|Manufacturer||Supermarine Aviation Works|
|Maiden Flight||5 March 1936|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseDesigned by trophy-winning aircraft designer Reginald J. Mitchell and manufactured by Vickers-Armstrongs' subsidiary Supermarine, Spitfire fighters were made to be fast and maneuverable. The first prototype, K5054, took flight on 5 Mar 1936 at Eastleigh Aerodrome, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom; this first flight did not live up to Mitchell's expectations, but Mitchell knew that he had a good foundation to work with. After much hard work, it was finally accepted by the British Air Ministry; upon that time, director of Vickers-Armstrongs Sir Robert MacLean named it Spitfire, which was his daughter's nickname. The first order was placed on 3 Jun 1936 for 310 units, and it took two years for Supermarine to prepare for full scale production thanks to the complex design. The wings, for example, were thin, covered with stressed metal skin, and of a revolutionary elliptical shape. Notably, it was reported that a German Bf 109 fighter took a third less time to build than a Spitfire aircraft. However, Supermarine was still able to produce them in great numbers. During the design's production life, 20,351 were built, including the Seafire carrier fighter variant, two-seater trainer variant, and many others. The design was produced in greater numbers than any other Allied fighter design, and was the only Allied fighter in production at the outbreak of the European War that was still in production at its end.
ww2dbaseThe first Spitfire aircraft to enter service with the No. 19 Squadron RAF arrived at Duxford, England, Britain on 4 Aug 1938; unfortunately, Mitchell did not live to see this event. Men of the No. 19 Squadron RAF reported that the fighter had leakage and engine starting problems, but overall the performance was outstanding. By Sep 1939, when the European War began, 400 Spitfire aircraft were in service with the RAF, and a further 2,000 were on order. The first Spitfire fighters lost were to a friendly fire incident on 6 Sep over Medway, England. Together with the venerable Hawker Hurricane fighters, these two types of fighters defended Britain from Germany's aerial invasion during the Battle of Britain; while the slower Hurricane fighters often acted as bomber interceptors, the speedy and maneuverable Spitfire fighters targeted their escorting fighters. Their speed was not only an effective offensive weapon in attacking enemy fighters, but the speed was also a reason for many Spitfire pilots' survival as well, particularly when given chase by enemy fighters; author Stephen Bungay noted that "not until the advent of the first swept-wing jets in 1949 was there anything which could catch it".
ww2dbaseMost Spitfire fighters had their fuel tanks lined with Linatex to prevent leakage through bullet holes, which prevented fire during combat. This lining was proven to be very effective, thus it was later applied to fuel tanks for Hurricane fighters as well.
ww2dbaseIn late 1941, with the introduction of the Fw 190 fighters on the German side, Spitfire losses climbed until upgraded versions reached adequate numbers. To counter this disadvantage, some Spitfire Mk XII and Mk XIV were equipped with the new and more powerful Rolls-Royce Griffon engines, making them much more capable in low-level combat situations. The first of the Griffon-powered Spitfire fighters took flight on 27 Nov 1941, and the pilots of these new variants found themselves wielding effective weapons. Pilots such as Flight Officer Ken Collier reported that their Griffon-powered Spitfire fighters were so fast and agile that they were capable of flying in parallel with German V1 rockets and then close in to tip the rockets' wings to cause them to crash. The Griffon-powered Spitfire fighters were so lethal that German Luftwaffe General Adolf Galland noted that "[t]he best thing about the Spitfire Mk XIV was that there were so few of them".
ww2dbaseBeginning in Mar 1942, many of the Spitfire fighters flew off of carrier decks to be transferred to Malta to aid the defense there. In 1943, as Allied bombing missions increased in range, Spitfire fighters with their shorter ranges were limited to bomber escort missions to northwestern France only, while bombing missions into Germany were escorted by American fighters that had longer range. After the Normandy invasion, Spitfire squadrons were moved to France to operate from tactical airfields close to German lines. As the German Luftwaffe weakened toward the end of the war, they began providing tactical ground support for the advancing army units.
ww2dbaseOperations off Norway and in the Mediterranean Sea revealed that the British Royal Navy did not possess carrier fighters that were capable enough to deal with modern fighters. Given that the RAF had already successfully used Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, the Admiralty demanded to test them as carrier fighters. "Sea Hurricane" fighters were modified from Hurricane fighters; they were considered the less favorable of the two. "Sea Spitfire" fighters, on the other hand, seemed to be ideal. The first carrier landing of modified Spitfire fighters for carrier operations was Lieutenant Commander H. P. Bramwell, commanding officer of the Royal Navy Fighter School. In the River Clyde in Scotland, United Kingdom, he successfully landed a modified Spitfire fighter on the carrier HMS Illustrious, which was anchored in the river; this took place on 10 Jan 1942. After further successful landings by Bramwell, 250 Spitfire Mk VB and VC aircraft were slated to be converted for carrier use. These new conversions became the first of Seafire fighters. Seafire IIC variants were the first purpose-built carrier fighters of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. Later in the war, folding wings were introduced. United States Navy pilot Corky Meyer made a positive comment about the Seafire fighter he test flew during the Joint USAAF/US Navy Fighter Conference in Florida, United States in Mar 1943:
ww2dbaseWithout argument, the Spitfire/Seafire configuration was probably the most beautiful fighter ever to emerge from a drawing board. Its elliptical wing and long, slim fuselage were visually most delightful, and its flight characteristics equalled its aerodynamic beauty.
ww2dbaseThe Seafire had such delightful upright flying qualities that knowing it had an inverted fuel and oil system, I decided to try inverted "figure-8s". They were as easy as pie, even when hanging by the complicated, but comfortable, British pilot restraint harness. I was surprised to hear myself laughing as if I were crazy. I have never enjoyed a flight in attitude. It was clear to see how few exhausted, hastily trained, Battle of Britain pilots were able to fight off Hitler's hordes for so long, and so successfully, with it.
ww2dbaseThe Lend-Lease Royal Navy Wildcats, Hellcats and Corsair fighters were only workhorses. The Seafire III was a dashing stallion!
ww2dbaseDuring the Pacific War, Seafire fighters were operated from British carriers and played a vital role in Task Force 57's mission to protect the southern flank during the Okinawa campaign. Their main tasks were typically defensive in nature due to their medium to low altitude performance, making them ideal weapons to guard against the diving kamikaze special attack aircraft that were used by the Japanese by this stage of the war. British Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm pilot Lieutenant Commander Mike Crosley of 880 Naval Air Squadron aboard HMS Implacable commented that "we felt that the Seafire, of all aircraft, would be the best possible defence in such circumstances, and we were not too frightened provided we could see the kamikazes coming." Nevertheless, due to the speed that special attack aircraft dove in, even the Seafire fighters could only shoot down some of the many suicide aircraft diving at British carriers. During the Okinawa campaign, British carriers were hit 7 times by special attack aircraft.
ww2dbaseAfter the war, Spitfire aircraft were used in many air forces around the world, including Sweden, Italy, Israel, and many others. Some of them remained in service well into the 1960s. In the post-war age of jet fighters, many pilots remain attached to the Spitfire design. George Unwin, who flew with No. 19 Squadron RAF during the Battle of Britain, recalled:
Stephen Bungay, The Most Dangerous Enemy
Kate Moore, The Battle of Britain
Donald Nijboer, Seafire vs A6M Zero
Andrew Thomas, Griffon Spitfire Aces
ww2dbaseAdditional information provided by Alan Chanter:
- Designer Reginald Mitchell is reported to have said that Spitfire was a Bloody silly name.
- It is a Myth that the Spitfire was developed from the Racing seaplanes of the early 1930s. In fact there was not one component of any significance from the racers that was used in the Spitfire fighter.
- The first Spitfire prototype was written off during a landing on the 4 September 1937. The Pilot Flight Lieutenant Spinner White receiving fatal injuries in the crash.
- On the 3rd of September 1939 the Royal Air Force had 306 Spitfires, of which 187 were operating in eleven fighter squadrons. The remainder were being held in storage. At the same time the Germans had over 1, 000 single seat fighters operational.
- The first kill by a Spitfire was on 16th October 1939 when Spitfires from 602 and 603 Squadrons intercepted a force of nine Junkers JU88s of Kampfesschwader 30 attacking shipping in the Firth of Forth. Flight Lieutenant Pat Gifford of 603 Squadron shot down one of the bombers whilst Flight Lieutenants George Pinkerton and Archie McKellar of 602 Squadron shot down another.
- During the Battle of Britain the nineteen Spitfire squadrons were responsible for shooting down 521 enemy aircraft. An average of 27 per Spitfire.
- The high altitude interceptor, Spitfire Mk VI was the first Royal Air Force aircraft to be fitted with a pressurised cabin.
- The biggest user of Spitfires outside of the British empire was the Soviet Union with over 1, 333 machines (mostly Mk IXs) delivered.
- Lt Colonel Sandy McCorkle, the Commander of the 31st Fighter Group, 12th US Air Force scored five victories over enemy aircraft whilst flying Spitfires in the Italian Campaign.
- On the 7th January 1949, No 208 Squadron RAF lost four Spitfire FR Mk XVIIIs in a dogfight with Spitfire Mk IXs of No 101 Squadron Israeli Air Force.
- Spitfire PS853, a PR Mk 19 model, was the last of its breed to see active service with the Royal Air Force. It was finally retired in July 1957.
- The last combat operations carried out by Spitfires was by the Burmese air force supporting Chinese and Burmese troops in operations against the CIA backed Kuomintang nationalists during 1960/61.
ww2dbaseSources: the complete book of Fighters, Warplanes of the Second World War-Fighters Volume 2, World Aircraft Informarion Files.
Last Major Revision: Jan 2010
|1 Dec 1934||British Air Ministry issued a contract to Supermarine for monoplane fighters powered by the Rolls-Royce PV 12 Merlin engines; they would later be named Spitfire.|
|5 Mar 1936||Supermarine prototype Type 300 aircraft took flight from Eastleigh airfield in England, United Kingdom; this aircraft would later be named Spitfire.|
|3 Jun 1936||The British Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfire fighters at Ł4,500 each.|
|11 Jun 1937||Spitfire fighter designer Reginald J. Mitchell died of cancer, aged 42.|
|4 Aug 1938||The first Spitfire fighter deployed into service went to No. 19 Squadron RAF. The squadron reported good performance, but the fighter had leaks and the engine was difficult to start.|
|10 Jan 1942||Royal Navy Fighter School's commanding officer Lieutenant Commander H. P. Bramwell made the first landing of a modified Spitfire fighter aboard carrier Illustrious in the River Clyde, Scotland, United Kingdom. The success led to the development of the carrier version of the Spitfire design, Seafire.|
|8 Nov 1942||The first combat victory by the new Seafire naval fighter occurred when a New Zealander, Sub-Lieutenant A. S. Long, shot down a Vichy French Martin 167 bomber over Mers-el-Kébir harbour in French Algeria.|
|27 Nov 1943||The first British Seafire F III carrier fighters reached the 894 Naval Air Squadron.|
|1 Apr 1945||British Sub Lieutenant R. H. Reynolds's Seafire carrier fighter shot down two A6M5 Zero fighters; these were the first Seafire fighter victories against Zero fighters.|
|15 Aug 1945||VJ Day was declared in Britain.|
|Machinery||Rolls-Royce Merlin III rated at 1,030hp|
|Armament||8x7.7mm Browning machine guns|
|Wing Area||22.50 m˛|
|Weight, Empty||2,257 kg|
|Weight, Loaded||2,806 kg|
|Speed, Maximum||582 km/h|
|Service Ceiling||9,750 m|
|Machinery||Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 rated at 1,470hp|
|Armament||2x20mm Hispano HS 404 cannons, 4x7.7mm Browning machine guns, 2x113kg or 1x230kg bombs|
|Wing Area||22.50 m˛|
|Weight, Empty||2,309 kg|
|Weight, Loaded||3,071 kg|
|Speed, Maximum||605 km/h|
|Service Ceiling||11,300 m|
|Range, Normal||1,835 km|
Mk IXe LF
|Machinery||Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 rated at 1,575hp|
|Armament||2x20mm Hispano HS 404 cannons, 2x0.50cal Browning M2 machine guns, 4x113kg or 2x230kg bombs|
|Wing Area||22.50 m˛|
|Weight, Empty||2,251 kg|
|Weight, Loaded||3,343 kg|
|Speed, Maximum||642 km/h|
|Service Ceiling||12,650 m|
|Machinery||Rolls-Royce Griffon 65 rated at 2,050hp|
|Armament||2x20mm Hispano HS 404 cannons, 2x0.50cal Browning M2 machine guns|
|Wing Area||22.50 m˛|
|Weight, Empty||3,034 kg|
|Weight, Loaded||4,653 kg|
|Speed, Maximum||721 km/h|
|Service Ceiling||13,560 m|
|Range, Normal||1,375 km|
Seafire L III
|Machinery||One Merlin 55M engine rated at 1,585hp|
|Armament||2x20mm Hispano cannon, 4x7.7mm Browning machine guns|
|Wing Area||22.50 m˛|
|Weight, Empty||2,814 kg|
|Weight, Loaded||3,222 kg|
|Weight, Maximum||3,565 kg|
|Speed, Maximum||578 km/h|
|Speed, Cruising||350 km/h|
|Service Ceiling||9,753 m|
|Range, Normal||825 km|
Did you enjoy this article? Please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 per month will go a long way! Thank you.
Visitor Submitted Comments
All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.
» Battle of Britain
» Griffon Spitfire Aces
» Seafire vs. A6M Zero: Pacific Theater
» British Weekly Fighter Aircraft Production, Apr-Oct 1940
- » 1,043 biographies
- » 327 events
- » 35,750 timeline entries
- » 728 ships
- » 329 aircraft models
- » 184 vehicle models
- » 340 weapon models
- » 104 historical documents
- » 178 facilities
- » 458 book reviews
- » 25,100 photos
- » 289 maps
Winston Churchill, on the RAF