The Supermarine Walrus (1)

In a recent blog post, I wrote about the most famous flying boat of World War Two, the Short Sunderland. I was lucky enough to visit the RAF Museum at Hendon in north London, where the aircraft is positioned in a very large space, unlike the way it was rather cramped way it was displayed when I went to Duxford in 2009:

With the Sunderland, under its starboard wing almost, is a Supermarine Walrus, which is not a flying boat but an amphibian, an aircraft which can go on land as well as on water.

The Walrus is an extremely unattractive flying machine, and it is extremely difficult to imagine that it was designed by RJ Mitchell, the man who designed the world’s most beautiful aircraft ever. This was the fighter that was originally to be called the Supermarine Shrew, until the name was changed to Supermarine Spitfire (“just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose.” (Mitchell)).

The Walrus was intended to be a gunnery spotting aircraft for sea battles between big warships, but this only happened twice, in the Battle of Cape Spartivento and the Battle of Cape Matapan. In actual fact, the Walrus’ main task was to patrol the seas looking for German or Italian submarines and surface warships. By 1941, the Walruses, or perhaps Walri, had air-to-surface radar for this purpose, although by 1943, all catapult-launched aircraft on Royal Navy ships, including the Walrus, were being phased out as the catapult and the hangar took up too much deck space.

The Walrus was then used at sea only on aircraft carriers as its landing speed was very low and neither flaps nor a tail-hook was necessary. The Royal Navy didn’t have that many aircraft carriers, so the main use of the Walrus now became chiefly air-sea rescue from land bases.

Before the Walrus, the British had not had any aircraft specifically designed for air-sea rescue in home waters.

Here’s the Walrus from the front:

And here it is from the back. Notice how the four bladed propeller is so close to the rear gunner that it may give him a short-back-and-sides haircut if he is not careful:

Here are the wheels which the pilot would lower before landing in the normal way on a runway. As I mentioned above, the Walrus had such a low stalling speed that it could land on an aircraft carrier without recourse to an arrester hook or to any safety nets. Presumably this allowed the Walrus to transport very badly wounded casualties to an aircraft carrier for immediate medical treatment, if the wounded man was too badly injured for a long flight to land :

Here are the floats underneath each wing tip. They appear to have about three thousand of Rosie the Riveter’s finest holding them together:

And to finish up, here’s an overall view of a Walrus:

It flies at about 55mph, but finds long climbs rather challenging. No, just joking!


Filed under Aviation, History, Humour

33 responses to “The Supermarine Walrus (1)

  1. A very unusual plane indeed. I don’t remember Airfix doing this one.

    • Oh yes they did! What a nightmare! I had absolutely no patience so I produced a right glue sodden mess. The problem was that you had to keep leaving the plane overnight to let bits dry. The wing struts. The supports for the engine, and so on. And then you had to put glue on the eight struts on the bottom wing that held up the top wing and then carefully lower it into place. Total nightmare!
      I don’t know how to put a picture of the kitbox art into my reply but if you put “Airfix Walrus” into google images , you’ll find them easily enough.

  2. It is good to see a museum with the requisite amount of space

    • Absolutely. Duxford is wonderful, but every photograph of a WW2 aircraft will have five or six others in shot, and you frequently can’t get far enough back to get the whole plane in. But Hendon is a different matter with far more room for some wonderful exhibits.

  3. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on RAF 293 Squadron and commented:
    One of my many dormant blogs…

  4. Pierre Lagacé

    The introduction to my dormant blog about 293 Squadron…

  5. GP

    The Walrus basically had the same job as a blimp, but she looks far more maneuverable.

  6. Chris Waller

    I had never heard of the Walrus, though the name seems appropriate – it looks as if it has similar aerodynamics. It is redolent of something that Jules Verne might have conjured up. It’s hard to imagine that this was only 4 years before the Spitfire but perhaps Mitchell did what he could within the specification he was given. One could be generous and describe it as ‘quaint’..

    • Indeed. I think that most people would see the Walrus as a step back into the past, but if you are designing a plane whose purpose is to watch battleships fight each other, then the slower it goes, the better. The fact that the Walrus became famous for air sea rescue was because the RAF didn’t have any aircraft except the Walrus to give the job to.
      Apparently the engine was only 629hp, which is more than our car, but not a lot for a plane.

  7. Some day I’m going to get over there to see that museum.

    • I don’t know how much the airfare is, but entry’s free!
      I bet that somewhere in the US there’ll be travel companies that run trips to England’s three best air museums. Duxford. Hendon and Cosford.

  8. atcDave

    It is surprising the range of Reginald Mitchell’s work. And of course, we shouldn’t really expect exciting flight characteristics from something called “Walrus”!
    I’d also mention that the RN had pretty cutting edge gunnery radar, which made the whole “spotter plane” superfluous.

    • No, the walrus isn’t the most graceful of creatures, although when one turned up in north-east Norfolk in the 1980s it led the people who wanted to take it to a zoo to have its health checked out, a merry dance, and they never did catch it.
      Apparently, the Walrus was designed from 1929-1933 when the radar issue would not have come up but, as the actual number of occasions when the Walrus carried out this task was only two, it was hardly worth a great many ships carrying such an aircraft.
      After that it would have been a case of casting around to find a task for the Walruses to do. As we shall see in the future, there was no provision at all for ASR, so the Walrus got the job.

  9. It is a rather ungainly looking aeroplane isn’t it. I think other than looking for ships or Submarines, I’d be watching that large propeller spinning somewhat closely behind my head!

    • There was a flying boat before the Supermarine Southampton of the early thirties, which I’ve forgotten the name of, and its propeller was four of five feet above the open cockpit. A pilot was taxying across Poole Harbour one day when he was cut up by a speedboat. He waved his fist at the clown in the boat and lost his arm below the elbow. So these things did happen.

  10. Pierre Lagacé

    The Sea Otter was a refinement of the Walrus.

    This is a post about Johnny Horan on one of my blogs.

  11. Thanks for that, Pierre. I think the Walrus soldiered on during the conflict alongside the Sea Otter, but clearly the latter was a superior aircraft and survived the end of the war. The story of Johnnie Horan is a good illustration of the way medals are distributed. I have had a feeling for a long time now that the first step to a high award was “Be English, and not from the Dominions” (but I’m sure they wouldn’t be as biassed as that!)

  12. Ah, John, we have one in the Point Cook Museum. I have a photo somewhere and will see if I can post it.

  13. Found it. I forgot that I had written about it The thing that fascinated me was the engine being set a bit off centre. Have a look at if you want to see the one we have here.

  14. Thanks for that. I hadn’t realised that the engine was set off centre but the reasoning behind it was sound enough. It’s a pity that we don’t have any more flying boats or amphibians today. They have a magic all their own.

  15. Jan

    “Achtung Shrew !!!” doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? The Royal Navy has a long history of choosing “warry” names for its ships (save for the odd Pansy and Cockchafer) but the RAF seemed to delegate the naming of most of its prewar aircraft to the same committee that picked street names for the local borough council. I wouldn’t mind living in Hampden Close or even Wellington Circus but I’m not so sure about Warspite Way and Dreadnought Drive.

  16. Naming streets is such a strange thing. Very often it just boils down to the builder immortalising himself and his family. I really wish that councillors would give some thought to using the names of servicemen and women who gave their lives for their country. It might even be worth thinking of using the names of those who died in our hospitals trying to stop the spread of this dreadful disease.

  17. Recently I listened to The Rainbow and the Rose by Nevil Shute. Aeroplanes are one of the main ‘characters ‘ in his books. Your posts always remind me of his books.

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