Royal Navy Biplanes - (Post WW1) - Part 1

Flycatcher, Osprey, Sea Gladiator, Sea Fox, Shark

In no particular order - Biplane aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm, 1919-1945

#flycatcher #Osprey #Gladiator #Seafox #Shark #Swordfish1 #Swordfish2 #Swordfish3 #Swordfish4 #Albacore #Otter

Fairey Flycatcher, No. 405 Flight, Fleet Air Arm, RAF Leuchars / HMS GLORIOUS, 1931.

Aeroclub models produce a wide range of very high quality accessories and conversion parts. They also produce an excellent range of limited edition 1/72 kits, including this marvellous little Fleet Air Arm aircraft from between the wars. A replica of this particular aircraft, fitted with a P&W Wasp Junior engine instead of the original Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar, is stored at the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton; Aeroclub can even provide the alternative engine if required! (link to build page)

The Flycatcher holds an important place in the history of Naval Aviation; not only was it one of the first aircraft to enter service that had been specifically designed to fly from an Aircraft Carrier, but it remained as the Fleet Air Arm's primary Fleet Fighter for over 10 years (an achievement only equalled by the Sea Harrier), until it was eventually replaced by the Hawker Nimrod and Osprey. Robustly built and very well suited to life at sea in an aircraft carrier, it was armed with twin Vickers machine guns, but could carry 4x20lb bombs in an attack role when required. A float equipped amphibian version was also used from capital ships. When it entered service, the Flycatcher was a commendably advanced design, using novel Fairey camber changing flaps to reduce take-off and landing runs. Although not fitted with folding wings, the airframe was designed to be dismantled for stowage below decks.

Up until 1926, the Flycatcher continued to use longitudinal arrestor wires, which engaged with steel jaws in the undercarriage, but these were not particularly effective and were eventually abandoned as larger and heavier aircraft entering service demanded the now familiar cross deck arrestor wires.

Reliable and safe to fly, it was always highly popular with its pilots, but its unusually long service life foretold the creeping neglect of British Naval Aviation during the austerity driven inter-war years, when other fields of aviation and other countries' Air Arms were making rapid advances.

Yeovilton's Replica Flycatcher

Hawker Osprey, 801 Sqn, Fleet Air Arm, HMS FURIOUS, 1938.

For this model I have used the Airfix Hawker Demon kit as a basis for modification into its naval equivalent. This kit first appeared in 1968, as a modification to the earlier 1957 mould of the Hawker Hart. Originals can change hands for very high prices, but the basic kit has been released much more recently as part of the RAF Collection set. Despite its age, this is still one of the better Airfix kits, nicely detailed and crisply moulded. As a template to convert it into an Osprey, I used another kit from my collection, the Merlin Models Frog Penguin replica, which is definitely a crude little blob of plastic, although it too can be built into a nice model; it also includes some detailed 1/72 scale plans of the Osprey! (link to build page)

Although it may have seemed to the Fleet Air Arm that the Flycatcher would hang on forever, by 1932 it was finally being replaced by naval variants of Hawkers' latest Rolls Royce Kestrel powered biplanes. When it first entered service the Hawker Hart bomber was much faster than the RAF's existing fighters, leading to an urgent programme to convert it into a fighter version, to be known as the Hawker Demon. With the RAF flying such successful and avanced aircraft from ashore, it seemed only sensible to convert the Hart/Demon to operate at sea as well.

The result was the elegant and advanced looking Hawker Osprey (which could also operate from Cruisers and Battleships as a float equipped seaplane), the Fleet Air Arm's first high speed 2-seater fighter/reconnaissance/spotter aircraft.

Nevertheless, as this example shows, the Osprey rather overstayed its welcome. 801 Sqn were still flying the Osprey in 1938, at the time of the Munich Crisis and on the eve of WW2. Although they hurredly re-equipped with Gloster Sea Gladiators and Blackburn Skuas the following year, none of these aircraft were any match for the Messerschmitt Bf109s that had entered Nazi service in 1937 and which the Fleet Air Arm would soon face in Norway and France.

Gloster Sea Gladiator, 813 Sqn FAA Fighter Flight, HMS EAGLE, Mediterranean, July 1940.

Airfix re-issued their Gladiator kit in 2008, with a wide range of markings, including the famous Malta Sea Gladiators. First released in 1956, this is a very basic little kit, that I can't really recommend. (link to build page)

With the clouds of war gathering over Europe, in 1939 the FAA desperately began to replace its Nimrods with the Sea Gladiator. Although still a biplane and very much a compromise choice that had been hastily converted from the RAF's (obsolete) land-based version, its fighting performance was far superior than the Nimrod. In the early war period, together with the Blackburn Skua, Sea Gladiators saw wide and successful use in the North Sea, Norwegian Campaign and in the Mediterranean, where they were most successful against Italian bombers, but their shortfalls were also very clear and by 1940, the vastly superior Grumman Martlet was being rushed into service as their replacement.

This aircraft was one of four flown from HMS EAGLE in July 1940. The only RN Carrier in the Med when war with Italy broke out on 10 June 1940, EAGLE did not carry a fighter squadron. Cdr Chris Keighley-Peach, EAGLE's dynamic Commander (F) and one of the first FAA Aces of WW2, quickly obtained 4 Sea Gladiators from reserve stocks in Malta, and formed a fighter flight, to be parented by EAGLE's Swordfish equipped 813 Sqn. Having trained two Swordfish pilots (Lt Kenneth Keith RN and Lt Pat Massy RN) to fly the fighters, under "K-P"s leadership, the Fighter Flight claimed 7 kills over the next 2 weeks, mainly SM.79 Bombers. K-P himself claimed 5 of these kills in this aircraft, and was awarded the DSO. The same aircraft went on to serve in the defence of Crete the following year, but was lost, along with its pilot, Lt P F Scott RN, after crashing into the sea.

Sea Gladiators are equally well known for their valiant part in the defence of Malta in 1940. When she departed the Mediterranean for her ill-fated part in the Norwegian campaign, HMS GLORIOUS left a number of spare aircraft ashore in Malta. These were then used by RAF pilots as the main defence of this strategic island during some of the most intense attacks by the Italian Air Force, until replacement RAF Hurricanes could be spared from the UK. The importance of Malta as a thorn in the Axis' side cannot be understated; thus at one point, it seems that the entire Mediterranean and North African Campaigns, perhaps the entire war, was dependent on four spare, obsolete Royal Navy aircraft, lent to the RAF, maintained on a wing and a prayer and flown by volunteer pilots with little fighter experience.

After the battle, most appropriately, three of the planes were named Faith, Hope and Charity.

Fairey Seafox Spotter - HMS AJAX, South Atlantic 1940.

Matchbox are infamous for their deep panel lines and toy-like details, but their many biplanes were as good as any others available and still make the grade. The Seafox is a particularly nice example; this one is intended to be the AJAX aircraft that spotted on the Graf Spee during the Battle of the River Plate. There is some doubt about markings and colours during the battle; this is a pre-war scheme created using some of my spare transfers, but the aircraft may have been camouflaged by the time of the battle.

There were also 2 aircraft present; history does not record with certainty which one was used!

The Seafox was an effective and reliable spotter aircraft carried on Cruiser and above. It is most famous for its part in the Battle of the River Plate, when the German Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee was driven to take refuge in Uruguayan waters by an RN Cruiser Squadron under Cdre Henry Harwood (AJAX, ACHILLIES, EXETER). The Graf Spee was then scuttled by its Captain, Hans Langsdorrf to prevent its capture and save the lives of his men. This victory was an enormous boost to the British public, at a time when they had little else to celebrate. With extensive media coverage across the Americas, the battle did much to encourage US support for the British cause.

Lieut E D G Lewin, RN, the pilot of this aircraft, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his conduct during the fight with the Admiral Graf Spee. He was catapulted off after the action had started, when the airworthiness of his aircraft was in doubt (as the guns were fired before the aircraft was catapulted there may have been doubt as to whether they had disturbed the rigging of the machine), and made a landing and recovery under difficult conditions after the battle. Observer Lt R E N Kearney was Mentioned In Despatches.

Blackburn Shark - 705 Sqn (Catapult Flights), HMS WARSPITE/REPULSE 1935-1937

The wing struts on this kit are a nightmare to align and the float struts barely able to support the finished kit! It is a nice kit though, giving the option for a colourful Portugese seaplane, an RN Spotter seaplane or a land based RN trainer from WW2.

The Shark served the FAA successfully from the mid 1930s into the 40s, as torpedo carrier, floatplane spotter and trainer. Canadian aircraft had some success in the anti U-Boat role during WW2.

Fairey TSR.1 Swordfish Mk.1, 820 Sqn Fleet Air Arm, RAF North Coates / HMS COURAGEOUS, March 1939

The new-mould Airfix Swordfish is a fantastic model, accurate, finely moulded and relatively easy to build.

Fleet Air Arm Props - Index The RNAS - 1914-1918 Biplanes 1918-1946 WW2 Monoplanes Post WW2

Fairey Swordfish - Click on the linked pictures below to take you to my separate Swordfish Page

Click on the thumbnail below to go directly to the aircraft model, or simply scroll down

Supermarine Sea Otter Mk.1 - 712 Sqn RNAS Hatston, Orkney Islands, March,1944.

Azur produce a marvellous, if fiddly, short-run Sea Otter kit. (Link to build page)

Supermarine's Sea Otter was an advanced development of the Walrus, replacing the pusher Pegasus engine with a tractor configured Bristol Mercury engine. Increased range, plus a larger hull, radar and an extended cabin area completed the improvements. Intended originally as catapult launched spotter aircraft, they saw extensive service in the land-based Air Sea Rescue role. Later aircraft were equipped with an arrestor hook fo carrier operations.

Most Sea Otters were built by Saunders Roe and the type entered service in 1942 as the last biplane type to enter service with the Fleet Air Arm and the RAF. They remained with the RN in the ASR role until the late 1940.

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Supermarine Walrus HMS VICTORIOUS, British Pacific Fleet December 1944.

The stubby and functional Supermarine Walrus will be a fairly familiar sight to modellers.  Designed by the famous RJ Mitchell (who also designed the far more elegant Spitfire), it firs t flew in 1933 and remained in service throughout WW2 and on into the 1950s.

Originally flown by the Fleet Air Arm as a spotter aircraft from light Cruisers and battleships, the Walrus became equally well known as an Air-Sea-Rescue aircraft operated by the RAF.

As spotter aircraft were withdrawn from ships, several Walrus remained in service operating form carriers as general communications aircraft., Including the subject of the model, an aircraft used in this role, operating from HMS VICTORIOUS in December 1944 and sporting the distinctive US-style roundels of the newly formed British Pacific Fleet.  

The Matchbox Walrus is an excellent example of the quality of these later Matchbox biplanes. This is a recent Revell re-issue, with decals for an aircraft of the British Pacific Fleet (Link to build page)