Supermarine Seafire Carrier-Borne Fighter / Fighter-Bomber / Reconnaissance Aircraft
The carrierborne Supermarine Seafire was a derivative of the highly successful Supermarine land-based Spitfire.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
When the land-based Hawker Hurricane was successfully converted into the carrier-based "Sea Hurricane", thought was given to repeating the process for the ubiquitous Supermarine Spitfire fighter series that had carved a name for itself in the Battle of Britain. The original fighter emerged from the small Supermarine concern as a true legendary performer and debuted in Royal Air Force service in 1938. From there the type was evolved into a myriad of variants and subvariants - the notable marks numbering some 20 versions - and covered sorties from interception and reconnaissance to fighter and ground attack. Thought to converting Spitfires for the carrier role was given as early as May of 1938 but little work was done on the concept at that time. It must be stated that, despite the advanced nature of the Royal Air Force (fielding modern Hurricanes and Spitfires) and the inherent ocean-going surface firepower of the Royal Navy itself, the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) - the aerial arm of the Royal Navy - lacked largely behind in terms of modern quality - it still utilizing biplane designs of a seemingly bygone era of flight.
After the Battle of Britain, which required all of the land-based Spitfires available, interest once again arose for converting the Spitfires for carrier service. For years prior, the Fleet Air Arm relied on the American Grumman Wildcat (as the Grumman "Martlet" in FAA service) and the Fairey Fulmar carrier-based aircraft series. The introduction of a navalized Spitfire was actually delayed by Churchill himself who pushed production of other aircraft including that of the Fulmar. A modified Spitfire (converted from an existing Spitfire Mk VB model) was successfully trialed from the deck of the HMS Illustrious with a "V" frame arrestor gear and reinforced undercarriage. Upon passing additional evaluations during 1941, the type was accepted for Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm service as the "Supermarine Seafire". Some 48 Mk VB airframes were converted for the naval role and the type proved promising enough to net a further 118 examples to the total.
The initial operational model became the Seafire Mk IB which debuted in June of 1942 and the series was also used for training naval pilots in the nuances of carrier flight coming from a Spitfire breed. Seafires initially featured the "B Type" wings of the Spitfire, which indicated their armament of 2 x 20mm Hispano cannons and 4 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns (Spitfires, in whole, were fielded with A, B, C and D Type wings which carried variable armament - the C being the adaptable "universal wing" which could be adapted to suit requirements and sped production). The aircraft was also plumbed along centerline to carry a single external fuel tank supply.
Outwardly, the Seafire largely shared the fine design lines of the land-based Spitfire it represented. All major design details were retained including the retractable undercarriage, inline piston engine installation and low-mounted elliptical wing appendages. Armament was all concentrated in the wing leading edges. The empennage was conventional and held the tail wheel, a rounded vertical tail fin and applicable horizontal planes. The pilot sat in a relatively roomy cockpit with generally good views around his aircraft save for the critical "six" region (the absolute rear), this being blocked by the raised fuselage spine.
Seafire fighters were launched in support of the Allied Operation Torch amphibious landings in North Africa during November of 1942 from the carrier HMS Furious. From there the type proved its worth in support actions over Salerno and across southern Europe, particularly over French airspace. Seafires were a prominent player in all of the Allied actions concerning the Mediterranean Theater, seeing considerable activity during 1943. Seafires were also shipped in number to combat the Empire of Japan forces in the Pacific Theater and these found equal success well into the final months of the war (August 1945). As the aircraft was developed from a proven thoroughbred, the Seafire proved an excellent fighter mount in her own right considering its conversion to naval life from its land-based origins. If the type held any failings it was in its narrow-track undercarriage which had a propensity to collapse under the stresses of ship-born service and the high landing speeds brought about by their inherently powerful origins.
The early Seafire mark was eventually superseded by the newer Seafire Mk IIC series appearing in 1942 and these included the C Type universal wings (dutifully strengthened for carrier launches and recovery), mounting 4 x 20mm cannons with a reinforced fuselage and rocket-assisted take-off equipment (RATOG = Rocket Assisted Take-Off Gear). The Mk IIC models were based on the Spitfire VC and inherited their overall improved qualities. The Seafire L.Mk IIC (with Merlin 32 inline driving a four-bladed propelled) was a low-altitude derivative of the Mk IIC line, intended for optimized combat at low-to-medium levels. These were further branched out to become camera-equipped (2 x F.24 cameras) armed reconnaissance types as the Seafire LR.Mk IIC (Merlin 64 inline driving a four-bladed propeller), retaining their fighter prowess. Seafire Mk IIC production forms were the first quantitative models deployed in number by the FAA with some 372 examples being built in all. 110 of these became the L.Mk IIC low-altitude fighter types.