Share This Article

Largely forgotten is that one squadron of Defiants was among the world’s first effective electronic countermeasure units

The U.S. had its Brewster Buffalo, and the Brits were stuck with the Boulton Paul Defiant—two off-brand, single-engine World War II aircraft that have long been mythologized as failures. Yet the Finns managed to use lightened Buffalos successfully against stiff Soviet opposition, and the Defiant’s sorry record against Me-109 fighters was the result of a mission never intended for it. The Defiant also had a worthy second career as a night fighter during the 1940 London Blitz. Largely forgotten is that one squadron of Defiants was among the world’s first effective electronic countermeasures units, carrying radar-jamming and spoofing equipment in support of RAF cross-Channel raids in 1942-43.

Only one intact Defiant remains. Since 1971, it had been a shabby part of the Royal Air Force Museum’s collection in Hendon, northwest of London. A complete three-year renovation of the Defiant by the all-volunteer Medway Aircraft Preservation Society has returned it to exhibit-worthy condition through the repair of some landing-gear and battle damage; much detail work; a complete rebuild of its formerly inoperative four-gun power turret, a potent unit that was unfortunately the airplane’s only armament; and accurate repainting in the exact black of its original night-fighting operator, the Polish No. 307 “City of Lwow” Squadron.

The Defiant was initially intended to attack Luftwaffe bombers over England, which would have been beyond the range of fighter escorts operating from German bases. Had this been the case (nobody planned on French airstrips being available to Messerschmitts just across the Channel), Defiants would probably have done well, their pilots able to maneuver their gunners into position for broadsides from four .303-caliber Brownings, despite the considerable weight and limited traverse of the turret.

Defiants had some initial successes over Dunkirk during the BEF’s famous evacuation, but the Luftwaffe figured out literally overnight that they could attack them utterly unopposed from directly astern and below, and the Defiant’s career as a so-called “turret fighter” was over.