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Supermarine Spitfire F.Mk IX of No.602 Squadron

Supermarine Spitfire F.Mk IX of No.602 Squadron

Supermarine Spitfire F.Mk IX of No.602 Squadron

A Supermarine Spitfire F.Mk IX of No.602 Squadron, with the "c" wing.

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Of all the fighters that have served with the Royal Air Force since its formation in 1918, none has achieved wider, no more widely deserved, fame than the Supermarine Spitfire. No better example can be found of ”the right aeroplane being available at the right time” it was the Spitfire, more than other single type, that allowed the RAF’s fighter squadrons during World War Two first to blunt the spearhead of the Luftwaffe’s attack on Britain and then to gain and maintain ascendancy over the German air force.The Supermarine Spitfire existed in more than 40 major variants, but it served the RAF in only two principal roles, those of fighter and photographic reconnaissance. The Spitfire was a pilot’s aeroplane not the easiest to fly, and a little unforgiving of tyros, it was universally liked by those who flew and fought in it for its all-round performance, its manoeuvrability and its lack of vices.

The Supermarine Spitfire began as a private venture replacing an earlier unsuccessful design to specification F.7/30, and emerged to fill a new one, F.37/34. An initial production order covered 310 for completion by March 1939, and production began in 1937. The first unit to be equipped was No 19 Squadron, Duxford in August 1938, a big step up from its Gloster Gauntlets. The Supermarine Spitfire prototype K5054 (Supermarine Type 300) was powered initially by a 990 hp (738 kW) Merlin ‘C’ engine. Captain J. ‘Mutt’ Summers flew it for the first time on 5 march 1936 at Eastleigh aerodrome, Southampton. The type 300 soon displayed superb handling qualities and performance, achieving a level speed of almost 350 mph (563 km/h), and on 3 June 310 Mk I aircraft were ordered to Specification F.16/36. This represented the first of nearly 23,000 of all marks, developed largely by Joe Smith, who succeeded the Supermarine chief designer – R.J.Mitchel – on the latter’s death on 11 June 1937.

These early Spitfire Is were powered by a 1,030 hp (768 kW) Rolls Royce Merlin II, driving a two-blade fixed-pitch wooden propeller. Ejector exhaust stubs were introduced, as well as a tailwheel in place of the prototype’s skid. Only four of the planned eight 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns were installed as a result of supply shortages, and trailing-edge flaps and landing gear were raised and lowered manually. Improvements were introduced quickly, including a bulletproof windscreen, a bulged canopy, armour plating behind the engine, hydraulics for actuation of flaps and landing gear, and a Merlin II engine driving a three-blade variable-pitch de Havilland metal propeller. The eight-gun aircraft were designated Spitfire IA, and 30 Mk IBs, with two machine-guns and one 20 mm cannon in each wing, were delivered in 1940 for operational trials.

By the outbreak of World War Two, nine full squadrons had been equipped, and Supermarine Spitfire of No 602 Squadron claimed the first victories of the war on October 16, 1939, destroying two Junkers Ju 88s and a Heinkel He 111. Further large orders were placed as the type was developed, and its role in the Battle of Britain alongside the Hawker Hurricane is history. Various marks of Spitfire served with 111 squadrons during World War Two, others continued postwar.


World War Photos

Wing Commander Colin Gray with his Spitfire at Souk-el-Kehemis while commanding No. 81 Squadron RAF Sherman tanks move up past a crash landed Spitfire, for an attack on Tilly-sur-Seulles, Normandy 17 June 1944 Czech Spitfire pilot of No. 313 Squadron in conversation with his rigger and fitter. Spitfire Mk Vb BL581 “Moesi-llir”, Hornchurch 8 April 1942 Spitfire coded ZM-M of the 12th TRS, 67th Reconnaissance Group on the 26th of March 1944
Group Captain A.G. Malan on the wing of Squadron Leader Hugo Armstrong’s Spitfire Mk IX at Biggin Hill, 2 January 1943 Pilots of No 132 Squadron RAF with their Squadron Leader Alan Page. Spitfire LF Mk IX at Ford, 27 April 1944 Spitfire LF Mk Vb, serial AB502, IR-G. Personal fighter of Wing Commander I. R. Widge Gleed No. 244 Wing Leader based at Bou Grara Tunisia VCS-7 ground personnel with one of the Spitfires flown by the squadron during its support of the invasion of Normandy
Ground staff work on a No. 610 Squadron RAF Spitfire Mk V at Westhampnett, 11 April 1943 31st Fighter Group, 309th FS mechanics maintain Spitfire Mk V, coded WZ-W, serial BM857, England August 1942 DUKW brings gas to refuel Spitfire. Pilot Robert Rahn, 309th FS, 31st FG at Sicily 1943 14th PS, 7th Photo Reconnaissance Group Spitfire Mk XI MB946 at Mount Farm – color photo
Spitfire, F4U Corsair and Barracudas at HMS Fledgling Eagle Squadron No. 133 pilot exits Spitfire Mk V after Ostend Raid 1942 Spitfire Mk V of the 308th FS, 31st FG at RAF Westhampnett 1942 Ground crew loading a dinghy into a Spitfire Mk IIA, serial P8131, coded AQ-C of No. 276 Squadron RAF at Warmwell
Air Vice Marshal W. F. Dickson and his Spitfire LF Mark VIII serial JF814, WFD, Italy Air Vice Marshal Keith Park taxiing his personal Spitfire V, Malta, Safi airfield Lieutenant Donald Ross a pilot of the 335th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group with his Spitfire Mk Vb, EN918 coded AV-X, 1942 Mechanics ready Spitfire Mk V HL-J of U.S 308th Fighter Squadron, 1942
Ground crewmen refuelling a Spitfire Mk II at an unknown OTU Pilot of No. 64 Squadron RAF running towards his Spitfire Mk Ia as the Squadron is scrambled at Kenley, 10.45, Battle of Britain 15 August 1940 Spitfire’s external fuel tank filled with beer from barrels before being flown to Allied forces in Normandy Sergeant Eugeniusz Nowakiewicz of No. 302 Polish Squadron and his Spitfire coded WX-L at RAF Exeter, November 1941
31st Fighter Group, 307th FS pilot rushes to shark-mouthed Spitfire V at La Seni 1943 RAF No. 54 Squadron Leader E.M. Gibbs with pilots Cavanagh, Norwood and Thompson with Spitfire Mk Vc DL-M in Australia, late 1943 F/O Ian Taylor and Spitfire Mk Vc “E” of No. 54 Squadron RAF in Australia, 1943 Flt Lt Jozef Zulikowski of No 306 Polish Squadron in the cockpit of his Spitfire Mk IXc, serial BS456, UZ-Z
USAAF pilot of 307th Fighter Squadron ready to takeoff in Spitfire Mk V, England 1942 Wreckage of Spitfire Mk IX, EN459 ZX-1 from Polish Fighting Teamattached to No. 145 Squadron RAF – color photo Zumbach’s Spitfire Mk VB, BM144, coded RF-D August 1942. 303 Sqn RAF (Polish) Spitfires Mk I R6712 YT-N and R6714 YT-M of No. 65 Squadron RAF, taking off from Hornchurch August 1940
RAAF 452 Squadron Spitfires Mk VIII on Borneo 1945 Spitfires Mk IXc of No 317 Squadron (Polish) in their dispersal areas at B10, Plumetot August 1944. JH-V in the foreground. Wing Commander Clive “Killer” Caldwell and his Spitfire Mk Vc Spitfires Mk VB of No 303 Polish Fighter Squadron in flight, 17 May 1943. RF-H in the foreground
Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson of No. 144 (Canadian) Wing RAF and Spitfire Mark IX at Bazenville/B2 airfield, Normandy PO Jerry Smith RCAF Lands Spitfire Mk V trop On USS Wasp CV-7 Off Of Malta. F4F #19 Wildcat (background). Supermarine Spitfire Mk V Parked on Airfield Spitfire Vb trop serial ER120 VF-D of the 5th Fighter Squadron 52nd Fighter Group North Africa
PO Jerry Smith RCAF Lands Spitfire On USS Wasp CV-7 Off Of Malta American Spitfire Mk VIII of the 31st Fighter Group 307th Fighter Squadron Spitfire Mk Vc trop MX P JK707 of the 307th Fighter Squadron shot down by US Navy fire off Salerno Italy 1943 Spitfire Mk I of No. 222 Squadron RAF code ZD-A
Maj Virgil C. Fields Jr commander of the 307th Fighter Squadron 31st Fighter Group 1944 Spitfires and A-20 in Italy 1945 PO Jerry Smith RCAF Lands Spitfire On USS Wasp CV-7 Off Of Malta 2 Supermarine Spitfire code UP-L of No. 79 Squadron RAAF PTO
Supermarine Spitfire V and IX in France 1944 Spitfire Vb of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Group in flight England Spitfire Mk I flown by Richard Hardy of 234 Squadron N3277 AZ-H Cherbourg 1940 German Supermarine Spitfire Mk I with half-black, half-white undersides typical of early war RAF fighters
Spitfire Polish Bishop Leads Mass for No. 317 Fighter Squadron 1944 Spitfire Mk II code ZP-N of No. 74 Squadron RAF Calais 1941 Spitfire Mk V A58-167 of 79th Squadron RAAF Admiralty Islands August 1944 German Supermarine Spitfire Mk I nose
American Supermarine Spitfire Mk XI PA944 14th PS 7th PRG German soldiers and crashed Spitfire Spitfire Mk VIIIs of the 607 Squadron In Burma RAF 93 Squadron Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX Sicily
Spitfire Mk IX code WZ-UU of the 309th Fighter Squadron Italy photo reconnaissance Supermarine Spitfire X4555 Spitfire Mk Ia N3200 of No. 19 Squadron RAF Sangatte Beach 1940 Australian RAAF Supermarine Spitfire MK.VIII on Pacific
USAAF 307 th Fighter Squadron 31st Fighter Group Spitfires Mk Vb Takeoff from RAF station Biggin Hill 1942 Crashed Spitfire of the RAAF Supermarine Spitfire Mk V of No. 225 squadron Italy Crashed Supermarine Spitfire
Spitfire Mk IX of No.485 squadron Station 112 England 30 March 1944 Spitfire Mk Vb code WZ-Y of the 15th TRS 67th RG assigned to pilot Norm Thompson Spitfire MK IX of No. 93 Squadron Crash Landed Battle Damage to an RAF Supermarine Spitfire
Captured Spitfire of No. 222 Squadron RAF American Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb code MD-L of the 4th Fighter Group, 336th Fighter Squadron. Fighter in standard RAF camouflage of dark green and ocean gray over medium sea gray, with sky spinner and band around the fuselage. Destroyed Hurricane France 1940 French Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX 1945
Formation of the new British Spitfire fighters 1942 American Spitfire of the 335th Fighter Squadron 4th Fighter Group pilot Capt Donald Willis Spitfire of No. 19 Squadron During Battle of Britain 1940 Fowlmere 2 Spitfire Mk Vb of the 107th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron England
Supermarine Spitfire Mk I of No. 501 Squadron RAF 1941 Supermarine Spitfire Mk I of No. 222 Squadron RAF code ZD-A Spitfire Mk Ia R6597 code GR-A of No 92 Squadron July 1940 Squadrons of Spitfires Taking off from RAF Biggin Hill 1942
Crashed Supermarine Spitfire on the beach Spitfire Mk Vb pilot George Carpenter No. 121 Squadron RAF Eagle Squadron Captured Supermarine Spitfire Mk I PO Jerry Smith RCAF Lands Spitfire On USS Wasp Off Of Malta 1942. F4F #24 Wildcat (background).
German Spitfire Mk I G-X French Supermarine Spitfire Italy 1944 Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX and B-24 in France Supermarine Spitfire of No. 74 Squadron RAF forced landed
Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII A58-504, code QY-E of No. 452 Squadron RAAF Spitfire LF.VIII A58-504 of Royal Australian Air Forces 452 Squadron, Borneo 1945 PO Jerry Smith RCAF Lands Spitfire On USS Wasp Off Of Malta cockpit Pre D-Day Dummy Inflatable Aircraft Spitfire
Spitfire Mk Vc trop Steve pilot Lt R J Connor 309th Fighter Squadron 31st Fighter Group K5054 in air Supermarine Type 300 Spitfire Prototype 1939 Crashed Spitfire WZ-B 31st Fighter Group 309th FS Algeria Africa 1943 Spitfire Mk II code YQ-D of No. 616 Squadron RAF, near Dunkerque
Crashed Supermarine Spitfire and DAK soldiers 1943 Wing Commander A. G. Malan DSO DFC in Spitfire 1941 leading the Biggin Hill wing Supermarine Spitfire of the RAAF Supermarine Spitfire of the 336th FS 4th Fighter Group engine
American Supermarine Spitfire Mk V of the 12th TRS England 1943 Spitfire code SH-Q of No. 64 Squadron RAF with Invasion Stripes Normandy June 1944 Spitfire V trop of RAF 253 Squadron and 32 Squadron Canne, Italy 1944. Spitfire Mk Vc Flown By Malta Ace Peter Prosser Hanks
Spitfire of the 307th Fighter Squadron 31st Fighter Group Salerno Spitfire IXB code LO-C of RAF 602 Squadron Longues sur Mer airfield B-11 France August 1944 Polish Spitfire Mk IX MH869 of No. 302 Sqn Destroyed Supermarine Spitfire Mk I 1940
Captured Spitfire flown by Richard Hardy of 234 Squadron N3277 AZ-H Cherbourg Spitfire Mk IX of No. 154 Squadron at base in Corsica Spitfire Mk I K9795 of No. 19 Squadron RAF pre war Spitfire code MD-U of the 133 (Eagle) Squadron RAF. Aircraft carrying standard day fighter camouflage: Ocean Grey/Dark Green over Medium Sea Grey with a Sky band on the rear fuselage.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb EP835 on Airfield Italy Supermarine Spitfire IX Italy 1944 Batsman Guides Seafire Fighter on Deck of HMS INDOMITABLE Soviet Spitfire and pilots Lend Lease program
Spitfire Mk II YQ-D of No. 616 Squadron RAF rear Supermarine Spitfire Fighter Parked by Hangar French Army Pilot Flies British Spitfire in North Africa Spitfire Mk V WZ-Y of the USAAF At Membury Airdrome 15th TRS 67th RG England 15 March 1943
Destroyed Spitfire 1945 Attack on Eindhoven Airfield 1 January 1945 Spitfire Mk VIII DG-Z of No. 155 Squadron RAAF American Supermarine Spitfire and P-38 in flight french pilot Capt. Raymond Boillot with his Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire Mk 21 LA215 Supermarine Spitfire Mk V Malta 1943

Contents

Origins Edit

In 1931 the Air Ministry released specification F7/30, calling for a modern fighter capable of a flying speed of 250 mph (400 km/h). R. J. Mitchell designed the Supermarine Type 224 to fill this role. The 224 was an open-cockpit monoplane with bulky gull-wings and a large, fixed, spatted undercarriage powered by the 600-horsepower (450 kW), evaporatively cooled Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine. [5] It made its first flight in February 1934. [6] Of the seven designs tendered to F7/30, the Gloster Gladiator biplane was accepted for service. [7]

The Type 224 was a big disappointment to Mitchell and his design team, who immediately embarked on a series of "cleaned-up" designs, using their experience with the Schneider Trophy seaplanes as a starting point. [7] This led to the Type 300, with retractable undercarriage and a wingspan reduced by 6 ft (1.8 m). This design was submitted to the Air Ministry in July 1934, but was not accepted. [8] It then went through a series of changes, including the incorporation of an enclosed cockpit, oxygen-breathing apparatus, smaller and thinner wings, and the newly developed, more powerful Rolls-Royce PV-XII V-12 engine, later named the "Merlin". In November 1934 Mitchell, with the backing of Supermarine's owner Vickers-Armstrong, started detailed design work on this refined version of the Type 300. [9]

On 1 December 1934, the Air Ministry issued contract AM 361140/34, providing £10,000 for the construction of Mitchell's improved Type 300, design. [10] On 3 January 1935, they formalised the contract with a new specification, F10/35, written around the aircraft. [11] In April 1935, the armament was changed from two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns in each wing to four .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings, [12] following a recommendation by Squadron Leader Ralph Sorley of the Operational Requirements section at the Air Ministry. [13]

On 5 March 1936, [14] [nb 1] the prototype (K5054), fitted with a fine-pitch propeller to give more power for takeoff, took off on its first flight from Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport) At the controls was Captain Joseph "Mutt" Summers, chief test pilot for Vickers, who is quoted as saying "Don't touch anything" on landing. [15] [nb 2] This eight-minute flight [13] came four months after the maiden flight of the contemporary Hurricane. [17]

K5054 was fitted with a new propeller, and Summers flew the aircraft on 10 March 1936 during this flight, the undercarriage was retracted for the first time. [18] After the fourth flight, a new engine was fitted, and Summers left the test flying to his assistants, Jeffrey Quill and George Pickering. They soon discovered that the Spitfire [nb 3] [21] was a very good aircraft, but not perfect. The rudder was oversensitive, and the top speed was just 330 mph (528 km/h), little faster than Sydney Camm's new Merlin-powered Hurricane. [23] A new and better-shaped two bladed wooden propeller allowed the Spitfire to reach 348 mph (557 km/h) in level flight in mid-May, when Summers flew K5054 to RAF Martlesham Heath and handed the aircraft over to Squadron Leader Anderson of the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE). Here, Flight Lieutenant Humphrey Edwardes-Jones took over the prototype for the RAF. [24] He had been given orders to fly the aircraft and then to make his report to the Air Ministry on landing. Edwardes-Jones' report was positive his only request was that the Spitfire be equipped with an undercarriage position indicator. [25] A week later, on 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires, [26] before the A&AEE had issued any formal report. Interim reports were later issued on a piecemeal basis. [27]

Initial production Edit

The British public first saw the Spitfire at the RAF Hendon air display on Saturday 27 June 1936. Although full-scale production was supposed to begin immediately, numerous problems could not be overcome for some time, and the first production Spitfire, K9787, did not roll off the Woolston, Southampton assembly line until mid-1938. [1]

In February 1936 the director of Vickers-Armstrong, Sir Robert MacLean guaranteed production of five aircraft a week, beginning 15 months after an order was placed. On 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 aircraft, at a cost of £1,395,000. [28] Full-scale production of the Spitfire began at Supermarine's facility in Woolston, but the order clearly could not be completed in the 15 months promised. Supermarine was a small company, already busy building Walrus and Stranraer flying boats, and Vickers was busy building Wellington bombers.

The initial solution was to subcontract the work. [28] Although outside contractors were supposed to be involved in manufacturing many important Spitfire components, especially the wings, Vickers-Armstrong (the parent company) was reluctant to see the Spitfire being manufactured by outside concerns, and was slow to release the necessary blueprints and subcomponents. [29]

As a result of the delays in getting the Spitfire into full production, the Air Ministry put forward a plan that its production be stopped after the initial order for 310, after which Supermarine would build Bristol Beaufighters. The managements of Supermarine and Vickers were able to convince the Air Ministry that production problems could be overcome, and a further order was placed for 200 Spitfires on 24 March 1938. The two orders covered the K, L, and N prefix serial numbers. [29]

The first production Spitfire came off the assembly line in mid-1938 [1] and was flown by Jeffrey Quill on 15 May 1938, almost 24 months after the initial order. [30] The final cost of the first 310 aircraft, after delays and increased programme costs, came to £1,870,242 or £1,533 more per aircraft than originally estimated. [31] A production aircraft cost about £9,500. The most expensive components were the hand-fabricated and finished fuselage at roughly £2,500, then the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine at £2,000, followed by the wings at £1,800 a pair, guns and undercarriage, both at £800 each, and the propeller at £350. [32]

Manufacturing at Castle Bromwich, Birmingham Edit

In 1935, the Air Ministry approached Morris Motors Limited to ask how quickly their Cowley plant could be turned to aircraft production. In 1936, this informal request for major manufacturing facilities was replaced by a formal scheme, known as the shadow factory plan, to boost British aircraft production capacity under the leadership of Herbert Austin. He was given the task of building nine new factories, and to supplement the British car manufacturing industry by either adding to overall capacity or increasing the potential for reorganisation to produce aircraft and their engines. [33]

In 1938, construction began on the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory (CBAF), next to the aerodrome, and the installation of the most modern machine tools then available began two months after work started on the site. [31] Although Morris Motors, under Lord Nuffield (an expert in mass motor-vehicle construction), managed and equipped the factory, it was funded by the government. By the beginning of 1939, the factory's original estimated cost of £2,000,000 had more than doubled, [34] and even as the first Spitfires were being built in June 1940, the factory was still incomplete, and suffering from personnel problems. The Spitfire's stressed-skin construction required precision engineering skills and techniques that were beyond the capabilities of the local labour force, and some time was required to retrain them. There were difficulties with management, who ignored Supermarine's tooling and drawings in favour of their own, and the workforce continually threatened strikes or "slow downs" until their demands for higher wages were met. [35]

In spite of promises that the factory would be producing 60 per week starting in April, by May 1940 Castle Bromwich had not yet built its first Spitfire. [34] [36] On 17 May, Minister of Aircraft Production Lord Beaverbrook telephoned Lord Nuffield and manoeuvred him into handing over control of the Castle Bromwich plant to his ministry. [37] Beaverbrook immediately sent in experienced management staff and workers from Supermarine, and gave control of the factory to Vickers-Armstrong. Although resolving the problems took time, in June 1940, 10 Mk IIs were built 23 rolled out in July, 37 in August, and 56 in September. [38] By the time production ended at Castle Bromwich in June 1945, a total of 12,129 Spitfires (921 Mk IIs, [39] 4,489 Mk Vs, 5,665 Mk IXs, [40] and 1,054 Mk XVIs [39] ) had been built, at a maximum rate of 320 per month, making CBAF the largest Spitfire factory in the UK and the largest and most successful plant of its type during the 1939–45 conflict.

Production dispersal Edit

During the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe made concerted efforts to destroy the main manufacturing plants at Woolston and Itchen, near Southampton. The first bombing raid, which missed the factories, came on 23 August 1940. Over the next month, other raids were mounted until, on 26 September 1940, both factories were destroyed, [41] with 92 people killed and a large number injured. Most of the casualties were experienced aircraft production workers. [42]

Fortunately for the future of the Spitfire, many of the production jigs and machine tools had already been relocated by 20 September, and steps were being taken to disperse production to small facilities throughout the Southampton area. [41] To this end, the British government requisitioned the likes of Vincent's Garage in Station Square, Reading, which later specialised in manufacturing Spitfire fuselages, and Anna Valley Motors, Salisbury, which was to become the sole producer of the wing leading-edge fuel tanks for photo-reconnaissance Spitfires, as well as producing other components.

A purpose-built works, specialising in manufacturing fuselages and installing engines, was built at Star Road, Caversham in Reading. [42] The drawing office in which all Spitfire designs were drafted was relocated to Hursley Park, near Southampton. This site also had an aircraft assembly hangar where many prototype and experimental Spitfires were assembled, but since it had no associated aerodrome, no Spitfires ever flew from Hursley.

Four towns and their satellite airfields were chosen to be the focal points for these workshops: [41] Southampton's Eastleigh Airport Salisbury's High Post and Chattis Hill aerodromes [nb 5] Trowbridge's Keevil aerodrome [43] and Reading's Henley and Aldermaston aerodromes.

An experimental factory at Newbury was the subject of a Luftwaffe daylight raid, but the bombs missed their target and hit a nearby school.

Completed Spitfires were delivered to the airfields on large Commer "Queen Mary" low-loader articulated lorries (trucks), there to be fully assembled, tested, then passed on to the RAF. [42]

Flight testing Edit

All production aircraft were flight tested before delivery. During the Second World War, Jeffrey Quill was Vickers Supermarine's chief test pilot, in charge of flight testing all aircraft types built by Vickers Supermarine. He oversaw a group of 10 to 12 pilots responsible for testing all developmental and production Spitfires built by the company in the Southampton area. [nb 6] Quill devised the standard testing procedures, which with variations for specific aircraft designs operated from 1938. [44] [45] Alex Henshaw, chief test pilot at Castle Bromwich from 1940, was placed in charge of testing all Spitfires built at that factory. He co-ordinated a team of 25 pilots and assessed all Spitfire developments. Between 1940 and 1946, Henshaw flew a total of 2,360 Spitfires and Seafires, more than 10% of total production. [46] [47]

Henshaw wrote about flight testing Spitfires:

After a thorough preflight check, I would take off and, once at circuit height, I would trim the aircraft and try to get her to fly straight and level with hands off the stick . Once the trim was satisfactory, I would take the Spitfire up in a full-throttle climb at 2,850 rpm to the rated altitude of one or both supercharger blowers. Then I would make a careful check of the power output from the engine, calibrated for height and temperature . If all appeared satisfactory, I would then put her into a dive at full power and 3,000 rpm, and trim her to fly hands and feet off at 460 mph (740 km/h) IAS (Indicated Air Speed). Personally, I never cleared a Spitfire unless I had carried out a few aerobatic tests to determine how good or bad she was.

The production test was usually quite a brisk affair the initial circuit lasted less than ten minutes and the main flight took between twenty and thirty minutes. Then the aircraft received a final once-over by our ground mechanics, any faults were rectified and the Spitfire was ready for collection.

I loved the Spitfire in all of her many versions. But I have to admit that the later marks, although they were faster than the earlier ones, were also much heavier and so did not handle so well. You did not have such positive control over them. One test of manoeuvrability was to throw her into a flick-roll and see how many times she rolled. With the Mark II or the Mark V one got two-and-a-half flick-rolls but the Mark IX was heavier and you got only one-and-a-half. With the later and still heavier versions, one got even less. The essence of aircraft design is compromise, and an improvement at one end of the performance envelope is rarely achieved without a deterioration somewhere else. [48] [49]

When the last Spitfire rolled out in February 1948, [50] a total of 20,351 examples of all variants had been built, including two-seat trainers, with some Spitfires remaining in service well into the 1950s. [3] The Spitfire was the only British fighter aircraft to be in continuous production before, during, and after the Second World War. [51]

Airframe Edit

In the mid-1930s, aviation design teams worldwide began developing a new generation of fighter aircraft. The French Dewoitine D.520 [52] and the German Messerschmitt Bf 109, for example, were designed to take advantage of new techniques of monocoque construction, and the availability of new, high-powered, liquid-cooled, in-line aero engines. They also featured refinements such as retractable undercarriages, fully enclosed cockpits, and low-drag, all-metal wings. These advances had been introduced on civil airliners years before, but were slow to be adopted by the military, who favoured the biplane's simplicity and manoeuvrability. [53]

Mitchell's design aims were to create a well-balanced, high-performance fighter aircraft capable of fully exploiting the power of the Merlin engine, while being relatively easy to fly. [54] At the time, with France as an ally, and Germany thought to be the most likely future opponent, no enemy fighters were expected to appear over Great Britain. German bombers would have to fly to the UK over the North Sea, and Germany did not have any single-engine fighters with the range to accompany them. To carry out the mission of home defence, the design was intended to allow the Spitfire to climb quickly to intercept enemy bombers. [55]

The Spitfire's airframe was complex. The streamlined, semi-monocoque, duralumin-skinned fuselage featured a number of compound, vertical curves built up from a skeleton of 19 formers, also known as frames, starting from frame number one, immediately behind the propeller unit, to the tail unit attachment frame. The first four frames supported the glycol header tank and engine cowlings. Frame five, to which the engine bearers were secured, supported the weight of the engine and its accessories. This was a strengthened double frame which also incorporated the fireproof bulkhead, and in later versions of the Spitfire, the oil tank. This frame also tied the four main fuselage longerons to the rest of the airframe. [56] Behind the bulkhead were five U-shaped half-frames which accommodated the fuel tanks and cockpit. The rear fuselage started at the 11th frame, to which the pilot's seat and (later) armour plating were attached, and ended at the 19th, which was mounted at a slight forward angle just forward of the fin. Each of these nine frames was oval, reducing in size towards the tail, and incorporated several lightening holes to reduce their weight as much as possible without weakening them. The U-shaped frame 20 was the last frame of the fuselage proper and the frame to which the tail unit was attached. Frames 21, 22 and 23 formed the fin frame 22 incorporated the tailwheel opening and frame 23 was the rudder post. Before being attached to the main fuselage, the tail unit frames were held in a jig and the eight horizontal tail formers were riveted to them. [57]

A combination of 14 longitudinal stringers and four main longerons attached to the frames helped form a light, but rigid structure to which sheets of alclad stressed skinning were attached. The fuselage plating was 24, 20, and 18 gauge in order of thickness towards the tail, while the fin structure was completed using short longerons from frames 20 to 23, before being covered in 22 gauge plating. [58]

The skins of the fuselage, wings, and tailplane were secured by dome-headed rivets, and in critical areas such as the wing forward of the main spar where an uninterrupted airflow was required, with flush rivets. From February 1943 flush riveting was used on the fuselage, affecting all Spitfire variants. [59] In some areas, such as at the rear of the wing and the lower tailplane skins, the top was riveted and the bottom fixed by brass screws which tapped into strips of spruce bolted to the lower ribs. The removable wing tips were made up of duralumin-skinned spruce formers. [60]

At first, the ailerons, elevators, and rudder were fabric-covered, but once combat experience showed that fabric-covered ailerons were impossible to use at high speeds a light alloy replaced the fabric, enhancing control throughout the speed range. [61]

Elliptical wing design Edit

In 1934, Mitchell and the design staff decided to use a semi-elliptical wing shape to solve two conflicting requirements the wing needed to be thin to avoid creating too much drag, but it had to be thick enough to house the retractable undercarriage, armament, and ammunition. An elliptical planform is the most efficient aerodynamic shape for an untwisted wing, leading to the lowest amount of induced drag. The ellipse was skewed so that the centre of pressure, which occurs at the quarter-chord position, aligned with the main spar, preventing the wings from twisting. Mitchell has sometimes been accused of copying the wing shape of the Günter brothers-designed Heinkel He 70, [62] which first flew in 1932, but as Beverley Shenstone, the aerodynamicist on Mitchell's team, explained: "Our wing was much thinner and had quite a different section to that of the Heinkel. In any case, it would have been simply asking for trouble to have copied a wing shape from an aircraft designed for an entirely different purpose." [63] [nb 7]

The elliptical wing was decided upon quite early on. Aerodynamically it was the best for our purpose because the induced drag caused in producing lift, was lowest when this shape was used: the ellipse was . theoretically a perfection . To reduce drag we wanted the lowest possible thickness-to-chord, consistent with the necessary strength. But near the root the wing had to be thick enough to accommodate the retracted undercarriages and the guns . Mitchell was an intensely practical man . The ellipse was simply the shape that allowed us the thinnest possible wing with room inside to carry the necessary structure and the things we wanted to cram in. And it looked nice.

The wing section used was from the NACA 2200 series, which had been adapted to create a thickness-to-chord ratio of 13% at the root, reducing to 9.4% at the tip. [65] A dihedral of 6° was adopted to give increased lateral stability. [54]

A wing feature that contributed greatly to its success was an innovative spar boom design, made up of five square tubes that fitted into each other. As the wing thinned out along its span, the tubes were progressively cut away in a similar fashion to a leaf spring two of these booms were linked together by an alloy web, creating a lightweight and very strong main spar. [66] The undercarriage legs were attached to pivot points built into the inner, rear section of the main spar, and retracted outwards and slightly backwards into wells in the non-load-carrying wing structure. The resultant narrow undercarriage track was considered an acceptable compromise as this reduced the bending loads on the main-spar during landing. [66]

Ahead of the spar, the thick-skinned leading edge of the wing formed a strong and rigid, D-shaped box, which took most of the wing loads. At the time the wing was designed, this D-shaped leading edge was intended to house steam condensers for the evaporative cooling system intended for the PV-XII. Constant problems with the evaporative system in the Goshawk led to the adoption of a cooling system which used 100% glycol. [nb 8] The radiators were housed in a new radiator-duct designed by Fredrick Meredith of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough, Hampshire. This used the cooling air to generate thrust, greatly reducing the net drag produced by the radiators. [67] In turn, the leading-edge structure lost its function as a condenser, but it was later adapted to house integral fuel tanks of various sizes [68] — a feature patented by Vickers-Supermarine in 1938. [69] The airflow through the main radiator was controlled by pneumatic exit flaps. In early marks of the Spitfire (Mk I to Mk VI), the single flap was operated manually using a lever to the left of the pilot's seat. When the two-stage Merlin was introduced in the Spitfire Mk IX, the radiators were split to make room for an intercooler radiator the radiator under the starboard wing was halved in size and the intercooler radiator housed alongside. Under the port wing, a new radiator fairing housed a square oil cooler alongside of the other half-radiator unit. The two radiator flaps were now operated automatically by a thermostat. [70]

Another wing feature was its washout. The trailing edge of the wing twisted slightly upward along its span, the angle of incidence decreasing from +2° at its root to -½° at its tip. [71] This caused the wing roots to stall before the tips, reducing tip-stall that could otherwise have resulted in a wing drop, often leading to a spin. As the wing roots started to stall, the separating air stream started to buffet (vibrate) the aircraft, warning the pilot, allowing even relatively inexperienced pilots to fly it to the limits of its performance. [72] This washout was first featured in the wing of the Type 224, and became a consistent feature in subsequent designs leading to the Spitfire. [73] The complex wing design, especially the precision required to manufacture the vital spar and leading-edge structures, caused some major delays in the production of the Spitfire at first. The problems increased when the work was put out to subcontractors, most of whom had never dealt with metal-structured, high-speed aircraft. By June 1939, most of these problems had been resolved, and production was no longer held up by a lack of wings. [74]

All the main flight controls were originally metal structures with fabric covering. [nb 9] Designers and pilots felt that having ailerons which required a degree of effort to move at high speed would avoid unintended aileron reversal, throwing the aircraft around and potentially pulling the wings off. Air combat was also felt to take place at relatively low speeds and high-speed manoeuvring would be physically impossible. Flight tests showed the fabric covering of the ailerons "ballooned" at high speeds, adversely affecting the aerodynamics. Replacing the fabric covering with light alloy dramatically improved the ailerons at high speed. [76] [77] During the Battle of Britain, pilots found the Spitfire's ailerons were far too heavy at high speeds, severely restricting lateral manoeuvres such as rolls and high-speed turns, which were still a feature of air-to-air combat. [78]

The Spitfire had detachable wing tips which were secured by two mounting points at the end of each main wing assembly. When the Spitfire took on a role as a high-altitude fighter (Marks VI and VII and some early Mk VIIIs), the standard wing tips were replaced by extended, "pointed" tips which increased the wingspan from 36 ft 10 in (11.23 m) to 40 ft 2 in (12.24 m). [79] The other wing-tip variation, used by several Spitfire variants, was the "clipped" wing the standard wing tips were replaced by wooden fairings which reduced the span by 3 ft 6 in (1.07 m). [80] The wing tips used spruce formers for most of the internal structure with a light alloy skin attached using brass screws. [81]

The light alloy split flaps at the trailing edge of the wing were also pneumatically operated via a finger lever on the instrument panel. [82] Only two positions were available fully up or fully down (85°). Flaps were normally lowered only during the final approach and for landing, and the pilot was to retract them before taxiing. [nb 10] [83]

The ellipse also served as the design basis for the Spitfire's fin and tailplane assembly, once again exploiting the shape's favourable aerodynamic characteristics. Both the elevators and rudder were shaped so that their centre of mass was shifted forward, reducing control-surface flutter. The longer noses and greater propeller-wash resulting from larger engines in later models necessitated increasingly larger vertical, and later, horizontal tail surfaces to compensate for the altered aerodynamics, culminating in those of the Mk 22/24 series, which were 25% larger in area than those of the Mk I. [84] [85]

Improved late wing designs Edit

As the Spitfire gained more power and was able to manoeuvre at higher speeds, the possibility that pilots would encounter aileron reversal increased, and the Supermarine design team set about redesigning the wings to counter this. The original wing design had a theoretical aileron reversal speed of 580 mph (930 km/h), [86] which was somewhat lower than that of some contemporary fighters. The Royal Aircraft Establishment noted that, at 400 mph (640 km/h) indicated airspeed, roughly 65% of aileron effectiveness was lost due to wing twist. [87]

The new wing of the Spitfire F Mk 21 and its successors was designed to help alleviate this problem. Its stiffness was increased by 47%, and a new aileron design using piano hinges and geared trim tabs meant the theoretical aileron reversal speed was increased to 825 mph (1,328 km/h). [86] [88] [89] Alongside the redesigned wing, Supermarine also experimented with the original wing, raising the leading edge by 1 inch (2.54 cm), with the hope of improving pilot view and reducing drag. This wing was tested on a modified F Mk 21, also called the F Mk 23, (sometimes referred to as "Valiant" rather than "Spitfire"). The increase in performance was minimal and this experiment was abandoned. [90]

Supermarine developed a new laminar-flow wing based on new aerofoil profiles developed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in the United States, with the objective of reducing drag and improving performance. These laminar-flow airfoils were the Supermarine 371-I used at the root and the 371-II used at the tip. [91] Supermarine estimated that the new wing could give an increase in speed of 55 mph (89 km/h) over the Spitfire Mk 21. [92] The new wing was initially fitted to a Spitfire Mk XIV. Later, a new fuselage was designed, with the new fighter becoming the Supermarine Spiteful. [93]

Carburetion versus fuel injection Edit

Early in its development, the Merlin engine's lack of fuel injection meant that Spitfires and Hurricanes, unlike the Bf 109E, were unable to simply nose down into a steep dive. This meant a Luftwaffe fighter could simply "bunt" into a high-power dive to escape an attack, leaving the Spitfire behind, as its fuel was forced out of the carburettor by negative "g". RAF fighter pilots soon learned to "half-roll" their aircraft before diving to pursue their opponents. [94] Sir Stanley Hooker explained that the carburettor was adopted because it "increased the performance of the supercharger and thereby increased the power of the engine". [95] [nb 11]

In March 1941, a metal disc with a hole was fitted in the fuel line, restricting fuel flow to the maximum the engine could consume. While it did not cure the problem of the initial fuel starvation in a dive, it did reduce the more serious problem of the carburettor being flooded with fuel by the fuel pumps under negative "g". Invented by Beatrice "Tilly" Shilling, it became known as "Miss Shilling's orifice". Further improvements were introduced throughout the Merlin series, with Bendix-manufactured pressure carburettors, designed to allow fuel to flow during all flight attitudes, introduced in 1942. [95]

Armament Edit

Due to a shortage of Brownings, which had been selected as the new standard rifle calibre machine gun for the RAF in 1934, early Spitfires were fitted with only four guns, with the other four fitted later. [97] Early tests showed that, while the guns worked perfectly on the ground and at low altitudes, they tended to freeze at high altitude, especially the outer wing guns, because the RAF's Brownings had been modified to fire from an open bolt. While this prevented overheating of the cordite used in British ammunition, it allowed cold air to flow through the barrel unhindered. [98] Supermarine did not fix the problem until October 1938, when they added hot air ducts from the rear of the wing-mounted radiators to the guns, and bulkheads around the gunbays to trap the hot air in the wing. Red fabric patches were doped over the gun ports to protect the guns from cold, dirt, and moisture until they were fired. [99]

The decision on the arming of the Spitfire (and the Hurricane) is told in Captain C. H. Keith's book I Hold my Aim. Keith held various appointments with the RAF dealing with designing, development and technical policy of armament equipment. He organised a conference, with Air Commodore Tedder in the chair, on 19 July 1934. He says "I think it can be reasonably contended that the deliberations of that conference made possible, if not certain, of the winning of the Battle of Britain, almost exactly six years later". [100] At that meeting, scientific officer Captain F. W. "Gunner" Hill presented charts based on his calculations showing that future fighters must carry no less than eight machine-guns, each of which must be capable of firing 1,000 shots a minute. Hill's assistant in making his calculations had been his teenage daughter. [101]

Even if the eight Brownings worked perfectly, pilots soon discovered that they were not sufficient to destroy larger aircraft. Combat reports showed that an average of 4,500 rounds were needed to shoot down an enemy aircraft. In November 1938, tests against armoured and unarmoured targets had already indicated that the introduction of a weapon with a calibre of at least 20 mm was urgently needed. [102] A variant on the Spitfire design with four 20 mm Oerlikon cannon had been tendered to specification F37/35, but the order for prototypes had gone to the Westland Whirlwind in January 1939. [103]

In June 1939, a Spitfire was fitted with a drum-fed Hispano in each wing, an installation that required large blisters on the wing to cover the 60-round drum. The cannon suffered frequent stoppages, mostly because the guns were mounted on their sides to fit as much of the magazine as possible within the wing. In January 1940, P/O George Proudman flew this prototype in combat, but the starboard gun stopped after firing a single round, while the port gun fired 30 rounds before seizing. [99] If one cannon seized, the recoil of the other threw the aircraft off aim.

Nevertheless, 30 more cannon-armed Spitfires were ordered for operational trials, and they were soon known as the Mk IB, to distinguish them from the Browning-armed Mk IA they were delivered to No. 19 Squadron beginning in June 1940. The Hispanos were found to be so unreliable that the squadron requested an exchange of its aircraft with the older Browning-armed aircraft of an operational training unit. By August, Supermarine had perfected a more reliable installation with an improved feed mechanism and four .303s in the outer wing panels. The modified fighters were then delivered to 19 Squadron. [99]

Service operations Edit

The operational history of the Spitfire with the RAF began with the first Mk Is K9789, which entered service with 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford on 4 August 1938. [31] [nb 12] The Spitfire achieved legendary status during the Battle of Britain, a reputation aided by the "Spitfire Fund" organised and run by Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production. [104]

In fact, the Hurricane outnumbered the Spitfire throughout the battle, and shouldered the burden of the defence against the Luftwaffe however, because of its higher performance, the overall attrition rate of the Spitfire squadrons was lower than that of the Hurricane units, and the Spitfire units had a higher victory-to-loss ratio. [105]

The key aim of Fighter Command was to stop the Luftwaffe's bombers in practice, whenever possible, the tactic was to use Spitfires to counter German escort fighters, by then based in northern France, particularly the Bf 109s, while the Hurricane squadrons attacked the bombers. [106]

Well-known Spitfire pilots included "Johnnie" Johnson—34 enemy aircraft (e/a) shot down [107] —who flew the Spitfire right through his operational career from late 1940 to 1945. Douglas Bader (20 e/a) and "Bob" Tuck (27 e/a) flew Spitfires and Hurricanes during the major air battles of 1940. Both were shot down and became prisoners of war, while flying Spitfires over France in 1941 and 1942. [108] Paddy Finucane (28–32 e/a) scored all his successes in the fighter before disappearing over the English Channel in July 1942. [109] Some notable Commonwealth pilots were George Beurling (31 1 ⁄ 3 e/a) from Canada, "Sailor" Malan (27 e/a) from South Africa, [110] New Zealanders Alan Deere (17 e/a) and C F Gray (27 e/a) [111] [112] and the Australian Hugo Armstrong (12 e/a). [113]

The Spitfire continued to play increasingly diverse roles throughout the Second World War and beyond, often in air forces other than the RAF. For example, the Spitfire became the first high-speed photo-reconnaissance aircraft to be operated by the RAF. Sometimes unarmed, they flew at high, medium, and low altitudes, often ranging far into enemy territory to closely observe the Axis powers and provide an almost continual flow of valuable intelligence information throughout the war.

In 1941 and 1942, PRU Spitfires provided the first photographs of the Freya and Würzburg radar systems, and in 1943, helped confirm that the Germans were building the V1 and V2 Vergeltungswaffen ("vengeance weapons") rockets by photographing Peenemünde, on the Baltic Sea coast of Germany. [114]

In the Mediterranean, the Spitfire blunted the heavy attacks on Malta by the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe, and from early 1943, helped pave the way for the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. On 7 March 1942, 15 Mk Vs carrying 90-gallon fuel tanks under their bellies took off from HMS Eagle off the coast of Algeria on a 600-mile (970 km) flight to Malta. [115] Those Spitfire Vs were the first to see service outside Britain. [116]

The Spitfire also served on the Eastern Front with the Soviet Air Force (VVS). The first deliveries of the Spitfire Mk VB variant took place at the start of 1943, with the first batch of 35 aircraft delivered via sea to the city of Basra, Iraq. A total of 143 aircraft and 50 furnished hulls (to be used for spare parts) followed by March of the same year. Though some aircraft were used for front line duty in 1943, most of them saw service with the Protivo-Vozdushnaya Oborona (English: "Anti-air Defence Branch"). [117] In 1944, the USSR received the substantially improved Mk IX variant, with the first aircraft delivered in February. Initially, these were refurbished aircraft, but subsequent shipments were factory new. A total of 1,185 aircraft of this model were delivered through Iran, Iraq and the Arctic to northern Soviet ports. Two of these were the Spitfire HF Mk IX (high-altitude modification) while the remainder were the low-altitude LF Mk IX. The last Lend-Lease shipment carrying the Mk IX arrived at the port of Severodvinsk on 12 June 1945.

The Spitfire also served in the Pacific Theatre, meeting the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Lt. Gen. Claire Chennault said: "The RAF pilots were trained in methods that were excellent against German and Italian equipment, but suicide against the acrobatic Japs." [118] Although not as fast as the Spitfire, the Zero could out-turn the Spitfire, could sustain a climb at a very steep angle, and could stay in the air for three times as long. [119] To counter the Zero, Spitfire pilots adopted a "slash and run" policy and use their faster speed and diving superiority to fight, while avoiding turning dogfights. The Allies achieved air superiority when the Mk VIII version was introduced to the theatre, replacing the earlier Mk V. In one memorable encounter, New Zealand ace Alan Peart fought a solo dogfight against two dozen Japanese aircraft attacking the Broadway airstrip, shooting down one.

That Southeast Asia was a lower-priority area also did not help, and it was allocated few Spitfires and other modern fighters compared to Europe, which allowed the Japanese to easily achieve air superiority by 1942. [120] [121] [122] Over the Northern Territory of Australia, Royal Australian Air Force and RAF Spitfires assigned to No. 1 Wing RAAF helped defend the port town of Darwin against air attack by the Japanese Naval Air Force, [123] suffering heavy losses largely due to the type's limited fuel capacity. [124] Spitfire MKVIIIs took part in the last battle of World War II involving the Western allies in Burma, in the ground attack role, helping defeat a Japanese break-out attempt. [125]

During the Second World War, Spitfires were used by the United States Army Air Forces in the 4th Fighter Group until they were replaced by Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in March 1943. [126]

Several Spitfires were captured by the Germans and flown by units that tested, evaluated, and sometimes clandestinely operated enemy aircraft. [127]

Speed and altitude records Edit

Beginning in late 1943, high-speed diving trials were undertaken at Farnborough to investigate the handling characteristics of aircraft travelling at speeds near the sound barrier (i.e., the onset of compressibility effects). Because it had the highest limiting Mach number of any aircraft at that time, a Spitfire XI was chosen to take part in these trials. Due to the high altitudes necessary for these dives, a fully feathering Rotol propeller was fitted to prevent overspeeding. During these trials, EN409, flown by Squadron Leader J. R. Tobin, reached 606 mph (975 km/h) (Mach 0.891) in a 45° dive.

In April 1944, the same aircraft suffered engine failure in another dive while being flown by Squadron Leader Anthony F. Martindale, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, when the propeller and reduction gear broke off. The dive put the aircraft to Mach 0.92, the fastest ever recorded in a piston-engined aircraft, but when the propeller came off, the Spitfire, now tail-heavy, zoom-climbed back to altitude. Martindale blacked out under the 11 g loading, but when he resumed consciousness, he found the aircraft at about 40,000 feet with its (originally straight) wings now slightly swept back. [128] Martindale successfully glided the Spitfire 20 mi (32 km) back to the airfield and landed safely. [129] Martindale was awarded the Air Force Cross for his exploits. [130]

RAE Bedford (RAE) modified a Spitfire for high-speed testing of the stabilator (then known as the "flying tail") of the Miles M.52 supersonic research aircraft. RAE test pilot Eric Brown stated that he tested this successfully during October and November 1944, attaining Mach 0.86 in a dive. [131]

On 5 February 1952, a Spitfire 19 of 81 Squadron based at Kai Tak in Hong Kong reached probably the highest altitude ever achieved by a Spitfire. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Edward "Ted" Powles, [132] was on a routine flight to survey outside air temperature and report on other meteorological conditions at various altitudes in preparation for a proposed new air service through the area. He climbed to 50,000 ft (15,000 m) indicated altitude, with a true altitude of 51,550 ft (15,710 m). The cabin pressure fell below a safe level, and in trying to reduce altitude, he entered an uncontrollable dive which shook the aircraft violently. He eventually regained control somewhere below 3,000 ft (910 m) and landed safely with no discernible damage to his aircraft. Evaluation of the recorded flight data suggested he achieved a speed of 690 mph (1,110 km/h), (Mach 0.96) in the dive, which would have been the highest speed ever reached by a propeller-driven aircraft if the instruments had been considered more reliable. [129]

That any operational aircraft off the production line, cannons sprouting from its wings and warts and all, could readily be controlled at this speed when the early jet aircraft such as Meteors, Vampires, P-80s, etc, could not, was certainly extraordinary.

The critical Mach number of the Spitfire's original elliptical wing was higher than the subsequently used laminar-flow section, straight-tapering-planform wing of the follow-on Supermarine Spiteful, Seafang, and Attacker, illustrating that Reginald Mitchell's practical engineering approach to the problems of high-speed flight had paid off. [134]

Overview Edit

Although R. J. Mitchell is justifiably known as the engineer who designed the Spitfire, his premature death in 1937 meant that all development after that date was undertaken by a team led by his chief draughtsman, Joe Smith, who became Supermarine's chief designer on Mitchell's death. As Jeffrey Quill noted: "If Mitchell was born to design the Spitfire, Joe Smith was born to defend and develop it." [135]

There were 24 marks of Spitfire and many sub-variants. These covered the Spitfire in development from the Merlin to Griffon engines, the high-speed photo-reconnaissance variants and the different wing configurations. More Spitfire Mk Vs were built than any other type, with 6,487 built, followed by the 5,656 Mk IXs. [39] Different wings, featuring a variety of weapons, were fitted to most marks the A wing used eight .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns, the B wing had four .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns and two 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano cannon, and the C, or universal, wing could mount either four 20 mm (.79 in) cannon or two 20 mm (.79 in) and four .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns. As the war progressed, the C wing became more common. [136] Another armament variation was the E wing which housed two 20 mm (.79 in) cannon and two .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns. [137] Although the Spitfire continued to improve in speed and armament, its limited fuel capacity restricted range and endurance: it remained "short-legged" throughout its life except in the dedicated photo-reconnaissance role, when its guns were replaced by extra fuel tanks. [138]

Supermarine developed a two-seat variant, known as the T Mk VIII, to be used for training, but none were ordered, and only one example was ever constructed (identified as N32/G-AIDN by Supermarine). [139] In the absence of an official two-seater variant, a number of airframes were crudely converted in the field. These included a 4 Squadron SAAF Mk VB in North Africa, where a second seat was fitted instead of the upper fuel tank in front of the cockpit, although it was not a dual-control aircraft, and is thought to have been used as the squadron "run-about". [140] The only unofficial two-seat conversions that were fitted with dual-controls were a few Russian lend/lease Mk IX aircraft. These were referred to as Mk IX UTI and differed from the Supermarine proposals by using an inline "greenhouse" style double canopy rather than the raised "bubble" type of the T Mk VIII. [140]

In the postwar era, the idea was revived by Supermarine and a number of two-seat Spitfires were built by converting old Mk IX airframes with a second "raised" cockpit featuring a bubble canopy. Ten of these TR9 variants were then sold to the Indian Air Force along with six to the Irish Air Corps, three to the Royal Netherlands Air Force and one for the Royal Egyptian Air Force. [139] Currently several of the trainers are known to exist, including both the T Mk VIII, a T Mk IX based in the US, and the "Grace Spitfire" ML407, a veteran flown operationally by 485(NZ) Squadron in 1944. [141] [nb 13]

Seafire Edit

The Seafire, a name derived from sea, and Spitfire, was a naval version of the Spitfire specially adapted for operation from aircraft carriers. Although the Spitfire was not designed for the rough-and-tumble of carrier-deck operations, it was considered the best available fighter at the time. The basic Spitfire design did impose some limitations on the use of the aircraft as a carrier-based fighter poor visibility over the nose, for example, meant that pilots had to be trained to land with their heads out of the cockpit and looking along the port cowling of their Seafire. [142] Like the Spitfire, the Seafire also had a relatively narrow undercarriage track, which meant that it was not ideally suited to deck operations. [143] Early Seafire marks had relatively few modifications to the standard Spitfire airframe however cumulative front line experience meant that most of the later versions of the Seafire had strengthened airframes, folding wings, arrestor hooks and other modifications, culminating in the purpose-built Seafire F/FR Mk 47. [144]

The Seafire II was able to outperform the A6M5 Zero at low altitudes when the two types were tested against each other during wartime mock combat exercises. [145] However, contemporary Allied carrier fighters such as the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair were considerably more robust and so more practical for carrier operations. [146] Performance was greatly increased when later versions of the Seafire were fitted with the Griffon engines. These were too late to see service in World War II. [147]

Griffon-engined variants Edit

The first Rolls-Royce Griffon-engined Mk XII flew in August 1942, and first flew operationally with 41 Squadron in April 1943. This mark could nudge 400 mph (640 km/h) in level flight and climb to an altitude of 33,000 ft (10,000 m) in under nine minutes. [148]

As American fighters took over the long-range escorting of United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) daylight bombing raids, the Griffon-engined Spitfires progressively took up the tactical air superiority role, and played a major role in intercepting V-1 flying bombs, while the Merlin-engined variants (mainly the Mk IX and the Packard-engined Mk XVI) were adapted to the fighter-bomber role. [149] Although the later Griffon-engined marks lost some of the favourable handling characteristics of their Merlin-powered predecessors, they could still outmanoeuvre their main German foes and other, later American and British-designed fighters. [138]

The final version of the Spitfire, the Mk 24, first flew at South Marston on 13 April 1946. On 20 February 1948, almost twelve years from the prototype's first flight, the last production Spitfire, VN496, left the production line. Spitfire Mk 24s were used by only one regular RAF unit, with 80 Squadron replacing their Hawker Tempests with F Mk 24s in 1947. [150] With these aircraft, 80 Squadron continued its patrol and reconnaissance duties from Wunstorf in Germany as part of the occupation forces, until it relocated to Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong in July 1949. During the Chinese Civil War, 80 Squadron's main duty was to defend Hong Kong from perceived Communist threats. [151]

Operation Firedog during the Malayan Emergency saw the Spitfire fly over 1,800 operational sorties against the Malayan Communists. [152] The last operational sortie of an RAF Spitfire was flown on 1 April 1954, by PS888 a PR Mk 19 Spitfire of 81 Squadron.It was flying from RAF Seletar, in Singapore to photograph an area of jungle in Johore, Malaysia, thought to contain Communist guerrillas. To mark the special occasion, ground crewmen had painted 'The Last' on the aircraft's nose. [153]

The last non-operational flight of a Spitfire in RAF service, which took place on 9 June 1957, was by a PR Mk 19, PS583, from RAF Woodvale of the Temperature and Humidity Flight. This was also the last known flight of a piston-engined fighter in the RAF. [154] The last nation in the Middle East to operate Spitfires was Syria, which kept its F 22s until 1953. [152]

In late 1962, Air Marshal Sir John Nicholls instigated a trial when he flew Spitfire PM631, a PR Mk 19 in the custody of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, against an English Electric Lightning F 3 (a supersonic jet-engined interceptor) in mock combat at RAF Binbrook. At the time, British Commonwealth forces were involved in possible action against Indonesia over Malaya and Nicholls decided to develop tactics to fight the Indonesian Air Force P-51 Mustang, a fighter that had a similar performance to the PR Mk 19. [155] The first airframe (PM631) developed mechanical issues which removed it from the trial. Another PR Mk 19, PS853, which is now owned by Rolls-Royce, was on gate-guard duties at Binbrook, having been retired from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) one year before. It had been maintained in running condition by ground crews at Binbrook, and after a short time was participating in the trials. At the end of the trials, RAF pilots found that Firestreak infra-red guided missiles had trouble acquiring the Spitfire due to a low exhaust temperature, and decided that the twin ADEN 30 mm (1.2 in) cannons were the only weapons suited to the task, which was complicated by the tight turning circle of the Spitfire, and the Lightning's proclivity for over-running the Spitfire. It was concluded that the most effective and safest way for a modern jet-engined fighter to attack a piston-engined fighter was to engage full afterburner at an altitude lower than the Spitfire, and circle behind it to perform a hit-and-run attack, contrary to all established fighter-on-fighter doctrine at that time. [156] [157]

  • Argentina (Three,1 civilian, 2 for Air Force testing)
  • Australia[158][159]
  • Belgium
  • Burma
  • Canada
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Denmark
  • Egypt
  • France
  • Free France
  • Greece
  • Hong Kong[160]
  • India
  • Indian Empire
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Kingdom of Italy
  • Italy (Italian Republic)
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Pakistan
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Southern Rhodesia
  • South Africa
  • Soviet Union
  • Sweden
  • Syria
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Yugoslavia

There are 54 Spitfires and a few Seafires in airworthy condition worldwide, although many air museums have examples on static display, for example, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry has paired a static Spitfire with a static Ju 87 R-2/Trop. Stuka dive bomber. [nb 14] [162]

The oldest surviving Spitfire is a Mark 1, serial number K9942 it is preserved at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford in Shropshire. This aircraft was the 155th built and first flew in April 1939. It flew operationally with No. 72 Squadron RAF until June 1940, when it was damaged in a wheels-up landing. After repair, it was used for training until August 1944, when it became one of several Battle of Britain aircraft veterans that were allocated to the Air Historical Branch for future museum preservation. [163]

What may be the most originally restored Spitfire in the world is maintained at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida. Over a six-year period in the 1990s, this aircraft was slowly restored by Personal Plane Services in England using almost 90% of its original aircraft skins. Owner Kermit Weeks insisted that the aircraft be restored as closely as possible to its original condition. Machine guns, cannon, gun sight and original working radios are all installed. [164]

Two MK 1 Supermarine Spitfires, originally restored by the Aircraft Restoration Company, remain in flying condition at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, in Cambridgeshire, England. Both restored by American billionaire Thomas Kaplan, one has been donated to the Imperial War Museum and the second was auctioned in July 2015 at Christie's, London. It is one of only four flying MK 1 Spitfires in the world. The aircraft fetched a record £3.1 million at auction on 9 July, beating the previous record for a Spitfire of £1.7 million set in 2009. [165]

One Spitfire is kept in airworthy condition in the Israeli Air Force Museum.

Search for reported surviving Spitfires in Burma Edit

After hostilities ceased in Asia in 1945, a number of Spitfire Mk.XIVs were reportedly buried, after being greased, tarred and prepared for long-term storage, in crates in Burma.

Excavations carried out at Yangon International Airport (formerly RAF Mingaladon) in early 2013 failed to locate any of the rumoured aircraft, [166] [167] and the team reported that they found no evidence that Spitfires were shipped there in crates or buried. [168] Pat Woodward, who was an RAF pilot operating from Burma at the end of the war, reported that no such burying took place. [169] In 2016 it was reported that the hunt was continuing. [170]

  • A replica of the Mark VB Spitfire W3644 was officially unveiled on 19 August 2012 at Fairhaven Lake, Lancashire, FY8 1BD. The original aircraft was purchased by the people of the Lytham St Annes in 1940. The pilot of the Spitfire Sgt Alan Lever-Ridings was shot down by a Fw 190 whilst returning from escort duty during a bombing mission over Morlaix, France 23 June 1942.
  • A fibreglass replica of the Mk.1 Spitfire Mk1 YT-J (R6675), flown by Supermarine test pilot Jeffrey Quill during his brief period of active service with 65 Squadron, is on display at the Battle of Britain memorial at Capel-le-Ferne near Folkestone, along with a replica Mk.1 Hurricane representing US-X, in which Pilot Officer Geoffrey Page was shot down on 12 August 1940. [171]
  • Sentinel is a sculpture by Tim Tolkien depicting three Spitfires in flight at the roundabout junction (popularly known as Spitfire Island) of the A47 and A452 in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, England, commemorating the main Spitfire factory. The island sits at the adjoining southern corners of the former Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory and Aerodrome (now Castle Vale housing estate). [172] There is also a Spitfire and a Hurricane in the nearby Thinktank Science Museum. [173]
  • A sculpture of the prototype Spitfire, K5054 stands on the roundabout at the entrance to Southampton International Airport, which, as Eastleigh Aerodrome, saw the first flight of the aircraft in March 1936.
  • Jeffrey Quill, the former Supermarine test pilot, initiated a project to build an exact replica of K5054, the prototype Spitfire to be put on permanent public display as a memorial to R.J. Mitchell. A team of original Supermarine designers worked with Aerofab Restorations of Andover for 10 years to create the facsimile. It was unveiled to the public in April 1993 by Quill at the RAF Museum, Hendon, and is currently on loan to the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum. [174]
  • A fibreglass replica in the colours of a Polish squadron leader based at the station during the Second World War is on display at RAF Northolt, the last Battle of Britain Sector Station still in RAF operational service.
  • A replica Spitfire is on display on the Thornaby Road roundabout near the school named after Sir Douglas Bader who flew a Spitfire in the Second World War. This memorial is in memory of the old RAF base in Thornaby which is now a residential estate.
  • A fibreglass replica of a Spitfire Mk XVI has been mounted on a pylon in Memorial Park, Hamilton, New Zealand as a tribute to all New Zealand fighter pilots who flew Spitfires during the Second World War.
  • A fibreglass replica of a Mk XVI spitfire sits on a pylon next to Memorial Avenue at Christchurch Airport, New Zealand. It was moved to its current location in 2015 from the previous position at the entrance to the airport where it had been for 50 years. The replica was apparently used as a static display in Reach for the Sky.
  • At Bentley Priory, the Second World War command centre for Fighter Command, fibreglass replicas of a Spitfire Mk 1 and a Hurricane Mk 1 can be seen fixed in a position of attack. This was built as a memorial to everyone who worked at Bentley Priory during the war.
  • A fibreglass replica in the colours of 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force Spitfire Memorial sits next to the Edinburgh Airport control tower. This model replaced the original gate guardian from the former RAF Turnhouse. It is painted to represent serial number L1067 (code XT-D) "Blue Peter", the personal aircraft of the squadron's commander, Squadron Leader George Denholm DFC.
  • A fibreglass replica of a Spitfire Mk IX has been mounted on a pylon in Jackson Park, Windsor, Ontario alongside a Hurricane as a memorial to Royal Canadian Air Force pilots. This display replaces an Avro Lancaster bomber that had previously been on display and is currently undergoing restoration.
  • One of the few remaining Supermarine Spitfires with a wartime record is on display (alongside a Hawker Hurricane) at the RAF Manston Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum, near Kent International Airport. [175]
  • Lodge Hill Garage, Abingdon, Oxfordshire has a full-size replica Spitfire as its own rooftop monument. Owner Peter Jewson bought the replica in a campaign to build the first ever national memorial to honour the 166 women from the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) who flew Spitfires and other aircraft from factories to their operational airbases 14 died during these ferry flights. [176]
  • A fibreglass replica of a Spitfire Mk IX is mounted to the roof of the speciality shop, Spitfire Emporium, in Kitchener, Ontario. [177]
  • There is a replica of a Spitfire (and of a Hurricane) at the entrance to the Eden Camp Modern History Museum as a memorial to pilots who served in the Battle of Britain. [178] has a full-size replica Spitfire MkVb LO-D (EP121) on display as a memorial to the men and women who served at RFC/RAF Montrose.
  • A fibreglass replica of Spitfire VB BL924 is on display at Beale Park. It was built as a tribute to Aksel [Axel] Andreas Svendsen, a young Danish RAF pilot who was killed in action on 24 April 1942.
  • A 1:1 scale resin replica of an Airfix Spitfire model kit was produced for James May's Toy Stories, season 1, episode 1, 2009, at RAF Cosford and left there as a museum item.
  • A scale replica is on display at the Returned Services League (RSL) Club in Bendigo, Victoria.

British company Historic Flying Limited has either restored or built from scratch a significant proportion of the Spitfires that are now airworthy.

Several other manufacturers have produced replica Spitfires, either as complete aircraft or as kits for self-building. These range in scale from 60% scale to full-size, and most use wooden construction rather than the original all-metal monocoque design. These include the Jurca Spit from France, and those manufactured by Tally Ho Enterprises in Canada. [179] Supermarine Aircraft – originally from Brisbane, Australia, and now based in Cisco, Texas – manufacture the 80% scale Spitfire Mk26 and the 90% scale Mk26B replicas. Their Supermarine Aircraft Spitfire is supplied in kit form and is the only all-aluminium reproduction Spitfire in production. [180] The Isaacs Spitfire (1975) [181] and the Time Warp Spitfire Mk V (1996) are homebuilt 60% scale replicas, and Bob DeFord of Prescott, Arizona built and flies a 100% scale replica. [182]

Greenwood Military Aviation Museum is also home to a replica non-flying Spitfire.

During and after the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire became a symbol of British resistance: for example, Lord Beaverbrook's "Spitfire Fund" of 1940 was one campaign which drew widespread public attention to the Spitfire. The Spitfire continues to be highly popular at airshows, on airfields and in museums worldwide, and holds an important place in the memories of many people, especially the few still living who flew the Spitfire in combat. Numerous films and documentaries featuring the Spitfire are still being produced, some of which are listed in this section.

  • The First of the Few (also known as Spitfire in the US and Canada) (1942) is a British film produced and directed by Leslie Howard, with Howard in the starring role of R. J. Mitchell, and David Niven playing a composite character based on the Schneider Trophy pilots of 1927, 1929 and 1931, and the Supermarine test pilot Jeffrey Quill. Some of the footage includes film shot in 1941 of operational Spitfires and pilots of 501 Squadron (code letters SD). Howard spent a long time researching the history of the Spitfire's development for the film Mrs. Mitchell and her son Gordon were on the set during much of the production. [183] The aerobatic flying sequences featured in the last 15 minutes of the film were made by Jeffrey Quill in early November 1941, flying a Spitfire Mk II mocked up to represent the prototype.
  • Malta Story (1953), starring Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Steel and Muriel Pavlow, is a black and whitewar film telling the story of the defence of Malta in 1942 when Spitfires were the island's main defence from air attacks. [184]
  • Reach for the Sky (1956) starring Kenneth More tells the story of Douglas Bader, using contemporary Spitfire aircraft in the production. [185]
  • Battle of Britain (1969) directed by Guy Hamilton and starring Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave and Susannah York, is set in 1940. Features several sequences involving a total of 12 flying Spitfires (mostly Mk IX versions because not many Mk.Is were available at the time), [186] as well as a number of other flying examples of Second World War-era British and German aircraft.
  • Piece of Cake (1987) starring Tom Burlinson, aired on the ITV network in 1987. Based on the novel by Derek Robinson, the six-part miniseries covers the prewar era to "Battle of Britain Day", 15 September 1940. It depicts air combat over the skies of France and Britain during the early stages of the Second World War, though using five flying examples of late model Spitfires in place of the novel's early model Hurricanes. [187]
  • Dark Blue World (2001), starring Ondřej Vetchý, is a tale of two Czech pilots who escape Nazi-occupied Europe to fly Spitfires during the Battle of Britain. Jan Svěrák filmed some new aerial scenes and reused aerial footage from Hamilton's film. [188]
  • Guy Martin's Spitfire (2014) is a Channel 4 documentary covering the two-year restoration of a Mark 1 Spitfire, N3200, coded 'QV', that had been buried beneath the sand for 46 years after crash landing during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. Guy Martin tells the Boy's Own-style story of its pilot, Squadron Leader Geoffrey Stephenson and helps in the restoration of the aircraft. [189]
  • Dunkirk (2017), directed by Christopher Nolan, features three Spitfires defending the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk against attacks by the German Luftwaffe. [190]
  • Spitfire: The People's Plane (2020) is a BBC World Service ten-part podcast on the efforts of the people who built the aircraft. [191]

The Spitfire's performance improved greatly as WWII progressed for more information, see Supermarine Spitfire variants: specifications, performance and armament.

Data from Spitfire: The History and Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II. [192] [193]


Operational history

Service operations

The operational history of the Spitfire with the RAF started with the first Mk Is K9789, which entered service with 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford on 4 August 1938. The Spitfire achieved legendary status during the Battle of Britain, a reputation aided by the famous "Spitfire Fund" organised and run by Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production. Although the key aim of Fighter Command was to stop the Luftwaffe's bombers, in practice the tactic was to use Spitfires to counter German escort fighters, particularly the Bf 109s, while the Hurricane squadrons attacked the bombers.

Well-known Spitfire pilots included J E "Johnnie" Johnson (34 enemy aircraft shot down), who flew the Spitfire right through his operational career from late 1940 to 1945. Douglas Bader (20 e/a) and R S "Bob" Tuck (27 e/a) flew Spitfires and Hurricanes during the major air battles of 1940, and both were shot down and became POWs while flying Spitfires over France in 1941 and 1942. Paddy Finucane (28&ndash32 e/a) scored all his successes in the fighter before disappearing over the English Channel in July 1942. Some notable Commonwealth pilots were George Beurling (31 1 &frasl3 e/a) from Canada, A G "Sailor" Malan (27 e/a) from South Africa, New Zealanders Alan Deere (17 e/a) and C F Gray (27 e/a) and the Australian Hugo Armstrong (12 e/a).

The Spitfire continued to play increasingly diverse roles throughout the Second World War and beyond, often in air forces other than the RAF. The Spitfire, for example, became the first high-speed photo-reconnaissance aircraft to be operated by the RAF. Sometimes unarmed, they flew at high, medium and low altitudes, often ranging far into enemy territory to closely observe the Axis powers and provide an almost continual flow of valuable intelligence information throughout the war. In 1941 and 1942, PRU Spitfires provided the first photographs of the Freya and Würzburg radar systems and, in 1943, helped confirm that the Germans were building the V1 and V2 Vergeltungswaffe ("vengeance weapons") by photographing Peenemünde, on the Baltic Sea coast of Germany.

In the Mediterranean the Spitfire blunted the heavy attacks on Malta by the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe and, from early 1943, helped pave the way for the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. On 7 March 1942, 15 Mk Vs carrying 90-gallon fuel tanks under their bellies took off from HMS Eagle off the coast of Algeria on a 600-mile flight to Malta. Those Spitfires V were the first to see service outside Britain. Over the Northern Territory of Australia, RAAF and RAF Spitfires helped defend the port town of Darwin against air attack by the Japanese Naval Air Force. The Spitfire also served on the Eastern Front: approximately a thousand were supplied to the Soviet Air Force. Though some were used at the frontline in 1943, most of them saw service with the Protivo-Vozdushnaya Oborona (English: "Anti-air Defence Branch").

During the Second World War, Spitfires were used by the USAAF in the 4th Fighter Squadron until replaced by P-47 Thunderbolts in March 1943.

The Spitfire is listed in the appendix to the novel KG 200 as "known to have been regularly flown by" the German secret operations unit KG 200, which tested, evaluated and sometimes clandestinely operated captured enemy aircraft during the Second World War..

Speed and altitude records

Beginning in late 1943, high-speed diving trials were undertaken at Farnborough to investigate the handling characteristics of aircraft travelling at speeds near the sound barrier (i.e., the onset of compressibility effects). Because it had the highest limiting Mach number of any aircraft at that time, a Spitfire XI was chosen to take part in these trials. Due to the high altitudes necessary for these dives, a fully feathering Rotol propeller was fitted to prevent overspeeding. It was during these trials that EN409, flown by Squadron Leader J. R. Tobin, reached 606 mph (975 km/h, Mach 0.891) in a 45° dive. In April 1944, the same aircraft suffered engine failure in another dive while being flown by Squadron Leader Anthony F. Martindale, RAFVR, when the propeller and reduction gear broke off. Martindale successfully glided the Spitfire 20 mi (32 km) back to the airfield and landed safely. Martindale was awarded the Air Force Cross for his exploits.

A Spitfire was modified by the RAE for high-speed testing of the stabilator (then known as the "flying tail") of the Miles M.52 supersonic research aircraft. RAE test pilot Eric Brown stated that he tested this successfully during October and November 1944, attaining Mach 0.86 in a dive.

On 5 February 1952, a Spitfire 19 of 81 Squadron based at Kai Tak in Hong Kong reached probably the highest altitude ever achieved by a Spitfire. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Ted Powles, was on a routine flight to survey outside-air temperature and report on other meteorological conditions at various altitudes in preparation for a proposed new air service through the area. He climbed to 50,000 ft (15,240 m) indicated altitude, with a true altitude of 51,550 ft (15,712 m). The cabin pressure fell below a safe level and, in trying to reduce altitude, he entered an uncontrollable dive which shook the aircraft violently. He eventually regained control somewhere below 3,000 ft (900 m) and landed safely with no discernible damage to his aircraft. Evaluation of the recorded flight data suggested that, in the dive, he achieved a speed of 690 mph (1,110 km/h, Mach 0.96), which would have been the highest speed ever reached by a propeller-driven aircraft, but it has been speculated this figure resulted from inherent instrument errors.

That any operational aircraft off the production line, cannons sprouting from its wings and warts and all, could readily be controlled at this speed when the early jet aircraft such as Meteors, Vampires, P-80s, etc, could not, was certainly extraordinary.

The critical Mach number of the Spitfire's original elliptical wing was higher than the subsequently used laminar-flow-section, straight-tapering-planform wing of the follow-on Supermarine Spiteful, Seafang and Attacker, illustrating that Reginald Mitchell's practical engineering approach to the problems of high-speed flight had paid off.


Contents

Phoney War Edit

The first Spitfire I to enter service with the RAF arrived at 19 Squadron, Duxford, on 4 August 1938 and over the next few weeks aircraft were delivered at the rate of one a week to 19 and 66 Squadrons (also based at Duxford). The next to be equipped with Spitfires was 41 Squadron at Catterick, followed by a succession of squadrons stationed at Hornchurch in Essex. [8] The public's first sight of the Spitfire in RAF colours was on Empire Air Day, on 20 May 1939, during a display at Duxford in which the pilot "belly-landed" his aircraft, having forgotten to lower his undercarriage and was fined £5 by the Air Ministry. By the outbreak of the Second World War, there were 306 Spitfires in service with the RAF, 71 in reserve and 2,000 on order 36 had been written off in accidents. [9]

On 6 September 1939, in a "friendly-fire" incident known as the Battle of Barking Creek, two 56 Squadron Hawker Hurricanes were shot down by Spitfires of 74 Squadron over the river Medway, in Kent. One of the Hurricane pilots, P/O Montague Leslie Hulton-Harrop, was the first British pilot fatality of the Second World War. As a consequence the development and manufacture of IFF equipment for RAF aircraft became a high priority. [9]

On 16 October 1939, the Spitfire first saw action against the Luftwaffe when three aircraft each from 602 Squadron and 603 Squadron intercepted nine Junkers Ju 88s of 1./KG30, led by Hauptmann Helmuth Pohle, over Rosyth attempting to attack the cruisers HMS Southampton and HMS Edinburgh in the Firth of Forth. [10] Two Ju 88s were shot down and another heavily damaged. [11] [12]

Western Europe Edit

The first Spitfire operation over Western Europe took place on 13 May 1940, during the Battle of the Netherlands. German airborne forces had been pinned down in the Battle of the Hague by the Dutch Army. RAF Fighter Command sent 66 Squadron Spitfires to escort Defiants from 264 Squadron to support the Dutch. They encountered Junkers Ju 87s from IV(St)./Lehrgeschwader 1 (LG 1), and shot down four of them. They were soon intercepted by Bf 109s from 5 Staffel Jagdgeschwader 26 (JG 26) that shot down five Defiants and one Spitfire for the loss of one Bf 109. [13]

On 23 May 1940, Spitfires of 54 Squadron were the first to shoot down Bf 109s, over Calais Marck airfield, on the coast of northern France the first of these is usually credited to either Flying Officer Alan Deere who shot down two (according to other sources, one destroyed plus one probable), or Flg. Off. "Johnny" Allen who shot down one. [14] [15]

During this period 67 Spitfires were lost over France, most of them in the attempt to prevent the Luftwaffe from bombing the evacuation beaches at Dunkirk. While the Spitfires of Fighter Command continued to be based in Britain, at the insistence of Air Vice Marshal Hugh Dowding, from late 1939 there were early photo-reconnaissance Spitfires of "No 2 Camouflage Unit" operating from Seclin in France, gathering photo-intelligence of German defences and cities. [16] [nb 1] Throughout the Second World War, photo-reconnaissance Spitfires kept up a constant flow of photographic intelligence, in a role far removed from that of short-range interceptor fighter.

The documentation to specification F.10/35, which was framed around the Spitfire, was headed "Requirements for Single-engine Day and Night Fighter" and stipulated that the aircraft be equipped with "night flying equipment". [1]

In line with these requirements Spitfire Is, IIs, VAs and VBs were fitted with a powerful, retractable landing-light in each wing. Dorsal and ventral identification lights could be operated in Morse code by the pilot using a small morse key in the cockpit. In an attempt to shield the pilot's eyes from the bright exhaust flames many Spitfires were also fitted with rectangular light-alloy "blinkers" secured to light-alloy brackets fixed to the sides of the fuel-tank housing: these could be easily removed. [17]

Spitfires were first used as nightfighters during the summer of 1940: the most successful night interceptions took place on the night of 18/19 June 1940 when Flt. Lt. "Sailor" Malan of 74 Squadron shot down two Heinkel He 111s of Kampfgeschwader 4, [18] while Flg. Off.s John Petre and George Ball of 19 Squadron each shot down one He 111 of KG 4. [19] A week later, on the night of 26/27 June, Pilot Officers R. Smith and R. Marples of 616 Squadron shot down another He 111 of KG 4 Flt. Lt. H. MacDonald of 603 Squadron shot down an He 111 of KG 26 and another He 111 of KG 26 was shot down, possibly with the help of A.A guns by Flg. Off.s A. Johnstone of 602 Squadron and J. Haig of 603 Squadron. [20]

Although Spitfires continued to be used on night patrols, the Luftwaffe bombers learned to fly well above the altitudes at which they could be effectively picked up by searchlights and the Spitfires were never to achieve the same success. [20]

Overall performance Edit

The Battle of Britain (which officially started on 10 July 1940 and ended 31 October) [21] was the first major test of both the Spitfire and of Fighter Command. During the Luftwaffe's onslaught important lessons were learned about the Spitfire's capabilities and its drawbacks. [22]

The combat performance of the Spitfire was frequently compared with that of the Hawker Hurricane, which was used in greater numbers during the critical stages of 1940. The Hurricane had thick wings and their structure was such that four .303-inch machine-guns were easily installed in each wing, grouped closely together, with 334 rounds per gun. Installing the guns in the Spitfire was more complicated, because it had a thinner wing and the armament and ammunition boxes had to be widely spaced. That dispersion of firepower was a weakness and at least in this respect the Hurricane – which was also a more stable gunnery platform – was better than the Spitfire. [23] The pilots who fought over France had learned to get the armourers back at base to harmonise the Browning machine guns, so that their combined fire met their target in one concentrated burst 250 yards ahead of the wings, instead of the official 400 yards. [24]

In total Hurricanes shot down more Luftwaffe aircraft of all types than the Spitfire, mainly due to the higher proportion of Hurricanes in the air. Seven out of every 10 German aircraft destroyed during the Battle of Britain were shot down by Hurricane pilots. Losses were also higher among the more numerous Hurricane units. Post-war analysis showed that the Spitfire's "kill ratio" was marginally better than the Hurricane's. [23]

The majority of Mk Is and Mk IIs were armed with eight .303 Browning machine guns. Throughout the battle, Luftwaffe aircraft often returned to base with .303 bullet holes, but no critical damage as they had received armour plating in critical areas and self-sealing fuel tanks became common in bombers. [25] Several Mark Is of 19 Squadron were fitted with two 20-mm Hispano-Suiza cannon in 1940. This early Hispano installation proved to be unreliable, with the cannon frequently firing just a few rounds or failing to fire at all. After numerous complaints from the pilots of 19 Squadron the cannon armed Spitfires were replaced by conventionally armed aircraft in September 1940. [26] Supermarine and BSA, who manufactured the Hispano under licence, continued work on a reliable cannon installation, with a number of Mk Is armed with two cannon and four .303 machine-guns entering operations by late 1940: this version was referred to as the Mk IB, the machine-gun-armed Spitfires were retrospectively called the Mk IA. [nb 2] [27]

Although the Merlin III engine of Spitfire Is had a power rating of 1,030 hp (770 kW), supplies of 100 octane fuel from the United States started reaching Britain in early 1940. [28] [29] This meant that an "emergency boost" of +12 pounds per square inch was available for five minutes, with pilots able to call on 1,310 hp (980 kW) at 3,000 rpm at 9,000 feet (2,700 m). [30] This boosted the maximum speed by 25 mph (40 km/h) at sea level and 34 mph (55 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and improved the climbing performance between sea level and full throttle height. [31] [32] The extra boost was not damaging as long as the limitations set forth in the pilot's notes were followed. As a precaution, however, if the pilot had resorted to emergency boost, he had to report this on landing and it had to be noted in the engine log book. [33] The extra boost was also available for the Merlin XII fitted to the Spitfire II. [34]

Between 1 August 1940 and 31 October, Spitfire losses amounted to 208 lost in combat, seven destroyed on the ground, and 42 in flying accidents. [35]

The Bf 109 and combat tactics Edit

At the time, the Luftwaffe's main single-engine, single-seat fighter was the Messerschmitt Bf 109. Some advantages helped the Spitfires win dogfights, most notably manoeuvrability: the Spitfire had a higher rate of turn and a smaller turning circle than the Messerschmitt. [36] [37] There are several accounts of Bf 109 pilots being able to outturn Spitfires, mainly because inexperienced pilots did not turn as tightly as was possible through fear of getting into a high-speed stall. [36] Overall, the aircraft were closely matched in performance and the outcome of combat was largely decided by tactics, position and the skill of the opposing pilots. [26]

One major advantage enjoyed by the German Jagdgeschwadern was the use of better tactics. In the late 1930s Fighter Command were not expecting to be facing single-engine fighters over Britain, only bombers. With this in mind a series of "Fighting Area Tactics" were formulated, involving manoeuvres designed to concentrate a squadron's firepower to bring down bombers: with no apparent prospect of escorting fighters to worry about, RAF fighter pilots flew in tight, vee-shaped sections of three. [38] The pilots were forced to concentrate on watching each other, rather than being free to keep a lookout for enemy aircraft. "Fighting Area Tactics" also stipulated that RAF fighter pilots were to open fire at long-range, usually 300 to 400 yards (274 to 365 m), and then break off without closing in. The usual practice was to bore-sight their guns on the ground to create a shotgun pattern at this distance. [38]

Luftwaffe fighter pilots, flying combat formations perfected in the Spanish Civil War, and utilizing proved principles of the First World War, entered the Second using the basic unit of a pair (Rotte) of widely spaced fighters. They were separated by about two hundred yards. [39] The leader was followed to starboard and to the rear by his wingman, who was trained to stay with his leader at all times. While the leader was free to search for enemy aircraft, and could cover his wingman's blind spots, his wingman was able to concentrate on searching the airspace in the leader's blind spots, behind and below. Two of these sections were usually teamed up into a flight (Schwarm), where all of the pilots could watch what was happening around them. Because the four 109s were spread out four-abreast the Schwarm was hard to spot, unlike the RAF vee formation, and all of the 109s were able to attack and defend, or retreat in pairs, [39] whereas the RAF formations were often split up into individual aircraft which were then extremely vulnerable. The loose Schwarm, because of the reduced risk of collision between aircraft, were also able to climb faster and higher than the tightly grouped RAF fighters, which is one of the reasons why RAF formations often found themselves being "bounced" from above. When the Luftwaffe fighter units flew as a squadron (Staffel) the three Schwarme were staggered in height and wove back and forth as a means of mutual search and protection. [39]

With the Germans able to base their 109s in the Pas de Calais, close to the English Channel the "Fighting Area Tactics" became obsolete. Many of the RAF fighter squadrons which had not been engaged in combat over Dunkirk were slow to adapt to the fact that they would be encountering the potent German fighter over Britain. Some RAF units adopted "weavers", a single aircraft which flew a pattern behind the main squadron, which still flew in vees. The weavers were usually the first to be picked off in a "bounce" by the German fighters: more often than not the rest of the squadron did not even know they were under attack. RAF squadrons that did not learn from the Luftwaffe and adopt similar tactics suffered heavy casualties during the Battle. [38] Leaders like "Sailor" Malan were instrumental in devising better tactics for the RAF fighters. [40] It is no coincidence that some of the most successful RAF pilots were the Polish pilots who had been trained pre-war by their air force to fly in loose formations and open fire from close-range. [41]

The biggest disadvantage faced by Bf 109 pilots was that, without the benefit of long-range drop tanks (which were introduced in very limited numbers in the late stages of the Battle), the 109s had an endurance of just over an hour. Once over Britain the 109 pilots had to keep an eye on a red "low fuel" light on the instrument panel: once this was illuminated they were forced to turn back and head for France. With the prospect of two long over-water flights, and knowing that their range was substantially reduced when escorting bombers or in the event of combat, the Jagdflieger coined the term Kanalkrankheit or "Channel sickness". [42]

The Bf 110 and the bombers Edit

Another regularly encountered German fighter, the Messerschmitt Bf 110, was a larger, two-seat, twin-engined fighter which was designed as a long range "Destroyer" (Zerstörer). Although reasonably fast (Bf 110C about 340 mph (550 km/h)) and possessing a respectable combat radius as well as carrying a heavy armament of two 20 mm MG FF/M cannon and four 7.92 mm MG 17s concentrated in the forward fuselage, along with a single 7.92 mm MG 15 mounted for rear defence in the rear cockpit, the 110 was only slightly more manoeuvrable than the bombers they were meant to escort. Against modern fighters like the Spitfire and Hurricane the Zerstörergruppen (roughly "Destroyer Groups") suffered heavy casualties and, after 18 August, fewer of them were encountered over Britain because the rate of attrition was outpacing production. [43]

Of the four types of Luftwaffe bombers, the Dornier Do 17, Heinkel He 111, Junkers Ju 87 and Junkers Ju 88, the Ju 88 was considered to be the most difficult to shoot down. As a bomber it was relatively manoeuvrable and, especially at low altitudes with no bomb load, it was fast enough to ensure that a Spitfire caught in a tail-chase would be hard pressed to catch up.

The He 111 was nearly 100 mph slower than the Spitfire and did not present much of a challenge to catch, although the heavy armour, self-sealing fuel tanks and progressively uprated defensive armament meant that it was still a challenge to shoot down. The Do 17 was also easy to catch but, with its radial engines with no vulnerable cooling systems and self-sealing fuel tanks, it was capable of taking an amazing amount of punishment. The Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber was badly outclassed in all respects and, after taking some savage beatings, the Sturzkampfgeschwader were withdrawn from the Battle. [44]

In early 1941 the 11 Group commander Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory inaugurated a policy of "leaning forward into France" [45] With this new policy, fighter sweeps ("Rhubarbs") and bomber escort missions ("Circuses") were mounted over France and other occupied territories, with the express purpose of forcing a response from Luftwaffe fighters. Leigh Mallory was fully supported by Air Chief Marshal Sir William Sholto Douglas who had replaced Sir Hugh Dowding as Commander of Fighter Command in November 1940. [46] As a result of Leigh-Mallory's experience in command of 12 Group during the Battle of Britain, RAF fighter squadrons were increasingly organised into "Wings" of two or more squadrons which flew together under the command of a Wing Leader).

With the change to offensive tactics the Spitfire, Hurricane and new Westland Whirlwind units found themselves facing the same disadvantages over France as the 109 units had faced over Britain. The limited combat radius of the RAF fighters meant that the Luftwaffe could engage in combat, or break off on their own terms, knowing that they were over friendly territory and with plenty of airfields at which they could land to rearm and refuel. The RAF fighters were the ones who were now having to face the prospect of two long over-water passages, returning in many cases with combat damage.

By late 1940, Luftwaffe fighter units were being re-equipped with the formidable new Bf 109F-1 and F-2, considered by many Luftwaffe pilots to be the best of the many variants of this fighter. The F-1s and F-2s easily outperformed the Spitfire Mk Is and IIs and it closely matched that of the Mk Vs which were just about to enter service. In the hands of pilots like Adolf Galland it was a daunting proposition to be facing this aircraft over France. [47] On 10 July 1941, a 109 F-2 flown by Hauptmann Rolf Pingel of I./JG 26. followed a Short Stirling heavy bomber he had intercepted across the Channel. Return fire from the Stirling hit his fighter's cooling system, forcing him to "crash-land" in a field near Dover. The 109 was repaired and tested at Air Fighting Development Unit (AFDU) until it crashed, killing the pilot, on 20 October 1941. The results of these tests helped in the development of tactics to counter the new fighter. [48] [49]

Compared with the massive bomber raids mounted by the Luftwaffe in 1939 and 1940 the RAF Bomber Command Circus operations were very small and rarely damaging. Circuses consisted of one or at most two squadrons of Bristol Blenheims (later Short Stirlings were also used) which were usually escorted by large, conspicuous "Beehives" of five or more fighter squadrons. The primary intent was to lure the German fighters into combat rather than causing damage by bombing. [50] The Luftwaffe, with the assistance of radar, could afford to oppose these "Circuses" with relatively small numbers of fighters, which could pick and choose whether or not to take on the escorting fighters. [51] Douglas Bader, flying a Mk Va, [nb 3] was shot down and captured on 9 August 1941 while leading the Tangmere Wing during a "Circus" raid. [53]

Another type of operation flown by Fighter Command was the "Rhubarb": a low-level ground-attack mission by small numbers of fighters, usually under low cloud. Against aircraft flying these missions the 20 mm and 37 mm flak guns were the most successful opponents. Another well-known Wing Commander, "Bob" Tuck, was shot down by a multi-barrel, 20 mm Flakvierling 38 position and captured by German troops on 28 January 1942 while flying a "Rhubarb". Many other Spitfires were shot down by German fighters. [54] [55]

By mid-1941, with Operation Barbarossa soon to be under way, the only Luftwaffe fighter units left to guard against the RAF were JG 2 and JG 26. These two units, manned for the most part with experienced and aggressive pilots, were fully capable of mounting a highly successful defence, particularly when they started re-equipping with the Focke-Wulf Fw 190

The Fw 190 Challenge Edit

The introduction of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in late 1941 along the Channel front came as a complete surprise to Fighter Command. At first it was assumed that the new radial-engined fighters were Curtiss 75-C1s which had been captured from the French. It soon became clear that the new aircraft easily outperformed the Spitfire V and appeared to be more heavily armed. [56] Very little was known about this fighter until 23 June 1942 when Oberleutnant Armin Faber of JG 2 landed his Fw 190A-3 at RAF Pembrey by mistake. In comparison tests, the new German fighter proved superior to the then-current Mk Vb in all aspects except turning radius. [57]

The Fw 190 was at least 25 to 30 mph faster than the Spitfire V, and could climb and accelerate to combat speeds more quickly. [57] Spitfire pilots who flew over enemy territory using the standard technique of flying at low rpm and high boost pressures to economise on fuel often found themselves in trouble when intercepted by Fw 190s. If "bounced" while cruising at low speeds it could take a Spitfire up to two minutes to accelerate to top speed. [58] The only way it was thought that a Spitfire could evade attack was to cruise at high speed and go into a shallow dive with the throttle open. Provided the Fw 190 was seen in time, it could be forced into a long stern chase. [57] As a result of the high number of casualties being inflicted on Spitfires the Air Tactics Department (A.T.D) issued a guide on the optimum engine settings to use while flying over enemy territory: in part it read:

2. At the present stage of the war, the enemy in France is equipped with the Fw 190, a fighter with an excellent rate of climb and good acceleration. To defeat this aircraft and to avoid casualties on our side, our aircraft must fly as fast as possible whenever they are in the combat zone. [58]

"The Focke-Wulf 190 certainly gave the British a shock", wrote Douglas Bader in his autobiography Fight for the sky "it out-climbed and out-dived the Spitfire. Now for the first time the Germans were out-flying our pilots." They were also outgunning them. For the best part of the year, and until the arrival of the Spitfire Mk IX, the Fw 190 commanded the skies. [59]

From late 1942, in an attempt to achieve some degree of parity with the Fw 190, some squadrons received the L.F Mark VB. This version had reduced diameter supercharger impeller blades on the Merlin for optimum performance at lower altitudes and the wing-tips were removed and replaced by short fairings to improve their rate of roll. [60] These aircraft were unofficially known by their pilots as "clipped, cropped and clapped" Spits, referring to the fact that many of these Spitfires, thus modified, had seen better days ("clapped out"). [61]

The flight performance of an early Mk IX, which was flown against the Focke-Wulf in July 1942, was found to be closely comparable. [62] Still, at altitudes of 18,000–20,000 ft (5,500–6,100 m) and at 3,000 ft (910 m) and below, the AFDU noted the Fw 190 was "a little faster". [63] Once again the Mk IX had a superior turning radius although it could be outdived and outrolled by the German fighter. The Spitfire being tested was hampered through being fitted with an old float-type carburettor: the great majority of Mk IXs were fitted with negative-G carburettors. [62] These results contributed to the further development of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 61 series engine into versions optimised for High (70 series) Medium (63) and Low (66) altitude performance: this led to the use of the prefixes H.F, F, and L.F which were later applied to the Mks VII through to IX, depending on which version of the engine was installed, e.g., L.F Mk. IX. [64]

The Spitfire V units continued to take heavy casualties, often inflicting little damage in return, throughout 1941 and well into 1942. Once the Mk IX started arriving in sufficient numbers this trend started to even out, although the 190s in particular continued to be a serious threat. [61] Hans "Assi" Hahn claimed 53 of his 108 kills against Spitfires and Josef "Pips" Priller claimed 68 of his 101 victories against the type, making him the highest scoring "Spitfire killer" in the Luftwaffe. Most of these victories were against the Mark V.

"Operation Jubilee", the amphibious raid on Dieppe on 19 August 1942, was supported by 48 Spitfire squadrons and would prove to be a turning point in RAF operations over Europe. While Fighter Command claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties on the Luftwaffe, the balance sheet showed the reverse. Allied aircraft losses amounted to 106, including 88 RAF fighters and 18 bombers. Of the fighter losses 29 were from flak, one ran out of fuel, two collided, and one was a victim of friendly fire. [65] Against this, 48 Luftwaffe aircraft were lost. Included in that total were 28 bombers, half of them Dornier Do 217s from KG 2. One of the two Jagdgeschwader's, JG 2, lost 14 Fw 190s and eight pilots killed. JG 26 lost six Fw 190s with their pilots. [66] Spitfire losses stood at 70 destroyed and damaged to all causes. [67] The Spitfire squadrons (42 with Mark Vs, and four with Mark IXs) were tasked with ground-attack, escort and air-superiority missions, [68] so the exact number of Spitfire losses to the Fw 190 is unknown. The Luftwaffe claimed 61 of the 106 RAF machines lost, which included all types (JG 2 claimed 40 and JG 26 claimed 21 kills). [66]

This operation saw the successful combat debut of the Spitfire Mk IX and the lessons learned from "Jubilee" would contribute to the formation of the 2nd Tactical Air Force (2 TAF). 2 TAF would combine RAF fighter, fighter/bomber and light and medium bomber squadrons into a powerful army support organisation which would help lead to the successful outcome of D-Day. Experience from the Desert Air Force in particular, had shown that the most successful and adaptable instrument of close support for the ground forces was the fighter-bomber. In accordance with this, many of the Spitfire squadrons incorporated into 2 TAF would later take on the fighter-bomber role as their primary mission. [69]

Operating within the RAF were three "Eagle" squadrons: units manned by American pilots who had joined the RAF. First formed in 1940 and initially equipped with Hurricanes, these units converted to Spitfire Vbs in 1941. They were re-equipped with Spitfire IXs in early September 1942 and were disbanded in late-September 1942 as their aircrew and aircraft were transferred to the fledgling USAAF's Eighth Air Force to become the nucleus of the 4th Fighter Group. [70]

The high-altitude bombers Edit

Towards the end of August 1942, the Luftwaffe began launching high-level bombing raids against England. A unit called the Höhenkampfkommando der Versuchsstelle für Höhenflüge, equipped with a small number of Junkers Ju 86R bombers, was able to bomb England from above 40,000 ft (12,000 m) without impediment from RAF fighters, or from anti-aircraft guns. On one such attack on 28 August a single bomb dropped on Bristol killed 48 people and injured another 46. [71] [72] To counter the threat, the "High Altitude Flight" was formed at RAF Northolt this unit used a pair of Spitfire Mk Vcs which were converted into IXs by Rolls-Royce at the Hucknall plant. These were stripped of everything not required for the role of high-level interception, lightening them by 450 lb each. On 12 September 1942 Flying Officer Emanuel Galitzine, flying BS273, [nb 4] successfully intercepted a Ju 86R piloted by Fw Horst Göetz and commanded by Leutnant Erich Sommer [nb 5] above Southampton at 41,000 ft (12,000 m). The ensuing battle went up to 43,000 ft (13,000 m) and was the highest air battle of the war. However, problems were caused by the freezing air at that altitude and the combat was not decisive: the port cannon suffered a jam and, whenever the pilot fired a burst, the aircraft would slew and fall out of the sky. [74] The bomber escaped safely with just one hit to its port wing, but having found it to be vulnerable to the RAF at high altitudes, the Luftwaffe launched no further high-altitude attacks against England. [75] [76]

Debut of the Griffon engine Mk XII Edit

On 24 February 1943, the first of the Rolls-Royce Griffon engined Spitfire variants, the F Mk XII was accepted into RAF service, with the first examples being delivered to 41 Squadron. The first operational flight was made on 3 April, with the Mk XII's first victory, a Junkers Ju 88 occurring two weeks later. [77] The only other squadron to use the variant was 91 Squadron, which started re-equipping on 20 April this unit's first XII victories were five Fw 190 fighter-bombers of SKG 10 which were claimed shot down during an attempted low altitude raid on Folkestone on the evening of 25 May. [78]

The Mk XII had superb performance at low and medium altitudes, though the performance dropped away above about 15,000 feet. [79] In spite of a reluctance on the part of German fighters to be drawn into low-altitude combat the Spitfire XIIs scored several successes against low-flying fighter-bomber Fw 190s and Bf 109 Gs attacking targets in and around the south-eastern coastal towns of Britain. [80] In June 1943 41 and 91 Squadrons the only ones to be fully equipped with this version, moved to RAF Westhampnett and formed the Westhampnett Wing led first by Wng Cdr. Rhys Thomas and then, from August 1943, by Wing Cdr. Raymond Harries [nb 6] .

As the American strategic (B-17 and B-24) and medium (B-26 and A-20) bombing campaigns gathered momentum in mid-1943, the need for fighter escort meant much of Fighter Command's Spitfire force was used, while the U.S. fighter groups worked up to operational status. [82] The limited combat radius of the Spitfire meant the RAF support operations were restricted to the North Sea-coastal regions of Belgium and north-western France and across the English Channel to Normandy. As the battle intensified over occupied Europe, USAAF fighters like the P-47, P-38 and from early 1944 P-51 bore the brunt of bomber protection. Spitfire IX squadrons had to bide their time until the invasion of Europe, before fully engaging the Luftwaffe's Jagdwaffe.

Most successful Spitfire: EN398 Edit

From surviving records it would appear that the most successful individual Spitfire was EN398, a Mk IX fitted with a Merlin 63. [83] [84] This aircraft was built at Chattis Hill, a Shadow factory run by Supermarine, making its first flight on 13 February 1943. Five days later EN398 was delivered to No. 402 Squadron RCAF which was part of the Kenley Wing. [nb 7] On 16 March Acting Wing Commander "Johnnie" Johnson arrived to take command of the four Canadian units based at Kenley. EN398 was still undergoing acceptance tests in a hangar: [83]

I found the engineer officer and together we had a look at her, gleaming and bright in a new spring coat of camouflage paint. Later I took her up for a few aerobatics to get the feel of her, for this was the first time I had flown a [Mark] 9. She seemed very fast, the engine was sweet and she responded to the controls as only a thoroughbred can. I decided she should be mine, and I never had occasion to regret the choice. [86]

As a wing commander, Johnson was allowed to paint his initials JE-J on the sides of the fuselage, in place of the usual squadron code letters AE- He also had the Spitfire's guns re-harmonised to converge their fire to a single point ahead of the aircraft, rather than the standard pattern which spread the rounds evenly over a circle a few yards across. [83] The first successful engagement for Johnson in EN398 was on 3 April 1943 when he shot down an Fw 190. [87] By the time Johnson relinquished command of the Kenley Wing in September 1943 he had shot down 12 enemy aircraft, shared in the destruction of five more, inflicted damage on six and shared in damaging one, all while flying EN398. Also, Squadron Leader Robert "Buck" McNair [nb 8] shot down an Fw 190 while flying this Spitfire on 20 July 1943. [89] EN398 was eventually sold for scrap in October 1949. [90]

The next most successful Spitfire was EN572 FY-H, flown by New Zealander Flt. Lt Johnny Checketts of 611 Squadron (Biggin Hill Wing). This Spitfire was a Mk. VC converted to a Mk IX by Rolls-Royce and was powered by a Merlin 61 it was delivered to 611 Squadron in April 1943. [91] When Checketts was posted to 485(NZ) Squadron in July 1943 he took EN572, which became OU-H. While flying EN572 Checketts shot down 13 enemy aircraft, with one probable and six damaged. Checketts was shot down over France in this Spitfire on 6 September 1943, but escaped, returning to England seven weeks later. [92] [93]

Normandy: June–August 1944 Edit

After the Normandy landings, some Spitfires (Griffon and Merlin engine marks) were retained in Britain to counter the V-1 flying bomb offensive in mid-1944 as part of the ADGB. [94] Supplies of a new aviation fuel, which was called "150 Grade", arrived from America in March 1944 and sufficient quantities were available to be used by ADGB fighters as the V-1 offensive started. The new fuel enabled the Rolls-Royce Merlin and Griffon engines to operate at higher boost pressures, especially at lower altitudes, for the duration of the anti-V-1 campaign. [95]

The bulk of the Spitfire squadrons, which by D-Day were incorporated into the Second Tactical Air Force, were progressively moved across the Channel, operating from advanced landing grounds in Normandy, close behind the front-lines. From late August 1944, as the Allied ground forces overran German forces in France and moved forward into Belgium and parts of the Netherlands, the Spitfire units of 2 TAF moved to new airfields in support. [96] By this time, as air supremacy (as opposed to air superiority) had been achieved, and in line with 2 TAF's doctrine on the use of fighter-bombers most of the Merlin engined Mk IX and XVI units were used in the fighter-bomber role. [69] This meant that these units concentrated on roaming over German territory, attacking ground targets of opportunity and providing tactical ground support to the army units. In this role there were fewer opportunities to engage Luftwaffe fighters. [97] A notable incident occurred on 17 July 1944, when a Spitfire of 602 Squadron attacked the staff car of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, wounding him and removing him from command of Army Group B. [98]

One tactical innovation adopted by 2nd TAF Spitfires was the "Fluid Six"' formation, which had been developed through combat experience in Europe and North Africa. The first use of the tactic dated back to at least November 1941. It is known that No. 112 Squadron RAF used this in the North African campaign. [99] This formation "was considered the best fighter formation of the war". [100] It abandoned the leader-wingman combination that had existed before. Instead, it was based on three pairs of Spitfires which could provide mutual cover and support: the pairs were 'stacked' in altitude so that the pair (e.g.: 5 & 6) flying up-sun, and covering the tails of the leaders (1 & 2), flew higher, while the other pair (e.g.: 3 & 4) flew lower. Any attacking aircraft could be sandwiched between two pairs of Spitfires, no matter the direction or altitude of the attack. Another advantage of this formation was that when operating at squadron strength a flight commander was able to lead six aircraft of his own flight, "whereas, with formations of four there would more likely be one formation from each flight with the third consisting of aircraft from another flight." [100]

The Merlin's water and glycol cooling system, as with all liquid-cooled aero-engines, proved vulnerable to small arms fire, with one hit in the radiator or coolant pipes often being enough to drain the system, eventually causing the engine to seize or catch fire. Although some pilots were able to gain enough altitude to glide back to a forward airfield, the low altitudes normally flown during ground attack missions meant that light (up to 30 mm) flak claimed most of the Spitfire IXs and XVIs lost while operating as fighter-bombers. [101] [102] Just 21 of the 152 Spitfires that were destroyed or damaged from all causes from 1–30 June 1944 were shot down by German fighters. [103]

Flight Lieutenant Raymond Baxter, who had flown Spitfires almost continually since 1941, flew Mk XVIs on fighter-bomber operations while commanding 'A' Flight of 602 Squadron attacking V-2 rocket launching sites in the Netherlands:

The usual force to attack these small targets was four to six Spitfires, each with either one 500 and two 250 pound bombs or two 250 pounders and a long range tanks. As we crossed into enemy territory we were liable to be engaged with predicted fire from heavy 88mm guns. But in a Spitfire this was no great danger, provided one continually changed one's direction and altitude in a series of long climbing or diving turns. the V-2 targets were defended with light flak so when we reached the target area our approach tactics would vary. Accurate bombing was dependant on accurate flying during the dive. the speed would build up quite rapidly, to a maximum of about 360 mph before the release. When he judged the altitude to be about 3,000 ft each pilot let go of his bombs in a salvo, then did a 5G pull-up to bring the nose up to horizontal. the drill was to make a high-speed getaway using the ground for cover. [104]

By the end of August, the German ground forces were in full retreat and the Jagdwaffe began pulling back to Germany to re-equip and train new pilots. The speed of the withdrawal meant that the Spitfire units of 2 TAF began to find themselves out of range of the front until new forward airfields could be built or those previously used by the Luftwaffe rebuilt. As a consequence there was little air-to-air combat involving Spitfires until mid-September, although flak continued to take a toll. [105]

Spitfire Spotters Edit

During D-Day, Spitfires were operated as Spotters by U.S. Navy Cruiser Scouting Squadron Seven (VCS-7) in support of United States Navy and Royal Navy cruisers and battleships bombarding land targets. In this role the Spitfires would locate targets and guide the fire of the ships onto the target. US spotting units normally used floatplanes, either SOC Seagulls or OS2U Kingfishers but because of their vulnerability against fighters, it was decided that 17 Cruiser Spotter (VCS) and Battleship Observation (VO) pilots aboard the heavy cruisers Augusta (CA-31), Tuscaloosa (CA-37) and Quincy (CA-71) and the battleships Arkansas (BB-33), Texas (BB-35) and Nevada (BB-36), would be trained to fly RAF Spitfire Mk Vbs and Seafire IIIs. [106] [107] This unit, along with two RAF squadrons, 26 and 63, also flying Spitfire Vbs and four FAA squadrons 808, 885, 886 and 897 flying Seafire IIIs and forming no. 3 Wing, provided valuable target coordinates and fire control during 20 days of operations. [108] On D-Day "pooling" of the spotting units' aircraft meant that all units flew either Spitfires or Seafires. [109]

Normally two aircraft were used the lead aircraft functioned as the spotter while covered by a wingman, who kept a lookout for intruders. [109] The standard altitude flown was 6,000 feet (1,800 m), although poor weather often meant that missions were flown at between 1,500–2,000 feet (460–610 m) or lower in some cases. Drop tanks were carried and a sortie could last up to two hours. Encounters against Luftwaffe fighters were rare, with four VCS-7 pilots able to evade attacks by Bf 109s and Fw 190s. [110] Flak accounted for the only operational loss. [110] After the bombardment of Cherbourg on 26 June Naval gunfire support missions were stopped because the battle had moved inland, out of the range of the battleships and cruisers. VCS-7 was disbanded.

During 20 days of combat operations, the aviators of VCS-7 were awarded nine Distinguished Flying Crosses, six Air Medals and five Gold Stars in lieu of additional Air Medals. [110]

The Seafires of No. 3 Wing encountered German fighters on a number of occasions suffering 3 losses and achieving 2 victories. [111]

September 1944 to May 1945 Edit

In September 1944, with the end of the anti-"Diver" campaign, the Griffon-engined Mk XIV units 41, 350 and 610 Squadrons were transferred from the ADGB to 2 TAF and began operating from RAF Lympne. At about the same time 322 (Dutch) Squadron, which had been equipped with the Mk XIV, reverted to Spitfire IXs. On the last day of September 130 and No. 402 Squadron RCAF, also equipped with Mk XIVs, flew to airfield B.82, Grave. [112] Their arrival was timely as they, along with the Hawker Tempest units, were needed to counter the Me 262 nuisance raids. In December the three Lympne based units flew to join the others on the Continent, eventually becoming part of 125 Wing. Further deliveries of the potent Mk XIV were made to fighter-reconnaissance units and in February 1945, 610 Squadron was disbanded to help maintain the level of aircraft and pilots of these units. [113] Along with the Hawker Tempest squadrons, the Spitfire XIVs provided the 2 TAF with modern fighters for air-superiority, with the Spitfire being the primary high-altitude fighter, while the Tempest operated at low-to-medium altitude. [114] [115]

As events turned out, the only F.R. unit equipped with F.R. Mk. XIVs was No. 403 Squadron RCAF and although its primary role was tactical reconnaissance, the unit also engaged in fighter sweeps resulting in successful encounters with Luftwaffe aircraft, including the destruction of an Me 262. [116]

Spitfires took part in the Defence of the Reich campaign, providing Avro Lancaster bombers with fighter escort. Targets were attacked over an area ranging from German-occupied Dutch territory into the heart of Germany. [117] The Second Tactical Air Force notes identified flak and specialist "flak trains" as the main threat during this period. The Germans had developed special flak wagons to protect valuable transport trains from air attack and "set traps" for unwary Allied fighter pilots. The trains would be disguised to look like vulnerable and tempting targets, which when attacked, would open up its "wagons" to reveal anti-aircraft guns that inflicted losses on the Spitfire units. [118]

Pilots still had to be aware that they were in hostile skies and care had to be taken to avoid being surprised. On 8 December the 2nd TAF swept the Dulmen-Munster area. [119] While attacking a train they were bounced by a dozen German fighters, Fw 190s and Bf 109s. Flt Lt Harry Walmsley described the Spitfire XIV's performance against the Bf 109:

They definitely caught us by surprise. I think they had been on patrol, or had been scrambled, and when they saw the smoke from the train they knew where we were and attacked out of the cloud. The Spitfire XIV is definitely better than the Me 109, as I could do a better climbing turn even with my drop tanks still on!

During this engagement, Walmsley scored the third of his 12 kills. [120] Spitfires were sometimes mistakenly attacked by USAAF P-51s. One such incident occurred on 31 December 1944, when 610 Squadron RAF was attacked. Using the Spitfire's "stunning" climb performance, pilots were "easily" able to escape and evade the Mustangs. [121] In December 1944, RAF Fighter Command lost 53 Spitfires on the western front to all causes. Just eight fell to enemy aircraft. [122] On 29 December Flt Lt R. J. Audet, a French Canadian on No. 411 Squadron RCAF, shot down three Fw 190s and two Bf 109s during one sortie. Audet claimed a further five aircraft before he was shot down and killed in his Spitfire IX on 3 March 1945, while strafing a train. [123] On 1 January 1945 the Luftwaffe launched Operation Bodenplatte. Spitfire units took part in the air fighting that day, destroying at least 32 German fighters for the loss of 13 Spitfires. [124] [125] Of these, seven were shot down in aerial combat, the remainder were strafed on the ground. [126]

Before the Second World War, the RAF relied on Bristol Blenheims to carry out photo-reconnaissance as a secondary task as long range photographic reconnaissance was not considered important. Short range photo-reconnaissance was left to the Army Cooperation Command Westland Lysanders. Neither aircraft had the speed or altitude performance to avoid enemy fighters and their light armament meant that fighting their way to a target to take photographs was a forlorn hope. Both aircraft types had many losses when faced with modern fighters and A.A fire. [127]

Early photo-reconnaissance Spitfires Edit

Shortly before the Second World War started Flg. Off. Maurice Longbottom submitted a paper to the Air Ministry, in which he proposed that the RAF equip itself with small, unarmed aircraft, stripped of unnecessary weight and equipped with cameras and extra fuel, to rely on high speed, a fast climb and high altitude to avoid enemy defences. He was thinking primarily about the Spitfire as the ideal aircraft. Although his idea was received with interest, it was shelved because there were not enough Spitfires to divert from Fighter Command.

When early operations proved the vulnerability of the Blenheims and Lysanders, in October 1939 the Australian Sidney Cotton, Acting Wing Commander of the newly formed and highly secret "Heston Flight", met with Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, AOC of Fighter Command and persuaded him to release two Spitfires to his unit. [128] Cotton had already proved Longbottom's theory to be right by using a modified Lockheed 12A on clandestine photo-reconnaissance missions over Germany. [127]

The two Spitfires were "Cottonised" by removing the radio, stripping out the armament and adding downward-facing F24 cameras with 5 in (13 cm) lenses to replace the inner-wing guns. All panel lines and the gun-ports were filled in with plaster of Paris and a special light "Camoutint Green" was applied to the aircraft and polished. Thus modified, the Spitfire was capable of reaching over 390 miles per hour (630 km/h). [129]

While the fighter versions of the Spitfire stayed in Britain, the first PR missions were flown from bases in France by Cotton's unit which was renamed "No. 2 Camouflage Unit". The first RAF high-speed, high-altitude photo-reconnaissance mission of the war took place on 18 November 1939 when Flt. Lt. "Shorty" Longbottom took off from Seclin and attempted to photograph Aachen from 33,000 ft (10,000 m). [16]

After the initial successes of these aircraft, more Mk I Spitfires were converted in different ways for different reconnaissance missions. On 17 January 1940, 2 Camouflage Unit was renamed the "Photographic Development Unit" (PDU), while another PR Unit, 212 Squadron was formed in France. [130] Five months later, on 17 June 1940, Sidney Cotton was sacked from the RAF, for taking money to fly a French businessman to the UK, while he was evacuating British agents from Paris. The following year, he was awarded an OBE in recognition of his contribution to the development of photographic reconnaissance. [131] The PDU was expanded, eventually becoming 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (1 PRU) in November 1940, operating from RAF Benson as part of RAF Coastal Command.

On 3 June 1940, Hauptmann Werner Mölders of III./JG53 claimed a lone Spitfire shot down near Paris: it is more than likely that this was a Spitfire of 212 Squadron. [132] On 13 June 1940, Flg. Off. George Patterson Christie, a Canadian pilot of the PDU, attacked a Fiat BR.20 bomber off the coast of Monaco and by repeatedly diving at it, forced it to land in the sea. Patterson was awarded the DFC for this feat. He was also reprimanded by Cotton for playing at being a fighter pilot when his primary duty was to bring back photographs. [133] [134]

On 22 February 1941, at the request of Dr R. V. Jones, a PRU type G Spitfire, flown by Flg. Off. W. K. Manifould, took the first clear photographs of a Freya radar. In retaliation for an incident six days earlier, when a Sgt Parrot failed to bring back photos due to heavy flak, Manifould also strafed the AA posts and radar station, rendering the latter useless. [135] [136] On 5 December 1941, again at the request of Dr Jones, a PRU Spitfire flown by Flt. Lt Tony Hill was able to photograph a Würzburg radar from 200 feet (61 m) at Bruneval on the French coast. This led directly to the Bruneval raid in which Würzburg components and radar operators were captured from the Germans. [137] [138]

Flying PR missions was not an easy occupation. Spitfire pilots often flew missions lasting seven hours or more the cramped cockpit was uncomfortable, although the introduction of heating and, later in the war, pressurization, relieved some of the discomfort. Early PR Spitfires lacked radios and, in later versions which did have radio, the pilot was expected to maintain radio silence throughout the flight. The pilot of a high-flying Spitfire would keep constant watch on the rear- view mirror to make sure that a contrail would not betray its presence, and he also had to keep an eye out for enemy fighters trying to intercept. Without the help of another crew member a PR Spitfire pilot had to be a good navigator, usually relying on dead reckoning. Once over the target to be photographed, a precise course and altitude was set and maintained. Even a small deviation from straight and level flight could mean that the cameras would miss a small target by hundreds of yards. Several different paint schemes were used by the early photo-reconnaissance Spitfires until an overall "PRU Blue" was adopted for the majority of PR aircraft from late 1941. [139]

Low-altitude ("dicing") missions, such as the one on the Bruneval Würzburg and Freya radar position, [nb 9] were usually flown under low cloud, with the pilot constantly on the lookout for enemy fighters and flak positions. These missions were much more dangerous than the high-altitude missions. At high speed and low altitude there was little time to aim the oblique camera: a tiny black + on the side of the canopy was lined up with a small black stripe painted on the aileron and, as the aircraft flew by the target, the pilot had to estimate when to start taking photographs. The only way to successfully take pictures and survive was to take the defences by surprise. Failing that the pilot was supposed to give up and fly home, and he was not allowed to fly over the same target again that day, or the next. [140] Spitfires engaged in low-altitude "dicing" missions were often painted in either overall white or in a very pale "Camoutint Pink", which was an ideal colour against cloud cover. [141] [142] Low-attitude oblique missions also required great skill in timing the photographs. The camera, which was behind the pilot seat, would be pointed sideways on aircraft flying oblique missions. The object would disappear under the wing as the aircraft was flying by it, and during those moments of lack of eye contact, the photo had to be taken. The pilot had to guess when it would reappear behind the wing and fire the shutter accordingly. [143]

PRU Spitfires also kept a constant watch on the German capital ships in based in Brest harbour throughout 1941 to February 1942, as well as maintaining operations over Norway. [144]

The first Spitfire to be posted to the Mediterranean theatre was one operated by 1 PRU which arrived on Malta on 22 September 1941. This aircraft was then grounded for three weeks while awaiting replacements for its badly worn tyres. PR Spitfires continued to operate off Malta in ones and twos, usually being re-allocated while en route to North Africa. [145]

Other overseas deployments of Spitfires had seen three Mk IVs being sent to Vaenga (renamed Severomorsk in 1951), in North Russia, to keep on eye on German warships during the operation to get Convoy PQ 18 through to Russia. While there, they carried Soviet markings. These aircraft were later formally handed on to the Soviet Air Force.

Late photo-reconnaissance Spitfires Edit

In 1942, the two-stage Merlin 60 aero engine became available for reconnaissance aircraft. The first 15 Spitfires with the new engine were conversions of standard Mk IXs made by the workshops of 1 PRU at RAF Heston. One of the best known operations undertaken by the Mk IX conversion was to provide photographs of the four dams slated to be destroyed by Operation Chastise a PR Mk IX flown by Flg. Off. F. D. Fray brought back a famous series of photos showing the Moehne and Eder dams the morning after the raid. [146]

The PR Mk XI was the first version of the Spitfire to be built specifically as a photoreconnaissance (PR) aircraft and started replacing all of the earlier conversions of Mk Is, IIs and Vs from mid-1943. The PR Mk XIII replaced the PR Mk VII as a low-altitude tactical-reconnaissance aircraft at about this time. [147] By late 1942, the early PRUs had been expanded and formalised into several squadrons, and with the formation of the Second Tactical Air Force (or 2nd TAF) in 1943, Army Co-operation Command was wound up and many of its units became dedicated PR Squadrons. The photo-reconnaissance squadrons, especially those units in theatres outside Britain, were self-contained intelligence units not only did they have the usual aircraft and maintenance crews but they also incorporated a large photographic section, which processed the exposed film in mobile laboratories almost as soon as the aircraft had landed. There were also photo interpreters, photo-printing staff, an intelligence section plus communications staff. [148]

After the Réseau AGIR reported construction in Occupied France in September 1943, Spitfires and other reconnaissance aircraft (five British, five American and four Canadian squadrons) photographed V-1 facilities. [149] : 113 A photo taken by a 542 Squadron Spitfire [150] on 3 October 1943 depicted the Siracourt V-1 bunker [151] (bombed January 1944), and sortie E/463 on 3 November 1943 over Bois Carré by a No. 170 Squadron RAF aircraft [ specify ] was the first to detect "ski-shaped buildings 240–270 feet long". [152] As on 21 October, [153] : 36 photo-reconnaissance sorties on 4 December 1943 [151] to cover the whole of Northern France were conducted before the 5 December start of "Crossbow Operations Against Ski Sites". Despite Crossbow bombings, camouflaged "modified" sites were first discovered 26 April 1944 [151] : 8 (61 modified sites were photographed by 6 June). [154] : 226,231 Photos on 10 June depicting that the sites were being activated allowed image interpreters to predict the sites could launch within three days [155] (V-1 flying bomb operations began on the night of 12/13 June 1944).

Combat support Edit

During and after D-Day, PR Spitfires of the 2nd TAF supported the Allied armies, including strategic sorties by No. 16 Squadron RAF from 30,000 ft (9,100 m) or more using the PR Mk XI. The unit's secondary role was to provide tactical reconnaissance using the F.R Mk IX in low altitude "dicer" missions. [156] : 29 16 Squadron F.R Mk IXs photographed German tanks in the Arnhem area just before Operation Market Garden, and during the battle, Northolt based F.R IXs flew missions in support of the paratroops. [157] : 95

The Mk Vb was the first Spitfire to see extensive overseas service. On 7 March 1942, 15 Mk Vs carrying 90-gallon fuel tanks under their fuselages took off from HMS Eagle off the coast of Algeria on a 600-mile flight to Malta. [158]

In the months that followed, some 275 Mk Vb and Vc Spitfires were delivered to the beleaguered island, with the Americans providing help by allowing the USS Wasp to be used to fly two lots of Spitfires to the islands. Wooden wedges were used to allow the Spitfires to leave the carrier with partial "takeoff" flap settings. (Once the aircraft had gained altitude, the pilot would open the flaps fully, the wedges would fall out and the flaps could then be closed.) In "Operation Calendar" on 20 April 1942, 47 Spitfires and pilots of 601 and 603 Squadrons flew from Wasp to Malta. [159] In "Operation Bowery" on 9 May 1942, another 50 Spitfires flew from Wasp and 14 from Eagle. Sixty of them landed on Malta. One Spitfire with a defective long range fuel tank landed back on the Wasp, despite lacking a tailhook. [160] In "Operation Style" on 3 June, a further 32 Spitfires flew to Malta from HMS Eagle, through they were intercepted en route and four were shot down. [161] However, the carriers were thought to be vulnerable to attack from the Luftwaffe while out at sea [162] so in late October through to early November, a total of 12 Spitfire Vcs, equipped with a single huge 170-gallon drop tank, flew direct from Gibraltar, a distance of 1,000 miles. [145] This meant a flight time of more than five hours. [163]

All of these Spitfires were involved in combating and finally blunting the constant air attacks being made on the island by the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica. The most successful Spitfire pilot was the Canadian Plt. Off. George Beurling of 249 Squadron who was credited with shooting down 26⅓ German and Italian aircraft between June and late October 1942. [164]

The first Spitfire to be modified to carry underwing bombs was a Malta-based Mk Vc, EP201 X-V of 229 Squadron, which was adapted to carry one 250 lb bomb under each wing in September 1942. [165] Many Mk V Spitfires equipped to carry a pair of 250-lb bombs attached beneath their wings were used as makeshift bombers, raiding Sicilian fortifications and air bases, and releasing their bombs at 7,000 feet as they dived at an optimum angle of 60 degrees. [166]

To counter the prevalent dusty conditions, the Spitfires were fitted with a large Vokes air filter under the nose, which lowered the performance of the aircraft through increased drag. The Vb and Vc(trop) (fitted with large Vokes anti-sand air filters) would also equip units of the Desert Air Force during the North African campaign by August 1942.

Here, the Mk Vcs were also used as tactical fighter-bombers, being equipped with a maximum load of 500 lb of bombs. Mark Vbs equipped the 4th, 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups of the USAAF in the summer of 1942, and the latter two groups continued flying them until succeeded by Mk VIIIs in mid-1943. By this time, Spitfire Mk Vcs with stronger wings and extra ammunition began to carry four 20 mm cannon. Many Mk Vs also had the new, smaller and much more efficient "Aboukir" filter instead of the ram air effect nullifying Vokes filter. The new filter was named as such due to its creation in Aboukir, Egypt by RAF mechanics.

The Spitfire V and, later, much-improved, longer-range Spitfire VIIIs also soon became available in the North African theatre and, henceforth, featured heavily with the RAF, South African Air Force and USAAF during the campaigns in Sicily and Italy.

In the Mediterranean theatre and in Italy, the Mk VIII also fought with the United States Army Air Force. The 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups operated the fighter for some time until, in March 1944, their aircraft were replaced by the P-51B/C Mustang, a change which did not thrill most of the pilots according to many 31st FG members. [ citation needed ] However, the American fighter was adopted because of its long-range escort capability. Over 300 kills were claimed by the two fighter groups while flying Spitfires. [167]

Spitfire versus Italian fighters Edit

In the Mediterranean theatre, the Spitfire VC encountered the Macchi C.202 "Folgore", an aircraft which was a close match. It was widely considered superior to both the Hawker Hurricane and Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks it fought against, [ citation needed ] at first on the Libyan front from November 1941, and the equal of the Mk V. It was claimed that it was able to outturn all three, [ citation needed ] although the Spitfire had a superior rate of climb. In 1943 the C.202 was partly superseded by the Macchi C.205 "Veltro" which was an improved version of the "Folgore". The Veltro was much respected by Allied and Luftwaffe pilots alike. In action, the C.205s proved to be extremely effective. [168] One of the top-scoring British fighter pilots of the Second World War, Grp Capt W.G.G. Duncan Smith, DSO DFC, greatly respected the Macchi fighters, stating: "In encounters with Macchi 205s particularly we were up against aircraft that could turn and dog-fight with our Spitfires extremely well." [169]

Laddie Lucas recalled that the Reggiane Re.2001 could also be a difficult opponent for the Spitfire V, particularly when caught in a dogfight. Over Malta even able pilots could be outmanoeuvred by the nimble Italian fighter that was, on the other hand, slower and armed only with the "classical" couple of Breda-SAFAT 12.7 mm machine guns. [170]

Another Italian fighter, the Reggiane Re.2005, although built in limited numbers, was occasionally encountered by Spitfires over Sicily. W.G.G. Duncan Smith considered: "The Re 2005 'Sagittario' was a potent aircraft. Having had a dog-fight with one of them, I am convinced we would have been hard pressed to cope in our Spitfires operationally, if the Italians or Germans had had a few squadrons equipped with these aircraft at the beginning of the Sicily campaign or in operations from Malta." [171]

On 17 August 1944, after training at Canne airfield, 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) south of Termoli, an RAF Squadron with Yugoslavian pilots provided 53 Spitfire Vs to the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force. Only 33 would be used in front service with 20° Gruppo of 51° Stormo becoming the first Italian unit to receive the Spitfire, with its first offensive mission on 23 October, over Albania. From then on, Italian Spitfire missions included escorting transport aircraft, reconnaissance flights and ground attacks. By 31 December 1944 there were 17 Spitfires Vs on charge (a total of 40 Mk Vs were eventually acquired). Two Spitfire Vs of 20° Gruppo flew the Regia Aeronautica's last wartime mission on 5 May 1945, a visual reconnaissance of Zagabria. [172]

By 8 May, 13 Spitfires (eight of them operational) were at Canne airport with 356a and 360a Squadriglia of 20° Gruppo. Two more Spitfires were located at Frosinone airport, at Scuola Addestramento Bombardamento e Caccia. [173]

In early October 1942, Josef V. Stalin wrote to Sir Winston Churchill, requesting the urgent delivery of Spitfires. Churchill agreed to send a batch of 150 Supermarine fighters, along with spares, equivalent to an additional 50 aircraft. Deliveries of Spitfire VBs to USSR started in the spring of 1943. These were the first official Spitfire export. [174] Most of these Mk Vbs had already seen extensive service with the RAF. One of the first units to receive the Spitfire was the 36th Fighter Aviation Regiment, which was part of the Voyenno-Vozdushnyye Sily or VVS. Soviet pilots were very disappointed by the performance of the Spitfire V they preferred, and made better use of, the Bell P-39 Airacobra. [nb 10] [175]

According to Senior Lieutenant Anatoli Ivanov "We knew that at the time the English had a better fighter, the Spitfire IX, and the word was that it was good. The aircraft our Allies had presented to us, however, were of a much older version . and these Spitfires had taken some knocks before they were repaired and transferred to us . Its speed was not much greater than that of the I-16 . The Soviet fighters designed by Lavochkin and Yakovlev had significantly better performance". [176] [nb 11]

In the Soviet "open press" the trend of the times was that foreign-built items were never to be shown as better than home-built products. [176]

But usually Soviet pilots agreed that the Spitfire Mk VB was easy to fly and that it was a magnificent compromise between manoeuvrability and stability. In this respect, the British fighter was superior to the Yak-1, to say nothing of the LaGG-3 and MiG-3. Other fighters could, however, outdive the British fighter, so a dive in order to break away when under attack – a tactic that worked well with other types – could be fatal on the Spitfire, because it picked up speed slowly due to the low wing loading. [177] The armament was superior to that of any Soviet fighter and was only surpassed later by that of the Yak-9T. It is clear issues experienced were accepted as USSR did not object to receiving more Spitfires as 1200 Mk. IX were received.

However, the Spitfire did have serious defects for the rough conditions of Soviet operations. Because of the narrow track the undercarriage was ill-suited to Soviet grass airfields. The aircraft could start swaying dangerously while taxiing over uneven ground, and the wingtip could easily touch the ground. Moreover, the Spitfire had a centre of gravity positioned well forward and could easily stand on its nose while manoeuvering on soft or uneven ground the flight manual expressly forbade taxiing in such conditions without a man sitting astride the tail for balance. Moreover, the widely spaced wing guns proved unfamiliar to Soviet pilots, as on Soviet fighters the armament was usually grouped around the engine. Considering this and Soviet tactics those who flew in combat the Spitfire found that hitting the target at close range or during violent manoeuvres in a dogfight was not easy. [178]

Main operation issues was Soviet pilots and anti-aircraft gunners many times confused the Spitfire silhouette with the one of German Bf 109s, squared wing-tip configuration of Mk. IX Spitfire did not help. By 1943, the VVS was being re-equipped with Lavochkin La-5s and Yakovlev Yak-1s and Yak-9s which were extremely good low-to-medium-altitude fighters and, with their rugged construction and wide-track undercarriages, were well suited to operating from the frontline airfields. Spitfire IX became irreplaceable in a role of a high-altitude interceptor of air defence.

As far as can be ascertained the total numbers of Spitfire which were delivered are as follows:

  • Vb: = 143
  • PR IV: = 9 (number not confirmed)
  • LF IX: = 1183
  • HF XI: = 2
  • LF XVI: = 9 [179]

In September 1938 two French Air Force pilots were allowed to fly a Spitfire Mk.I after France expressed official interest in purchasing a manufacturing licence. Air Ministry was reluctant to give up any of it Spitfires, but it eventually agreed to supply three examples to the French Air Force. This was later reduced to one example, and the 251st production aircraft was completed as 01 for the French Air Force and was supplied with a spare Merlin Ill. It made its maiden flight on 25 May 1939, going to France on 18 July. It was the only Spitfire ever built directly for an export customer, all other deliveries being ex-RAF aircraft modified for foreign service.

When the German forces invaded France the French Spitfire was at Orleans and was to have been burnt to stop it falling into enemy hands. [179]

On 7 November 1941 No 340 Squadron was the first Spitfire unit to be formed in Free France Air Force. More squadrons were later formed.

The Free French and the Vichy French air force units in North Africa were merged in January 1943 and three former Vichy Squadrons re-equipped with Spitfires. In the end seven French Spitfire squadrons fought in western Europe and the Mediterranean.

There is evidence that the Luftwaffe used captured Spitfires to test and for operational training duties. Supermarine Spitfire in many versions were present in the Luftwaffe, making the largest fleet of captured aircraft in Germany. All Spitfires were recovered, if possible, after crash landing and dismantled for spare parts for the few flyable aircraft or sent to air depots (many almost intact). Its use in combat is not recorded. [179]

German ace Heinz Bäer said "Of course the quality of the Spitfire needs no elaboration. They shot me down once and caused me at least six forced landings". [180] Fellow ace Gunther Rall, who test flew captured versions of practically all of the top Allied fighters, stated that he preferred the Spitfire. This was a common sentiment among Luftwaffe fighter pilots, who regarded the Spitfire as their most dangerous foe. Some of these aircraft were used in the so-called Zirkus Rosarius – 2.Staffel Versuchsverband Oberkommando der Luftwaffe. Aircraft in this unit were used for combat training and for develop new dogfight techniques. Spitfires used in Zirkus Rosarius were reequipped with R/T FuG 7 or FuG 7a for better communication between instructor and pupil. At least one Spitfire MK V was re-engined with a DB-601 in the Fall of 1942.

Germans captured many Spitfires that were flyable after few repairs. In the following cases it is documented they were used by Luftwaffe:

  • Spitfire Mk IA, X4260, of No. 603 squadron was shot down on 16 May 1940 south of Calais, it was later tested by Fritz Wendel.
  • Spitfire PR IB, P9331. On 7 June 1940 was forced to land at Reims/Champagne aerodrome during an abortive mission to photograph the railway line at Maastricht-Liege. This was the first PR Spitfire captured.
  • Spitfire Mk IA, N3277, of No.234 Sqn force-landed near Cherbourg 15 August 1940. It was repaired, and tested at Rechlin, marked 5+2. Later it was tested by Luftwaffe Fighter units in France, being the latest JG.26 at Orleans-Bricy, in March 1943.
  • Spitfire Mk IA, P9317, of No.222 Sqn force-landed at Le Touquet airfield on 1 June 1940. It was flown as "G-X" in a propaganda film, based in Kolberg.
  • Spitfire PR IA, P9331, of No.212 Sqn, force-landed near Reims on 7 June 1940. It was repaired and flown to Rechlin, marked 2+ I.
  • Spitfire Mk IA, K9791, failed to return from a sortie over the Ruhr on 17 August 1940. The captured Spitfire was displayed with other Allied equipment at the Victory in the West exhibition in Vienna towards the end of 1940.
  • Spitfire Mk IA, X4260, of No. 603 Sqn force-landed near Calais on 6 September 1940. It was repaired and tested by 2/JG.54. later flown to Messerschmitt factory and marked 4+5.
  • Spitfire PR C, X4385, of No.l PRU force-landed at Deelen airfield, Netherlands on 22 September 1941. It was repaired and flown to Rechlin.
  • Spitfire Mk IA, marked 5+2, was used for comparison flying tests against Bf 109s and Fw 190s of 5/JG.2 in October 1942. Another Spitfire was used by 5/JG.2 in April 1943, marked 3+9.
  • Spitfire Mk Vb, EN830, of No.131 Sqn force-landed on Jersey Island on 18 November 1942. It was flown to Messerschmitt factory where 24-volt electrical system and DB605A engine were installed. It was marked CJ+ZY. The aircraft flew comparison trials with a Bf 109G in 1943. Later, a DB601A engine was installed.
  • Spitfire PR.X1, EN685, of No.542 Sqn force-landed on 13 May 1944 in Germany. It was repaired and joined 'Zirkus Rosarius, marked T9+EK.
  • Spitfire LF 1XC, MK698, of No.412 Sqn force-landed near Wachtendonk (Krefeld) on 5 December 1944. It joined Zirkus Rosarius.
  • Supermarine Spitfire PR XI MB945, T9+BB. Saw service with Versuchsverband Ob.d.L. [181]

In the Far East, the Spitfire found a worthy adversary in the A6M "Zero" long-range fighter that, like most Japanese fighters, excelled in manoeuvrability. Although not as fast as the Spitfire, the Zero could out-turn the Spitfire with ease, could sustain a climb at a very steep angle, and could stay in the air for three times as long. [183] To fight the Zero, Spitfire pilots had to adopt a "slash and run" policy and use their superior speed and diving superiority to fight, and avoid classic dogfights.

South West Pacific Edit

The Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Indian Air Force and the RAF also used Spitfires against Japanese forces in the Pacific theatre. The first Spitfires in the Far East were two photo-reconnaissance (PR IV) aircraft which operated from airfields in India from October 1942.

Japanese air raids on Northern Australia hastened the formation in late 1942 of No. 1 Wing RAAF, comprising No. 54 Squadron RAF, No. 452 Squadron RAAF and No. 457 Squadron RAAF, under the command of Wing Commander Clive Caldwell, flying the Spitfire Vc(trop). The wing arrived at Darwin in February 1943, and saw constant action until September. The Mk Vc versions received by the RAAF proved unreliable and, initially at least, had a relatively high loss rate. This was due to several factors, including pilot inexperience, engine over-speed due to the loss of oil from the propeller speed reduction unit (a problem resolved by the use of a heavier grade of oil), [184] and the practice of draining glycol coolant before shipment, resulting in internal corrosion of the Merlin engines. [ citation needed ]

Another factor in the initial high attrition rate was the relatively short endurance of the Spitfire: [185] most of the sorties were, as a matter of course, flown over the wide expanse of ocean between Australia, New Guinea and Timor. Even when fitted with drop tanks the Spitfires could not afford to fly too far from base without the danger of running out of fuel over water. As a result, when an incoming raid was detected, the Spitfires were forced to climb as fast as possible in an attempt to get into a favourable position. In the prevailing hot, humid climate this meant that the Merlin engines were often overheating even before combat was joined. The Spitfires were fitted with the Vokes tropical filters which reduced performance: in an attempt to increase performance the filters on several Spitfires were removed and replaced by the standard non-tropicalised air intake and lower engine cowlings which had been manufactured by the base workshops. The experiment proved to be a failure and the Spitfires were quickly refitted with the tropical filters.

Many of the Australian and British airmen who flew in 1 Wing were experienced combat veterans, some of whom who had flown P-40s with the Desert Air Force in North Africa, while others had flown Spitfires over Europe. They were used to being able to outmanoeuvre opposing fighters and were shocked to discover that the Zeros they were now flying against were able to outmanoeuvre the Spitfire. Several Spitfires were lost before the pilots learned not to attempt to get into a turning dogfight with the agile Japanese fighters. In spite of these problems the Spitfires were reasonably successful and at times were able to catch the Mitsubishi Ki-46 reconnaissance aircraft which had flown fast enough and high enough to evade interception. [186]

The first of 410 Spitfire Mk VIIIs started replacing the Mk Vcs from October 1943, although, in the event, they were to see very limited air-to-air combat. By mid-1943 the heavy losses imposed on the Japanese Navy in the Solomon Islands campaign and in New Guinea meant that the JNAF could not keep up its attacks on northern Australia. Other units equipped with the Spitfires in the South West Pacific Area included No. 79 Squadron RAAF, No. 85 Squadron RAAF, No. 548 Squadron RAF and No. 549 Squadron RAF. [187]

Politics also played a part the supreme commander of the South-West Pacific theatre Douglas MacArthur did not want Australians or any other non-Americans to share in his triumphant return to the Philippines. [ citation needed ] As a result of this, RAAF Spitfire Vs and VIIIs were increasingly used in the fighter-bomber role in mopping-up operations against the large pockets of Japanese forces still remaining in New Guinea, and some Australian based units did not get to see any combat at all. The Australian pilots regarded the situation as intolerable and saw this as a waste of effort and lives, especially as many of them were experienced and battle-hardened. By the end of the Pacific war No. 80 (Fighter) Wing was based on the Morotai Island in the Halmaheras Group assisting Australian ground troops in Borneo. [188] It was here that the so-called Morotai Mutiny took place.

India-Burma Edit

In the South East Asian theatre, the first Spitfire Vcs reached three squadrons on the India-Burma front in November 1943. Spitfire pilots met Japanese for the first time on Boxing Day, 1943. A pair of Spitfires piloted by Flying Officer Geoffrey William Andrews and Flight Sergeant Harry B. Chatfield attacked a formation of Japanese planes over Chittagong. Andrews destroyed a fighter and a bomber, damaging a second, while Chatfield shot down another two. On the last day of 1943, Royal Australian Air Force Spitfires destroyed eleven Japanese bombers and three fighters. Churchill complimented the Australian Squadron for their "brilliant exploit". [189]

These aircraft were replaced by the first Mk VIIIs, beginning in February 1944. In late February, they played a major part in thwarting the Japanese Ha-Go offensive, an attack intended to isolate and destroy British Indian divisions in the Arakan Province of Burma. The Allies intended that transport aircraft (particularly the C-47) would drop supplies to surrounded formations, but in the early stages of the Japanese attack, large numbers of Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF) fighter aircraft flying from the airfield on Akyab Island forced the first aerial resupply missions to turn back. Three squadrons of Spitfires operating from new airfields around Chittagong gained air superiority over the battlefield after days of battling with Ki-43 "Oscars" and Ki-44 "Tojos". Sixty-five Japanese aircraft were claimed shot down or damaged for the loss of three Spitfires. [190] The Allies were able to parachute supplies to the isolated forward units and the Japanese offensive was defeated with heavy losses.

Spitfires ensured that the Allies gained and held air superiority during the battles of Kohima and Imphal from early to mid 1944, in which the Japanese attempt to destroy the British Fourteenth Army and invade India was also defeated. By 1945, when the Allies launched offensives into Burma, the Japanese were unable to challenge the Allies' air supremacy. Spitfires took part in the last major pitched battle of the war involving the Western allies – No. 607 Squadron and No. 273 Squadron flying the MKVIII armed with 500 pound bombs helped destroy a Japanese breakout attempt at the Sittang Bend in July and early August 1945.

Following the Second World War, the Spitfire remained in use with many air forces around the world. The main foreign air force to use Spitfire was France's Armée de l'Air that ordered more than 500 Supermarine fighters, Mark V, VIII, IX, and XVI variants. Other main users were Dutch Air Force, which received 76 Mark IX Turkey, with 273 Greece, with 242. The Belgian Air Force received 134 Mark XIV plus 69 Mark IX and XVI. The Indian Air force received 159 Spitfires and the Aeronautica Italiana, 140 Mk IXs. The Southern Rhodesian Air Force received 22 Spitfire XXIIs from surplus RAF stocks in 1951. [191]

Europe Edit

Soon after the end of the Second World War, the Swedish Air Force equipped a photo-reconnaissance wing, F 11 in Nyköping (just south of Stockholm), with 50 Mk XIXs, designated S 31. Several S 31 photographic missions in the late 1940s entailed flagrant violations of Soviet and, at least once, Finnish airspace in order to document activities at the air and naval installations in the Baltic and Kola regions. At that time, no Soviet fighter was able to reach the operational altitude of the S 31. No Swedish aircraft were lost during those clandestine operations. However, by the early 1950s, Soviet air defences had become so effective that such practices had to cease. The S 31s were replaced by jet-powered SAAB S 29Cs in the mid-1950s. [192]

The Norwegian Air Force also used Spitfires for photo-reconnaissance in the late 1940s. [192] but it also received 71 Mark IXs as well. [193]

In the Greek Civil War, Spitfires played a major role, being flown by the RAF and SAAF during October–December 1944, and by the Hellenic Air Force that received 242 Supermarine aircraft from 1946 to the end of the war in August 1949. [193]

Of the 77 Mk IXs sold to Czechoslovakia in 1945, and flown there until 1951, a large number had been sold to Israel in 1948–49. [194]

Italy Edit

After the Second World War, eight flyable Italian Air Force Mk Vs were supplemented by 145 Mk IXs (obtained in two batches of 60 and 85 aircraft). The Spitfire went into service with 51° and 5° Stormo (wing) flying reconnaissance missions over the Balkans as well as acting in cooperation with the Italian Army and providing a defensive force. Well liked by pilots, the Spitfires were involved in several postwar air races and trophy competitions including the Zerbinati Trophy. Italian P-51s and Spitfires were entered in the handicap race with P-51s penalized by a minute for speed, and Spitfires penalised a similar amount in climb rate. The Spitfire Mk IX remained in service until 1950–1952 when 30 survivors were supplied to the Israeli Air Force (HHA). Eventually, these ex-Italian aircraft were sent to Burma in 1954–55. [172] Today, one ex-Italian Air Force Spitfire Mk IX, MM4084, is on display at Vigna di Valle, Rome.

Middle East Edit

Spitfires last saw air-to air combat during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, when, in a strange twist, Israeli Air Force (IAF) Spitfires flown by former RAF pilots such as Ezer Weizman engaged Egyptian Spitfires and Royal Air Force Spitfires, the only recorded "Spitfire vs Spitfire" combats. [195] A total of 59 Spitfire Mk IXs had been purchased by Israel in a controversial overseas transaction from Czechoslovakia, while 37 Mk IXs had been purchased by Egypt from retired RAF stocks. [196]

On 22 May 1948, over Israel, a unique incident took place in the Spitfire's operational history when three Spitfire users came into conflict. [197] On this date, five Egyptian Mk IXs attacked, by mistake, the RAF base at Ramat David, shared by 32 and 208 Squadrons. They destroyed a number of Mk XVIIIs on the ground, but the surviving Spitfires took off and shot down four of the Egyptian aircraft. One of the RAF pilots was Geoff Cooper who was, in turn, later in the year shot down by the American pilot Chalmers Goodlin, flying an Israeli Mk IX. [198] On 21 October, IAF Spitfires shot down one Egyptian Spitfire and damaged two others. During this combat Jack Doyle, a Canadian pilot on the IAF's 101 Squadron, claimed the first ever aerial victory by the IAF. [196]

In the last aerial combat of the war, on 7 January 1949, two IAF Spitfires attacked four RAF Mk XVIII Spitfires of 208 Squadron after an earlier flight of RAF Spitfires had allegedly infringed Israel's southern border. The IAF claimed three Mk XVIIIs destroyed, with another downed by ground fire. [198] Later in the day, a Hawker Tempest Mk V was also shot down and the pilot killed. Two RAF pilots had been killed, one badly injured and with another two taken as a POW by the Israelis. The injured RAF pilot was given good medical treatment, [199] but even so this combat caused an attitude of "stunned dismay" in the ranks of the RAF and was the cause of some tension between the Israeli forces and the RAF pilots until the war officially ended in July 1949. [200]

South Asia Edit

Spitfires were employed by the Indian Air Force in the 1947 Indo-Pakistan War [201] against invading tribals in Kashmir. They remained in service with India until 1957. [202]

Of the Spitfire Mk IXs that Israeli bought from Czechoslovakia in 1948–49, about 30 were purchased by the Union of Burma Air Force in 1954–55, where they joined 20 Seafire XVs, bought in 1952 direct from Vickers-Armstrong, and three Mk XVIIIs purchased from Air Command South-East Asia. They were used on counter-insurgency missions against separatist forces, to strafe Communist positions in the north of the country as civil war replaced the struggle between British and Japanese. The accident rate amongst local Spitfire pilots was exceptionally high. The aircraft remained in service until at least 1954. [194] [203]

Indochina war Edit

French Armée de l'Air and Aéronavale received in Indochina a squadron of Spitfire Mk. VIIIs when RAF left Tan Son Nhut in 1946. They were supplemented by 12 Spitfire LF.IXs sent from Europe in 1947. At the beginning of the Indochina War the French possessed approximately sixty Spitfires that performed poorly in the close-support role and its availability was generally low.

Malayan Emergency: last offensive Edit

RAF Spitfires based in the Far East saw action during the Malayan Emergency. When Malayan Communist Party (MCP) soldiers killed three British rubber-planters on 16 June 1948 at Sungai Siput, Perak, Great Britain declared a state of emergency. On 6 July, 81 Squadron Spitfire Mk XVIIIs attacked an MCP camp with rockets. The most intense attacks on enemy targets were made in late 1949 on 21 October, RAF Spitfires and Seafires from 800 RNAS flew 62 sorties. The 16 Spitfires from the two squadrons based in Singapore flew some 1,800 missions against Communist positions. On 1 January 1951 the last offensive sortie made by RAF Spitfires was flown by a flight of four 60 Squadron Mk XVIIIs, led by Grp Capt Wilfrid Duncan Smith, in a strike against a target near Kota Tinggi. [204]

Private Edit

One notable variant was the privately owned LV-NMZ (Argentine registration). This was a PR XI, PL-972, purchased by James Elwyn Storey and his brother Jack to undertake aerial photography for the Argentine government. Both served in the RAF during the Second World War. James flew his Spitfire from Bournemouth on the south coast of England to Gibraltar, on to Dakar in Senegal, from Dakar to Natal in Brazil, then Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and finally Buenos Aires. Using external wing tanks and a belly ferry tank, he established two records: one for the heaviest fuel load ever carried by a Spitfire and one for the longest flight for a Spitfire, the Dakar to Natal leg of approximately 1,870 miles.

There are currently some 50 Spitfires flying today, a number that waxes and wanes as one aircraft is restored to airworthy condition and another crashes or retires for further restoration. A growing number of companies, based in England, France, Australia, Canada and the United States, manufacture replica Spitfires with engines of 650 hp or Chevrolets V-8 engines, or Japanese V-6s. There are even full-scale machines available, powered by 1,200 hp Allison V-12 offering considerable performance. [205]

Some air forces retained Spitfires in service well into the 1960s. [ citation needed ]


Spitfire Mk. IX, XI and XVI

The Spitfire Mk IX was very much a stop-gap solution to an unforeseen new development in the capabilities of enemy fighters, namely the appearance of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. When the latter arrived at the Channel front in September 1941, this new aircraft was markedly superior to the then-predominant British fighter, the Spitfire Mk. Vb. The next planned Spitfire general-purpose fighter, the Mk. VIII, incorporated several refinements developed in the previously developed Mk. III prototype, and extensive re-tooling was necessary to get production underway. The main improvement of the Mk. VIII, however, laid in the introduction of the new two-stage two-speed-supercharged Merlin engines, and the most expedient solution to make these available to the RAF was to adapt the readily available Mk. V airframe to this engine.

Thus, the first 100 or so examples of the Mk IX were simply conversions of Mk Vc airframes, performed either at Rolls-Royce or at Supermarine.

As is so often seen, temporary solutions become permanent so great was the Mk. IX’s success that it ended up as the second-most produced Spitfire mark. Counting also the very similar Mk. XVI, the overall production of this type of the Spitfire actually surpasses that of the Mk. V.

One consequence of the rushed introduction of this version was that numerous refinements could be, and were made during its long production run. This made the Mk. IX also the most heterogeneous Spitfire version. I will here try to summarise the main variations of the Mk. IX airframe that I’m aware of.

Designations

According to the official Pilot’s Notes (3rd edition, 1946):

INTRODUCTION1.(i) The variants of the Spitfire IX,XI and XVI are distinguished by prefix letters denoting the general operating altitude or role and the suffix letter (e) is used where .5-inch guns replace .303-inch guns. The aircraft are all essentially similar, but the following table shows the main features that give the various versions their distinguishing letters:

F IX Merlin 61 63 or 63A two 20-mm. and four .303-in. guns
LF IX Merlin 66 two 20-mm. and four .303-in. guns.
LF IX (e) Merlin 66 two 20-mm. and two .5-in. guns.
HF IX Merlin 70 two 20-mm. and four .303-in. guns.
HF IX (e) Merlin 70 two 20-mm. and two .5-in. guns.
PR XI Merlin 61 63, 63A or 70.
F XVI Merlin 266 two 20-mm. and two .5-in. guns.

(ii) Merlin 61 and 63 engines have S.U.float-type carburettors, but on Merlin 66, 70 and 266 engines these are replaced by Bendix-Stromberg injection carburettors.

(iii) All these marks of aircraft are fitted with Rotol 4-bladed hydraulic propellers and on the majority of aircraft the wing tips are clipped.

(iv) Later Mk. IX and XVIs have “rear view” fuselages which incorporate “tear-drop” sliding hoods.

Semi-officially, however, other suffix letters have also been used to describe these aircraft. The use of the “c” suffix is fairly established today to distinguish aircraft with the universal wing and the standard armament of two belt-fed cannon and four .303-calibre guns – typically carried by series production Mk. IXs, although the intended “c” type was four cannon and no machine guns.

More rarely seen are the suffixes A and B. These have caused some confusion, as these letters in earlier Spitfire marks define eight-gun and two drum-fed cannon and four machine gun armament configurations, respectively. It would seem that the designations IXA / IXB were used ad-hoc by the RAF units during the early part of the Mk. IX’s operational career, to distinguish the low-altitude-optimized Merlin 66-equipped LF IX (called Mk. IX B) from the initial Merlin 61/63/63a-equipped F IX (called Mk. IX A). These designations are sometimes seen in pilot’s log books, squadron Operational Record Books, etc.

Engines

The following table shows the typical factory engine installations in some of the Mk. IX production serial blocks.

Serial number block Merlin variant Nose blister (see below)
AB, BR, BS, EN M61 Yes
JK, JL, LZ, MA M63 Yes
MH some M61, some M63, mostly LF IX with M66 from MH370 onwards Mostly no?
MJ, MK, PK, PL, PT, PV, RK, RR, SL, SM M66 No
ML, NH, TA, TB, TD, TE mostly M66, some HF IX with M70 No

Nose (engine cowling panels)

Early Spitfires Mk. IX had a teardrop-shaped blister low on the starboard engine panel, just behind the spinner, similar to the blister on the Spitfire Mk. II associated with the extra bulk of Coffman cartridge starter gear, which connected to the propeller reduction gearbox. The two-stage Merlin versions of the Spitfire, Mks. VII, VIII, IX and XVI all had the vastly superior electric starting. The blister in this case reflects the provision on some of these engines for a cabin blower driveshaft. This was only put to use in the pressurised Mk VII, but the Merlin engines 61, 64 and perhaps 63A were provided with cabin blower drive, and therefore required this blister, while Merlin 63 and 66/266/70 didn’t.

Teardrop-shaped blister at the starboard side of the cowling can be seen on this F Mk. IX, BS451, FY-V of No. 611 Squadron in Biggin Hill
[Crown Copyright]

Later examples of the Mk. IX, probably because they were equipped with Merlin 63/66/70 engines from the start, lack this small bulge. Later on, early production machines overhauled and re-engined to Merlins without the driveshaft could, of course, very well retain the cowling panel and thus the blister.

It would seem that the blister disappeared in production some time during the late 1942 or possibly early 1943, so that most machines in the BR/BS/EN serial blocks had them while later machines wouldn’t. Exceptions are to be expected, for instance because the cowling panels were interchangeable (albeit often ill-fitting when swapped between aircraft). I have seen a picture of a Mk. IXe carrying the cowling blister, but this definitely is a rather rare occurrence.

Early Mk. IX Cowlings

On a very few and very early Mk. IXs, the upper cowlings were adorned by a pair of rather ungainly bulges, not unlike those of Messerschmitt Bf109G-6. These were positioned on both sides of the cowling above and behind the exhausts.

The starboard bulge incorporated a cooling scoop for the Heywood compressor, different from the scoops seen on the “standard” later cowlings.

Judging by their occurrence, it would seem that these cowlings were part of the Mk.Vc-to-IX conversions performed at Rolls-Royce in 1942. It looks like the original short Mk.V cowls were stretched by adding about nine inches to their rear, leaving a noticeable joint line.

A fragment of a rather well-known photo showing Spitfires Mk. IX of No. 611 Squadron over London. Careful scrutiny reveals that the FY-R in the background has the earliest type of cowling with add-on bulges and is therefore one of the early converted Mk. Vs produced before production jigs for the longer Mk. IX cowling became available.
[Maxwell AFB archive]

These blisters were introduced to provide space for the enlarged supercharger unit of the two-stage Merlin. The enlarged blower took a lot of space behind the engine, the intercooler casing protruding above the line defined by the top contour of the engine. When Mk. V cowlings were used as basis for the new nose, more room was needed in the rear to accommodate the new item and so the makeshift bulges were “invented” as a temporary measure.

This photo of a late Merlin 66-powered aircraft illustrates the problem of fitting the intercooler casing which necessitated enlarged cowlings compared with earlier Spitfire versions.
[Martin Waligorski]

Later production Mk. IX cowling was designed with a slight “hump” along the entire upper cowling contour which provided an elegant solution to this problem.

Another peculiarity of the “bulged” cowlings were the rather different panel division lines. Again, this feature originated in Mk. V cowlings being simply extended at the rear to make room for a longer engine.

One of the earliest Rolls-Royce(Hucknall) Mk.Vc-to-IX conversion with cowlings removed.
[Olav Hungnes coll.]

From the above photo of a Rolls-Royce (Hucknall) Mk.Vc to Mk. IX conversion, the additional cowling support frame is evident (1). Also visible is the intercooler unit (2) introduced with the two-speed two-stage supercharged Merlin 61 engine. Recognizable is also the associated bulkhead-mounted glycol header tank (3).

The new continuous lower cowling panel (4) replaced the exposed oil tank of the Mk.V. Finally, note the kinked panel line resulting from the adaptation of the original Mk.V cowling to the longer Mk.IX nose (5).

The earliest Spitfires Mk. IX emerging from the Supermarine Eastleigh production line during the same period as Rolls-Royce produced their conversions also seem to have had an interim cowling configuration. There were no extra blisters, but the various small bumps of the Mk.V cowl seemed to have been retained instead. I’d be grateful if anybody could provide more information on the cowling configuration of these early Mk.IXs.

Production Mk. IX/XVI Cowlings

The upper contour of the cowling of Mk VII/VIII and early Mk IXs was a fairly straight continuation of the line of the upper fuel tank panel in front of the windscreen, falling smoothly toward the nose. Looking closely, one will observe a very slight rise from the fuel tank towards the position of the intercooler (just aft of the exhaust stacks).

On later production examples, and particularly on all Mk. XVIs, this swelling in the upper engine panel contour had been significantly exaggerated, to the degree which made it visually obvious (the upper cowling shape was not only changed not only in profile, but also got more volume in the space housing the cylinder heads, just above the exhausts – Ed.).

Late production Mk. IX and XVI cowlings had been enlarged in their upper part resulting in the distinctive bulbous appearance, evident from this angle.
[Martin Waligorski]

I have not been able to find any “official” explanations for this change, but there must have been some good reasons as forward view from the cockpit was limited enough as it was. The modified contour is typically seen on Spitfires Mk. XVI and many Mk. IXe. One hypothesis is that the enlarged upper cowling was introduced in the Mk. XVI design to make room for the modified intercooler of the Packard-built Merlin 266, which in this version of the engine had an integral header tank. The British production Merlin 61, 63, 66, and 70 had a flat-topped intercooler and a separate, firewall-mounted header tank. Of course, once a modified cowling was designed, there was good reason for using it also in the Mk. IX production. In fact, the Mk. XVI was built in parallel with the late Mk. IXs on the same Castle Bromwich assembly line.

The difference in header tank configuration between the Mk. IXe and Mk. XVI is also reflected in different positioning of the filler cap access panel. As far as I’m aware, this might be the only external difference between the two marks. Most kits and drawings show this hatch in the forward position, perhaps due to the fact that many currently flying examples use Merlins with the integral tank.

Test pilots evaluating late Mk. IXs and the Mk. XVI suspected the “balloon-shaped” cowling to be detrimental to aerodynamical stability.

From top to bottom: (1) short Spitfire Mk. V cowling which was the starting point for the Mk. IX. (2) Initial Mk. IX cowling produced by Rolls-Royce through straightforward extension of the Mk. V nose. (3) Early production Mk. IX cowling. (4) Enlarged late production Mk. XVI and Mk. IX cowling.


29 December 1944

Flight Lieutenant Richard Joseph Audet, Royal Canadian Air Force, with his Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.IX, MK950, assigned to No. 411 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force.

29 December 1944: Flying Officer Richard Joseph Audet, Royal Canadian Air Force, was a section leader of No. 411 Squadron, an RCAF squadron under the control of the Second Tactical Air Force, Royal Air Force. The squadron was based at an advanced airfield in The Netherlands.

In the early afternoon, Audet’s Yellow Section engaged a flight of twelve Luftwaffe fighters, four Messerchmitt Bf 109s and eight Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, near Rheine, in northwestern Germany.

Flying a Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.IX .5, RR201, Flying Officer Audet led his section into the attack. He later reported:

I was leading Yellow section of 411 Squadron in the Rheine/Osnabruck area when Control reported Huns at Rheine and the squadron turned in that direction. An Me 262 was sighted and just at that time I spotted 12 e/a on our starboard side at 2 o’clock. These turned out to be a mixture of approximately 4 Me 109’s and 8 FW 190’s.

1) I attacked an Me 109 which was the last a/c in the formation of about twelve all flying line astern. At approximately 200 yds and 30° to starboard at 10,000 feet I opened fire and saw strikes all over the fuselage and wing roots. The 109 burst into flames on the starboard side of the fuselage only, and trailed intense black smoke. I then broke off my attack.

2) After the first attack I went around in a defensive circle at about 8500 feet until I spotted an FW 190 which I immediately attacked from 250 yards down to 100 yards and from 30° to line astern. I saw strikes over cockpit and to the rear of the fuselage. It burst into flames from the engine back, and as I passed very close over top of it I saw the pilot slumped over in his cockpit, which was also in flames.

3) My third attack followed immediately on the 2nd. I followed what I believed was an Me 109 in a slight dive. He then climbed sharply and his coupe top flew off at about 3 to 4,000 feet. I then gave a very short burst from about 300 yards and line astern and his aircraft whipped downwards in a dive. The pilot attempted or did bale out. I saw a black object on the edge of the cockpit but his ‘chute ripped to shreds. I then took cine shots of his a/c going to the ground and bits of parachute floating around. I saw this aircraft hit and smash into many flaming pieces on the ground. I do not remember any strikes on this aircraft. The Browning button only may have been pressed.

4) I spotted a FW 190 being pursued at about 5,000′ by a Spitfire which was in turn pursued by an FW 190. I called this Yellow section pilot to break and attacked the 190 up his rear. The fight went downwards in a steep dive. When I was about 250 yards and line astern of this 190 I opened fire. There were many strikes on the length of the fuselage and it immediately burst into flames. I saw this FW 190 go straight into the ground and burn.

5) Several minutes later while attempting to form my section up again I spotted an FW 190 from 4000 feet. He was at about 2000 feet. I dived down on him and he turned in to me from the right. Then he flipped around in a left hand turn and attempted a head-on attack. I slowed down to wait for the 190 to flypast in range. At about 200 yds and 20° I gave a very short burst, but couldn’t see any strikes. This a/c flicked violently, and continued to do so until he crashed into the ground. The remainder of my section saw this encounter and Yellow 4 (F/O McCracken) saw it crash in flames.

—Post Mission Report of Flying Officer R. J. Audet, 29 December 1944

This air battle had been Flying Officer Audet’s first engagement with enemy aircraft. It was over within a matter of minutes. For his actions of 29 December 1944, Richard Audet was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Air Ministry, 16th February, 1945.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations:—

Distinguished Flying Cross.

Flying Officer Richard Joseph Audet (Can/J.20136), R.C.A.F., 411 (R.C.A.F.) Sqn.

This officer has proved himself to be a highly skilled and courageous fighter. In December, 1944, the squadron was involved in an engagement against 12 enemy fighters in the Rheine/Osnabrück area. In a most spirited action, Flying Officer Audet achieved outstanding success by destroying 5 enemy aircraft. This feat is a splendid tribute to his brilliant shooting, great gallantry and tenacity.

Flight Lieutenant Richard Joseph Audet in the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire. (RCAF)

Richard Joseph Audet was born 13 March 1922 at Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. He was the sixth child of Paul Audet, a rancher, and Ediwisca Marcoux Audet. “Dickie” Audet rode a horse to school at the age of ten years, traveling about 18 miles (29 kilometers) every morning.

Audet studied at Garbutt Business College in Lethbridge, and worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper at RCAF Air Station High River.

Dick Audet enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force at Calgary, Alberta, 28 August 1941. He was trained as a fighter pilot and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer, 24 October 1942. His pilot’s wings were presented to him by The Right Honourable William Lyon MacKenzie King, tenth Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada.

R.C.A.F. Form R. 100, enlistment document of Richard Joseph Audet. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

Pilot Officer Audet was sent to England, crossing the North Atlantic aboard ship and arriving 6 December 1942. He was assigned to the No. 6 Elementary Flying School at RAF Little Rissington, Gloucestershire, and then No. 17 Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Calvely, Nantwich, Cheshire. He was promoted to Flying Officer 23 April 1943, and transferred to No. 53 Operational Training Unit at RAF Heston, west of London, where he transitioned to the Supermarine Spitfire fighter.

Flying Officer Richard J. Audet married Miss Iris Christina Gibbons of Pinner, a village in the London Borough of Harrow, at Northhampton, Northamptonshire, England, 9 July 1944.

Audet joined No. 411 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, 14 September 1944. He was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, 23 October 1944.

During January 1945, Flight Lieutenant Audet was credited with destroying another 6.5 enemy aircraft: 4.5 Focke-Wulf FW-190s (one shared) and two Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters (one on the ground), and a third Me 262, damaged.

Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar

On 3 March 1945, Flight Lieutenant Audet was strafing railway trains near Coesfeld, Coesfelder Landkreis, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, when his Spitfire LF Mk.IXE, MK950, was shot down. The Spitfire was seen to crash in flames and explode. Audet was listed as missing in action, and was presumed to have been killed. His remains were not recovered.

On 9 March 1945, Flight Lieutenant Richard Joseph Audet was posthumously awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross (a second award).

There is no grave for Dick Audet. His name appears with those of 20,287 others on the Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, England, and among the nearly 400 on the Lethbridge Cenotaph at Lethbridge, Alberta. Audet Lake, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, and Rue Richard Joseph Audet in Saugenay, Quebec, were named in his honor.

A Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.IX .5 of No. 412 Squadron, RCAF, taxiing at an advanced landing field, Volkel, Holland, 27 October 1944. This is the same type Spitfire as flown by Dick Audet. Note the position of the .50-caliber machine guns, just inboard of the 20 mm cannon. Photograph by Flight Lieutenant T. Lea, RAF. © IWM (CL 1451)

The aircraft flown by Dick Audet on 29 December 1944, was a Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.IX .5 (redesignated LF Mk.IXe in 1945), Royal Air Force serial number RR201. The identification letters on the fuselage were DB-G. It was built at built at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory, at Warwickshire, West Midlands, in late summer or early fall 1944.

The Supermarine Spitfire was a single-place, single-engine low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction with retractable landing gear. The fighter had been designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell CBE. The prototype first flew 5 March 1936.

The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe was optimized for low-altitude operations. The Spitfire F Mk.Vb was 29 feet, 11 inches (9.119 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 10 inches (11.227 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 5 inches (3.480 meters). The exact dimensions of the LF Mk.IXe are not known but are presumably similar. Some Mk.IXe fighters had “clipped” wings, while others did not.

The LF Mk.IXe had an empty weight of 5,749 pounds (2,608 kilograms) and gross weight of 7,450 pounds (3,379 kilograms).

The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe was powered a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.959-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022 liters) Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.00:1. It was equipped with a two-speed, two-stage supercharger. The Merlin 66 was rated at 1,315 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. and 12 pounds per square inch boost (0.83 Bar), for Take Off 1,705 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 5,750 feet (1,753 meters) and 1,580 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters), with 18 pounds boost (1.24 Bar). These power ratings were obtained with 130-octane aviation gasoline. When 150-octane gasoline became available, the Merlin 66 was cleared to use 25 pounds of boost (1.72 Bar). The Merlin 66 had a propeller gear reduction ratio of 0.477:1 and drove a four-bladed Rotol Hydulignum (compressed laminated wood) propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 9 inches (3.277 meters). The engine weighed 1,645 pounds (746 kilograms).

The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe had cruise speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) a maximum speed of 384 miles per hour (618 kilometers per hour) at 10,500 feet (3,200 meters), and 404 miles per hour (650 kilometers per hour) at 21,000 feet (6,401 meters). Diving speed was restricted to 450 miles per hour (724 kilometers per hour) below 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). The airplane’s service ceiling was 42,500 feet (12,954 meters).

The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe was armed with two 20-milimeter Hispano Mk.II autocannon, with 135 rounds of ammunition per gun, and two Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with 260 rounds per gun. The .50-caliber machine guns were mounted in the wings, just inboard of the 20 mm cannon.

This photograph of a Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.IXe shows the position of the .50-caliber machine guns, inboard of the 20 mm cannon.


Free French Spitfires

Desperately in need of modern fighters, France took a keen interest in the Spitfire as early as 1939. A single Spitfire Mk I was delivered and tested by the French air force in July 1939. After the war, France also operated the Spitfire during several years, notably using it in combat during the Indochinese war, while the French navy operated the naval version of the Supermarine fighter, the Seafire.

Between these two periods, French pilots flew and distinguished themselves at the controls of the legendary fighter, as part of the Free French Air Forces. Here are a few of these men and aircraft…

Maurice Choron

Spitfire Mk I, No 64 Squadron, flown by S/C Maurice Choron, autumn of 1940

Maurice Choron was one of the first French pilots to arrive in England and joined the RAF in August 1940. After a short training period with an OTU , he was assigned to No 64 Squadron nd became the first French pilot to take part in the Battle of Britain. On November 1st, he shot down a Heinkel He 115. Maurice Choron disappeared on April 10, 1942 over Northern France, during the first mission flown by No 341 (Free French) Squadron “Ile de France”. He was credited with three confirmed and three probable victories.

Jean Demozay

Spitfire Mk Vb, No 91 “Nigeria” Squadron, flown by Cpt Jean Demozay, September 1941

Jean Demozay also took part in the Battle of Britain, flying with No 1 Squadron on Hurricanes. He earned his first victory one week after Choron, downing a Ju 88 on November 8, 1940. His tally increased steadily, and his skill as a fighter pilot was truly revealed when he transitioned to the Spitfire Mk Vb after his transfer to No 91 Squadron, of which he eventually became the commanding officer. He is credited with 18 victories, 2 probable victories and 4 damaged, and flew 400 combat missions. He regretfully stopped flying combat missions in January 1943. He was killed in a flying accident in December 1945.

Bernard Dupérier

Spitfire Mk Vb, No 340 Squadron “Ile-de-France”, flown by Cpt Bernard Dupérier, August 1942

When No 340 Squadron was formed, Bernard Dupérier took command of B Flight (“Versailles”) and later took command of the entire squadron when Philippe de Scitivaux was killed in action on April 10, 1942. Initially equiped with Spitfires Mk I and II, the squadron received the more powerful Spitfire Mk V, which was introduced as a stop-gap measure to counter the threat of the new Fw 190, pending the arrival of the improved Spitfire Mk IX. During Operation Jubilee (the August 19, 1942 raid on Dieppe), the squadron’s aircraft received distinctive white strips. On that day, Dupérier flew four support missions, shared a kill on a German bomber and damaged another one.

61 Operational Training Unit

Spitfire Mk II, 61 OTU, RAF Rednal, November 1942

This is where it started for all French pilots who gained fame at the commands of the Spitfire: the aircraft of OTUs, most of which were war-weary hand-me-downs from frontline squadrons. This Mk II was the first Spitfire flown by Pierre Clostermann, in November 1942. The Mk II was totally outclassed by contemporary German fighters and no longer used by frontline units, but could still prove useful as a trainer. Clostermann wrote about this first flight in his memoirs The Big Show:

“How deliciously soft was the aircraft’s response! The slightest shift of the foot or hand was enough to throw the aircraft around the sky. The speed is such that the few seconds that have gone by have taken me several miles from the airfield. The black runway is no longer but a charcoal streak on the horizon. Timidly! I attempt to turn, fly over the airfield again and come back right and left. Pulling slightly on the stick, I climb to 9,000 ft in the blink of an eye. […] All my life I will remember my first encounter with the Spitfire.

Softly, as one would caress a woman’s cheek, I pass my hand on the cold, smooth aluminum of the wings that carried me… At last, I have flown a Spitfire…”

Pierre Clostermann

Spitfire Mk IXc, No 602 Squadron, flown by P/O Pierre Clostermann

The Mk IX is the last of the Merlin-engined Spitfires, and is often considered as the most beautiful and best of all Spitfire versions. This Mk Ixc was flown by Pierre Clostermann. After a stay with No 341 “Alsace” Squadron, Clostermann was assigned to No 602 “City of Glasgow” Squadron. Bearing the red lion emblem and the French croix de Lorraine, this Spitfire ended its career flying with the Italian air force in 1947. Clostermann probably never achieved any victories in this aircraft, but was credited with 4 confirmed victories on other 602 aircraft before converting to the Hawker Tempest. He ended the war with 33 victories.

René Mouchotte

UK, Spitfire Mk IXc, MH417, Cdt René Mouchotte, No 341 (Free French) Squadron, 1943.jpg

No 341 Squadron, composed of Free French pilots, flew from Biggin Hill under the command of S/L René Mouchotte. It was flying as Mouchotte’s wingman that Clostermann flew some of his first combat sorties. On 27 August 1943, Mouchotte was killed while escorting bombers over Northern France. The circumstances of his death are unknown, but he was last heard crying “I am alone!”. His body was washed ashore in Belgium a few days later. It is unclear whether Spitfire MH417 was flown by Mouchotte on that day or by S/C Pierre Magret, who was the group’s only other casualty on that day.


Källor

Noter

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Tryckta källor

  • Widfeldt, Bo Hall, Åke (2005). Svenskt militärflyg – Svenska militära flygplan och helikoptrar 1911–2005 . Nässjö: Air Historic Research AB. sid.𧅾. Libris9962242. ISBN 91-975467-1-2  
  • Andersson, Lennart Hellström, Leif (2002). Bortom horisonten – svensk flygspaning mot Sovjetunionen 1946–1952 . Stockholm: Stenbom. ISBN 91-7243-015-X