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The Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter, often referred to as simply the Beau, was a British long-range heavy fighter derivative of the Bristol Aeroplane Company's earlier Beaufort torpedo bomber design. The name Beaufighter is a portmanteau of "Beaufort" and "fighter".
Unlike the Beaufort, the Beaufighter had a long career and served in almost all theatres of war in the Second World War, first as a night fighter, then as a fighter bomber and eventually replacing the Beaufort as a torpedo bomber. A variant was built in Australia by the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP) and was known in Australia as the DAP Beaufighter.
The Beaufighter arrived at squadrons in Asia and the Pacific in mid-1942. It has often been said—although it was originally a piece of RAF whimsy quickly taken up by a British journalist—that Japanese soldiers referred to the Beaufighter as "whispering death", supposedly because attacking aircraft often were not heard (or seen) until too late. The Beaufighter's Hercules engines used sleeve valves which lacked the noisy valve gear common to poppet valve engines. This was most apparent in a reduced noise level at the front of the engine.
In the South-East Asian Theatre, the Beaufighter Mk VIF operated from India on night operations against Japanese lines of communication in Burma and Thailand. The high-speed, low-level attacks were very effective, despite often atrocious weather conditions, and makeshift repair and maintenance facilities.
Before DAP Beaufighters arrived at Royal Australian Air Force units in the South West Pacific theatre, the Bristol Beaufighter Mk IC was employed in anti-shipping missions.
The most famous of these was the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, where they were used in the fire-suppression role in a mixed force with USAAF A-20 Boston and B-25 Mitchell bombers.
No. 30 Squadron RAAF Beaufighters flew in at mast height to provide heavy suppressive fire for the waves of attacking bombers. The Japanese convoy, under the impression that they were under torpedo attack, made the fatal tactical error of turning their ships towards the Beaufighters, leaving them exposed to skip bombing attacks by the US medium bombers. The Beaufighters inflicted maximum damage on the ships' anti-aircraft guns, bridges and crews during strafing runs with their four 20 mm nose cannons and six wing-mounted .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns. Eight transports and four destroyers were sunk for the loss of five aircraft, including one Beaufighter.