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Supermarine Spitfire side views
These three side plans show the development of the Spitfire fuselage. Bottom is the Mk I of 1939-40. This is the classic Merlin powered Spitfire, with the distinctive bubble canopy.
The middle plan is of the Spitfire Mk XIV. This shows the longer nose required for the Rolls Royce Griffon engine, and the larger tail assembly used on later Spitfires.
Finally, the top plan shows a FR.Mk XIV (Fighter Reconnaisance), with the cut down rear fuselage and sliding canopy used on many late Spitfires. It also shows the location of the oblique camera behind the cockpit.
MMP was founded in 1996 by Roger Wallsgrove, to publish "Mushroom Model Magazine". This quarterly modelling magazine was developed from "Mushroom Monthly", a club newsletter which ran from 1985 to 1995, achieving a world-wide reputation for quality articles, fearless and honest reviews, and a great sense of humor. From 1997 the magazine was produced in collaboration with Robert Peczkowski and Artur Juszczak (Stratus), which meant a big leap in print quality and design. MMP expanded into book publication in 1999, and since then we have built up a list of books on aircraft and aviation, naval, military vehicles, and military history.
Wojtek Matusiak lives in Warsaw, Poland. Wojtek Matusiak is a leading World War 2 Polish Air Force and Spitfire researcher, having published numerous articles and dozens of books on the subjects, as well as readily assisting other authors. He has maintained an enthusiastic interest in the history and development of the Spitfire, as well as of Poland's military aviation, throughout his life.
Wojtek Matusiak author's the latest in Mushroom Model Publications' series of aircraft used in the Polish Air Force. This volume represents Wojtek Matusiak's tenth book for MMPBooks. The front cover by Marek Rys features a 303 Squadron Spitfire Mk. Vb during Operation Spartan in early 1943. The back cover by Marek Rys features another Spitfire Mk.Vb, also during Operation Spartan. Both the front and rear cover feature special markings in the white bands on the forward fuselage that extended from spinner to cockpit that represented the Germans during this exercise. This represents Volume one of a two volume series. This first volume covers Polish Squadrons from 302 through 308, while the second volume will cover Squadrons 315 through 318. Many of these photographs have never been published before.
I counted 231 black and white photos along with 14 color photographs that include detailed captions. Robert Grudzien contributes 36 full color side views. There are plenty of color scrap illustrations that highlight the detail of insignias. The great part of these color side views is they are backed up with period photos of the aircraft that is being portrayed.
The Table of Contents focuses on the following sections:
- Poles on Spitfire Vs
- The 1st Polish Wing
- The 2nd Polish Wing
- The 3rd Polish Wing
- No 302 Squadron 'City of Poznan' [Page 13, 27]
- No. 303 Squadron Kosciuszko - City of Warsaw' [Page 59]
- No. 306 Squadron 'City of Torun'[Page 72]
- No. 308 Squadron 'City of Cracow'
- Victories Credited to Polish Spitfire V Pilots [Table] [Page 91]
Wojtek Matusiak off on the beginnings of Polish pilots escaping to England to fight the Germans. What I learned was that the Polish pilots were never part of the RAF, but considered a separate force. The Polish Air Force still shared RAF equipment and operated in conjunction with the RAF. The Polish Air Force started out with Hawker Hurricanes, but transitioned to the Supermarine Spifire along with the rest of the RAF. Next up are histories of the three Polish Wings and Squadrons 302 through 308. This is all amidst very well captioned photographs and illustrations.
What I really enjoyed in this book is the use of actual photographs to support the color profiles of each type. MMP Books features this in many of their books which I think is a huge attraction. This really brings these period photographs to life. The examples as shown on pages 27, 59. and 72, are good examples of this. In the case of the illustration on Page 59, you get a nice color profile of the subject aircraft, a color illustration of the badge under the windscreen, and two 'in action' black and white photographs of the color profile, W3765 of 302 Squadron. All of the color profiles are dealt with in this way detailed and provide great insight into what is depicted.
Polish Wings 29 provides an interesting view into a lesser known chapter in aviation history. The text and captions are all in English thanks to the author who apparently moonlights on the side translating Polish and English. Wojtek Matusiak is an excellent writer and ably crafts the storyline with interesting morsels to prevent this from being simply a progression of facts. This book is essential if you're considering building any of these aircraft in scale. Luckily, being a Supemarine Spitfire Mk V means there are no shortage of options in kits and accessories to build any of the aircraft represented. There is even a 'quasi' advertisement on page 2 that provides specific decals for this monograph. If you have any interest in Polish (or British) aircraft, this is a must-have book. I am really looking forward to Volume 2 of this two-part set!
My thanks to Casemate, Mushroom Model Publications, and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.
A Racing Pedigree
Two years before the Battle of Britain, where the aircraft proved indispensable, the Spitfire had only just started production. In the late '30s, it was actually the Hawker Hurricane fighter that was the favorite of many RAF commanders.
The Hurricane had come from a lineage of bi-planes built for war, like the Hawker Demon and the Hawker Fury. Production of these rugged planes had gone well, so well in fact that the RAF even approved sales to other WWII allies.
Unlike its Hawker peer, the Spitfire had no warfighting lineage driving its design. Instead, Supermarine leaned on Reginald Mitchell to design Britain&rsquos newest fighter. Just a few years earlier, he designed racing floatplanes like the Supermarine S.6, which set a world speed record when it reached a blistering 357 miles per hour in 1929.
Mitchell&rsquos new fighter, which bore an aesthetic resemblance to his trophy-winning floatplanes, wouldn&rsquot be easy to build like the steel, wood, and cloth Hurricane. Instead, he&rsquod use a difficult to manufacture stretched aluminum body, built around a 1,000-horsepower, 12-cylinder, liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce PV-12 engine that would later become known as the Merlin.
While more difficult to manufacture, the combination of the powerful Merlin engine and the sleek aerodynamic design of the Spitfire proved extremely capable, even reaching speeds as high as 367 miles per hour. But it wasn&rsquot just speed that made the Spitfire a capable dogfighter. Mitchell&rsquos design utilized an elliptical wing that cut down on drag and allowed for better maneuvering.
Because of the stretched aluminum exterior, the Spitfire was not only tougher to build, it was harder to repair, prompting some to worry that this advanced new aircraft may be too forward-reaching to be practical.
Affixed to the Spitfire&rsquos wings were eight 0.303-inch (7.7-mm) machine guns, all oriented to fire at a center point in front of the aircraft. In order to aid with targeting, Spitfires were also equipped with an electric sight that pilots could turn on and off. Once activated, an orange dot would appear on the windscreen in front of the pilot&rsquos field of view in an extremely early precursor to the digital heads-up displays (HUDs).
The eight guns would expend the entirety of their ammunition in just fifteen seconds of sustained fire, so pilots would later be taught to fire in tight two-second bursts in order to maximize their longevity in the fight.
Mitchell devoted himself to the development of this new Spitfire, which was actually the second Supermarine aircraft with that name (after a previous failed attempt at fielding a new fighter for the RAF). Even after learning that he was terminally ill with cancer, Mitchell continued to pour himself into the effort.
He worked night and day on the Spitfire, dismissing the warnings he received from doctors and family alike. Ultimately, Mitchell would succumb to the illness at age 42&mdashbefore the first Spitfire entered service. But his tireless work would not go unrecognized because only a few short years later, Mitchell&rsquos aerial creation was to become the champion at the Battle of Britain.
Single-Stage Merlin Engine variants [ edit | edit source ]
Mark numbers, type numbers [ edit | edit source ]
The Mark numbers did not necessarily indicate a chronological order for example, the Mk IX was a stopgap measure brought into production before the Mks VII and VIII. In addition, some Spitfires of one mark or variant may have been modified to another for example, several of the first Mk VBs were converted from Mk IBs the first Mk IXs were originally Mk VCs, converted, in some instances, by Rolls-Royce at their Hucknall facility.
Up until the end of 1942, the RAF always used Roman numerals for mark numbers. 1943-1948 was a transition period during which new aircraft entering service were given Arabic numerals for mark numbers but older aircraft retained their Roman numerals. From 1948 onwards, Arabic numerals were used exclusively. This article adopts the convention of using Roman numerals for the Mks I-XVI and Arabic numerals for the Mks 17-24. Type numbers e.g. (type 361) are the drawing board design numbers allocated by Supermarine. ⎘] ⎙]
Prototype K5054 (Supermarine Type 300) [ edit | edit source ]
The unpainted Spitfire prototype K5054 at Eastleigh airfield, just before the first flight. The angled rudder mass balance, fixed, unfaired main undercarriage and tailskid can be seen.
Construction on K5054 started in December 1934, although several modifications were to be incorporated into the prototype as construction continued. The most obvious change was to the Merlin engine's cooling system, which was now to use pure ethylene glycol rather than water, and the incorporation of a ducted radiator designed using the results of research conducted by Frederick Meredith of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. ⎚] At the time of her first flight on 5 March 1936, ⎛] K5054 was unpainted and the undercarriage had no fairings fitted and was fixed down. The first engine was a prototype Merlin C engine of 990 hp (738 kW), with six flush-fitting exhaust ports each side, driving an Aero-Products "Watts" two-bladed, wooden fixed-pitch propeller. The carburettor air intake was shorter and flatter than that of the Mk Is, and was recessed into the centre-section.
The rudder mass balance was larger than that of production aircraft, with an angled lower edge cutting further into the top of the fin. Although the basic wing plan was to stay the same for most production Spitfires, the prototype wing was structurally different: No weapons were fitted and the alclad skinning was laid out in spanwise strips underneath the port wing the radiator bath started immediately behind the starboard undercarriage bay, with the opening conforming to the angle of the bay. Unlike production aircraft the wingtips were an integral part of the structure and, for the first series of tests a long pitot tube projected from near the port wingtip. ⎜]
After the first few flights K5054 was returned to the factory, reappearing about 10 days later with an overall pale blue-grey finish, using a high-gloss automotive nitrocellulose-lacquer applied by people from the Rolls-Royce car plant (there is still some uncertainty over the actual colour). ⎝] The tailskid originally fitted had been replaced by a Dowty manufactured, fully castoring tail-wheel unit. This tailwheel was to be modified several times on the prototype, including using twin tailwheels each smaller than the single wheel which was later standardised. ⎞] The engine cowlings had been altered slightly and the angled fin tip had become straight topped - the rudder balance was correspondingly reduced in size. Undercarriage fairings had now been fitted to the legs. Although the propeller was still the fixed-pitch, wooden bladed unit the pitch had been changed in an attempt to increase the top speed. Several different types of propeller unit were to be fitted to the prototype. Later in 1936, the wings were replaced with a set which, for the first time, incorporated the famous eight .303" Browning machine-gun armament. ⎞]
The Spitfire was to fly in this form until 22 March 1937, when a major oil pressure failure led to a "forced-landing" with the undercarriage up. When K5054 re-emerged from the factory the pale blue finish, which had deteriorated badly, was replaced by the RAF's standard "Dark Earth"/"Dark Green" camouflage on the top surfaces with a silver dope finish underneath this was worn for the remainder of the airframe's life. On 19 September 1938 the Spitfire was flown for the first time with ejector exhausts, developed for the Merlin by Rolls-Royce. With these it was found that the exhausts developed 70 pounds of thrust, equivalent to about 70 hp at 300 mph. ⎟]
K5054 came to the end of its flying life on 4 September 1939 while being tested at Farnborough. After a misjudged landing K5054 bounced and then tipped over on its back, trapping the pilot Flt Lt. White. White died four days later because of serious neck injuries which were caused by the design of the anchor point to the Sutton harness this accident led to the system being redesigned. Parts of the prototype went to the Photographic Department at Farnborough where they were used to test camera installations in the wings and fuselage of reconnaissance Spitfires. ⎠]
Mk I (Type 300) [ edit | edit source ]
K9795, the 9th production Mk I, with 19 Squadron, showing the wooden, two-blade, fixed-pitch propeller, early "unblown" canopy and "wraparound" windscreen without the bulletproof glass plate. The original style of aerial mast is also fitted.
In 1936, before the first flight of the prototype, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires. However, in spite of the promises made by the Chairman of Vickers-Armstrongs (the parent company of Supermarine) that the company would be able to deliver Spitfire at a rate of five a week, it soon became clear that this would not happen. In 1936 the Supermarine company employed 500 people and was already engaged in fulfilling orders for 48 Walrus amphibian reconnaissance aircraft and 17 Stranraer patrol flying boats. In addition the small design staff, which would have to draught the blueprints for the production aircraft, was already working at full stretch. Although it was obvious that most of the work would have to be sub-contracted to outside sources, the Vickers-Armstrongs board was reluctant to allow this to happen. When other companies were able to start building Spitfire components there were continual delays because either parts provided to them would not fit, or the blueprints were inadequate the sub-contractors themselves faced numerous problems building components which in many cases were more advanced and complicated than anything they had faced before. ⎡]
As a result of these problems the first production Spitfire K9788 was not delivered to the RAF until July 1938 with front line service starting in August 1938. ⎢] For a time the future of the Spitfire was in serious doubt, with the Air Ministry suggesting that the programme be abandoned and that Supermarine change over to building the Bristol Beaufighter under licence. The managements of Supermarine and Vickers were eventually able to convince the Air Ministry that production would be sorted out and, in 1938, an order was placed with Morris Motors LImited for an additional 1,000 Spitfires to be built at huge new factory which was to be built at Castle Bromwich. This was followed in 1939 by an order for another 200 from Woolston and, only a few months later, another 450. This brought the total to 2,160, making it one of the largest orders in RAF history. ⎣] Over the next three years a large number of modifications were made, most as a result of wartime experience.
Early in the Spitfire's operational life a major problem became apparent at altitudes above about 15,000 ft (4,572 m), any condensation could freeze in the guns. Because of this the system of gun heating first fitted to K5054 was introduced on the 61st production Mk I. ⎤] At the outset of World War II, the flash-hiders on the gun muzzles were removed and the practice of sealing the gun ports with fabric patches was instituted. The patches kept the gun barrels free of dirt and debris and allowed the hot air to heat the guns more efficiently. Early production aircraft were fitted with a ring and bead gunsight, although provision had been made for a reflector sight to be fitted once one had been selected. In July 1938, the Barr and Stroud GM 2 was selected as the standard RAF reflector gunsight and was fitted to the Spitfire from late 1938. ⎥] These first production Mk Is were able to reach a maximum speed of 362 mph (583 km/h) at 18,500 ft (5,600 m), with a maximum rate of climb of 2,490 ft/min at 10,000 ft (3,000 m). The service ceiling (where the climb rate drops to 100 ft/min) was 31,900 ft (9,700 m). ⎦]
All Merlin I to III series engines relied on external electric power to start a well known sight on RAF fighter airfields was the "trolley acc" (trolley accumulator) ⎧] which was a set of powerful batteries which could be wheeled up to aircraft. The lead from the "Trolley Acc" was plugged into a small recess on the starboard side cowling of the Spitfire. On Supermarine-built aircraft a small brass instruction plate was secured to the side cowling, just beneath the starboard exhausts.
The early Mk Is were powered by the 1,030 hp (768 kW) Merlin Mk II engine driving an Aero-Products "Watts" 10 ft 8 in (3.3 m) diameter two-blade wooden fixed-pitch propeller, weighing 83 lb (38 kg). From the 78th production airframe, the Aero Products propeller was replaced by a 350 lb (183 kg) de Havilland 9 ft 8 in (2.97 m) diameter, three-bladed, two-position, metal propeller, which greatly improved take-off performance, maximum speed and the service ceiling. From the 175th production aircraft, the Merlin Mk III, with a "universal" propeller shaft able to take a de Havilland or Rotol propeller, was fitted. Following complaints from pilots a new form of "blown" canopy was manufactured and started replacing the original "flat" version in early 1939. This canopy improved headroom and enabled better vision laterally, and to the rear. At the same time the manual hand-pump for operating the undercarriage was replaced by a hydraulic system driven by a pump mounted in the engine bay. [nb 1] ⎨] Spitfire Is incorporating these modifications were able to achieve a maximum speed of 367 mph (591 km/h) at 18,600 ft (5,700 m), with a maximum rate of climb of 2,150 ft/min at 10,000 ft (3,000 m). The service ceiling was 34,400 ft (10,500 m). ⎦]
A voltage regulator under a black, cylindrical cover was mounted low on the back of frame 11, directly behind the pilot's seat: [nb 2] starting in the N30xx series this was repositioned higher, appearing low in the rear transparency. From N32xx the regulator was mounted directly behind the pilot's headrest on frame 11. Other changes were made later in 1939 when a simplified design of pitot tube was introduced and the "rod" aerial mast was replaced by a streamlined, tapered design. To improve protection for the pilot and fuel tanks a thick laminated glass bulletproof plate was fitted to the curved, one piece windscreen and a 3 mm thick cover of light alloy, capable of deflecting small calibre rounds, was fitted over the top of the two fuel tanks. From about mid-1940, 73 pounds (33 kg) of armoured steel plating was provided in the form of head and back protection on the seat bulkhead and covering the forward face of the glycol header tank. ⎪] In addition, the lower petrol tank was fitted with a fire resistant covering called "Linatex", which was later replaced with a layer of self-sealing rubber.
In June 1940 de Havilland began manufacturing a kit to convert their two pitch propeller unit to a constant speed propeller. Although this propeller was a great deal heavier than the earlier types (500 lb (227 kg) compared with 350 lb (183 kg)) it provided another substantial improvement in take-off distance and climb rate. Starting on 24 June de Havilland engineers began fitting all Spitfires with these units and by 16 August every Spitfire and Hurricane had been modified. ⎫] "Two step" rudder pedals were fitted to all frontline Spitfires these allowed the pilot to lift his feet and legs higher during combat, improving his "blackout" threshold and allowing him to pull tighter sustained turns. ⎪] Another modification was the small rear view mirror which was added to the top of the windscreen: an early "shrouded" style was later replaced by a simplified, rectangular, adjustable type.
A Spitfire Mk Ia of 602 Squadron in early 1940. A de Havilland 3 blade propeller unit is fitted, along with a "blown" canopy and the laminated bulletproof windscreen and later aerial mast. The brass plate below the external starter plug can be seen on the side engine cowling.
Starting in September 1940, IFF equipment was installed. This weighed about 40 lb (18 kg) and could be identified by wire aerials strung between the tailplane tips and rear fuselage. Although the added weight and the aerials reduced maximum speed by about two mph (three km/h), it allowed the aircraft to be identified as "friendly" on radar: lack of such equipment was a factor leading to the Battle of Barking Creek. ⎪] At about the same time new VHF T/R Type 1133 radios started replacing the HF TR9 sets. These had first been fitted to Spitfires of 54 and 66 Squadrons in May 1940, but ensuing production delays meant the bulk of Spitfires and Hurricanes were not fitted for another five months. The pilots enjoyed a much clearer reception which was a big advantage with the adoption of Wing formations throughout the RAF in 1941. The new installation meant that the wire running between the aerial mast and rudder could be removed, as could the triangular "prong" on the mast. ⎬]
Weight increases and aerodynamic changes led to later Spitfire Is having a lower maximum speed than the early production versions. This was more than offset by the improvements in take-off distance and rate of climb brought about by the constant speed propeller units. ⎭] During the Battle of Britain Spitfire Is equipped with constant-speed propellers had a maximum speed of 353 mph (568 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,100 m), with a maximum rate of climb of 2,895 ft/min at 10,000 ft (3,000 m). ⎮] [nb 3]
Although the Merlin III engine of Spitfire Is had a power rating of 1,030 hp (768 kW), supplies of 100 octane fuel from the United States started reaching Britain in early 1940. ⎰] This meant that an "emergency boost" of +12 pounds per square inch was available for five minutes, with pilots able to call on 1,310 hp (977 kW) at 3,000 rpm at 9,000 feet (2,743 m). ⎱] This boosted the maximum speed by 25 mph (40 km/h) at sea level and 34 mph (55 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and improved the climbing performance between sea level and full throttle height. ⎪] ⎲] The extra boost wasn't damaging as long as the limitations set forth in the pilot's notes were followed. As a precaution if the pilot had resorted to emergency boost, he had to report this on landing and it had to be noted in the engine log book. There was a wire 'gate' fitted, which the pilot had to break to set the engine to emergency power, this acted as an indicator that emergency power had been used and would be replaced by mechanics on the ground. ⎳] The extra boost was also available for the Merlin XII fitted to the Spitfire II. ⎴]
Late in 1940, a Martin-Baker designed quick-release mechanism began to be retroactively fitted to all Spitfires. The system employed unlocking pins, actuated by cables operated by the pilot pulling a small, red rubber ball mounted on the canopy arch. When freed, the canopy was taken away by the slipstream. ⎵] One of the most important modifications to the Spitfire was to replace the machine gun armament with wing mounted Hispano 20 mm cannon. In December 1938, Joseph Smith was instructed to prepare a scheme to equip a Spitfire with a single Hispano mounted under each wing. Smith objected to the idea and designed an installation in which the cannon were mounted on their sides within the wing, with only small external blisters on the upper and lower wing surfaces covering the 60 round drum magazine. The first Spitfire armed with a single Hispano in each wing was L1007 which was posted to Drem in January 1940 for squadron trials. On 13 January, this aircraft, piloted by Plt Off Proudman of 602 Squadron took part in an engagement when a Heinkel He 111 was shot down. Soon after this Supermarine was contracted to convert 30 Spitfires to take the cannon armed wing 19 Squadron received the first of these in June 1940 and by 16 August, 24 cannon armed Spitfires had been delivered. ⎶] These were known as the Mk IB: Mk Is armed with eight Brownings were retrospectively called the Mk Ia. With the early cannon installation, jamming was a serious problem. In one engagement, only two of the 12 aircraft had been able to fire off all of their ammunition. Further cannon-armed Spitfires, with improvements to the cannon mounts, were later issued to 92 Squadron, but due to the limited magazine capacity it was eventually decided the best armament mix was two cannon and four machine guns (most of these were later converted to the first Mk VBs). ⎷]
X4474, a late production Mk I of 19 Squadron flown by Sergeant Jennings in September 1940. The absence of a triangular prong on the rear of the mast indicates that VHF radio was fitted.The voltage regulator can be seen under the rear transparency. This photo makes a good comparison with K9795.
From November 1940, a decision was taken that Supermarine would start producing light-alloy covered ailerons which would replace the original fabric covered versions. However, seven months after the decision was taken to install them on all marks, Spitfires were still being delivered with the original fabric covered ailerons. ⎸] From May 1941 metal ailerons were fitted to all Spitfires coming off the production lines. [nb 4]
Foreign orders: Mk Is [ edit | edit source ]
The type numbers 332, 335, 336 and 341 were given to versions of the Mk I which were to be modified to meet the requirements of Estonia, Greece, Portugal, and Turkey respectively. Estonia's order was cancelled when the Soviet Union annexed the country. ⎤] The Greek and Portuguese orders were refused by the Foreign Office. The 59 aircraft for Turkey were approved, but after delivering two aircraft, the Foreign Office put a halt to that too in May 1940. The 208th production Spitfire I was sold to France and in June 1939 was delivered for evaluation. ⎤]
In 1941, the British government agreed to supply Portugal with 18 Spitfire Mk 1as. These were refurbished aircraft, drawn from RAF stocks, retrofitted with TR 9 HF radios and no IFF. These arrived from late 1942 and were given the serial numbers 370 to 387, forming the XZ Esquadrilha at Tancos. These were all scrapped by the end of 1947. ⎺]
Speed Spitfire (Type 323) [ edit | edit source ]
In 1937 ideas about modifying a Spitfire to make an attempt on the world landplane speed record were mooted. At the time the record of 352 mph (566 km/h) was held by Howard Hughes flying a Hughes H-1 racing aircraft. [nb 5] Although an early Spitfire I was capable of 362 mph (583 km/h), this was at a full-throttle height of 16,800 ft (5,100 m) the regulations for the world speed record demanded that the aircraft fly a 1.86-mile (2.99 km) course at an altitude no greater than 245 ft (75 m). ⎼] The prototype Spitfire, which was the only one flying, was capable of 290 mph (470 km/h) at very low level. On 11 November 1937 the modified Messerschmitt Bf 109 V13 (D-IPKY), flown by Herman Wurster, raised the world speed record to 379 mph (610 km/h). It was still felt that a modified Spitfire could do better than this and, on the strength of this, the Air Ministry issued a contract to fund this work. ⎽]
Accordingly a standard Mk I K9834 (the 48th production Spitfire) was taken off the production line and modified for the attempt on the World Speed Record. All military equipment was removed and the hinged gun panels, radio door and flare chute opening were replaced with removable panels. A special "sprint" version of the Merlin II, running on a special "racing fuel" of gasoline, benzol and methanol, with a small amount of tetraethyl lead was able to generate 2,100 hp (1,565 kW) for short periods. ⎽] This drove a Watts coarse pitch, four bladed wood propeller of 10 ft (3.0 m) in diameter. Cooling the more powerful engine was achieved using a pressurised water system. This required a deeper radiator inside a lengthened duct which extended to the trailing edge of the starboard wing. A larger diameter oil cooler was fitted under the port wing. The wingspan was reduced to 33 ft 9 in (10.28 m) and the wingtips were rounded. ⎾]
All panel lines were filled and smoothed over, all round headed rivets on the wing surfaces were replaced by flush rivets and an elongated "racing" windscreen was fitted. A tailskid replaced the tailwheel. Finally, the "Speed Spitfire" was painted in a highly polished gloss Royal Blue and Silver finish. As it turned out the finished aircraft weighed some 298 lb (135 kg) more than a standard 1938 vintage Spitfire. ⎽] Also, in June 1938, the Heinkel He 100 V2 set a new record of 394.6 mph (635.0 km/h), which was very close to the maximum speed the as yet unflown Speed Spitfire was likely to achieve the first flight of the modified Spitfire took place on 11 November 1938 and, in late February 1939, the maximum speed reached was 408 mph (657 km/h) at 3,000 ft (910 m).
Clearly further modifications would be needed. It was decided to delete the radiator and change the cooling to a "total loss" system. The upper fuel tank was removed and replaced with a combined condensor and water tank. The water was fed through the engine and back to the tank, where as much as possible would be condensed, while the overflow was ejected from the base of the engine as a jet of steam. It was calculated that the Speed Spitfire would be able to make the speed runs and land safely before the water and much reduced fuel would run out at about the same time. ⎿]
Once the World Speed records were broken in quick succession by the Heinkel He 100 V8 (463.9 mph (746.6 km/h)) on 30 March 1939, and Messerschmitt Me 209 V1 (469.22 mph (755.14 km/h)) on 26 April 1939, it was decided the Speed Spitfire needed a great deal more modification to even come close to the new speed records and the project lapsed. ⎿]
On the outbreak of War, the Speed Spitfire was modified to a hybrid PR Mk II with the special Merlin II being replaced by a Merlin XII driving a variable pitch de Havilland propeller, and the racing windscreen replaced by a PR wrap-around type. Nothing could be done about the reduced fuel capacity and it could never be used as an operational aircraft. Flown as a liaison aircraft between airfields in Britain during the war, K9834 was scrapped in June 1946. ⏀] ⏁]
PR Mk I - Early Reconnaissance Versions [ edit | edit source ]
Before the Second World War, the conventional wisdom was to use converted bomber types for airborne photo reconnaissance. These bombers retained their defensive armament, which was vital since they were unable to avoid interception. It was soon found that modified Blenheims and Lysanders were easy targets for German fighters and heavy losses were being incurred whenever these aircraft ventured over German territory. ⏂]
In August 1939, Flying Officer Maurice Longbottom, inspired by Sidney Cotton, filed a memorandum Photographic Reconnaissance of Enemy Territory in War with RAF Headquarters. In the memorandum Longbottom advocated that airborne reconnaissance would be a task better suited to fast, small aircraft which would use their speed and high service ceiling to avoid detection and interception. He proposed the use of Spitfires with the armament and radios removed and replaced with extra fuel and cameras. ⏃] As a result of a meeting with Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, Air Officer Commanding RAF Fighter Command, two Spitfires N3069 and N3071 were released by RAF Fighter Command and sent to the "Heston Flight", a highly secret reconnaissance unit under the command of Acting Wing Commander Cotton. ⏂]
These two Spitfires were "Cottonised" by stripping out the armament and radio-transmitter, then, after filling the empty gun ports and all panel lines, the airframe was rubbed down to remove any imperfections. Coats of a special very pale blue-green called Camoutint were applied and polished. [nb 6] Two F24 cameras with five inch (127 mm) focal length lenses, which could photograph a rectangular area below the aircraft, were installed in the wing space vacated by the inboard guns and their ammunition containers as a stop-gap measure. Heating equipment was installed on all PR Spitfires to stop the cameras from freezing and the lenses from frosting over at altitude. These Spitfires, which later officially became the Spitfire Mk I PR Type A, had a maximum speed of 390 mph. ⏂] Several of the sub-types which followed were conversions of existing fighter airframes, carried out by the Heston Aircraft Company. The Type D, which was the first specialised ultra long-range version, was the first to require that the work be carried out by Supermarine. ⏅]
In the Mk I PR Type B (also known as Medium Range (MR)) conversions which followed, the F24 camera lenses were upgraded to an eight inch (203 mm) focal length, giving images up to a third larger in scale. An extra 29 gal (132 l) fuel tank was installed in the rear fuselage. It had been envisaged that much larger cameras would be installed in the fuselage immediately behind the pilot, but at the time RAF engineers believed this would upset the Spitfire's centre of gravity. Cotton was able to demonstrate that by removing lead weights, which had been installed in the extreme rear fuselage to balance the weight of the constant speed propeller units, it was possible to install cameras with longer focal-length lens in the fuselage. The Type B was the first to dispense with the heavy bullet resistant windscreen. Many of these early PR Spitfires were fitted with the Merlin XII engine and Rotol constant-speed propeller with the early, blunt spinner of the Spitfire Mk II. ⏆]
The Mk I PR Type C carried a total of 144 gal (655 l) of fuel and was the first photo reconnaissance aircraft to reach as far as Kiel. The extra fuel was carried in the tank behind the pilot and in a 30 gal (136 l) blister tank under the port wing, which was counterbalanced by a camera installation in a fairing under the starboard wing. A larger oil tank was installed, necessitating the reshaping of the nose to the distinctive PR Spitfire "chin". This version was also known as the Long Range or LR Spitfire. ⏇]
The Mk I PR Type D (also called the Extra Super Long Range Spitfire) was the first PR variant that was not a conversion of existing fighter airframes. The Type D carried so much fuel that it was nicknamed "the bowser." The D shaped wing leading edges, ahead of the main spar, proved to be an ideal location for an integral tank. Accordingly, in early 1940, work started on converting the leading edges, between rib four through to rib 21, by sealing off the spar, outer ribs and all skin joins allowing 57 gal (259 l) of fuel to be carried in each wing. Because the work was of low priority, and with the urgent need for fighters the first two, hand-built prototypes of the PR Type Ds were not available until October. In addition to the leading edge tanks these prototypes also had a 29 gal (132 l) tank in the rear fuselage. An additional 14 gal (63 l) oil tank was fitted in the port wing. The cameras, two vertically mounted F24s with 8 inch (20.3 cm) or 20 inch (50.8 cm) lens or two vertically mounted F8s with 20-inch (510 mm) lens, were located in the rear fuselage. With the full fuel load the center of gravity was so far back the aircraft was difficult to fly until the rear fuselage tank had been emptied. Despite these difficulties the type quickly proved its worth, photographing such long distance targets as Stettin, Marseilles, Trondheim and Toulon. ⏈]
Once the first two Type Ds, P9551 and P9552 ⏉] had proven the concept the production aircraft, which were soon redesignated PR Mk IV, were modified to increase the leading edge tank capacity to 66.5 gal (302 l) and by omitting the rear fuselage tank. These aircraft were better balanced and had the more powerful Merlin 45 engine as used by the Mk V, along with heated cabins, which were a great comfort to pilots on such long flights. A total of 229 Type Ds were built. ⏊]
A single Mk I PR Type E N3117 was built to address a requirement for oblique close-ups as opposed to high altitude vertical pictures. This conversion carried an F24 camera in a fairing under each wing. These faced forward, were splayed outwards slightly and aimed downwards at about 15 degrees below the horizontal. A 29 gal (132 l) fuel tank was fitted in the rear fuselage. N3117 proved most useful as it was able to photograph targets under weather conditions that would make high altitude photography impossible and experience with this aircraft resulted in the development of the Type G. ⏋]
Mk I PR Type F was an interim "super-long-range" version which entered service in July 1940, pending the Type D. The Type F carried a 30 gal fuel tank under each wing, plus a 29 gal tank in the rear fuselage, as well as having an enlarged oil tank under the nose. It was a useful enough improvement that nearly all existing Type Bs and Type Cs were eventually converted to the Type F standard. Operating from East Anglia it was just able to reach, photograph and return from Berlin. 15 of these were based on the Mk V airframe. ⎖]
The Mk I PR Type G was the first fighter-reconnaissance version and performed a similar low-level tactical role to the Type E. One oblique F24 camera, with either an eight inch or 14 inch lens, was fitted facing to port, between fuselage frames 13 and 14. Two vertical F24 cameras were also installed in the fuselage. The forward camera, installed below the oblique, could be fitted with a five inch or an eight inch lens while the rear camera could be fitted with an eight inch or a 14 inch lens. ⏌] A 29 gal (132 l) fuel tank was fitted just behind the pilot. The first PR Gs were converted from Mk I airframes and their Merlin II engines replaced with Merlin 45s. ⏌] Late PR Gs were converted from Mk V airframes. The Type G was fully armed with 8 × .303" Brownings and retained the armoured windscreen and gunsight. ⏌]
A feature of most PR Spitfires were the specially modified "Blown" canopies which incorporated large lateral teardrop shaped blisters, allowing the pilots a much clearer view to the rear and below, vital for sighting the cameras. The lateral cameras were aimed by lining up a tiny +, marked on the side of the blister, with a fine black line painted on the port outer aileron. On all unarmed PR conversions the gunsight was replaced by a small camera control box from which the pilot could turn the cameras on, control the time intervals between photos and set the number of exposures. ⏍]
In 1941, a new system of mark numbers was introduced, independent of those used for the fighter versions. Also, several PR conversions were re-converted to later PR types.
- The Type C became the PR Mk III.
- The Type D became the PR Mk IV.
- The Type E became the PR Mk V.
- The Type F became the PR Mk VI.
- The Type G became the PR Mk VII. ⏎]
In all, 1,567 Mk Is were built (1,517 by Supermarine between May 1938 and March 1941, 50 by Westland, July to September 1941). ⏏]
Mk II (Type 329) [ edit | edit source ]
Spitfire Mk IIa P7666 of 41 Squadron. P7666 "Observer Corps" was flown by Squadron Leader Donald Finlay Finlay shot down two Bf 109s in P7666 in November 1940.
In the summer of 1939 an early Mk I K9788 was fitted with a new version of the Merlin, the XII. With the success of the trial it was decided to use this version of the Merlin in the Mk II which, it was decided, would be the first version to be produced exclusively by the huge new Lord Nuffield shadow factory at Castle Bromwich. ⏐]
Chief among the changes was the upgraded 1,175 horsepower (876 kW) Merlin XII engine. This engine included a Coffman engine starter, instead of the electric system of earlier and some later versions of the Merlin, and it required a small "teardrop" blister on the forward starboard cowling. ⏐] The Merlin XII was cooled by a 70% to 30% water glycol mix, rather than pure glycol used for earlier Merlin versions. ⏑]
In early 1940 Spitfire Is of 54 and 66 Squadrons were fitted with Rotol manufactured wide-bladed propellers of 10 ft 9 in (3.27 m) diameter, which were recognisable by a bigger, more rounded spinner: the decision was made that the new propeller would also be used exclusively by the Mk II. This engine/propeller combination increased top speed over the late Mk I by about 6-7 mph below 17,000 feet (5,200 m), and improved climb rate. ⏒] Due to all of the weight increases maximum speed performance was still lower than that of early Mk Is, but combat capability was far better. ⎭] The Mk II was produced in IIA eight-gun and IIB cannon armed versions. Deliveries were very rapid, and they quickly replaced all remaining Mk Is in service, which were then sent to Operational Training Units. The RAF had re-equipped with the new version by April 1941. ⎭] The Rotol propeller units were later supplemented by de Havilland constant-speed units similar to those fitted to Mk Is.
A small number of Mk IIs were converted to "Long Range" Spitfires in early 1941. These could be recognised by the fixed 40 gal (182 l) fuel tank which was fitted under the port wing. With a full tank manoeuvrability was reduced, maximum speed was 26 mph (42 km/h) lower and the climb rate and service ceiling were also reduced. Several squadrons used this version to provide long-range bomber escort. ⏓] Once the Mk II was taken out of front line service, 50 of them were converted for air-sea rescue work, at first under the designation Mk IIC (type 375) but later referred to as the A.S.R Mk II. The Merlin XII was replaced by the Mark XX, a "rescue pack" was fitted in the flare chute and smoke marker bombs were carried under the port wing. ⏔]
A total of 921 Mk IIs were built, all by Castle Bromwich. ⏏] A small number of Mk IIs were converted to Mk Vs. [nb 7]
Mk III (Type 330) [ edit | edit source ]
The Mk III was the first attempt to improve the basic Spitfire design and introduced several features which were used on later marks. Powered by a Rolls-Royce RM 2SM, later known as the Merlin XX, developing 1,390 hp (1,036 kW), the wingspan was reduced to 30 ft 6 in (9.3 m) and the area reduced to 220 square feet (20.4 sq m) while the overall length was increased to 30 ft 4 in (9.2 m). The strengthened main undercarriage was raked forward two inches, increasing ground stability and had flaps to fully enclose the wheels when retracted. The tailwheel was also made fully retractable. The windscreen was redesigned, with a built-in, internal laminated glass, bulletproof panel and optically flat, laminated glass quarter panels. ⏗]
The first Mk III N3297 was first flown on 16 March 1940. In addition to N3297 in early 1941 a Spitfire Mk V, W3237 was converted to a Mk III, although it didn't have the retractable tailwheel. W3237 replaced N3297 when the latter was delivered to Rolls-Royce W3237 went on to become a test aircraft and was still being used in September 1944. ⏘]
Although the new Spitfire was developed to replace the earlier marks on the production lines, a decision to allocate the limited supplies of Merlin XX to the Hurricane II series meant that the Mark III lapsed. Priority then focused on the Mark V series. The Mk III with the Merlin XX was capable of a maximum speed of 400 mph (640 km/h) at 21,000 ft (6,400 m). ⏙]
N3297 became the power-plant development airframe, the wings were replaced with standard Type A and the aircraft was delivered to Rolls Royce at Hucknall. A prototype Merlin 60 was installed, in effect making this aircraft (renumbered the type 348) the prototype Mk IX. ⏚]
Mk V (Types 331, 349 & 352) [ edit | edit source ]
Spitfire LF.Mk VB, BL479, flown by Group Captain M.W.S Robinson, station commander of RAF Northolt, August 1943. This Spitfire has the wide bladed Rotol propeller, the internal armoured windscreen and "clipped" wings.
Late in 1940, the RAF predicted that the advent of the pressurised Junkers Ju 86P bomber series over Britain would be the start of a new sustained high altitude bombing offensive by the Luftwaffe, in which case development was put in hand for a pressurised version of the Spitfire, with a new version of the Merlin (the Mk VI). It would take some time to develop the new fighter and an emergency stop-gap measure was needed as soon as possible: this was the Mk V. ⏛]
The basic Mk V was a Mk I with the Merlin 45 series engine. This engine delivered 1,440 hp (1,074 kW) at take-off, and incorporated a new single-speed single-stage supercharger design. Improvements to the carburettor also allowed the Spitfire to use zero gravity manoeuvres without any problems with fuel flow. Several Mk I and Mk II airframes were converted to Mk V standard by Supermarine and started equipping fighter units from early 1941. The majority of the Mk Vs were built at Castle Bromwich. ⏛]
Three versions of the Mk V were produced, with several sub-series:
Mk VA (Type 331) [ edit | edit source ]
The VA continued to use the Type A wing with 8 × .303" Brownings. This version could reach a top speed of 375 mph (603 km/h) at 20,800 ft (6,300 m), and could climb to 20,000 ft (6,100 m) in 7.1 minutes. A total of 94 were built. ⏏] One well known VA was W3185 D-B flown by Douglas Bader when commanding the Tangmere Wing in 1941. ⏜] He was shot down in this aircraft (possibly by friendly fire) during a "Circus" (a wing of fighters escorting a small number of bombers) over Northern France on 9 August 1941 and spent the rest of the war as a POW. In April 1941 two Spitfire VAs R7347 and W3119 were sent to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio USA as sample aircraft. Both Spitfires were tested by NACA one series of tests included the fitting of special NACA "jet-propulsion" exhaust stacks. ⏝]
Mk VB and VB(trop) (Type 349 and 352) [ edit | edit source ]
The VB became the main production version of the Mark Vs. Along with the new Merlin 45 series the B wing was fitted as standard. As production progressed changes were incorporated, some of which became standard on all later Spitfires. Production started with several Mk IBs which were converted to Mk VBs by Supermarine. Starting in early 1941 the round section exhaust stacks were changed to a "fishtail" type, marginally increasing exhaust thrust. Some late production VBs and VCs were fitted with six shorter exhaust stacks per side, similar to those of Spitfire IXs and Seafire IIIs this was originally stipulated as applying specifically to VB(trop)s. ⏞] After some initial problems with the original Mk I size oil coolers, a bigger oil cooler was fitted under the port wing this could be recognised by a deeper housing with a circular entry. From mid-1941 alloy covered ailerons became a universal fitting. ⎸]
Spitfire VC(trop), fitted with Vokes filters and "disc" wheels, of 417 Squadron RCAF in Tunisia in 1943.
A constant flow of modifications were made as production progressed. A "blown" cockpit hood, manufactured by Malcolm, was introduced in an effort to further increase the pilot's head-room and visibility. Many mid to late production VBs - and all VCs - used the modified, improved windscreen assembly with the integral bullet resistant centre panel and flat side screens introduced with the Mk III. Because the rear frame of this windscreen was taller than that of the earlier model the cockpit hoods were not interchangeable and could be distinguished by the wider rear framing on the hood used with the late-style windscreen. ⏟]
Different propeller types were fitted, according to where the Spitfire V was built: Supermarine and Westland manufactured VBs and VCs used 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m) diameter, 3 bladed de Havilland constant speed units, with narrow metal blades, while Castle Bromwich manufactured VBs and VCs were fitted with a wide bladed Rotol constant speed propeller of either 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m) diameter, with metal blades, or (on late production Spitfires) 10 ft 3 in (3.12 m) diameter, with broader, "Jablo" (compressed wood) blades. ⏠] The Rotol spinners were longer and more pointed than the de Havilland leading to a 3.5 in (8.9 cm) increase in overall length. ⏡] The Rotol propellers allowed a modest speed increase over 20,000 ft (6,100 m) and an increase in the service ceiling. ⎸] A large number of Spitfire VBs were fitted with "gun heater intensifier" systems on the exhaust stacks. These piped additional heated air into the gun bays. There was a short tubular intake on the front of the first stack and a narrow pipe led into the engine cowling from the rear exhaust. ⏞]
The VB series were the first Spitfires able to carry a range of specially designed "slipper" drop tanks which were fitted underneath the wing centre-section. Small hooks were fitted, just forward of the inboard flaps: when the tank was released these hooks caught the trailing edge of the tank, swinging it clear of the fuselage. ⏢]
With the advent of the superb Focke Wulf Fw 190 in August 1941 the Spitfire was for the first time truly outclassed, ⏣] hastening the development of the "interim" Mk IX. In an effort to counter this threat, especially at lower altitudes, the VB was the first production version of the Spitfire to use "clipped" wingtips as an option, reducing the wingspan to 32 ft 2 in (9.8 m).The clipped wings increased the roll rate and airspeed at lower altitudes. Several different versions of the Merlin 45/50 family were used, including the Merlin 45M which had a smaller "cropped" supercharger impeller and boost increased to +18 lb. This engine produced 1,585 hp (1,182 kW) at 2,750 ft (838 m), increasing the L.F VB's maximum rate of climb to 4720 ft/min (21.6 m/s) at 2,000 ft (610 m). ⏤]
VB Trop of 40 Squadron SAAF fitted with the "streamlined" version of the Aboukir filter, a broad-bladed, 10 ft 3 in (3.12 m) diameter Rotol propeller, and clipped wings.
The Mk VB(trop) (or type 352) could be identified by the large Vokes air filter fitted under the nose the reduced speed of the air to the supercharger had a detrimental effect on the performance of the aircraft, reducing the top speed by 8 mph (13 km/h) and the climb rate by 600 ft/min (3.04 m/s), but the decreased performance was considered acceptable. This variant was also fitted with a larger oil tank and desert survival gear behind the pilot's seat. A new "desert" camouflage scheme was applied. ⏥] Many VB(trop)s were modified by 103 MU (Maintenance Unit-RAF depots in which factory fresh aircraft were brought up to service standards before being delivered to squadrons) at Aboukir, Egypt by replacing the Vokes filter with locally manufactured "Aboukir" filters, which were lighter and more streamlined. Two designs of these filters can be identified in photos: one had a bulky, squared off filter housing while the other was more streamlined. These aircraft were usually fitted with the wide blade Rotol propeller and clipped wings. [h] ⏦]
Mk VC and VC(trop) (types 349 and 352/6) [ edit | edit source ]
As well as having most of the standard Mk V features this version had several important changes over the earlier Mk Vs, most of which were first tested on the Mk III. These included the re-stressed and strengthened fuselage structure and the new windscreen design, which was also used by some VBs. The VC also introduced the Type C or "Universal" wing along with the revised main undercarriage the tops of these wings featured large, bulged fairings to provide clearance for the ammunition feed motors of two Hispano cannon. Later, because two cannon were seldom fitted, these fairings were later reduced in size to more streamlined shapes. ⏧] ⏨] A deeper radiator fairing was fitted under the starboard wing and a larger oil cooler with a deeper, kinked air outlet was fitted underneath the port wing. In addition more armour plating was added, protecting the bottom of the pilot's seat and the wing ammunition boxes. ⏩]
Spitfire VC launching from Wasp during Operation Bowery. This was part of the first contingent of Spitfires which were supplied to the RAF on Malta. A 60 gallon "slipper" type drop tank was mounted under the centre section and the top surfaces have been painted blue or blue/gray to help camouflage the Spitfire during the long flight across the Mediterranean.
The first Spitfire modified to carry bombs was a Malta based VC, EP201, which was able to carry one 250 lb (110 kg) bomb under each wing. In a note to the Air Ministry Air Vice Marshal Keith Park wrote "[w]e designed the bomb gear so that there was no loss of performance when the bombs were dropped. Unlike the Hurricane bomb gear our Spitfire throws away all external fittings with the exception of a steel rib which protrudes less than one inch from the wing. ⏪] "
One VC(trop) BP985 was modified by 103 MU as a high altitude fighter capable of intercepting the Ju 86P photo reconnaissance aircraft which were overflying Allied naval bases in Egypt. This aircraft was stripped of all unnecessary weight, including all armour plating and the Hispano cannon, while the compression ratio of the Merlin 46 was increased by modifying the cylinder block. A four bladed de Havilland propeller was fitted along with an "Aboukir" filter, a larger 9.5 gallon oil tank and extended wingtips. ⏫]
The first Spitfires to be sent overseas in large numbers were Mk VCs many of these were built as VC(trop)s. With the advent of the Mk IX to RAF service few of the Mk VC saw combat over Europe, with the majority of them being used either in North Africa and the Mediterranean or in the Far East.
Spitfire V production and overseas shipments [ edit | edit source ]
A total of 300 Mk VC(trop)s were shipped to Australia for the RAAF the first of these arrived in late 1942. A total of 143 Spitfire VB (including Mk II conversions) were supplied to Soviet Union. ⏬] Portugal was the recipient of two lots of Spitfire VBs 33 refurbished ex-RAF aircraft started arriving in early 1944 and a further and final shipment of 60 mainly clipped wing L.F Mk VBs arrived in 1947. All were retrofitted with TR 9 HF radios and had no IFF. The last of these Spitfires were taken out of service in 1952. ⏭] Twelve were delivered to Royal Egyptian Air Force.
In 1944 enough Spitfire VB (trop)s to equip one squadron were supplied to Turkey. Some were later fitted with the larger, pointed rudder developed for later Merlin-powered Spitfires. These flew alongside of the Focke-Wulf FW 190A-3s which had been supplied to Turkey by Germany. ⏮] ⏯]
In total, production was 6,479, consisting of 94 Mk VA, built by Supermarine, 3,911 Mk VB, (776 by Supermarine, 2,995 Castle Bromwich and 140 Westland) and 2,467 Mk VC, (478 Supermarine, 1,494 Castle Bromwich, 495 Westland) plus 15 PR Type F by Castle Bromwich. ⏏]
German Daimler Benz powered Spitfire VB [ edit | edit source ]
In November 1942 a Spitfire VB EN830 NX-X of 131 Squadron made a forced landing in a turnip field at Dielament Manor, Trinity, Jersey, under German occupation at the time. This aircraft was repairable and started being test flown in German markings and colours at the Luftwaffe's central research facilities at Erprobungsstelle Rechlin. There it was proposed that the Spitfire's Merlin engine should be replaced by a Daimler-Benz DB 605A inverted Vee-12 engine the Spitfire was sent to Echterdingen, south of Stuttgart, where Daimler-Benz operated a flight testing division. ]
When the Merlin engine was removed it was discovered that the fuselage cross section was virtually identical to that of the engine nacelle of a Messerschmitt Bf-110G. Consequently a new engine support structure was built onto the Spitfire's fuselage and the DB 605 engine and cowling panels added. A propeller unit and supercharger air intake from a Bf 109 G completed the installation. ]
Other changes made were to replace the Spitfire instruments with German types, and to change the 12-volt electrical system to the German 24-volt type. In this form the Daimler-Benz Spitfire started flying in early 1944. It was popular with German pilots and was flown regularly until destroyed in a USAAF bombing raid on 14 August 1944. ] ]
Mk VI (Type 350) [ edit | edit source ]
At the time that the Mk V was placed in production there were growing fears that the Luftwaffe were about to start mass producing very high flying bombers such as the Junkers Ju 86, which could fly above the reach of most fighters of the time. It was decided that a new Spitfire variant would be required with improved high altitude performance. ] During a meeting held at the RAE at Farnborough on 17 February 1941 the Air Ministry asked "that a Spitfire should be provided with a pressure cabin capable of maintaining a pressure differential of 1 lb per square inch at 40,000 feet." [nb 8] A Marshall-manufactured compressor was to be used, and it was agreed that the sliding canopy could be replaced by one which could not be slid open, as long as it could be jettisoned by the pilot. ]
The pressurised cabin was used to counter the physiological problems encountered by pilots at high altitudes. ] The cabin was not like the fully pressurised cabin of a modern airliner the pressure differential provided by the modified cockpit of the VI was only two pounds per square inch (which was double the Air Ministry requirement). ] To achieve this, the forward and rear cockpit bulkheads were completely enclosed, with all control and electrical cables exiting though special rubber sealing grommets. In addition, the side cockpit door was replaced with alloy skin and the canopy was no longer a sliding unit: externally there were no slide rails. Once the pilot was in, the canopy was locked in place with four toggles and sealed with an inflatable rubber tube. It could be jettisoned by the pilot in an emergency. ] The windscreen of production Mk VIs was the same as the type fitted to the Mark III and some Mk Vs although it was fitted with an inward opening clear-view panel on the port quarter pane. ] The effect was to make 37,000 ft (11,000 m) seem like 28,000 ft (8,500 m) to the pilot, who would still have to wear an oxygen mask. Pressurisation was achieved by a Marshall-manufactured compressor located on the starboard side of the engine, fed by a long intake below the starboard exhaust stubs. Mk VIs were built with the Coffman cartridge starter, with a small teardrop fairing just ahead of the compressor intake. ]
The engine was a Rolls-Royce Merlin 47 driving a four-bladed Rotol propeller of 10 ft 9 in (3.27 m) diameter the new propeller provided increased power at high altitudes, where the atmosphere is much thinner. To help smooth out airflow around the wingtips the standard rounded types were replaced by extended, pointed versions extending the wingspan to 40 ft 2 in (12.2 m). Otherwise the wings were Type B. ]
The maximum speed of the Mk VI was 356 mph (573 km/h) at 21,800 ft (6,600 m). However, because of the limitations of the single stage supercharger, at 38,000 ft (12,000 m) the maximum speed had fallen away to 264 mph (425 km/h). The service ceiling was 39,200 ft (11,900 m). ]
The threat of a sustained high altitude campaign by the Luftwaffe did not materialise and only 100 of the Mk VIs were built by Supermarine. ⏏] Only two units, 124 Squadron and 616 Squadron, were fully equipped with this version, although several other units used them in small numbers as a stop-gap. ] More often than not, the Spitfire VIs were used at lower altitudes where it was outperformed by conventional Spitfires. At high altitudes it was discovered that modified Spitfire Vs could perform almost as well as the Mk VI. At low levels, especially, pilots were often forced to fly with the canopy removed because the cockpit would get uncomfortably hot and they were not confident it would be possible to jettison the canopy in case of an emergency. ]
In 1943 five Spitfire VIs (BS106, BS124, BS133, BS134 and BS149) were converted to improvised PR Mk VIs by 680 Squadron in Egypt. These aircraft had been "tropicalised" using the same bulky Vokes filter and other equipment used by Spitfire VB Trops, as well as being painted in a "desert" camouflage scheme. ]
By the time these aircraft arrived they were no longer required to intercept high-flying Junkers Ju 86P reconnaissance aircraft although there was a need for a pressurised RAF photo reconnaissance aircraft to carry out missions over Crete and the rest of Greece. 103 MU at Aboukir carried out the modifications by removing the armament and installing vertical F8 cameras in the rear fuselage. These Spitfires were used a few times in April and May 1943 but were withdrawn from service by August. They were the first pressurised PR Spitfires. ]
PR Mk XIII (Type 367) [ edit | edit source ]
The PR Mk XIII was an improvement on the earlier PR Type G with the same camera system but a new engine, the Merlin 32, which was specially rated for low-altitude flight. It carried a light armament of 4 × .303" Browning machine guns. The first prototype Mk XIII was tested in March 1943. ]
Twenty-six Mk XIIIs were converted from either PR Type G, Mk II or Mk Vs. They were used for low level reconnaissance in preparation for the Normandy landings. ]
Battle of Britain [ edit | edit source ]
Overall performance [ edit | edit source ]
X4382, a late production Mk I of 602 Squadron flown by P/O Osgood Hanbury, Westhampnett, September 1940.
The Battle of Britain (which officially started on 10 July 1940 and ended 31 October) ⎢] was the first major test of both the Spitfire and of Fighter Command. During the Luftwaffe's onslaught important lessons were learned about the Spitfire's capabilities and its drawbacks. ⎣]
The combat performance of the Spitfire was frequently compared with that of the Hawker Hurricane, which was used in greater numbers during the critical stages of 1940. The Hurricane had thick wings and their structure was such that four guns were easily installed, grouped closely together, with 334 rounds per gun. Installing the guns in the Spitfire was more complicated, because it had a thinner wing and the armament and ammunition boxes had to be widely spaced. That dispersion of firepower was a weakness and at least in this respect the Hurricane — which was also a more stable gunnery platform — was better than the Spitfire. ⎤] The pilots who fought over France had learned to get the armourers back at base to harmonise the Browning machine guns, so that their combined fire met their target in one concentrated burst 250 yards ahead of the wings, instead of the official 400 yards. ⎥] Whenever possible, the RAF tactic during the Battle of Britain was to use Hurricane squadrons to attack the bombers and Spitfires to counter German escort fighters. In total Hurricanes shot down more Luftwaffe aircraft of all types than the Spitfire, mainly due to the higher proportion of Hurricanes in the air. Seven out of every 10 German aircraft destroyed during the Battle of Britain were shot down by Hurricane pilots. Losses were also higher among the more numerous Hurricane units. Post-war analysis showed that the Spitfire's "kill ratio" was marginally better than the Hurricane's. ⎤]
Spitfire Mk I, 66 Squadron, P/O Crelin Bodie. On 7 September 1940 "Bogle" Bodie was forced to belly-land X4321 following combat with Bf 109Es.
The majority of Mk Is and Mk IIs were armed with eight .303 Browning machine guns. Throughout the battle, Luftwaffe aircraft often returned to base with .303 bullet holes, but no critical damage as they had received armour plating in critical areas and self-sealing fuel tanks became common in bombers. ⎦] Several Mark Is of 19 Squadron were fitted with two 20-mm Hispano-Suiza cannon in 1940. This early Hispano installation proved to be unreliable, with the cannon frequently firing just a few rounds or failing to fire at all. After numerous complaints from the pilots of 19 Squadron the cannon armed Spitfires were replaced by conventionally armed aircraft in September 1940. ⎧] Supermarine and BSA, who manufactured the Hispano under licence, continued work on a reliable cannon installation, with a number of Mk Is armed with two cannon and four .303 machine-guns entering operations by late 1940: this version was referred to as the Mk IB, the machine-gun-armed Spitfires were retrospectively called the Mk IA. [nb 2] ⎨]
Although the Merlin III engine of Spitfire Is had a power rating of 1,030 hp (770 kW), supplies of 100 octane fuel from the United States started reaching Britain in early 1940. ⎩] ⎪] This meant that an "emergency boost" of +12 pounds per square inch was available for five minutes, with pilots able to call on 1,310 hp (980 kW) at 3,000 rpm at 9,000 feet (2,700 m). ⎫] This boosted the maximum speed by 25 mph (40 km/h) at sea level and 34 mph (55 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and improved the climbing performance between sea level and full throttle height. ⎬] ⎭] The extra boost wasn't damaging as long as the limitations set forth in the pilot's notes were followed. As a precaution, however, if the pilot had resorted to emergency boost, he had to report this on landing and it had to be noted in the engine log book. ⎮] The extra boost was also available for the Merlin XII fitted to the Spitfire II. ⎯]
Between 1 August 1940 and 31 October, Spitfire losses amounted to 208 lost in combat, seven destroyed on the ground, and 42 in flying accidents. ⎰]
Three-view drawing of the Bf 109E-3 with the early style of cockpit canopy.
The Bf 109 and combat tactics [ edit | edit source ]
At the time, the Luftwaffe's main single-engine, single-seat fighter was the Messerschmitt Bf 109. Some advantages helped the Spitfires win dogfights, most notably manoeuvrability: the Spitfire had a higher rate of turn and a smaller turning circle than the Messerschmitt. ⎱] ⎲] There are several accounts of Bf 109 pilots being able to outturn Spitfires, mainly because inexperienced pilots did not turn as tightly as was possible through fear of getting into a high-speed stall. ⎱] Overall, the aircraft were closely matched in performance and the outcome of combat was largely decided by tactics, position and the skill of the opposing pilots. ⎧] One major advantage enjoyed by the German Jagdgeschwadern was the use of better tactics. In the late 1930s Fighter Command were not expecting to be facing single-engine fighters over Britain, only bombers. With this in mind a series of "Fighting Area Tactics" were formulated, involving manoeuvres designed to concentrate a squadron's firepower to bring down bombers: with no apparent prospect of escorting fighters to worry about, RAF fighter pilots flew in tight, vee-shaped sections of three. ⎳] The pilots were forced to concentrate on watching each other, rather than being free to keep a lookout for enemy aircraft. "Fighting Area Tactics" also stipulated that RAF fighter pilots were to open fire at long-range, usually 300 to 400 yards (274 to 365 m), and then break off without closing in. The usual practice was to bore-sight their guns on the ground to create a shotgun pattern at this distance. ⎳]
Luftwaffe fighter pilots, flying combat formations perfected in Spanish Civil War, and utilizing proved principles of the First World War, entered the Second using the basic unit of a pair (Rotte) of widely spaced fighters. They were separated by about two hundred yards. ⎴] The leader was followed to starboard and to the rear by his wingman, who was trained to stay with his leader at all times. While the leader was free to search for enemy aircraft, and could cover his wingman's blind spots, his wingman was able to concentrate on searching the airspace in the leader's blind spots, behind and below. Two of these sections were usually teamed up into a flight (Schwarm), where all of the pilots could watch what was happening around them. Because the four 109s were spread out four-abreast the Schwarm was hard to spot, unlike the RAF vee formation, and all of the 109s were able to attack and defend, or retreat in pairs, ⎴] whereas the RAF formations were often split up into individual aircraft which were then extremely vulnerable. The loose Schwarm, because of the reduced risk of collision between aircraft, were also able to climb faster and higher than the tightly grouped RAF fighters, which is one of the reasons why RAF formations often found themselves being "bounced" from above. When the Luftwaffe fighter units flew as a squadron (Staffel) the three Schwarme were staggered in height and wove back and forth as a means of mutual search and protection. ⎴] With the Germans able to base their 109s in the Pas de Calais, close to the English Channel the "Fighting Area Tactics" became obsolete. Many of the RAF fighter squadrons which had not been engaged in combat over Dunkirk were slow to adapt to the fact that they would be encountering the potent German fighter over Britain. Some RAF units adopted "weavers", a single aircraft which flew a pattern behind the main squadron, which still flew in vees. The weavers were usually the first to be picked off in a "bounce" by the German fighters: more often than not the rest of the squadron did not even know they were under attack. RAF squadrons that did not learn from the Luftwaffe and adopt similar tactics suffered heavy casualties during the Battle. ⎳] Leaders like "Sailor" Malan were instrumental in devising better tactics for the RAF fighters. ⎵] It is no coincidence that some of the most successful RAF pilots were the Polish pilots who had been trained pre-war by their air force to fly in loose formations and open fire from close-range. ⎶]
The biggest disadvantage faced by Bf 109 pilots was that, without the benefit of long-range drop tanks (which were introduced in very limited numbers in the late stages of the Battle), the 109s had an endurance of just over an hour. Once over Britain the 109 pilots had to keep an eye on a red "low fuel" light on the instrument panel: once this was illuminated they were forced to turn back and head for France. With the prospect of two long over-water flights, and knowing that their range was substantially reduced when escorting bombers or in the event of combat, the Jagdflieger coined the term Kanalkrankheit or "Channel sickness". ⎷]
The Bf 110 and the bombers [ edit | edit source ]
Another regularly encountered German fighter, the Messerschmitt Bf 110, was a larger, two-seat, twin-engined fighter which was designed as a long range "Destroyer" (Zerstörer). Although reasonably fast (Bf 110C about 340 mph (550 km/h)) and possessing a respectable combat radius as well as carrying a heavy armament of two 20 mm MG FF/M cannon and four 7.92 mm MG 17s concentrated in the forward fuselage, along with a single 7.92 mm MG 15 mounted for rear defence in the rear cockpit, the 110 was only slightly more manoeuvrable than the bombers they were meant to escort. Against modern fighters like the Spitfire and Hurricane the Zerstörergruppen (roughly "Destroyer Groups") suffered heavy casualties and, after 18 August, fewer of them were encountered over Britain because the rate of attrition was outpacing production. ⎸]
Of the four types of Luftwaffe bombers, the Dornier Do 17, Heinkel He 111, Junkers Ju 87 and Junkers Ju 88, the Ju 88 was considered to be the most difficult to shoot down. As a bomber it was relatively manoeuvrable and, especially at low altitudes with no bomb load, it was fast enough to ensure that a Spitfire caught in a tail-chase would be hard pressed to catch up.
The He 111 was nearly 100 mph slower than the Spitfire and did not present much of a challenge to catch, although the heavy armour, self-sealing fuel tanks and progressively uprated defensive armament meant that it was still a challenge to shoot down. The Do 17 was also easy to catch but, with its radial engines with no vulnerable cooling systems and self-sealing fuel tanks, it was capable of taking an amazing amount of punishment. The Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber was badly outclassed in all respects and, after taking some savage beatings, the Sturzkampfgeschwader were withdrawn from the Battle. ⎹]
The First Generation: Spitfire Mk. I and its Derivatives
Spitfire Mk I (Supermarine type 300)
The Supermarine Woolston line started delivering the Spitfire Mk. I in late 1937 with front-line service commencing in August 1938. Over the next three years a large number of modifications were made, especially as a result of wartime experience.
The earliest Mk. Is were powered by the 1,030 hp (768 kW) Rolls Royce Merlin II engine driving an Aero-Products 10 ft 8 in (3.3 m) diameter two-blade wooden fixed-pitch propeller, weighing 83 lb (38 kg).
The Merlin I to III series all relied on external electric power to start the engine a well known sight on RAF fighter airfields was the “Trolley Acc” (trolley accumulator ) which was a set of powerful batteries which could be wheeled up to aircraft. The lead from the accumulator trolley was plugged into a small recess on the starboard side cowling of the Spitfire.
Early on in the Spitfire’s life it was found that at altitudes above about 15,000 ft (4572 m) any condensation could freeze in the guns causing unpredictable stoppages. The system of gun heating, was introduced on the 61st production Mk I.
Following complaints from pilots which required more headroom, a new form of “blown” canopy was manufactured and started replacing the original “straight” version in early 1939. This canopy improved headroom and enabled better vision laterally and to the rear.
A simplified design of pitot tube was introduced.
The manual hand-pump for operating the undercarriage was replaced by a motorised hydraulic system.
One of the earliest production Spitfires Mk. I displaying the characteristic initial features of this mark: two-blade propeller, unarmoured windscreen and fuel tank, “straight” cockpit hood and long “pole” antenna of the HF radio. All these elements, and more, were modified or replaced before the time of the Battle of Britain, leading to significant improvements in performance and combat-worthiness of the aircraft.
[Crown Copyright, via Jenny Scott]
At the outset of World War 2 the flash suspensors on the gun muzzles were removed and the practice of sealing the gun ports with fabric patches was instituted. The patches kept the gun barrels free of dirt and debris and allowed the hot air to heat the guns more efficiently. When the guns were fired the patches were shot through, and were always replaced by the ground-crew during rearming. At about the same time the original ring & bead sight was removed and replaced by Barr & Stroud reflection gunsight.
The Aero Products wooden propeller was replaced by a 350 lb (183 kg) de Havilland 9 ft 8 in diameter, three-bladed, two-position, metal propeller, which greatly improved take-off performance, maximum speed and the service ceiling. It also started the incremental weight increases which continued through the life of the airframe.
The “rod” aerial mast was replaced by a streamlined, tapered design.
From the 175th production aircraft, the Merlin Mk III, which had a “universal” propeller shaft able to take a constant-speed de Havilland or Rotol propeller, was fitted. Just before the Battle of Britain a de Havilland constant speed propeller, of the same diameter as the two-position unit, became available. Although this was a great deal heavier than the earlier types (500 lb (227 kg)) it gave another substantial improvement in take-off distance and climb rate.
A thick, laminated glass, bullet proof plate was fitted to the curved, one piece windscreen.
A 3mm thick cover of light alloy, capable of deflecting light machine gun rounds, was fitted over the top of the upper fuel tank. From about mid-1940, 73 pounds (33 kg) of armoured steel plating was provided in the form of head and back protection on the seat bulkhead and covering the forward face of the glycol header tank.
Rear view mirrors were added to the windscreen: two early “shrouded” designs were later replaced by a simplified, rectangular, adjustable type.
“Two step” rudder pedals, which were fitted to all frontline Spitfires just before the Battle of Britain: these allowed the pilot to lift his feet and legs higher during combat, improving his blackout threshold and allowing him to pull tighter sustained turns.
Starting in September 1940, an IFF (Identification friend or foe) transmitter was installed. This weighed about 40 lb (18 kg) and could be identified by wire aerials strung between the tailplane tips and rear fuselage. Although the added weight and the aerials reduced maximum speed by about 2 mph, it allowed the aircraft to be identified as “friendly” on radar.
At about the same time new VHF T/R Type 1133 radios started replacing the HF TR9 sets. These had first been fitted to Spitfires of 54 and 66 Squadrons in May 1940, but ensuing production delays meant that the bulk of Spitfires and Hurricanes weren’t fitted for another five months. With the new sets, the pilots enjoyed a much clearer reception. The new installation meant that the wire running between the aerial mast and rudder could be removed, as could the triangular “prong” on the aerial mast.
Modifications to the Spitfires Mk. I in service were introduced incrementally, resulting in a variety of interim configurations at the unit level during the period of 1939-1940. Here, two Spitfires of No. 611 Squadron photographed in Autumn 1939 sport de Havilland three-blade two-pitch propellers, armoured windscreens and fuel tanks as well as bulged canopies, but they are still retaining the early form of radio masts.
Weight increases and aerodynamic changes led to later Spitfire Is having a lower maximum speed than the early production versions. This was more than offset by the improvements in take-off, climb rate and ceiling brought about by the two-position and constant speed propeller units.
At the start of the war the engine ran on the then-standard 87 octane aviation fuel. From March 1940 increasing quantities of 100 octane fuel, imported from the U.S, became available. This meant that during the defensive battles over Dunkirk the Spitfire Is benefited from an allowable increase in supercharger “boost” from +6 lbs to +12 lbs without damaging the engine. With the +12 lb “emergency boost” the Merlin III was able to generate 1,305 hp (973 kW) in a five minute burst. If the pilot resorted to emergency boost, he had to report this on landing and it had to be noted in the engine log book.
Combat experience showed that the fabric covered ailerons seemed to lock solid in high speed dives: this was caused by the fabric “ballooning” which, in turn, increased the control stick forces needed to move them. From November 1940 Supermarine started producing light-alloy covered ailerons as a which did not have this deficiency. Fighter Command ordered a crash programme to have all front line Mk Is and Mk IIs fitted.
No. 19 Squadron received several Spitfires Mk. I armed with two Hispano 20mm cannon during the Battle of Britain. These were known as the Mk. Ib, the eight machine gun Mk Is were retrospectively called the Mk.Ia. This early cannon installation was hampered by frequent jamming problems. In one engagement, only two of the 12 aircraft had been able to fire off all of their shells. Further cannon-armed Spitfires, with improvements to the cannon mounts were later issued to 92 Squadron and it was eventually realised that the best armament mix was an aircraft with two cannon and four machine guns. Most of these trial aircraft were later converted to the first of the Mk Vbs.
In all, 1,567 Mk Is were built (1,517 by Supermarine between May 1938 and March 1941, 50 by Westland, July to September 1941).
Perhaps one of the most famous training aircraft ever produced, the T-6 Texan first flew in 1935, and incredibly was still in service with the South African Air Force up until 1995. All American World War II fighter pilots would have earned their wings flying the Texan.
Initially developed as an airliner for long-range trips, the Focke-Wulf F200 Condor was used extensively by the Luftwaffe during World War II as a maritime patrol aircraft and anti-ship bomber. It was first introduced in 1937.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 05/15/2018 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.
When the land-based Hawker Hurricane was successfully converted into the carrier-based "Sea Hurricane", thought was given to repeating the process for the ubiquitous Supermarine Spitfire fighter series that had carved a name for itself in the Battle of Britain. The original fighter emerged from the small Supermarine concern as a true legendary performer and debuted in Royal Air Force service in 1938. From there the type was evolved into a myriad of variants and subvariants - the notable marks numbering some 20 versions - and covered sorties from interception and reconnaissance to fighter and ground attack. Thought to converting Spitfires for the carrier role was given as early as May of 1938 but little work was done on the concept at that time. It must be stated that, despite the advanced nature of the Royal Air Force (fielding modern Hurricanes and Spitfires) and the inherent ocean-going surface firepower of the Royal Navy itself, the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) - the aerial arm of the Royal Navy - lacked largely behind in terms of modern quality - it still utilizing biplane designs of a seemingly bygone era of flight.
After the Battle of Britain, which required all of the land-based Spitfires available, interest once again arose for converting the Spitfires for carrier service. For years prior, the Fleet Air Arm relied on the American Grumman Wildcat (as the Grumman "Martlet" in FAA service) and the Fairey Fulmar carrier-based aircraft series. The introduction of a navalized Spitfire was actually delayed by Churchill himself who pushed production of other aircraft including that of the Fulmar. A modified Spitfire (converted from an existing Spitfire Mk VB model) was successfully trialed from the deck of the HMS Illustrious with a "V" frame arrestor gear and reinforced undercarriage. Upon passing additional evaluations during 1941, the type was accepted for Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm service as the "Supermarine Seafire". Some 48 Mk VB airframes were converted for the naval role and the type proved promising enough to net a further 118 examples to the total.
The initial operational model became the Seafire Mk IB which debuted in June of 1942 and the series was also used for training naval pilots in the nuances of carrier flight coming from a Spitfire breed. Seafires initially featured the "B Type" wings of the Spitfire, which indicated their armament of 2 x 20mm Hispano cannons and 4 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns (Spitfires, in whole, were fielded with A, B, C and D Type wings which carried variable armament - the C being the adaptable "universal wing" which could be adapted to suit requirements and sped production). The aircraft was also plumbed along centerline to carry a single external fuel tank supply.
Outwardly, the Seafire largely shared the fine design lines of the land-based Spitfire it represented. All major design details were retained including the retractable undercarriage, inline piston engine installation and low-mounted elliptical wing appendages. Armament was all concentrated in the wing leading edges. The empennage was conventional and held the tail wheel, a rounded vertical tail fin and applicable horizontal planes. The pilot sat in a relatively roomy cockpit with generally good views around his aircraft save for the critical "six" region (the absolute rear), this being blocked by the raised fuselage spine.
Seafire fighters were launched in support of the Allied Operation Torch amphibious landings in North Africa during November of 1942 from the carrier HMS Furious. From there the type proved its worth in support actions over Salerno and across southern Europe, particularly over French airspace. Seafires were a prominent player in all of the Allied actions concerning the Mediterranean Theater, seeing considerable activity during 1943. Seafires were also shipped in number to combat the Empire of Japan forces in the Pacific Theater and these found equal success well into the final months of the war (August 1945). As the aircraft was developed from a proven thoroughbred, the Seafire proved an excellent fighter mount in her own right considering its conversion to naval life from its land-based origins. If the type held any failings it was in its narrow-track undercarriage which had a propensity to collapse under the stresses of ship-born service and the high landing speeds brought about by their inherently powerful origins.
The early Seafire mark was eventually superseded by the newer Seafire Mk IIC series appearing in 1942 and these included the C Type universal wings (dutifully strengthened for carrier launches and recovery), mounting 4 x 20mm cannons with a reinforced fuselage and rocket-assisted take-off equipment (RATOG = Rocket Assisted Take-Off Gear). The Mk IIC models were based on the Spitfire VC and inherited their overall improved qualities. The Seafire L.Mk IIC (with Merlin 32 inline driving a four-bladed propelled) was a low-altitude derivative of the Mk IIC line, intended for optimized combat at low-to-medium levels. These were further branched out to become camera-equipped (2 x F.24 cameras) armed reconnaissance types as the Seafire LR.Mk IIC (Merlin 64 inline driving a four-bladed propeller), retaining their fighter prowess. Seafire Mk IIC production forms were the first quantitative models deployed in number by the FAA with some 372 examples being built in all. 110 of these became the L.Mk IIC low-altitude fighter types.
The Seafire Mk III was the next available production model appearing in 1943 and the most "true-to-form" dedicated carrier variant (previous attempts were essentially developmental conversions rushed into service). These were differentiated by their use of manually-actuated, two-piece folding wings - amazingly the first Seafires to do so up to this point. As the Mk IIC before it, the Mk III was furthered in the low-altitude L.Mk III and the photo-reconnaissance LR.Mk III. Power for the Mk III series was provided for by a Rolls-Royce Merlin 45, 50 or 55/55M series V12 liquid-cooled inline piston engine driving a four-bladed propeller. Top speed was 352 miles per hour with a range out to 465 miles and a service ceiling of 33,800 feet. Armament was 4 x 20 Hispano cannons with noticeably shorter barrels with provision for conventional drop bombs in the fighter-bomber role. Production yielded 1,220 examples which made this mark easily the definitive Seafire variant - manufacture spanning April of 1943 to July of 1945 (the war in Europe was over in May of 1945).
By 1945, the excellent Rolls-Royce Griffon engines were in large scale use on regular Spitfire fighters, essentially splitting the aircraft line into two very distinct forms - the early Merlin-powered Spitfires and the later Griffon-powered Spitfires. As such, the Seafire followed suit and began to introduce these engines to the line in time. This produced the Seafire Mk XV of 1944 which also introduced a "stinger" type arrestor hook and the type was based on the existing Spitfire Mk XII land-based fighter. Six prototypes were constructed prior to production and all by Supermarine. These were powered by the Rolls-Royce Griffon VI supercharged (single stage) inline piston engine of 1,850 to 1,876 horsepower. A bubble canopy with a cut-down fuselage spine for improved vision was introduced only late into production of this mark. 390 aircraft were built in all through the combined efforts of Westland and Cunliffe-Owen beginning in the latter part of 1944 though service entry was delayed until May of 1945.
Following was the Seafire Mk XVII fighter form which brought about use of a tear-drop canopy with a cut-down fuselage spine for much improved vision from the cockpit - though based on the preceding Seafire Mk XV. Internal fuel stores were also increased which promoted better operational ranges and wings were further strengthened. 232 of this mark were produced in all. The Seafire FR.Mk XVII was based on the Mk XVII fighter variant but delivered as a dedicated photo-reconnaissance mount with integrated camera equipment while retaining its fighter capabilities.
When the Spitfire Mk 21 series was developed these were used to produce the Seafire Mk 45 and the type were noted for its use of a five-bladed propeller assembly or a pair of three-bladed propeller units fitted in a contra-rotating fashion. 50 examples were produced and fielded in the post-war years beginning at the end of 1946.
The upcoming Seafire Mk 46 was given a tear-drop canopy with a cut-down fuselage spine, inspired by the land-based Spitfire Mk 22. The reconnaissance version of this mark became the Seafire FR.Mk 46. Twenty-four Mk 46 examples were produced.
The Seafire Mk 47 became the final production mark of the Seafire line and were brought about by the development of the land-based Spitfire Mk 24. These instituted newly designed and reinforced power-folding wings as well as contra-rotating propellers and a reinforced undercarriage. Of course, the fighter variant naturally produced the requisite Seafire FR.Mk 47 photo-reconnaissance version in time. The Mk 47 was considered the best of the Seafire line and broadened its tactical appeal by holding provision for 2 x 500lb bombs or 8 x 60lb high-explosive air-to-surface rockets for the strike role. Additionally, 2 x fuel tanks could be carried underwing with 1 x fuel tank under centerline fuselage. All these additions still made for a rather speedy mount regardless, able to manage 400+ mile per hour levels. Power was served through the Rolls-Royce Griffon 87 and (later) Griffon 88 series inline engines with fuel-injection. 89 Mk 47 aircraft were produced though most were of the photo-reconnaissance type. Service entry was in January of 1948 with production ceasing in early 1949.
These Seafires were used in an October 1949 strike on a Malayan terrorist camp by the men of Squadron No.800, marking the first use of the Mk 47 in actual combat. The Mk 47 was also the last Seafire variant to see operational combat service during 1950, this time over the skies of the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War (1950-1953). The first such mission was recorded on July 3, 1950 in the fighter-bomber role from the deck of the HMS Triumph against North Korean targets. At least 26 Seafires were deployed in action and attrition eventually left just twelve examples in all. No. 800 was disbanded in November of 1950 along with their Supermarine Seafires, bringing an end to the Seafire line as a whole.
Operators of the Seafire variant became the United Kingdom's Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve forces as well as the Royal Canadian Navy, the French Navy Aeronavale and the Irish Air Corps. Production ultimately yielded 2,334 examples and Seafires were in service until 1954 before being removed from their second-line reserve duties of the time.
The Avro Lancaster In All Its Glory: Stats And Facts
An icon of WW2, learn about the specifications of the Lancaster bomber, and how it got its name.
The Avro Lancaster bomber first came into service in March 1942 and, as the main RAF heavy bomber, soon became as iconic a part of the British air war as the Supermarine Spitfire.
Take A Tour Of A WWII Spitfire
What Were The Dimensions Of The Lancaster?
The aircraft was 69 feet 4 inches long (21.11 metres), 102 ft wide (31.09 m) and 20 ft 6 in height (6.25 m).
How Fast Was The Lancaster?
According to BAE System's heritage page on the Lancaster bomber, entitled 'Avro 683 Lancaster', it could reach speeds of up to 282 mph (454 km/h) at at a weight of 63,000 lb on its four Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engines. (Although this varied by altitude, and these figures are for the Lancaster I - weights varied with later models).
How Many Models Or Variants Of The Lancaster Were There?
BAE lists 15 other variants besides the 683 base model. These were the B.1, B.1 Special, the PR.1B1 for photographic reconnaissance, the B.1 (FE), modified for the tropics, B.II, B.III, B.III Special, the air-sea rescue variants ASR.III and ASR.3N.III, the maritime recon models GR.3 and MR.3, and the models B.IV, B.VII and B.X, the latter of which was built in Canada, as was the B.XV, of which, only one was produced).
What Was The Maximum Weight Of The Bombs The Lancaster Bomber Could Carry?
The aircraft had an impressive lifting capacity. Weighing 36,900 lb empty (or 16,738 kg), it was able to haul an additional 33,100 lb (or 15,014 kg) in fuel and bombs. The Lancaster had a long, unobstructed bomb bay that allowed it to carry the RAF's largest bombs, up to and including the 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) blockbusters, one of which could destroy an entire street or large building.
The impressive bomb hauling capacity meant that Lancasters could be modified to carry the bouncing bombs used in Operation Chastise (the 'Dambusters' raid) against the Ruhr Valley dams. In fact, later on, the Lancaster was able to haul the 22,000-lb Grand Slam Earthquake bomb.
How Many Lancaster Bombers Were Made?
Air Marshal Arthur 'Bomber' Harris may have stepped up the bombing campaign against Germany with his first "1,000 bomber raid" against Cologne in May, 1942, but he couldn't sustain assaults on this scale.
Britain was only able to produce 7,377 Lancasters during the war, at a cost of £45,000 to £50,000 each (around £2 million today.)
How Did The Lancaster Bomber Get Its Name?
The Lancaster design was an improvement upon the twin-engined Avro Manchester bomber. The two Vulture engines in the Manchester were switched out for four Merlin ones, and production, for the most part, done in Lancashire before final assembly in Cheshire. Lancaster is the county town for Lancashire and the name of the aircraft derives from here.
How Many Lancasters Were Shot Down?
According to Bomber Command Museum, over half of the Lancasters produced, 3,932 of them, were shot down during the war, at a total cost of £186,770,000 (or £7,397,375,152 when adjusted for inflation).
What About Aircrews?
Infinitely worse than the material cost was the scale of human loss. The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund lists 55,573 men as having died serving with Bomber Command during the war.
Many were from Britain, but men - mostly in their late teens - also came from Commonwealth countries and included those who'd escaped from Nazi occupation in Poland, France, and Czechoslovakia.
This is more people than all the personnel who serve in the whole of the RAF today.
What Was The Plane Used In The Dambusters Raid?
The most famous Lancaster bomber mission was undertaken by 617 Squadron against the Ruhr Valley in Germany and was officially dubbed 'Operation Chastise'. According to Channel 4's 'The Dambusters', as crews then did without modern computerised equipment and had to calculate using maps, compasses, pencils and rulers, flying in a World War 2 sortie was akin to taking "a seven-hour maths exam in the dark while being shot at".
These difficulties were intrinsic to all bombing missions, though, for the pilots of Operation Chastise, the Dambusters raid had the additional challenge of having to be flown a mere 100 feet off the ground to avoid radar.
Besides Bombs, What Other Weapons Was The Lancaster Armed With?
Unlike its American counterpart, the B-17G, which bristled with an impressive 13 .50-caliber machine guns, the Lancaster only had 10 such guns, in three sets of twin-gun turrets located on the belly (ventral guns), on top (dorsal guns), and in the nose, and a set of four guns in the tail. These were M1919 Browning machine guns with 1000 rounds each, or enough for roughly two minutes of continuous firing.
How Many Aircrew Flew In A Lancaster Bomber?
Lancasters were also crewed by fewer men than the 10-man B-17s. A pilot and flight engineer would be in the cockpit, with the bomb-aimer on his stomach in the compartment underneath them, aiming and releasing bombs as well as the front machine-gun. Tucked behind the pilot and flight engineer was the navigator, and near him was the wireless operator, who also fired the dorsal guns when necessary. Rounding out the 7-man crew were the ventral and rear gunners at the back of the plane.
Conditions were tough. The impressive haulage capacity meant a trade off in armour plating, so crews were vulnerable to enemy fire, and the cold.
At 20,000 feet, temperatures inside the cramped aircraft could plummet to minus 40, potentially leading to frostbite.
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To learn more about Operation Chastise, read Osprey's 'Raid 16 Dambusters Operation Chastise 1943' by Doug Dildy. Cover image from the book, illustrated by Howard Gerrard and Mariusz Kozik.
Who designed the Spitfire?
The Spitfire may have been the most advanced British aeroplane of its time, but it was designed and built in primitive conditions at the Southampton plant of the Supermarine company. Space was tight, the workforce small and facilities limited.
An atmosphere of penny-pinching and disorganisation prevailed. “There was no proper recording system and parts were not stored in any order,” recalled the Supermarine employee Denis Webb. One manager was so exasperated by the outdated equipment that he bought a machine tool out of his own pocket, while on another occasion a hair dryer had to be used as a makeshift wind tunnel when testing a specialised version of the Spitfire with fuel drop tanks.
Due to Supermarine’s lack of capacity, much of the Spitfire’s production had to be sub-contracted to other firms, which led to chaos over drawings and delivery of parts.
When the Southampton factory was bombed in September 1940, the entire Supermarine operation had to be dispersed around the south of England. Tiny airfields and pre-war flying clubs were used for assembly but by far the grandest of the new sites was the 18th-century colonnaded Hursley House near Winchester which became the firm’s administrative headquarters. Hangars were put up in stable yards, the linen room was turned into a laboratory, the wine cellar became a dark room and the ballroom was the drawing office.
Here are five of the press barons, politicians and pioneers who saved the Spitfire…
The creative genius behind the Spitfire was born in Stoke in 1895 and trained as a locomotive engineer then joined Supermarine in 1917. He designed a series of record-breaking seaplanes before the Spitfire. Tragically, he died of cancer in 1937, before the Spitfire went into service.
Smith succeeded Mitchell as designer for Supermarine. He lacked Mitchell’s originality, but had the vision to see the huge potential of the Spitfire. While Ministry officials continued to dream of new designs, Mitchell reassured Supermarine that the Spitfire “will see us through the war”.
Sir Hugh Dowding
Head of Fighter Command during the battle of Britain, Dowding spotted the awesome potential of the Spitfire earlier than anyone in the RAF. However, he became over-cautious towards the end of the battle and was forced to retire from his post in November 1940.
The Canadian press tycoon became Minister for Aircraft Production in May 1940, when Britain faced its gravest threat. With a mixture of bombast and threats, he turned round Spitfire production. Loathed by many for his autocracy, he was greatly admired by Churchill.
The Tory Cabinet minister who became Secretary of State for air in 1935 took many crucial decisions that put the Spitfire in the sky in 1936. He decided that 310 Spitfires should be ordered after its maiden flight. He was forced to resign in 1938 over delays in production.
Leo McKinstry is a journalist, historian and author. His books include Spitfire: Portrait of a Legend (Hodder & Stoughton, 2007)