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Camouflage and markings of Gloster Gladiator

Part 2

n by Rick Kent


Gladiator Goes to War

This part is a continuation of Camouflage and Markings of Gloster Gladiator, Part 1. It covers wartime camouflage schemes of this classic biplane fighter.

In the first two years of the war the Gladiator performed valiantly in the European, African and Mediterranean theatres. A design under withdrawal, it nevertheless took part in the Battle of France and equipped one squadron in the Battle of Britain. The Gladiator's immortal fame was gained overseas, including operations in Norway, Malta and the Western Desert. The Gladiator was also sold for export, seeing service in many other countries.

In World War II combat, the Gladiator was really a relic of an era past, outgunned and outperformed, but never outmanoeuvred.

Wartime Camouflage

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Gloster Gladiator Mk. II
263 Squadron RAF
Lake Lesjaskog, Norway, April 1940

This Mk II Gladiator is one of the first ones of 263 Squadron that went out to Norway in the Spring of 1940. As you can see, the colour scheme is a little different from the usual: some of these aircraft were repainted on board ship by Royal Naval personnel along with their own Skuas, using the early wartime Naval style camouflage of Dark Green and Medium Sea Grey uppersurfaces with Sky Grey undersurfaces. This was felt to be much more appropriate to the prevailing weather conditions in Norway at that time of year than the usual green & brown shades. The serial number has been painted over, a common feature on many RAF airframes just before and early in WW II. Note that the original Mk II metal three-blade propeller has been retrofitted by the Mk I style two-blade wooden prop.

When 263 went back to Norway (Bardufoss) in late May/early June 1940, the aircraft were in the standard brown-and-green colour scheme, more suited to summer weather. Of couse, on this second trip all their remaining aircraft were lost during the evacuation when HMS Glorious was sunk. The Squadron reformed with Hurricanes and then Whirlwinds from June 1940.

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Gloster Gladiator Mk. II
615 Squadron RAF
St. Inglevert, France, April 1940

A Gladiator from the Battle of France. It's a Mk.II of 615 Sqn, still with the original metal 3-blade prop. The camouflage is Dark Earth and Dark Green all over the uppersurfaces - not the specified mixture of dark & light versions of these colours. That was not uncommon on a lot of biplanes around that time. Also note the additional patch of dark green where the serial number has been painted over on the fuselage. Also the aircraft has roundels under the wings as specified for all RAF aircraft operating in France at the beginning of the war; those in the UK did not carry them unless they were likely to fly over France.

615 operated Gladiators up to May 1940, re-equipping with Hurricanes from April while still in France.

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Gloster Gladiator Mk. II
247 Squadron RAF
Roborough, Devonshire, November 1940

This is a Mk II but with Mk I style 2-blade prop. The colour scheme is the official standard one for biplanes from ca. August/September 1940: Dark Green and Dark Earth uppersurfaces; Light Green and Light Earth lower fuselage sides and top of lower wing; finally Sky (Duck-Egg Green substitute in this case) undersurfaces, with roundels underwing.

247 Squadron operated Gladiators through the Battle of Britain from August 1940, when it was reformed, to February 1941 when re-equipped with Hurricanes and moved. The reason was that Roborough airfield,  which is the one for Plymouth and thus was vital to the defence of the Royal Navy base there was not big enough to operate even Hurricanes never mind Spitfires. So, 247 was, of course, the last UK-based frontline fighter Squadron to operate the Gladiator.

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Gloster Gladiator Mk. I
80 Squadron RAF
Pilot: F/O G. T. Baynham
Amriya, Egypt, December 1939

One of the early camouflaged Galdiators in North Africa. Although December 1939, the war didn't start there until 1940 when Italy declared war. Note the locally-made tropical sand filter on the carburettor intake. The camo is standard for the time. 80 Squadron eventually re-equipped with Hurricanes from June 1940, though they retained Gladiators until April 1941. The undersurfaces of this machine are in the half black/half white scheme.

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Gloster Gladiator Mk. I
112 Squadron RAF
Helwan, Egypt, May 1940

This Gladiator of 112 Squadron is in the full warpaint as worn in the early stages of the North African War - 112 first got Gladiators in June 1939 and retained them until July 1941, and even flew a few ancient Gauntlets with them from March to June 1940... Then it was re-equipped with Tomahawks on which the famous sharkmouth Squadron marking was introduced, reportedly copied from the Me 110s of ZG.26, Luftwaffe! So, as well as Egypt, 112 fought with its Gladiators in Greece, Albania, Crete and then back to Egypt.

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Gloster Sea Gladiator Mk. I
Fighter Flight Malta, RAF
Hal Far, Malta, July 1940

This aircraft (named Charity) was shot down on 29th July 1940. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant J. L. Waters, was severely burned.

The fighter is one of the famous trio of Faith, Hope & Charity that defended Malta, so is an RAF aircraft, not Fleet Air Arm. Thus it has Fleet Air Arm colours of Dark Slate Grey, Extra Dark Sea Grey and Sky Grey, but note that the dinghy housing has been removed from the lower centre section, as has the arrestor hook (though the fairing for the latter is still there). The aircraft also retains the metal 3-blade prop. Fighter Flight Malta was redesignated 261 Squadron on 2 August 1940, by which time it was flying a mixture of Gladiators and Hurricanes.

Just an anecdotal aside - the Phantoms based in the Falkland Islands after the war with Argentina were coded F, H, C and D, which stood for Faith, Hope, Charity, and Desperation!! I believe this still continues on the Tornados out there.

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Gloster Sea Gladiator Mk. I
805 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service
Crete, May/June 1941

A Sea Gladiator of 805 Squadron which participated in the desperate and hopeless defence of Greece and Crete. It has the 2-blade wooden prop fitted in place of the original 3-blade metal one. This machine, and many of this type didn't have the metal spinner fairing fitted ahead of the prop hub itself. The colour scheme is the one which was adopted as standard for Naval aircraft after the early part of the war - Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey upper surfaces with Sky undersurfaces. The dull red codes were quite common on Royal Navy aircraft.

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Gloster Gladiator Mk. II
1/Lentolaivue 16, Suomen Ilmavoimat
Äänislinna, Finland, July 1942

Finland's urgent need for aircraft caused by the outbreak of the war against the Soviet Union led to the purchase of 30 Gloster Gladiator Mk.II fighters from England in December 1939.

During the Continuation War (1941-1944), LeLv 16 operated Gladiators in the first or two flights, scoring one air victory and losing ten aircraft, four of which in combat missions, two in accidents and four owing to technical attrition.

I took the details from a nice photo in the book Suomen Ilmavoimen Maalaukset Ja Merkinnät (Finnish Air Force Camouflage and Markings).

Back to Camouflage and Markings of Gloster Gladiator, Part 1

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

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