Following along in the marine modification of the Hawker Hurricane for Fleet operations, the marinised version of the Supermarine Spitfire - the Seafire was not a simple exercise.
For one, the RAF were extremely reluctant to allocate precious Spitfires used to defend British targets from the Luftwaffe's bombing campaigns, to the Royal Navy. In fact, Spitfires were being rushed into battle as soon as they rolled off the production line with many of the usual factory flight testing regimes considerably shortened or ignored.
Eventually an initial batch of modified Spitfires were delivered to the Admiralty for operational disbursements in late 1941. Designated the Seafire F MkIII, there were considerable reservations about how its light weight and narrow landing gear would cope with the extreme shocks of carrier landings and would the retrofitted restraining hook simply pull out of the airframe.
Within a few months of operational use, these concerns soon proved to be valid and the Seafire factory’s were forced to redesign strengthen the aircrafts under carriage and install additional longitudinal aluminium stringers to reinforce the tail area.
Another issue with the Seafire’s, proved to be its limited fuel tank capacity which, for a land based fighter tasked with defending British targets, was not a problem but for a carrier launched interceptor required to range large distances away from the carrier fleet it become a significant issue which greatly reduced its maritime effectiveness.
The first direct combat operations conducted by the Seafire was during Operation Torch - the Allied landings in North Africa in Nov 1942 and the landings in Sicily almost a year later. The Seafires were then used again for ground support and air-cover during the invasion of the Italian mainland in 1943 but were rendered largely ineffective when the invasion fleets experienced almost glass like ocean conditions with not a breath of wind.
Watch original Newsreel footage of Seafire Fleet operations during the Italian campaign.
Within a few days, a good 50% of the Seafires had been written off or suffered substantial damage on landing with no headwind to slow their approaches. Their faster than usual landings resulted in landing gear collapses, arrester hook failures and runway overshoots sending the hapless pilots and their aircraft over the side.
During 1944 more robust and internally strengthened Seafires were used to greater effect during the invasion of Norway and during the Normandy landings whilst another two squadrons were dispatched to the Royal Navy’s Far East Pacific Fleet.
While the Supermarine Spitfire had struggled against the Japanese AM Zero due to its small fuel tank capacity and lower dive speeds, the repowered Supermarine Seafire’s with its additional tanks and new Griffon engines faired far better although the higher powered engines did also create their own unique challenges to the Seafire pilots.
The powerful Griffon engines rotated anti-clockwise and the additional torque exerted on the Seafire’s airframe meant that the pilot had to continually correct the flight of the aircraft in the opposite direction to maintain stable flight.
However, due to the Seafire’s higher altitude performance and lack of external ordinance pods to disturb its wings airflow, the Seafires were tasked with the critical defence over the fleet.
During the later island hoping invasions by the US marines leading up to the Okinawa landings, the Seafire’s were heavily involved in countering the Japanese kamikaze attacks on the fleet and continued operations right up to VJ Day.
Their best operational day was 15 August 1945, when they shot down eight attacking aircraft for only one loss. During the Pacific campaign Seafires claimed 12 kills. The top scoring Seafire pilot of the war was Sub-Lieutenant R.H. Reynolds DSC of 894 Squadron, who claimed 4.5 air victories in 1944–5.
In the immediate postwar years, Seafires continued on with the British and Australian carrier fleets and were used in the opening months of the Korean war before being replaced by the new carrier launched, high powered fighter/bomber, the Hawker Sea Fury.
All Supermarine Seafire Instruments listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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SUPERMARINE SEAFIRE AIR MINISTRY 1949, Mk9G 6A/3146 490 kt AIRSPEED INDICATOR
Rare 1949 Post War, Air Ministry 490kt Air Speed Indicator...