Single engine single-seat fighter aircraft
On September 27th, 1936, the Belgian Government ordered 22 Bristol Mercury IX (825 hp) powered Gloster Gladiator I fighter aircraft with Gloster Aircraft (Hucclecote, U.K.) (Contract 36/636). Fifteen Gladiators were to be delivered by Gloster and seven more aircraft were to be assembled at Sabca (end of 1936). Although deliveries already started in June 1937, the final signature of the Contract was delayed until May 1938 because negotiations were started for the license production of the Gladiator by the Belgian aeronautical industry (Sabca). In the end this never materialized.
The first Gladiator of the first tranche of 6 aircraft was delivered to the Aéronautique Militaire Belge in June 1937, while the first aircraft of the second tranche of 9 arrived in September 1937. The first Belgian assembled Gladiator I was delivered by Sabca in March/April 1938. Gloster built aircraft received the Class B registrations G5-1 to G5-15, which before delivery to Belgium were painted on the fuselages of the Gladiators. The Aéronautique Militaire Belge registered its Gladiators G-17 to G-38
All Gladiators were used by Squadron 1/I/2 Aé (Comet) commanded by Capt Max Guisgand and operated from Schaffen airbase. In the last years before World War II the Belgian Gladiators were presented at the many airshows by an unnamed team, mostly composed of 4 aircraft and a solo display and usually flown by Capt Arend (Solo G-34), Adj Wegria (G-27), 1Sgt Janssens (G-21), Sgt Delorme (G-31) and Sgt Rolin (G-24). Attrition during these pre-war years was extremely high as the AéM lost no less than 6 Gladiators between March 1939 and March 1940.
On the morning of the German attack on Belgium (May 10th, 1940), 14 Gladiators were serviceable at Schaffen while the unarmed Gladiator G-38 remained at Evere as personal aircraft of General Hiernaux (Chief of Staff of the AéM) and G-18 was at the same base in the final stages of its periodic maintenance. Only minutes before the attack of Schaffen by Dornier Do 17 bombers of KG 77, Capt. Guisgand managed to take off with all but two of his 14 Glosters and headed for the Beauvechain auxiliary airfield. At Schaffen the Gladiator of S/Lieut Marcel Wilmots (G-17 ?) waiting his turn to take off, was hit by the Hurricane of Capt Martin Charlier which was damaged by German machine gun fire while taxiing. The Gloster of Albert Van den broeck did manage to take-off during the bombardment but his engine was hit by shrapnel and he had to make an emergence landing near Herentals. On May 11th, six Gladiators were tasked with the protection of the Belgian Fairey Battles during their attack on the Meuse bridges (unfortunately the Battles arrived too late at the 'rendezvous’). The Gladiators were no match against the superiority of the Luftwaffe Bf 109’s of I./JG 1 which resulted in the loss of Gladiator G-19 (Sgt Pirlot killed), G-22 (Sgt Rolin save), G-27 Capt Guisgand save) and G-34 (Sgt Clinquart killed). Only Sgt Winand in G-32 and Sgt Van den Broeck in G-31 made it back home although both of their aircraft were severely shot up. The “coup de grâce” was given by twelve Messerschmitt’s of I./JG 1 who attacked Le Culot (Beauvechain) at 16.30 on 11 May 1940. I/2 Aé had just lost the last aircraft of its force composed of Hurricane’s and Gladiators (D. Brackx)