Superlative Seafarer

The iconic Spitfire found its sea legs in the form of the Seafire line of ‘hooked’ fighters. In our first ‘Classics’ instalment, Malcolm V Lowe describes the Merlin-engined versions

An iconic image of three Seafire Mk.Ib fighters in formation, displaying the characteristics of the type including the arrester hook protruding beneath the lower rear fuselage. Belonging to 736 NAS, Fleet Air Arm, the nearest aircraft to the camera was NX890/AC-C, with NX924/AC-D behind.
During the early years of World War Two, Britain’s Royal Navy (RN) found itself chronically short of effective fighters able to operate from its aircraft carriers. The service entered the war with various 1930s designs, which were outclassed by the German Luftwaffe’s more modern fighters, leading to a major crisis not easily solved. The Blackburn Roc and Gloster Sea Gladiator were among the main fighter types of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) at that time, plus the multi-role Blackburn Skua. They were accompanied in the early war period by the Fairey Fulmar, which entered service during the summer of 1940. Of these, by far the best was the Fulmar with its eight wing-mounted.303in Browning machine guns, but as a two-seat fighter it suffered from an obsolete design philosophy; effectively its second crew member was little more than an unnecessary passenger.

The short-term answer to meet the RN’s immediate operational requirements lay close to home. During the inter-war period the FAA was under RAF control and it was not until 1939 that the service again came under Admiralty jurisdiction. Ironically, it was two land-based RAF aircraft which, when navalised, gave the service a credible counter to Germany’s aerial supremacy. These were the RAF’s superlative fighter designs: the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire.

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