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Camouflage and markings of Gloster Gladiator

Part 1

n by Rick Kent


Gloster Gladiator in Profile

Throughout aviation history, few aircraft reached the level of design elegance equal to that of British biplanes at the peak of their development in the 1930s. Classic designs like Hawker Hind, Fury or Gloster Gladiator all prove the point.

The Gladiator was produced between 1935 and 1940. There were three major versions Mk.I, Mk.II and the Sea Gladiator. 746 had been made.

The first part of this profile collection is devoted to pre-war period. The second one covers wartime markings.

Pre-war Period

 

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Gloster Gladiator Mk. I
73 Squadron RAF
Debden, Essex, September 1937

The Gladiator above is one of the early pre-war aircraft in the colourful markings still in use at that time. 73 Squadron operated them from June 1937 to July 1938 when they were replaced by Hurricanes. There are several points that modellers should note about the Gladiators in general as follows:

  1. Although the Mk I was supposed to have a spinner on the front of the propeller this was often removed, as the above picture shows;

  2. Another difference concerns the radio aerials - on the original Mk I these were "Y" shaped, going out to two separate "pegs" near the wingtips, as on this one - the Mk II had a single "peg" on the centre section of the upper wing as did the Sea Gladiatior, but the Mk I's were also modified in this way in later life;

  3. Both the Mk II and Sea Gladiator were originally built with the three-bladed metal propeller, but most had these replaced by the original two-blade wooden prop in service. So it's really a case of having a photographic reference for any particular aircraft to see how these things were. Like most things in this life, nothing is simple is it?

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Gloster Gladiator Mk. I
72 Squadron RAF
Church Fenton, Yorkshire, June 1937

More colourful pre-war style of RAF fighter markings on display. 72 Squadron with their red/blue bars (repeated across the top wing between the roundels) were the first Gladiator Squadron from February 1937. They re-equipped with Spitfires in April/May 1939.

Something that should be mentioned is that RAF wooden propellers were painted a shade of grey very similar to Medium Sea Grey - this I know from having seen many original examples during the time I worked for the RAF Museum.

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Gloster Gladiator Mk. I
87 Squadron RAF
Debden, Essex, October 1937

profile_gladiator_13a.gif (2245 bytes)Here is a Gladiator Mk. I in the original pre-war colourful markings of 87 Squadron. There is an interesting story attached to the markings: in WW I the Squadron used a symbol like a letter 'S' turned through 90° as its identity marking; when official badges were introduced in the RAF in the 1930s this was taken and turned into a snake (as can be seen on the fin); in the Squadron marking on the fuselage and wings the black bar represents a tree branch and the green wavy line intertwined around it is the snake.

The preserved Gladiator in the RAF Museum, Hendon, has these markings on it. The blue-painted fin of this aircraft indicates that it was flown by the commander of 'B' Flight of the Squadron ('A' Flight had red).

87 Squadron operated Gladiators from June 1937 to July 1938, when they were replaced by Hurricanes. After WW II, the Squadron continued to use a similar marking, firstly on Meteors and then on Javelins.

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Gloster Sea Gladiator Mk. I
802 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service
H.M.S. Glorious, August 1939

This one is a pre-war Sea Gladiator. The yellow chevron marking indicates HMS Glorious as does the "G" in the code; the "6" is the code for 802 Sqn, and the "A" is the individual aircraft ident letter. The black fin might indicate the squadron commander's mount but I couldn't confirm this - just a guess as the letter is "A". Only a few months later 802 and all their Sea Gladiators went down with Glorious in the defence of Norway when she was sunk by the Scharnhorst on 8th June 1940.

The bulge under the centre section is the dinghy housing applicable only to the Sea Gladiator, as is the arrestor hook further aft.

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Gloster Gladiator Mk. II
615 Squadron RAF
Kenley, Surrey, August 1939

This time a Mk II with three-blade propeller as you can see and also in the camouflage introduced at the time of the Munich Crisis with pre-war code letters. The undersurfaces were, as prescribed, half white/half black, so on the left side they were black. 615 Squadron operated the Gladiator up to May 1940, beginning re-equipment with Hurricanes in April.

Continue to Camouflage and Markings of Gloster Gladiator, Part 2

Rick Kent is a modeller, IPMS:er and a productive aviation artist. His speciality are computer-generated aircraft profiles.

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