Blackburn Roc

Meeting the requirements of specification O.30/35, the Blackburn Roc was essentially a fighter variant of the Blackburn Skua shipboard dive-bomber. The design and construction of the two aircraft were fundamentally the same, with the Roc differing from its stablemate in having a slightly wider fuselage (to accommodate a Boulton-Paul "A" power-driven turret equipped with four 0.303-in Browning machine guns), and with an increased wing dihedral.

A contract for 136 aircraft was placed on April 28, 1937 with manufacture sub-contracted to the Boulton-Paul Company. The first three production machines (L3057-3059) served as the prototypes, with the first of these making its maiden flight on December 23, 1938. The third aircraft (L3059) being experimentally fitted with twin floats to specification 20/37, being completed in this form in December 1939.

The weight and drag of the turret was soon found to seriously impair performance. Attempts to rectify this by fitting a larger propeller and various other means all proved unsuccessful. After a brief period in front-line service the Rocs were soon relegated to second-line duties. Like its Royal Air Force counterpart, the Boulton-Paul Defiant, the concept of a two-seat single-engined turret fighter proved to be faulty. The idea of bringing a quartet of machine guns to bear on enemy bombers proving to be tactically unsound.

The Blackburn Roc entered service with the Fleet Air Arms No.806 Squadron in February 1940. This Squadron would ultimately operate four Rocs and eight Skuas but after the Norwegian campaign it would be re-equipped with Fairey Fulmars. In June 1940 six Rocs joined No.801 Squadron, serving there until 1941 when this Squadron converted to Sea-Hurricanes. Neither of these Squadrons ever operated their Rocs from an aircraft carrier. Thereafter the Rocs were withdrawn from front-line service and subsequently employed (some with their turrets removed) in such second-line duties as trainers and target-tugs (No.2 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit receiving sixteen Rocs for the latter role in June 1940).

The last Roc (L3192) rolling off the line in August 1940, by which time it was already apparent that it was entirely unsuitable for front-line service. Four machines were converted to seaplanes fitted with floats from the Blackburn Shark biplane, but all this did was to reduce maximum speed by a further 30 m.p.h and seriously affected stability, particularly in low altitude turns. Others were converted into Target tugs, with their gun turrets removed and replaced by a winch capable of streaming a target with 6, 000 ft of cable at an altitude of 10000 ft. One unusual role found for the Roc occurred when four machines were damaged during a Stuka Raid-These were turned into ground machine-gun posts with their turrets permanently manned. The Roc remained in service until August 1943 at various bases in the UK and Bermuda, the last two machines finally being withdrawn through lack if spares.

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