Gloster
Gladiator

The RAF's last biplane fighter that served with great distinction during the Second World War.

Air to air photograph of Gloster SS37 prototype for the Gladiator Air to air photograph of the open cockpit Gloster SS37 prototype for the Gladiator.
 
The origin of the Gloster Aircraft Company Gladiator was in a private venture modification of the Gloster Gauntlet, to meet the requirements of Specification F.7/30 which called for an aircraft capable of at least 250 mph. The prototype that emerged was the single Gloster SS.37 (later allocated serial K5200) which had an open cockpit, whilst later production Gladiator aircraft were fitted with an enclosed, sliding canopy.
 
The aircraft was powered by a Bristol Mercury engine, featuring a clean cantilever undercarriage with internally-sprung Dowty wheels.
 
The SS.37 flew for the first time on 12th September 1934 in the hands of Gloster Chief Test Pilot Gerry Sayer.  During flight testing, it attained a top speed of 242 mph, a level which left some Ministry officials so sceptical that such a performance level could have been achieved from a radial engine design that they ordered a protracted series of additional tests.
 
The production aircraft was finally ordered against Specification F.14/35, with 23 aircraft being initially procured and the type entering RAF service in February 1936.  It was then officially designated as Gloster Gladiator I. All manufacturing took place at the Gloster Hucclecote Factory, with the first production aircraft (K6129) being accepted into service on 16th February 1937.
 
The Gloster Gladiator II was similar, but made use of a Fairey fixed-pitch three-blade metal propeller.
 
50 aircraft were ordered in 1938, with many being delivered as Gloster Sea Gladiators.  These were then followed by a further order for 300 aircraft (also split between Gladiator II and the arrester hook-equipped Sea Gladiator models).
 
Gloster Gladiator I K6131 Air to air photograph of RAF Gloster Gladiator I K6131.
 
Gloster Sea Gladiator N5525 Gloster Sea Gladiator N5525 of RAF Hal Far Flight, Malta.
 
No.72 Squadron at RAF Tangmere were the first RAF unit to be equipped with the Gloster Gladiator and they were soon joined by No.3 Squadron at Kenley, where they replaced their Bristol Bulldogs.  
 
The Gloster Gladiator served with considerable distinction during the Second World War, notably in the defence of Malta, in Air Force service in Egypt and in Norway. A number also formed the spearhead of the RAF London Air Defence Force.
 
No.247 Squadron at RAF Roborough (Devon) also operated Gloster Gladiators during the Battle of Britain, although no combat sorties actually took place due to the high altitude of the aerial dogfights that took place over Kent.   
 
In addition to their use by the RAF, overseas sales of Gladiator I included Latvia (26), Lithuania (14), Belgium (22), China (36), Ireland (4) and Greece (2).
 
Additionally, Norway ordered 6 Gloster Gladiator I followed by 6 Gloster Gladiator II whilst Sweden purchased 37 Gloster Gladiator I and 18 Gloster Gladiator II.
 
30 ex-RAF Gladiator II were supplied to Finland, 17 to Greece and 15 to Portugal.
 
Egypt received 18 ex-RAF Gloster Gladiator I and 27 Gloster Gladiator II, some of which were subsequently taken back into RAF service whilst a single, ex-RAF Gloster Gladiator I, and 11 Gloster Gladiator II aircraft were transferred to the South African Air Force.
 
Gloster Gladiator Finnish GL-276 on skis Finnish Gloster Gladiator GL-276 on skis on a frozen lake.
 
The Gloster Gladiator ended its RAF service life in a meteorological role during 1944 and one surviving aircraft (G-AMRK) is currently being preserved in flying condition at The Shuttleworth Trust in Bedfordshire.

 

Gloster Gladiator G-AMRK Gloster Gladiator G-AMRK now preserved in flying condition at the Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden.
 
The single engine Gladiator was the last biplane design fighter aircraft to be used by the RAF.

 

Variants & Numbers


Gloster SS.37               Prototype K5200 
Gladiator I One 840hp Bristol Mercury IX. Designated J8 in Swedish Air Force service. Delivered 1937–38, 378 built
Gladiator II One Bristol Mercury VIIIA air-cooled radial piston engine. Designated J8A in Swedish Air Force service. Delivered 1938–39, 270 built.
Sea Gladiator Interim Single-seat fighter biplane for the Royal Navy, 38 modified Gladiator II. Fitted with arrestor hooks. Serial numbers: N2265 – N2302
Sea Gladiator Single-seat fighter biplane for the Royal Navy, 60 built. Fitted with arrestor hook and provision for dinghy stowage. Serial numbers: N5500 – N5549 and N5565 – N5574.

 

Specification (Gladiator II)


Powerplant One 830 hp Bristol Mercury VIIIA or VIIIA radial engine
Span 32 ft 3 in
Maximum Weight 4,864 lb
Capacity & Armament Single pilot (fighter). Two synchronised Browning 0.303 machine guns and two underwing machine guns.
Maximum Speed 257 mph

Survivors

K8042 Gladiator II
RAF Museum, Hendon                                                                                  
www.rafmuseum.org.uk/london                                        
L8032 Gladiator I
(G-AMRK / K7985)
Shuttleworth Collection
Gladiator II wreckage
(N5628)
RAF Museum, Hendon
Gladiator I
(HE-G / N5641)
Royal Norwegian Air Force Museum, Bodo
Gladiator II wreckage (N5643)
Armed Forces Museum, Oslo
Gladiator II
(N5719 / G-CBHO) 
Retro Track & Air, Cambridge for restoration
Gladiator II
N5914)
Jet Age Museum, Staverton
Gladiator in Finnish colours (Fv278)
Swedish Air Force Museum, Linköping www.flygvapenmuseum.se/languages/engelska 
Sea Gladiator II (frame)
(N5518)
FAA Museum, RNAS Yeovilton, Wiltshire
Sea Gladiator II
(N5520 'Faith')
Malta War Museum, Malta
Sea Gladiator II
(N5903)
The Fighter Collection, Duxford G-GLAD
 

Other information