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Gloster Gladiator
The Gloster Gladiator

Technical details
Type: Fighter
Span: 9.83 m
Length: 8.36 m
Engine: Bristol Mercury VIIIS3 / 840 hsp.
Max speed: 410 km/h at 4,400 m
Max ceiling: 10500 m
Range: 715 km
Armament: 4x8 mm Browning machine guns + bombs

The Gloster Gladiator was the RAF's last biplane fighter. The prototype (K5200) first flew in September 1934 designated S.S. 37, and although produced a private venture, conformed to Spec. F.7/30 (to which also the original gull-winged Spitfire had been designed). In July 1935 the Gladiator was ordered for the RAF to Spec. 14/35, the initial contracts being for 23 (commencing with K6129). A further 186 (commencing with K7892) were ordered in September 1935 and production continued until 1940.

It was produced in three major version; Mk.I, Mk.II and the Sea Gladiator (the difference of the Sea Gladiator being installation of catapult points, a deck-arrester hook and a collapsible dinghy in a fairing beneath the fuselage between the undercarriage legs).

Largely replaced in Fighter Command by the outbreak of war, they went to serve with 607 and 615 Squadrons of the AASF (few records survived the German invasion of France but 607 Sq. is thought to have destroyed around 70 enemy aircraft, mostly however with Hurricanes) and equipped one squadron in the Battle of Britain (247 Squadron at Roborough) charged primarily with the local defence of Devonport Dockyards, Plymouth. Most famous is the Gladiator for its exploits overseas, including operations in Norway, the Western Desert, and Malta.

The Gloster Gladiator was, as the famous test-pilot Captain Eric M. Brown put it, undoubtedly one of the greatest biplane fighter ever built, but, appearing almost simultaneously with the first of the new breed of heavily armed monoplane fighters and bombers, it was pitched into a combat era where it was outgunned and outperformed, though never outmaneuvered.

Brown also stated that combat between the Fiat CR.42 Falco and the Gladiator would bee a fascinating duel between the two best biplane fighters in the world. The CR.42 had a slight speed advantage, the Gladiator a slight armament advantage. In the matter of maneuverability the aircraft were about equal, and each was lightweight in construction. A combat between them would be decided on the skills of the opposing pilots. The outcome could go either way.

In the defence of Malta the Gladiator also became famous. From a stock of 18 aircraft of 802 squadron remaining at Malta after HMS Glorious was sunk in 1940, three Sea Gladiators became international legends, "Faith", "Hope" and "Charity". They were part of the Hal Far Fighter Flight, composed of mixed RAF and FAA personnel.

Faith. Sea Gladiator N5520 of 802 squadron from June to November 1939, she joined the Hal Far Fighter Flight in April 1940. She was quick to defend Malta, and whilst piloted by Flt Lt JL Waters RAF shot down and destroyed an Italian S.79 on 11 June 1940, and the next day on 12 June 1940 destroyed another S.79. She was renamed "Faith" between October 1941 and January 1942. Fuselage preserved Malta.

Hope. Sea Gladiator N5531 of 802 squadron from June 1939 to January 1940, joined the Hal Far Flight, and was renamed "Hope on 19 April 1940. She was destroyed in an air raid on 4 February 1941

Charity. Sea Gladiator N5519 G6A of 802 squadron from June-September 1939, she joined the Hal Far Fighter Flight and renamed 'Charity' on 19 April 1940. She was involved in defending Malta over the critical 1940 period but was shot down on 29 July 1940.

 
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