Gloster Gladiator

The Gloster Gladiator (or Gloster SS.37) was a British-built biplane fighter, used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy (as the Sea Gladiator variant) and was exported to a number of other air forces during the late 1930s. It was the RAF's last biplane fighter aircraft and was rendered obsolete by newer monoplane designs even as it was being introduced. Though often pitted against more formidable foes during the early days of the Second World War, it acquitted itself reasonably well in combat. 

It saw action in almost all theatres during the Second World War, with a large number of air forces, some of them on the Axis side. The RAF used it in France, Norway, Greece, the defence of Malta, and the brief Anglo-Iraqi War (in which, ironically, the Royal Iraqi Air Force was similarly equipped). Other countries deploying the Gladiator included China against Japan, beginning in 1938; Finland (along with Swedish volunteers) against the Soviet Union in the Winter War and the Continuation War; and Norway, Belgium, and Greece resisting Axis invasion of their respective lands. 


Gloster Gladiator
Class Aircraft
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Gloster Aircraft Company
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1934
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
China View
Finland View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1934 1953 View
Norway View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Gloster Aircraft Company 747 View

The Gladiator was largely replaced in front line RAF service by the Hurricane and Spitfire at the outbreak of the Second World War, although two squadrons were used in the French and Norwegian campaigns. It would, however, see service in more peripheral campaigns during the early years of the Second World War. The classic biplane fighter was also one of Britain's biggest pre-war export successes, seeing service in many countries. The Gloster Gladiator performed reasonably well in limited Finnish service against Soviet fighters during the Winter War, but was found to be outclassed by German fighters in other theatres. Carrier-based Sea Gladiators were more successful, since their slower speed made them more suitable for carrier operations and they were less likely to be facing more modern fighter opposition.

The South African pilot Marmaduke "Pat" Pattle was the top Gladiator ace with 15 victories.

The first units to equip with Gladiators were No. 72 Squadron at Tangmere in February 1937 and, subsequently, No. 3 Squadron at Kenley, from March–April. The Gladiator‘s introduction into RAF service was difficult. Although it was well liked by pilots, accidents during operational training were so numerous that a small replacement batch of 28 Mk IIs was hurriedly produced. Most accidents were caused by pilots being caught out by the fighter’s increased wing loading and many aviators had little experience in landing aircraft with such a wide flap area. The new Gloster biplane stalled more abruptly with the tendency to drop a wing. The Gladiator proved even easier to enter a flat spin and great skill was needed to recover.

The Gladiator was largely replaced in front line RAF service by the Hurricane and Spitfire at the outbreak of the Second World War, though two squadrons were used in the French and Norwegian campaigns. It saw service in peripheral campaigns during the early years of the war. The classic biplane fighter was also one of Britain's biggest pre-war export successes, seeing service in many countries. The Gladiator performed reasonably well in limited Finnish service against Soviet fighters during the Winter War but was found to be outclassed by German fighters in other theatres. Carrier-based Sea Gladiators were more successful, since their slower speed made them more suitable for carrier operations and they were less likely to face more modern fighter opposition. In the African theatres against Italian opposition, which included some biplanes, the Gladiator fared well.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 27 ft 5 in (8.4 m)
  • Wingspan: 32 ft 3 in (9.8 m)
  • Height: 11 ft 7 in (3.2 m)
  • Wing area: 323 ft (30 m)
  • Empty weight: 3,444 lb (1,560 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 4,864 lb (2,205 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: lb (kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 x Bristol Mercury IX radial engine, 850 hp (630 kW)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 257 mph (414 km/h) at 14,600 ft (4,500 m)
  • Range: 444 mi (710 km)
  • Service ceiling 33,500 ft (10,200 m)
  • Rate of climb: 2220 ft/min (11.2 m/s)
  • Wing loading: lb/ft (kg/m)
  • Power/mass: hp/lb (W/kg)

Armament

  • Guns: Two Synchronised .303in. Browning machine-guns on sides of front fuselage, and one beneath each lower wing.

In at least some Sea Gladiators, provision existed for a pair of Brownings to be fitted under the upper wings as well, bringing the total to six. Official service release trials were not completed before the Sea Gladiators were replaced by later types - but some upper wing Brownings may have been fitted in the field, in particular in Malta.

End notes