Kit No. HC1584
Decals: Two versions – Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy
Comments: Engraved panel lines; individually mounted propeller blades; gunsight and one-piece canopy
The Supermarine Seafire was a naval version of the Supermarine Spitfire specially adapted for operation from aircraft carriers. The name Seafire was arrived at by collapsing the more cumbersome name Sea Spitfire. The Seafire Mk XV was the first naval Spitfire to use the Rolls Royce Griffon engine, although Griffons had been fitted to land-based Spitfires beginning in November 1941. Entering service with the Fleet Air Arm in May 1945, the Griffon-engined Seafires remained in service until the 1950’s.
The Admiralty first showed an interest in the idea of a carrier-borne Spitfire in May 1938 when during a meeting with Richard Fairey of Fairey Aviation, Admiralty staff proposed that his company design and build such an aircraft. The idea met with a negative response and the matter was dropped. As a result the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) was forced to order Blackburn Rocs and Gloster Sea Gladiators, both of which proved to be inadequate.
The matter of a sea-borne Spitfire was raised again in November 1939 when the Air Ministry allowed a Commander Ermen to fly a Spitfire Mk I. After his first flight in R6718, Ermen learned that Joseph Smith, Chief Designer at Supermarine, had been instructed to fit an “A-frame” arrestor hook on a Spitfire and that this had flown on 16 October. A drawing of this aircraft had been shown to the FAA on 27 October. After further discussion, Supermarine submitted a drawing of a Spitfire with folding wings and an arrestor hook; the wings were designed with a fold just outboard of the undercarriage bays; the outer wings would swivel and fold backwards, parallel with the fuselage. On 29 February 1940 the Admiralty asked the Air Ministry to sanction the production of 50 folding wing Spitfires, with the first deliveries to start in July. However, Winston Churchill, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty stepped in and cancelled the order, writing to Lord Beaverbrook, “I regard it as of very great importance that the production of Fulmars should be kept going.”
Churchill’s letter served to block production of the Spitfire for the Navy during the period of “the Phony War” in early 1940, when hostilities had been declared but no real fighting had begun on the Continent. He may have been motivated by a belief that in the coming war, the RAF would need every land-based Spitfire it could get, and therefore could not afford diversion of any portion of the new fighter’s production. The Royal Navy would have to make due with its Fulmars. In the same vein, once the Germans invaded France later in the Spring of 1940, there came a point when, prior to the evacuation at Dunkirk, Air Marshal Hugh Dowding wrote the British prime minister urging that no further fighter aircraft be sent to the Continent to help defend France. Dowding was indeed motivated by the need to muster all resources in preparation for the Battle of Britain. Spitfires, comprising only one-third of the RAF’s fighter force, were nonetheless vital to Britain’s defence.
It would take over 18 months before the first Seafires were built, after the Admiralty in late 1941assessed the Spitfire for conversion.
At that time, 48 Spitfire Mk. Vb’s were converted by Air Training Service Ltd. at Hamble to become “hooked Spitfires.” This was the Seafire Mk. Ib and would be the first of several Seafire variants to reach the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. This version of the Seafire was mainly used to allow the Royal Navy to gain experience in operating the Spitfire on aircraft carriers. The main structural change was made to the lower rear fuselage which incorporated an A-frame style arrestor hook and strengthened lower longerons. It was soon discovered that the fuselage, especially around hatches, was too weak for sustained carrier operations. In an attempt to alleviate this condition, reinforcing strips were riveted around hatch openings and along the main fuselage longerons. A further 118 Seafire Ibs incorporating the fuselage reinforcements were modified from Spitfire Vbs by Cunliffe-Owen at Eastleigh and Air Training Service. These aircraft were equipped with Naval HF radio equipment and IFF equipment as well as a Type 72 homing beacon. Armament was that same as that of the Spitfire Mk Vb, two 20mm Hispano Mk II cannon with 60 rounds per gun fed from a drum magazine, and four .303 caliber machine guns with 350 rounds per gun.
The first use of Seafires in carrier operations was Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of Morocco in November 1942. Seafires saw most service in the Far East Pacific campaigns, serving with No. 887 and 894 Squadrons, Fleet Air Arm, aboard HMS Indefatigable and joining the British Pacific Fleet late in 1944. Due to their good high altitude performance and lack of ordnance-carrying capabilities (compared to the Hellcats and Corsairs of the Fleet), the Seafires were allocated the vital defensive duties of Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the fleet. Seafires were heavily involved in countering the kamikaze attacks during the Iwo Jima landings and beyond. The Seafires’ best day was August 15, 1945, shooting down eight attacking aircraft for a single loss. During the campaign 887 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) claimed 12 kills, and 894 NAS claimed 10 kills (with two more claims earlier in 1944 over Norway).
The Royal Canadian Navy Air Arm operated two squadrons of the Seafire Mk. XV from 1945 to 1949. The Seafire Mk. XV was armed with two 20mm cannon and four .303 caliber machine guns, just as the Seafire Ib had been. Maximum speed was 392 mph and the rate of climb was 5,000 feet per minute to 36,000 feet. Canada’s Seafire Mk. XVs were flown from HMCS Magnificent and HMS Warrior before being replaced by Sea Furies in 1948.
France received 65 Seafire Mk IIIs, 24 of these being deployed on the carrier Arromanches in 1948, when it sailed for Vietnam to fight in the First Indochina War, the Seafires operating both from land bases and from Arromanches on ground attack missions against the Viet Minh before being withdrawn from combat operations in January 1949. After returning to European waters, the Seafire units were re-equipped with Seafire XVs, but these were quickly replaced by F6F Hellcats from 1950.
Korean War Service
Post war, the Fleet Air Arm replaced its Merlin-powered Seafires with Griffon-powered aircraft, initially with the Seafire Mk. XV and Mk. XVII, and from 1948, by the definitive Seafire Mk. 47. In 1950, HMS Triumph began a tour of the Far East, embarking 800 Naval Air Squadron with Seafire Mk. 47s along with 827 Naval Air Squadron, equipped with Fairey Fireflies. Following the outbreak of the Korean War, HMS Triumph was diverted to interdiction operations to try and stem the North Korean offensive, and her Seafires flew both ground attack and combat air patrol missions from July until September 1950, when Triumph was replaced on station by HMS Theseus, equipped with Sea Furies. During operations off Korea, Seafires flew 360 operational sorties, losing one aircraft shot down by friendly fire from a B-29 Superfortress and a second aircraft lost when its arrestor hook failed to extend. The Seafire, however, proved more vulnerable to the stresses of carrier operation with many aircraft suffering wrinkling of the rear fuselage brought about by heavy landings. Following the end of operations, when peacetime airworthiness rules were re-imposed, all but three of 800 Squadron’s Seafires were declared unserviciable owing to wrinkling.
Hobbycraft’s Seafire XV is molded in grey, has nicely engraved panel lines, and consists of 48 injection molded parts. The most distinctive feature of the Seafire is the twin bulge on either side of the nose to accommodate the V-12 Rolls Royce Griffin engine, which was a bit bulkier than the Merlin, and Hobbycraft has captured this detail. While it has no external stores, due to their combat air patrol role, Seafires were most often flown by British and Commonwealth Fleet Air Arm forces in a clean configuration. The fuselage interiors have engraved detail for the cockpit sidewalls, and the cockpit assembly includes a clear gunsight, separate rudder pedals, and a meticulously detailed control stick. The seat appears to be mounted on a faithfully recreated late-war A-frame for Spitfires, combined with what may be a sheet of armor plate to give the pilot additional protection. The propeller blades are individually mounted. The decals provide for an option of a Royal Navy Seafire, or markings for a Royal Canadian Navy example.
The quality is strongly reminescent of Arii/Otaki and while it is not super-detailed, this kit should build into a fine example of the Seafire right out of the box. Highly recommended.