Boulton Paul Defiant, copyright RAF Museum Hendon

This RAF aircraft turned out to be a real lemon. It had a strange configuration. In outline, the aircraft resembled a slightly oversized Hurricane but its feature was a Boulton Paul power operated turret with four Browning machine guns operated by an air gunner and the whole thing situated just behind the pilot. The aircraft had no forward firing armament at all, except for the turret which could be aligned to fire forward over the pilot’s head, an arrangement which was never actually to be used in combat.

In combat the aircraft proved a death trap. It could not hold its own against German fighters. It first saw service over the beaches of Dunkirk during the evacuation of the BEF. It had one initial day of success. This was before German pilots had recognised the aircraft’s features. The rear firing gun came as a surprise. But the Luftwaffe was ready for it the next time it appeared. When its initial element of surprise had worn off concerning its peculiar configuration, it was the equivalent of a dead duck.

It was never a popular machine with Dowding; Fighter Command only had two squadrons equipped with them: 141 and 264. They were withdrawn from frontline service by day early in August, and relegated to a role as night fighters.