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maltadefender

Hal Far Fighter Flight Gloster Sea Gladiator

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maltadefender    379

Well here's a hoary old subject for a winter's build! A Malta-based Sea Gladiator of the Hal Far Fighter Flight.

 

2016-12-13%2011.45.56_zpscgbdzdds.jpg

 

The story is well worn and a bit tatty around the edges. When Italy declared war on Britain and France in June 1940, there were only a handful of Gloster Sea Gladiators available to defend Malta from the attentions of the Regia Aeronautica. These had been among 24 Gladiators that had been stored at the Kalafrana seaplane base during 1939 for onward transit to the carriers Eagle and Glorious. Six were sent elsewhere, the Eagle received her complement of eight but the ten bound for the Glorious remained unclaimed, and these were reassigned to form the Hal Far Fighter Flight.

 

An appeal for volunteers to fly them brought forth eight pilots, led by staff officer George Burges, but then the Navy decided that actually it wanted its Sea Gladiators aboard the Eagle and ordered them to be dismantled and prepared for transit. A last minute change of heart saw only three of these Gladiators removed and remaining seven were left on the Island to be erected and flown from Hal Far.

 

The arrester hook and naval gubbins were removed, armour plate fitted behind the pilot's seat and an intensive period of training began. Given the paucity of aeroplanes and spares it was decided to organise the pilots into two flights of four, working a rotation, and no more than two aeroplanes could be in the air at one time. When the Italian bombardment of Malta began, this was initially increased to three aeroplanes but practical reasons brought this back down to two after a couple of days.

 

The sight of the Gladiators flying out to engage incoming fighters and bombers was a significant morale booster, and almost immediately the Hal Far Fighter Flight became enshrined in myth. Who first used the term 'Faith, Hope and Charity' is unclear: it may have been a devout and thankful Maltese, it might have been an LAC remembering his mother's locket, it may have been a member of Churchill's propaganda team. Whosoever may have coined the phrase did little to describe the realities of the Gladiators' battle but did give Malta a talisman.

 

The Gladiators and their pilots gave as good an account of themselves as could be hoped for a handful of hopelessly outdated machines. They weren't fast enough to get their teeth into the bombers but their presence and persistence caused some disarray among the Italian formations. On 22 April, George Burges happened to spot an Italian reconnaissance aircraft below him and dived on it over the capital, Valletta, shooting the port engine off and causing it to crash into the sea. The following day, Burges was attacked by a Macchi C.200 which tried to follow the little Gladiator when it went into a defensive turn. When it overshot its target, Burges duly fired and hit the Italian fighter, which promptly caught fire and crashed.

 

These victories brought enormous cheer to Malta and celebrity status to Burges and the Gladiators. In total, the Gladiators were credited with nine enemy aircraft destroyed and five damaged. By that time, the first Hawker Hurricanes had arrived from an overland crossing via France and would soon take over the lion's share of the defence. Nevertheless, the Gladiators remained in service thanks to the ingenuity of the ground staff. When two Gladiators were written off in landing accidents on successive days, they were cobbled together into one functioning aeroplane. A six-gun Gladiator was built, with additional Brownings located under the upper wing. Famously, worn-out engines were replaced with those taken from wrecked Blenheims, and jury-rigged to operate their three-blade variable pitch props.

 

Burges was awarded the DFC on 19 July for being credited with three enemy aircraft destroyed and three more damaged. On 31 July the Gladiator N5519 was shot down, with its pilot suffering severe burns. On 2 August, Operation HURRY brought another 12 Hurricanes launched from the carrier HMS Argus and all the Island's fighters were amalgamated as 261 Squadron. The Gladiators remained on strength until January 1941, when there were sufficient Hurricanes for them to be retired from front-line duty.

 

In 1941, the remaining Gladiators were officially on the strength of 806 Squadron, Royal Navy, making Meteorology flights. One by one they gradually disappeared either from lack of spares or bomb damage. As with so many old airframes, the broken Gladiators were dumped into an old quarry near Luqa airfield and forgotten about until 1943, when one skeletal fuselage purporting to be that of N5520 was presented to the Maltese to mark the lifting of the siege. To this day it remains in the Malta War Museum in the old sea fort in Valletta, and is the subject of much debate between the various historians and organisations on the Island.

 

I love the Gladiator, it's just about my favourite aeroplane and has been so since the age of five, when I was first taken to the Shuttleworth Collection and came away with a postcard of their glamorous silver machine. There's a fleet of 1/72 Gladiators in the stash - mainly the new tool Airfix - a but for this GB I'll be doing the bigger Roden kit. My plan is to build it in original June 1940 trim, with the 2-blade prop and no arrester hook. The decal options for Malta in the kit cover N5519 in her June-July appearance and N5520 as she appeared in the summer of 1941, but I'll make the final decision on markings further down the line.

 

To get us started, here's a rather charming little film that someone has done about the legend of 'Faith, Hope and Charity'. It's littered with errors of all kinds but rather enjoyable nonetheless:

 

Edited by maltadefender

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maltadefender    379

Sprue shot: 

 

2016-12-13%2011.46.47_zpsu6w0o43o.jpg

 

And the kit decals - they look a bit bright but let's see how we get on. I've got some others from Aeromaster:

 

2016-12-13%2011.47.27_zpsnfh1imeo.jpg

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Beard    5,813

Tony O'Toole's 'No place for beginners' has got some good profiles and reference photos of the Malta Gladiators, if you can get your hands on a copy.

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maltadefender    379

Thanks, Beard. I think that standard Navy finish is about right on the Hal Far Gladiators. It looks to me as though the identification letters and larger serials were added later, that the Sky Grey was extended up over the camo to give space to paint them on the fuselages. I think that's the only real decision to be made, but would be nice to hear what Tony thinks!

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maltadefender    379

Roden really doesn't like modellers, does it?

 

I'm not even off the first page of the instructions yet.  The engine cowling needs to be made from three parts that have no desire to stick together let alone form a circular shape once joined.

 

Then the engine... wow... let's make it too big to fit inside the non-circular ill-fitting cowl, shall we? That'll be a laugh! And the 18 separate pipes? Let's make them impossible to align in the correct position.

 

 

To my mind, the objective of a model kit company is to sell your customers something that gives them the best possible chance of building a representation of the vehicle/figure/diorama that they desire. That way, they'll be happy. They'll come back and spend more money with you and they might even come on forums like this and tell other modellers how good your products are.

 

This is not going well. At all. Somebody from Roden should really talk to the people at Tamiya, or Wingnut... or just buy a knackered old tool Airfix Gladiator and learn how to make parts properly.

 

Rant over. As you were.

 

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Beard    5,813

Best of luck... it sounds like you're going to need it.

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triumphfan    651

I hope things improve now that the engine is together (is it?) 

 

I have one of these near the top of my stash.

 

Good luck, I will be following along with much interest.

 

Steve.

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tonyot    13,456

Good luck with this one,....the kit is excellent but for a Malta Sea Gladiator you will have to add the armour plating behind the seat which was added by the Malta Dockyard and although the arrester hook was removed you will need to cut out the opening under the kit and line it with plastic card,.......both are easily done and I managed them years ago on an old Lindberg kit! Don`t forget the two triangular sections with a hole drilled into them which project out below the fuselage on either side of the hook itself. I have a ref pic somewhere which might help,....I`ll try to dig it out. My Roden kit appeared in an article in SAM many moons ago!

The engines were Sea Gladiator units with new parts added from Blenheim spares to result in a hybrid which could accomodate the three bladed two speed propeller which gave the aircraft a better climb rate in order to reach the Italian raids in time who only had to cross the 60 miles from Sicily,....leaving the Hal Far fighters little time to reach them.

Although all Sea Gladiators appear to have been delivered with the 3 bladed Fairey Reed prop fixed pitch prop,.......most RN & RAF Glads in the Middle East seem to have been retrofitted with the two bladed wooden prop,...... although there were exceptions, even on Malta. After the Blenheim props were fitted the pitch positions were altered slightly to tweak jut a little more climb performance,......at the expense of a longer take off distance.

Here is a close up of the armour plating mentioned above, with its strengthening bracket behind;

Image result for malta sea gladiator  

Armoured windscreen;

Image result for malta sea gladiator

 

Don`t forget the black and white undersides which were under the lower wings and lower fuselage,.....the underside of the upper wing remained in Sky Grey,

All the best and good luck

                                             Tony

                 

 

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tonyot    13,456

Further to my last, here are some of my ref pics of N5520 in Malta, taken during my last few visits;

Rear fuselage showing triangular section by hook cutout; 

DSCF7348_zpsyr9eceax.jpg

Underside views of the arrester hook cutout;

DSCF7349_zpsuqp5m39e.jpg

DSCF7351_zpsskfux7fi.jpg

Another view of the armour;

DSCF7352_zpsio2740t3.jpg

And an interior view of the very empty cockpit taken from the opening by the u/c legs,......shows the interior section of the armour plating,

DSCF7354_zpslipqthpp.jpg

Cheers

               Tony

Edited by tonyot

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maltadefender    379

Many thanks Tony.

 

Not so sure about cutting that triangle out - the fuselage is hardly determined to go together in the first place! I'll see how brave I'm feeling once I've convinced the two halves to hold shape with some degree of symmetry. No locating pins and fuselage halves like a cucumber. See earlier rant about Roden!

 

Intrigued by the armoured screen. I'm aiming for a freshly-erected look from around May-June with the 2-blade prop. Do you think they had the armoured screens when the Gladiators were dropped off and stored in 1939 or was that something that arrived on a Sunderland once they were in action?

 

Similarly I'm hoping that the actual early setup was with the two-blade prop as it looks so much nicer, even if it's all in black. Will make that call when I have to. I've always taken the pic below to be an early one - none of the wear on the paint that's seen on N5519 when she's got the three-blade prop and the codes and registrations aren't on yet so the camo follows its natural line behind the fuselage roundel rather than being pushed up to accommodate the lettering.

 

008-1_zpsc6b44c83.jpg

 

Are you 100% sure that the fuselages were black/white underneath? This pic clearly has black/white on the wings but the rest of the underside is hard to tell. Equally hard to tell when that shot was  taken, of course. Orders were, I think, night and white wings only, which was often carried over to the full underside at squadron level whether in error or eagerness... I'm tempted to keep a bit more Sky Grey on there but open to suggestions!

 

I have taken a few more progress pics. Will post them in the morning.

Edited by maltadefender

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maltadefender    379

Apologies for going quiet on you, chaps. Work is continuing at nothing like the sort of pace I would hope but she's looking a bit like a Gladiator.

 

I've decided to do the generic early camo as in the photo in my last post - no identification of any sort by the looks of things, and night/white on the lower wings only. She'll have a two-blade prop and no weathering.

 

The more I look at this kit, the easier it is to see the heritage of the Gladiator - it's basically a bigger radial-engined S.E.5. Designed by the same bloke, different aerofoil (RAF-28 as opposed to RAF-15), but if you take the canopy off it's still very S.E.5ish, which is rather nice.

 

Here are the pics after the first round of painting and before the really sweary bit for me of trying to fit the interplant struts and upper wing. I'll worry about the little runs around the cowling lumps and bumps and tidying up the camo once the wings are all in place and aligned.

 

It's very seriously doubtful now that this one will make the finish line by Sunday. We'll see. I've still got a bit to do un Upholder as well, and it's all getting rather festive with the kids around all day hollering at me.

 

IMG_0065_zps4igiyuoh.jpg

 

As you can see, I'm making her all closed up. Paints are all Xtracolor - Slate Grey and Sea Grey on the lower wing, EDSG and DSG on the fuselage and upper wing.

 

IMG_0066_zpsatn17bbp.jpg

 

Hopefully she'll look rather different next time you see her. Canopy is Klear-ed and everything is about set for mounting the top wing once I make sure that my rigging holes are all clear of paint.

 

See you on the other side of the madness!

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maltadefender    379

I'm sorry to report that we lost the patient with this one.

 

I just could not get the struts to hold no matter what. In desperation I went for superglue. That set them but they were 3-4mm off mating with the holes in the upper wing. Snapped two interplane struts and two cabane struts. The paint's a mess and it's all going in the recycling bin.

 

Not great for someone with a passion for biplanes that I can't actually build the darn things.

Edited by maltadefender

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rob85    6,067

That's a real shame, you will have to have a crack with another kit another day.

 

Rob

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