When it first entered service, the concept of a Sea-Spitfire was not new; the Fleet Air Arm and Supermarine had been pushing for just such a fighter since before WW2 started, but concerns about the robustness of the design, doctrinal objections from the Air Ministry and Admiralty, plus more significantly, the need to maintain priority for Spitfire deliveries to the RAF, meant that the Seafire was a relative late-comer.
However, by 1941, the success of the Sea Hurricane and the changing needs of the Mediterranean campaign in particular, made the Spitfire's adoption at sea an inevitable evolution. After a slightly shaky start, during which concerns over the robustness of the airframe proved largely correct, Seafires settled down to become one of the leading British naval fighters of WW2, saw active service in Korea and continued to be used by the RN and RNVR, until the mid 1950s.
Merlin Engined Variants
Seafire Mk1 The first Seafires were relatively simple conversions of ex-RAF Spitfire Vbs. Fitted with a hook and little else, they were like a breath of fresh air to FAA pilots used to the sedate Fulmar, tired Sea Hurricanes and the robust and ratehr crude Wildcat. Conversions were undertaken by Air Service Training Ltd in Hamble and at Supermarine's South Marston factory in Swindon (now Honda's UK factory).
Seafire 1b - possibly 880 Sqn FAA, seen at Gibraltar 1943
Italeri Spitfire Vb (Trop). Scratch-built arrestor hook and lifting eyes fitted. Markings are from the spares box.
The exact identity of this aircraft is not clear, but it was photographed at Gibraltar in 1943 whilst being repaired.
Seafire 1b - Port Reitz, Mombassa, Kenya 1943
Another converted Italeri Spitfire Vb. Markings from the Aeromaster FAA Part 1 Set.
Lt Cdr Duncan Hamilton RN flew this unusually painted aircraft as his personal mount, whilst based at Port Reitz Air Station, Mombassa, Kenya in 1943. Cannons have been removed.
Seafire MkII The Seafire Mk. IIc was actually the first Seafire variant to be taken on charge by the Fleet Air Arm, entering service days before the first Seafire Mk. Ibs. The Mark II introduced the Spitfire "C" Wing, which allowed it to be fitted with up to 4 x 20mm cannon. In recognition of the different operating conditions at sea, a low altitude version, the L.IIc variant, was fitted with the Merlin 32 engine and a 4 blade propeller. All were new aircraft, with production shared between Supermarine and Westland. Provision was made for rocket assited take-off (RATO), under fuselage slipper fuel tanks and a single 500lb bomb.
Seafire IIc - 885 Sqn FAA HMS FORMIDABLE, Operation TORCH 1942
Airfix Spitfire Vc converted with strengthening plates, radio hatch, hook & spools
In November 1942, during Operation TORCH, the Allied invasion of North Africa, SLt J D Buchanan claimed an Armee d'l Air Douglas DB7 over Algiers Bay whilst flying this machine. National markings on RN Aircraft participating in this operation were temporarily over-painted with US Style insignia, as it was felt that the Vichy French forces were therefore less likely to shoot at them.
Seafire IIc - 807 Sqn FAA HMS BATTLER, Operation AVALANCHE, Salerno, September 1943
Airfix Seafire IIc from the 2009 Club Limited edition set
September 1943 saw the first significant Allied landings in Mainland Europe, at Salerno in Italy. Operation Avalanche was supported by a significant Fleet Air Arm force, including Seafires. The aircraft performed well in the air, but around 60% of the force suffered significant landing damage, with the Seafire's known fragility exacerbated by calm conditions limiting wind over the decks.
Seafire MkIII The defintive Merlin-engined Seafire was the Mark III, which introduced much needed folding wings, allowing many more aircraft to be carried on the RN's small carriers. Once again, a low altitude variant, the L.F. III was produced. Production was shared between Cunliffe-Owen aircraft in Birmingham, and Westland, with the aircraft seeing widespread service in the European and Pacific theatres. By VJ Day in 1945, 12 FAA Squadrons were flying the Seafire, all but 4 of which were equipped with the MkIII.
Seafire III - 24th Naval Fighter Wing (formerly 887/894 Sqns), HMS INDEFATIGABLE, 1945
Airfix Spitfire Mk IX, with Freightdog decals, hook, strengtheners, single radiator and slipper tank
This particular aircraft, flown by the 24th Wing's CO, Lt Cdr "Buster" Hallet RN, DSC & Bar, was one of several stripped and polished up at the end of the war. There is apparently some doubt as to whether the anti-glare panel was blue or black; I have gone for blue.
Seafire LIII - 887 Sqn FAA HMS INDEFATIGABLE 1945
Heller Spitfire XVI with built up after deck, Academy canopy, wing extensions, single radiator and more (built using the spare bits left over from the Seafire 17 below).
Links to Build Photos (How to build a Seafire the difficult way): Upper Surfaces Lower Surfaces
SLt G J "Spud" Murphy destroyed 2 A6M5s Zeroes during a raid over Odaki Bay, Japan on 15 Aug 1945 in this aircraft. On returning to INDEFATIGABLE, the pilots learned that a cease fire was to take effect from 0700 the following morning and that 6 long years of war was finally over.
The engagement, by Seafires of 887 and 894 Sqns, escorting Avengers of 820 Sqn, was the final British aerial victory of WW2 and resulted in 8 confirmd kills, 3 probables and 4 damaged. Just as the first confirmed victory of the war had fallen to the Fleet Air Arm, so had the last.
Griffon Engined Variants
Seafire XV With the introduction of the Griffon engined Seafire, the type nomenclature was changed to fit in with the equivalent Spitfire sequence, thus the next Seafire variant became the XV. With production again shared between Westland and Cunliffe-Owen, as WW2 ended, the first squadrons of XVs were working up in Scotland ready to deploy to the Pacific as replacements for Mk IIIs.
Seafire XV - 767 Sqn FAA, RN Fighter Training School, RNAS Milltown, Nairn, 1949
Converted Academy Spitfire XIV with Freightdog Models markings. Engine cowling shortened, hook/wheel guard added, 4 blade prop.
Seafire XVII / F.17 The first post-war Seafire was the Mk 17, entering front-line service in September 1945. this was capable of carrying far more fuel and also adopted the cut down deck and bubble canopy of the later model Spitfires. The change was not entirely successful as it reduced lateral stability, but the F.17 was used successfully for many years.
Seafire F17 - 781 Sqn FAA, RNAS Lee-on-Solent 1946
Academy Spitfire XIV with cut down deck and "sting" hook, canopy from the Heller XVI.
Although not the final Seafire variant to enter service, the Griffon powered Mk17 was the last to leave service, remaining with RNVR Squadrons until the end of 1954. This particular aircraft was built by Westland, along with all but 20 of the total 232 production.
... and the real thing, in the air once more at Yeovilton in 2009.
Seafire 45/46 The Seafire 45 was the naval equivalent of the Spitfire 21, fitted with a 5 blade airscrew (and a first trial of the Seafire with a contrarotating 6 blade version). Only 50 were made, and it did not have folding wings, so served purely ashore as a training and development aircraft. In a similar way, the Seafire 46 matched the Spitfire 22. It was generally similar to its predecessor, but most had the contra-rotating prop as standard, it re-introduced the bubble-top canopy and had a larger fin & rudder unit to restore longitudinal stability. Once again it did not enter front-line service.
Seafire F45 - 771 Sqn FAA, RNAS Lee-on-Solent 1948
CMR Resin kit - not yet built
Seafire 47 The final Seafire variant to enter service was the Seafire 47. Essentially a fully navalised Seafire 46, it shared much in common with the Spitfire 24, but with fully folding wings. Seafire 47s served in Malaya and Korea, attacking ground targets and flying fighter sweeps. Seafire 47s left front line service in 1951, superceded by the Supermarine Attacker. They continued in second line service with the RNVR until 1952, when they were replaced by Hawker Sea Furies.
Seafire F47 - 800 Sqn Fleet Air Arm, Task Force 57, HMS TRIUMPH, UN Forces, Incheon, Korea 1950
In this final form, the Seafire 47 was the last of the Spitfire family to go to war, with HMS TRIUMPH's Seafire Squadron playing a key part in the first year of the Korean War, especially the Inchon Landings of September 1950.
However, Korea was to become a key turning point in the history of aviation, as the battle hardened, propeller driven Seafires, Fireflies, Furies, Corsairs, Yaks, Lavochkins, Mustangs and Bearcats, finally gave way to the new generation of jet-powered MiG-15s, Banshees, Panthers and Sabres.
Royal Navy and Commonwealth forces had already been operating around Korea since the end of June, with Seafire (800 Sqn) and Firefly (827 Sqn) aircraft from HMS TRIUMPH participating in the first UN Carrier Strikes (along with aircraft from the USS VALLEY FORGE) on 3 July 1950. After several months of busy action in support of the beleagured UN Forces trapped within the Pusan perimeter, TRIUMPH's Seafires and Fireflies then participated in Operation Chromite, the successful Inchon Landings, on 13 Sep 1950.
At the end of the first day's action at Inchon, General MacArthur, commanding UN Forces, signalled to the Royal Navy's Admiral Andrewes, Commander Task Force 91, "My heartiest felicitations on the splendid conduct of the Fleet units under your command. They have added another glamorous page to the long and brilliant histories of the Navies of the British Commonwealth."
Supermarine Type 382 Seafang Mk.31, Carrier Trials Unit, HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, 1946
AZ Models Spiteful with modifications. Not really a Seafire, but almost. The planned main production variant of the Seafang would have been the Mk.32 with contrarotating props and folding wings, but to enable early entry into service, the initial Mk.31 was a basic version, essentially a Spiteful with a hook.
The Seafang and Spiteful were the last gasp of the Spitfire line. By 1943 it was evident that the Spitfire airframe had reached its physical limits, so Supermarine began work on an advanced wing to allow far higher speeds. The laminar flow wing was thinner, with a sharper leading edge and with its thickest part further aft. By allowing the air to flow around the wing with less turbulence, drag would be reduced and the top speed of the aircraft would increase. At the same time, the overall shape and construction of the wing were simplified, overcoming a long lasting production limitation of Mitchell's original Spitfire wing design. A new fuselage was also designed, with a lower nose overcoming the visibility issues that the longer Griffon had brought, and a large tail unit restored the longitudinal stability lost with the more powerful engine and the bubble-top after deck.
The Spiteful and Seafang were modestly successful and were certainly very fast, although the new wing showed some undesirable characteristics when approaching a stall. None of these were significant issues for such a radical design, but the end of the war, the emergence of jet technology, plus the success of the rival Hawker Fury/Sea Fury and Seafire 45/47 designs, meant that further development of the aircraft was halted after only a few had been built.
Nevertheless, the advanced laminar flow Spiteful wing did eventually see service, evolving into the awkward looking Supermarine Attacker, the Royal Navy's first operational jet fighter.
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