Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
Canadian Warplanes 3: Grumman Martlets, Hellcats and Avengers

Grumman Martlets, Hellcats and Avengers flown by RCN and RCNVR pilots in service with the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy

Data current to 2 March 2021.

 (RN Photo)

Grumman Martlet flown by RCN and RCNVR pilots in service with the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy.

Grumman Wildcats ordered by the French government in 1939, but when France fell to the Germans in 1940, the contract for 8 1 aircraft was taken over by the British government.  These model G-36A aircraft designated the Martlet Mk. I by the UK, were powered by a nine-cylinder, single-row Wright R-1820-G205A radial engine, of 1,200 hp (890 kW) and with a single-stage two-speed supercharger.  The Martlet Mk. I was armed with four 0.50 in (12.7-mm) guns mounted in the wings.  The Martlets were modified for British use by Blackburn, with British gunsights, catapult spools and other items but the superior American equipment radio equipment was retained. 

The first Martlets entered British service in August 1940, with No. 804 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), stationed at Hatson in the Orkney Islands.  The Martlet Mk. I did not have a wing folding mechanism and was therefore used primarily from land bases, with the notable exception of six aircraft of No. 882 Squadron on board HMS Illustrious from March 1942.   In April 1942, HMS Illustrious transferred two Martlet Mk. I aircraft to HMS Archer while in port at Freetown.  One of her four retained Martlet Mk. I aircraft were subsequently fitted with folding wings by ship's staff during passage to Durban.  In 1940, Belgium also placed an order for at least 10 Martlet Mk 1s. These were to be modified with the removal of the tailhook.  Belgium surrendered before any aircraft were delivered and by 10 May 1940, the aircraft order was transferred to the Royal Navy.

Before the Fleet Air Arm took the Martlet Mk. Is on charge, it had already ordered 100 model G-36B fighters.  The British chose the Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S3C4-G engine to power this aircraft; this too had a single-stage, two-speed supercharger.  The FAA decided to accept a delay in delivery to get Martlets fitted out with the Grumman-designed and patented Sto-Wing folding wing system first fitted onto U.S. Navy F4F-4 Wildcats, which were vitally important if the Martlet was to be used from the first three Illustrious class carriers which had elevators that were too narrow to accommodate non-folding wing aircraft.  Nevertheless, the first 10 received had fixed wings.  The first Martlet with folding wings was not delivered until August 1941.

In contrast to the USN F4F-3, the British aircraft were fitted with armour and self-sealing fuel tanks.  The Mk. II also had a larger tailwheel.  For carrier operations, the "sting" tail hook and attachment point for the American single-point catapult launch system were considered important advantages.  Nevertheless, the Martlets were modified to have British-style catapult spools.  Deliveries of the folding-wing model G-36Bs began in August 1941, with 36 shipped to the UK and 54 shipped to the Far East; they were designated Martlet Mk. II.  Testing of these Martlets showed a maximum speed of 293 mph at 5,400 ft and 13,800 ft, a maximum climb rate of 1940 fpm at 7,600 ft at 7,790 lb weight, and a time to climb to 20,000 ft of 12.5 minutes. The service ceiling at 7,790 lb was 31,000 ft.

The majority of the Martlet Mk. IIs were sent to the Far East.  The first shipboard operations of the type in British service were in September 1941, on board  HMS Audacity, a small escort carrier with a carrier deck of 420 ft (130 m) by 59 ft (18 m), no elevators and no hangar deck.  The six Wildcats were parked on the deck at all times.  On its first voyage, it served as escort carrier for a convoy to Gibraltar.  On 20 September, a German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 was shot down.  On the next voyage, four Fw 200 Condors fell to the guns of the Martlets, and of the combined total, two of these five Condors were shot down by Eric Brown during his time on board.  Operations from HMS Audacity also demonstrated that the fighter cover was useful against U-boats.  HMS Audacity was sunk by a U-boat on 21 December 1941, with only Brown and one other pilot surviving, but it had already proved the usefulness of escort carriers.

In May 1942, Nos. 881 and 882 Squadrons on HMS Illustrious participated in operations against Madagascar.  In August 1942, No. 806 NAS on board HMS Indomitable provided fighter cover for a convoy to Malta. Later in that year they participated in the landings in French North Africa.

The first 30 F4F-3As were to be sold to Greece, but after its defeat in April 1941 the aircraft had only reached Gibraltar, and they were taken over by the FAA as Martlet Mk. III(B).  As these aircraft did not have folding wings, they were only used from land bases. They served in a shore-based role in the Western Desert.

Ten fixed-wing model G-36Bs were flown by the FAA as Martlet Mk. III(A).

The Royal Navy purchased 220 F4F-4s adapted to British requirements.  The main difference was the use of a Wright R-1820-40B Cyclone in a distinctly more rounded and compact cowling, with a single double-wide flap on each side of the rear and no lip intake.  These machines were named Martlet Mk. IV.Testing of Martlet Mk. IV showed a maximum speed of 278 mph at 3,400 ft and 298 mph at 14,600 ft, a maximum climb rate of 1580 fpm at 6,200 ft at 7,740 lb weight, and a time to climb to 20,000 ft of 14.6 minutes.  The service ceiling at 7,740 lb was 30,100 ft.

The Fleet Air Arm purchased 312 FM-1s, originally with the designation of Martlet Mk. V.  In January 1944, a decision was made to retain the American names for US-supplied aircraft, redesignating the batch as the Wildcat V.

The Wildcat Mk. VI was the Air Ministry name for the FM-2 Wildcat in FAA service.

 (IWM Photo, A20383)

An aircraftsman on the chocks as a Grumman Martlet (Serial No. FN 144) is warmed up on board HMS Formidable.

 (IWM Photo, A15112)

The Flight Deck Officer signals to the pilot of a Grumman Wildcat of No 881 Squadron Fleet Air Arm that he is cleared to take off from HMS Illustrious in the Indian Ocean.

 (IWM Photo, A15113)

Grumman Martlet on board HMS Illustrious in the Indian Ocean, Dec 1942.

 (IWM Photo, A11635)

Grumman Martlet, No. 888 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm with its wings folded being brought up in the lift for ranging on board HMS Formidable

 (RN Photo)

Grumman Martlet flown by RCN and RCNVR pilots in service with the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy.

 (IWM Photo, A24529)

Fleet Air Arm Grumman Grumman Martlet of No. 846 Naval Air Squadron based at Eglington, Northern Ireland (UK).  The aircraft displays the stripes carried by aircraft of the Allied Expeditionary Force during the Normandy landings in June 1944.

 (RN Photo)

Royal Navy Grumman Marlet Mk. V and and Grumman Avengers, Fleet Air Arm (FAA) No. 846 NAS, on board HMS Tracker during supporting operations for the D-Day landings, June 1944.

 (RN Photo)

Royal Navy Grumman Marlet Mk. II (Serial No. AM977), coded A, HMS Illustrious.

 (RN Photo)

Royal Navy Grumman Marlet Mk. II (Serial No. AM977), coded A, HMS Illustrious.

 (IWM Photo, A11644)

Grumman Martlet Mk. II, No. 888 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, taxi-ing forward after landing on board HMS Formidable (67).

 (IWM Photo, A23059)

Grumman Wildcat fighter of No 882 Squadron Fleet Air Arm being manoeuvred into position for takeoff from HMS Pursuer off the northern coast of Norway.

 (IWM Photo, A14211)

Grumman Martlet fighter warming up on the flight deck of HMS Formidable, Dec 1942.

 (IWM Photo, A12553)

Grumman Marlet pilot climbing into his aircraft on board HMS Victorious, September 1942.

 (RN Photo)

Royal Navy Grumman Marlet Mk. V (Serial No.), coded 8N, HMS Persuer.

 (RN Photo)

Grumman Hellcat Mk. II (Serial No. JZ788), coded C7-J, from No. 808 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, Pacific Theatre, c1945.

 (IWM Photo, A24533)

Royal Navy Grumman Hellcats flown by Dutch pilots of No. 1840 Squadron based at Royal Naval Air Station Eglinton, Northern Ireland.

The British Fleet Air Arm (FAA) received 1,263 F6Fs Hellcats under the Lend-Lease Act.  The fighter was initially known as the Grumman Gannet Mk. I.  The name Hellcat replaced it in early 1943 for the sake of simplicity, the Royal Navy at that time adopting the use of the existing American naval names for all the U.S.-made aircraft supplied to it, with the F6F-3 being designated Hellcat F Mk. I, the F6F-5, the Hellcat F Mk.II  and the F6F-5N, the Hellcat NF Mk. II.  They saw action off Norway, in the Mediterranean, and in the Far East.  Several were fitted with photographic reconnaissance equipment similar to the F6F-5P, receiving the designation Hellcat FR Mk. II.  The Pacific War being primarily a naval war, the FAA Hellcats primarily faced land-based aircraft in the European and Mediterranean theaters, and as a consequence experienced far fewer opportunities for air-to-air combat than their USN/Marines counterparts, nevertheless, they claimed a total of 52 enemy aircraft kills during 18 aerial combats from May 1944 to July 1945.  1844 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), on board HMS Indomitable of the British Pacific Fleet was the highest scoring unit, with 32.5 kills.  FAA Hellcats, as with other Lend-Lease aircraft, were rapidly replaced by British aircraft after the end of the war, with only two of the 12 squadrons equipped with the Hellcat at VJ-Day still retaining Hellcats by the end of 1945.  These two squadrons were disbanded in 1946.

 (RN Photo)

Grumman Hellcat flown by RCN and RCNVR pilots in service with the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy.  None are preserved in Canada.

 (RN Photo)

Royal Navy Grumman Hellcat in flight.

 (IWM Photo, A19792)

Royal Navy Grumman Hellcat F.I about to take off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, October 1943.

 (Author's Artwork)

Grumman G50 (F6F-5) Hellcat Mk II, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy, flown by Canadians serving in the British Pacific Fleet against Japan.  Oil on canvas panel, 16 X 20.

 (FAA Photo)

Royal Navy Grumman Avenger over the British escort carrier HMS Biter (D97) during convoy escort duty in the Atlantic, 1943/44.

The Grumman TBF Avenger (designated TBM for aircraft manufactured by General Motors) is an American-built torpedo bomber flown by the RN during the Second World War.  The Avenger entered U.S. service in 1942, and first saw action during the Battle of Midway. In service with many Allied nations, the Avenger became the most  widely-used torpedo bomber of the Second World War. Greatly modified after the war, it remained in use until the 1960s.  A separate web page is dedicated to the Avengers in service with the RCN post war.

The Avenger was flown by the Royal's Fleet Air Arm, where it was initially known as the "Tarpon". That name was discontinued and the Avenger name used instead, as part of the process of the Fleet Air Arm universally adopting the U.S. Navy's names for American naval aircraft.  The first 402 aircraft were known as Avenger Mk. I, another 334 TBM-1s from Grumman were called the Avenger Mk. II, and 334 TBM-3 were designated the Mk. III.  An interesting kill by a Royal Navy Avenger was the destruction of a V-1 flying bomb on 9 July 1944.  The much faster V-1 was overtaking the Avenger when the Telegraphist Air Gunner in the dorsal turret, Leading Aircraftman Fred Shirmer, fired at it from 700 yards (640 m).  For this achievement, Shirmer was Mentioned in Dispatches, later being awarded the DSM for the 1945 Operation Meridian action at Palembang In the January 1945, a British aircraft carrier raid on the Soengei Gerong oil refinery during Operation Meridian, a Fleet Air Arm Avenger shot down a Nakajima Ki-44 fighter in low level combat over the jungle.  Three Avengers were modified to carry the Highball "bouncing bomb" (given the new codename Tammany Hall), but when trials were unsuccessful, they were returned to standard configuration and passed to the Royal Navy.

One hundred USN TBM-3Es were supplied to the Fleet Air Arm in 1953 under the US Mutual Defense Assistance Program.  The aircraft were shipped from Norfolk, Virginia, many aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Perseus. These Avengers were fitted with British equipment by Scottish Aviation and delivered as the Avenger AS.4 to several FAA squadrons including Nos. 767, 814, 815, 820 and 824.  The aircraft were replaced from 1954 by Fairey Gannets and were passed to squadrons of the Royal Naval Reserve including Nos. 1841 and 1844 until the RNR was disbanded.  The surviving Avengers were transferred to the French Navy in 1957–1958.  (Wikipedia)

 (USN Photo)

Royal Navy Grumman Avenger Mk. I (Serial No. JZ150), coded CIJ, from No. 711 Naval Air Squadron in flight.  No. 711 NAS was an operational conversion unit (OCU, training squadron) was based at Royal Naval Air Station Crail (HMS Jackdaw), Scotland (UK).

 (IWM Photo, A26466)

Royal Navy Grumman Avenger taking off from the escort carrier HMS Empress.

 (IWM Photo, 25377)

Grumman Avenger of No. 846 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm being catapulted off HMS Trumpeter.

 (IWM Photo, 26133)

Royal Navy Grumman Avenger of No. 852 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm landing on the flight deck of HMS Fencer.

 (IWM Photo, A26090)

Royal Navy Grumman Avenger (Serial No. FN 871), coded G, No. 846 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm returning to HMS Trumpeter from a successful strike against enemy shipping off the coast of Norway.

 (IWM Photo, A18237)

Royal Navy Grumman Avenger of No. 785 Naval Air Squadron at Crail Fleet Air Arm Station, UK.

 (IWM Photo, A19925)

Royal Navy Grumman Avenger with its wings folded prior to taking off on exercise at HMS Sparrowhawk, the Royal Naval Air Station at Hatston, UK.

 (FAA Photo)

Royal Navy Grumman Avenger in formation.

 (RN Photo via  Etienne du Plessis)

Royal Navy Grumman Avenger, coded 4M.

 (Charles E. Brown Photo via  Gary Nado)

Royal Navy Grumman Avenger Mk. Is, coded 4M, 4F and 4D in formation, No. 846 Squadron.

 (FAA Photo)

Royal Navy Grumman Avengers in D-Day markings.

 (FAA Photo)

Royal Navy Grumman Avenger in D-Day markings.

 (IWM Photo, A23377)

Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable, with Grumman Avengers on deck, seen from the top of a large crane as she enters the basin from the Loch on her way to No 2 Dry Dock at Rosyth Dockyard in the UK.