A fighter-bomber is a fighter aircraft
that has been modified, or used primarily, as a light bomber
or attack aircraft
. It differs from bomber and attack aircraft primarily in its origins, as a fighter that has been adapted into other roles, whereas bombers and attack aircraft are developed specifically for bombing and attack roles.
Although still used, the term fighter-bomber has less significance since the introduction of rocket
s and guided missile
s into aerial warfare
. Modern aircraft with similar duties are now typically called multirole combat aircraft
or strike fighter
thumb|right|A Supermarine Spitfire
Mk. IX in [[Longues-sur-Mer, Normandy (1944). It carries a 500 lb bomb under the fuselage and a 250 lb bomb under each wing.]]
Prior to [[World War II]], general limitations in available Aircraft engine|engine
and aeronautical technology
required that each proposed military aircraft
have its design tailored to a specific prescribed role. Engine
power grew dramatically during the early period of the war, roughly doubling between 1939 and 1943. The Bristol Blenheim
, a typical light bomber
of the opening stages of the war, was originally designed in 1934 as a fast civil transport to meet a challenge by Lord Rothermere
, owner of the Daily Mail
. It had two Bristol Mercury
XV radial engine
s of 920 hp each, a crew of three, and its payload was just 1,200 lbs of bombs. The Blenheim suffered disastrous losses over France in 1939 when it encountered Messerschmitt Bf 109
s, and light bombers were quickly withdrawn.
[Warner, G. ''The Bristol Blenheim: A Complete History''. London: Crécy Publishing, 2nd edition 2005. .]
In contrast, the Vought F4U Corsair fighter
—which entered service in December 1942—had in common with its eventual U.S. Navy stablemate, the Grumman F6F Hellcat
and the massive, seven-ton USAAF Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
—a single Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp
radial engine of 2,000 hp in a much smaller, simpler and less expensive single-seat aircraft, and was the first aircraft design to ever fly with the Double Wasp engine in May 1940. With less airframe and crew to lift, the Corsair's ordnance
load was either four High Velocity Aircraft Rocket
s or 2,000 lbs of bombs; a later version could carry eight rockets or 4,000 lbs of bombs. The massive, powerful 18-cylinder Double Wasp engine weighed almost a ton—half as much again as the V12 Rolls-Royce Merlin
and twice as much as the 9-cylinder Bristol Mercury
that powered some heavy fighter
Increased engine power meant that many existing fighter designs could carry useful bomb loads, and adapt to the fighter-bomber role. Notable examples include the Focke-Wulf Fw 190
, Hawker Typhoon
and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
. Various bombing
tactics and techniques could also be used: some designs were intended for high-level bombing
, others for low-level semi-horizontal bombing, or even for low-level steep dive bombing
as exemplified by the Blackburn Skua
and North American A-36 Apache
Larger twin-engined aircraft were also used in the fighter-bomber role, especially where longer ranges were needed for naval strikes. Examples include the Lockheed P-38 Lightning
, the Bristol Beaufighter
(developed from a torpedo bomber
), and de Havilland Mosquito
(developed from an unarmed fast bomber). The Beaufighter MkV had a Boulton-Paul
turret with four 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns mounted aft of the cockpit but only two were built. Bristol's Blenheim was even pushed into service as a fighter during the Battle of Britain
but it was not fast enough. Equipped with an early Airborne Interception (AI) radar set, however, it proved to be an effective night fighter.
First World War
The first single seat fighters to drop bombs were on the Western Front
, when fighter patrols were issued with bombs and ordered to drop them at random if they met no German fighters. The Sopwith Camel
, the most successful Allied aircraft of the First World War with 1,294 enemy aircraft downed, was losing its edge by 1918, especially over 12,000 ft. During the final German offensive in March 1918, it dropped 25 lb Cooper bombs
on advancing columns: whilst puny by later standards, the four fragmentation bombs carried by a Camel could cause serious injuries to exposed troops. Pilot casualties were also high.
[Davis, Mick. ''Sopwith Aircraft''; Crowood Press, Marlborough England, 1999 ]
The Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5
. was used in the same role.
The Royal Flying Corps received the first purpose-built fighter-bomber just as the war was ending. It was not called a fighter bomber at the time, but a Trench Fighter
as that was what it was designed to attack. The Sopwith Salamander
was based on the Sopwith Snipe
fighter but had armour plating in the nose to protect the pilot and fuel system from ground fire. Originally it was intended to have two machine guns jutting through the cockpit floor so as to spray trenches with bullets as it passed low overhead. But this did not work and it was fitted with four Cooper bombs, instead. It was ordered in very large numbers, but most were cancelled after the Armistice
In February and April 1918 the Royal Flying Corps conducted bombing tests at Orfordness
, Suffolk dropping dummy bombs at various dive angles at a flag stuck into a shingle beach. Both WW1 fighter bombers were used with novice and experienced pilots. Best results were achieved with a vertical dive into the wind using the Aldis Sight
to align the aircraft. But they were not considered good enough to justify the expected casualty rate.
Second World War
When war broke out in Europe, Western Allied Air Forces employed light twin-engined bombers in the tactical role for low level attack. These were found to be extremely vulnerable both to ground fire and to single engine fighters. The German and Japanese Air Forces had chosen dive bombers which were similarly vulnerable. The Ilyushin Il-2
is a heavily armoured two seat single-engine ground attack aircraft. It first flew a month later although few had reached the Soviet Air Force
in time for Operation Barbarossa
. Naval forces chose both torpedo and dive bombers. None of these could be considered as fighter bombers as they could not combat fighters.
During the Battle of Britain
, the ''Luftwaffe'' conducted fighter-bomber attacks on the United Kingdom
from September to December 1940. A larger fighter-bomber campaign was conducted against the UK from March 1942 until June 1943. These operations were successful in tying down Allied resources at a relatively low cost to the Luftwaffe, but the British Government regarded the campaign as a nuisance given the small scale of the individual raids.
In August 1941, RAF pilots reported encountering a very fast radial engine
fighter over France. First thought to be captured French Curtiss 75 Mohawk
s, they turned out to be Focke-Wulf Fw 190
s, slightly faster and more heavily armed than the current Spitfire V. Kurt Tank
had designed the aircraft when the Spitfire and Bf 109 were the fastest fighters flying; he called them racehorses, fast but fragile. As a former World War I cavalryman, Tank chose to design a warhorse. With a BMW 801 radial engine
, wide set undercarriage and two 20mm cannons as well as machine guns it became a better fighter-bomber than either of the pure fighters.
By mid-1942, the first of these "Jagdbombers" (literally "fighter" or "hunter" bomber, known for short as "Jabos") were operating over Kent
. On October 31, 60 Fw 190s bombed Canterbury
with only one aircraft lost, killing 32 civilians and injuring 116, in the largest raid since the Blitz
. Flying at sea level, under the radar, these raids were hard to intercept. The Jabos reached the Eastern Front
in time to bomb Russian positions in Stalingrad
. By July 1943 Fw 190s were replacing the vulnerable Stukas over the Battle of Kursk
: although winning the air war, they were unable to prevent subsequent Red Army
On New Year's Day 1945 in Operation Bodenplatte
, over 1,000 aircraft (including more than 600 Fw 190s) launched a last-ditch attempt to destroy Allied planes on the ground in support of the Battle of the Bulge
. Allied fighter aircraft and fighter-bomber losses were downplayed, at the time. Seventeen airfields were targeted, of which seven lost many aircraft. Surprise was complete as the few Ultra
intercepts had not been understood. At the worst hit, the Canadian base at Eindhoven, 26 Typhoons and 6 Spitfires were destroyed and another 30 Typhoons damaged. In total, 305 aircraft, mostly fighters and fighter-bombers were destroyed and another 190 damaged. The Luftwaffe lost 143 pilots killed, 71 captured and 20 wounded, making the worst one day loss in its history; it never recovered.
The Bristol Blenheim
and Douglas A-20 Havoc
(which the RAF called Boston) were used as night fighters during the Blitz
, as they could carry the heavy early airborne radars
The Hawker Henley
, a two-seat version of the Battle of Britain
-winning Hawker Hurricane
, was designed as a dive bomber. It might have proved to be a capable fighter-bomber but overheating of its Rolls-Royce Merlin
engine in this installation led to its relegation to a target tug role, where it could match the speed of the German bombers whilst towing a drone.
In 1934, the British Air Ministry
called for a carrier aircraft which could combine the roles of dive bomber and fighter, to save limited space on small carriers. The Blackburn Skua
was not expected to encounter land-based fighters but was to intercept long-range bombers attacking the fleet and also to sink ships. As a two-seater it could not fight the Messerschmitt Bf 109
on equal terms. But the second seat carried a radio operator with a homing device that could find the carrier even when it had moved, in foul North Sea weather. It achieved one of the first kills of the war, when three from HMS ''Ark Royal''
downed a German Dornier Do 18
flying boat over the North Sea.
On April 10, 1940, 16 Skuas operating from RNAS Hatston in Orkney under Commander William Lucy
sank the German cruiser ''Königsberg''
which was tied to a mole in Bergen harbour. The Germans recorded five hits or near misses and as the ship started to sink, electric power failed, dooming the ship. The German cruiser ''Köln''
had departed during the night.
With the failing of the Hawker Henley
and the gradual fading of the Hawker Hurricane
's performance compared to the latest German fighters, it was modified to carry four 20mm cannon and two 500 lb bombs; once bombs were jettisoned the aircraft could put up a reasonable fight. Inevitably the type became known in the RAF as the “Hurribomber”, reaching squadrons in June 1941.
It was soon found that it was hardly possible to hit fast moving Panzers in the Western Desert
, with bombs and cannon fire making little impact on their armour. Daylight bombing raids were made on the French and Belgian coasts, targeting mostly oil and gas works. Losses were heavy, often more than the numbers of enemy fighters destroyed. By May 1942 Hurricane IICs with 40-gallon drop tanks were intruding at night over France. On the night of May 4–5, Czech pilot Karel Kuttelwascher
flying from RAF Tangmere
with No 1 Squadron
shot down three Dornier Do 17
s as they slowed to land at Saint-André-de-Bohon
after raiding England.
On September 25, 1942, the Gestapo
HQ in Oslo was attacked
by four de Havilland Mosquito
es, which had flown over the North Sea below 100 ft by dead reckoning
navigation from RAF Leuchars
, Scotland, carrying four 500 lb bombs each. The next day the RAF unveiled its new fast bomber. On December 31, 1944 the same aircraft was used against the same target, this time from RAF Peterhead
in Scotland, flying high and diving on to the building. In February 1941 the Mosquito with two Rolls-Royce Merlin
engines and a streamlined wooden fuselage achieved 392 mph, 30 mph faster than the current Spitfire. It was used on all kinds of missions, including silencing Hermann Göring
's Berlin Nazi anniversary broadcast on January 20, 1943, leading him to tell Erhard Milch, Air Inspector General that “when I see the Mosquito I am yellow and green with envy. (The British) have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops.”
Initially used for high-level photo-reconnaissance, the Mosquito was adapted to precision bombing, night fighter and fighter bomber roles. It was built in Canada and Australia as well as the UK. Fitted with a British Army Ordnance QF 6 pounder gun
it could sink U-boats found on the surface. On April 9, 1945, three were sunk en route to Norway and in the following month Mosquitos sank two more.
The Hawker Typhoon
was being designed as a replacement for the Hurricane in March 1937 before production had even started. The reason was to take advantage of the new 2,000 hp engines then being planned, either the Napier Sabre
or Rolls-Royce Vulture
which required a larger airframe than the nimble Hurricane. At prototype stage, there were problems with the new engines and stability of the aircraft itself, which led the Minister of Aircraft Production
, Lord Beaverbrook
to decree that production must focus on Spitfires and Hurricanes.
The Typhoon disappointed as a fighter, especially at altitude but found its true niche as a fighter bomber from September 1942. It was fitted with racks to carry two 500 lb and then two 1,000 lb bombs. By September 1943 it was fitted with eight RP-3 rocket
s each with a 60 lb warhead, equivalent to the power of a naval destroyer's broadside.
Claims of German tanks destroyed by rocket armed Typhoons in Normandy after D-Day were exaggerated. In Operation Goodwood
, the attempt by British and Canadian forces to surround Caen
of 75 tanks recorded as lost by the Germans, only 10 were found to be due to rocket-firing Typhoons.
At Mortain, where the German counter-offensive Operation Lüttich
came within 2 miles of cutting through US forces to Avranches
, Typhoons destroyed 9 of 46 tanks lost but were more effective against unarmoured vehicles and troops and cause the armoured vehicles to seek cover. General Dwight D. Eisenhower
, the Supreme Allied Commander, said "The chief credit in smashing the enemy's spearhead, however, must go to the rocket-firing Typhoon aircraft of the Second Tactical Air Force
. The result of the strafing was that the enemy attack was effectively brought to a halt, and a threat was turned into a great victory".
The disparity between claims and actual destruction at about 25-1 owed much to the difficulty of hitting a fast-moving tank with an unguided rocket, even from a stable aircraft like the Typhoon. But soft targets were simpler. When the 51st Highland Division
moved to block German panzers reaching Antwerp in the Battle of the Bulge Tommy Macpherson
saw a half-track full of SS. All were uninjured, powerful men over 6 ft tall. All were dead, killed by the air blast from a Typhoon rocket.
The Bristol Beaufighter
was a long range twin engine heavy fighter derived from the Bristol Beaufort
torpedo bomber but with the 1600 hp Bristol Hercules
radial engine to give it a top speed 50 mph faster. By late 1942 the Beaufighter was also capable of carrying torpedoes or rockets. The main user was RAF Coastal Command
although it was also used in the Royal Australian Air Force
with some aircraft assembled in Australia and by the USAAF
[Goulter, Christina J. M.A Forgotten Offensive: Royal Air Force Coastal Command’s Anti-shipping Campaign, 1940–1945:1995;Frank Cass, London: ]
Over 30 Beaufighters flying from RAF Dallachy
in Scotland from Australian, British, Canadian and New Zealand squadrons attacked the German destroyer Z33
sheltering in Førde Fjord
Norway. They were escorted by only 10 to 12 North American P-51 Mustang
s. German destroyers escorted convoys of Swedish iron ore, which in winter were forced to creep along the Atlantic Coast by night, hiding deep inside fjords by day. Z33 was moored close to the vertical cliffside of the fjords so Beaufighters had to attack singly with rockets without the normal tactic of having simultaneous attacks by other Beaufighters firing cannon at the numerous flak gunners. Twelve Focke-Wulf Fw 190
s surprised the Mustangs and Norway's biggest ever air battle was soon raging. Nine Beaufighters and one Mustang were lost as were five Fw 190s. The destroyer was damaged and February 9, 1945 became known as Black Friday
Typhoons were involved in one of the worst tragedies at the end of the war, when four squadrons attacked the luxury liners SS ''Deutschland''
and the SS ''Cap Arcona''
and two smaller ships SS ''Athen''
and SS ''Thielbek''
moored off Neustadt in Lübeck Bay
The ''Cap Arcona'' had 4,500 concentration camp inmates and the ''Thielbek'' another 2,800 as well as SS Guards. The ''Deutschland'' had a Red Cross flag painted on at least one funnel. The previous day the Captain of the ''Cap Arcona'' refused to take any more inmates on board. On return to shore in long boats they were gunned down by Hitler Jugend
, SS Guards
and German Marines
. Of an estimated 14,500 victims in the area two days earlier only 1,450 survived.
The Hawker Tempest
was a development of the Typhoon using the thin wing with an aerofoil developed by NACA
and a more powerful version of the Napier Sabre
engine, giving a top speed of 432 mph. At low level it was faster than any other Allied or German aircraft, but slower than the Spitfire above 22,000 ft. Fitted with four 20mm cannon it was a formidable fighter, respected even by Messerschmitt Me 262
jet fighter pilots as their most dangerous opponent. At its debut over the Normandy Beaches
+2, Tempests shot down three German fighters, without loss. Tempests supported the ambitious attempt to capture the bridge at Arnhem in Operation Market Garden
in mid-September 1944. David C. Fairbanks
, an American who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force
was the top Tempest ace with 12 victories including an Arado Ar 234
General Henry H. Arnold
, Chief of the United States Army Air Forces
, urged the adoption of the Mosquito by the U.S. but was overruled by those who felt that the as yet untried Lockheed P-38 Lightning
also twin-engined, could fulfill the same role. Although the Lightning got its name from the RAF, the British eventually rejected it. Too slow and cumbersome to match Bf 109s as an escort fighter over Germany, it did fly over Normandy as a fighter bomber, where one tried skip-bombing
a 1,000 lb bomb through the door of Field Marshal Günther von Kluge
's OB West
HQ. A Lightning squadron also killed Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
over Bougainville in the Pacific acting on an Ultra
The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
was a larger, evolutionary development of the P-43/P-44
fighter undertaken after the United States Army Air Forces
observed Messerschmitt Bf 109
s performing in the Battle of Britain
. It was a massive aircraft built around the powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp
engine, and weighed up to eight tons with ordnance. The P-47 was twice as heavy and had four times the fuselage size of a Spitfire. Armed with eight .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning
machine guns it could outshoot any enemy fighter, and as a fighter-bomber it could carry half the bomb load of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
or 10 five inch High Velocity Aircraft Rocket
The first pilots to fly the Thunderbolt from England were Americans who had been flying Spitfires in the RAF before the U.S. joined the war. They were not impressed initially; the Thunderbolt lost out to the more nimble Spitfire so consistently in mock dogfights that these encounters were eventually banned. But by November 25, 1943 Thunderbolts had found their true niche, attacking a Luftwaffe airfield at Saint-Omer
near Calais, France. On October 13, 1944 a Thunderbolt from 9th Air Force
damaged the German Torpedoboot Ausland
''38'' (formerly the Italian 750 ton torpedo boat ''Spada)'' so badly near Trieste with gunfire alone that the ship was scuttled.
The Vought F4U Corsair
was built around the same Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp
engine as the Thunderbolt, but for the U.S. Navy
. Difficulties with carrier landings meant that the first aircraft were used by the United States Marine Corps
from Henderson Field, Guadalcanal
from February 12, 1943. In its first combat action, the following day over Kahili airfield
two Corsairs and eight other aircraft were lost when attacked by 50 Mitsubishi A6M Zero
s. This became known as the St Valentine's Day massacre. Despite this initiation the Corsair soon proved to be an effective fighter bomber, mostly flown by the Marine Corps, but also by the United States Navy
, Fleet Air Arm
and Royal New Zealand Air Force
in the Pacific theater.
When the British Purchasing Commission
invited James H. Kindelberger
, President of North American Aviation
, to assemble the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
in an underutilized plant, he promised a better fighter on the same timing. The resulting North American P-51 Mustang
powered by a Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin
engine became the outstanding long-range fighter of the war. When Lend-lease
funding for the RAF Mustangs was exhausted, Kindelberger tried to interest the USAAC
but no funds were available for a fighter; instead the Mustang was fitted with dive brakes and emerged as the North American A-36 Apache
, a dive bomber almost as fast as the Mustang itself. By April 1943 USAAF
Apaches were in Morocco supporting Operation Torch
, and they continued bombing trains and gun emplacements northwards through Italy.
When Soviet-backed North Korea attacked South Korea
on June 25, 1950, their forces quickly routed the South Korean army which lacked tanks, anti-tank and heavy artillery. Its Air Force had 22 planes, none of which were fighters, or jets. During a Soviet boycott of the United Nations
, a vote was carried without Soviet veto, to intervene in support of the South. Most readily available were U.S. and British Commonwealth forces occupying Japan and the Pacific fleets. The first arrivals were fighter-bombers, which helped to repulse the Northern attack on the vital port of Pusan
, the last small territory held by the South. Some strategists felt that air and battleship strikes alone could halt the invasion.
USAF North American F-82 Twin Mustang
s had the range to reach the front line from Japanese bases. The last piston-engined aircraft, produced in the U.S., it looked like two Mustangs, with two pilots in separate fuselages, bolted together. Initially intended to escort bombers over Japan from remote Pacific island bases, hence its long range, it missed WWII and first saw action in Korea. Plain North American P-51 Mustang
s of the Royal Australian Air Force
soon also flew across from Japan.
Vought F4U Corsair
s and Hawker Sea Fury
s from U.S., British and Australian carriers in the Yellow Sea and later from Korean airfields, also attacked the Pusan perimeter. The Sea Fury, a development of the Hawker Tempest
had a Bristol Centaurus
engine of 2,480 hp giving a 485 mph top speed, one of the fastest piston-engined aircraft ever built. Initially United Nations air forces using piston-engined fighter-bombers and straight wing jet fighters easily drove the North Koreans out of the sky and so disrupted logistics and hence the attack on Pusan.
All changed when the Soviet Air Force
intervened with swept-wing Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15
s flown by Russian pilots on November 1. The planes had Korean markings and the pilots had been taught a few Korean words, in a thin sham that the USSR was not fighting. The MiG-15 used captured German swept wing technology and tools
and British jet engines,
25 of which had been a gift from Stafford Cripps
the president of the Board of Trade
and were quickly copied. Josef Stalin
remarked “What fool will sell us his secrets?” The MiG's Rolls-Royce Nene had 5,000 lb thrust, twice as much as the jets of its main British and US opponents, which used the older Rolls-Royce Derwent
design. Only the Navy Grumman F9F Panther
used a version of the Nene and could match the MiG-15, accounting for seven during November.
Daylight heavy bomber raids over North Korea ceased and the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star
and its all-weather variant the Lockheed F-94 Starfire
were focused on bombing missions whilst the North American F-86 Sabre
was rushed to Korea to combat the MiG-15s. There is much debate as to which was the better fighter. Recent research suggests a 13-10 advantage to the Sabre against Russian pilots, but the US pilots were mostly WWII veterans whilst the Russians were often “volunteers” with only a few hours aloft. The Australians converted from Mustangs to Gloster Meteor
fighter-bombers, the first Allied jet fighter of WWII but no match for a MiG-15. It was pressed into combat but after four were lost when the squadron was bounced by 40 Mig-15s, reverted to ground attack, carrying 16 60 lb rockets. Although Meteors shot down 6 MiG-15s, 30 were lost, but mainly to ground fire.
[Butler, Phil and Tony Buttler. ''Gloster Meteor: Britain's Celebrated First-Generation Jet''. Hersham, Surrey, UK: Midland Publishing, 2007. ]
Both Corsairs and Sea Furies also shot down MiG-15s, but were vulnerable to the faster jet.
Fighter-bombers became increasingly important in the 1950s and 1960s, as new jet engine
s dramatically improved the power of even the smallest fighter designs. Many aircraft initially designed as fighters or interceptors
found themselves in the fighter-bomber role at some point in their career. Notable among these is the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter
, first designed as a high-performance day fighter
and then adapted to the nuclear strike
role for European use. Another such aircraft was the Indian HAL HF-24 Marut
. It was used during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
, and only three aircraft were lost to ground fire. One aerial kill recorded by Marut flown by Squadron Leader K.K. Bakshi of 220 Squadron shot down a PAF F-86 Sabre
on 7 Dec 71 (Flag Officer Hamid Khwaja of 15 Squadron PAF). Other U.S. examples include the North American F-100 Super Sabre
and (perhaps most famously) the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II
, each of which were widely used during the Vietnam War
* Dive bomber
* Light bomber
* Tactical bombing
* Attack aircraft
* Multirole combat aircraft
* Strike fighter