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Barracuda from the Cockpit by Robert McCandless

Published: 27 Oct 2012

McCandless Robert.  Barracuda.  From the Cockpit. Ad Hoc Publications 2012.  144 pages, 162 photographs, 34 artwork.  ISBN 978 0 946958 78 8.  Price 18.95.

(reviewed by John Shears)

Once again Ad Hoc Publications have produced an excellent book on one specific aircraft.  The book follows the same format as before, i.e. various contributions from people who flew the aircraft, but in this case none from maintainers.  Being produced during the 2nd World War, the number of people still around who operated the aircraft is becoming less and less.

Having never seen a Barracuda, I could only go on its reputation, which wasn’t good but now having read the book my views have changed.  Over 1,900 aircraft were produced to serve in some sixty squadrons, making it one of the most widely employed aircraft to serve with the Fleet Air Arm.  (There were also five RAF squadrons.)

One gets the impression that aviators fell into two groups i.e. those who hated it and those who had got used to its ways and found it to be a useful asset.  The aircraft had a bad start at the beginning of the War when Rolls-Royce terminated development work on their Exe engine, originally selected for the aircraft in 1936, to concentrate on Merlin development.  The Barracuda was redesigned to take the Merlin 30 which was significantly heavier and had a greater drag factor than the Exe, both of which limited the aircraft’s performance.

A second blow came in the summer of 1940 when priority was given to fighter production by the Ministry and work on the prototype was halted.  By the time the aircraft flew in 1942, with the introduction of new equipment and weapons, the all-up weight had increased by 4,000 lbs.  This decreased the performance and increased stresses on the aircraft structure.  Effectively the Barracuda had missed its generation and the contemporaries against the original specification had been placed.

Another thing against the aircraft was its looks.  As Captain Eric Brown recalls in the book,

‘I was serving with the Service Trials Unit at Arbroath in September 1942, when our first Barracuda arrived.  As it entered the airfield circuit, it could be seen that its contours were nothing if not unprepossessing.  Here were no rakish lines such as those of its namesake, that voracious West Indian fish.  Then it turned on to the approach and disgorged a mass of ironmongery from wings and fuselage, transforming the pedestrian and unappealing into what could only be described as an airborne disaster.  The old adage, ‘If it looks right’ inevitably sprang to mind, and 1 concluded that there were events that I could await with rather more pleasure than taking this quaint contraption into the air.’

A high-shoulder-wing, all-metal, stressed-skin monoplane, the Barracuda was something of an abortion on the ground.  Indeed, with everything folded it gave the impression of having been involved in a very nasty accident.’

What he did discover was that the aircraft was somewhat reluctant to get airborne, but was easy to land.  But after five aircraft had been lost carrying out simulated torpedo attacks with reports of aircraft diving into the sea, sometimes inverted, he was involved in determining the cause.  He managed to reproduce the systems and as a result warnings were issued to the aircrew and the epidemic of crashes ended.

The aircraft will be remembered for the attack on the Tirpitz, which is described in full by the author.  By this stage the aircraft had really dropped its torpedo role and became, in fact, a dive bomber.

Despite all its shortcomings mentioned above, it continued in service until mid 1953.  It is a pity that no one ever thought of keeping an example for a museum so we could all view this ‘ugly duckling’.


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