Spitfire I - History

Spitfire I  - History

Spitfire I

(Gond.: 1. 48'; b. 16'; cpl. 45; a. 1 12-par., 2 9-pare.)

The first Spitfire was built in 1776 at Skenesboro, N.Y., for service on Lake Champlain. She was commanded by a Capt. Ulmer and operated on the lake
until she was run ashore and burned by her crew on 13 October 1776.

(Galley: cpl. 60; a. 1 18-par.)

Late in 1775, the General Assembly of Rhode Island ordered the construction of two galleys, Washington and Spitfire. In January 1776, the General Assembly appointed John Grimes Commodore of the galleys and, presumably soon thereafter, they were placed in service in Narragansett Bay. They cruised in defense of American shipping, acted as transports, and assisted landing parties seeking forage and supplies. On 11 April 1776, they recaptured brigantine Georgia Packet and sloop Speedwell which HMS Scarborough had captured and brought into the bay, braving the fire of Scarborough's guns as they took the prizes from under her stern.

In July 1776, the galleys were ordered to New York to help protect the Hudson and they reached New York harbor on 1 August. There they cooperated with a flotilla created by George Washington

On the afternoon of the 3d, Spitfire joined Lady Washington and Washington in a daring attack on HMS Pheonix and HMS Rose and engaged the British warships for over two hours before retiring. One man on Spitfire was killed and two were badly wounded. Her hull and rigging sustained much damage.

The two galleys returned to Providence late in the month. In mid-September, libels were filed in court on "three large cables and two large anchors, which late belonged to the British Ship-of-War, called the Scarborough; which . were captured . by . the Row-Galley called the Spitfire." Little is known about the curious action which resulted in this litigation in Admiralty court-not even when it occurred. The quotation above does suggest that Spitfire, on at least one more occasion, continued her swashbuckling. Few records have survived to fill out the galley's subsequent career. She was apparently sent to New London early in October 1776 "to strengthen the naval force as much as possible." Then, we know nothing of the galley until the summer of 1778, by which time we are told Spitfire "had been captured or destroyed by the enemy."


Spitfire

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Spitfire, also called Supermarine Spitfire, the most widely produced and strategically important British single-seat fighter of World War II. The Spitfire, renowned for winning victory laurels in the Battle of Britain (1940–41) along with the Hawker Hurricane, served in every theatre of the war and was produced in more variants than any other British aircraft.

The Spitfire was designed by Reginald Mitchell of Supermarine Ltd., in response to a 1934 Air Ministry specification calling for a high-performance fighter with an armament of eight wing-mounted 0.303-inch (7.7-mm) machine guns. The airplane was a direct descendant of a series of floatplanes designed by Mitchell to compete for the coveted Schneider Trophy in the 1920s. One of these racers, the S.6, set a world speed record of 357 miles (574 km) per hour in 1929. Designed around a 1,000-horsepower, 12-cylinder, liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce PV-12 engine (later dubbed the Merlin), the Spitfire first flew in March 1935. It had superb performance and flight characteristics, and deliveries to operational Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons commenced in the summer of 1938. A more radical design than the Hurricane, the Spitfire had a stressed-skin aluminum structure and a graceful elliptical wing with a thin airfoil that, in combination with the Merlin’s efficient two-stage supercharger, gave it exceptional performance at high altitudes.

The version of the Spitfire that fought in the Battle of Britain was powered by a Merlin engine of 1,030 horsepower. The plane had a wingspan of 36 feet 10 inches (11.2 metres), was 29 feet 11 inches (9.1 metres) long, and reached a maximum speed of 360 miles (580 km) per hour and a ceiling of 34,000 feet (10,400 metres). Faster than its formidable German opponent the Bf 109 at altitudes above 15,000 feet (4,600 metres) and just as maneuverable, Spitfires were sent by preference to engage German fighters while the slower Hurricanes went for the bombers. More Hurricanes than Spitfires served in the Battle of Britain, and they were credited with more “kills,” but it can be argued that the Spitfire’s superior high-altitude performance provided the margin of victory.

Meanwhile, Supermarine was developing more-capable versions of the Spitfire driven by progressively more-powerful Merlins. The eight 0.303-inch machine guns gave way to four 0.8-inch (20-mm) automatic cannons, and by war’s end the Spitfire had been produced in more than 20 fighter versions alone, powered by Merlins of up to 1,760 horsepower. Though outperformed by the German Fw 190 upon that aircraft’s introduction in 1941, the Spitfire restored parity the following year and eventually regained the advantage. It remained a first-line air-to-air fighter throughout the war. Spitfires were used in the defense of Malta, in North Africa and Italy, and, fitted with tail hooks and strengthened tail sections, as Seafires from Royal Navy aircraft carriers from June 1942. Spitfires helped to provide air superiority over the Sicily, Italy, and Normandy beachheads and served in the Far East from the spring of 1943. Fighter-bomber versions could carry a 250- or 500-pound (115- or 230-kg) bomb beneath the fuselage and a 250-pound bomb under each wing.

One of the Spitfire’s most important contributions to Allied victory was as a photo-reconnaissance aircraft from early 1941. Superior high-altitude performance rendered it all but immune from interception, and the fuel tanks that replaced wing-mounted machine guns and ammunition bays gave it sufficient range to probe western Germany from British bases.

In late 1943 Spitfires powered by Rolls-Royce Griffon engines developing as much as 2,050 horsepower began entering service. Capable of top speeds of 440 miles (710 km) per hour and ceilings of 40,000 feet (12,200 metres), these were used to shoot down V-1 “buzz bombs.” During World War II, Spitfires were exported in small numbers to Portugal, Turkey, and the Soviet Union, and they were flown by the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe. When production ceased in 1947, 20,334 Spitfires of all versions had been produced, 2,053 of them Griffon-powered versions.

Fighter versions of the Spitfire were dropped from RAF service during the early 1950s, while photo-reconnaissance Spitfires continued in service until 1954.


A Short History of the Spitfire

Why is the Supermarine Spitfire a symbol of British national pride? While its history has often been traced back to the Schneider Trophy’s sea plane race competitions that began in 1912, the pace of the Spitfire's evolution quickened during the Great Depression. The key to its success is a minimalist design that delivers speed and power in close quarters combat. Its performance during WWII’s Battle of Britain is credited with staving off German aerial attacks that could have devastated the country. So, what major events led up to the Spitfire becoming a British national icon?

Money Matters

In 1931, the future of British sea planes in the Schneider Trophy races was in jeopardy. During the depths of the Depression, the British government didn’t see aviation competitions as financial priorities and cut off funding. One woman, however, believed in the seaplane’s potential after seeing models S.4, S.6, and S.6A perform well in the years before. Lady Houston gave over 100,000 pounds to ensure that her country could still participate in the 1931 competition. Engineer R. J. Mitchell, lead designer, used the funds wisely and his S.6B ended up winning the Schneider Cup that year.

Innovative Design

The success of the S.6B lead up to the creation of the Type 224 in 1934. It was a monoplane with a fixed landing gear, low gull wing, and open cockpit that was not very fast. Despite its lackluster performance, R.J. Mitchell learned from his mistakes. The model 300 would apply important lessons about flutter and stress to keep this newer all-metal monocoupe construction stable at high speeds. The British Air Ministry was happy with the 300 and decided it should be armed with eight .303 Browning machine guns, but it still kept its two-bladed fixed pitch wooden propeller. By March 1936, the Type 300 was upgraded to the first Supermarine Spitfire prototype that had a top speed of over 340 mph and three metal propeller blades rather than two, all powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin engine.

Superior Tactics

The Battle of Britain was a battle of attrition, and Air Marshall Dowding knew how to use Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes to maintain British air superiority to buy time and prevent loss. From July to October 1940, Hawker Hurricanes and Spitfires were able to wear out the German Heinkel III’s and Messerschmitts. The Me 109 could run away with a faster dive rate, but the Spitfire was more maneuverable. Although the Brits had less experienced pilots, they had the home field advantage and were able to walk back to the airfields and resume flying if they were shot down. The Me 109’s stiff controls and narrow landing gear were a disadvantage in comparison to the Spitfire, whose graceful lines and two-stage Merlin supercharger engine made it easy for British pilots handle at high-altitudes. Ultimately, the Spitfire had better kill ratios and the Germans lost more aircraft, making it the hero of the Battle of Britain and an icon of British air combat ever since.


Spitfire I - History

Your 'Spitfires' in Action - Thank You, Leeward Islands!© IWM (Art.IWM PST 8261)

The Spitfire would of course would become the design most associated with R.J. Mitchell but the design and initial production period were far from successful or straight forward compared with its later legendary following of pilots and public alike. The origins began with the Type 224 of 1931, unfortunately it lacked the streamlined presence of the Schneider Trophy seaplanes and struggled to achieve the performance parameters set by the Air Ministry. After the aircraft&rsquos rejection in 1934, Mitchell and his team revised the designed under the designation Type 300 which would result in a whole Ministry specification based around it and become known as the Spitfire. The prototype K5054 took off for the first time from Eastleigh on 5 March 1936 under the control of Chief Test Pilot (Mutt) Summers. Both performance and production would remain troublesome up until the Battle of Britain but its advanced features meant that it could be continuously improved during the War to counter competition from Luftwaffe fighters. It should also be remembered that Mitchell was diagnosed with cancer in 1933 and was in considerable pain up until his death on 11 June 1937.

The Battle of Britain would become the engagement that would solidify the iconic name, mythology and depiction of the Spitfire in the public imagination. Its speed and manoeuvrability enabled the aircraft to gain the upper hand with the Luftwaffe Me 109 and in combination with the Hurricane, radar and defence system won the Battle and laid the seeds for the future Allied victory. The Spitfire Fund was widely donated to by the British public and from around the world and films such as the First of the Few and Battle of Britain cemented its reputation as a war winning weapon.


By RKO Radio Pictures - Source, Public Domain, Link

The Mk IV would be the first Spitfire to be installed with the Rolls-Royce Griffon engine. It didn&rsquot go into full production but rather served as a development aircraft to sort out the airframe changes required to incorporate the additional weight and power of the new engine. The prototype first flew on 27 November 1941. The Mk V started operational service from early 1941 and were mostly constructed at Castle Bromwich. The Mk Va again was fitted with eight Browning machine guns. The Vb version once again incorporated two Hispano cannons and four Browning machine guns. As a result of the introduction of the FW 190 in August 1941, the Vb had the option of clipped wings to improve speed and handling at lower altitudes. The Mk Vc incorporated the universal wing which allowed a number of permutations in armaments to be carried in the wing and was also easier to manufacture. These versions of the Mk V included a Vokes air filter under the nose of the aircraft and many had a modified air filter which was more streamlined compared with the standard Vokes. Mk Vb and Vc (Trop), these were required for operation in North Africa, Middle East, Far East and Australia to cope with climatic and ground conditions associated with these areas. The mark of Spitfire would also be connected with the defence of Malta from the Italian and German air attack and represented in the film Malta Story.

The Spitfire Mk IX, an interim mark designed to counter the FW 190 in 1942, it actually became the most produced version of the Spitfire. The use of the two stage supercharger provided a quantum leap in performance particularly over 20,000ft and provided effective opposition to the latest German fighter. Almost identical to the Mk IX but utilised the Merlin 266 produced by Packard in America. All these aircraft were used for low altitude roles and featured clipped wings.

PR IX and FR IX aircraft were modified Mk IXs created as an interim measure before the introduction of the PR XI. They were involved in reconnaissance missions that included Operation Chastise and Market Garden, capturing seminal images of these iconic events. The Type 387 as the PR X was an amalgam of a Mk VII airframe and PR XI wings, with the pressurised cockpit it could sustain heights of 40,000ft for photographic sorties. It operated in small numbers from May 1944 and led to the ultimate Spitfire photo reconnaissance Mk XIX. Types 365 and 370 (tropicalised) as the PR XI were an amalgamation of the Mks VII, VIII and IX. Produced from 1942 it was designed for tactical reconnaissance but could climb high to avoid enemy fighters but did not have a pressurised cockpit. PR XIII, photographic version created for low level sorties ahead of the D-Day invasion in 1944, including an armament of four Browning machine guns. Camera equipment fitted included one oblique F24 and two vertical F24s all in the fuselage. The Mk XIX became the ultimate photographic reconnaissance version of the Spitfire which incorporated a pressurised cockpit and the Mk XIV Griffon engine. It entered operational service in May 1944 and would only retire from frontline service with the RAF until April 1954.

Spitfire MK XIV, incorporated the two stage super charged Griffon engine which substantially improved performance at high altitudes but required considerable airframe changes to cope with the weight and power of the new engine. This included more fuel storage to deal with the higher fuel consumption, five blade propeller and greater cooling facilities. This mark of Spitfire would destroy more V-1s than any other Spitfire and German fighters avoided combat with it due to its performance. 610 Squadron was the first to operate the aircraft from December 1943.

Marks 21, 22 and 24, In order for the Spitfire to handle the increased power of the two stage supercharged Griffon engine, the wings were entirely re-designed and could handle speeds approaching the speed of sound. The first prototype first flew in July 1943 and the production example in March 1944. Initially it suffered from handling problems but these were smoothed out and entered squadron service in January 1945, fitted with four Hispano cannons. Mark 22 aircraft had the tear drop canopy and cut down rear fuselage. Only one regular squadron of the RAF operated the aircraft but did serve in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force until 1951. Mark 24, largely identical to the Spitfire 22 it had increased fuel capacity and had the ability to carry rocket projectiles and bomb armaments. Operational from 1946 and continued with the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force until 1955. It was twice as heavy and had twice the performance of the original Spitfire and represented the ultimate mark of this pedigree.

The success and affection of his final creation is commemorated principally through the Solent Sky Museum in Southampton, the Science Museum in London, Tangmere Aviation Museum and The Spitfire Society.


Spitfire – History of the Spitfire's design and development

Spitfires have hit the ground, touched the sea, bashed through trees, cut telegraph and high tension wires, collided in the air, been shot to pieces, had rudders and parts of wings fall off, and have yet made safe landings, with or without wheels.’ So wrote Australian Spitfire pilot John Vader.

R J Mitchell, the Supermarine Spitfire’s designer, learnt his trade during WWI. He was conscious of the fragility of the early planes, and always considered pilot safety in his designs. Even when designs were optimised for speed, such as those for the Schneider Trophy races, he never sacrificed his concern for the pilot. His masterpiece, the Spitfire, proved to be not only a beautiful plane much loved by its pilots, but also a robust and adaptable design.

It was, in fact, so adaptable that it was the only fighter in production before, through, and after the war. It eventually reached Mark 24, some of those marks being specialist Photo Reconnaissance (PR) planes, others reserved for the Navy and christened ‘Seafire’. Versions of the Spitfire were equipped with machine-guns, cannons, rockets, and bombs. It could be used at high altitude or adapted as a ground-attack plane (see images of Spitfire adaptations). Two marks were even tried with floats. By the end of the war, it had got through 13 different designs of propeller. In all, 20,351 Spitfires were produced for the RAF.

Mitchell’s search for an effective fighter-interceptor did not get off to a very good start. His Supermarine Type 224, with its steam-cooled Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, could only manage a top speed of 230mph, against the Air Ministry’s rather modest specification, F7/30, for an all-metal, four-gun fighter, with a top speed of 250mph. This ugly duckling was nicknamed ‘Spitfire’ by the managing director of Vickers Supermarine. Mitchell, however, was already working on a much superior design, the Type 300, and went into collaboration with Rolls-Royce, who were, themselves, working on a new engine, which would eventually become known as the ‘Merlin’. At first a private venture, it was taken up by the Air Ministry, whose fighter spec, F16/36, would be written around this design.

Work began on the 300 prototype, Air Ministry registration K5054, in December 1934, and it underwent its maiden test flight at Eastleigh, Southampton, on 5 March 1936, in the hands of Vickers’ chief test-pilot Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers.

K5054 had a narrow fuselage with wings that tapered to slender tips and were elliptical, and its cockpit was enclosed. Its undercarriage was set close together to lower stress on the wings, and the wheels swung outward to retract flush into wing cavities.

Suspension was provided by ‘oleo’ legs, which were telescopically sprung on oil and air. A tail skid completed the technical arrangements for take-off and landing. The plane was originally fitted with a two blade, fixed-pitch wooden propeller and a Merlin ‘C’ engine.

Unfortunately, Mitchell died of cancer in June 1937. He continued to work despite increasing pain, tweaking the design up to the moment of his death – earning himself the posthumous sobriquet ‘the first of the few’ from the makers of his 1942 film biography. Before he died, however, he had seen his prototype fly.

Production design and future adaptations were, thereafter, the work of Mitchell’s long-time collaborator and successor Joseph Smith. It was Smith who oversaw the production trials at Martlesham Heath, but the Air Ministry, impressed with the prototype, had already ordered 310 Spitfires, and, despite the problems with Type 224, the name had stuck.

Spitfire Mark I

After consultations with RAF technical experts, the armament for the new Spitfire fighter was settled on 8 Browning .303 machine guns. These were basically Colt .30s manufactured under licence but re-chambered to take the British rimmed cartridges.

They were placed four to a wing, a novel concept at the time, and designed to fire outside the circle of the propeller, doing away with the need for the interrupter gear of earlier aircraft. Smith also simplified the construction and design to make the Spitfire more amenable to mass production, and he finally brought Mitchell’s idea to a practical conclusion when the first Mark I, K9789, officially entered service with No 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford on 4 August 1938 – though the first few planes had only four machine-guns, as there was a desperate shortage of Brownings.

The early Mark Is had a service ceiling of 31,900ft, and at 30,000ft could reach a speed of 315mph. Its maximum speed was 362mph at 18,500ft. Its maximum cruising speed, though, was 210mph at 20,000ft, and at economical speed its range was 575 miles. Its combat range was 395 miles, allowing for take-off and 15 minutes of fighting.

By the time the Spitfire had brought down its first German plane,a Heinkel He 111 bomber over the Firth of Forth on 16 October 1939, several improvements had been made to the Mark I. To its elliptical wings and all-metal ‘monocoque’ body, where the skin is part of the plane’s structure rather than just a covering, had been added the bulged, or blister-shaped, cockpit, thereby completing the Spitfire’s classic profile.

Windscreen plastic had been replaced by armoured glass, armour plate was fitted at the rear of the engine bulkhead, a power-operated pump was installed to operate the undercarriage, and the tail-skid had been replaced by a wheel. The Merlin Mark II engines were giving way to the Mark III with its improved airscrew shaft, and the two-blade wooden propeller had been replaced by the De Havilland three-blade metal, two-pitch propeller, significantly enhancing performance, particularly in the climb.

Remodelling and rearming

Most of the Spitfires with which the RAF fought the Battle of Britain were Mark Is, but work had begun on a Mark II as soon as the first model had gone into production, and some were already in service as early as the summer of 1940.

There was little difference between the two marks, the main one being that the Mark II Spitfires were fitted with the Merlin XII engine, rated at 1150hp. The Spitfire Mark II had slower maximum and cruising speeds, but a faster climb rate, being able to reach 20,000ft in 7 minutes, and had an improved ceiling of 32,800ft. The Mark II had better protection for the pilot as well, with increased armour behind the pilot’s seat to protect his head.

Another early development which led to increased Spitfire variety was the production of different wing types to accommodate a range of different armament set-ups. The A wing was the original one designed to hold four .303 machine guns. The B wing was designed to accommodate the newly accepted Hispano-Suiza 20mm cannon, so each wing had one cannon and two .303 machine guns.

The C, or ‘Universal’, wing could accommodate either the A or B combinations, or an altogether new combination of two 20mm cannons. There was no D wing, but an E wing was created, which carried a 20mm cannon and a .50in machine gun.

Fifty Mark IBs were manufactured, but there were problems with feed to the cannon. By the time the Mark II was ready to enter service, this problem had been sorted. Of the 920 Mark IIs made, some 170 had the B-wing combination.

In the continual programme of updating and improving the Spitfire, the next most significant development was the Mark V, and with a production run of nearly 6,500, this was the most common type ever produced. They were manufactured mostly in the B and C versions. Some with the Universal wing were given four cannons and could carry one 500lb bomb or two 250lb bombs. They were also fitted with drop tanks of 115 or 175 gallons, significantly increasing endurance.

Faster and higher

The Mark V Spitfires were powered by the Merlin 45 and 46 engines, producing 1470hp at 16,000ft. These new, more powerful Spitfires were the Air Ministry’s response to the introduction of the Messerschmitt Me 109 F and the Focke-Wulf FW 190 in the spring of 1941, both of which clearly outclassed the Spitfire Mark II. The Mark VAs could reach a speed of 376mph at 19,500ft, at which height the Mark VB’s speed was 369mph, whilst the Mark VCs reached 374mph at 13,000ft. The climb performance of the Mark Vs was improved, being able to reach 10,000ft in 3 minutes 6 seconds, and 30,000ft in 12 minutes 12 seconds. The Spitfire’s ceiling was also raised by some 2,000ft.

As plane performance improved on both sides, and as the number of roles aircraft were asked to perform increased, so the Spitfire proved its versatility as a new range of designations was introduced. Those Spitfires designed for high-altitude work were given the preface HF, those for low-altitude LF, and those for normal duties F. The HFs and LFs were given variations of the Merlin engine specifically designed for their tasks. The HFs were distinguishable by their extra long wing-tips, whereas the LFs had clipped wings.

Developments and adaptations continued to the end of the war, with the Mark IX taking over from the Mk V as the most commonly manufactured plane of the later series, with some 5,500 produced, of which more than 1,000 went to Russia. Increasing numbers of Spitfires were also being sent to the Middle Eastern and Far Eastern theatres.

Experiments had been ongoing with the new Rolls-Royce Griffon engines. The first of the production Spitfires with these engines was the Mark XII with the Griffon III or IV, followed by the Mark XIV with the 2050hp Griffon 65, driving a five-blade Rotol propeller. The Mark XIV had a maximum speed of 443mph at 30,000ft, and could reach a height of 12,000ft in just 2 minutes 51 seconds. It was a Mark XIV which was the first Allied plane to bring down a Messerschmitt Me 262, the world’s first operational jet fighter.

The appearance of the Me 262, however, showed the way to the future. After the war, designers everywhere turned to the production of jet-engined fighters. The Spitfire’s postwar service life was brief.

This article was published in the April 2011 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.


The Silver Spitfire is a Mk.IX Spitfire finished in polished aluminium with the guns removed. By ‘de-militarising’ the aircraft in this manner we aim to highlight the timeless beauty of its design. With a plane that is less provocative than one adorned with camouflage paint, we hope to broaden the appeal and reach of the project, and gain easier access to nations en route.

By presenting the aircraft in this beautiful ‘bare metal’ state we aim to highlight the beauty of the Spitfire’s timeless design, drawing attention to the unique and famous shape of the airframe.

“The Silver Spitfire is one of the most original airworthy spitfires in the world”


Spitfire I - History

The Spitfire would of course would become the design most associated with R.J. Mitchell but the design and initial production period were far from successful or straight forward compared with its later legendary following of pilots and public alike. The origins began with the Type 224 of 1931, unfortunately it lacked the streamlined presence of the Schneider Trophy seaplanes and struggled to achieve the performance parameters set by the Air Ministry. After the aircraft’s rejection in 1934, Mitchell and his team revised the designed under the designation Type 300 which would result in a whole Ministry specification based around it and become known as the Spitfire. The prototype K5054 took off for the first time from Eastleigh on 5 March 1936 under the control of Chief Test Pilot (Mutt) Summers. Both performance and production would remain troublesome up until the Battle of Britain but its advanced features meant that it could be continuously improved during the War to counter competition from Luftwaffe fighters. It should also be remembered that Mitchell was diagnosed with cancer in 1933 and was in considerable pain up until his death on 11 June 1937.

The Battle of Britain would become the engagement that would solidify the iconic name, mythology and depiction of the Spitfire in the public's imagination. Its speed and manoeuvrability enabled the aircraft to gain the upper hand with the Luftwaffe Me 109 and in combination with the Hurricane, radar and defence system won the Battle and laid the seeds for the future Allied victory. The Spitfire Fund was widely donated to by the British public and from around the world and films such as the First of the Few and Battle of Britain cemented its reputation as a war winning weapon.


By RKO Radio Pictures - Source , Public Domain, Link

The Mk IV would be the first Spitfire to be installed with the Rolls-Royce Griffon engine. It didn’t go into full production but rather served as a development aircraft to sort out the airframe changes required to incorporate the additional weight and power of the new engine. The prototype first flew on 27 November 1941. The Mk V started operational service from early 1941 and were mostly constructed at Castle Bromwich. The Mk Va again was fitted with eight Browning machine guns. The Vb version once again incorporated two Hispano cannons and four Browning machine guns. As a result of the introduction of the FW 190 in August 1941, the Vb had the option of clipped wings to improve speed and handling at lower altitudes. The Mk Vc incorporated the universal wing which allowed a number of permutations in armaments to be carried in the wing and was also easier to manufacture. These versions of the Mk V included a Vokes air filter under the nose of the aircraft and many had a modified air filter which was more streamlined compared with the standard Vokes. Mk Vb and Vc (Trop), these were required for operation in North Africa, Middle East, Far East and Australia to cope with climatic and ground conditions associated with these areas. These marks of Spitfire would also be connected with the defence of Malta from the Italian and German air attacks and represented in the film Malta Story.

The Spitfire Mk IX, an interim mark designed to counter the FW 190 in 1942, it actually became the most produced version of the Spitfire. The use of the two stage supercharger provided a quantum leap in performance particularly over 20,000ft and provided effective opposition to the latest German fighter. Almost identical to the Mk IX, the Mk XVIe utilised the Merlin 266 produced by Packard in America. All these aircraft were used for low altitude roles and featured clipped wings.

PR IX and FR IX aircraft were modified Mk IXs created as an interim measure before the introduction of the PR XI. They were involved in reconnaissance missions that included Operation Chastise and Market Garden, capturing seminal images of these iconic events. The Type 387 as the PR X was an amalgam of a Mk VII airframe and PR XI wings, with the pressurised cockpit it could sustain heights of 40,000ft for photographic sorties. It operated in small numbers from May 1944 and led to the ultimate Spitfire photo reconnaissance Mk XIX. Types 365 and 370 (tropicalised) as the PR XI were an amalgamation of the Mks VII, VIII and IX. Produced from 1942 it was designed for tactical reconnaissance but could climb high to avoid enemy fighters but did not have a pressurised cockpit. PR XIII, photographic version created for low level sorties ahead of the D-Day invasion in 1944, including an armament of four Browning machine guns. Camera equipment fitted included one oblique F24 and two vertical F24s all in the fuselage. The Mk XIX became the ultimate photographic reconnaissance version of the Spitfire which incorporated a pressurised cockpit and the Mk XIV Griffon engine. It entered operational service in May 1944 and would only retire from frontline service with the RAF by April 1954.

Spitfire MK XIV, incorporated the two stage super charged Griffon engine which substantially improved performance at high altitudes but required considerable airframe changes to cope with the weight and power of the new engine. This included more fuel storage to deal with the higher fuel consumption, five blade propeller and greater cooling facilities. This mark of Spitfire would destroy more V-1s than any other Spitfire, and German fighters avoided combat with it due to its performance. 610 Squadron was the first to operate the aircraft from December 1943.

Marks 21, 22 and 24, in order for the Spitfire to handle the increased power of the two stage supercharged Griffon engine, the wings were entirely re-designed and could handle speeds approaching the speed of sound. The first prototype first flew in July 1943 and the production example in March 1944. Initially it suffered from handling problems but these were smoothed out and entered squadron service in January 1945, fitted with four Hispano cannons. Mark 22 aircraft had the tear drop canopy and cut down rear fuselage. Only one regular squadron of the RAF operated the aircraft but did serve in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force until 1951. Mark 24, largely identical to the Spitfire 22, it had increased fuel capacity and had the ability to carry rocket projectiles and bomb armaments. Operational from 1946 and continued with the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force until 1955. It was twice as heavy and had twice the performance of the original Spitfire and represented the ultimate mark of this pedigree.

The success and affection of Mitchell's final creation is commemorated principally through the Solent Sky Museum in Southampton, the Science Museum in London, Tangmere Aviation Museum and The Spitfire Society.


The Triumph Spitfire 1500 (1974-1980)

In 1972 Triumph rationalized production by using the US market 1,493cc engine in all markets, but only applying the emissions controls to the US market engines, and tuning up the engine for British and European markets thus creating the fastest Spitfire yet, other than the car’s fighter aircraft namesake of World War II.

The car fitted with this new engine was called the Spitfire 1500 and its engine produced 71 bhp (DIN) @ 5,500 rpm and torque of 82 lb/ft. This engine was mated to a Morris Marina gearbox with the result that the car could now actually “do the ton”, i.e. 100 mph and boasted a standing to 60 mph time of 13.4 seconds. The British and European market engine had a compression ratio of 9:1 and breathed its leaded petrol through twin SU HS4 carburetors.

The US market Spitfire 1500’s engine was given a compression ratio of 7.5:1 so it could run on the unleaded gasoline that was being phased in. It breathed through the single Zenith Stromberg carburetor and had an exhaust gas recirculating system and catalytic converter. This engine produced 53 hp (DIN) giving the car a standing to 60 mph time of 16.3 seconds.

The Spitfire 1500 had the longer swing axles and resulting wider rear track, and also had its rear suspension a little lowered to induce some negative camber, which all contributed to the car’s improved stability.

The car’s interior trim was substantially upgraded with “chequered brushed nylon centre panels” in the reclining seats and also got steering column stalk mounted controls in the 1977 upgrade. The final model had the features expected by that time including an electric windscreen washer and hazard warning lights. Wire wheels ceased to be available as an option however as the world moved on to accessory alloy wheels.


1942: Defence of Malta

The following article in an excerpt from the forthcoming book dedicated to the Supermarine Spitfire, covering its wartime combat career from service introduction in 1938 to the VJ Day in 1945, and beyond. – Ed.

“Either, sir, we get the Spitfires here within days, not weeks, or we’re done. That’s it.”
Sqn/Ldr Stan Turner to AOC Sir Hugh Lloyd about the situation on Malta

In February 1942 Sqn/Ldr Stan Turner, veteran of the Battle of France and Douglas Bader’s 242 Squadron, arrived to take over No. 249 Squadron on Malta. Remaining under Axis siege since the summer of 1940, Malta was now in desperate straits. The February convoy from Alexandria had failed to reach the island due to intense bombardment from German aircraft stationed in Crete. The inhabitants, under constant bombardment, were facing acute shortages of everything: food, ammunition, fuel, spare parts, aircraft. Upon arrival, Turner quickly realized that the defences faced unacceptable odds flying Hurricanes against the German Bf 109F’s and Italian Macchi C.202’s. He urgently required the delivery of Spitfires for the Malta squadrons and his request was approved. These were to be the first Spitfire fighters to be deployed outside Britain.

As delivery onboard a convoy or over land was out of the question, the only option remained to fly the Spitfires off an aircraft carrier. Contrary to what has been suggested elsewhere, this method of delivery was already well established during 1941 more than 300 Hurricanes had been delivered to Malta this way. Now came the turn for the Spitfire, and with it a number of problems had to be solved. Firstly, the initial plan envisaged the use of HMS Eagle and HMS Argus for the delivery, code-named Operation Spotter. Unfortunately, the elevators on Argus were too small for fixed-wing Spitfires, leaving HMS Eagle as the only feasible option. During the first attempt for delivery from the Eagle on February 28 a technical fault with the 90-gallon slipper tanks was discovered preventing their use and the operation had to be abandoned. The entire task force returned to Gibraltar.

HMS Eagle pictured before the war. By the beginning of 1942, this old carrier became the only alternative for supplying Malta with Spitfires.
[Crown Copyright]

To enable the aircraft to get into the air within 660 feet of Eagle’s deck, the Spitfire needed take-off flaps. Unfortunately, the Spitfire only had one 90-degrees flap setting for landing. A simple solution was developed whereupon the flaps on ferried aircraft were locked half-way down by inserting wooden wedges between the flap and the wing. As each aircraft took into the air, the pilot had to lower the flaps fully, dropping the wedges to the sea, and then close the flaps again.

It was during the next attempt on 7 March 1942 that the full contingent of fifteen Spitfires was flown off from HMS Eagle off Algiers at the distance of 650 miles from Malta. Assisted by seven Blenheims, all fifteen Spitfires reached Malta safely. Hurricanes were up to cover their landing at Takali. During the next few days the airfields were persistently bombed, but on 10 March the Spitfires were ready for action, claiming the destruction of one Bf 109 and two more probably destroyed.

Already on 21 March HMS Eagle made its second delivery 9 Spitfires to the beleaguered island. Spitfires arrived just in the critical phase of the Axis bombing offensive over Malta, which reached its apex between 20 March and 28 April 1942. Luftwaffe records alone indicate that during this period the island was subjected to 11,819 sorties, an average of 300 sorties a day. The Germans were diverting significant forces from the Eastern front to Sicily, and their forces built up rapidly. In June the Italian and German forces ranged against the island counted some 520 Luftwaffe and 300 Reggia Aeronautica aircraft, including around 140 Messerschmitt Bf 109F of JG 53 and II/JG 3 and 80 Macchi C.202’s of the 4th and 51st Stormo.

Aerial photograph of Takali (Ta Qali) taken on 29th April 1942 at the height of Luftwaffe bombing offensive. The devastation is evident. Takali was the main fighter base on Malta and the one where Spitfires were operated. Note the massive reinforced aircraft pens in the upper part of the photo. 285 individual aircraft pens were erected on Malta during three critical months, involving the effort of some 3000 Army soldiers.
[Crown Copyright]

The general tactics adopted by Sqn/Ldr Turner was similar to that of the Battle of Britain. The available Spitfires would climb high above the incoming formations and try to engage the escorting fighters while the Hurricanes would come in at the bombers below. This provided a vital cover for the Hurricanes which had to struggle to get to 15,000 feet before the enemy approach. The interception was coordinated by ground control safely located in “The Ditch” – natural caves under Valletta.

On March 23 a supply convoy MW-10 from Alexandria approached Malta. On the day before the convoy was attacked by Italian fleet in what has become known as the Second Battle of Sirte, but the four escorting Royal Navy cruisers and 16 destroyers British managed to fight off the attack. During the approach to Malta, the Germans and Italians launched over 100 aircraft to intercept the convoy as soon as it was within range. All Malta fighters – 14 Spitfires and 11 Hurricanes – were scrambled to protect it. Despite their efforts and the significant number of Axis aircraft shot down, the cargo ship Clan Campbell was sunk twenty miles from harbour, oil tanker Breconshire was damaged and anchored outside, steamer Pampas was hit by two bombs that failed to explode, while only Talabot reached Grand Harbour intact. For the next three days the RAF Squadrons kept up a nearly continuous fighter screen over Valletta against intense bombing attacks. On the 26th the Luftwaffe launched a massive raid of 300 aircraft which sunk all three surviving ships and a destroyer at anchor. Only 5,000 tons of supplies had been unloaded. Worse still, only five serviceable fighters remained on Malta after four days of action.

Peculiar to the defence of Malta was that there were always more available pilots than aircraft. As there was no return route for all the ferry pilots, they simply reinforced the existing units. At the same time, scarcity of maintenance facilities available on the island meant that great efforts had to be made to keep the aircraft flying. Everything had to be improvised to keep the aircraft serviceable, and cannibalising several damaged aircraft to cobble together one flying machine was a common occurrence. Indeed, on the occasions where the RAF could put up no fighter cover, Malta’s Fighter Control would transmit a dummy radio communications, faking the scrambling and interception of incoming raids as if fighters were already in the air, knowing the Luftwaffe would be monitoring the conversations.

With the abundance of pilots, a special system was developed so that units and pilots could fly the available aircraft in turns. For an individual pilot this could mean several days’ wait between his flying days. On the other hand, a flying day often meant two or three missions in a row.

“On one occasion all our fighter aircraft were grounded in order to try to increase serviceability. The Hun bombers came over in force with quite a large fighter escort. It happened that there were several fighter pilots with me in the Operations Room, one of whom was a Canadian with an unmistakable voice. I put him at the microphone at a stand-by radio set and proceeded to give him dummy orders. He replied just as if he was flying his fighter. This, we suspected, caused a cry of ‘Achtung! Spitfeuer!’ to go over the German radio. In any case, two 109s enthusiastically shot each other down without any British aircraft being airborne. This knowledge that the Germans intercepted our orders stood us in good stead. We claimed that Pilot Officer ‘Humgufery’ shot down the two Huns.”
P/O Woodhall

The HMS Eagle could do one more trip on March 29 delivering just 7 aircraft. Delivery crisis deepened as her steering gear was damaged and she had to be put in dry dock. Not having any other carrier available with the lifts large enough for the Spitfire’s wing span, prime minister Winston Churchill turned for help to the United States. This was provided timely in the form of USS Wasp, a large US Navy carrier which was available in the Atlantic as part of Task Force 99 intended for protection of northern convoy route to Russia.

USS Wasp (CV-7) photographed in spring 1942 with Vought SB2U Vindicator and Grumman F4F Wildcat aircraft on her flight deck. During the time of her Atlantic and Mediterranean missions the ship was painted in a Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage pattern.
[US Navy]

Leaving off her own contingent of torpedo and dive bombers at Clyde, Wasp collected 47 brand-new Spitfires Mk. VC with pilots from No. 601 and 603 Squadrons and set off for the Mediterranean. She was escorted by Force W of the Home Fleet with battlecruiser HMS Renown and anti-aircraft cruisers HMS Cairo and HMS Charybdis. The group passed the Straits of Gibraltar under the cover of darkness on 19 April, avoiding the possibility of being discovered by Spanish or Axis agents. By dawn on 20 April Wasp reached her despatch position off Algiers. She first launched 11 Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters to cover the launch. Meanwhile, the Spitfires were warming up their engines on the hangar deck with pilots strapped in the cockpits. The Spitfires were brought up singly on the aft elevator, engines running, and then given immediate go-ahead to take off. As one aircraft was commencing its take-off run, the elevator was already being lowered to pick another.

All but one of the dispatched Spitfires reached Malta and landed safely. Unfortunately, the Germans spotted the approaching aircraft on the radar and immediately launched a large-scale attack on Takali, destroying most of the newly arrived aircraft. 48 hours later there were still only 7 serviceable Spitfires on the island.

“The Spitfires came waggling their wings as if to say ‘OK, boys, we’re here‘. But that very same evening the ‘gen’ went round that a big plot was building up over Sicily and within half an hour or so we were to see that Jerry really meant business. Standing at a vantage point in the village of Zurrieq, I saw the first waves of 88s coming all the way over the island. They dived down on Takali where the whole batch of Spits had landed. We tried to count them as they came in, but it was an utter impossibility. Straight down they went, and one could see the stuff leave the kites before it really got dark.”
Anonymous RAF Sergeant about the aftermath of Operation Calendar

Spitfire taking off from USS Wasp on 9 May 1942 during operation Bovery. Barely visible is the 90-gallon slipper tank under the aircraft’s belly. As the Wasp’s deck was longer than that of HMS Eagle, no provisional flaps were needed for take-off.
[US Navy]

By the middle of April the fighter defence was seriously weakened and the scrambles had to be restricted to six aircraft, sometimes even fewer. Of the six, four were sent to engage the enemy and two reserved for airfield defence. The interceptors scrambled and gained height as rapidly as possible in the sun. Their tactics was often limited to a single attack, diving right through the fighter escort and trying to hit one or two bombers before breaking away. Meanwhile, to save fuel, the airfield defence pair were sent up at the last possible moment. Keeping radio silence, they would fly to a point twenty or thirty miles south of the island and gain height until ordered by ground control to intervene at whichever airfield in need of defence.

When caught by the Bf 109s, many pilots found themselves flying for their lives using all helpful manoeuvres. Canadian George “Buzz” Beurling developed an evasive action when he, upon being attacked from behind, pulled the stick extremely hard, causing the Spitfire to enter a violent stall, flick over and spin. The manoeuvre was so quick and rough that it was impossible to follow, but only very few pilots ever learned to use it. “Buzz” Beurling was as good a shooter as he was a pilot: he became the top ace of the 1942 Malta campaign with 27 victories to his credit. Rumours said that he once shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 with only two bullets!

Despite the setback of Operation Calendar, it proved that with the aid of the large American carrier new fighters could be delivered to Malta in quantity. During the next Operation Bovery on 9 May, USS Wasp and the repaired HMS Eagle launched as many as 64 Spitfires Mk. VC. Again, the launch was preceded by 11 F4Fs taking off for combat air patrol. At 6:43, Wasp commenced launching Spitfires and the first aircraft piloted by Sgt/Pilot Herrington roared down the deck. Unfortunately, it lost power soon after take-off and plunged into the sea. Both pilot and plane were lost.
P/O Jerrold (Jerry) Alpine Smith (P/O J.A. Smith

126 Squadron, Malta) landed his Spitfire back on the deck of USS Wasp on May 9, 1942, because his auxiliary fuel tank was out of commission.

Other pilots had more luck and took into the air without further fatalities. One more incident occurred in the air as P/O Smith found his auxiliary fuel tank unserviceable after take-off. Without the tank he had no chance of reaching Malta or other friendly territory and he decided drop it and attempt landing back at the USS Wasp’s deck once all the other aircraft were airborne. This he did an hour later, the Spitfire coming to a stop just 15 feet from the forward edge of the flight deck, making what one Wasp sailor observed to be a “one wire” landing. It was to be the first successful deck landing on a Spitfire conducted in operational conditions.

The reception of the aircraft on Malta was prepared down to the smallest detail. Each arriving Spitfire was immediately brought into a safety pen, which was a self-supporting unit. A supply of fuel, glycol, oil and ammunition was waiting ready in each pen and a human chain put up to refuel the aircraft by hand. At the same time, two mechanics assisted by two soldiers rearmed the aircraft. The moment their work was done a Malta pilot took over the machine and took off to intercept the inevitable German raid. The fastest turn-around time an aircraft noted that day was an incredible 6 minutes! Not only did the aircraft survive but they also inflicted considerable damage to the approaching Italian formation of CANT bombers escorted by MC 202s. British claims that day were three Italian fighters and two bombers shot down.

Another photograph of USS Wasp taken by the end of May 1942, soon after the completion of its two delivery missions to Malta
[US Navy]

The climax of the battle came on 9 May, when HMS Welshman loaded with ammunition laid in the Grand Harbour. The unloading was done under additional protection of a smoke screen. The Axis put up four bombing raids on the harbour that day, with the heaviest air battle taking place in the morning, when about 20 Ju 87s and 10 Ju 88s escorted by Bf 109s were intercepted by 37 Spitfires and 13 Hurricanes.

With more Spitfires at its disposal, the Malta fighter force was now able to effectively hit back at the enemy and it didn’t look back ever since. HMS Eagle continued to deliver Spitfires, making 5 more trips in May and June and launching a sum of 142 aircraft of which 135 reached Malta. By the middle of June the Germans had to revert many of their units to the Eastern Front and in support of Rommel’s offensive towards Egypt and the pressure on the island decreased. In June the number of sorties flown by Fliegerkorps II against the island amounted to 956 compared to 8788 in April.

As mentioned before, the Malta Spitfires were of the Mk. VC variant, then freshly off the production line and armed with hard-hitting four 20 cannon. However, cannon ammunition was always in short supply and most aircraft had two of the cannon removed to save on ammunition and weight.

Compared with the first Spitfires Mk. V these aircraft featured a number of refinements. A new SU injector-carburettor increased the top speed by 5-10 mph depending on altitude. Internally-mounted windscreen armour gained around 5 mph, streamlined rear-view mirror another 2-3 mph. Modified exhaust pipes brought another 6-7 mph, and a slightly improved propeller another 5 mph. Thus, despite the presence of the large Vokes tropical filter under the nose which cut the top speed by 15-20 mph, the Spitfire Mk. VC could hold its own against the German Messerschmitt Bf 109F and the Italian Macchi C. 202 fairly well. The Bf 109F was the fastest of the three, and was also superior in climb. However, the Spitfire was the most manoeuvrable of the trio and despite the reduction to two cannon had the heaviest armament. Combat victories over Malta were therefore highly dependent on pilot skills, element of surprise and efficiency of ground control.

In July came the change of leadership. Air Marshall Keith Park of the Battle of Britain fame was put in charge of the air defence of Malta. During July and August there were four more resupply operations by HMS Eagle and HMS Furious during which a total of 125 Spitfires reached their destination. This was a sizeable force but Malta was now desperately short on fuel. 11 August mark the beginning of Operation Pedestal, the final effort to supply Malta by sea before the lack of fuel and ammunition would force its surrender. Despite the loss of many ships including the invaluable HMS Eagle, 5 merchantmen out of 14 reached Grand Harbour. Among them was the crippled SS Ohio, the largest tanker in the world at the time, loaded with aircraft fuel. Together the five ships brought much more vital supplies than the defenders had seen in a long time and this enabled the island to go on.

Airfield facilities at Takali were primitive throughout the siege. Fuel bowsers were always in short supply and refuelling had to be done by hand from tin canisters.
[Crown Copyright]

The combined force of the five fighter squadrons on the island, Nos. 126, 185, 229, 249 and 1435, had now for the first time exceeded 100 serviceable fighters. Keith Park now had sufficient force to protect his own airfields and could apply the tactics of forward fighter defence, whereupon aircraft should be intercepting enemy raids as early on their way to the target as possible. By establishing his “Forward Interception Plan”, the Spitfire squadrons virtually eliminated further Axis daylight bombing over the island, winning over the German’s second and last effort to bomb Malta into submission in October. An offensive against Italian shipping to North Africa was now feasible and bomber and torpedo bomber squadrons which had to flee Malta in April returned in the late summer. Also in August, No. 126 Squadron was the first to adapt its Spitfires to carry two 250-pound bombs and commenced fighter-bomber missions against German airfields on Sicily.

Also crucial to the successes in the Mediterranean was the work of RAF reconnaissance units, who observed enemy shipping and aircraft movements. PRU Spitfires routinely conducted reconnaissance missions over Italian fleet bases at Taranto, Messina, Navarino and Naples, often three times a day. The movements of the Axis forces into Tunisia, first on the airfield at Tunis and then in Bizerta harbour, were covered by Malta Spitfires on a daily basis until it was possible to operate over Tunisia from the new bases in Algiers.

One of the most famous PRU pilots Sqn/Ldr Adrian “Warby” Warburton was a commander of No. 69 Squadron equipped with Spitfires PR Mk. IV on Malta. While carrying out a low-level photographic reconnaissance of Bizerta in November 1942, Warburton was attacked and shot up by a Bf 109 over Tunisia but managed to make an emergency landing at the newly liberated airfield at Bone. The local French admiral had him flown to Gibraltar where Warby fetched another a Spitfire and returned to Malta, shooting down a Junkers Ju 88 en route. His colleagues were astonished to see him alive, having heard nothing of him for four days.

During Autumn a method was developed to send aerial reinforcements to Malta directly from Gibraltar. The advantages were obvious as no carriers had to be risked in resupply missions, but no fighter was previously able to cover the distance corresponding to that from London to St Petersburg. Fortunately, the Spitfires could now carry a massive 170 gallon slipper tank. With armament reduced to two machine guns and PR-style enlarged oil tank mounted in the nose instead of the Vokes filter the aircraft had just enough range for the mission. The first aircraft reached Malta from Gibraltar on 25 October. But by now the Allied efforts in North Africa were beginning to have their effect and supplies were reaching Malta. Only fifteen Spitfires were delivered by air before the siege of Malta was lifted and subsequent reinforcements could be sent by convoys.

At the same time when the Spitfire Mk. V was proving unable to bring the decisive advantage to the RAF over the Channel, it meant all the difference between defeat and victory over Malta. By transferring Spitfires from the carriers to Malta, the British established a credible air garrison on the island against all odds. By the end of 1942, the Axis did no longer command the skies over the island.

“Our day fighter strength has during June and July been greatly increased, and the enemy’s superiority in numbers has long since dwindled. The time has now arrived for our Spitfire squadrons to put an end to the bombing of our airfields by daylight. We have the best fighter aircraft in the world, and our Spitfire pilots will again show their comrades on the ground that they are the best fighter pilots in the world.”
Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park, Special Order of the Day, August 1942


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