A farewell to Seafires…

At the end of May 1950, North Korean troops headed across the border between them and South Korea. Despite UN resolutions, they continued on toward the capital at Seoul. Allied forces in the region were mobilised and the Korean War started.

Not far away in Japan, a British ‘Colossus’ Class light fleet carrier, HMS Triumph, was despatched to join with the American carrier USS Valley Forge to form a naval strike force to provide fast reaction to the invasion and to try to slow the advance of North Korean forces. Aboard HMS Triumph were the Seafire FR.47s of 800 Naval Air Squadron and the Firefly AS.1s of 827 NAS. And my Dad. By 2nd June 1950, both squadrons were engaged on air strikes against airfields, railways and other logistic sites.

The Seafire FR.47 was the last in the long line of Spitfire/Seafire aircraft. Major differences over the Seafire Mk.17 they replaced were a six-bladed contra-rotating propeller to reduce the huge torque swing of the Griffon engine on take-off, four 20mm cannon replacing the mixed cannon/machine gun armament of the Mk.17 and a powered wing folding mechanism. Previous Seafires required a crew to unlock and fold the wings.

Light fleet carriers were built toward the end of WW2 and were not imagined to last for very long. It was not surprising that it wasn’t long before HMS Triumph developed a problem in the after gland of one of its two propeller shafts. As a consequence, it could only steam at about 17 knots on one screw. This had a huge impact on the ability to launch their Seafires. Fully loaded with fuel and bombs or rockets, the Seafires needed a strong headwind to get airborne from Triumph‘s small deck. There was a hydraulic accelerator (predecessor to the steam catapult) but that only allowed a very slow rate of take-offs. Two solutions were adopted – one of which was decidedly ‘Heath Robinson’.

The sensible solution involved adding a battery of four solid fuel rockets to the aircraft to help push them into the air more quickly. The rocket carriers were dropped after take-off as they contributed to very significant drag. The other solution addressed the fact that the Seafire only had two flap settings – up and 35 degrees down for landing. What was needed was a partial flap deployment – say around 15 degrees – that would boost lift without too much extra drag. So, before launch the pilot would select flaps ‘down’, aircraft handlers would then hold wooden chocks inside the flap bay and the pilot would select flaps ‘up’. The wooden chock held the flaps open at around 15 degrees. After take-off and in a stable accelerating climb, the pilot would briefly select flaps ‘down’ so the chocks fell out, allowing him to select the flaps fully ‘up’ for the rest of the flight. Landing back on the deck he was able to select flaps full ‘down’ for landing.

This model is the same kit from Special Hobby as I built some time ago. The kit comes with an array of parts not required, as it apparently covers the Spitfire Mk.21, 22, and 24 as well as the Seafire Mk.45, 46 and 47. Once you take away the extraneous bits, you are left with some sparse sprues of plastic!

The build was much as before, with nice photo etch parts as decent detailing. I cut away the outer flap panels from the lower halves of the wings (these are split flaps, so the upper surface of the wing is fixed).

I also had to drill holes for the rocket mountings and the IFF aerial as these are not provided in the mouldings. There is a diagram in the instructions saying where the holes must go, but it would be easier to have them set up in the mould. On many kits, such as the new Airfix Buccaneer, optional stores stations have a hole half-way into the plastic from the inside. So, you know where to drill if you want it, or you can leave it and the skin is untouched. A tiny difference, but something very easy to do.

Anyway, I think that in the time since my first FR.47 my skills and patience has improved somewhat, such that I have added all kinds of little detail bits that come with the kit (such as the rocket fuse wires) as well as all of the tiny stencil decals.

I have also tried to make the aircraft look well used, as it might have done after a few months of hard flying.

After repairs, HMS Triumph continued on the Korea station, providing fighter cover and armed reconnaissance for the fleet during the invasion at Inchon. They continued until late September 1950 when HMS Theseus arrived with its Sea Furies and Firefly AS.5s. By this point 800 NAS had only four airworthy Seafires, having lost most of its original aircraft and most of the replacements it was issued. None was lost to enemy action. One was shot down by a US B-29 ‘Superfortress’ that confused its profile with that of a Yak-9D of the North Korean Air Force (the US Navy kindly reaching the pilot), leading to the adoption of the black and white ‘invasion’ stripes shown here. The rest were lost in landing accidents or from over-stressed fuselages.

The Korean War marked the end of the front-line use of the Seafire in the Fleet Air Arm. The Seafire was never a rugged aircraft, and by the time of the FR.47 the ever-increasing landing weights meant that the basic structures were getting too weak. The day after the squadron was relieved, it moved to ‘peacetime’ flying rules and the remaining allegedly-airworthy Seafires were immediately grounded due to airframe buckling in the tail. 800 NAS returned to the UK and were disbanded, being reformed shortly thereafter at RNAS Ford to work up with the Supermarine Attacker and to form the first British naval jet squadron.

2 thoughts on “A farewell to Seafires…

  1. For all it’s faults I do like the Seafire, It looks the part. But what a way to get it to fly, sticking blocks of wood in the flaps and rockets on the wings – good grief! It’s another lovely model you have to add to your collection.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It certainly looked good – if only it had wider track undercarriage and a stronger fuselage. Another problem was the brakes – they were designed for grass fields where the drag of the grass helped slow you down. On tarmac runways they used to overheat and fade, with more than one Seafire damaged by taxying gently off the end of a long runway!


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