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Supermarine Spitfire


By Sakhal

In the summer 1940 Germany continued the war in the sky of its great enemy; it was the "Adlertag", the operation that should warrant to the Luftwaffe three days of air superiority. This was the indispensable condition for the success of the operation "Seelowe", the landing in England. Those were days of death struggle, which concluded with the unequivocal victory of the Royal Air Force, favored undoubtly by the clumsy mistakes committed by the Germans. Anyway, it is irrefutable that, if the British had not a fighter as the Spitfire, the events would have been probably different. Here starts a close observation of the "Spit", as the pilots familiarly called it. The prototype of this prestigious fighter effectuated the first flight the 5th March 1936, and serial production started in March 1937. At the outbreak of the war, nine squadrons had the Spitfire; it could seem a lot of them as starting point for the modernization of the Royal Air Force, but the events rushed in such a way that, when the Battle of Britain started, the number of these fighters barely warranted a minimal air defense of the national territory.

Supermarine Spitfire


Supermarine Spitfire


The Spitfire was a single-seater fighter built with low wings of characteristic elliptical shape, with the two main parts of the fuselage made of light alloy. The engine was supported by a structure of steel tubes in the fore part of the cockpit; the central part was coated with 1-millimeter thick aluminum sheets, while the steering movable surfaces were coated with fabric. The pilot was protected by 33 kilograms of armored plates and a bulletproof windscreen. The engine of the series I (depicted in the illustration) was a Rolls-Royce with cylinders in V and start-up by explosive cartridge. The armament in the Type A consisted of eight Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns, four of which were later replaced by two Hispano 20-millimeter cannons in the Type B. Later it would arrive the Type C (four cannons and underwing arms pylons) and the Type D (two cannons and two 12.7-millimeter machine guns). It had also a novelty: the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) device, which allowed to distinguish, by means of an automatic exchange of codified signals, if a nearby aircraft was friendly or not, in case of doubts due to bad visibility or other reasons. In the end, the Spitfire, which started to be used in 1939 in France, resulted quite long-lived, for the production, started in 1937, would continue until 1947. It would be employed for the last time in 1953, in the Korean War. Total production for all the versions reached 20351 units.

Spitfire Mk I, II, III

First models of this illustrious and long family, which entered service in August 1938. At the beginning of the war this model equipped ten squadrons, being increased this number to 19 at the start of the Battle of Britain. Very few Mk II took part in this battle, being the most part of them introduced during the offensive started by the Fighter Command in December 1940, performing offensive patrols accross the English channel, until being replaced by the Mk V. After being retired from the frontline units the Mk I and Mk II, these were employed in multiple roles, such as training, air rescue (six squadrons of Mk IIC) and communications. In total these models operated with 62 squadrons of the Royal Air Force and the Commonwealth Air Forces. These versions served with Australia, Canada, Germany (more than one captured), Great Britain, New Zealand and Turkey (three Mk IA).

The first prototype was tested with different Merlin engines to later become the first Mk I. The series model Mk IA had 1533 units built by Supermarine and 50 by Westland. The model Mk IB was a reconversion of 30 Mk IA, armed with two Hispano 20-millimeter cannons and four Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns. The MK I PR was the photographic reconnaissance version reconverted from the Mk I, and later redesignated as PR Mk III. The model Mk IIA was a modification of the Mk IA, fitted with integral armor and engine Merlin XII of 1175 horsepower; 750 units built. The model Mk IIB was a modification of the Mk IIA, armed with two Hispano 20-millimeter cannons and four Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns; 170 units built. The Mk IIC was the air rescue version; 50 units were reconverted from the Mk II, and later redesignated as ASR II; armed with eight Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns. The model Mk III was a series of experimental conversions; engines Merlin XX, 60 or 61.

Specifications for Spitfire Mk IA

First flight: 5th March 1936

Type: Interceptor fighter

Wingspan: 11.22 meters

Wing area: 22.48 square meters

Length: 9.11 meters

Height: 2.69 meters

Weight (empty): 2182 kilograms

Weight (normal): 2624 kilograms

Engine: Rolls-Royce Merlin III of 1030 horsepower

Time to reach 6100 meters of altitude: 9 minutes 24 seconds

Maximum climb rate: 770 meters/minute

Service ceiling: 9700 meters

Maximum speed at 5800 meters of altitude: 587 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 340 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 654-941 kilometers

Armament: Eight Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns installed in the wings

Bombs load: N/A



Spitfire Mk V, VI, VII, VIII

The Mk V, which was the most numerous of all the models of the Spitfire, entered service in February 1941, becoming equipment of a hundred of fighter squadrons in the Royal Air Force and the Commonwealth Air Forces, as well as other air forces. It constituted the main strike element in the offensive missions of the critical months of 1941 and early 1942, until the apparition of the Mk IX. In August 1942 started to serve in the African desert three squadrons equipped with Mk V, participating since then in growing numbers in the Mediterranean operations theater, along with the Mk VIII. In 1943 it started to be used in Australia (in the defense of Darwin) and in Burma. In total 30 squadrons employed the tropicalized Mk VIII in Middle East and the Far East. Some Mk V were used in the defense of Moscow by the Soviet Air Force. It also equipped some units of the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force. The list of countries that used these versions include: Australia (245 Mk VC and 410 Mk VIII), Canada, Egypt (12 Mk VC), France (Mk VB/C), Germany (at least five captured, including one Mk F VB whose engine was replaced by a Daimler-Benz DB 605A), Great Britain (100 Mk V), Greece (Mk VB/C), Italy (Mk VB), New Zealand, Portugal (at least 48 Mk VB), South Africa, Turkey (Mk VB), United States (at least 100 Mk VB/C and seven Mk VIII) and the Soviet Union (143 Mk VB).

The Mk IV was the experimental prototype, fitted with the engine Rolls-Royce Griffon IIB of 1735 horsepower; later it was modified to be the prototype of the Mk XII and Mk XX. The PR Mk IV was an unarmed version of the Mk V (Type D) for photographic reconnaissance; some were tropicalized; 229 units built. The model Mk VA was a development of the Mk II, fitted with engines Merlin 45 or Merlin 94 and armed with eight Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns; the F VA and LF VA were the versions for medium and low altitude, respectively. The model Mk VB (also the F VB and LF VB) were similar to the Mk VA but armed with two Hispano 20-millimeter cannons and four Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns; 3873 units built by Supermarine and 140 by Westland. The model Mk VC (also the F VC, LF VC and HF VC, versions for medium, low and high altitude, respectively) was similar to the Mk VA, but fitted with "universal" wing, which allowed to carry the same armament than in the Mk VA/B or otherwise four Hispano 20-millimeter cannons; 1952 units built by Supermarine and 495 by Westland. The PR Mk V (Type C) was a photographic reconnaissance version, later redesignated as PR Mk IV; some exemplars converted to the Types E and F; 15 units built. The HF Mk VI was a modification of the HF Mk V with enlarged wingspan, pressurized cockpit and engine Merlin 47; 100 units built. The model Mk VII (also the F VII and HF VII) was a modification of the Mk VI with engines Merlin 61, 64, 71 or 71S; 140 units built. The PR Mk VII was a conversion of the Mk V for photographic reconnaissance, armed with eight Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns. The model Mk VIII (also the F VIII, LF VIII and HF VIII) was a modification of the Mk VII, without pressurization and with tropicalization in all the exemplars; 1658 units built. The Mk VIII Trainer was a two-seater training version posterior to the war, optionally armed, converted from the Mk VIII.

Supermarine Spitfire

Supermarine Spitfire Mk VB (AB 502) IR.G, piloted by Wing Commander Ian Richard Gleed, DFC, commander of the 244th Wing of the Desert Air Force in Tunisia, April 1943; standard camouflage of Middle East, Aboukir filter; besides bearing the distinctive of Wing Commander (a triangle under the canopy), the letters of the code corresponded to his initials instead of being the normal ones in the squadron; this aircraft also bore the personal ensign of the pilot ("Figaro the Cat"), in the starboard side under the windshield. This pilot did not return from a mission in the area of Cape Bon, the 16th April 1943 (he was downed by a Messerschmitt Bf 109 of the JG 77); the panel in which "Figaro the Cat" was painted was found in the crash site and later transferred to the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon.

Supermarine Spitfire

Supermarine Spitfire HF VIII (JF404) GZ.M of the 32nd RAF Squadron, Foggia-Main, Italy, April 1944. Note the Aero-Vee filter, the tips of the wings of greater wingspan, the enlarged surfaces in the vertical tail and ailerons of smaller size. The special camouflage to operate a high altitudes consisted of medium marine gray for the upper surfaces and blue for the lower ones; there are no cockades in the lower surfaces of the wings.

Specifications for Spitfire LF Mk VB

Entry in service: February 1941

Type: Low-altitude fighter

Wingspan: 9.80 meters

Wing area: 21.46 square meters

Length: 9.11 meters

Height: 3.02 meters

Weight (empty): 2290 kilograms

Weight (full load): 3016 kilograms

Engine: Rolls-Royce Merlin 45M, 50M or 55M, of 1470 horsepower

Maximum climb rate: 1448 meters/minute

Service ceiling: 10800 meters

Maximum speed at sea level: 535 kilometers/hour

Maximum speed at 1830 meters of altitude: 575 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 440 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range: 755 kilometers

Armament: Two Hispano 20-millimeter cannons and four Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns installed in the wings

Bombs load: 227 kilograms (only in expressely prepared exemplars)



Spitfire Mk IX, X, XI

This version entered service in June 1942, initially as an interim measure to face the new German fighter Focke-Wulf Fw 190; however, in time it equipped almost a hundred of squadrons on the Royal Air Force and the Commonwealth Air Forces. In May 1945 it was still used by eight squadrons of the defense of London, five squadrons in Europe, with the 2nd Tactical Air Force (where it destroyed several Me 262 turbojet fighters) and in no less than 22 squadrons in North Africa and the Balkans. It was delivered a large number to the Soviet Union and some to United States. They were very used by many countries after the war. These versions served with Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, United States (16 Mk IX and eight PR Mk XI) and the Soviet Union (1186 LF Mk IX and two HF Mk IX).

The model Mk IX (also the F IX, LF IX and HF IX, versions for medium, low and high altitude, respectively) was a modification of the Mk V with reinforced engine bed to support the Merlin 61; 561 units built by Supermarine and 5104 by Westland (including model Mk IXE). The model Mk IXE (also the F IXE, LF IXE and HF IXE) was similar to the Mk IX but built with wings Type E and armed with two Hispano 20-millimeter cannons and two Browning 12.7-millimeter machine guns. The Mk IX Trainer was the two-seater training version posterior to the war, optionally armed, converted from the Mk IX. The PR Mk IX was an unarmed version for photographic reconnaissance. The PR Mk X was similar to the previous one, but fitted with pressurized cockpit and engine Merlin 77. The PR Mk XI was another similar reconnaissance version; 471 units were built, 309 of them tropicalized.

Specifications for Spitfire F Mk IX

Entry in service: June 1942

Type: Fighter/fighter-bomber

Wingspan: 11.22 meters

Wing area: 22.48 square meters

Length: 9.46 meters

Height: 3.85 meters

Weight (empty): 2545 kilograms

Weight (full load): 3402 kilograms

Weight (maximum): 4300 kilograms

Engine: Rolls-Royce Merlin 61 of 1565 horsepower or Merlin 63 of 1650 horsepower

Time to reach 6000 meters of altitude: 5 minutes 42 seconds

Maximum climb rate: 1200 meters/minute

Service ceiling: 12100 meters

Maximum speed at 7620 meters of altitude: 657 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 520 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range: 1575 kilometers

Armament: Two Hispano 20-millimeter cannons and four Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns installed in the wings

Bombs load: 454 kilograms (only in expressely prepared exemplars)



Spitfire Mk XII, XIII, XIV, XVI, XVIII, XIX

The Mk XIV was the first model built in large quantity with the engine Griffon, and the Mk XVI, the last model that used the Merlin. The Mk XIV entered service in January 1944, being one of the first fighters of the Royal Air Force used against the V-1 flying bombs, destroying around 300 of them in four months. Then they served in the 2nd Tactical Air Force in Europe (20 squadrons), shooting down the first Me 262. It was about to be used in the Far East when the war ended. The Mk XVI equipped 27 squadrons, serving with the 2nd Tactical Air Force as fighter-bombers (11 squadrons at the end of the war). Both versions were used by many countries in the subsequent years to the end of the war. These versions saw service with Australia, Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand.

The model Mk XII had shortened wings, engine Rolls-Royce Griffon III or IV and a modified fairing for the engine; 100 units built. The PR Mk XIII was a photographic reconnaissance version, fitted with engine Merlin 32 and armed with four Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns; conversion from 18 Mk V. The models F Mk XIV and XIVE were a modification from the Mk VIII, with "universal" wing (Type E), elongated nose, enlarged vertical tail surface and bubble canopy in some exemplars; 527 units built. The models FR Mk XIV and XIVE were modifications of the previous models for photographic reconnaissance, all of them fitted with bubble canopy; 430 units built. The LF Mk XVI was the version for low altitude derived from the Mk IX, fitted with engine Merlin 266 (built by Packard) of 1580 horsepower; 1054 units built. The models F/FR Mk XVIII were developments of the Mk XIV with redesigned wings; fighter: 100 units built; fighter-reconnaissance: 200 units built. The PR Mk XIX was an unarmed version for photographic reconnaissance derived from the Mk XIV; the largest part of them with pressurized cockpit and tropicalization; 225 units built. The models F 21, 22 and 23 were fighter versions posterior to the war; 454 units built.

Specifications for Spitfire Mk XII

Entry in service: August 1942

Type: Fighter/fighter-bomber

Wingspan: 9.93 meters

Wing area: 21.46 square meters

Length: 9.70 meters

Height: 3.35 meters

Weight (empty): 2294 kilograms

Weight (full load): 3302 kilograms

Engine: Rolls-Royce Griffon III of 1760 horsepower

Time to reach 6000 meters of altitude: 6 minutes 42 seconds

Maximum climb rate: 1450 meters/minute

Service ceiling: 12200 meters

Maximum speed at 5500 meters of altitude: 632 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 529-793 kilometers

Armament: Two Hispano 20-millimeter cannons and four Browning 7.7-millimeter machine guns installed in the wings

Bombs load: 227 kilograms



Specifications for Spitfire F Mk XIV

Entry in service: January 1944

Type: Interceptor fighter/fighter-bomber

Wingspan: 11.22 meters

Wing area: 22.67 square meters

Length: 9.95 meters

Height: 3.86 meters

Weight (empty): N/A

Weight (full load): 4082 kilograms

Weight (maximum): 4665 kilograms

Engine: Rolls-Royce Griffon 65 or 66 of 2035 horsepower

Time to reach 6100 meters of altitude: 7 minutes

Maximum climb rate: 1400 meters/minute

Service ceiling: 13100 meters

Maximum speed at sea level: 600 kilometers/hour

Maximum speed at 7900 meters of altitude: 720 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 580 kilometers/hour

Operational range: N/A

Armament: Two Hispano Mk II 20-millimeter cannons and two Browning 12.7-millimeter machine guns installed in the wings

Bombs load: 227 kilograms or rockets Mk IX



Categories: Aircraft - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-05-02


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