How Canada acquired Goblins is not a Halloween story, though it does have an element of horror. Goblins, Canadian variants of the Grumman FF-1 biplane fighter — the great-grandfather of the famous Grumman Wildcat F4F, the first of the famous line of naval aircraft that ended with the Grumman F-14 Tomcat — were delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in December 1940 and were operational by Halloween 1941.
Coded G-23, it saw combat in the Spanish Civil War as the Delfin ground attack aircraft. But its war record was hardly inspiring. Three G-23s were shot down and an additional 20 succumbed to AA fire or accidents. The only kill by a G-23 flown by the Republican Air Force (RAF) was a single German floatplane. But that brief spell in the Spanish Civil War led to RCAF acquisition of the Goblin.
The Canadian Car and Foundry Company received an order for fifty G-23s, allegedly for Turkey, but in reality for the Republican Government of Spain. However, the deal was not completed when Franco’s unofficial representative in Canada blew the whistle on this export. Only 34 G-23s reached Spain to become Delfins; shipment of the remaining 16 was stopped in the summer of 1938. The Canadian Car and Foundry, already in the process of securing an order to build a thousand Hurricanes, still wished to unload the remaining G-23s but could find no takers. The peacetime RCAF showed no interest — according to the official test report, the G-23 was not even suitable as a trainer — and only one aircraft from the embargoed order was sold to Mexico.
The war, however, changed everything. Once the shooting starts, something that flies is apparently better than nothing.
The first Goblins, ordered in the dark days of May 1940 for a ‘patriotic’ $5,000 more than the price proposed before hostilities, were delivered to 118 Squadron in December 1940. Priorities given to the RAF’s Hurricane production delayed Goblin assembly and it wasn’t until June 1941 that the entire fleet of fifteen was actually serviceable. In July 1941, 118 Squadron relocated to Dartmouth and in December, Kittyhawks — a Curtis P-40 variant — replaced the Goblins. Five were relegated to the newly stood up 123 Army Co-operation Squadron, but no Goblin saw another Halloween as the 12 remaining airframes were discarded in April 1942 shortly after April Fool’s Day while their engines were given to Army Technical Training Schools.
Canadian Car and Foundry Company Hurricanes did see action in the Battle of Britain in the RAF. Subsequently, many of the firm’s Hurricanes went to Russia as lend lease. Canadian Car and Foundry then manufactured more than 833 Helldivers for the U.S. Navy. Some no doubt saw postwar action with the French in Indo China. Nine G-23s, now nicknamed “Pedro Ricos” on account of their corpulence, survived the Spanish Civil War to see service with Franco’s air force, operating primarily in Spanish Morocco.
This little piece of Canadian military history gives rise to several questions relevant in this day of ancient airframes, be it Sea Kings or Hercules or even F-18s. Is obsolete okay when nothing else is available in time of war? The G-23 was rejected in peacetime and became the Goblin when crisis loomed. Are there more Goblins in the future of our forces? Professor Douglas Bland, chair of the Defence Management Studies Program at Queen’s University, offers that perspective in a collection of papers he edited, Canada Without Armed Forces?
American and British orders, coupled with their technology, made possible Canadian Car and Foundry’s production milestones — not RCAF or Royal Canadian Navy orders. The U.K., U.S.S.R. and the U.S. made the most use of Canadian Car production. What does that tell us about military manufacturers and defence production, even during Canada’s most productive war?
By Roy Thomas, MSC, CD, MA (RMC)