Supermarine Spitfire Fighter / Fighter-Bomber / Reconnaissance Aircraft
The Supermarine Spitfire became the undisputed champion of the British cause during World War 2.
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The Supermarine Spitfire the legendary British fighter aircraft developed prior to World War 2. The type earned its status as one of the finest fighter aircraft ever made thanks to its involvement in the Battle of Britain and forged its legacy through the dark years of World War 2. The type survived the war in a plethora of variants - the notable marks numbering 20 - and was developed into a navalized form as the "Seafire". Tens of thousands were ultimately produced and rivaled the qualities of the competing German Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf 190 types. The aircraft also claimed several of the German jet fighters and was used in interception of high-speed German rockets headed to English soil. Highly regarded by friend and foe alike- and rightly so - the Spitfire went on to see extended service in the post-war years which further solidified its stature in the annals of military aviation history.
NOTE 1: While the Spitfire production line relied on roman numeral "marks" to identify each type, these did not necessarily appear in chronological order as one might suspect. After 1942, the Royal Air Force moved away from Roman numeral designation marks.
NOTE 2: The Spitfire was primarily produced with four various wing types which directly dictated available armament options. The Type A wing fitted 8 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns while the Type B wing allowed 2 x 20mm Hispano cannons along with 4 x 7.7mm machine guns. The Type C proved the "universal win" fit intended to speed production and allow for flexible armament options: 8 x 7.7mm machine guns, 2 x 20mm cannons with 4 x 7.7mm machine guns or 4 x 20mm cannons. Additionally provision for 250lb bombs was added. The final wing - the D Type - was generally fitted to reconnaissance models which lost their wing armament and gained additional internal fuel stores for increased ranges.
Supermarine Spitfire Development
Headed by engineer Reginald J. Mitchell, the small Supermarine concern developed several award-winning racing seaplanes during the interwar years prior to its development of the excellent Spitfire fighter aircraft series. When the chance came to produce a new modern fighter aircraft for the Royal Air Force, qualities of these racers were implemented into the new fighter to create an instant classic including the identifiable elliptical wings which assisted in maximizing lift. Design work began in 1935 and the single prototype, known as the K5054 (company Type 300), went airborne for the first time on March 5th, 1936 with a Rolls-Royce Merlin II/C engine of 900 horsepower under the hood driving a two-bladed propeller. The aircraft exhibited vary clean lines with its long nose assembly housing the engine and the cockpit just aft at center. Aft of the fuselage was a raised spine which allowed for more internal volume at the expense of obstructed rear views. The wings were low-set monoplane assemblies with their distinct elliptical shape that was so pronounced in the design. The empennage was conventional with a curved vertical tail fin and applicable curved horizontal planes. The undercarriage utilized a narrow-track design in which the weight of the aircraft was displaced through the fuselage into the landing gear legs as opposed to mounting these under the wings as in other aircraft. Both main landing gears were full retractable with a tail wheel at the rear. Armament would be concentrated across several bays held each wing and primarily consisting of machine gun armament though this would change over time. The type proved so promising early on that it was immediately placed on order for 370 examples as the Spitfire Mk I, adopted for service on August 4th, 1938. Ultimately, the Spitfire series would comprise a total of 20 major production marks - a stunning achievement for a single aircraft, though undoubtedly helped by the prospect of world war.
Spitfire Mk I
The initial production model became the Spitfire Mk I (first flight May 14th, 1938) with deliveries undertaken in August of 1938 to the Royal Air Force at Duxford. The Mk IA fielded the Rolls-Royce Merlin II inline piston engine of 1,030 horsepower and an armament of 8 x 7.7mm machine guns in the wings while the Mk IB appeared with an armament of 2 x 20mm cannons and 4 x 7.7mm machine guns. The Mk IC was given 4 x 20mm cannons while the Mk IE was identified by its 2 x 20mm cannons and 2 x 12.7mm heavy machine gun array. Top speed was 355 miles per hour with a range out to 500 miles and a service ceiling nearing 34,000 feet. By September of 1939, some nine squadrons were in existence with several more upcoming. The German Army invaded Poland in that time to officially mark the start of World War 1. On October 16th, 1939, a Spitfire claimed its first German aircraft - a Heinkel He 111 medium bomber - over British soil. The Mk IA enjoyed a faster rate-of-climb and more agility over its adversary of the time - the Messerschmitt Bf 109E "Emil" mark - though the German pilot enjoyed greater firepower from his combination of cannon and machine gun. In all, 1,567 Mk IA and Mk IIB aircraft were produced by Supermarine and Westland.
The Battle of Britain and the Arrival of the Spitfire Mk II
Germany steamrolled its way through much of western Europe, capturing Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and - ultimately - France. This placed it squarely in position to invade the British Isles across the English Channel and plans were made by Adolf Hitler for just that through Operation Sea Lion. However, the operation would only succeed if air superiority was clearly in the hands of the German Luftwaffe. Which French capitulation on June 25th, 1940, the stage was set for the first grand air war of World War 2. The war - known as The Battle of Britain after Winston Churchill's mention during a speech in the House of Commons - began on July 10th, 1940 and would encapsulate the entire summer. The RAF could muster some 19 total Spitfire squadrons. The primary player for the German Luftwaffe during this time would become the Messerschmitt Bf 109, a single-seat, single-engined fighter tested during the Spanish Civil War and bound to create its own excellent legacy in time. For the RAF, the players became the Hawker Hurricane and the new Supermarine Spitfire - both would share the glory though the Spitfire would become a national hero and aviation legend. The Spitfire Mk I was the variant that took the brunt of the air war alongside the Hurricane and was produced in 1,566 examples before focus shifted to the Spitfire Mk II. The Mk II arrived in September of 1940 and was powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin XII inline piston engine of 1,175 horsepower. The Mk IIB was armed with 2 x 20mm cannons and 4 x 7.7mm machine guns. By the end of 1941, the Spitfire Mk I had played its role and was relegated to second-line duties. Production of Mk IIA and IIB fighters amounted to 921 examples out of Castle Bromwich with the first available in June of 1940.
The British Victory
After months of deadly bombings on British soil, The Battle of Britain was officially ended on October 31st, 1940 with a decisive British victory. The sheer will and determination of the British people took center stage alongside ready-to-fight pilots on makeshift airfields. Key to victory was the British radar and communications network which outlined bomber formations as they arrived over the Channel. The Spitfire held only a slight edge against the equally-excellent Bf 109s, particularly in fighting under 20,000 feet. The Bf 109, conversely, held the advantage in its engine for it could send fuel from its stores during the most aggressive of maneuvers - such was the fine line separating these two machines and pilot training and experience were truly at play in the conflict.
Spitfire Mk III and FR Mk IV
The Spitfire Mk III proved two "one-off" development models by Supermarine - a converted Mk I and converted Mk V. The Spitfire FR Mk IV actually appeared AFTER the Mk V (detailed below) and was a photo-reconnaissance mount that appeared in 229 production examples.
Spitfire Mk V
The Mk V arrived in February-March of 1941 and were essentially conversion mounts from the existing stocks of Mk I and Mk II production forms. Key to this development was the introduction of the "universal wing" which could take on all manner of expected armament and speed up production times. All told, 6,479 to 6,664 (sources vary) of this model would go on to see serial production making this a definitive Spitfire version, the standard of RAF Fighter Command for the time. Production was handled through Supermarine, Castle Bromwich and Westland. Service entry of the type spanned from June 1941 through 1943 eventually stocking 140 total RAF squadrons and USAAF fighter groups having come to Europe. By the end of 1941 alone there were 43 Mk V squadrons available. A further nine squadrons of the Spitfire Mk V existed overseas. These existed as the Mk VA, Mk VB and Mk VC subvariants with Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 or 50 series inline piston engines of 1,440 horsepower and 1,470 horsepower respectively. Top speed was 374 miles per hour with a range out to 470 miles and a service ceiling of 37,000 feet. Mk Vs proved pivotal in daily fighter sweeps across northern Europe (primarily over France) where their ranges were further increased by the integration of fuel drop tanks. The Mk Vs were also deployed during the disastrous Dieppe landings that more or less served as a runner up to the Normandy D-Day landings. Beyond this, the Mk V was fielded in every capacity across varied campaigns prior to 1943. Many were also supplied to the Soviet Union via Lend-Lease. In 1942, the latest Focke-Wulf Fw 190 offerings dated the once-excellent Spitfire Mk V line.
The Mk VA was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 liquid-cooled V12 inline piston engine of 1,478 horsepower with a top speed of 369 miles per hour and a service ceiling of 36,500 feet. Armament consisted of 8 x 7.7mm machine guns.
The Mk VB was fitted with the Rolls-Royce Merlin 45, 46 or 50 V12 inline liquid-cooled piston engines of 1,440 - 1,480 horsepower for a top speed of 374 miles per hour, a range of 470 miles and a service ceiling of 37,000 feet. Armament was 2 x 20mm cannons and 4 x 7.7mm machine guns in the wing leading edges. The Mk VB mark was the primary fighter mount of RAF Fighter Command during the span of mid-1941 to the middle of 1942.
The Mk VC brought about provision for 1 x 500lb bomb underfuselage or 2 x 250lb bombs underwing for the fighter-bomber role. These versions featured clipped wingtips for better control at lower altitudes while retaining their fighter prowess.