For its day, the Gloster Gladiator wasnot only pretty to look at, but was a beautiful aircraft to fly, providingthat you were not being chased by a Messerschmitt Bf109 at the time. Also,the sound from the Mercury radial engine was a delight to the ear.
The Gladiator was manufactured by the GloucestershireAircraft Company who, back in 1920 acquired the design rights to the FrenchNieuport Nighthawk fighter aircraft after that company closed down. Withthis acquisition came numerous spare parts and component stocks of theaircraft. In 1921, The Gloucester Aircraft Company received a contractto construct 50 of the Nighthawks for the Imperial Japanese Navy modifiedfor use as a naval aircraft, plus an additional 40 aircraft that wouldbe supplied in component form to the Yokosuka Air Arm. This order was fulfilledand completed within six months and although the original designation ofthis aircraft was known as Mars II, it was given the name Sparrowhawk ata later date.
The Gloucester Aircraft Company went on to bigger and better things as the years went by. The Sparrowhawk gaveway to the Nighthawk in 1921, the Nightjar powered by a Bentley enginewas first delivered to the RAF in May 1922, the Grouse trainer in 1922followed by the Grebe in 1923, the Gamecock in 1925, the Gorcock in 1927,the Guan in 1926 the same year that the Gloucester Aircraft Company changedits name to Gloster Aircraft, the Gambit in 1927, the Gnatsnapper in 1928and the Gauntlet in 1929.
It was a derivative of the Gauntlet thatthe Gladiator was built, being a private venture to specification F.7/30and first flew as a prototype on 12th September 1934 and then only knownas the SS37. It began series production to Specification F.14/35 in July1935 and the first flight of the Gloster Gladiator was made in the Januaryof 1937.
Because of the outbreak of the second worldwar, production of the Gladiator was only short lived. It never did proveitself as a fighting machine and were classed as death traps against theLuftwaffe Bf109s very early in W.W.II. Only two marks were made, the MarkI and Mark II.
The Mark I was powered by a single 830hpBristol Mercury radial engine of nine cylinders. Armament was four Browning.303 guns. two mounted in the fuselage and two mounted on the wings. Only378 Mark I's were built.
The Mark II varied little from the MarkI, except that the Bristol Mercury was of improved design and put out anextra ten horsepower and designated the VIII AS. A number of the Mark II'swere constructed to naval specifications and were known as Sea Gladiators.Many Gladiators found their way overseas both air force and naval use.In all, a total of 749 Gladiators were manufactured. The tablebelow shows the number of Gladiator Mark I and II's exported.
In early September of 1939, two squadronsflew Gloster Gladiators in France. These were The County of Durham 609 Squadron and the County of Surrey 615 Squadron both were squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force. Both suffered heavy casualties in the heavy engagements that they undertook. Being slow in both speed and in maneuverability, the gunners of the German bombers found them easy targets and up against the more modern swift monoplane of the Luftwaffe they were totally outclassed.
When the war moved to the south coast ofBritain, Gladiators again became involved, but this time only on a minorscale. But the story was much the same as it had been before, they werebeing shot down like targets on a practice range. They were eventuallywithdrawn to areas where they would not be used in combat operations.
From the archives:
The Date: April 1940. The Theatre: Invasion of Scandinavia.
OnApril 21 1940, No.263 Gladiator Squadron sailed for Norway in the aircraftcarrier H.M.S. Glorious. None of its 18 pilots had ever done a deck landingor a take off before, so Fleet Air Arm pilots pilots flew the 18 Gladiatorson board with them. At 1700 hours on April 24th, 50 miles (80 km) seawardof Trondheim, the RAF pilots flew them off, each flight of nine led bya naval Skua two seater, which carried a navigator, to guide them in thethreatening weather. By 1900 hours all the fighters had landed on the frozenLake Lesjaskog. During the night, the carburettors and the controls ofthe aircraft froze. The only way to warm an engine was to run it, whichwas done with some aircraft in readiness for dawn. The ground crews werenot at full strength, so pilots had to share in guarding the aircraft.
At 0445 hours on the 25th two Gladiators took off on patrol and shot downan He 115. At 0745 hours the Luftwaffe began dive-bombing and strafingthe lake. By 1230 hours, bombs had destroyed eight Gladiators, four ofwhich had not even flown. At 1305 hours, bombs destroyed four aircraftand wounded three pilots. All day, aircraft took off whenever they could,harassed by bombers. There were several combats and two He 111s were destroyed.By the evening, 11 Gladiators had been burnt out and two, beyond repair,were set alight. The Squadron moved to Setnesmoen. On the 26th only threeGladiators were left. Next day, there was none. The squadron had flown49 sorties and made 37 attacks against enemy aircraft. Six victories wereconfirmed by the finding of wreckage, and eight claims remained unconfirmed.On April 28th the squadron personnel embarked in a cargo vessel and arrivedin England on May 1.
On May 20th the re-formed 263 Squadron flew their new Gladiators off the aircraftcarrier H.M.S. Furious, 100 miles (160 km) from Bardufoss, led by two FleetAir Arm torpedo reconnaissance Swordfish. In low cloud and mist, two fighterscrashed, killing one pilot and seriously injuring the other. On the 21stthe squadron flew 40 standing patrols. On the 22nd it flew 54 sorties.One pilot was killed in action against He111s. An airfield had been preparedat Bodo, with shelters and underground accommodation. On May 26th, threeGladiators began operating from there.
No.46 Squadron (Hurricanes) had been sent to join No.263. On May 26th the newarrivals took off in their Hurricanes from H.M.S. Glorious, to attempta landing on the Skanland airstrip where a wire mesh runway had been laid...........
.........In bad weather and under heavy bombing, the two squadrons slogged on untilJune 7th. By then, 263 had flown 389 sorties over 12 days, been in combat69 times and claimed 26 successes. No.46 had also operated on 12 days totake part in 26 fights and claim 11 kills and eight probables. No.263 landedtheir remaining eight Gladiators on Glorious during June 7th. No.46, noneof whom had yet attempted a deck landing, followed with their ten Hurricanes.
On June 8th, the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst sank Glorious with 1,474of her ships company and 41 officers and men of the RAF. Only two of thepilots who had fought so bravely and endured so much hardship in Norwaysurvived.