- Gloster Gladiator
name = Gladiator
type = Fighter
manufacturer = Gloster Aircraft Company, Ltd.
caption = Gloster Gladiator in pre-war RAF markings
Henry Phillip Folland
first flight = 12 September 1934
introduced = 1937
retired = 1953 (Portugal)
primary user =
Royal Air Force
more users =
Fleet Air Arm Chinese Nationalist Air Force Finnish Air Force Royal Norwegian Air Force
number built = 747
unit cost =
developed from =
variants with their own articles = The Gloster Gladiator (or Gloster SS.37) was a British-built
biplanefighter, used by the Royal Air Force(RAF) and the Royal Navy(as the Sea Gladiator variant) and was exported to a number of other air forces during the late 1930s. It was the RAF's last biplane fighter aircraft and was rendered obsolete by newer monoplanedesigns even as it was being introduced. Though often pitted against more formidable foes during the early days of the Second World War, it acquitted itself reasonably well in combat.
It saw action in almost all theatres during the Second World War, with a large number of air forces, some of them on the Axis side. The RAF used it in France, Norway, Greece, the defence of Malta, and the brief
Anglo-Iraqi War(in which, ironically, the Royal Iraqi Air Forcewas similarly equipped). Other countries deploying the Gladiator included China against Japan, beginning in 1938; Finland (along with Swedish volunteers) against the Soviet Union in the Winter Warand the Continuation War; and Norway, Belgium, and Greece resisting Axis invasion of their respective lands.
Design and development
The Gladiator was developed from the
Gloster Gauntletas a private venture by Gloster. The aircraft was designed by H.P. Folland's team during 1933 as a Gauntlet derivative to Specification F.7/30. It had an enclosed, single-seat cockpit, cantilever landing gear and a two-blade fixed-pitch propellerdriven by a Bristol Mercuryair-cooled engine. It first flew in 1934 and entered service in 1937. It was to be the last British biplane fighter and their first fighter with an enclosed cockpit. The Gladiator had a top speed of around 257 mph (414 km/h) yet even as it was introduced, the design was being eclipsed by the new generation of monoplanefighters, such as the RAF's new Hurricanes and Spitfires and the Luftwaffe's Messerschmitt Bf 109.
Gladiators were also modified for carrier operations and flown by the Royal Navy's
Fleet Air Arm(FAA) as the Sea Gladiator. A total of 747 airframes were built (483 RAF, 98 RN; 216 exported to 13 countries, some of them from the total allotted to the RAF [Mason 1964, p. 128.] [Spencer 2003, p. 10,12.] ). Gladiators were sold to Belgium, China, Egypt, Finland, Free France, Greece, Iraq, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, South Africa and Sweden.
The Gladiator was largely replaced in front line RAF service by the Hurricane and Spitfire at the outbreak of the Second World War, although two squadrons were used in the French and Norwegian campaigns. It would, however, see service in more peripheral campaigns during the early years of the Second World War. The classic biplane fighter was also one of Britain's biggest pre-war export successes, seeing service in many countries. The Gloster Gladiator performed reasonably well in limited Finnish service against Soviet fighters during the
Winter War, but was found to be outclassed by German fighters in other theatres. Carrier-based Sea Gladiators were more successful, since their slower speed made them more suitable for carrier operations and they were less likely to be facing more modern fighter opposition.
The Finnish Winter War
Winter War, the Finnish Air Forceobtained 30 Mk II fighters from the UK. Of the aircraft, which arrived between 18 January and 16 February 1940, 10 were donated to and 20 bought by the FAF. [http://www.sci.fi/~ambush/faf/fafincolor.html Finnish Air Force Aircraft: Gloster Gladiator] FAF in Color.] The Finnish Gladiators served until 1945, but they were outclassed by the more modern Soviet fighters during the Continuation War. The aircraft was mostly used for reconnaissance from 1941 onwards. The Finnish Air Force obtained 45 aerial victories by 22 pilots with the aircraft type during the Winter War and one victory during the Continuation War. Twelve Gladiators were lost in combat during the Winter War and three during the Continuation War. Two pilots became aces with this aircraft alone. These were Oiva Tuominen(6.5 victories with Gladiators) and Paavo Berg(five victories).
Besides the FAF Gladiators, the Swedish Voluntary Air Force, responsible for the air defence of northern Finland during the later part of the war, was also equipped with Gladiator fighters, designated as J8s (Mk Is) and J8As (Mk IIs) by the Swedes. The Flying Regiment F 19 arrived in Finnish Lapland on 10 January 1940, and remained there until the end of the hostilities. It fielded 12 Gladiator Mk II fighters, two of which were lost during the fighting, [Avrosys.nu: [http://www.avrosys.nu/aircraft/Jakt/108J8.htm J 8 - Gloster Gladiator (1937-1947)] ] and five
Hawker Hartdive bombers, plus a Raab-Katzenstein RK-26liaison aircraft and a Junkers F.13transport aircraft. The aircraft belonged to and were crewed by the Swedish Air Force, but flew with Finnish nationality markings. The Swedish Gladiators scored eight aerial victories and destroyed a further four aircraft on the ground. (F 19's executive officer Captain Björn Bjuggrenwrote in his memoirs that the tracer rounds of the Gladiator's machine guns would not ignite the gasoline when penetrating the fuel tanks of Soviet bombers. Better ammunition could therefore have enabled the Swedish pilots to score several more kills.)
The Norwegian Campaign
Norwegian Campaignsaw both Norwegian and British Gladiators battling the Luftwaffe, with first the Norwegian "Jagervingen" fighting in the defence of Osloon the first day of the German invasion and then British examples trying to provide fighter coverfor the allied reinforcements sent to the assistance of the Norwegian government.
The Gladiator pilots of the Norwegian "Jagervingen" (fighter flight) [Alex Crawford: [http://www.geocities.com/acrawford0/norwegia.html Norwegian Gloster Gladiators] ] based at Fornebu Airport, having seven serviceable aircraft on the day, [Thomas 2002, p. 25.] managed to shoot down five German aircraft on 9 April 1940, the first day of the invasion of Norway: two
Messerschmitt Bf 110fighters, two He 111 bombers and one Fallschirmjäger-laden Ju 52 transport. One Gladiator was shot down during the air battle, by the future "Experte" Helmut Lent, while two were destroyed on the ground, being strafed while refuelling and rearming at Fornebu airport. The remaining four operational fighters were ordered to land wherever they could away from their Fornebu base. The Gladiators scattered, landing on frozen lakes around Oslo and never returned to battle, being abandoned by their pilots and then wrecked by souvenir-hunting civilians. [ [http://www.dalnet.se/~surfcity/gladiator_norway.htm The Gloster Gladiator in the Norwegian Army Air Service (Hærens Flygevåpen)] ]
No. 263 Squadron
Gladiators were also used by
No. 263 Squadron RAFduring the remaining two months of the Norwegian Campaign. The squadron, having arrived with the carrierHMS "Glorious" 24 April, first operated from an improvised landing strip built by Norwegian volunteers on the frozen lake Lesjaskogsvatnetin Opplandin central southern Norway. After less than a week, all the squadron's aircraft were unserviceable and it evacuated back to the UK.
No.263 Squadron resumed its Gladiator operations in Norway when having re-equipped in Britain, the squadron returned to the north of Norway on 21 May flying from Bardufoss airfield near
Narvik. At the Narvik front No. 263 was reinforced by No. 46 Squadron whose Hurricanes had arrived a few days later, using an airstrip at Skånland. Due to unsuitable ground at Skånland 46 Squadron moved so that both were operating from Bardufoss by 27 May. The squadrons had been ordered to defend the fleet anchorage at Skånland and the military base at Harstadon the island of Hinnøya, as well as the Narvik area after it was recaptured. The action was short but intense before the squadrons, due to the British government's response to the invasion of France were instructed on 2 June to prepare for evacuation.
By then, 263 Squadron had flown 249 sorties and claimed 26 enemy aircraft destroyed. No. 263 Squadron's ten surviving Gladiators were landed on HMS "Glorious" on 7 June. "Glorious" sailed for home but was intercepted by the German
battlecruisers "Gneisenau" and "Scharnhorst". Despite the valiant defence put up by her two escorting destroyers, HMS "Acasta" and HMS "Ardent", she was sunk and along with the aircraft from four squadrons. 263 Squadron lost its CO, S/Ldr John W Donaldson, and F/Lt Alvin T Williams along with eight other pilots. [http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/h263.html RAF – Squadron history.] ] Rawlings, John D.R. "Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft". London: Macdonald & Co., 1969. ISBN 0-356-02629-9.] [http://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/milestones-of-flight/british_military/1940.html RAF Museum web site] ] [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1RAF-c3.html New Zealand Electronic Text Centre] ]
Norwegian ArmyAir Service aircraft were able to evacuate westwards before the 10 June surrender of the mainlandNorwegian forces. Only the aircraft of the Royal Norwegian Navy Air Service(one M.F.11 and four He 115s) had the range to fly all the way from their last bases in North Norway to the UK. Two Army Air Service Fokker C.V.Ds did however manage to escape eastwards to Finlandbefore the surrender. Three M.F.11s also flew to Finland, landing on Lake Salmijärvi in Petsamo. [ [http://www.sci.fi/~ambush/faf/fafincolor.html Finnish Air Force Aircraft (FAF in Color: Gloster Gladiator)] ]
Battle of Britain
The Gloster Gladiator was in operational service with
No. 247 Squadron RAF, stationed in Robourgh, Devon during the Battle of Britain. Although no combat sorties took place at the height of the aerial battles, No. 247 Gladiators intercepted a He 111 in late October 1940, without result. No. 239 Squadron RAFusing Gladiators in an army cooperation role and No. 804 Squadron, Fleet Air Armoutfitted with Sea Gladiators were also operational during the Battle of Britain. [Rimell 1990, p. 27.]
Mediterranean and Middle East theatres
In the Mediterranean Theatre during 1940-41, Gladiators saw combat with four Allied air forces: the RAF,
Royal Australian Air Force, South African Air Forceand "Ellinikí Vasilikí Aeroporía" (Royal Greek Air Force) squadrons. These achieved some success against the Italian " Regia Aeronautica", which was mainly equipped with Fiat CR.32and Fiat CR.42biplanes, and against " Luftwaffe" bombers. They suffered heavier losses against Fiat G.50and Macchi C.200monoplanes.Fact|date=February 2007 The South African ace Marmaduke "Pat" Pattle (who served with the RAF), claimed 15 kills in Gladiators during the North African and Greek Campaigns, making him the highest-scoring RAF biplane ace of the Second World War.
Anglo-Iraqi Warwas unique in the context of Gloster Gladiators in that the opposing air forces, being the RAF and Royal Iraqi Air Force, both used the Gladiator as their main fighter. [Lyman 2006, p. 27.]
of the island. The aircraft names only came into being after the battle was over. [Crawford 2002, pp. 120-121.] [ [http://www.aeroflight.co.uk/types/uk/gloster/gladiator/gladiator.htm Gladiator] [http://www.maltaaviationmuseum.com/forum.asp Malta Aviation Museum] [http://www.killifish.f9.co.uk/Malta%20WWII/Faith%20Hope%20&%20Charity.htm Faith Hope and Charity] ] In fact, more than three aircraft were operational, though not always at the same time; others were used for spare parts. [http://www.geocities.com/acrawford0/Malta.html Gloster Gladiators and Fiat CR.42s over Malta 1940-42] ]
A stock of 18 Sea Gladiators from
802 Naval Air Squadronhad been deposited by HMS "Glorious", in early 1940. Three were later shipped out to take part in the Norwegian Campaign, and another three were sent to Egypt. By April, Malta was in need of fighter protection and was decided to form a flight of Gladiators at RAF Hal Far, to be composed of RAF and FAA personnel. Several Sea Gladiators were assembled and test flown. ["The Air Battle of Malta..." 1944, p. 8.]
By June, two of the Gladiators had crashed and an additional two were assembled. [Crawford 2002, p. 59-66.] "Charity" was shot down on 29 July 1940 and its pilot, F/O P.W. Hartley, was badly burned. "Hope" was destroyed in an air raid on 4 February 1941. The fuselage of the only surviving Gladiator from the Hal Far Fighter Flight, "N5520", later called "Faith", was presented to the people of Malta in 1943 and has been preserved in Malta. Research on the airframe indicated that parts of at least one other Gladiator are part of this airframe [Crawford 2002, pp. 122-123.] The fate of at least five more Gladiators that saw action over Malta is not as well documented.
Tension had been building between Greece and Italy since 7 April 1939, when Italian troops occupied Albania. On 27 October 1940, Italy sent an ultimatum to Greece, which was rejected, and the following morning, Italian troops invaded Greece, initiating the
Britain sent help in the form of
No. 80 Squadron RAF, elements of which arrived at Trikkalaby 19 November. Successful combat with Italian CR.42s soon followed, and on 3 December the Gladiators were reinforced with elements from No. 112 Squadron RAF. After a break of two weeks, No. 80 Sqn returned to operations on 19 December 1940, and over the next few days, several groups of Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79and Savoia-Marchetti SM.81bombers were encountered, and victories claimed.
The complete No. 112 Sqn moved to Eleusis by the end of January 1941, and by the end of February that year, had received No 80 Sqn’s Gladiators, after the latter unit had converted to
Hawker Hurricanes. On 5 April, German forces invaded Greece and quickly established air superiority. As the Allied troops retreated, Gladiators covered them, before flying to Creteduring the last week of April. There No 112 Sqn recorded a few claims over twin-engined aircraft, before being evacuated to Egyptduring the Battle of Crete. [Thomas 2002, p. 61-69.]
The Royal Iraqi Air Force (RoIAF) had, since Iraq was granted independence in 1932, been trained and equipped by the British. [Lyman 2006, p. 25.] One result of this was the dominance of British-built aircraft in the RoIAF inventory. In 1941, the sole RoIAF single-purpose fighter squadron, No. 4 Squadron consisted of seven operational Gloster Gladiators, at Rashid Air Base. [Lyman 2006, p. 26.]
After a pre-emptive RAF attack from
RAF Habbaniyaagainst blockading Iraqi forces Iraqi Gladiators took part in attacks on the British air base, strafing it ineffectively on 2 May. [Lyman 2006, p. 44.] Although much of the RoIAF was destroyed in the air or on the ground in the following days the Iraqi Gladiators kept flying until the end of the war, carrying out strafing attacks on A Company of 1 Battalion The Essex Regimenton the outskirts of Baghdadon 30 May. [Lyman 2006, p. 84.]
Before the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq the 4th Service Training School at RAF Habbaniya operated three old Gladiators as officers' runabouts. With the increased tension the base was reinforced with another six Gladiators on 19 April, flying in from Egypt. [Lyman 2006, p. 16, 22.] During the early part of the war the nine Gladiators flew numerous sorties against air and ground targets, taking off from the base'
polofield. [Lyman 2006, p. 40.] The Gladiator force in Iraq was further reinforced when, on 11 May, another five aircraft arrived, this time from 94 Squadron in Ismaïliaon the Suez Canal. [Lyman 2006, p. 52.]
A last resupply of Gladiators came on 17 May in the form of four more 94 Squadron machines.Lyman 2006, p. 68.]
During the fighting the sole Gladiator-on-Gladiator kill occurred on 5 May, when Plt. Off. Watson of the Fighter Flight shot down an Iraqi Gladiator over
Baqubahduring a bomber escort mission. The Iraqi Gladiators' only claim during the war was a Vickers Wellingtonbomber shared with ground fire on 4 May. [Thomas 2002, p. 80.]
Immediately after launching his coup against king Faisal II in early April 1941 prime minister
Rashid Ali al-Gaylaniapproached Germany and Italy for help in repelling any British counter-measures. In response to this the Germans assembled a Luftwaffe task force under Iraqi colours called "Fliegerführer Irak" which from 14 May operated out of Mosul. [Lyman 2006, p. 64.] Before this force collapsed due to lack of supplies, replacements, quality fuel and aggressive RAF attacks two Gladiators fought a pair of Me 110s over Rashid Airfield at Baghdad on 17 May. Both German machines were swiftly shot down.
The Iraqis continued to use Gladiators until 1949 for ground attack missions against the Kurds.Fact|date=November 2007
The Gloster Gladiator had its combat début on 24 February 1938, when Chinese Gladiators downed two Japanese A5M Claude navy fighters in the Nanking area. [Thomas 2002, p. 11.] Chinese Gladiators scored several more victories over Japanese aircraft between 1938-1940 during the
Second Sino-Japanese War. In China Gladiators were used extensively before the start of 1940 by the 28th, 29th and 32nd Squadrons of the 3rd Group. The Chinese pilots considered the Gladiator an excellent fighter in its class. In comparison to its major opponents of the time, such as the Mitsubishi A5M, the Gladiator was only a little slower and superior in all other aspects such as turning rate, etc. However, when newer Japanese aircraft such as the Mitsubishi A6Mentered the battles, the Gladiators' days were numbered. American born Chinese pilots, John "Buffalo" Wongand Arthur Chinbecame the first Gladiator flying aceand first American fighter ace of the Second World War respectively, and were among a group of 15 Chinese Americans whom formed the first and original group of American volunteer combat aviators countering the Japanese imperial aggressions in China. [ [http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/china_wong2.htm "Chinese biplane fighter aces - "Buffalo" Wong Sun-Shui".] Håkans Aviation page. Retrieved: 7 July 2007.]
Belgian Gladiators suffered heavy losses , with all 15 operational aircraft lost, [Crawford 2002, p. 70–74.] [Spencer 2003, p. 31–32.] and themselves managing only to damage two German aircraft. [Thomas 2002, p. 18, 94.]
Irish Air Corpswas supplied with four Gladiators on 9 March 1939. Although unable to intercept any intruding aircraft, the Irish Gladiators shot down several British barrage balloons that had broken from their moorings. [Alex Crawford: [http://www.geocities.com/acrawford0/iac.html Irish Air Corps Gladiators] ] For a short time in 1940 an order was given to Irish fighter pilots to use their aircraft to block the runways of airfields. They were then to use rifles and shoot at any invaders. [Fodor 1982, p. 134.] Irish Gladiators also overflew the site of the sinking of the liner SS "Athenia" in 1939 and offered the help of the Irish military. The flight was fired upon by Royal Navy ships in attendance, consequently, the Irish Gladiators withdrew without pursuing the matter further.Fact|date=January 2008
After becoming obsolete RAF Gladiators carried out non-combat tasks such as meteorological work. [Håkans Aviation page: [http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/gladiator_raf_mf.htm Gloster Gladiator in Meteorological Flights service] ]
;SS.37:Prototype.;Gladiator I:Version powered by a single 840 hp (627 kW)
Bristol MercuryIX air-cooled radial piston engine. The aircraft was designated J 8 in Swedish Air Force service. Delivered 1937-38, 378 built.;Gladiator II:Version powered by a single Bristol Mercury VIIIA air-cooled radial piston engine. The aircraft was designated J 8A in Swedish Air Force service, 270 built.;Sea Gladiator Interim:Single-seat fighter biplane for the Royal Navy, 38 built. Fitted with arrestor hooks. Serial numbers: N2265 - N2302.;Sea Gladiator:Single-seat fighter biplane for the Royal Navy, 60 built. Fitted with arrestor hooks and provision for dinghystowage. Serial numbers: N5500 - N5549 and N5565 - N5574.
;AUS:;BEL:;China as ROC:;flag|Egypt|1922:;flag|France|free:;FIN:;flag|Nazi Germany|name=Germany:;flag|Greece|old:;flag|Iraq|1924:;IRL:;LVA:;flag|Lithuania|1918:;NOR:;POR:;flag|South Africa|1928:;flag|Soviet Union|1923:;SWE:;UK:
Gladiators have been preserved at the
Shuttleworth Collection, Fighter Collection at Duxford, Gloucestershire Aviation Collection(in Bedfordshire, UK), National War Museum (in Fort St Elmo, Malta) and the RAF Museum(in Hendonand Cosford, UK). One Swedish Gladiator Mk I is preserved in Winter Warmarkings at the Swedish Air Force Museumin Malmen, just outside of Linköping, Sweden.
pecifications (Gloster Gladiator Mk I)
plane or copter?=plane
jet or prop?=prop
length main=27 ft 5 in
length alt=8.4 m
span main=32 ft 3 in
span alt=9.8 m
height main=11 ft 7 in
height alt=3.2 m
area main=323 ft²
area alt=30 m²
empty weight main=3,444 lb
empty weight alt=1,560 kg
loaded weight main=4,864 lb
loaded weight alt=2,205 kg
max takeoff weight main=lb
max takeoff weight alt=kg
type of prop=
number of props=1
power main=850 hp
power alt=630 kW
max speed main=257 mph
max speed alt=414 km/h
max speed more=at 14,600 ft (4,500 m)
range main=444 mi
range alt=710 km
ceiling main=33,500 ft
ceiling alt=10,200 m
climb rate main=2220 ft/min
climb rate alt=11.2 m/s
loading main= lb/ft²
loading alt= kg/m²
power/mass main= hp/lb
power/mass alt= W/kg
guns=Four .303 in Browning machine-guns: two synchronised guns on sides of front fuselage, and one beneath each lower wing.In at least some Sea Gladiators, provision existed for a pair of Brownings to be fitted under the upper wings as well, bringing the total to six. Official service release trials were not completed before the Sea Gladiators were replaced by later types - but some upper wing Brownings may have been fitted in the field, in particular in Malta. [Mason 1964, pp. 82, 117.]
List of aircraft of the Royal Air Force
List of aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm
F. H. Maynard
John H. Lapsley
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* [http://www.aeroflight.co.uk/types/uk/gloster/gladiator/gladiator.htm aeroflight]
* [http://www.maltaaviationmuseum.com/forum.asp maltaaviationmuseum]
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* [http://ipmsstockholm.org/magazine/1999/10/stuff_eng_profile_gladiator1.htm Gladiator Camouflage and Markings]
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