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Supermarine Seafire

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The Seafire was the naval version of the Spitfire and entered service with the Fleet Air Arm during June 1942, where it would serve as a front line aircraft until 1951. During the Second World War the type would take part in 'Operation Torch'. The Korean War saw No. 800 Naval Air Squadron use the Supermarine Seafire operating from HMS Triumph. Other users of the type included the French Aeronavale and Royal Canadian Navy.

Quick Facts
Supermarine Seafire side profile image
First flight
7th January 1942
Entered service
15th June 1942
Total built

Front view
Seafire front view photo
Side view
Seafire side view photo
Rear view
Seafire rear view photo

The idea for a naval version of the Supermarine Spitfire originated during 1938, but it wouldn't be until November the following year when a Sptifre was tested to assess whether the type could be used aboard an aircraft carrier. However the need for Spitfires within the Royal Air Force lead to the Fleet Air Arm ordering the Fairey Fulmar as their new fighter to compliment the Blackburn Roc and Gloster Sea Gladiator which were already in service.

The Fleet Air Arm were desperate for a more modern aircraft as the ones currently in service were no match against the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero and German Messerschmitt Bf 109, and after the Spitfire excelled during the Battle of Britain the Admiralty would again show interest in the aircraft for use aboard its carriers, and again it would have to wait. However they were able to secure the use of a navalised Hawker Hurricane known as the Sea Hurricane.

Eventually in September 1941 permission for a Sea Spitfire was granted and two months later during December a Spitfire Mk VB fitted with an arrestor hook was sent to HMS Illustrious (87) for trials. With the first prototype, the aircraft now known as the Seafire, flying on the 7th January 1942. Although the modified Spitfire made a number of deck landings, take-offs and catapult launches these were done under favourable conditions, therefore, providing little warning of the problems the Seafire would encounter in operational conditions. As a result forty eight Spitfire Mk Vs would be converted to Seafire Mk IBs with the first one flying on the 23rd March 1942 and entering service on the 15th June 1942 when No. 807 Naval Air Squadron received the first examples. The top speed of the aircraft was 365 mph with a range of 460 miles and a service ceiling of 36,900 ft. Armament was four 0.303-in machine-guns and two 40mm cannons.

Converting the Spitfire required an arrestor hook, catapult spools and slinging lugs, which were reinforced, on both sides of the fuselage, as well as naval avionics to be added. It would be Air Service Training at Hamble who would convert a number of Spitfires whilst Supermarine modified a number on the production line and brand new Seafires were built by Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft. Featuring either a fixed or clip wing, which was dependant on the Spitfire Mk converted, and two 20-mm cannons and four 0.303-in machine-guns, although a small number would have four 20-mm cannons. But the major hindrance for the Seafire was the fact that during its development the Spitfire was never considered to be used aboard an aircraft carrier. Two of the major issues with the type were its poor forward view and inability to carry more fuel internally.

Whilst the Seafire Mk IB had simply been converted Spitfires, the Seafire Mk IIC was built as a naval aircraft from the very start and on the 23rd May 1942 the first production aircraft flew. These were available in two different variants, the Mk F.IIC for medium and high altitude operations and a low altitude Mk L.IIC, and one would be sent to the United States for tests at the Naval Airtest Centre. With a top speed of 342 mph it was slower than its predecessor, it had a range of 460 miles with a service ceiling of 37,500 ft. Alongside its armament of four 0.303-in machine-guns and two 20mm cannons it could carry one 500lb or two 250lb bombs. The first Mk IICs started to enter service when twelve joined No. 807 Naval Air Squadron during June 1942 and these along with Seafires which No. 801 Naval Air Squadron received in September 1942 would serve aboard HMS Furious (47) until February 1943. During this time they participated in the Allied invasion of North Africa, known as 'Operation Torch', which began on the 8th November 1942. A total of five Seafire squadrons would be used, destroying a total of nine Vichy France aircraft, five in the air and four on the ground.

Seafire operations continued and the following September 1943 they were tasked with protecting the fleet during the Allied invasion of Italy at Salerno. Although forty four were lost, just two were a result of combat. Most had suffered accidents, so many in fact that they had exhausted the spare propellers stock aboard HMS Hunter (D80), the only action available was to cut six inches off each blade of the damaged propeller. This was to become standard practice as it proved an effective remedy. Despite its problems the Seafire would be the fastest fighter afloat during a ten month period from October 1942 until August 1943 when the A6M5 Zero and F6F-3 Hellcat started to enter service.

A modified Seafire Mk IIC provided the basis for the Seafire Mk III prototype which made its maiden flight on the 9th November 1942 with the Fleet Air Arm receiving their first example on the 8th June 1943 and when they entered service on the 27th November 1943 with No. 894 Naval Air Squadron they would be the first Seafires to have manually folding wings with two folds, one before the armament and the other allowing the wing tip to fold downwards, the Mk III made handling of the aircraft much easier and it could be transported using carrier lifts. Powered by the 1,585-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin 55M engine top speed of the Mk III was 352 mph, range 465 miles with the lowest service ceiling of all the Seafire variants of 33,800 ft. Armament was identical to the Seafire Mk II.

The Seafire Mk III played a role in 'Operation Neptune', more commonly known as D-Day, on the 6th June 1944 and was involved in the invasion of Southern France, 'Operation Dragoon', on the 15th August 1944 and eight Seafire Mk IIIs would take part, on the 15th August 1945, in one of the last dogfights of the Second World War (1939 – 1945) when twelve Japanese aircraft, four Mitsubishi J2M Raidens and eight A6M Zeros came up against Nos. 887 and 894 Naval Air Squadrons who lost a single Seafire but shot down seven Zeros in the battle above Tokyo Bay, Japan.

The 31st August 1943 saw the Air Ministry issue Specification N.4/43 for six Seafires, three prototypes and three pre-production aircraft to be powered by the Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, this was a natural change to match the engine change with the Spitfire, which lead to the Seafire Mk XV. Fitted with the 1,850-hp Rolls-Royce Griffon VI engine the top speed and range were an improvement on previous Seafire variants at 369 mph and 524 miles. Service ceiling was 34,600 ft. Armament was four 0.303-in machine-guns, two 20mm cannons and either a 500lb bomb or two 250lb bombs. The Mk XV also had a new 'sting' type arrestor hook. These entered service during May 1945 with No. 802 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Arbroath.

Development of the type continued and the Seafire Mk XVII featured a clear-view bubble canopy and an increase in fuel capacity, however this would not see service during the Second World War. Three more Seafires followed, the Mk 45 based on the Spitfire Mk 21 and Mks 46 and 47 being based on the Spitfire Mk 22 and 24.

The Seafire F. Mk 47 would see action during the Korean War (1950 – 1953) with No. 800 Naval Air Squadron who operated from HMS Triumph (R16). They were involved in their first action on the 3rd July 1950 and would spend nearly three months on operations. When the squadron returned to Britain they received the Supermarine Attacker to replace their F. Mk 47s in 1951, the Seafires front line service was over. The Seafire was eventually retired from Fleet Air Arm service when No. 764 Naval Air Squadron was disbanded on the 23rd November 1954 as when the squadron was recommissioned during February 1955 it was equipped with Hawker Sea Hawks and de Havilland Sea Vampires.

The type would also serve with the Royal Canadian Navy and French Aeronavale and a total of 2,580 would be built by the time the last Seafire rolled of the production line, a Mk 47, on the 28th January 1949.

Also see Supermarine Spitfire

Technical Details

Click on the aircraft image to view a larger version.

Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
Seafire Mk I 365 mph 460 miles 36,900 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 20mm cannons
Seafire Mk II 342 mph 460 miles 37,500 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 20mm cannons
and either one 500lb bomb or
two 250lb bombs
Seafire Mk III 352 mph 465 miles 33,800 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 20mm cannons
and either one 500lb bomb or
two 250lb bombs
Seafire Mk XV 369 mph 524 miles 34,600 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 20mm cannons
and either one 500lb bomb or
two 250lb bombs
Seafire Mk XVII 373 mph 697 miles 34,600 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 20mm cannons
and either one 500lb bomb,
two 250lb bombs
or eight 60lb rocket projectiles
Seafire Mk XVII side profile image
Seafire Mk 45 450 mph 400 miles 42,400 ft four 20mm cannons
and one 500lb and two 250lb bombs
Seafire Mk 46 435 mph 435 miles 41,000 ft four 20mm cannons
and either one 500lb bomb or
eight 3-in rocket projectiles
Seafire Mk 47 452 mph 405 miles 43,100 ft four 20mm cannons
and either three 500lb bombs or
eight 100lb rocket projectiles


Click on a photo to view a larger version.
Seafire Mk LF IIIC
Seafire Mk XVII Seafire Mk F.17

See This Aircraft

(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

Seafire Mk F.17 Fleet Air Arm Museum

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