Why did the Brits persist with the Seafire until the end of WWII and beyond?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by CobberKane, Aug 11, 2012.

  1. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    I get why the RN went with the Seafire early in the war - they needed something that could match contemporary German fighters and the Sea Hurricane and Martlet/Wildcat weren't quite up to it. But from the mid-war onwards the American war machine was pumping out Corsairs and Hellcats and the British used both - so why persist with the compromise Seafire? Or was it just because they liked making those great American fighters look so damm ugly?
     
  2. Gixxerman

    Gixxerman Member

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    I'd suggest any number of things but the primary thing being economics.
    Before that though it has to be said that the Seafire wasn't really a compromise was fully up to the job the UK required of it.
    The British built part is important as it means production on-going in a lot of firms, it means currency (at a time of dire financial constraints for a British economy basically in the process of being bled white or, post-war, which had been bled white was basically bust) is not exported and lastly it means a more reliable lasting spares supply chain for the Seafire itself anything else using any of its coponentry.
     
  3. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    The Seafire was derived from the Spitfire, a short range interceptor, and as such it was badly lacking in range, a serious shortcomming for a shipboard fighter. Its narrow undercarriage caused numerous accidents on take-off and landing and I don't think it ever got anywhere near the servicability levels of the Hellcat or Corsair, both of which were much far more rugged. It coudn't match their survivability or ground attack capacity either. The Brits bought and used both those fighters from America, so I'm wondering why they didn't completely supplant the seafire. Maybe they just couldn't get their hands on enough of them?
     
  4. fastmongrel

    fastmongrel Well-Known Member

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    Perhaps it did a job the RN wanted doing. Perhaps it wasnt as bad an aircraft as some internet experts think. Perhaps the Grey Funnel Line just wanted the same as what those arriviste boys in light blue had.
     
  5. Gixxerman

    Gixxerman Member

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    True but from what I can see additional fuel tank space was an option.

    I don't know about that. "Badly lacking in range" or just less range than the Hellcat or Corsair you seem to prefer?
    It's not necessarily the same thing.
    Bear in mind (as you yourself note) the RN used all of them and would have been well aware of the various qualities of each.

    Did it?
    I am not aware of any special mention of the Spit or Seafire's undercarriage having a reputation that the Me 109 has for instance, have you data to back this up or is it something you feel just inherent in that type of landding gear.

    I'm not saying this to be argumentative, I'm genuinely interested in why you reach this conclusion.

    Once again in absolute terms that may be so but if the Seafire did the job the RN required of it then it matters little, no?

    Or maybe as I mentioned you should be giving far more weight to the economic argument.
    I'm not sure people understand just how wrecked the British economy was by WW2.....and the effects of which were a drag on the UK economy for decades after, I recently read that the final war-damage rebuilding was completed in the mid 1990's in Germany,
    The UK finally repaid the USA the last of the war debts in 2006.
    The UK was broke and we had already gotten up to our necks in debt to the US, alternatives which were 'Made in Britain' would be bound to have an appeal, especially if they could do the job asked of them in doing so allow the UK to cut back on imports from abroad.

    I think the answer is as simple as that.
     
  6. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    The same reason Britain built the battleship HMS Vanguard during the war.
     
  7. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    I don't think national pride has anything to do with it. We used plenty of US armaments when it suited us including carrier aircraft. The economic argument is very important.
    The Royal Navy was also waiting for the Sea Fury to enter production.
    Steve
     
  8. Gixxerman

    Gixxerman Member

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    Given the timings involved (design work began before WW2 began) I would say 'national pride' had nothing to do with it.
    The worry of the UK standing alone against Germany Japan's navies is a far more plausible explaination (given that she was laid down on 2nd Oct 1941).
     
  9. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    IMO that doesn't mean much as many pre-war weapon designs were halted when the war began. For instance Germany halted plans to build six H class battleships on 10 October 1939.
     
  10. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    Germany wasn't trying to protect the largest maritime Empire the world has ever seen. Her naval philosophy has nothing to do with Britain's

    Steve
     
  11. riacrato

    riacrato Member

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    Once you introduce an aircraft type on a large scale into the biggest conflict the world has ever seen, the efforts to replace that type are incredible. It is not just the production of airframes, but the logistics of spare parts, the training of air and ground crew and so on... Organizing that is a task X times greater than the production of a few thousand airframes. Purely guessing, I would say by the time the Corsair and the Hellcat became available to the RN, the need to replace all Seafires asap simply wasn't there. Not implying they weren't appreciated.
     
  12. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    #12 JoeB, Aug 11, 2012
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2012
    Like most things to do with 'Spitfire/Seafire' it's a bunch of quite different airplanes under a single 'brand name'. The early Seafires were ersatz adaptations w/ only middling performance compared to top line land based fighters they might meet, and serious limitations as carrier planes operationally. But later on the basic carrier compatibility issues were addressed somewhat and the performance was much higher, as in the Seafire Mk.47 which was also stuffed with internal fuel (albeit in perhaps some dangerous locations for the pilot) and had quite good range; though of course was a postwar a/c, seeing some action in Malaya and Korea. The latter case included the Mk.47's only 'air combat' episode when one of HMS Triumph's a/c for some reason thought it a good idea to closely check out a formation of 22nd BG B-29's and was shot down by anxious gunners, July 28 1950*.

    Anyway the point is that the design, if you really view it as one 'design', of the Spitfire was made to grow greatly in capability, and this applied to the Seafire as well.

    But OTOH the British Pacific Fleet's line up of fighters in July 1945 peaked on its 4 bigger carriers at 72 Seafire LIII's, 73 Corsairs and 6 Hellcats, with the 4 light carriers about to join (though didn't before the end of the war) carrying another 90 Corsairs, so the US fighters were also used a lot. And actually the really important RN carrier ops occurred before the Seafire was even introduced, especially in Med in 1940-2; Seafire introduced only in Torch op when control of Med was shifting to Allies anyway. The BPF operations though fairly large by previous RN standards were a pretty modest increase to the by then enormous USN carrier force, really more of a political operation, 'to keep Britain at the highest table' in the post WWII style, than the do or die purely military ops of RN carriers before the Seafire came along.

    *I once met a guy who grew up in North Korea and apparently witnessed this incident from the ground, thinking it was an NK Yak defeated by the B-29's, as the B-29 gunners obviously thought as well!

    Joe
     
  13. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Much of the claimed poor safety of the seafire arose from the experiences in 1942-3, when the seafire was principally deployed on escort carriers in the med. Moreover the aircrews manning these CAGs were very lacking in deck landing experience. The escort carriers were not suited to Spitfire operations due mainly to the slow speed of the ships. This reduced the airflow over the control surfaces for the spits. The calm conditions of the med excacerbated that problem. the inexperienced crews added to this problem.

    Between 1943 and 1945, when the seafire was deployed in strength with the BPF, fundamental changes had been made to the seafire deployment. The Mk III variant had been adopted with wing foldingm extra fuel stowage ad somewhat strengthened landing gear. The type had superior climb and high altitude performance to either of the US types, comparable range (there was only 40nm difference in the combat radius of the US and British types). The Seafire III whilst embarked on the BPFs fleet carriers, with well trained crews, and better wweather conditions in which tom operate, establish a reasonable safety record. their heavier firepower and superior dogfighting capabilities, and high speed ensured their position in the British inventory. Where the Seafire fell down was that it was a little too specialised....not having any credible ordinance carrying capability

    Compared with other naval fighters, the Seafire II was able to outperform the A6M5 (Zero) at low altitudes when the two types were tested against each other in World War II. The more powerful Seafire III, though, still enjoyed better climb rates and acceleration than the other allied fighters. Late-war Seafire marks equipped with the Griffon engines enjoyed a considerable increase of performance compared to their Merlin-engined predecessors. .

    The first use of Seafires in sustained carrier operations was Operation Torch. Seafires saw most service in the Far East Pacific campaigns, serving with No. 887 and 894 Squadrons, Fleet Air Arm, aboard HMS Indefatigable and joining the British Pacific Fleet late in 1944. Due to their good high altitude performance and lack of ordnance-carrying capabilities (compared to the Hellcats and Corsairs of the Fleet) the Seafires were allocated the vital defensive duties of Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the fleet. They established an enviable record in this role. Seafires were thus heavily involved in countering the kamikaze attacks during the Okinawa landings and beyond. The Seafires' best day was 15 August 1945, shooting down eight attacking aircraft for a single loss. During the campaign 887 NAS claimed 12 kills, and 894 NAS claimed 10 kills (with two more claims earlier in 1944 over Norway).

    The top scoring Seafire pilot of the war was Sub-Lieutenant R.H. Reynolds DSC of 894, who claimed 4.5 air victories in 1944–5.
     
  14. Vincenzo

    Vincenzo Active Member

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    Just for add infos, the griffon engined seafire XV see no action in WWII (Seafire XV production 6 prototypes in 44, 9 production planes in 44, 4 in jan '45, 10 in feb '45, 16 in march '45, 29 in april 45....)
     
  15. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    The terms of Lend Lease might also have a bearing - much of the hardware had to be returned, or 'Struck of Charge' at the conclusion of hostilities.
    Whether this was the case with those naval aircraft supplied by the U.S.A., I'm not sure without checking. But, even if it was not the case, those airframes supplied would need to be replaced, due to time-expired in hours, or just plain 'war weary' - as has been stated, Britain could not afford to purchase, outright, equipment from abroad, when it already owed more than the National Reserve. If the Seafire was 'good enough' to do until the arrival of the Sea Fury, then so be it.
     
  16. raumatibeach

    raumatibeach Banned

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    The ever reliable wikipedia mentions that just after the Korean war all but 3 of 800 squadrons sea fire were grounded with wrinkling of the fuselage from carrier landings.
     
  17. RCAFson

    RCAFson Well-Known Member

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    The Seafire emphasized climb rate and maneuverability, IOW, a point defense fighter, to combat high speed intruders. By war's end the USN was introducing it's own light weight fighter, namely the F8F, and for many of the same reasons.
     
  18. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    #18 JoeB, Aug 11, 2012
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2012
    To clarify that quote, when 800 Sdn finished its tour in Korea (fall 1950, not after the war) and peacetime flying restrictions were reinstated, all but 3 a/c required such repair. That's from some Alfred Price article, a reliable author generally but I don't know anything else about it.

    OTOH "With the Carriers in Korea" by Landsdown is a day to day account of the RN carrier ops in Korea. The history of Seafire attrition in combat ops is as follows:
    June 29: disembarks 4 over-wrinkled Seafires before entering combat, 12 remain available
    July 18: 1 Seafire severely damaged in landing (one other became unserviceable of several incidents ments mentioned)
    July 22: disembarks 2 unserviceable Seafires, takes on 7 from Unicorn, 17 available
    July 24: 1 Seafire written off to wrinkling, one to fuselage damage from mishandling by deck crew
    July 28: Seafire shot down by B-29's, 14 available
    Aug 9: Seafire written off to off-center landing, 13 available
    Aug 23: 2 more Seafires exceed wrinkling limit and another overstressed by off center landing, says 9 available but this seems a typo for 10
    Aug 26: Seafire written off in landing practice, 9 available
    Aug 30: embarks Unicorn's last 6 Seafires
    Sep 4: Seafire badly damaged in takeoff accident, lands but unserviceable
    Sep 8: Seafires written off in landing accident, pilot bailed out of another when arrestor hook wouldn't extend, 10 serviceable (seems 2 others not mentioned)
    Sep 9: 4 Seafires exceed wrinkling limit
    Sep 14: Seafire written off in heavy landing
    Sep 20: 3 Seafires operational (thus 2 others are not mentioned)
    Triumph set sail for home with 3 Seafires and 8 Fireflies remaining operational.

    About half the Seafire missions were CAP, (not without reason as DD HMS Comus was damaged by NK Il-10's August 23 and CL HMS Jamaica by apparent Yak-9/Il-10 duo Sept 17, of which the Il-10 was claimed downed by AA and NK propaganda names a pair of aircrew heroes lost the same day). The rest were strike. Apparently no Seafires at all were lost to NK action. The CO of the Sdn was killed but in an accident aboard ship when a piece of a Firefly's prop broke off.

    So yes the durability of the Seafire was only somewhat improved by the time of F.47 and still a problem.

    As far as Seafire III v Zero on August 15 1945, we've been over that one:
    "The 252nd AG flight reporting contact with British a/c consisted of 10 Zeroes, but there were F6F's around as well. Ltjg Tadahiko Honma's personal account (source: "Sky of August 15" by Hata) has the opponents as a mixture of 'Spitfires' and F6F's, in basically a single combat. Honma bailed out WIA plane on fire, downed by a Seafire by all accounts. Lt Cdr. M Hidaka crashlanded, cause or enemy a/c type not given. CPO N. Yoshinari was credited with a Seafire. Honma and WO K. Yoshida were both credited with TBF's (only 1 FAA Avenger was downed, no USN ones downed by fighters in the area/time).

    The 302nd Air Group flight of which CPO S. Yamada was part consisted of 4 Raiden ('Jack') and 10 Zeroes. The only specific attribution to Seafires was Yamada's wounding, a/c not mentioned as destroyed; they attributed 4 a/c losses to F6F's, claiming 1 F6F.
    The source of 302nd's account is "Maru Special Pacific Air/Sea War Series" which gives same info basically for 252nd as Hata's book."

    Although there's *some* room for doubt about the completeness of JNAF accounts in this case, and/or possible mistakes where they credited disappeared a/c to F6F's incorrectly, OTOH all experience of WWII would tell us that if 8 a/c were claimed in a swirling confused fight by a hard pressed fighter unit without much air combat experience...they probably didn't really down 8 enemy a/c. 1 Zero downed plus another damaged in return for one Seafire and one Avenger downed is completely plausible IMO, and actually USN and USAAF v JNAF combats even right at the end of the war didn't *always* go heavily in favor of those air arms either.

    Of course if the issue slips by sloppy logical back to whether 1945 FAA Seafire units *would be expected* to do well against summer 1945 quality JNAF Zero (fighter, not special attack) units in a large sample of cases, that's a different question. But in actual history there's only one Seafire/Zero combat where we know the Zeroes were acting as fighters not kamikazes, actually where we know the Japanese side at all. In that one historical case, fluke or not, it's not clear the Seafires III's did any better than about even.

    Joe
     
  19. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    No Joe, "youve" been over it before, which is code for lecturing the rest of us, trolling for records to promote a particular POV and agenda. That agenda is certainly not to promote the qualities of anything nonamerican or non japanese.

    Just to give the alternative position, i rely on rod kirkby's and Gerry Murphy's research as a more balanced and accurate account. Before you jump to the conclusion that they simply regurgitate the 8 claim made by Brown and others, they dont.

    To summarise their research....they were up against 302 Kokutai, which was not a green unit, infact it was one of the most experienced outfits left in the IJN. if i am not mistaken Yamada had fought over Malaya....Kirby claims there were 12 IJN interceptors, including 4 Raidens, Murphy says he saw 4 raidens, but only 10 a/c engaged...notice he does not say there were just 10 in the battle, only that his section (4 a/c) engaged 10). The Japanese were successful in shooting down one BPF Avenger

    There were no hellcats or Corsairs in the air on that day. It was a British controlled sector...any US forces that stumbled into the operational area risked being shot at, and there were no BPF Hellcats or corsairs in the strike....the fighter component consisted of just 7 seafires, of which 3 were topcover and were late to engage. By most accounts (not all), for most of the battle, there were 7 Seafires engaged by 12 enemy a/c, with at least 8 zeroes included.

    The battle took place over Tokyo Bay, with the the leader of the top cover trio, Sub Lt Victor Lowden, hit five, destroying two, and was credited with a third, shared with Sub Lt W J Williams.

    The third Seafire F III pilot, Sub Lt Gerry Murphy, shot down two Zeroes in turning combat, which, to quote David Brown's fine book, 'The Seafire', "should have favoured the enemy", but "ended with them both being shot down by some fine deflection shooting."

    These losses were incidentally confirmed in a post war interview i believe on the japanese side. i have it somewhere. i will post it when i find it
     
  20. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    #20 CobberKane, Aug 11, 2012
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2012
    Some interesting information here. Gixxerman, I’m sure the ’Buy British’ argument has some merit but I’m not convinced it was the primary reason the RN stuck with the Seafire – generally in warfare if something better is tested and available it is adopted. Riacrato notes that if the enough effort had been put into getting the Seafire into service the whole program may have had enough momentum that it was pretty much impossible to change course even when other options became available, which sounds reasonable.
    Regarding the Seafire/Spitfires undercarriage , Gix, I wasn’t for a moment suggesting it was as tricky as the 109 (landing a 109 on a carrier, I bet Luftwaffe pilots would have woken up in a cold sweat over that idea). Re-reading my information it seems the problems the Seafire had with deck handling were more a result of the various marks tendancy to ‘float’ on approach and the reversed prop rotation of the Griffon powered versions which had the alarming habit of steering themselves straight into the carrier’s island on take-off. The Mk 47 cured this with contra-rotating props. Nonetheless, I think it stands to reason that narrow track undercarriages and tossing carrier decks are a less than ideal combination. The only purpose-built carrier aircraft with narrow track undercarriage I can think of was the Wildcat. I don’t know if it was considered a shortcoming on that fighter, (comments please?) but Grumman went to a wide track design with the Hellcat.
    Parsifal noted that by the time of the Seafire III the range issue had been largely addressed, but it seems the serviceability thing was always something of a problem. All those wrinkled 47s in Korea. Still, if anyone can demonstrate that the Seafire was no worse than any other shipboard fighter in this respect I’m open to argument.
    I suspect that the Seafire’s shortcomings were tolerated because of it’s potency as an air to air weapon. As I’ve mentioned in another thread, I read an article once written by a Grumman test pilot who flew all the allied carrier fighters (Hellcat, Seafire and Corsair) and the Zero back to back and described the Seafire as a ‘work of art’ that made the others look like ‘plodding workhorses’, but he also noted the lack of range as a serious drawback (if anyone else knows of this article I’d love to get the details – I lost it years ago).
    If the RN could keep the aircraft serviceable and get it on and off the carrier, they had fighter that could match the best ship-borne opposition in the world one on one. I bet a lot of USN pilots, separated from the group and with a zero on their tail, would have happily swapped their Wildcat for a Seafire II at that moment had they been able to!
    And at the end of the day, the British could always say to the Americans, “Sure, you may be able to carry more, go further and last longer but, damn we look good!”
     
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