The Gloster Gladiator was developed in the early 1930s in response to Specification F7/30 which called for a fighter capable of 250 mph and armament of 4 machine guns. Based on the Gauntlet, the prototype SS37 was designed by Henry Folland and first flew on 12th September 1934 with evaluation by the RAF commencing in April 1935. Three months later, an order was placed for 23 machines followed by another for 180 aircraft in September. The Gladiator Mk 1 was delivered to the Service in July 1936 and became operational in January 1937. Meanwhile, a Sea Gladiator with arrester hook, catapult points and strengthened frame was being developed for the Fleet Air Arm.
The Gladiator was the last British biplane fighter and the first fighter to be equipped with an enclosed cockpit. Powered by a Bristol Mercury IX radial engine, the Mk I was armed with two synchronised .303 in Vickers guns in the fuselage and two .303 in Lewis guns under the lower wing. The Mk II version, which quickly followed, was powered by a Mercury VIIIA engine and carried four Browning machine guns. As it joined the front line, the Gladiator was already being overtaken in performance terms by the Hurricane and Spitfire and was thus soon being replaced. Two squadrons were deployed in the Norwegian and French campaigns, however, and the aircraft saw considerable operational service in the Mediterranean. Of particular claim to fame was its use during the siege of Malta when, for a period of 10 days in 1940, three Gladiators, subsequently named Faith, Hope and Charity, formed the backbone of the Island’s air defence against fierce onslaught.
A pre-war export success, the Gladiator saw service with the air arms of some 17 countries in all. A total of 747 aircraft were built, of which two airworthy survivors are owned and operated by the Shuttleworth and Fighter Collections. Other machines are on static display at the RAF Museum, the Swedish Air Force Museum and the Maltese National War Museum with another under reconstruction at the Gloucestershire Aircraft Collection.
In February 1937, No 1 Squadron’s ‘B Flight’ was increased to squadron strength at RAF Tangmere and equipped with the Gladiator before moving on, as No 72 Squadron, to Church Fenton.