Friday 19 January 2018
Three Fleet Air Arm pilots wearing 'Mae West' life-jackets wait for the order of the day on board an aircraft carrier. A Supermarine Seafire can be seen in the background.
© IWM (TR 1121)

This rare Second World War colour photo, probably taken aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable in May 1943, shows three pilots awaiting their orders. Sadly, the names of these three men are currently unknown. They wear yellow lifejackets, known as ‘Mae Wests’, after the popular actress of the same name. The right-hand man, a Sub-Lieutenant, wears the chain-like insignia of the Royal Naval Reserve, with a pilot’s ‘wings’ badge; the man on the left, also a Sub-Lieutenant, wears the ‘wavy’ insignia of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). The letter ‘A’ indicates he is a member of the RNVR’s Air Branch.

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Flying Trials

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Flying Trials

In the background of this photo is a Supermarine Seafire, a naval fighter aircraft based on the famous Spitfire. Unfortunately, the design of the Spitfire – a superb land-based interceptor - was not well suited to adaptation as a naval fighter. The Seafire lacked the operating range and robustness of purpose-built carrier fighters.

 

Supermarine
© IWM (A 9728)
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Combat

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Combat

Even so, the Seafire remained in service throughout the Second World War, seeing action in the Mediterranean, the North Sea, and during the D-Day landings. The Seafire also fought in Pacific, defending against Japanese pilots mounting suicidal kamikaze attacks.

Seafires would see further action during the Korean War in the early 1950s, before being retired in favour of newer designs, such as the Sea Fury.

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Flying From Carriers

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Flying From Carriers

These men are members of the Fleet Air Arm, a branch of the Royal Navy that operated aircraft from navy ships. During the Second World War, aeroplanes became a key weapon at sea. Flying from carriers, aircraft armed with bombs or torpedoes could sink ships at distances of hundreds of miles.

 

© IWM
© IWM (TR 285)
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Indomitable

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Indomitable

The long range striking power of aircraft made it possible to attack enemy fleets in harbour, a tactic used by the Fleet Air Arm in attacking the Italian Navy at Taranto in November 1940, and by the Japanese against the Americans at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

By the end of the war, the aircraft carrier and the aeroplane had overtaken the battleship, with its heavy artillery, as the most powerful offensive weapon at sea.

The Spitfire Lost For 50 Years

IWM

The Spitfire Lost For 50 Years

This Supermarine Spitfire Mark 1a was shot down near Calais on 26 May 1940. After spending decades buried in the sands it was restored to full flying condition and can now be seen at IWM Duxford.

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© IWM (TR 1)
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