Bristol Beaufighter - Variants and Stats


Early in the development process it became apparent that the Beaufighter would be an ideal night fighter. That duty was being carried out by Blenheim Mk IFs, which lacked the speed needed to catch the modern German bombers. The faster Hurricanes and Spitfires did not have the room to carry AI radar equipment, and so could only wander around the sky hoping to get lucky.

The Beaufighter fuselage clearly had the space for the AI Mk IV then in use. This required the addition of an “arrow head” aerial on the nose, with the radar scope back in the operator’s position.

Bristol Beaufighter
Bristol Beaufighter
As an AI equipped night fighter, the Beaufighter needed to carry very heavy armament. It could take half an hour to get one chance to fire at the target, and so that chance had to count. Accordingly the Beaufighter was given four 20mm cannon, located under the nose. All but the first 50 aircraft also had six .303in machine guns, two in the port wing and four in the starboard wing. This made it the most heavily armed British fighter of the war, with a total of ten guns.

The AI equipped Beaufighter entered service with the Fighter Interception Unit, flying its first sortie on 4/5 September 1940. The first confirmed kill came on 25 October, and was scored by No. 219 Squadron, but the first AI assisted kill had to wait until 19 November. During the Blitz of 1940-41 the AI equipped night fighters were learning how to use their new equipment, but although they were not yet fully effective, their presence in the air was reassuring. They started to come into their own early in 1941, and by May they were able to inflict heavy losses on German raiders.


The Mk IC was developed for Coastal Command duties. The main difference at this early stage was that the Mk IC was equipped with 50 gallon “slipper” fuel tanks, developed for the Vickers Wellington. The aircraft was also equipped with a navigator’s table and direction finding equipment, essential for long range duties over the sea. The first Mk ICs entered service with No. 242 Squadron from March 1941, moving to the Mediterranean in May.


Plans of Bristol Beaufighter
Plans of Bristol Beaufighter

The Mk II was developed as insurance against any problems with the supply of Hercules engines. It used the Rolls Royce Merlin XX, which provided less power than the Hercules, and so the performance of the aircraft was reduced. Despite this, 447 Mk IIs were built, entering service from April 1941.


The Mk III was a proposed version of the Beaufighter with an even slimmer fuselage. It would have been powered by the Hercules VI radial engine. None were built.


The Mk IV was similar to the Mk III, but with Rolls Royce Griffon engines. Like the Mk III, none were built.

Mk V

The Mk V was an experimental version that saw the Beaufighter given a Boulton Paul Type A Turret, as used in the Defiant. The turret replaced all of the wing mounted machine guns and two of the cannon. It was intended for use in the night fighter role, allowing the Beaufighter to attack from below, the blind spot for most bombers. Two Mk Vs were built, and saw limited squadron service during the summer of 1941. However, the increased flexibility offered by the turret did not make up for the reduced performance and actual firepower of the aircraft, and no more Mk Vs were built.


Bristol Beaufighter Mk.IV of No.29 Squadron
Bristol Beaufighter Mk.VI of No.29 Squadron

The Mk VIF was powered by the Hercules VI, providing 1,670hp. The more powerful engine had a bigger impact on the Beaufighter's ability to carry heavy loads than on its top speed, which only increased by 10mph. However, the extra power allowed the Mk VIF to be equipped with bomb racks, allowing it to carry two 250lb bombs. A rear firing Vickers K gun was fitted to the observer’s canopy. The Mk VI could also carry another 74 gallons of fuel, increasing its range by 350 miles. The Mk VIF began to use the AI Mk VI or Mk VII, centimetric radar that gave significantly clearer radar signals, but required a thimble shaped radome on the nose to carry the new radar aerials.


The Mk VIC was the Coastal Command version of the Mk VI. In order to provide better low level performance, Bristol modified the Hercules VI to produce the Hercules XVII, modifying the impellers and blowers to increase low level power. More importantly, tests on the Beaufighter revealed that it could easily carry a standard 18 inch torpedo. The “Torbeau” would eventually replaced the Bristol Beaufort as the main land based torpedo bomber in British service. The Mk VIC could equipped to carry either the torpedo or the under wing bombs, but could not easily swap between them – that capacity would have to wait until the appearance of the Mk X.


This was a proposed version using the Hercules VIII engine with four bladed propellers. It was not built.

Mk VIII and IX

These designations were allocated for possible Australian production, but never used.

Mk X

Bristol Beaufighter X of No.19 Squadron SAAF
Bristol Beaufighter X of No.19 Squadron SAAF
The TF Mk X (Torpedo Fighter) was the ultimate strike aircraft version of the Beaufighter. It first appeared in May 1943, and eventually 2,205 Mk Xs were produced, 40% of total UK production. The Mk X was powered by the low altitude Hercules XVII engine, which gave it better performance at the low levels at which it operated.

The Mk X could carry a wide variety of munitions. Under the fuselage it could carry either a standard torpedo or two 500lb bombs. Under the wings it could carry two 250lb bombs, or eventually two 1,000lbs on wings developed for the Mk XII. It could also carry eight 90lb rockets on rails under the outer wings.

TT Mk 10

In the post-war period thirty four Mk Xs were converted to perform target tug towing duties, as the TT Mk 10. Work was complete by 1950. A TT Mk 10 flew the final Beaufighter sortie for the RAF on 12 May 1960.


The Mk XI was similar to the Mk X in most ways, except that it lacked the ability to carry a torpedo.


The Mk XII would have been a version of the Beaufighter powered by Hercules 27 engines, but a shortage of the correct carburettor forced the cancellation of the project. However, the stronger wings that had been designed for the Mk XII, which allowed it to carry two 1,000lb bombs, were used in late production Mk Xs.

Mk 21

The Mk 21 was a variant of the Mk X constructed in Australia. The first Mk 21 flew on 26 May 1944 and 364 were completed between then and the end of 1945. The main differences between the Mk X and the Mk 21 were the use of a Sperry auto pilot, altering the shape of the nose, and the use of four .50in Browning machine guns in the wings in place of the six .303in guns carried by the Mk X. The Mk 21 entered services with No. 30 and 31 Squadrons of the RAAF, and briefly with No. 93. The Mk 21 remained in Australian service until 1957.


Engine: Two Bristol Hercules XI engines
Horsepower: 1,500 with 100 octane fuel
Max Speed: 321 mph at 15,800 feet
Ceiling: 26,500 feet
Range: 1,170 miles at 5,000ft at 182 mph
Span: 57ft 10in
Length: 41ft 8in
Armament: Four 20mm cannon under fuselage, six .303in machine guns in wings, all forward firing.

Engine: Two Rolls Royce Merlin XX twelve cylinder liquid cooled engines
Horsepower: 1,250
Max Speed: 301 mph at 20,200ft, 283 mph at 15,000 ft
Range: 1,040 miles at 10,000ft at 177 mph
Armament: Four 20mm cannon under fuselage, six .303in machine guns in wings, all forward firing.

Engine: Two Bristol Hercules VI engines
Horsepower: 1,670
Max Speed: 333mph at 15,600 feet
Cruising Speed: 243 mph

Engine: Two Bristol Hercules XVIII radial piston engines
Horsepower: 1,770hp
Max Speed: 303 mph at 1,300ft
Cruising Speed: 249 mph at 5,000ft
Ceiling: 15,000ft
Range: 1,470 miles
Span: 57ft 10in
Length: 41ft 8in
Armament: Four 20mm cannon under fuselage, six .303in machine guns in wings, all forward firing. One 0.303in Vickers “K” gun in dorsal position.
Bomb load: One torpedo and either two 250lb bombs or eight 90lb rockets

Mk 21
Engine: Two Bristol Hercules VIII radial engines
Horsepower: 1,720
Speed: 323 mph
Ceiling: 26,500 feet
Range: 1,500 miles
Armament: Four 20mm cannon under the nose and four .50in Browning machine guns in the wings.

Production Figures
Mk IF: 557
Mk IC: 397
Mk IIF: 450
Mk V: 2
Mk VI: 1,830
Mk X: 2,205
Mk XI: 163
Total: 5,562 (Britain)

Mk 21 (Australia): 364

Bristol Beaufighter, Jerry Scutts (Crowood Aviation). A detailed look at the development and service career of the Bristol Beaufighter, the first dedicated night fighter to enter RAF Service. Superceded by the Mosquito in that role, the Beaufighter went on to serve as a deadly anti-shipping weapon, and to earn the nickname "whispering death" over the jungles of Burma.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 April 2007), Bristol Beaufighter - Variants and Stats,

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