Britain’s Lost Seaplanes: A chance to get my Widgeon!

The closing months of 2016 saw both the end of an era and a new beginning for my diorama of Britain's Lost Seaplanes: and a chance to get my Widgeon. The 1/72 scale Airfix model of the twin engined Grumman amphibian flying boat to be precise!The closing months of 2016 saw both the end of an era and a new beginning for my diorama of Britain’s Lost Seaplanes: and a chance to get my Widgeon.  The 1/72 scale Airfix model of the twin engined Grumman amphibian flying boat to be precise!

The diorama had occupied one of the display cabinets at Jet Age Museum, Staverton, from its opening in 2013.  Previously it had been stored at the nascent museum’s “B” site at Brockworth after a number of successful outings to local model engineering shows. By 2016 however, it was felt that the seaplane and flying boat diorama – still interesting as it was and is – occupied a space that could be better used on new displays that reflected the work of the museum itself and Royal Air Force squadrons that operated Gloster aircraft.  Now that those new displays have been implemented however, the seaplanes and flying boats are once more free to move again on the exhibition circuit with upgraded features and new graphics.  This article will first of all look back at the origins of the Britain’s Lost Seaplanes diorama and then reveal the improvements.

For the Jet Age Museum Reserve Model Collection to participate in the Cheltenham GWR Modellers Exhibition in aid of CLIC Sargeant in October 2008, a new diorama was needed that would fit on a standard 4′ x 2′ folding table. Although another presentation in the well known Airfield Embankment and Control Tower boxes  (both now on display at Jet Age Museum) had already been partially prepared, this was put aside in favour of building a new self-contained box that – although lacking integral railway lines – could offer more open space and new environments for displaying models. Semi permanently fixed into the floor of the new box was a ramp that could, with some extra scenic work, represent anything from a desert wadi to a sloping beach or in this case a slipway for launching seaplanes and flying boats.

The new diorama - made of sturdy 18mm MDF - had a baseboard measuring 1060 x 580mm, back wall of 1060 x 200mm and end panels of 568 x 200mm.The new diorama – made of sturdy 18mm MDF – had a baseboard measuring 1060 x 580mm, back wall of 1060 x 200mm and end panels of 568 x 200mm.

The Jet Age Reserve Model Collection has always included some seaplanes and flying boats although the addition of two Supermarine Walruses and a Consolidated Catalina from the model collection of the now-defunct Cotswold Aircraft Restoration Group further turned my mind toward presenting a display of these aircraft – so often overlooked in favour of the more celebrated landplane fighters and bombers in the pages of the kit manufacturer’s catalogues. Indeed, none of the British manufacturers of the real aircraft mentioned below would still be in business by 1970.  And among the American manufacturers only Grumman would still be in business by then.  Despite this such one time rival companies as Dornier and Mitsubishi persevered with flying boats long after their air sea rescue and patrol functions had been usurped by helicopters and land planes in other parts of the World.

After some experiments, I also found that sheets of the soft foam used to upholster furniture made a credible representation of the sea, with the rough edges of knife cuts made to let hulls, floats and wheels into the material looking like dynamic splashes.The photographs accompanying the descriptive text below were taken before the addition of wheeled vehicles, figures, boats, mooring buoys etc.

 

FAIREY SEAFOX L4526

 

A floatplane version of the 1923 vintage Fairey Fox - built at Hamble and designed to meet specification S.11/32 for a spotting and reconnaissance aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) - the Seafox was unusual in having an open cockpit for the pilot but an enclosed canopy for the observer.A floatplane version of the 1923 vintage Fairey Fox – built at Hamble and designed to meet specification S.11/32 for a spotting and reconnaissance aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) – the Seafox was unusual in having an open cockpit for the pilot but an enclosed canopy for the observer.

First flown in May 1936, the Seafox served on cruisers and battleships until 1942, when it was replaced by the Fairey Swordfish, Vought Kingfisher and Supermarine Walrus. The very last of 66 Seafoxes, K8607, saw service in the Royal Navy with 753 squadron at Lee on Solent in July 1945.

The Fairey Seafox was the only RAF aircraft ever fitted with the 395 bhp Napier Rapier engine and as such was underpowered compared to the Fairey Fox landplane powered by an American 480 bhp Curtiss D-12 Felix prime mover.

In December 1939 a Fairey Seafox of 718 Squadron from HMS Ajax acted as gun spotter for British cruisers attacking the German pocket battleship Graf Spee and its crew of  Lt EDG Lewin and Lt REN Kearney were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and mentioned in dispatches: the first Fleet Air Arm officers to be decorated in World War II.

 

FAIREY SWORDFISH V4367

 

When World War II broke out, 13 FAA squadrons were equipped with Swordfish torpedo bombers and all but one were based on aircraft carriers. Two special squadrons equipped with Swordfish floatplanes were then assigned to Royal Navy battleships. These were Catapult Flights Nos. 701 and 702: with Fairey Swordfish Mk I Floatplane V4367 – seen here – belonging to 701 Catapult Flight, HMS Malaya. During 1940 HMS Malaya operated with the Home Fleet and assisted aircraft carriers in defending the UK from German naval threats in the North Sea. Despite only managing a top speed of 136 mph compared with the 154 mph of its landplane equivalent, the Swordfish floatplane could carry a 1 500 lb bomb load. Despite its antiquated design too, the Fairey Swordfish sunk more enemy ships (by tonnage) than any other aircraft acting in the same role during World War IIWhen World War II broke out, 13 FAA squadrons were equipped with Swordfish torpedo bombers and all but one were based on aircraft carriers. Two special squadrons equipped with Swordfish floatplanes were then assigned to Royal Navy battleships. These were Catapult Flights Nos. 701 and 702: with Fairey Swordfish Mk I Floatplane V4367 – seen here – belonging to 701 Catapult Flight, HMS Malaya. During 1940 HMS Malaya operated with the Home Fleet and assisted aircraft carriers in defending the UK from German naval threats in the North Sea. Despite only managing a top speed of 136 mph compared with the 154 mph of its landplane equivalent, the Swordfish floatplane could carry a 1 500 lb bomb load. Despite its antiquated design too, the Fairey Swordfish sunk more enemy ships (by tonnage) than any other aircraft acting in the same role during World War II

 

BLACKBURN SHARK K4295

 

The Blackburn Shark was another pre-war carrier-borne torpedo-bomber and reconaissance biplane, which also operated at coastal stations and as a seaplane. The Shark prototype was first flown on 24 August 1933 and - fitted with twin floats -was test flown at Brough, East Yorkshire, in April 1935. The Shark served with the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Canadian Air Force, Portuguese Navy, and the British Air Observers' School, but was replaced in front line service by the Fairey Swordfish from 1938. The final Blackburn Sharks - K8931 and P348 – were finally retired in July 1944 and in March 1945 respectively. Royal Canadian Air Force Blackburn Sharks, some of which operated as floatplanes, were withdrawn from service in August 1944 and five were then transferred to the RN Air Observers' School in Trinidad.The Blackburn Shark was another pre-war carrier-borne torpedo-bomber and reconnaissance biplane, which also operated at coastal stations and as a seaplane. The Shark prototype was first flown on 24 August 1933 and – fitted with twin floats -was test flown at Brough, East Yorkshire, in April 1935. The Shark served with the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Canadian Air Force, Portuguese Navy, and the British Air Observers’ School, but was replaced in front line service by the Fairey Swordfish from 1938. The final Blackburn Sharks – K8931 and P348 – were finally retired in July 1944 and in March 1945 respectively.   Royal Canadian Air Force Blackburn Sharks, some of which operated as floatplanes, were withdrawn from service in August 1944 and five were then transferred to the RN Air Observers’ School in Trinidad.  The Blackburn Aircraft Company was founded in 1914 by Robert Blackburn whose father had been Works Manager of Thomas Green and Son of Leeds, constructors of both locomotives and lawnmowers and rollers during its varied career.  In fact Thomas Green and Son were taken over by Blackburn Aircraft in 1951 before both companies merged in to the Hawker Siddeley Group in 1960.

 

SUPERMARINE STRANRAER  K7295

 

The Stranraer was the final development of the Southampton flying boat to be put into production and was one of the World's last biplane flying boats. It was also the final flying boat to be designed by Reginald J. Mitchell before he began work on the Supermarine Spitfire.The Stranraer was the final development of the Southampton flying boat to be put into production and was one of the World’s last biplane flying boats. It was also the final flying boat to be designed by Reginald J. Mitchell before he began work on the Supermarine Spitfire.

A production contract was placed in August 1935 for seventeen aircraft with the first joining 228 Squadron at Pembroke Dock in early 1937. Withdrawn from operational service in March 1941, they continued to serve in a training capacity until October 1942.

Curiously, the Stranraer was built in greater numbers and had a longer service life outside the United Kingdom than with the Royal Air Force. Selected by the Royal Canadian Air Force,the type was put into production by Canadian Vickers who built 40 examples. Eight were in service with the Canadians at the outbreak of war and patrolled both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts before final retirement in February 1945.

Indeed, after retirement from service use, several Stranraers were registered for civil use. Queen Charlotte Airlines continued to use Stranraers into the 1950s, operating from Vancouver and providing a service along the Pacific coast of British Columbia.

 

SUPERMARINE WALRUS  L2180  and L2217

 

The Walrus was a catapult-launched, biplane amphibian with pusher propeller, developed from the Supermarine Seagull. It was the standard catapult launched reconnaissance and SAR (Search and Rescue) aircraft for some time with 740 being built between 1936 and 1944. Rather rectangular in outline, it was hard to believe that the Walrus was built by the same firm as the Spitfire! The prototype Walrus – originally designated the Seagull V - had one 635hp Pegasus IIM2 engine and was initially built as a private venture. Some of the first production Walrus Mk Is in 1935 were fitted with Anti Surface Vessel (ASV) radar.The Walrus was a catapult-launched, biplane amphibian with pusher propeller, developed from the Supermarine Seagull. It was the standard catapult launched reconnaissance and SAR (Search and Rescue) aircraft for some time with 740 being built between 1936 and 1944. Rather rectangular in outline, it was hard to believe that the Walrus was built by the same firm as the Spitfire! The prototype Walrus – originally designated the Seagull V – had one 635hp Pegasus IIM2 engine and was initially built as a  private venture. Some of the first production Walrus Mk Is in 1935 were fitted with Anti Surface Vessel (ASV) radar.

The Walrus was shore based as well as catapult launched and a number of Walruses were transferred to the Royal Australian and New Zealand Air Forces. Walrus P5706 was even delivered on lend-lease loan in 1942 to Soviet Russia as deck cargo on SS Ocean Freedom in an Arctic Convoy to the Archangel area. Finally, Walrus W3016 was sent to the Egyptian Navy as N3016 after September 1945.

The very last RN Walrus to be paid off was P5656, one of the batch of 50 Mark 1s ordered under contract No B974377/39 from Vickers-Supermarine, Woolston in 1939 was finally scrapped near Birmingham in 1956.

One of the first Walrus losses to enemy action was on 31 October 1939 when Walrus L2261 ‘F9C’ – flown by Lt SM Bird, Lt CHE Osmaston, and L/A WH Brown of 711 squadron on HMS Sussex – was attacked and shot down by three Me Bf109s whilst it was on patrol in the South Atlantic. The crew were all killed.

A Walrus was nearly used during the Battle of River Plate. However before the the final decisive encounter outside Montevideo, Walrus K8341 of 718 flight on HMS Exeter was damaged beyond repair by gunfire from the German pocket battleship Graf Spee and was jettisoned on 13 December 1939.

Then on 21 June 1940, Walrus P5666 of 700 squadron on HMS Manchester found the German Battlecruiser Scharnhorst but her ship did not engage. Three months later, on 25 September 1940 Walrus L2247 loaned to the RAAF, and flown by Fl Lt GJI Clarke RAAF, Lt Cdr WG Fogarty RAN, and PO Tel CK Burnett serving on HMAS Australia, took part in Operation Menace, and was shot down by three Vichy French Curtiss Hawk 75As while bombardment spotting at Dakar.  Two of the crew seen to bale out astern of HMS Barham but all were killed. Then on 7 October 1940, a Walrus flown by Lt MC Hoskins, and Lt TE Rose-Richards based at Sandbanks was on a rescue mission, and was shot down in the sea by enemy aircraft 708 miles south of Anvil Point.

During conflict with German Capital ships on 23 May 1941, Walrus L2184 of 700 squadron in HMS Norfolk was damaged by shellfire from Prinz Eugen in the Denmark Strait whilst on its catapult.

There were at least 5 confirmed enemy submarines sunk or damaged by Walruses during WWII, including the Vichy French submarine Poncelet which was bombed by Walrus L2268 of 700 squadron (HMS Devonshire) and attacked by HMS Milford on 7 November 1940 off the Cameroons . The submarine was damaged and forced to surrender, and later scuttled off the Gulf of Guinea.  The crew of PO PH Parsons, Sub Lt AD Corkhill and NA Evans were all awarded gallantry medals.

On 14 January 1941, Walrus P5667 of 710 squadron (HMS Albatross) landed 120 miles west of Freetown, West Africa to assist survivors of SS Eumaeus sunk by a U-boat (Lt VBG Cheesman RM awarded MBE, Sub Lt WC Broadburn an MID, and CPO MW Dale awarded the BEM).On 14 January 1941, Walrus P5667 of 710 squadron (HMS Albatross) landed 120 miles west of Freetown, West Africa  to assist survivors of SS Eumaeus sunk by a U-boat (Lt VBG Cheesman RM awarded MBE, Sub Lt WC Broadburn an MID, and CPO MW Dale awarded the BEM).

A Walrus was also involved in nearly sinking a Russian Submarine. On 3 October 1941, Walrus R6543 of 700 (HMS London) flown by Sub Lt DJ Chaplin, Sub Lt OM Cairns, and L/A HW Barrett was on anti-submarine patrol ahead of the ship in White Sea, and sighted a submarine which it proceeded to depth charge. There was no result, and it was later found to be Russian.

The final successful attack on an enemy submarine by a Walrus was on 11 July 1942, when Walrus W2709 of 700 (Levant) Squadron flown by Sub Lt PE Jordan, Lt DJ Cook, and L/A P Garrett-Reed, sank the Italian submarine Ondina, along with surface vessels South African Protea and trawler Southern Maid, east of Cyprus.  Walruses were also involved in the fight against the Japanese. Walrus R6587, flown by PO WTJ Crozier, PO S Damerell and TAG MFA Rose of 700 squadron in HMS Repulse sighted Japanese invasion barges on 10 December 1942 and watched the Japanese attack on the British Fleet. It remained aloft during the Battle but force landed having run out of fuel.  It was rescued by HMS Stronghold and towed 60 miles back to Singapore dockyard.

 

CONSOLIDATED CATALINA   11088

 

Like its larger British counterpart the Short Sunderland, Consolidated Aircraft’s PBY Catalina was a military development of earlier civilian flying boats. Designed by Isaac Laddon, the Catalina boasted a pylon-mounted parasol wing and retractable floats that increased the flying boat’s wingspan in flight. The prototype was built in Buffalo, New York, although fears of ice floes on the Niagara River prompted it to be taken by train to Norfolk, Virginia for its first flight on 21 March 1935. The US Navy designation stood for Patrol Bomber with Y standing for Reuben Fleet’s Consolidated company.Like its larger British counterpart the Short Sunderland, Consolidated Aircraft’s PBY Catalina was a military development of earlier civilian flying boats. Designed by Isaac Laddon, the Catalina boasted a pylon-mounted parasol wing and retractable floats that increased the flying boat’s wingspan in flight. The prototype was built in Buffalo, New York, although fears of ice floes on the Niagara River prompted it to be taken by train to Norfolk, Virginia for its first flight on 21 March 1935. The US Navy designation stood for Patrol Bomber with Y standing for Reuben Fleet’s Consolidated company.

The final four PBY-4 examples gave rise to the glazed rear blister gun positions and to the retractable undercarriage – turning the pure flying boat into an amphibian. Of these, just twelve examples were ordered by the Royal Air Force.

The Catalina served with distinction and was involved in many significant actions -including the location of the German battleship Bismark – and two Victoria Crosses were awarded to Coastal Command Catalina captains. Unlike many of the aircraft modelled in this presentation, Consolidated Catalina G-PBYA was still flying in 2005.

With all PBYs delivered and no further orders from the US military forthcoming, future prospects for the type were not looking so rosy by the summer of 1939. However, events in Europe were to change all that and lead to production levels that could never have been envisaged when the XP3Y-1 was first on the drawing board! The British ordered Model 28-5s/PBY-5s in some number, and this revitalised production. The US Navy also ordered 200 PBY-5s with 1,050 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-72 engines at the end of December 1939, with deliveries beginning in the following September although the final 33 aircraft were built as PBY-5As. Follow-on orders continued as the war progressed and the USA’s involvement in it expanded.

The British-inspired name Catalina was bestowed on the type, the USA also adopting this sobriquet, and thereafter it became the type’s official name, although, it continued to be called the PBY by many US servicemen, along with other less polite nicknames!  As mentioned above, the final PBY-4 was not initially delivered to the US Navy for squadron use but was retained by the manufacturers for further design work. In fact, it was used for trials of the amphibious undercarriage system that was to provide future Catalinas with so much flexibility and that was ultimately to ensure the type’s longevity. Bu1245 had its weight increased by 2,300 lbs through the addition of two main wheel units, a nose wheel assembly and associated wheel well bays and doors. Although at first it was not fitted with blisters and it retained the original shape PBY-4 rudder, it became the prototype PBY-5A (XPBY-5A), first flying as such on 2nd November 1939. The US Navy, realising the type’s potential, decided that its then current order for PBY-5s should be amended to PBY-5As, and thereafter ordered many more. The British remained distinctly cool about the added wheels, however, and stuck to the pure flying boat variant, although one small order for twelve amphibious Catalina IIIs was placed.

As an interesting aside, Bu1245 was later delivered to the US Navy and used as a staff transport in both the Atlantic and Canal Zones. Starting in March 1943, it underwent modifications that saw it lose its amphibious undercarriage but gain a PBY-5 tail and blisters. More radically, it lost its bow turret in favour of a faired-over ‘clipper’ bow – shades of things to come in the post-war commercial sector – and had an internal fit allowing seating for a number of passengers. In this unarmed guise, it became the PBY-5R Sea Mare.

At the start of hostilities between the USA and Japan in December 1941, the US Navy’s PBY squadrons were based in various locations around the US mainland – Alaska, Washington State, Virginia, California and overseas at locations including Hawaii, Pearl Harbor, the Canal Zone and the Philippines.

Prior to the USA entering the Second World War, the second production PBY-5, Bu2290, was transferred by the US Navy to the US Coast Guard, with which it adopted the serial V189. Initially flown in a high visibility livery of overall aluminium but with yellow-orange upper wing surfaces and red and white vertically striped rudder topped with blue, it later adopted a more sober grey scheme when in wartime use up in Alaska. It remained in service until at least 1943, when it was stationed in the San Francisco area, and it was the predecessor for many more wartime and post-war USCG Catalinas.

As the war progressed, Catalinas of both flying boat and amphibian varieties continued to be produced at the Consolidated factory in San Diego, production later being switched to the plant at New Orleans. Aircraft were supplied not only to the US forces and the Royal Air Force but also to the Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, Netherlands Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force. Additional production was contracted out to Canadian Vickers, initially at St Hubert and later at Cartierville, Quebec, and to Boeing of Canada at Sea Island, Vancouver, BC.

With the Second World War over, the various military air arms that were operating the Catalina in all its different marks began a rapid down-sizing of its fleets. Further details are given under the entries for the individual countries involved. In summary, the USA continued to operate amphibious versions with the United States Army Air Force (United States Air Force from September, 1947, onward), the US Navy and the US Coast Guard but none of these were flying pure flying boat PBY-5s or PBN-1 Nomads post-war. Indeed, only one complete US Navy PBY-5 was to survive for posterity, this being Bu08317 which can be found today lovingly restored at the United States Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola in Florida. Large numbers of Navy, Army and Coast Guard Catalina amphibians were commercialised throughout the late-1940s and the 1950s however.

Of the Commonwealth air forces, the Royal Air Force disposed of its entire fleet with almost indecent haste but the Royal New Zealand Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force continued to use their Catalinas in decreasing numbers for a few more years, small numbers transferring to the commercial sector. The Royal Canadian Air Force did not operate flying boat Cansos post-war although they used a fair number of their amphibious Canso As well into the 1960s. Many of the Canso As were subsequently disposed of to civil operators as they came up for tender although no pure flying boat versions were sold for commercial use.

So, having acquitted itself so well during the war, the Catalina found itself suddenly poised to embark on a new career once it had ended. The irony is that, having been conceived as a flying boat, its saving grace as far as its future longevity was concerned was the fact that it had been developed into an amphibian! The addition of a retractable undercarriage gave the PBY so much more flexibility that many post-war commercial and military operators leapt at the chance of buying up surplus military examples. In fact as time went on, a fair number of the aircraft that continued in use were operated almost entirely from land and rarely if ever ventured onto water! Conversely, the ability to operate from water led to the Catalina flying in commercial roles that were far beyond the original vision of the Consolidated design office! Notwithstanding the above, a small number of pure flying-boat examples did fly commercially although even some of these were originally built as amphibians and had had their undercarriage units removed and the bays plated over.So, having acquitted itself so well during the war, the Catalina found itself suddenly poised to embark on a new career once it had ended. The irony is that, having been conceived as a flying boat, its saving grace as far as its future longevity was concerned was the fact that it had been developed into an amphibian! The addition of a retractable undercarriage gave the PBY so much more flexibility that many post-war commercial and military operators leapt at the chance of buying up surplus military examples. In fact as time went on, a fair number of the aircraft that continued in use were operated almost entirely from land and rarely if ever ventured onto water! Conversely, the ability to operate from water led to the Catalina flying in commercial roles that were far beyond the original vision of the Consolidated design office! Notwithstanding the above, a small number of pure flying-boat examples did fly commercially although even some of these were originally built as amphibians and had had their undercarriage units removed and the bays plated over.

During its long post-war career as a commercial aircraft, the Catalina was used in a variety of ways. These included the relatively conventional roles of passenger and freight transport, executive aircraft and rich man’s airborne yacht. As time went on, it also carved out a niche for itself in a small number of highly specialised roles. The first – aerial survey – relied on the type’s ability to fly steadily for long periods whilst being equipped with a variety of external equipment hung around its airframe. The other – aerial fire fighting and spraying – was to a great extent based on the Catalina’s water-landing capability although ironically a number of those flown in the USA against forest fires were land-based. It is a fact that these two activities have contributed greatly to the Catalina’s longevity and have been responsible for the continued existence of many of the world’s remaining flying specimen’s. Catalinas have also been involved in air display and film work and in some notable long-distance flights.

 

GRUMMAN WIDGEON   FP456

 

The G-44 Widgeon was first flown in July 1940 and of the 167 examples built by Long Island based Grumman, 15 served with the Royal Navy as communications aircraft in the West Indies. They equipped 738 and 857 Squadrons between 1944 and 1945 and after the Second World War most were transferred to the United States Navy. Despite the original Roy Cross artwork for the box of the Airfix kit, none of the Royal Navy's Widgeons were ever directly involved in conflict. Even with the Kriegsmarine! However, following another presentation on Grumman aircraft, I was keen to find a new home for my model of this attractive twin engined amphibian and as the existing line up featured no less than three examples of the Supermarine Walrus I thought I would make a substitution for one of the "Shagbats". or put another way, I saw the chance to get my Widgeon!The G-44 Widgeon was first flown in July 1940 and of the 167 examples built by Long Island based Grumman, 15 served with the Royal Navy as communications aircraft in the West Indies.  They equipped 738 and 857 Squadrons between 1944 and 1945 and after the Second World War most were transferred to the United States Navy.  Despite the original Roy Cross artwork for the box of the Airfix kit, none of the Royal Navy’s Widgeons were ever directly involved in conflict.  Even with the Kriegsmarine!  However, following another presentation on Grumman aircraft – including the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module –  I was keen to find a new home for my model of this attractive twin engined amphibian and as the existing line up featured no less than three examples of the Supermarine Walrus I thought I would make a substitution for one of the “Shagbats”.  or put another way, I saw the chance to get my Widgeon!

 

WHEELS UP,   ENGINES RUNNING

 

When planning the new diorama box I decided to incorporate the ability to suspend aircraft "in flight" over the modelled terrain. This not only allowed more possibilities for aircraft on the ground, wheeled vehicles and boats to interact with low flying aircraft but also offered a showcase for the "wheels up" models in the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection that would otherwise have little scope for use. Happily for a display of British made and used flying boats of the Second World War, there were already "wheels up" models in the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection of later landplanes from the manufacturers Blackburn, Fairey and Supermarine.When planning the new diorama box I decided to incorporate the ability to suspend aircraft “in flight” over the modelled terrain. This not only allowed more possibilities for aircraft on the ground, wheeled vehicles and boats to interact with low flying aircraft but also offered a showcase for the “wheels up” models in the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection that would otherwise have little scope for use. Happily for a display of British made and used flying boats of the Second World War, there were already “wheels up” models in the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection of later landplanes from the manufacturers Blackburn, Fairey and Supermarine.

My “in flight” display system comprised lengths of invisible mending thread woven through a series of holes in the blue painted woodwork comprising the sky of the display box.  In the first instance this was the lid and one side of the portable box while from 2013 to 2016 the “cat’s cradle” was threaded through the sides and back wall of the cabinet,  The latter arrangement gave much needed altitude to the aircraft – which were flying ridiculously low over the portable display box – and also allowed the models to be posed more realistically in terms of climbing, diving and breaking away.  In doing this, projecting canon, torpedoes and tailwheels proved invaluable to help hold the threads in tension – aerodynamically slippery flying machines being much more problematic.

However, it was soon realised that although the “flying” models attracted much attention from behind their glass case, each one needed a separate set of threads to keep in place without sliding together under their combined weight.  As such, the Spitfire was soon relegated to a clear Airfix stand on the side of the original diorama box – making a low if straight pass over the gathered seaplanes – while the Skua and Barracuda were positioned as best as possible not to represent a near miss!  As positioned in the cabinet too, only access from the top was available for any changes on the floor of the diorama.  This meant getting past the threads holding up the Blackburn and Fairey aircraft with an extension grabber – not always easy to say the least.

Although an interesting exercise in displaying 1/72 scale aeroplanes, the “cat’s cradle” was found to be much less intensive in terms of models per cubic foot than the shelves that replaced it.   Similarly, depicting dogfights between two opposing aircraft can be more reliably achieved using stands.  Indeed, as model aircraft on stands are now very popular items in the Jet Age Museum shop – and because the Spitfire, Roc and Barracuda were not Gloster aircraft – the wheels-up models that once graced the cabinet with the seaplanes may well be refurbished and sold on to help finance a new restoration building.

However, the “cat’s cradle” technique has not been lost and could be applied in the future to a display where it could be more appropriate. Meanwhile, here are the original captions for the three model aircraft.

 

BLACKBURN SKUA  K7289

 

The Blackburn Skua was the first monoplane to enter Fleet Air Arm service - in late 1938 - was still the only monoplane serving with the Royal Navy at the start of World War II. It remained the only British naval dive-bomber for the first two years of the conflict. On 26 September 1939 a Skua of 803 Squadron flying from Scapa Flow based HMS Ark Royal became the first British fighter to shoot down a German aircraft when a Dornier Do 18 flying boat was intercepted off the Norwegian coast. Then, on 10 April 1940 20 Skuas from 800 and 803 Squadrons - based at Hatston on Orkney, after the Ark Royal was sent to the Mediterranean - attacked and sank the German cruiser Königsberg at Bergen.The Blackburn Skua was the first monoplane to enter Fleet Air Arm service – in late 1938 – was still the only monoplane serving with the Royal Navy at the start of World War II. It remained the only British naval dive-bomber for the first two years of the conflict. On 26 September 1939 a Skua of 803 Squadron flying from Scapa Flow based HMS Ark Royal became the first British fighter to shoot down a German aircraft when a Dornier Do 18 flying boat was intercepted off the Norwegian coast. Then, on 10 April 1940 20 Skuas from 800 and 803 Squadrons – based at Hatston on Orkney, after the Ark Royal was sent to the Mediterranean – attacked and sank the German cruiser Königsberg at Bergen.

This was the first time a major operational warship had been sunk by aircraft and the attack on the Königsberg ( imagined above with a Skua flying over the resultant oil slick ) was thus a precursor of the raids by the Royal Navy at Taranto, by the Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbour and also of the subsequent loss of Force Z in the Far East.

The Skua was designed to Air Ministry Specification O.27/34, issued before the Navy had regained control of its own aircraft.

The poor quality of Fleet Air Arm aircraft in 1939 had often been blamed on the period of RAF control of naval aviation, during which naval aircraft were a very low priority. In the pre-war years it was also believed that the new generation of high performance fighters then under development would not be able to operate from aircraft carriers and similarly that naval aircraft needed two crewmen to cope with the complexity of navigation over water, inevitably increasing the weight of the aircraft. Finally, there was a tradition of multi-purpose aircraft, designed to make the best use of the limited capacity of each aircraft carrier. In the case of the Skua it was designed to perform as both a fighter and a dive bomber, not entirely compatible roles

The prototype Skua first flew on 9 February 1937, six months after Blackburn had received an order for 190 aircraft. It was a significant advance on the fabric covered biplanes that then equipped the Fleet Air Arm, featuring metal construction, flaps, a variable pitch propeller and retractable landing gear, all firsts for a British deck landing naval aircraft

The Skua entered service late in 1938 with Nos. 800 and 803 squadrons, allocated to HMS Ark Royal, replacing Hawker Nimrods and Ospreys. Even at this early date however it was hopelessly outdated as a fighter aircraft, the Skua’s225 mph maximum being only 32 mph faster than its biplane predecessors – and reaching top speed at a lower altitude as well.

At the same time the RAF was introducing the 362mph Spitfire Mark 1 while the Skua remained slower than the German bombers of the period- let alone the fearsome Messerschmitt Bf 109.

Indeed both 800 and 803 Squadrons suffered heavy losses in an attack on Narvik on 21 April while on 12 June1940, in the aftermath of the loss of the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, they were sent to attack the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at Trondheim. There they ran into German fighters and heavy flak. Eight out of fifteen Skuas were lost.

A lack of any alternative aircraft meant that the Skua had to stay in service until August 1941, when it was replaced by the Fairey Fulmer and the Hawker Sea Hurricane.

 

FAIREY BARRACUDA II  WN325

 

The first all-metal monoplane torpedo bomber of the Fleet Air Arm, the Fairey Barracuda first flew on 7 December 1940 and began entering service in late 1943. Its foldable cantilever shoulder wings incorporating Fairey-Youngman trailing-edge flaps that gave the aircraft a much improved performance capability over its stablemates the Swordfish and Albacore. The fuselage accommodated a crew of three in tandem cockpits, enclosed by a long 'greenhouse' canopy; and housed the main units of the tailwheel landing gear when retracted.The first all-metal monoplane torpedo bomber of the Fleet Air Arm, the Fairey Barracuda first flew on 7 December 1940 and began entering service in late 1943. Its foldable cantilever shoulder wings incorporating Fairey-Youngman trailing-edge flaps that gave the aircraft a much improved performance capability over its stablemates the Swordfish and Albacore. The fuselage accommodated a crew of three in tandem cockpits, enclosed by a long ‘greenhouse’ canopy; and housed the main units of the tailwheel landing gear when retracted.

In all, 1688 Barracuda Mk.IIs were built by Fairey, Blackburn, Boulton Paul and Westland and at one point the Fairey Barracuda equipped twenty-three first-line squadrons.  The Fairey Barracuda gained a measure of fame in attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz in the spring and summer of 1944 in Arctic Norway.  These followed Operation Source in September 1943, during which Tirpitz was crippled by explosive charges laid by the Royal Navy’s X-Craft.

However, due to intensive German engineering efforts , much of the damage inflicted by the midget submarines had been repaired by 3 April 1944 when Operation Tungsten saw Fleet Air Arm Fairey Barracudas attack with for the first time with newly introduced 1 600 lb armour piercing bombs.  Escorted by Grumman Wildcat and Hellcat fighters to suppress anti-aircraft fire and Vought Corsairs to take on any Luftwaffe fighters, Barracudas from HMS Victorious made three direct hits with their new weapons and five with 500 lb bombs.

Operation Tungsten damaged Tirpitz effectively enough to prevent the Kriegsmarine using her against the Allied landings in Normandy in June 1944 although further carrier-based raids on the Nazi capital ship in August that year failed to sink her.  As a result this job was given to the RAF with Avro Lancasters of 9 and 617 finally eliminating the Tirpitz threat with Barnes Wallis designed Tallboy bombs on 12 November 1944.

 

SUPERMARINE SPITFIRE  IX EN398

 

Probably more has been written about the Supermarine Spitfire than any other aircraft in history but this particular Mark IX was the personal mount of the British flying ace with the most "kills" during the World War II. Air Vice Marshal James Edgar "Johnnie" Johnson CB, CBE, DSO and two Bars, DFC and Bar (9 March 1915 - 30 January 2001) accounted for 38 Luftwaffe machines and flew EN398 with his personalised JE- J markings as Officer Commanding the Kenley Wing of Fighter Command in 1943Probably more has been written about the Supermarine Spitfire than any other aircraft in history but this particular Mark IX was the personal mount of the British flying ace with the most “kills” during the World War II. Air Vice Marshal James Edgar “Johnnie” Johnson CB, CBE, DSO and two Bars, DFC and Bar (9 March 1915 – 30 January 2001) accounted for 38 Luftwaffe machines and flew EN398 with his personalised JE- J markings as Officer Commanding the Kenley Wing of Fighter Command in 1943

 

 

 

 

 

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