Fairey Firefly VX381

My Photos 1 2

The Fairey Fulmar was designed to meet the British Admiralty's urgent need for a modern shipboard fighter. The prototype flew on 13 January 1937 and the first production Fulmar was flew on 4 January 1940 and went into service in August 1940 on HMS Illustrious. In 1939 the Admiralty issued Specification N.5/40 for a two-seat reconnaissance fighter to follow up from the Fulmar. It was to be a far more advanced plan, with greater speed and armaments. The plane was built by the Fairey Aviation Co. Ltd of the United Kingdom.

The design was completed in September 1939 and an order was placed for 200 planes on 12 June 1940. The first development plane flew from Fairey's Great West Aerodrome (now part of Heathrow Airport in London) on 22 December 1941. The second plane flew on 4 June 1942 (crashing about mid-July) and the third on 26 August 1942. Carrier trials aboard the HMS Illustrious were carried out in late 1942.

The first production aircraft from the Hayes plant were delivered in March 1943 and the planes entered service with No 1770 Squadron at Yeovilton on 1 October 1943 and were placed on the carrier HMS Indefatigable. They were used against the German pocket battleship, Tirpitz in Norway in July 1944. The planes were widely used from late 1943. The Firefly was only used by Great Britain during the war but afterwards many other countries purchased them.

Marks I to IV were built during the war and afterwards, there were Marks 5 and 6. These latter versions were powered by a single V12 2,250hp Rolls Royce Griffin 74 engine, it was mainly used as a carrier based anti-submarine, reconnaissance and strike aircraft. A pilot and observer were the crew and the plane carried four 20mm guns mounted in the wings and 16 60lb rockets or two 1,000 pound bombs. The wingspan was 12.55 metres and length was 11.56 metres. The empty weight was at least 4,423 kg with a maximum takeoff weight of 6,359 kg.

The Royal Australian Navy operated two versions of the Fairey Firefly, Mark 5 and Mark 6 (the designation used changed from Roman numerals after Mark IV) from 28 August 1948 until March 1966. The aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney had 816 and 817 Squadrons based on it and they also were based at RANAS Nowra (HMAS Albatross) when the carrier was at Garden Island in Sydney Harbour. They were also used for training at Albatross by 723, 724, 725 and 851 Squadrons. During the Korean War, the Fireflies saw operational service over Korea when based on HMAS Sydney.

On 16 December 1948, a new aircraft carrier was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy. This was HMAS Sydney. In early 1949, the first 26 new Fairey Fireflies (a total of 108 were purchased) were handed over to the RAN and flights took place of some or all in the UK before they were placed aboard HMAS Sydney for the trip back to Australia. Two were Mark IV FR (fighter/reconnaissance) and the rest Mark AS.5 models. The AS designated anti-submarine model first flew in March 1949 with the Royal Navy. One of the AS.5s was serial number VX381. A total of 352 Mark 5s were built between January 1948 and May 1950.

HMAS Sydney departed England on 12 April 1949 and arrived at Jervis Bay, south of Sydney, on 25 May 1949. This was the new aircraft carrier's maiden voyage. As well as the 26 Fireflies, there were 27 Sea Furies.

It is possible that VX381 saw service in the Korean War on the Sydney.

In March 1953, 20 new Fairey Fireflies were delivered to the RAN and this time placed on HMAS Vengeance (on loan from the RN while HMAS Melbourne was being built) for the trip back to Australia. These were all Mark AS.6 models. One of these was serial number WD887. Also on board were 10 Sea Furies and three Bristol Sycamore helicopters.


WD887 in the mid-1950s
WD887 in the mid-1950s
In November 1956 both VX381 and WD887 were based at HMAS Albatross.

On 27 November 1956, two Fairey Fireflies of the RAN collided over Jervis Bay, both crashing into the bay. The Fireflies were VX381 and WD887 based at nearby HMAS Albatross. Sub Lieutenant Eagles and Midshipman Debus were flying VX381 and Sub Lieutenant Arundel and Midshipman Fogarty were in WD887. S/Lt Eagles managed to put VX381 down on Jervis Bay and he and Debus were rescued by Lieutenant O'Farrell and Petty Officer Maby flying a Fleet Air Arm Sycamore helicopter XA902. They had been scrambled off HMAS Melbourne to rescue the pilots and crew of these two planes. I am not sure, but I believe that the bodies of S/Lt Arundel and Midshipman Fogarty were never found. On 29 November 1956 Captain Harding RAASC and Petty Officer Maby flew over Jervis Bay and dropped a wreath at the site where S/Lt Arundel and Midshipman Fogarty perished. On this day they flew a Fleet Air Arm Sycamore helicopter XA220.

In 1983, local Charlie Pickering found VX381. It is intact, apart from some gauges stolen since then. With a wingspan of 13 metres and length of 12 metres, this is not a huge site and its shallow depth of 13 metres means that it is a dive you do using the remains of one tank. The wings sit flat on the sand or even under the sand at times. The fuselage sticks up from the sand and you can look into the cockpit. The other plane has yet to be located, although some people claim to have found it over the years.

Another borrowed page from Michael McFadyen - Devilfish Diving Services