Gloster Gladiator

Aircraft Profile

Key Facts

Main Role:
Single-seat day fighter
Tractor biplane
United Kingdom
Current Status:
Out of Service, Out of Production

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Gladiator Mk I K6132, from the first batch of
23 aircraft. (photo,


The Gloster Gladiator was the RAF’s last biplane fighter. It appeared at a time when monoplanes were already eclipsing biplanes and yet achieved wartime fame in the hands of skilled pilots, fighting some of the most dramatic battles of the early war years.

Air Ministry specification F.7/30 was formally issued to industry in late 1931. It called for a day and night interceptor with a maximum speed in excess of 250 mph (402 km/h), and a four-gun armament. A preference for the use of the Rolls-Royce Goshawk steam-cooled V-12 engine was expressed. The call for a maximum speed some 40 mph faster than the latest RAF fighter (the Hawker Fury), but with double it’s armament, was clearly intended to steer fighter designers away from the traditional engine and armament formula that had been on offer since the Great War. With orders hard to come by, seven designs were offered for consideration. Maiden flights of the contenders took place between February and September 1934. Unfortunately, every Goshawk-engined type suffered severe cooling problems and the selection competition had to be delayed until mid-1935.

During this time, the Chief Designer of Gloster Aircraft Company, H.P. Folland was pre-occupied with developing the S.S.19 fighter to meet Air Ministry requirements, and so did not immediately participate in the F.7/30 competition. However, in September 1933 the S.S.19 was selected for production for the RAF as the Gloster Gauntlet. Folland’s team therefore began to examine possible further refinements to the Gauntlet design. The new features included an uprated Mercury engine, a single bay wing with landing flaps on the upper and lower wings, a single-leg cantilever landing gear and Lewis machine guns mounted in the lower wings. In May 1934 Gloster Aircraft was brought by Hawker Aircraft Limited, and this introduced substantial financial capital and aircraft structures know-how into the company. Calculations showed that the proposed Gauntlet derivative would have a performance very close to the F.7/30 requirement. Accordingly, the company authorised the construction of a private venture prototype – designated the S.S.37 – using a Gauntlet fuselage. The maiden flight took place on 12 September 1934.

The Air Ministry was by now aware of the poor performance of the various F.7/30 contenders. It also saw the urgent need to find a stopgap fighter head of the forthcoming Hurricane and Spitfire projects then being designed. Company testing of the S.S.37 showed that it had realised the expected performance gains of the design, and so when the type was offered to the Air Ministry it aroused considerable interest. On 3 April 1935 the S.S.37 was transferred to RAF ownership with the serial K5200, and official flight testing at Martlesham Heath commenced immediately. In parallel, Glosters proposed that a production version would feature Hawker-syle construction with a redesigned tail unit, Mercury X engine and an enclosed cockpit. In June the private venture Gloster fighter was declared the winner of F.7/30, and a new specification, F.14/35, was rapidly written to cover the production version. On 1 July 1935 the allocation of the name Gladiator was officially announced and an initial contract for 23 aircraft placed. In September 1935 a second order for 180 aircraft was agreed.

The first production Gladiator Mk I flew in January 1937, and No. 72 Squadron at Tangmere took delivery of it’s first aircraft on 23rd February 1937. The last Mk I for the RAF was delivered at the end of 1937. Mk I aircraft were delivered with the Watts two-bladed wooden propeller. Production continued to satisfy a number of export customers. The first export contract being agreed with Latvia on 27 May 1937.

In-service experience with RAF squadrons had meanwhile highlighted the unsuitability of the Mercury IX/Watts propeller combination. In its place Glosters offered the Mercury VIII and three-bladed Fairey Reed metal propeller. The new version was called the Gladiator Mk II, and an initial order was placed in early 1938. By March 1938 sufficient metal propellers were available to launch a programme to retrofit all the Gladiator Mk Is with this propeller. From 1938 existing Gladiator units began to re-equip with the Spitfire or Hurricane. Units converting from the Gladiator experienced a much lower accident rate than other fighter squadrons.

At the end of 1937 the Royal Navy had begun to show interest in a shipboard version of the Gladiator II as a replacement for the Hawker Nimrod. As a stopgap measure, 38 RAF Gladiators were transferred to the Admiralty and designated Sea Gladiator (Interim). Although they carried hooks, they were not intended for operational use aboard carriers. A further 60 full-standard Sea Gladiators were also obtained. These differed from the RAFs Gladiator IIs in being equipped with catapult spools, arrestor hook and dinghy stowage (between the landing gear legs). Sea Gladiators first embarked in HMS Courageous with 801 Squadron in March 1939.

When World War 2 started in September 1939, only four home-based fighter squadrons (Nos.603, 605, 607 and 615) were still equipped with Gladiators – although 141, 151 and 263 Squadrons were subsequently reformed with Gladiators as temporary equipment. 607 and 615 Squadrons formed part of the Air Component of the BEF, sent to France in November 1939. These two units were just beginning to re-equip with Hurricanes when the Germans attacked on 10 May 1940. The Gladiators suffered heavy losses to the Luftwaffe’s modern aircraft and had to be withdrawn to southern England to complete the conversion to Hurricanes.

In April 1940, No. 263 Squadron was sent to Norway to assist British forces against a German invasion. Operations from the frozen Lake Lesjaskag ended when Luftwaffe bombers destroyed the aircraft on the ground. Replacement Gladiators accompanied the Squadron when it deployed to Narvik in the far north. They fought continuously until 7 June, claiming 26 confirmed victories, before the survivors landed on HMS Glorious for the voyage home. The carrier was subsequently attacked by the German battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and sunk.

Only 247 Squadron at Roborough officially flew Gladiators during the Battle of Britain, although a number of other units had them on second-line strength. 247 Sqn flew many patrols but never saw any combat during the Battle.

When Italy entered the war in June 1940, Gladiators were serving with No.33 and 80 Sqns in Egypt, and with No.94 Sqn in Aden. The Gladiator proved a fairly even match for the Fiat CR.42 and was successful in helping repel the Italian invasion of Egypt and defeat Italian forces in East Africa.

In Malta the Royal Navy had stored a number of Sea Gladiators in crates to re-supply carrier squadrons as required. In May 1940 four Sea Gladiators were assembled by the RAF and test flown. For 10 days (11 to 21 June) the Sea Gladiators represented the Island’s sole air defence, before some Hurricanes were impressed into service. The Italians staged only three air raids on the island during this period. Due to a shortage of ammunition, the Sea Gladiators were used to break up the bomber formations, rather than pick off individual targets. Some months later, a Maltese newspaper published a report on the Sea Gladiators which ensured that the names Faith, Hope and Charity (never actually applied to the aircraft) entered aviation mythology.

The Gladiators of Nos. 80 and 112 Squadrons participated in the Greek campaign, achieving good results against the Regia Aeronautica but were outclassed once the Luftwaffe joined the battle. In 1941 Gladiators from No.94 Sqn participated in the ‘Battle of Habbaniyah’ against Iraqi rebels besieging the RAF training base.

Gladiators continued to serve in the Western Desert throughout 1941, but finally disappeared from front line service in January 1942. In second-line duties the type continued to fly with No.521 (Meteorological) Squadron and numerous Meteorological Flights until Janaury 1945.

The first export aircraft to see combat were those of the Chinese Government, which had acquired 36 Gladiator Mk Is for use against the invading Japanese. Despite numerous accidents by inexperienced pilots, the survivors flew with some success in the defence of Siuchow during 1938.

In Swedish service the Gladiator I was designated J 8, and the Gladiator II designated J 8A. Some of these served with Flygflottilj 19, the volunteer unit which served alongside the Finnish Air Force in the Winter War of 1939-40. The Swedish unit was in action for 62 days, destroying 6 Russian bombers and 6 fighters for the loss of 3 Gladiators – one due to an accident. The Gladiator IIs sold to Finland itself served principally with HLeLv 26, and while it’s handling qualities were praised, the lack of armour protection and self-sealing fuel tanks did not make it popular.

Many RAF Gladiators were supplied to Allied air forces, including Greece, South Africa and Egypt. The Royal Egyptian Air Force aircraft remained airworthy until shortly after the end of the war, while Portugal retained it’s Gladiators for advanced pilot training until 1953 before scrapping them. The sole surviving airworthy Gladiator is now maintained and preserved by the Shuttleworth Trust at Old Warden, Bedfordshire.

Gloster’s private venture development of the already highly-refined Gauntlet brought the biplane fighter concept to the peak of technical perfection. In many air arms it smoothed the transition to advanced monoplane fighters, and in confronting aircraft of its own era it performed well, but when called upon to engage modern combat aircraft its obsolescent design was cruelly exposed. The skill and determination of its pilots however, has allowed the Gladiator to acquire a wartime reputation which might otherwise have been tainted with tragedy.

Shuttleworth’s L8032 – as it appeared during
the 1970s. (photo, Keith McKenzie)


Requirement Specification: F.7/30 (S.S.37), F.14/35 (Mk I), F.36/37 (Mk II)
Manufacturers Designation:

Development History:
S.S.37 First prototype with Mercury IV (later Mercury VIS) engine. Updated Gauntlet with single bay wings, 4 guns, wing flaps, cantilever landing gear. Spatted tailwheel.
Gladiator Mk I Initial production version, with Mercury IXS engine. New fuselage structure, enclosed cockpit, long chord engine cowling, revised undercarriage. 2-blade propeller, later retrofitted with 3-blade propeller.
Gladiator Mk II Upgraded Mk I with Mercury VIIIA or VIIIAS engine, desert filter, auto mixture control, electric starter from internal battery. 3-blade propeller.
Sea Gladiator (Interim) Conversion of production Gladiator Mk II with arrestor hook, naval instruments and radio. 38 aircraft.
Sea Gladiator Production carrier-borne fighter version, based on Mk II. Arrestor hook, catapult points, belly fairing for dinghy, naval instruments and radio, increased fuel capacity. Provision for machine gun in each upper wing.
J 8 Swedish designation for Mk I with UK-built Mercury IXS engine.
J 8A Swedish designation for Mk II with Swedish-built Nohab Mercury VIIIS.3 engine.
The Shuttleworth Gladiator at Mildenhall
Air Fete ’90. (photo, Paul Clouting)
Gladiator Mk. I K6131 before delivery
(photo, Jacques Trempe,


Key Dates:
1 Oct 1931    Specification F.7/30 issued by Air Ministry
1933    Design of Gauntlet development started
Spring 1934    Construction of S.S.37 started
12 Sept 1934    Maiden flight of S.S.37 first prototype
3 April 1935    S.S.37 transferred to RAF ownership
June 1935    Specification F.14/35 issued for production version of S.S.37
1 July 1935    Gladiator name officially announced
July 1935    First production order for 23 aircraft
Sept 1935    Second production order for 180 aircraft
Jan 1937    First flight of first production Mk I
22 Feb 1937    First production delivery to 72 Sqn RAF
27 May 1937    First export order placed by Latvia
late 1937    Specification F.36/37 issued for Gladiator Mk II
end 1937    Last Mk I delivered to RAF
early 1938    Initial order for 50 Gladiator Mk IIs placed by Air Ministry
March 1938    Retrofit of 3-bladed propeller in progress
March 1938    Admiralty order for 38 Sea Gladiator (Interim)
June 1938    Combined order for 300 Gladiator II & Sea Gladiator
Dec 1938    First Sea Gladiator (Interim) delivered to FAA
Feb 1939    Last Sea Gladiator II delivered
March 1939    Sea trials for Sea Gladiator on HMS Courageous
30 August 1939    Final Gladiator delivery to the RAF
1 May 1941    Sea Gladiator withdrawn from frontline service
January 1942    No.6 Sqn in Egypt withdraws Gladiator from service
1943    Last Sea Gladiator withdrawn from second line service
26 Sept 1941    Last operational sortie by RAF Gladiator
7 Jan 1945    Last RAF weather observation flight made
Feb 1948    Gloster buys last 2 surviving Gladiators from Air Ministry – L8032 & N5903
1953    Portuguese Air Force retires last Gladiator from advanced training duties
7 Nov 1960    ‘K8032’ (L8032) handed over to Shuttleworth Trust
L8032 appeared as ‘N2308’ HP-B for a time
(photo, Dave Key Military Airshows in the UK)


Military Operators

Australia – RAAF (39 ex-RAF Mk I/II a/c with 3 (RAAF) Sqn)
Belgium – Air Force (22 new build Mk I aircraft)
China – CNAF (36 new build Mk I aircraft)
Egypt – REAF (18 ex-RAF Mk I mod to Mk II standard, 27 ex-RAF Mk II aircraft)
Finland – Air Force (30 ex-RAF Mk II aircraft)
France – Free French AF (6 ex-RAF aircraft with Group de Chasse ‘Alsace’)
Germany – Luftwaffe (15 Mk I captured in Russia)
Greece – Air Force (2 new build Mk I + 25 Mk I & 10 Mk II ex-RAF)
Iraq – RIAF (15 new build Mk I aircraft + 29 Mk I/II ex-RAF aircraft)
Ireland – IAC (4 new build Mk I aircraft)
Latvia – Air Force (26 new build Mk I aircraft)
Lithuania – RAAF (14 new build Mk I aircraft)
Norway – Army Air Force (6 new build Mk I + 6 new build Mk II aircraft)
Portugal – Air Force (15 new build Mk I aircraft + 15 ex-RAF Mk II aircraft)
South Africa – SAAF (1 Mk I + 11 Mk II ex-RAF aircraft)
Sweden – Air Force (37 new build Mk I + 18 new build Mk II aircraft)
UK – Royal Air Force (24 RAF Sqns; 5 RAuxAF Sqns; 12 Met. Flights)
UK – Fleet Air Arm (7 first-line Sqns, 8 second-line Sqns)
USSR – Air Force (captured 5 Mk I ex-Lat/12 Mk I ex-Lith)

Government Agencies


Civilian Operators

UK – Shuttleworth Collection (1 airworthy aircraft)

Note: Some new-build export aircraft fitted with customer specified armament.


Gloster S.S.37
Role: Single-seat fighter
Crew: One
Dimensions: Length 27 ft 5 in (8.36 m); Height 11 ft 9 in (3.58 m) tail down over propeller arc; Wing Span 32 ft 3 in (9.83 m); Wing Area 323.0 sq ft (30.01 sq m)
Engine(s): One air-cooled, 9 cylinder radial, Bristol Mercury IV of 530 hp (395 kW) – later fitted with Mercury VIS2 of 648 hp (483 kW).
Weights: Empty Equipped 3,062 lb (1,398 kg); Loaded 4,339 lb (1,967 kg)
Performance: Maximum level speed 236 mph (380 kph) at 10,000 ft (3,048 m), or 242 mph (390 kph) at 13,800 ft (4,206 m) with Mercury VIS; Time to 10,000 ft (3,048 m) 5 min 15 sec; Service ceiling 27,000 ft (8,229 m)
Armament: Two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk.V machine-guns in fuselage sides with 600 rounds per gun; two 0.303 Lewis guns under lower wing with 97 rounds per gun.
Gloster Gladiator Mk I
Role: Single-seat fighter
Crew: One
Dimensions: Length 27 ft 5 in (8.36 m); Height 11 ft 9 in (3.58 m) tail down over propeller arc*; Wing Span 32 ft 3 in (9.83 m); Wing Area 323.0 sq ft (30.01 sq m)
Engine(s): One air cooled, 9 cylinder radial, Bristol Mercury IX of 830 hp (619 kW) driving a Watts 2-bladed propeller of 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m) diameter.
Weights: Empty Equipped 3,217 lb (1,458 kg); Loaded 4,594 lb (2,082 kg)
Performance: Maximum level speed 210 mph (338 kph) at sea level, 253 mph (407 kph) at 14,500 ft (4,420 m); Initial rate of climb 2,300 ft/min (700 m/min); Time to 10,000 ft (3,048 m) 4 min 40 sec; Service ceiling 32,800 ft (9,997 m); Range 428 mls (689 km); Endurance 1 hr 54 min.
Armament: First 71 aircraft: Two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk. V machine-guns in fuselage sides, with 600 rounds per gun; one 0.303 Lewis machine gun under each lower wing with 97 rounds per gun. Subsequently: Two .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine-guns in fuselage sides, with 600 rounds per gun; one 0.303 Browning machine gun under each lower wing with 400 rounds per gun.

* The height of 10 ft 4 in (3.15 m) quoted in many sources is the minimum height when the propeller blades and fuselage are horizontal.

Gloster Gladiator Mk II
As above, except for the following:-
Dimensions: Height 11 ft 7 in (3.53 m) tail down over propeller arc*
Engine(s): One air cooled, 9 cylinder radial, Bristol Mercury VIIIA or VIIIAS of 840 hp (636 kW) with manual boost override driving a Fairey Reed 3-bladed propeller of 10 ft 6 in (3.20 m) diameter.
Weights: Empty Equipped 3,444 lb (1,562 kg); Loaded 4,864 lb (2,206 kg)
Performance: Maximum level speed 215 mph (346 kph) at sea level, 257 mph (414 kph) at 14,600 ft (4,449 m); Time to 10,000 ft (3,048 m) 4 min 30 sec; Service ceiling 33,500 ft (11,570 m); Range 444 mls (714 km); Endurance 2 hrs 6 min.

* The height of 10 ft 4 in (3.15 m) quoted in many sources is the minimum height when the fuselage is horizontal and the propeller has been rotated to have two blades at the top and one vertical blade at the bottom.

Gloster Sea Gladiator
As Mk II above, except for the following:-
Role: Single-seat carrier-borne Fighter
Weights: Empty Equipped 3,554 lb (1,612 kg); Loaded 5,020 lb (2,272 kg)
Performance: Maximum level speed 210 mph (338 kph) at sea level, 253 mph (407 kph) at 14,600 ft (4,449 m); Cruising speed 212 mph (341 kph); Time to 10,000 ft (3,048 m) 4 min 42 sec; Service ceiling 32,300 ft (9,844 m); Range 415 mls (667 km) at 259 mph (416 kph); Endurance 1 hr 58 min.
Armament: As for Mk II, plus provision for two extra 0.303 Browning machine guns in the top wing.
A nice view of the upper surfaces
(photo, Dave Key Military Airshows in the UK)


Design Centre

Head of Design Team: Harold P Folland
Design Office: Gloster Aircraft Company Ltd, Hucclecote, Gloucester.


Gloster Aircraft Co Ltd
(Hucclecote, Gloucestershire, UK.)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
S.S.37 1 Hucclecote early Spring 1934-Sept 1934
Gladiator Mk I 23 Hucclecote late 1936-4 March 1937
Gladiator Mk I 180 Hucclecote Spring 1937-late 1937
Gladiator Mk I 28 Hucclecote late 1937
Gladiator Mk I export 147 Hucclecote May 1937-mid 1938
Sea Gladiator (Interim) 38 Hucclecote March 1938-Dec 1938
Sea Gladiator 60 Hucclecote June 1938-mid Feb 1939*
Gladiator Mk II 252** Hucclecote 1938-30 Aug 1939
J 8A Gladiator (Mk II) 18 Hucclecote 1938
Total: 747    

* some sources state 24 May 1939.
** Includes 31 aircraft for export.

Total Produced: 747 a/c: 1 S.S.37, 378 Mk I, 38 Sea Gladiator (Interim), 60 Sea Gladiator, 270 Mk II.

Production List

To be added.

This view shows the half-pale blue/half-black
underside colours worn by this aircraft
(photo, Allan Barley)

More Information


‘Gloster Gladiator (Mushroom Magazine Special No.6104)’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Alex Crawford
Published by Mushroom Model Publications, Mar 2002 ISBN: 83 916327 0 9
* Complete operational history, covering all the air forces using the Gladiator – from Finland to China. The book includes the true story of the legendary defence of Malta. 160 pages with 64 in colour.

‘Gloster Gladiator Aces (Osprey Aircraft of the Aces – 44)’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Andrew Thomas
Published by Osprey, Feb 2002 ISBN: 1 84176 289X
* Covers all the pilots who became aces on the Gladiator. 90 pages with 10 in colour.

‘Gloster Aircraft Since 1917’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Derek N James
Published by Putnam Aeronautical Books, June 1987 ISBN: 0 85177 807 0
* Detailed company history with a chapter on the Gladiator.

‘The Gloster Gladiator (Macdonald Aircraft Monographs)’
by Francis K. Mason
Published by Macdonald & Co (Publishers) Ltd, 1964 ISBN: –
* The classic in-depth reference to the Gladiator. 136 pages.

‘The Gloster Gladiator: Profile No.98’
by Francis K. Mason
Published by Profile Publications Ltd, 1966 ISBN: n/a
* Concise well illustrated history of the Gladiator.

‘Gladiator in Action: Aircraft Number 187’
by W A Harrison
Published by Squadron/Signal Publications Ltd, 2003 ISBN: 0-89747-450-3
* Landscape format history of the Gladiator. Well illustrated.

‘Gloster Gladiator (Warpaint Series No.37)’
by Tom Spencer
Published by Hall Park Books Ltd, 2002 ISBN: X 9999 00373
* Concise production and service history of the Gladiator. 52 pages with scale plans.

‘Gloster Gladiator (Monografie Lotnicze No. 24)’
by Bartlomiej Belcarz & Robert Peczkowski
Published by A J Press, Poland, 1996 ISBN: ?
* Polish text history but very well illustrated.


To be added.


ADF Aircraft Serial Numbers
(Individual aircraft details for RAAF Gladiators)

Camouflage & Markings of Gloster Gladiator
(Colour profile drawings of the Gladiator in various markings)

F19 in Finland
(Swedish Gladiator unit in the Finnish Winter War)

Gloster Aircraft
(Gladiators tested by the Luftwaffe)

Gloster Gladiator aircraft profile
(Details of Gladiator in Fleet Air Arm service and preserved examples)

Gloster Gladiator Homepage
(Homepage of Alex Crawford – Gladiator book author and researcher)

Gloster Gladiator
(Multi-page profile of the Gladiator, including all known operators)

J8 – Gloster Gladiator
(Good photos of Swedish Gladiators – in service and in a museum)


Flight Simulator Models:
To be added.

Scale Models:
To be added.

Scale Drawings:
Scale Aviation Modeller January 2001 (see also the Warpaint title above).

Roy Tassell has a nice 1/36 scale drawing of the Gladiator.


To be added.

3 thoughts on “Gloster Gladiator

  1. This is the most comprehensive site I have seen regarding detail of numbers and history of any aircraft. I looking to findout that as the RAF expanded rapidly in the years before WW2 what was the rough numbers of flying hours each type of aircraft could be expexted to last before being deemed unsafe to fly and roughly the accident rate resulting in total loss of the aircraft before the start of WW2. I am trying to find out what happened to the hundreds of aircraft that were built prior to ww2 yet do not appear in RAF sq lists e.g over a 1000 Fairy Battles built since 1937 but RAF Sq accounts for about 400? where are the rest? did they wear out that quick. so what about Guantlets, Vickrs Welleslys, Hawker Hinds etc. Hope you could shed some light on this. Many thanks

  2. I have a question, the browning machine guns Mk 2 -, was unable to be fit in the fuselage of the plane, because it was impossible to syncronise the fire due to the open bolt fire.
    Wathkind of browning .303 where put on the gladiators?

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