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The 'Whispering Death'
The Bristol Beaufighter two-seat fighter prototype first flew in July 1939 and the Mark I entered squadron service with the Royal Air Force in September 1940. A development of the Bristol Beaufort torpedo-bomber, it proved to be a most versatile and successful aircraft. Originally employed in November 1940 as night-fighters in the United Kingdom and fitted with AI (Airborne Interception) equipment, Beaufighters I-F had appeared in North Africa by 1941 as day-fighters.
Axis shipping in the Mediterranean was soon to feel the Beaufighter's firepower and it soon proved its versatility by being adapted as a torpedo-bomber to carry one 18-inch (457-mm) torpedo in the 1C version. The formidable armament of the Mark 1 consisted of four 20-mm cannon in the nose and four .303-inch (7.7-mm) machine-guns in the starboard and two in the port wings.
No theatres of war were without the Beaufighter. It flew in India, the Mediterranean, in the Pacific where its near-silent approach led to the Japanese naming it 'Whispering Death'. In Europe it flew intruder missions. In Italy the United States Army Air Force used it as a night fighter. The RAF's Coastal Command and the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm operated the aircraft, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand Air Forces flew it, the latter fitting .50-inch (12.7-mm) cannon.
Powered by two Bristol Hercules XI 1,670 hp (1,215 kw) radials giving it a speed of 303 mph (480 kph), the Mark I was followed by the Mark II in 1941 which had twin Merlin XX 1,280 hp (954 kw) engines to enable the production of Hercules engines to be directed to increase Stirling bomber production. Other major Marks of the Beaufighter were the VI rocket-firing version with a Vickers K machine-gun in the dorsal turret used mainly in the Far East, and the Mark X torpedo- and rocket-attack aircraft with eight rocket projectiles and two 250 1b (113 kg) bombs. The X also carried the distinctive AI nose thimble and dorsal tail fin. A total of 5,662 Beaufighters had been produced by September 1945.
Specifications of the Mark VI:
Span: 17.6 m (57 ft 10 in) Length: 12.7 m (41 ft 8 in) Gross weight: 9,797 kg (21,600 lbs) Range: 2,382 km (1,480 miles) Ceiling: 8,077 m (26,500 ft).