadrons went to war in the more capable British Beaufighter.
The 414th, 415th, 416th and 417th Night Fighter Squadrons received more than 100 "reverse Lend-Lease" Beaufighters. They arrived in the Mediterranean during the summer of 1943, achieving the first victory on July 24. Through the summer, they conducted daytime convoy escort and strike missions, but thereafter flew primarily at night. Although purpose-built American P-61 Black Widow night fighters began to replace them in December 1944, USAAF Beaufighters continued to fly night cover for Allied forces in Italy and France until the closing days of the war.
The museum's aircraft was built under license by the Fairey Aviation Co. in Stockport, England, and delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force in 1942. It is marked as the USAAF Beaufighter flown by Capt. Harold Augspurger, commander of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron, who shot down an He 111 carrying German staff officers in September 1944.
TECHNICAL NOTES (Data for Beaufighter Mk.VIf): Crew: Two (pilot and radar operator) Armament: Four 20mm Hispano cannon in the fuselage and six .303-cal Browning machine guns in the wings Engines: Two 1,670-hp Bristol Hercules Maximum speed: 337 mph Ceiling: 26,500 ft.
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