Supermarine Spitfire

Supermarine Spitfire


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Supermarine Spitfire

Probably one of the most famous fighter planes of all time, the spitfire became by the latter stages of World War 2 a superb fighter aircraft. The original design concept was by Reginald Mitchell, who was succeeded by Joe Smith on his death in 1937. It was Joe Smith who masterminded the aircraft's future development and its growth in power, speed and the number of roles it undertook. The prototype flew out of Southampton in 1936 with the early MKIs reaching 19 sqn in June 1938. Throughout the war other variants and upgrades steadily followed, including a PR.IV photo-recon version and the lethal MK IX with a two stage supercharger and intercooler brought in hurriedly as a response to the FW 190 Focke Wulf. The MK IX was produced until 1944 with 5,665 being made. By the end of the war the Mk XVIII was in service with the XIX being the photo-recon version. In total over 20,000 spitfires were produced with the best versions having a top speed of 721km/h(448mph) and being armed with x2 20mm cannon and x4 7.7mm machine guns. Contrary to popular belief the Spitfire was not the main aircraft in the battle of Britain - that honour goes to the Hurricane, but it did serve in every theatre of war including the naval version, the Seafire.

Prototypes - Mk I - Mk II - Mk III - Mk V - Mk VI - Mk VII - Mk VIII - Mk IX - Mk XII - Mk XIV - Mk XVI - Mk XVIII - Mk 21 to 24 - Photo Reconnaissance Spitfires - Spitfire Wings - Timeline


Supermarine Spitfire

The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft used by the Royal Air Force and other Allied countries before, during and after World War II. Many variants of the Spitfire were built, using several wing configurations, and it was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft. It was also the only British fighter produced continuously throughout the war. The Spitfire continues to be popular among enthusiasts about 54 remain airworthy, and many more are static exhibits in aviation museums throughout the world.

The Spitfire was designed as a short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft by R. J. Mitchell, chief designer at Supermarine Aviation Works, which operated as a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong from 1928. Mitchell pushed the Spitfire’s distinctive elliptical wing designed by Beverley Shenstone [ citation needed ] to have the thinnest possible cross-section, helping give the aircraft a higher top speed than several contemporary fighters, including the Hawker Hurricane. Mitchell continued to refine the design until his death in 1937, whereupon his colleague Joseph Smith took over as chief designer, overseeing the Spitfire’s development through its multitude of variants.

During the Battle of Britain, from July to October 1940, the public perceived the Spitfire to be the main RAF fighter, though the more numerous Hurricane shouldered a greater proportion of the burden against Nazi Germany‘s air force, the Luftwaffe. However, Spitfire units had a lower attrition rate and a higher victory-to-loss ratio than those flying Hurricanes because of the Spitfire’s higher performance. During the Battle, Spitfires were generally tasked with engaging Luftwaffe fighters—mainly Messerschmitt Bf 109E series aircraft—which were a close match for them.

After the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire superseded the Hurricane to become the backbone of RAF Fighter Command, and saw action in the European, Mediterranean, Pacific, and South-East Asian theatres. Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire served in several roles, including interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter-bomber and trainer, and it continued to serve in these roles until the 1950s. The Seafire was a carrier-based adaptation of the Spitfire which served in the Fleet Air Arm from 1942 through to the mid-1950s. Although the original airframe was designed to be powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine producing 1,030 hp(768 kW), it was strong enough and adaptable enough to use increasingly powerful Merlins and, in later marks, Rolls-Royce Griffon engines producing up to 2,340 hp (1,745 kW). As a result, the Spitfire’s performance and capabilities improved over the course of its service life.


Supermarine Spitfire: This Iconic Plane Beat Back Hitler in the Battle of Britain

The Spitfire earned its rightful place in military aviation history.

Here's What You Need to Know: One of the legendary warplane of World War II, the Supermarine Spitfire tipped the balance in favor of the RAF during the Battle of Britain.

In the annals of World War II, one of the most famous airplanes is the British-developed Supermarine Spitfire, an agile, elliptical-wing fighter that has become synonymous with the Royal Air Force victory in the Battle of Britain. Thanks in large measure to news reports coming out of that battle, the Spitfire captured the imagination of a generation of English and American schoolboys, some of whom would themselves be flying Spitfires by the war’s end half a decade later.

Until the introduction of the North American P-51 Mustang, the Spitfire was considered to be the most maneuverable of the Allied fighters, and it was favored by nearly everyone who flew it.

R.J. Mitchell’s Flying Machine

The Spitfire was a product of the Supermarine Company, a British firm that started out building flying boats before World War I. In 1916, the firm was joined by a young engineer named R.J. Mitchell, who would eventually design the Spitfire. After World War I, Supermarine was heavily involved in designing and building flying boats for competition. Mitchell, however, envisioned smaller, sleeker designs that would be capable of much higher speeds than were possible with the ungainly flying boats.

After the 1923 Schneider Trophy Race, Mitchell decided to design a high-performance seaplane for the 1925 event. Unfortunately, the first Mitchell design crashed during the race, which was won by Lieutenant James H. Doolittle of the U.S. Army. Ironically, 17 years later Doolittle would have command of several Spitfire squadrons operating in North Africa. Supermarine’s S.5 finally took the Schneider Trophy in 1927, establishing the company’s reputation as a builder of fast airplanes and Mitchell’s as their designer. The following year the company was purchased by Vickers. When the worldwide depression of the 1930s led England to decide not to promote an entrant for the 1931 race, Lady Houston, a wealthy Englishwoman and patriot, funded the entry. Thanks to her generous gift, Britain captured the Schneider Cup and took it home for good.

Until that time, Supermarine’s efforts had been aimed at seaplanes, but Mitchell convinced the company to design and build an entry for an Air Ministry specification for a day-night fighter. Although Supermarine had been purchased by Vickers, the original company was given the latitude to design airplanes under its own name. Supermarine named its new fighter “Spitfire,” but the gull-wing airplane was not a success.

One of the main reasons for the first Spitfire’s failure was the long landing distances required by the high-speed design the Air Ministry had specified that the new fighter would have to operate from short fields. Meanwhile, Rolls- Royce had developed a new engine it called the Merlin, and Mitchell decided to adopt it for a military fighter for the RAF. In 1934, the Air Ministry put out a specification for an eight-gun fighter, and Mitchell took up the challenge the company adopted “Spitfire” as the name of its design.

To arm the new fighters, the Air Ministry worked out an arrangement with the American Browning Arms Company to build its .30-caliber machine gun in the UK under license and to convert it to the British standard .303 cartridge. The prototype Spitfire took to the air on March 5, 1936.

Spitfires Fight the Phony War

In the mid-1930s Britain had begun rearming, prompted at least in part by the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany. When the Air Ministry put out a requirement for an eight-gun production fighter, Mitchell undertook to redesign the Spitfire to meet the new specifications. After he learned that he was terminally ill, Mitchell devoted himself to the project, working night and day and perhaps speeding up his own demise. Unfortunately, the designer succumbed to cancer before the first production airplane had been completed. But the new fighter he had designed would live on to earn Mitchell his place in military aviation history.

The first Spitfires entered operational service in mid-1938 RAF 19 Squadron at Duxford was the first to receive the new fighter, with the first airplanes delivered on August 4. The second Spitfire squadron was also at Duxford RAF 66 Squadron began replacing its Gloucester Gauntlets with Spitfires on October 13. Other squadrons began receiving the new fighter the following year. By August 1938 the RAF had 400 operational Spitfires, with orders for 2,100 more. Barely a year later, England would be at war, and the Spitfire would be one of the country’s most important weapons.

Tragically, the first aircraft shot down by Spitfires were friendly Hawker Hurricanes. Shortly after Britain declared war on Germany during the first week of September 1939, a false alarm led to the scrambling of RAF fighters against a nonexistent enemy. Two Spitfires from 74 Squadron came up behind a pair of Hurricanes from 56 Squadron and shot both airplanes down both pilots were killed by the friendly fire. A court-martial resulted in an acquittal on the basis that the real fault lay with the fighter controllers who had directed the action. Another Spitfire was lost the same day when the pilot allowed his airplane to stall at low altitude it spun into the trees before he could recover.

On October 16 a Spitfire pilot was credited with the first official kill of the war for RAF Fighter Command. German reconnaissance aircraft operating over the Firth of Forth led to the scrambling of Spitfires from Scottish bases. A three-plane section from 603 Squadron intercepted a twin-engine aircraft and shot it down. But such engagements were rare during the period known as “The Phoney War,” when contact with the enemy was rare. The RAF Auxiliary squadrons took advantage of the temporary lull in the conflict to bring their pilots up to operational readiness in their Hurricanes and Spitfires.

Spits over France

When the Germans invaded France and the Low Countries on May 10, 1940, the Spitfire squadrons were held in reserve while six squadrons of Hurricanes were sent into action over France with the British Expeditionary Force. The decision was logical, in that the difficulties of forward operations could be better endured with only one type of fighter. The Hurricane was better suited for operations from primitive airfields owing to its wide landing gear track—and there were a lot more of them.

As the situation on the Continent worsened, the Spitfire pilots of 19 Squadron were told that they would be deploying to France. Before they could make the move, Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided to suspend further reinforcement of the fighters in spite of French pleas for additional fighter support. His decision to hold the remainder of the RAF in reserve is credited with saving the fighter force and, ultimately, keeping England in the war. As it was, few of the Hurricanes that went to France returned to English soil.

Contrary to the belief among BEF troops who awaited evacuation from Dunkirk that Fighter Command had turned its back on them, RAF fighters—including Spitfires—were heavily engaged against the Luftwaffe during the evacuation. It was just that most of the action took place far away from the beach and out of sight of the frightened British soldiers awaiting evacuation—or capture.

Previously, action by Spitfires had mostly been against German intruders over England. The first dogfight took place on May 23, when Spitfires from 74 Squadron encountered German fighters over France. The squadron commander had to make a forced landing at Calais. A rescue effort was mounted with a Miles Master escorted by two Spitfires flown by Flight Lieutenant Deere and Pilot Officer Allen. A flight of Me-109s appeared over the field just as the Master took off. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Leathart, returned and landed. Deere, who would become one of the RAF’s most famous pilots, shot down one of the Messerschmitts almost immediately. The Spitfires kept the Me-109s away from the field, and the Master took off and returned to England.

The action over Calais was the first engagement between Spitfires and Me-109s, but air action escalated when the BEF was pushed into an enclave at Dunkirk. Even though the troops on the ground were not aware of it, a great air battle was taking place over France as the British Royal Navy attempted to evacuate the BEF from France. The RAF lost 229 aircraft during the evacuation, of which 70 to 80 were Spitfires.

The Spitfire’s Rise to Fame: The Battle of Britain

The summer of 1940 saw what came to be known as the Battle of Britain, and it was during this time that the Spitfire became famous and RAF fighter pilots became heroes. Adolf Hitler was determined to force the British government to capitulate, and Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, chief of the Luftwaffe, convinced him that his airmen could accomplish the task. Hitler’s plans were not to invade and occupy England, but to force the British into an alliance with him against the Soviet Union, a country rich with natural resources, which was his real objective. The Luftwaffe built up a massive force of bombers and fighters in the Low Countries and in the north of France in preparation for the campaign, which commenced in early August.


Supermarine Spitfire - History

By Sam McGowan

In the annals of World War II, one of the most famous airplanes is the British-developed Supermarine Spitfire, an agile, elliptical-wing fighter that has become synonymous with the Royal Air Force victory in the Battle of Britain. Thanks in large measure to news reports coming out of that battle, the Spitfire captured the imagination of a generation of English and American schoolboys, some of whom would themselves be flying Spitfires by the war’s end half a decade later.
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Until the introduction of the North American P-51 Mustang, the Spitfire was considered to be the most maneuverable of the Allied fighters, and it was favored by nearly everyone who flew it.

R.J. Mitchell’s Flying Machine

The Spitfire was a product of the Supermarine Company, a British firm that started out building flying boats before World War I. In 1916, the firm was joined by a young engineer named R.J. Mitchell, who would eventually design the Spitfire. After World War I, Supermarine was heavily involved in designing and building flying boats for competition. Mitchell, however, envisioned smaller, sleeker designs that would be capable of much higher speeds than were possible with the ungainly flying boats.

The distinctive elliptical wings of the Supermarine Spitfire are clearly visible in the photograph. The distinctive design made identification of the fighter easy and provided better aerodynamics.

After the 1923 Schneider Trophy Race, Mitchell decided to design a high-performance seaplane for the 1925 event. Unfortunately, the first Mitchell design crashed during the race, which was won by Lieutenant James H. Doolittle of the U.S. Army. Ironically, 17 years later Doolittle would have command of several Spitfire squadrons operating in North Africa. Supermarine’s S.5 finally took the Schneider Trophy in 1927, establishing the company’s reputation as a builder of fast airplanes and Mitchell’s as their designer. The following year the company was purchased by Vickers. When the worldwide depression of the 1930s led England to decide not to promote an entrant for the 1931 race, Lady Houston, a wealthy Englishwoman and patriot, funded the entry. Thanks to her generous gift, Britain captured the Schneider Cup and took it home for good.

Until that time, Supermarine’s efforts had been aimed at seaplanes, but Mitchell convinced the company to design and build an entry for an Air Ministry specification for a day-night fighter. Although Supermarine had been purchased by Vickers, the original company was given the latitude to design airplanes under its own name. Supermarine named its new fighter “Spitfire,” but the gull-wing airplane was not a success.

One of the main reasons for the first Spitfire’s failure was the long landing distances required by the high-speed design the Air Ministry had specified that the new fighter would have to operate from short fields. Meanwhile, Rolls- Royce had developed a new engine it called the Merlin, and Mitchell decided to adopt it for a military fighter for the RAF. In 1934, the Air Ministry put out a specification for an eight-gun fighter, and Mitchell took up the challenge the company adopted “Spitfire” as the name of its design.

To arm the new fighters, the Air Ministry worked out an arrangement with the American Browning Arms Company to build its .30-caliber machine gun in the UK under license and to convert it to the British standard .303 cartridge. The prototype Spitfire took to the air on March 5, 1936.

Spitfires Fight the Phony War

In the mid-1930s Britain had begun rearming, prompted at least in part by the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany. When the Air Ministry put out a requirement for an eight-gun production fighter, Mitchell undertook to redesign the Spitfire to meet the new specifications. After he learned that he was terminally ill, Mitchell devoted himself to the project, working night and day and perhaps speeding up his own demise. Unfortunately, the designer succumbed to cancer before the first production airplane had been completed. But the new fighter he had designed would live on to earn Mitchell his place in military aviation history.

The first Spitfires entered operational service in mid-1938 RAF 19 Squadron at Duxford was the first to receive the new fighter, with the first airplanes delivered on August 4. The second Spitfire squadron was also at Duxford RAF 66 Squadron began replacing its Gloucester Gauntlets with Spitfires on October 13. Other squadrons began receiving the new fighter the following year. By August 1938 the RAF had 400 operational Spitfires, with orders for 2,100 more. Barely a year later, England would be at war, and the Spitfire would be one of the country’s most important weapons.

A Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I of the No. 74 Squadron, which served during the Battle of Britain, reveals the dark camouflage scheme in use at the time of the battle and the sleek profile of the famed fighter.

Tragically, the first aircraft shot down by Spitfires were friendly Hawker Hurricanes. Shortly after Britain declared war on Germany during the first week of September 1939, a false alarm led to the scrambling of RAF fighters against a nonexistent enemy. Two Spitfires from 74 Squadron came up behind a pair of Hurricanes from 56 Squadron and shot both airplanes down both pilots were killed by the friendly fire. A court-martial resulted in an acquittal on the basis that the real fault lay with the fighter controllers who had directed the action. Another Spitfire was lost the same day when the pilot allowed his airplane to stall at low altitude it spun into the trees before he could recover.

On October 16 a Spitfire pilot was credited with the first official kill of the war for RAF Fighter Command. German reconnaissance aircraft operating over the Firth of Forth led to the scrambling of Spitfires from Scottish bases. A three-plane section from 603 Squadron intercepted a twin-engine aircraft and shot it down. But such engagements were rare during the period known as “The Phoney War,” when contact with the enemy was rare. The RAF Auxiliary squadrons took advantage of the temporary lull in the conflict to bring their pilots up to operational readiness in their Hurricanes and Spitfires.

Spits over France

When the Germans invaded France and the Low Countries on May 10, 1940, the Spitfire squadrons were held in reserve while six squadrons of Hurricanes were sent into action over France with the British Expeditionary Force. The decision was logical, in that the difficulties of forward operations could be better endured with only one type of fighter. The Hurricane was better suited for operations from primitive airfields owing to its wide landing gear track—and there were a lot more of them.

As the situation on the Continent worsened, the Spitfire pilots of 19 Squadron were told that they would be deploying to France. Before they could make the move, Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided to suspend further reinforcement of the fighters in spite of French pleas for additional fighter support. His decision to hold the remainder of the RAF in reserve is credited with saving the fighter force and, ultimately, keeping England in the war. As it was, few of the Hurricanes that went to France returned to English soil.

Contrary to the belief among BEF troops who awaited evacuation from Dunkirk that Fighter Command had turned its back on them, RAF fighters—including Spitfires—were heavily engaged against the Luftwaffe during the evacuation. It was just that most of the action took place far away from the beach and out of sight of the frightened British soldiers awaiting evacuation—or capture.

Previously, action by Spitfires had mostly been against German intruders over England. The first dogfight took place on May 23, when Spitfires from 74 Squadron encountered German fighters over France. The squadron commander had to make a forced landing at Calais. A rescue effort was mounted with a Miles Master escorted by two Spitfires flown by Flight Lieutenant Deere and Pilot Officer Allen. A flight of Me-109s appeared over the field just as the Master took off. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Leathart, returned and landed. Deere, who would become one of the RAF’s most famous pilots, shot down one of the Messerschmitts almost immediately. The Spitfires kept the Me-109s away from the field, and the Master took off and returned to England.

The action over Calais was the first engagement between Spitfires and Me-109s, but air action escalated when the BEF was pushed into an enclave at Dunkirk. Even though the troops on the ground were not aware of it, a great air battle was taking place over France as the British Royal Navy attempted to evacuate the BEF from France. The RAF lost 229 aircraft during the evacuation, of which 70 to 80 were Spitfires.

The Spitfire’s Rise to Fame: The Battle of Britain

The summer of 1940 saw what came to be known as the Battle of Britain, and it was during this time that the Spitfire became famous and RAF fighter pilots became heroes. Adolf Hitler was determined to force the British government to capitulate, and Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, chief of the Luftwaffe, convinced him that his airmen could accomplish the task. Hitler’s plans were not to invade and occupy England, but to force the British into an alliance with him against the Soviet Union, a country rich with natural resources, which was his real objective. The Luftwaffe built up a massive force of bombers and fighters in the Low Countries and in the north of France in preparation for the campaign, which commenced in early August.

The only thing standing in the way of Hitler’s plan was the RAF Fighter Command, specifically its Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons. Fighter Command apparently recognized that the Spitfire was the better suited of the two to dogfighting and established tactics under which Hurricanes would be vectored against bombers and the Spitfires against fighters. The RAF fighter pilots, those who flew Hurricanes and Spitfires alike, were on constant alert throughout the weeks of the intense German attacks, often standing by in their cockpits where they awaited the call to scramble.

A Spitfire pilot dives to avoid machine-gun fire from an attacking German Messerschmitt Me-109.

Once a squadron became airborne, it immediately fell under the direction of the RAF ground controllers, many of them young women, who vectored them into position for an attack. There was a controversy over tactics between the two senior fighter commanders, as 12 Group Commander Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory preferred the “big wing” concept of assembling his fighters in strength. The problem was that assembling the formations took time—time during which the German bomber formations penetrated deeper into British airspace and were often able to drop their bombs before they could be intercepted.

Air Vice Marshal Keith Park commanded 11 Group, and it was in his area that most of the attacks were taking place. He was often frustrated because 12 Group was not quick to respond when called on to contribute fighters to the battle. In spite of the command problems, RAF Fighter Command managed to prevail, inflicting heavy losses against the Luftwaffe bombers, until they finally reached the point that Germany could no longer endure them. The German bomber commanders elected to discontinue daylight attacks against English targets and turned to night raids. Credit for the British victory was shared by the Hurricane and Spitfire pilots.

Spitfires go on the Offensive

With the turn to night attacks by the Germans, the Spitfire’s role as an interceptor had pretty much ceased. Attempts were made to use Spitfires to intercept German bombers at night, but most efforts were futile. The night-fighter role was eventually filled by twin-engine aircraft with two crewmen, one of whom was trained to operate equipment that was designed to detect the ignitions of aircraft engines. The development of radar increased the effectiveness of the specially adapted night fighters, and Spitfires were used primarily in daylight operations.

In late December, barely two months after the Battle of Britain, the RAF began changing from a defensive to an offensive posture as Fighter Command launched attacks against German airfields in France. On December 20, a pair of 66 Squadron Spitfires took off from Biggin Hill and headed across the English Channel on a low-level strafing mission over the Le Touquet airfield. The two fighters shot up the Luftwaffe base, then returned home without opposition. Two weeks later, five squadrons made a sweep up the French coast, with some sorties going 30 miles inland. From then on fighter “rhubarbs” would be a regular occurrence. Early 1941 also saw the introduction of the Spitfire to night fighting, but the need for them in the night-fighter role decreased with the appearance of Bristol Beaufighters a few weeks later.

American Volunteers

Two decades before, during World War I, scores of young Americans had volunteered to fly for France and formed the Lafayette Escadrille, formed in memory of the young French nobleman who came to America to fight with the Continental Army during the American Revolution. When war again broke out in Europe, many young Americans sought to revive the Escadrille, but the quick defeat of the French military forces prevented it.

Britain was still in the war and the volunteers switched their allegiance. Dispatches from England by American war correspondents during the Battle of Britain also influenced many Americans to consider volunteering to fight for Britain. The RAF began accepting applications from American pilots and in October 1940 formed the “Eagle Squadron” made up entirely of pilots from the United States. After forming at Church Fenton on October 19, 1940, the Eagle Squadron was initially equipped with Hurricanes. Nine months later it switched to Spitfires. A second Eagle Squadron was formed on May 14, 1941. It, too, was initially equipped with Hurricanes, but soon switched to Spitfires as well. A third squadron was formed on August 1, 1941.

Spitfires in the Eighth Air Force

On December 7, 1941, the United States officially entered World War II, although American military personnel had been involved in the war on a clandestine basis for more than a year. In early 1942, General Carl Spaatz, the chief of the Army Air Corps Combat Command, decided to establish an air force for operations from the UK. In June, the first American air units embarked for England to join the new U.S. Eighth Air Force. One of the units was the 31st Pursuit Group, which had previously flown Bell P-39 Airacobras. Because of the lower cost of the Spitfire and the need for P-39s in the Pacific, Spaatz decided to send the group overseas by ship without airplanes and to equip them with Spitfires after their arrival. The United States contracted under the Lend-Lease program for 600 Spitfires to be delivered by the end of 1943. The American 52nd Fighter Group also received British Spitfires.

In the autumn of 1942, Eighth Air Force Spitfire strength increased when the three Eagle squadrons transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps, where they made up the newly organized 4th Fighter Group, and were consolidated at Debden. With the transfer of the Eagle Squadrons, the United States had three fighter groups equipped with Spitfires. While the 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups moved to North Africa, the 4th remained in England, where its three squadrons constituted the only operational American fighter squadrons in the British Isles until early 1943.

As an already proven combat aircraft, the Spitfire was thought to be a good choice to introduce U.S. Army fighter pilots to combat in Europe. But the Allied role was changing from defensive to offensive operations, and the Spitfire came up lacking for the new kind of war. The Spitfire was designed to be a short-range interceptor, and it lacked the range necessary to escort the heavy bombers of the Eighth Air Force on long-range missions into western Europe. External fuel tanks increased the range of the Spitfire, but not enough to accompany the bombers into Germany.

The only American-built fighters in England in 1942 were Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, and they were being held in reserve to reinforce the newly established Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. Consequently, the 4th Fighter Group Spitfires were the only game in town. Ironically, the 4th Fighter Group continued to operate under RAF Fighter Command for a time, while RAF Spitfires served as the primary escort fighters for VIII Bomber Command throughout 1942. Spitfires would continue to serve with American fighter squadrons well into 1943, when they were replaced by American aircraft, particularly the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt.

High Casualties Over Dieppe

In August 1942, one of the fiercest air actions of the war occurred as Spitfires played the major fighter role in support of the Canadian commando raid on the French port at Dieppe, code-named Operation Jubilee. More than 2,300 sorties were flown that day, with large numbers of them flown by Spitfires. Spitfires from 129 Squadron fired the first shots of the action as they struck shore installations during the dark hours before sunrise at 4:45 am. The 129 Squadron Spits were followed by other Spitfires escorting light bombers on missions against the shore batteries near the landing beach.

Inexplicably, the Luftwaffe failed to appear over the beaches until midday. When they did come, the German attack was met by four squadrons of Spitfires that had been dispatched by Air Marshal Leigh-Mallory, who was keeping close watch on developments in France. Four other Spitfire squadrons escorted a flight of American Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers attacking the airfield at Abbeville. Unfortunately, the troops on the beaches met stiff resistance that inflicted heavy losses. Almost 4,000 commandos were killed, wounded, or captured, including some 3,000 Canadians. Air casualties were not light—106 RAF aircraft were reported lost, 88 of which were Spitfires.

The War in the Mediterranean

As the attacks on occupied Europe and Germany increased in 1943, the drawbacks of the Spitfires became readily apparent. While Spitfires could escort cross-Channel missions into France and the Low Countries, they lacked the range to go deeper. As longer range American fighters arrived in England and entered operational service, the Spitfires turned more toward supporting short-range medium bombers on attacks against German airfields and other installations in France and attacking ground targets.

Spitfires served in every theater of the war where British and British Commonwealth forces fought. One of the first—and perhaps most important—overseas deployments of Spitfires was to Malta, where German and Italian bombers were attempting to pound the occupying British forces into submission. Air attacks commenced on Malta immediately after Italy entered the war on June 10, 1940, and continued for two years.

By March 7, 1942, when 15 Spitfires flew onto the island from the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, the island had been under constant air attack for 20 months. The newly arrived Spits were rendered ineffective by Axis air attacks within a few days, and preparations were made for additional airplanes to be delivered by the carrier USS Wasp. On April 20, an additional 47 Spitfires reached the island, but their arrival had not gone unnoticed. Within two hours, German and Italian aircraft were hitting the island by the end of the following day, only 18 Spitfires remained operational.

A third reinforcement was more successful, as the pilots took off from the carrier in planes that were armed and ready to fight. Sixty-four Spitfires were launched from Eagle and Wasp, and most arrived safely on May 9. Additional fighters arrived a little over a week later. With the arrival of the additional Spitfires, the defenders of Malta were able to mount a more effective air defense, and Hitler decided to forgo his plans to invade the island.

Off the coast of De Djerba island, a formation of RAF Spitfire fighters patrols near the Mareth Line in North Africa. The Spitfire served in all theaters of World War II and a naval version, the Seafire, was also developed.

Spitfires flown by both British and American pilots played a major role in the Allied effort in North Africa. The threat of damage from swirling sand initially kept the Spitfires out of the Middle East, but the development of improved air filters reduced the problem. British Spitfires first served in Egypt, then joined the Desert Air Force in North Africa. The American 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups picked up Spitfires at Gibraltar, then flew them on to French North Africa, where they engaged in a brief combat with Vichy French fighters upon their arrival. American- and British-flown Spitfires played a major role in the defeat of the Luftwaffe in North Africa.

Late War Roles of the Spitfire

With the attention of the Allied forces directed toward the Mediterranean, the fighter effort from the UK was focused on defending against continuing German air attacks, on rhubarbs against German airfields and shore installations in France, and on escorting American bombers on cross-Channel missions into France and the Low Countries. As the Allied emphasis changed to preparing for the invasion of Normandy, Spitfires were converted into ground-attack aircraft with the addition of hard points for bombs and rockets. Ground attack would continue to be a major Spitfire mission through the remainder of the war. Another role for the Spitfires was intercepting the pilotless V-1 buzz bombs before they could reach their targets in the vicinity of London.

Spitfires also played a role in the Far East, where the first of the type arrived in India in October 1942. Within two weeks they were flying missions over Burma. Spitfires would play an ever-increasing role in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater and were instrumental in preventing the Japanese from overrunning Allied installations at Imphal in the spring of 1944. Spitfires also saw service in the defense of northern Australia, although it was not until early 1943 that they entered operations there. Several Australian and New Zealand squadrons in the UK had previously been equipped with the Supermarine fighter. As pressure on the Northern Territories lessened, Royal Australian Air Force 79, 452, and 457 Squadrons moved northward to New Guinea.

Developing the Seafire

The success of the Spitfire led to an adaptation of the type for the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy, following a precedent that had already been set by the Hawker Hurricane. To distinguish them from the RAF aircraft, the Navy fighters were referred to as Seafires. Although later production models featured folding wings to allow storage aboard carriers, the first Seafires were nothing but production Spitfires that had been modified for carrier landings by the addition of an arrester hook.

RAF and U.S. Spitfires had been flown off carriers during deliveries to Malta and North Africa, but the Seafires had true carrier capability. Unfortunately, the narrow landing gear and elongated nose made carrier landings difficult, and the Seafire was not a successful adaptation. Seafires did serve in the Pacific aboard the carrier HMS Implacable, but other British carriers in that theater carried American aircraft types.

Service Around the World

Spitfires served with many nations, not only in the international squadrons of the Royal Air Force that included Czechs, Poles, Belgians, Norwegians, and South Africans. They were also exported. The Soviet Air Force operated more than 1,300 Spitfires as both fighters and reconnaissance aircraft. Turkey was an early customer for the Spitfire, while Portugal received about 50 of the planes in late 1943. Spitfires were also provided to the Egyptian Air Force. A failed British and American diplomatic effort toward Sweden would have diverted 200 Spitfires to the Swedish Air Force in return for a suspension of shipments of Swedish ball bearings to Germany. After deliberating for several days, Sweden rejected the offer.

Whether it was as the hero of the Battle of Britain, interceptor and attack aircraft in North Africa, defender of Malta, or early escort fighter for strategic bombers, the Spitfire earned its rightful place in military aviation history.

Comments

The colourised photo of a Spitfire avoiding an attacking Me109 is a German propaganda photo. This Spitfire had already been captured by them and German black and white crosses were applied to the wings and fuselage together with their code letters G+X when they evaluated it. The crosses were eventually painted out and fictitious “RAF roundels” applied. That is why the roundels are the wrong type for the fuselage and on the wings they are painted too close to the cockpit. Another black and white photo exists of this Spitfire “attacking” a Dornier 17, again another German propaganda photo.


Our Aircraft

Supermarine Aircraft has been in business for nearly 30 years selling our Spitfire kits. Over those years, we have developed engines and our own higher quality re-drive system for better engine performance. Our Spitfires are sold and are flying all over the world. There are Supermarine Spitfire reproduction kits currently flying in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa and Canada.

Throughout the many years, millions of dollars have been spent on research and development to come up with a product that is safe and is a world leader in quality and innovation, but most of all, a joy to fly.

> Supermarine Aircraft Kits come with color manuals.

> All components are prefabricated.

> Main Spar fabricated and assembled.

> Wing Spars fabricated and assembled.

> All control surfaces fabricated and temporarily assembled.

> All hardware is of aircraft grade (nuts, bolts, rivets).

> All completed components are corrosion protected.

> Fuselage shell is completely ready for fit out.

> The wings are pre-assembled, then disassembled for flat packing.

> Hydraulic undercarriage legs include alloy wheels and disc brakes.

Michael (Mike) O’Sullivan’s Supermarine Aircraft: The factory officially began its life in the kit aircraft manufacturing business in 1992, although the original idea is much older. The Mk26 and Mk26b are now well proven designs with all aluminum components pre-drilled and precision cut using a computer controlled CNC router cutter. This keeps parts standards consistent and accurate, a far cry from the original Spitfires construction methods. The main structural sections of the aircraft are pre-built in factory jigs thus ensuring the highest possible accuracy of these critical components. The method of construction is aimed at the average person who is good with their hands.


K5054: the Spitfire prototype

The Spitfire represents the pinnacle of inline-piston engined interceptor design, and has become a timeless classic that other aircraft are compared to.

This website is devoted to the Supermarine Spitfire Type 300 prototype - serial number K5054 - and the production aircraft that followed her.

Strap on a Spitfire!

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- "Achtung, achtung Schpifeur!"

Spitfire: the legend

"The Spitfire was a thing of beauty to behold, in the air or on the ground, with the graceful lines of its slim fuselage, its elliptical wing and tailplane. It looked like a fighter, and it certainly proved to be just that in the fullest meaning of the term. It was an aircraft with a personality all of its own - docile at times, swift and deadly at others - a fighting machine 'par excellence'.

One must really have known the Spitfire in flight to fully understand and appreciate its thoroughbred flying characteristics. It was the finest and, in its days of glory, provided the answer to the fighter pilot's dream - a perfect combination of all the good qualities required in a truly outstanding fighter aircraft.

Once you've flown a Spitfire, it spoils you for all other fighters. Every other aircraft seems imperfect in one way or another."

Lieutenant Colonel William R. Dunn, USAAF ex-no 71 (Eagle) Squadron, RAF

K5054 showing off her unmistakeable eleptical wing profile in flight. The prototype Spitfire is distinguishable here by the wheel covers that completely cover the wheel wells, and the original oil cooler design.

Thoroughbred lineage: Supermarine S airframes and Rolls-Royce R engines

Designed by Supermarine's brilliant chief designer Reginald J. Mitchell, the Spitfire was a thoroughbred design whose lineage can be traced back through Mitchell's S-series racing floatplanes of the late 1920's that competed in the Schneider Cup seaplane contests after the first world war.

These popular seaplane races were equivalent to modern-day Formula 1 car races, and attracted aviations elite designers and pilots. Seaplane racing spurred phenomenal advances in aerodynamics and engine development between the two world wars.

Advanced aerodynamics and airframe engineering were mated to unbridled horsepower when Henry Royce developed the Rolls-Royce R engine for Mitchell's new S.6 floatplane, and the union secured the Schneider Trophy for Britain in 1931. The R-type engines were the latest development in high-powered aero engine design, producing over 2500 hp for short periods running special fuels.

Mitchell's Supermarine S.6B was one of the major technical achievements in British aviation between the two world wars, and set an absolute speed record of 656 km/h (407.5 mph) on 29 September 1931, alarmingly almost twice the speed of Britains then fastest service fighter aircraft, the Hawker Fury.


This Supermarine S6B raised the world absolute speed record to 656 km/h (407.5 mph) in September 1931.


The Rolls-Royce R Series engine is shown here being lowered into the Supermarine S6B during its construction.

Supermarine S6B general characteristics
Crew: 1
Length: 28 ft 10 in (8.79 m)
Wingspan: 30 ft 0 in (9.14 m)
Height: 12 ft 3 in (3.73 m)
Wing area: 145 ft? (13.5 m?)
Empty weight: 4,590 lb (2,082 kg)
Loaded weight: 6,086 lb (2,760 kg)
Max takeoff weight: lb (kg)
Powerplant: 1? Rolls-Royce R , 2,350 hp (1753 kW)

Performance
Maximum speed: 354 knots (407.5 mph, 655.8 km/h) (world speed record)
Wing loading: 42lb/ft? (205 kg/m?)
Power/mass: 0.386 hp/lb (0.635 kW/kg)

Supermarine Type 224

The first Supermarine 'Spitfire' - the Type 224 first flown in 1934 - didn't satisfy expectations. After their success with the the high speed S-series of monoplane racers, Mitchell's team thought that designing a fighter to Air Ministry specification F.7/30 would be a relatively simple affair. The design was also hampered by the evaporative cooling design of the 660 horsepower Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine. The fighter contract was eventually awarded to the Gloster SS 37 (Gladiator) biplane because of it's climb rate advantage over the monoplane designs.

In 1934 the Supermarine 224 design was subsequently cleaned up and succesive specifications sought from the Air Ministry to cover the refinements, eventually leading to the superb Type 300 that followed.


The first Supermarine 'Spitfire' - the gull-winged Type 224 - was not a success, but should be considered a valuable stepping-stone to the Type 300 that followed. Note the fixed undercarriage and open cockpit design favoured by most designs of the period.

Supermarine Type 300

K5054: birth of a thoroughbred

K5054 was the Air Ministry registration given to the (Vickers) Supermarine Type 300 prototype.

Construction of K5054 began in December 1934 and her maiden flight was on 5 march 1936 at Eastleigh_Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport) piloted by Vickers' chief test pilot Joseph "Mutt" Summers.

Minor modifications and refinements were made to the Type 300 as suggested by flight trials over the following months, and K5054 emerged as the pattern for the production version of the now legendary Supermarine Mk.I Spitfire.

The final cost of K5054 totalled U+20A4 20,765. The Air Ministry paid U+20A4 12,478 and Rolls Royce paid U+20A4 7,500, leaving Supermarine's final cost for building the Type 300 prototype Spitfire at U+20A4 787.

Britain's Air Ministry were so impressed with this new interceptor or 'killer-fighter' that prior to the full test programme being completed, they issued a contract on 3 June 1936 for 310 Spitfires. Whilst Mk.I production got underway, K5054 was further refined and modified to become the pattern for the sucessive Mk.II and Mk.III Spitfires.

On 22 March 1937 during performance trials at Martlesham Heath, K5054 suffered an oil-pressure failure and was damaged during a belly landing.

On 4 September 1939 at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, K5054 nosed over on landing and whilst the fuselage was left intact, the cockpit was crushed. Pilot F/Lt White died of injuries caused when the aerial mast mounted atop the fuselage behind the pilot, was pushed down through the fuselage pulling the Sutton seat harness back with such a force that he bent the back of his seat on impact with it. A modification was later made to the run of the cable that anchored the Sutton seat harness to the rear of the fuselage in production aircraft.

The accident that destroyed K5054 occurred the day after Britain declared war on Germany.

Spitfire blooded: "Achtung, achtung Schpifeur"

Spitfires were blooded on a pair of unfortunate Hurricanes of 56 Squadron - shot down by 74 Squadron's Spitfires in a friendly fire incident over the river Medway in Kent on 6 September 1939, in what became known as the Battle of Barking Creek.

Spitfires shot down their first enemy aircraft on 16 October 1939 when Luftwaffe Junker 88s of 1/KG 30 fell to the guns of Squadron Leader Stevens of 603 Squadron over the Firth of Forth, Rosyth.

By 1940, Spitfires were fighting in the skies over France and Belgium while the allied armies crumbled under the well orchestrated German blitzkrieg.

In May 1940 the British Expeditionary Force, having lost most of their equipment in a fighting retreat, fell back to the French port of Dunkirk to await their fate. Flights of Spitfires from southern England patrolled the skies approaching the Dunkirk pocket in an effort to keep the Luftwaffe at bay whilst Royal Navy, merchant marine, and civilian vessels working under the codename Operation Dynamo evacuated the remnants of Europe's shattered armies to England, from where it was hoped they might fight another day.

Invasion imminent

By June 1940 continental western Europe had fallen. Britain's newly appointed wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill now roused the British people in a stubborn yet seemingly futile resistance against the odds.

"What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour."

- Winston Churchill, 18 June 1940

Hitler readied his forces for the invasion of England. Luftwaffe air supremacy over the landing zones was vital for the invasion to succeed. The RAF was to be either destroyed or pushed back from its coastal bases in southern England so that the landings could take place.

The RAF had also been seriously mauled supporting the allied armies on the continent. What aircraft remained was due to the foresight of Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding refusing to send any more squadrons to France, and the british aircraft factories labouring to replace daily loses.

The stakes were high as the fate of the world hung in the hands of a few hundred young allied pilots. It was said in America that Britain would last no more than six weeks before capitulating.

Operation Eagle - The Battle of Britain

Over the coming months Fighter Command pilots flying Spitfire Mk.I's and Hawker Hurricane's found themselves pitted against the cream of Hitler's undefeated Luftwaffe veterans in a desperate fight to protect their vital forward airfields, radar stations and aircraft factories.

By Autumn 1940 the massed daylight strikes against Britains front line defences had eased. On September 15, the largest air battle took place and Churchill famously asked "What other reserves have we?" to which Air Vice-Marshal Park answered "We have none". Fighter Command had comitted all its reserves to the air battle that day but the outnumbered pilots gave no quarter and over the following days the tide began to turn.

Hitler had been rebuffed for the first time, but a strategic terror campaign that became known as The Blitz soon followed. Massed aerial night bombing of English population centres was hoped to weaken civilian resolve and topple the wartime government, but as the weeks dragged on and the RAF continued to fight, Hitler postponed the invasion and re-focused his attention on the upcoming invasion of Russia.

The massed aerial battles fought in the skies over the English countryside by 'the few' pilots in the summer of 1940 had saved Britain from invasion in her darkest hour and created a legend the graceful but deadly Spitfire became the symbol of the most important British victory in history.

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

- Winston Churchill, 20 August 1940
listen to an excerpt of speech - MP3

[above] K5054 Prototype Spitfire cockpit showing the original curved windshield that distorted the forward view. It was latter replaced with flat armoured glass.

Reginald J Mitchell - the Spitfire developer


Vickers-Supermarine design team 1936


Supermarine Spitfires are one of the most famous planes of World War II, and renowned for the part they played in defeating the Luftwaffe. Built to match and outperform the German equivalent, the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Supermarine Spitfire still provides a nostalgic reminder of its role in halting Hitler’s plans to invade Blighty’s shores.

Hitler attempted to destroy Spitfire production during the war, by bombing prominent Spitfire factories, but shadow factories took their place and production continued. Sheds, workshops, garages, bus depots and even a hotel were used as bases to manufacture and assemble spitfires during the war.

The shadow factories, and the mainly unqualified young boys, girls, and women who worked in secret to build over 2000 Spitfires, were instrumental in winning the Battle of Britain.

People still love to see surviving Spitfires at air shows up and down the country, and some even take advantage of Spitfire flying experiences, such as those offered by Into The Blue . The Spitfire lives on and much is known about them. The Spitfire factories, however, get much less coverage. Read on to discover more about the making of the Spitfire and the birthplaces of these wonderful flying machines.

The Making of a Masterpiece

R J Mitchell, the designer of the Supermarine Spitfire, learned his trade during WWI. Conscious of the fragility of early planes, he never sacrificed his concern for the pilot. His masterpiece, the Supermarine Spitfire, was created with a robust and adaptable design. The design of the Supermarine Spitfire was so adaptable that it was the only fighter in production prior to, throughout, and after the war.

Supermarine was one of the firms competing to deliver a new fighter aircraft prototype. They actually delivered their prototype late and it was well below specification, as were the prototypes offered by three other different sources. At this point, the Air Ministry went so far as to consider ordering aircraft from Poland. Then Supermarine delivered Mitchell’s radical new design. And so, the miraculous British flying machine, the Spitfire, was born.

Adapted for different missions, some had machine guns, cannons, rockets, and bombs. Some were designed specifically for high altitude, while others had their design adapted for a ground attack. The various adaptations eventually reached Mark 24! To give a sense of the constantly evolving design, throughout the war there were 13 different designs of the propeller, and the windscreen plastic was replaced with armored glass. Mark V was the most common type ever produced (nearly 6,500 in total), and in all, 20,351 Spitfires were produced for the RAF.

The complexity of the Spitfire’s design translated into its production time. The Spitfire took 13,000 man-hours to produce, 1 two-and-a-half times as long to make as a Hurricane. It took the Germans 4,000 man-hours to make the equivalent Messerschmitt Bf 109.

The F.1 Sopwith Camel: The Unruly Stallion of WWI

The Sopwith Camel became one of the most iconic aircraft in WWI due to its well-earned reputations, both good and bad, with the pilots who flew it. Though the fighter pilots flying Sopwith Camels accounted for the most kills of any WWI aircraft (1,294 – an average of 76 kills a month for the 17 months it was in service), it also killed almost as many of its own pilots as the enemy did [ Read More ]

The Great British Whip-Round

Much is known about the making of the Spitfire, but much less is known about its funding. The BBC’s report, Spitfire funds: The ‘whip-round’ that won the war?, 2 relays an interesting story indeed. WW1 and the Great Depression of the 1920s had left Britain with huge debts. But, when the intentions of Hitler to invade Britain became clear, the British Government set up the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Its first minister, Lord Beaverbrook, pushed for aircraft production to have priority over all other munitions.

Lord Beaverbrook was also responsible for pushing the idea of public appeals to source raw materials and encourage thriftiness to help the war effort. The British public, seeing German planes flying overhead, were eager to help get more British planes in the air. Over 1,400 appeals for funding were set up, attracting donations ranging from British children’s pocket money to donations from entire countries. Uruguay funded the production of 17 Spitfires. Trinidad, the Gold Coast, and Hong Kong donated enough for entire squadrons.

An arbitrary figure of £5,000 was the price given for the production of each aircraft during the appeal (little resemblance to the actual cost, which was closer to £10K), and to encourage even small donations, individual aircraft parts were listed with random costs, from wings at £2,000 to a rivet for a sixpence. Around £13 million was raised in total.

Large contributors were able to have a dedication put on the Spitfire. It wasn’t just money that people contributed. Raw materials were also in short supply. Even saucepans and cooking utensils 3 were handed over for melting down to be re-used in the building of Spitfires.

The First Spitfire Factories

K9795, the 9th production Mk I Supermarine Spitfire, 1938 Image courtesy of UK RAF, Public Domain

The first prototype, K5054, took flight on 5 th March 1936 at Eastleigh in Hampshire. Following some tweaks to the design, on 3 rd June an order for 310 units was made. Initial full-scale production of the Spitfire (K9787), rolled off the production line at Woolston, Southampton in 1938. It took Submarine two years to prepare for production, because of the complex design, which included thin wings covered with a stressed metal skin, and a revolutionary elliptical wing.

At the same time, the Air Ministry acquired land consisting of farm fields and a sewage treatment works next to Castle Bromwich Aerodrome in Birmingham. Here a secondary factory was set up to supplement the production of Spitfires at Woolston.

The setting up of the Birmingham factory wasn’t without its problems. In 1940, when the first Spitfires were being built here, the factory itself was still incomplete and the skilled workforce continually threatened strikes for better pay. As a result, the Ministry took control from Morris Motors, and although it took some time, were able to resolve the factory and workforce problems. It became the largest Spitfire factory in the UK and built over half of the 20,000+ Spitfires produced.

The Bombing of Woolston

During the Battle of Britain, the main manufacturing plants of the Spitfire at Woolston and Itchen, near Southampton became the target of Luftwaffe bombing raids. Various bombing raids in the summer of 1940 failed to hit, but on 24 th and 26 th September 1940, both factories were destroyed. More than 100 workers (about a quarter of the workforce) were killed.

After Woolston was hit, Birmingham became the main center for Spitfire production. Birmingham didn’t escape attempted bombing raids by the Germans, and on several occasions, there were some near misses. Brutal bombing raids killed some of the factories workers, such as a raid on the night of August 13 th , 1940 that claimed the lives of six men. Although the Birmingham factory was high on the German’s bombing hit list, it miraculously escaped relatively unscathed.

Following the destruction of Woolston, Lord Beaverbrook, the minister of aircraft production at the time, immediately ordered a complete dispersal of the entire Spitfire works, with many local garages and large store premises being requisitioned to help maintain production.

The Small Factory Facilities Born From Woolston

The relocation of much of Woolston’s and Itchen’s production happened quickly after the factories were destroyed by the Luftwaffe’s dogged bombing raids. Within a matter of weeks alternative sites had been found, and despite the loss of their colleagues, surviving Spitfire factory workers worked day and night to continue Spitfire production.

The dispersal of the Spitfire operation required a radical rethink and was designed to move the operation away from the South Coast and into premises that were harder to identify by air. It was a plan that worked. Workers and factory machinery were moved to 28 sites around Southampton as well as Reading, Hungerford, Newbury, Salisbury, and Winchester.

The bulk of Spitfire production was moved to Castle Bromwich in the West Midlands, but by the end of the war, 8,000 planes had been built in the dispersal factories around Southampton. A BBC report on the Spitfire production miracle elaborates, “like the ‘little ships’ had done at Dunkirk, it was the unsung little workshops which played a crucial part of the legendary victory of the Battle of Britain.” 4

In an article back in 2010, published in The Telegraph, one worker recalled, “We worked flat out, we knew we had to. The Germans were flying over us every day. We could see what was happening in the skies over our head and how important it was to keep building the planes.“ 5

Another account of working in the Spitfire factories told of fitters staying at the factory, sleeping on a bench when tired, and then going back to the production line. 6 Some did not go home throughout the duration of the battle!

The Secret Assembly Line

The dispersal of the factories for Spitfire production was a major feat in logistical planning and production engineering. Spitfire parts were made in one of 28 different locations. The full dispersal of Spitfire production spread across several southern counties, with centers at Salisbury, Reading, Newbury, and Trowbridge in addition to the Southampton area.

A garage in Reading specialized in the manufacture of fuselages, while another purpose-built building in the same area installed engines. Another garage in Salisbury became the sole producer of leading-edge fuel tanks. Spitfire assembly and testing in the South was carried out at Eastleigh in Hampshire. And all of the areas were controlled from the drawing office and design operation at Hursley Park.

Supermarine Spitfires and Lancaster Bombers on the runway at Castle Bromwich, 1944, image courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Secret Spitfires

Almost 10 percent of British civilians during World War II signed the Official Secrets Act, and deep in the countryside of Wiltshire, specially chosen members of the public were secretly building Spitfires. Shadow factories in small towns and villages were set up in sheds, workshops, garages, bus depots and even in a hotel. Workers were sworn to high levels of secrecy.

In 2016, a documentary film was released, detailing the stories of young girls, boys, women and a handful of men, building Spitfires in Salisbury during the war. The documentary Secret Spitfires contains unique archive footage and images and tells the story through testaments of surviving workers. These are tales that need to be kept alive to show future generations what can be achieved in times of adversity. The Spitfire factories of World War II are as important to history as the planes themselves.

Resources and References:

1 – “Building Spitfires, Slowly” – Air and Space, Smithsonian, Retrieved 11-6-17

3 – “How our saucepans built the Spitfires that won the Battle of Britain” – Birmingham Mail, Retrieved 11-8-17

4 – “Spitfire Miracle Which Helped Win the Battle of Britain” – BBC, Retrieved 11-9-17

5 – “The Spitfire Factory Workers Who Helped Win the Battle of Britain” – The Telegraph, Retrieved 11-9-17

Focke-Wulf Fw 190: The Butcher Bird of WWII

The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger (Shrike in English) has become one of the most iconic military aircraft in world history since it first inspired fear in the Allied forces throughout all of World War II. Named for the shrike (nicknamed the “butcher bird”), a small carnivorous bird of prey known for impaling its prey on spikes, the Fw 190 was one of the only radial engine fighter aircraft used in Europe at the time. Though used successfully by the US Navy… [ Read More ]


Development and production

Origins

R. J. Mitchell‘s 1931 design to meet Air Ministry specification F7/30 for a new and modern fighter capable of 250 mph (400 km/h), the Supermarine Type 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] This made its first flight in February 1934. [6] 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. Of the seven designs tendered to F7/30, the Gloster Gladiator biplane was accepted for service. [7]

Mitchell had already begun working on a new aircraft, designated Type 300, with a retractable undercarriage and the wingspan reduced by 6 ft (1.8 m). This was submitted to the Air Ministry in July 1934, but was not accepted. [8] The design then went through a series of changes, including the incorporation of a faired, 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] and, on 1 December 1934, the Air Ministry issued contract AM 361140/34, providing £10,000 for the construction of Mitchell’s improved F7/30 design. [10] On 3 January 1935, the Air Ministry formalised the contract and a new specification, F10/35, was written around the aircraft. [11]

The unpainted Spitfire prototype K5054 at Eastleigh airfield, just before the first flight. The angled rudder mass balance and unfaired main undercarriage and tailskid can be seen. This aircraft was written off after a landing accident at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (R.A.E.) at Farnborough on 4 September 1939. [12]

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, [13] following a recommendation by Squadron Leader Ralph Sorley of the Operational Requirements section at the Air Ministry. [14] On 5 March 1936, [15] the prototype (K5054) 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. [16] [nb 2] This eight-minute flight [14] came four months after the maiden flight of the contemporary Hurricane. [18]

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. [19] 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] [22] was a very good aircraft, but not perfect. The rudder was over-sensitive and the top speed was just 330 mph (528 km/h), little faster than Sydney Camm‘s new Merlin-powered Hurricane. [24] A new and better-shaped wooden propeller meant the Spitfire reached 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. [25] He had been given orders to fly the aircraft and then to make his report to the Air Ministry on landing. Edwardes-Jones’s report was positive his only request was that the Spitfire be equipped with an undercarriage position indicator. [26] A week later, on 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires, [27] before any formal report had been issued by the A&AEE interim reports were later issued on a piecemeal basis. [28]

Into 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, there were numerous problems that 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] The first and most immediate problem was that the main Supermarine factory at Woolston was already working at full capacity fulfilling orders for Walrus and Stranraer flying boats. 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. As a result of the delays in getting the Spitfire into full production, the Air Ministry put forward a plan that production of the Spitfire 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 the problems could be overcome and further orders were placed for 200 Spitfires on 24 March 1938, the two orders covering the K, L and N prefix serial numbers. [29]

In February 1936 the director of Vickers-Armstrongs, 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, for a price of £1,395,000. [30] Full-scale production of the Spitfire began at Supermarine’s facility in Woolston, Southampton, but it quickly became clear that the order 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 the Wellingtons. The initial solution was to subcontract the work. [30] The first production Spitfire rolled 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. [31]

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. [4] Production aircraft cost about £9,500. The most expensive components were the hand-fabricated and finished fuselage at approximately £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]


Contents

Data from Spitfire: The History[184] and Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II[185]

General characteristics

  • Crew: one pilot
  • Length: 29 ft 11 in (9.12 m)
  • Wingspan: 36 ft 10 in (11.23 m)
  • Height: 11 ft 5 in (3.86 m)
  • Wing area: 242.1 ft2 (22.48 m2)
  • Airfoil: NACA 2213 (root)
  • Empty weight: 5,065 lb (2,297 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 6,622 lb (3,000 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 6,700 lb (3,039 kg)
  • powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin 45[nb 16] supercharged V12 engine, 1,470 hp (1,096 kW) at 9,250 ft (2,819 m)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 370 mph (322 kn, 595 km/h)
  • Combat radius: 410 nmi (470 mi (756 km))
  • Ferry range: 991 nmi (1,135 mi (1,827 km))
  • Service ceiling: 36,500 ft (11,125 m)
  • Rate of climb: 2,600 ft/min (13.2 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 27.35 lb/ft2 (133.5 kg/m2)
  • Power/mass: 0.22 hp/lb (0.36 kW/kg)

Armament

  • Guns:
    • A wing
      • 8 × .303 in Browning Mk II* machine guns (350 rounds per gun)
      • 2 × 20 mm Hispano Mk II (60 rounds per gun)
      • 4 × .303 in Browning Mk II* machine guns (350 rounds per gun)
      • 4 × 20 mm Hispano Mk II cannon (120 rounds per gun)
      • 2 × 20 mm Hispano Mk II (120 rounds per gun)
      • 4 × .303 in Browning Mk II* machine guns (350 rounds per gun)
      • 2 × 20 mm Hispano Mk II cannon (120 rounds per gun)
      • 2 × .50 in M2 Browning machine guns (250 rounds per gun)

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      MK1 Supermarine Spitfire P9374 in flight over Cambridgeshire in 2015. © BNPS

      On May 24, 1940 a Dornier 17-Z bomber got a lucky hit on a MK1 Supermarine Spitfire P9374 during an air battle over the beaches of Dunkirk. The MK1 Spitfire, flown by Flying Officer Peter Cazenove had taken off from RAF Croydon and flown over northern France to support the fighting on the beaches of Dunkirk. The Dornier brought the Spitfire down with a single bullet, which then crash-landed gear-up on the beaches near Calais. Uninjured, Flying Officer Cazenove left the aeroplane and walked to Calais where he joined a British unit fighting in the waning days of the Battle of France. Eventually he was captured and made a POW, ending up in Stalag Luft III in eastern Germany and becoming involved in the Great Escape. Flying Officer Cazenove survived the War. The Spitfire however, stayed on the beaches of Dunkirk along with so much British military kit abandoned in the evacuation. Remarkably, a picture survives of two German servicemen sitting on the wreckage of P9374, half buried in the sand.

      MK1 Spitfire P9374 on the beaches of Dunkirk in Spring 1940 with two German servicemen on her fuselage. © BNPS.

      Flying Officer Peter Cazenove in 1940. © Mark One Partners.

      Eventually the tides coming in and out over Dunkirk buried the aeroplane where it was preserved for the next several decades until September 1980 when the fighter appeared back above the sands. Lovingly restored and reassembled by experts and now at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire, the Spitfire is now one of only two flying MK1 Spitfires in their original specifications (there are many other flying Spitfires of different variants).

      MKI Supermarine Spitfire P9374’s cockpit. Photograph taken at IWM Duxford, Cambridgeshire, 2015. © Getty Images.

      MK 1 Spitfire P9374 was built in 1939. Its Merlin III engine was completed at the Rolls-Royce Factory in Derby on October 27, 1939. The aeroplane had only 32 hours of flying time when it was brought down over France. It was one of the renowned No. 92 Squadron’s fighters based at RAF Croydon in March 1940.

      MK1 Supermarine Spitfire P9374 in flight over Cambridgeshire in 2015. © John Dibbs, SWNS.com.

      Amazingly, this aeroplane is going on sale. On July 9, 2015 at Christie’s in London, P9374 will go on sale and is expected to fetch between £2- £2.5 million. The proceeds of the sale will be shared between two charities – the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and Panthera Corporation, a wildlife conservation charity Mr Thomas Kaplan and his wife, Ms Dafna Kaplan, founded in 2006. Mr Kaplan, an American billionaire investor who is a world renowned conservationist, art collector, and Oxfordian, is the generous individual behind the sale. The second flying MK1 Spitfire in the world was also restored by Mr Kaplan’s experts. Numbered N3200, he has generously donated the MK1 Spitfire to the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, where it often flies and is available to all visitors to admire.

      One of the greatest military aviation sites in the World is the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. Located off the M11, south of Cambridge, on the site of historic RAF Duxford. http://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-duxford

      One of her sister aircraft, MK1 Supermarine Spitfire P9372. An early photo of a No. 92 Squadron Spitfire Mk1, The GR codes date it to the Spring of 1940 and the lack of an armour plated windscreen dates it to before the evacuation of Dunkirk. P9372 was shot down over Rye in September 1940. The wreck was recovered and much of the aeroplane is on display at Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar. Unknown Photographer.


      Watch the video: Dunkirk Official Soundtrack. Supermarine - Hans Zimmer. WaterTower