SECURING THE SKIES

Gloster Gladiator

Overview

Numerically the least important day fighter in RAF service during the Battle, the Gladiator was [Gladiator] by 1940 an anachronistic survival from an earlier generation of fighter aircraft. The Gladiator filled a gap in defence requirements between the older biplanes and the new, modern monoplanes under development The prototype made its maiden flight in September 1934, and, folllowing a RAF trial programme in 1935, an initial contract for 23 aircraft issued. A further batch of 180 was ordered in September of the same year. Production aircraft had enclosed cockpits and mounted four Browning guns.

The first squadron to receive Gladiators was No. 72 at Tangmere, late in February 1937. By September 1937 eight squadrons were operational with the type; and during 1938, in line with the RAF's policy of re-equipping home based fighter squadrons with Hurricanes as quickly as possible, the Gladiator began its association with the Middle East with the transfer of No. 80 squadron to the Canal Zone. Two Gladiator squadrons, Nos. 607 and 615, were heavily engaged in the Battle of France; they put up a heroic resistance and inflicted surprisingly heavy losses on superior types and numbers of enemy aircraft, as happily their Gladiators were replaced by Hurricanes as the Germans invaded France. 607 re-equipped with Hurricanes in April and 615 got theirs in the nick of time. Their first ones arrived on April 12th and they were fully operational with Hurricanes on May 10th! Two Gladiator sorties were flown on May 11th, but they were just to reconnoitre possible forward airfields, and that was about that. They kept the Gladiators on charge for aerodrome defence, using them once again for that purpose when they defended Manston for a week during Dunkirk. Gladiator kills in France are unrecorded, and, considering the difference in performance of the opposition, unlikely. James Sanders of 615 had a pot at a Heinkel in one on 29th December 1939, but it got away, and Lewin Fredman had a go at another on 10th May, but with inconclusive results. The epic fight of No. 263 Squadron during the Norwegian campaign, ending so tragically in the loss of the surviving pilots when H.M.S. Glorious was sunk by the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, provides one of the proudest episodes in the history of the RAF. The Gladiator will always be associated with the "fight against odds" which characterised RAF operations in Greece, North and East Africa, and the Mediterranean during the first two years of the war. Only No. 247 Squadron, RAF, and No. 804 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, operated the type over the British Isles during the Battle of Britain.

Many thanks to Stephen Bungay for additional history on this page. His new book on the Battle of Britain, 'The Most Dangerous Enemy' and will be published by Aurum Press on 15th September (when else?) price £20-00, ISBN 1 85410 721 6.

Recognition

Fat, stubby fuselage with the two, staggered, main planes placed forward of the cockpit. Large, rounded fin and fixed undercarriage.

Power and specifications
PowerplantOne 840 h.p. Bristol Mercury Vlll.AS nine-cylinder air-cooled engine.
Span32ft 3in (9.83m)
Length27ft 5in (8.36m)
Max Speed257 mph (414km/h) at 14,600 ft (4,450m)
ArmamentFour .303in Browning machine guns, two mounted in nose with two mounted under lower wing.