THE SPITFIRE AT SEA - THE SEAFIRE.
The Fleet Air Arm as part of the Royal Navy only came into being a short time before the start of the second world war. It found itself without any modern monoplane fighters and indeed many doubted if such aircraft could be operated from carriers. The success of landing some Hurricanes on the aircraft-carrier Glorious during the evacuation of Norway, and shortly before she was sunk by the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst, showed the way forward. It was not long before the navy was wanting high performance aircraft to protect the fleet - enter the Seafire.
The first Seafires were just straight adaptions of Spitfires with arrester hooks and catapult spools for use on aircraft carriers. However the landing gear had to be strengthened on later models to survive the rough landings found in carrier work. The narrow track undercarriage was always a disadvantage on the Seafire. If the landing was not spot-on the Seafire had a tendency to tip to one side or another and dig its wing into the deck. Much is made of the Seafires poor deck landing record, however the real shortcoming of the Seafire as a naval fighter was its poor endurance of only 90 minutes. To keep 12 hours of fighter cover airbourne over a fleet would take at least 8 launches and recoveries per aircraft kept airbourne. This compares with only 3 launches and recoveries needed to keep a Fulmar or Wildcat (with drop tanks) in the air for 12 hours and only 2 for the Japanese Zero with drop tank.
The Seafire III introduced folding wings so that more Seafires could be carried in the confined space on board aircraft carriers.
The Seafire found use during operation "Torch", the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942. It continued to provide the Fleet with air cover right through the war. As the defeat of Germany grew nearer it was realised that the Aircraft-Carrier dominated war in the Pacific was soon to be the prime theatre of war, so 1944-45 saw a flurry of Seafire development, and the needs of the Navy overshadowed those of the R.A.F. When a British Carrier task force sailed for the Pacific the Supermarine Seafire was much in evidence on it`s flight decks. They turned in a good performance, but the deck-landing accident rate was still always higher than that for aircraft designed as naval aircraft from the start. However the adoption of a "stinger" type arrestor hook in the later marks did dramatically cut the accident rate.
As it happened, due to the Atomic bomb, the war in the Pacific did not last as long as was feared. The Seafires stayed with the fleet however, and five years later, Griffon engined Seafires were back in action over Korea.
The last Seafire was the type 47 with a 2,375 Griffon engine. The Seafire last flew for the Navy at the end of 1950.
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