Supermarine Southampton

Supermarine Southampton

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Supermarine Southampton

The Supermarine Southampton was the first flying boat designed after the First World War to enter RAF service, and was the first of a series of successful military flying boats designed by Reginald Mitchell. It was based on the single Supermarine Swan flying boat, and was ordered off the drawing board in August 1924 after the Swan impressed in tests. The Southampton would become the second longest serving RAF flying boat (behind the Short Sunderland), entering service in 1925 and remaining in use for over ten years, while the related Stranraer was still in use at the start of the Second World War.

The Southampton was a two-bay biplane. The lower wing was mounted just above the fuselage, and was supported by spar bracing tubes (standard practise was to build the lower wing roots into the hull). The wooden hull of the Mk I was built with an inner fuselage section with the planning bottom and two steps attached to the base. The gap between the two was divided into watertight compartments. On the metal-hulled Mk II this system was replaced by a simple single skin, which helped reduce weight and increase storage space. The two engines were mounted on pylons carried between the wings. The Southampton uses a triple fin and rudder, similar to the one used on the Swan.

Three crew positions were placed ahead of the wings – the bow mooring position with a single Lewis gun was in the nose, followed by twin open tandem cockpits. The engineering and navigation stations were placed below the wing centre-section. Behind the wing were two offset Lewis gun positions.

The Southampton entered service in the summer of 1925 with No.480 (Coastal Reconnaissance Flight). It was best known for a series of long distance flights, carried out partly as flag waving exercises and partly to gain experience in operating flying boats in remote waters. The most famous of these tours lasted for over a year, and saw four aircraft from the Far East Flight travel 27,000 miles between October 1927 and 11 December 1928. During this journey the Southamptons circumnavigated Australia, and visited Hong Kong, Indo-China and Burma, before ending the journey at Singapore, where the flight was reformed as No.205 Squadron.

Mk I

The first six Southampton Is were ordered off the drawing board in August 1924. They featured a wooden hull with a double bottom, and were powered by two Napier Lion V engines. The first of these six aircraft made its maiden flight on 10 March 1925. A second order for twelve Southampton Is was placed in July 1925, and all 18 aircraft had been delivered by the end of 1926. Most of the Southampton Is were later returned to Supermarine and given metal hulls and new engines to bring them up to the Mk II standard. The Mk I entered service with No.480 (Coastal Reconnaissance Flight), which in January 1929 became No.201 Squadron.


A single metal-hulled Southampton had been ordered alongside the first Mk Is in August 1924. The new hull was 500lb lighter than the wooden equivalent, and also saved another 400lb in water soakage (always a problem with wooden hulls, which could become rather waterlogged after long periods of operation). The Mk II was powered by 500hp Napier VA engines. A combination of the lighter design and new engines increased the range of the aircraft by over 500 miles. The majority of the Mk Is were converted to Mk II standard, and the Mk II accounted for the majority of the 78 Southamptons.

The Mk II was followed by a small number of Mk IIIs and then by a series of prototypes that either failed to enter service, or became known by different names. The Mk IV became the Scapa, the Mk V the Stranraer.

The Mk X was a three-engined version, built in response to an Air Ministry specification of 1927. A single prototype of the Mk X was ordered in June 1928 and began tests in March 1930. The Mk X used a corrugated stainless steel hull, and had wings of unequal size. Tests revealed that the aircraft was a third-heavier than predicted, and performance was disappointed. Even an increase in engine power from three 430hp Armstrong-Siddeley Jaguar IVs to 570hp Bristol Jupiter XFBMs failed to solve the problems, and no further aircraft were ordered.

Stats (Mk II)
Engine: Two Napier Lion VA W-12 inline engines
Power: 500hp each
Crew: 5
Wing span: 75ft
Length: 51ft 1in or 49ft 8.5in
Height: 22ft 4in or 20ft 5in
Empty weight: 9,696lb
Loaded weight: 15,200lb
Top speed: 108mph, 95mph at sea level
Range: 770 miles or 540 miles
Service ceiling: 14,000ft or 8,100ft
Armament: Three 0.303in Lewis guns, one in the nose and two amidships
Bomb load: 1,100lb

Supermarine Southampton - History

No other part of the British Isles has had more connections with flying boats and seaplanes than Southampton Water.Starting in 1913 with the opening of the air station at Calshot,for the next 50 years ,the strip of water from Southampton to Cowes,on the Isle of Wight,was home to several firms engaged in building marine aircraft.In addition ,both the Navy and the Air Force had marine aircraft bases on Southampton Water .Civilian flying boat services first started at Southampton,and as far as the UK is concerned ,finished there in 1958.

Reference to the map above will show seven main sites.Starting with "A" Calshot we will work round the map in a clockwise direction. (Click on the pictures to go to detailed pages)

Air station opened on 29th March 1913 and used by RAF until closure on 1st April 1961.To see a fuller history click on the picture of a RAF Sunderland above.

Admiralty shed at Hythe used in WW1 for flying boat production,later used by Supermarine and Imperial Airways.For fuller history click on the picture of the buildings above(as seen in the late 30s).

From 1919 to 1958 four different locations in Southampton Docks were used as terminals for Flying Boat services.For more details click on th picture above of Short Solent 4 G-ANYI(c/n S.1558) of Aquila Airways ,about to leave on the last ever passenger carrying service ( 1958).


Woolston,on the banks of the river Itchen, was the location of the Pemberton-Billing aircraft building company.This was later renamed Supermarine.Also located on the river bank at Northam was the Gosport Aviation Co.To see more about Supermarine ,click on the picture above of their factory as it was before WW2.

Hamble,with it's three airfield locations,was also the site of several different seaplane and flying boat builders.Among them was the Fairey Aviation Co.To read more about Hamble click on the above picture of the Fairey N4 Titania N129(c/n F.337).This aircraft was first assembled,but not flown, at Hamble.

In 1943 the Southampton Harbour Board put forward a plan for a combined land and water airport.The airport would have been located near Meon,about halfway between the mouth of the Hamble River and the Meon River.Around the same time a scheme to build a similar facility at Langstone Harbour ,near Portsmouth,was also put forward.At the end of WW2 the ideas ,along with others in the same vein,were evaluated by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.With the rapid increase in size and performance of land planes,the whole idea of flying boat operations was becoming less attractive,and as a result,none of the schemes were taken any further.

Lee-on-Solent opened for seaplane operations in July 1917.Later a land airfield was built and use of the seaplane facilities gradually diminished .To learn more about Lee-on-Solent click on the picture of Fairey IIIF J9153 above.

If you want to learn more about Flying boats, visit the Poole Flying Boats Celebration website..

Supermarine Southampton - History

Lat/Long: 50 53 40N/01 22 59W

In September 1913 Noel Pemberton-Billing opened an aircraft factory on the east bank of the River Itchen at Woolston .Using the telegraphic address "Supermarine" he started building aircraft and flying boats to his own designs.The picture postcards below show a Sopwith "Hydro-Biplane"(top) at the Woolston slipway in 1914 and (below) taking off from near the Woolston works .

Three of his early efforts are shown below. (left)the PB23E(Supermarine Nighthawk serial no.probably 1388)and(right) the incredible P.B.29 Quadruplane Zeppelin Hunter- built in 1915.this eventually gave rise (below)to the PB31E Zeppelin Hunter(Possibly serial no.8487).

With the start of WW1,he left the company to pursue a political career and the business changed it's name to Supermarine Aviation Works in 1916.Throughout the war the factory built seaplanes for the RFC and Royal navy but when the armistice came the demand for military aircraft ceased.Supermarine initially concentrated on converting ex-military flying boats for civilian use,and also operated passenger services from 1919.(For more on this see the Southampton page).

Twenty years separate the pictures above.On the left Supermarine as it was in 1919,and ,right,as it was just before the start of WW2.The boatyard on the left of the 1919 picture has been replaced by the modern styled building in the later picture.

The photo below shows a visit by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) to Supermarine at Woolston on 27th June 1924.The aircraft is a Supermarine Swan.

In 1928 the Supermarine company became part of the Vickers group,and throughout the 20s and 30s built several well known flying boat types,including the Southampton ,Seagull,and, probably the best known,the Walrus.

Also in 1928 on the 19th June , the record breaking aviatrix Amelia Earhart arrived at Woolston in the Fokker VII "Friendship" after flying the Atlantic.Miss Earhart and her crew were greeted by the Mayor of Southampton ,Mrs Foster Welch

A Sea Otter in front of the distinctive Supermarine Factory at Woolston. A view from March 1928 showing a seaplane G-EBGP of British Marine Air Navigation Co.( from Britain from above) A view,possibly from late 1928/early 1929, across the river Itchen at the Floating Bridge showing the Supermarine Works and slipway on the left, with a flying boat on the right .The aircraft is believed to be Imperial Airway's Short Calcutta G-EBVG. A prewar view of Supermarines factory at Woolston.

It was during the 30s that R.J.Mitchell,who had joined the company in 1916,designed the aircraft that was to become possibly the best known aircraft of all time,the Spitfire.This was of course,a landplane ,and it's appearance in 1935 marked the beginning of a move by Supermarine away from marine aircraft.Although the company continued to build Walruses until late 1940,the emphasis was very much on the Spitfire.The bombing of the Woolston factory and also the new factory just up the river at Itchen in September 1940,put an end to full scale aircraft production.Production was moved out to "dispersed " sites all over the southern counties and Woolston was never again to be involved in production of complete aircraft.Upper photo below shows Spitfire production at Itchen in 1939.Lower picture is of the factory after the bombing.

For a few years after WW2 ,the Woolston factory carried out modifications and conversions on WW2 flying boats,but by the end of the 40s even that activity had finished and the factory was closed.

Now all that remains is a memorial to R J Mitchell, the Spitfire and those who flew them.

A difference of almost twenty years between these pictures above .Left:Pemberton-Billing design,the Admiralty Navyplane of 1919,serial No.9095,and right,K5772,the first production Supermarine Walrus ,delivered in 1936. Back to Main List

Supermarine Southampton

The Supermarine Southampton was a flying boat of the interwar period designed and produced by the British aircraft manufacturer Supermarine. It was one of the most successful flying boats of the era.

The Southampton was derived from the experimental Supermarine Swan, and thus was developed at a relatively high pace. According to the aviation authors C. F. Andrews and E. B. Morgan, the design of the Southampton represented a new standard for maritime aircraft, and was a major accomplished for Supermarine's design team, headed by R. J. Mitchell. [2] Demand for the type was such that Supermarine had to expand its production capacity to keep up.

During August 1925, the Southampton entered service with the Royal Air Force (RAF), with whom the type gained a favourable reputation via a series of long-distance formation flights. Further customers emerged for the type, including the Imperial Japanese Navy, Argentine Naval Aviation, and Royal Danish Navy. Several was also adopted by civilian operators, such as Imperial Airways and Japan Air Transport. Amongst other feats, the Southampton facilitated an early ten-passenger cross-channel airline service between England and France.

The Supermarine Works (1936-1939)

In 1934 the Supermarine Works in Southampton were still centred around their original site and buildings at Woolston and their site in Hythe. However, as the rearmament programme began to gather momentum the demands on Supermarine for not only their new fighter for the RAF, The Spitfire, but also their reconnaissance, patrol and rescue sea planes, The Stranraer and The Walrus, necessitated a major redevelopment and expansion of production capability.

By the outbreak of war in 1939 the Woolston works had been transformed, Hythe replaced by a new factory at Itchen Bridge and production facilities extended to Southampton airport in Eastleigh. At the same time production methods had been significantly overhauled.

The Woolston Works

In order to maximise capacity the first priority for the company was to extend the existing site at Woolston. This was achieved through a combination of extensions to the existing buildings, the addition of new buildings, like the large office block at the north of the site, and extending the works across Hazel Road. With the addition of the large hangar frontage the new Woolston works were completed by 1937.

The Hythe Works

In the mid 1930s the large hangars at Hythe were engaged in the construction of the Seagull V, for the Australian Navy, and its Royal Navy incarnation the Walrus, as well as Stranraers for the RAF. However, by 1936 Supermarine was beginning to run down the site and by 1938, with the new Itchen Works in production, Supermarine vacated the site.

The Itchen Works

There was also a process of consolidation. The loss of the Hythe Works, to the west of the city, was compensated for by the addition of new Itchen Works a few hundred yards up Hazel Road from the Woolston factory. Construction of the Itchen Works started in 1938 and was complete by 1939.

Southampton (Eastleigh) Airport

The production of The Spitfire posed additional problems for a company squeezed into a thin strip of land alongside the River Itchen. With no suitable airfield available near the Woolston Works an alternative location for final assembly and test flying was required. The airfield chosen was “Southampton Airport” (although always referred to by locals as “Eastleigh Airport” owing to its location within Southampton’s northern neighbour’s boundary).

Getting the Spitfire Into Production

Production was not easy. Supermarine was used to making a small number of finely crafted aircraft, now they had to produce hundreds, fast!

To meet demand the Woolston Works had been expanded and modernised. A new factory, the Itchen Works, was built just up the road and sub-contractors, like Follands in Hamble, were employed to make many of the parts of the planes.

Once all of the parts the fuselages, wings, tail and engines were finished, they would be transported by lorry to Eastleigh where “final assembly” and flight testing would be performed before the finished Spitfires were flown to their RAF aerodromes by the Air Transport Auxiliary.

By May 1940, the start of the “Battle of Britain”, every Spitfire “scrambled” to face the enemy had been built by Supermarine in the Southampton area.

That had not been the plan.

A massive Shadow Factory had been built before the war, at Castle Bromwich in the midlands, to mass produce Spitfires. Castle Bromwich had the space and tools Woolston didn’t, it was also further away from enemy attack, but as the Battle of Britain began they had still failed to deliver a single aircraft!

The RAF, and Britain, had to rely on the men and women in Southampton.

Supermarine Southampton - History

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The Supermarine Southampton was the first in a series of successful flying boats designed by Supermarine&rsquos R.J. Mitchell and was the first one to be designed for the RAF after the First World War. Produced between 1924 and 1934 it entered into RAF service in 1925 and became the second longest serving (behind the Short Sunderland) and one of the most successful of the inter-war flying boats.

In an unusual move for the times, the Air Ministry ordered six Southamptons straight from the drawing board as the design had been based on the success of the experimental Supermarine Swan amphibious aircraft. So successful was the aircraft that a further twelve were ordered in July 1925.

The Southampton was a hugely successful aircraft for the RAF, the aircraft&rsquos main sponsor, and was used for reconnaissance duties and as a patrol aircraft. It became best known for a series of publicly lauded long-distance flights, the intention of which was partly &lsquoflag waving&rsquo and partly for gaining valuable experience of flying boats in remote waters. The 1927 Far East Flight became known for the Southampton&rsquos display of its prodigious range and reliability.

The Southampton was a very successful series of flying boats with sales also being made to Argentina, Turkey and Japan almost doubling Supermarine&rsquos business in just a few years. A total of eighty-three of all types were built, all of which are revealed in this unrivalled collection of archive images, the majority of which, having been drawn from private collections, have not been published before.

A largely photographic coverage of the graceful 1920s flying boat designed by R.J. Mitchell of later Spitfire fame. The aircraft also put the Royal Air Force on the map during the same period, with overseas deployments to as far away as Singapore and Australia. A nostalgic look back at a bygone flying era.

Helicopter International

I enjoyed this book very much and highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in British inter-war flying boats.

The Catalina Society. The Catalina News, Issue 95, Summer 2021

As featured by

Air Transport Group of the Railway and Canal Historical Society

A book not only for the aeronautical engineer and air enthusiast, but also for any historian of a period where flight began to change the course of that history.

Philip Styles, Archivist – The Shackleton Association

Colin Higgs has more than twenty-five years&rsquo experience in the broadcast and home entertainment industries and for much of that time has co-produced, written and researched aviation documentaries together with Bruce Vigar of Leading Edge TV. Colin&rsquos business, A Flying History, was created to make accessible the unique Peter Keating and John Stroud aviation photograph collections and Colin and Bruce's extensive archive of first-hand interviews with RAF veterans.

Coming from a background in BBC television rights and management JO HILLMAN entered into the world of aviation via a specialist distribution company and involvement in the filming of air shows. A keen, if amateur, historian she is now the Archive Manager for A Flying History and spends much of her time researching, marketing and developing the Peter Keating and John Stroud archives and the A Flying History brand.

Supermarine aircraft [ edit | edit source ]

    (1914) (1915) (1916) (1916) (1917) – anti-Zeppelin fighter aircraft (1917) – single seat fighter flying boat (1919) – Schneider race flying boat
      (1941) – single-seat carrier-based fighter version of the Spitfire – Merlin engine variants – two-stage Merlin engine variants – two-stage Griffon engine variants

    Designs and submissions only

      – four engined heavy bomber to B.12/36, abandoned after prototypes destroyed by German bombing attack (1938) – design project for a turret armed derivative of the Spitfire – design project for a twin Merlin engined, tricycle undercarriage fighter based on Spitfire wing and fuselage. – supersonic version of Swift ΐ] (1953) – mach 2 research aircraft project (1955) – submission for Operational Requirement F.155 for a high altitude supersonic fighter – submission for GOR.339 TSR.2 requirement Α]


    The following information was taken from A DIARY OF AIR RAIDS ON SOUTHAMPTON 6.06.1940 TO 27.06.1944. Mr Walter Kingston, who lived in Pound Street Bitterne, compiled the diary. Mr Dennis Kingston presented a copy to THE BITTERNE LOCAL HISTORY SOCIETY and it is now held in the Society archives.


    The diary lists all the dates, duration and times of the air raid warnings that were sounded in Southampton from June 1940 to October 1944

    There were one thousand five hundred and forty nine air raid alerts during the period most of which would have resulted in some activity locally and, where the diary reports ALL QUIET during a period of alert there would have been some enemy activity in the near vicinity possibly at Portsmouth. The alert was sounded when enemy planes were reported flying over any part of our area. No one could be certain that we were not the target.

    Inevitably all the local defence services were required to stand by during all of the hours of alert. The diary records that there were a total of one thousand six hundred and seventy eight hours and twenty-five minutes of alert between the sounding of the alarm and the all clear. The population lost many hours of sleep waiting for the All Clear signal and quite often people were unable to sleep at night in anticipation of another night of activity.

    The extract listed here includes all those entries where Mr Kingston has reported that any bombs were dropped in and around Southampton and we have also included which part of the town was affected.

    For those of us who can remember a particular incident it is a reminder of the date. For anyone who now lives in a house that was rebuilt after the war they may learn when the original house was damaged or destroyed.

    Tag Archives: History of Woolston Southampton

    In recognition of the BBC World War One at Home Series and in parallel to it, I aim to write posts of significant places and themes related to my writing and their impact on local people. These will include:

    Industry of Woolston Southampton in WW1

    Flying Boat Stations of the UK in WW1

    The Channel Islands and WW1


    There were two main employers in Woolston during both world wars, Thornycroft and Company, later to become Thosper Thornycroft and also Supermarine.

    The Thornycroft shipbuilders occupied a large site on the banks of the River Itchen for 100 years from 1904 to 2004, when Thosper Thornycroft relocated to Portsmouth. This left a gaping hole in the heart of the area both in terms of employment but also in the scar on the landscape, which has only recently been reclaimed and redeveloped.

    The first ship to be built and launched from the Woolston site was HMS Tartar in 1907 which served in the English Channel and the North Sea during World War One. For one hundred years generations of Southampton families worked there, called by the siren to herald the start of the day. I still remember hearing this during my visits to grandparents as a child.

    I cannot better the tribute written by Keith Hamilton on February 2009 to Vosper Thornycroft telling of the importance of company for the well being and lives of Southampton’s and especially Woolston’s people, stressing the pride in their work to serve the nation:

    The second major industry in Woolston since before World War One was Supermarine, of which I have written numerous posts, since it features in my novel

    Just a little up the River Itchen, the other side of The Floating Bridge on Hazel Road, White’s boat builders was taken over by Pemberton Billing and began to develop flying boats in 1913. Although registered with the telegraphic name of Supermarine from its conception, Supermarine was the official name of the company in 1916, during the war.

    Initially the skills of the boat builders would have been put to good use as the company diversified into developing flying boats, until the latter became their major focus. These must have been exciting times for local people in the early days of flight, not only to be involved in working at Supermarine but for families and friends to witness the unusual craft being launched on to the River Itchen and taking off and landing on Southampton Water. Like Vosper Thornycroft, Supermarine was a business of families, where many generations worked there, including the women during both WW1 and WW2. Both companies contributed to the prosperity of the local area of Woolston and its businesses and would have provided reserved occupations for workers in their contribution to the war effort.

    Although better known later for The Schneider Trophy wins in the 1920’s and 1930’s and then the development of the Spitfire in the mid 1930’s I believe the seed for success was sown during World War One when a young, nineteen year old designer, RJ Mitchell joined the firm. My opinion is that it was Mitchell’s vision which turned the company into an international success story of which Southampton is understandably very proud.