Their Lordships at The Admiralty had cast envious eyes over the Spitfire from the moment the type entered service with the RAF in late 1938. After spending over two decades chafing under the control of the RAF and the Air Ministry, both of whom were largely indifferent to the needs of naval aviation, the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm finally regained its independence in the late 1930s. At that time, its most modern aircraft was the Blackburn Skua, a compromised design that nonetheless provided good service to the FAA in the first years of WW2 and deserves a better reputation than the type has today.
(By contrast, the Blackburn Roc, a dead-end turret-fighter offshoot of the Skua, entirely deserves its poor reputation!)
All other frontline types were biplanes, with the standouts being the Fairey Swordfish and Gloster Sea Gladiator.
The first modern fighter to enter Fleet service was the Sea Hurricane, which was to give sterling service during the war - but what the Admiralty really wanted was a naval version of Reginald Mitchells elegant fighter....
Because of the urgent needs of the RAF, the Admiralty was to be denied a “Sea Spitfire” (soon abbreviated to the more evocative “Seafire”) until early 1942, when Spitfire Mk.Vb BL676 was sent to the Aircraft & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down. Named “Bondowoso” this aircraft became the first to be converted to a “Hooked Spitfire” with the addition of an A-frame arrester hook. Eventually re-serialled as MB328, she would be converted to full Seafire Mk.Ib standard. She would be the first of around 2400 Seafires of all marks to enter Fleet service.
All Seafire Mk.Ib aircraft were conversions of existing Spitfire Mk.Vb airframes; the conversion itself consisting of the addition of a 6-foot long A-frame arrester hook faired into the rear fuselage undersides, the addition of internal slinging points in the rear fuselage to enable the aircraft to be safely craned aboard aircraft carriers and lastly, the addition of naval high frequency radio equipment. Around 160 Spitfire Mk.Vb's were thus converted to Seafire Mk.Ib standard – each aircraft being re-serialled in the process.
images below to see larger images
It quickly became apparent that the Seafire was a rather fragile thing. The airframe was never designed to cope with the stresses of carrier take-offs and landings – compared to the legendary products of Leroy Grumman’s “Iron Works” in Bethpage, New York – the F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat and TBF Avenger, the Seafire was decidedly delicate, for all its superb flying and fighting qualities. The narrow-track undercarriage was never really up to coping with the stresses of deck landings in particular – many a Seafire over the years would suffer a collapsed undercarriage after a hard landing, and that undercarriage combined with poor visibility over that long Merlin nose made deck handling tricky at the best of times. It was also discovered (the hard way...) that if the hook missed the arrester wire on landing, it could on occasion violently bounce back up and buckle the rear fuselage, resulting in the aircraft being written-off.
The first “proper” Seafire would be the Seafire Mk.IIc, which was a beefed-up
adaptation of the Spitfire Mk.Vc, but built from the start as a Seafire, rather than a conversion from existing Spitfire airframes.
The first Seafire Mk.Ibs arrived on 807 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) for training in July 1942 as the squadron formed up on Seafire Mk.IIc's. Only one unit, 801 NAS would be entirely equipped with Seafire Mk.Ibs and this squadron formed on the type in September 1942.
The Seafire Mk.Ib would see service with both the Home and Mediterranean fleets, most notably taking part in Operation Torch, the Anglo-American landings in Vichy French North Africa, the first major operation in which Seafires took part. Other squadrons would also fly the Seafire Mk.Ib alongside the Seafire Mk.IIc and the type would linger into 1944, with raids against the battleship Tirpitz in 1944 being the last major operations it took part in.
Like the real thing (!) Hasegawa’s 1/48th scale Seafire Mk.Ib is a conversion of an existing kit – in this case, their 1/48th scale Spitfire Mk.Vb which has been around for quite some time – and always seems to be in the shadows of its contemporary, the Tamiya Spitfire Mk.Vb and now the much newer Airfix kit of the same aircraft.
The Hasegawa kit in its own right is a pretty tidy effort, with somewhat more finesse to it than either the Tamiya or Airfix offerings and builds into a respectable replica with little effort.
This reissue in the guise of a Seafire Mk.Ib is the base Spitfire Mk.Vb kit with new markings and a resin A-frame arrester hook added. Also included is a sprue for the butt-ugly Vokes sand filter that more than a few (but not all!) Seafire Ibs were fitted with.
The markings cover two variations for a Seafire of 885 Naval Air Squadron; MB345 (an ex-Westland built Spitfire Mk.Vb AR445) “K” or “06-K”. The finish is the standard Temperate Sea Scheme of Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey over Sky with Sky codes, Night (black) serials and standard roundels and fin flashes. The other - and more exotic scheme - is for Seafire MB340 (originally a Castle Bromwich built Spitfire BL689) of the Royal Navy Air Section, Port Reitz, Mombasa, Kenya in late 1944. This disarmed Seafire was finished in overall Royal Blue with a white lightning bolt stripe down each side of the fuselage. The roundels and fin flashes were Roundel Blue and “India White” which was a pale blue (!) four parts white to one part of roundel blue…. A seriously tempting option – but I behaved and stuck with the 885 NAS options – another time maybe!!
Construction is pretty straightforward, with of course allowance being made for the installation of that A-frame arrester hook. As mentioned earlier, this is a resin affair, with the hook well, hook and actuator arm. One can assemble the hook fully retracted or lowered – I opted for the latter for a bit of added interest. The interior was finished in the standard British grey-green, with a red/brown “Bakelite” seat that has a harness made from lead foil. Black instrument panel and other details.
The only issue I had was of course cutting away the lower rear fuselage halves to insert and blend the resin arrester hook well. Once this was done, the A-frame hook and its actuator arm were installed and along with the undercarriage (sans wheels) and the model was ready for some paint.
I used my usual Xtracolour enamels for this job; Sky undersides with Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey up top. Tamiya tape, a sharp blade and some choice words were used to get a hard edge to the camouflage.
As mentioned above, there are two variations for MB345; she originally just carried the individual code letter “K” but was subsequently given a full squadron code of “06-K” and for some reason, the Vokes filter was completely painted in Dark Slate Grey. The other variation is the amount of wear and tear on the paintwork – a bit scruffy when she was just “K” much more so by the time she became “06-K”!
I used the kit decals (gasp!) instead of aftermarket for a change; they are quite thin and the colours are good (although they look brighter in my photos here) and not what one normally expects to see from Hasegawa, I know. Once the decals had set and dried, Testors Dullcote sealed the deal.
These days, it’s possible to build every major mark of the Seafire family; the WW2 Merlin Seafires Mk.I, II and III and the post-war Griffon Seafires Mk.XV, F.17, F.45, FR.46 and FR47
I find the Seafire family to be quite fascinating – the type served everywhere that the Royal Navy went in WW2 and continued that service into Malaya (operation Firedog) and over the Korean Peninsular during the opening months of the Korean War. Also add in operators such as France, Ireland and Burma for some exotic variations!