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Gloster Gladiator

The Gloster Gladiator was a British-built biplane fighter.

It was used by the RAF and the FAA as the Sea Gladiator; it was also exported to a number of other air forces during the late 1930s.

Developed privately as the Gloster SS.37, 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.

The Gladiator 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, the Middle East, and the brief Anglo-Iraqi War (during which the Royal Iraqi Air Force was similarly equipped).

Other countries deploying the Gladiator included China against Japan, beginning in 1938; Finland against the Soviet Union in the Winter War and the Continuation War; Sweden as a neutral non-combatant; and Norway, Belgium, and Greece resisting Axis invasion of their respective lands.

South African pilot Marmaduke “Pat” Pattle was the top Gladiator ace with 15 victories with the type.

Manufacturing of the Gladiator was started at Gloster’s Hucclecote facility.

Production of the initial batch was performed simultaneously, leading to many aircraft being completed around the same time.

On 16 February 1937, K6129, the first production Gladiator, was formally accepted by the RAF; on 4 March 1937, K6151, the last aircraft of the initial batch, was delivered.

In September 1935, a follow-up order of 180 aircraft was also received from the Air Ministry; this order had the proviso that all aircraft had to be delivered before the end of 1937.

The first version, the Gladiator Mk I, was delivered from July 1936, becoming operational in January 1937.

The Mk II soon followed, the main differences being a slightly more powerful Mercury VIIIAS engine with Hobson mixture control boxes and a partly automatic boost-control carburettor, driving a Fairey fixed-pitch three-blade metal propeller, instead of the two-blade wooden one of the Mark I.

All MK II Gladiators also carried Browning 0.303-inch machine guns (licence-manufactured by the BSA company in Birmingham) in place of the Vickers-Lewis combination of the MK I.

A modified Mk II, the Sea Gladiator, was developed for the Fleet Air Arm, with an arrestor hook, catapult attachment points, a strengthened airframe, and an underbelly fairing for a dinghy lifeboat, all for operations aboard aircraft carriers.

Of the 98 aircraft built as, or converted to, Sea Gladiators, 54 were still in service by the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Gladiator was the last British biplane fighter to be manufactured, and the first to feature an enclosed cockpit.

It possessed a top speed of about 257 mph (414 km/h; 223 kn), yet even as the Gladiator was introduced, it was already being eclipsed by new-generation monoplane fighters, such as the RAF Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire, and the Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109.

In total, 747 aircraft were built (483 RAF, 98 RN), with 216 being exported to 13 countries, some of which were from the total allotted to the RAF.

Gladiators were sold to Belgium, China, Egypt, Finland, Free France, Greece, Iraq, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, and Sweden.




Gladiator I

Version powered by a single 840 hp (630 kW) Bristol Mercury IX air-cooled radial piston engine.

The aircraft was designated J 8 in Swedish Air Force service.

Delivered 1937–38, 378 built.

Gladiator II

Version powered by a single Bristol Mercury VIIIA air-cooled radial piston engine.

The aircraft was designated J 8A 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 aircraft.

Fitted with arrestor hooks.

Sea Gladiator

Single-seat fighter biplane for the Royal Navy, 60 built.

Fitted with arrestor hooks and provision for dinghy stowage.





27 ft 5 in (8.36 m)


32 ft 3 in (9.83 m)


11 ft 9 in (3.58 m)

Wing area

323 sq ft (30.0 m2)


RAF 28

Empty weight

3,217 lb (1,459 kg)

Gross weight

4,594 lb (2,084 kg)


1 × Bristol Mercury IX,

9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine,

830 hp (620 kW)


3-bladed fixed-pitch metal propeller


Maximum speed

253 mph (407 km/h, 220 kn) at 14,500 ft (4,420 m)

Cruise speed

210 mph (340 km/h, 180 kn)

Stall speed

53 mph (85 km/h, 46 kn)


2 hours

Service ceiling

32,800 ft (10,000 m)

Rate of climb

2,300 ft/min (12 m/s)

Time to altitude

10,000 ft (3,048 m) in 4 minutes 45 seconds




Two synchronised .303 in Vickers machine guns in fuselage sides, two .303 in Lewis machine guns; one beneath each lower wing.

Later aircraft

Four .303 calibre M1919 Browning machine guns; two synchronised guns in fuselage sides and one beneath each lower wing.

On 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, although some upper wing Brownings may have been fitted in the field, in particular in Malta.



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