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Supermarine Spitfire

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One of the best British fighter aircraft to see service during the Second World War just over 20,000 examples were built of R.J. Mitchell's design which was easily identified by its iconic elliptical wing shape. Although best known for its exploits in the Battle of Britain during its wartime career it would serve in theatres of war all over the world. In 1954 after 16 years service with the Royal Air Force the type was retired.

Quick Facts
First flight
5th March 1936
Entered service
4th August 1938
Total built

Front view
Spitfire front view photo
Side view
Spitfire side view photo
Rear view
Spitfire rear view photo

As the Royal Air Force entered the 1930s biplane fighters were still considered the way forward by the Air Ministry. So when in 1931 they issued Specification F.7/30 it was to be Gloster's Gladiator biplane design that would be ordered into production. The aircraft Supermarine submitted was the Type 224, a monoplane design with fixed undercarriage which was powered by a Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine. Its top speed was only 228 mph, 22 mph slower than the top speed of 250 mph which the Specification called for. Despite the disappointing performance of the aircraft, the experience and data gathered would prove beneficial for Supermarine's next design.

So, when in 1934, the Air Ministry issued Specification F.5/34 requiring an eight gun aircraft which had a closed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Supermarine submitted their new design now given the Type number 300 and this would also be powered by the Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine. Despite all the improvements no order was forthcoming from the Air Ministry. However a change of engine to the Rolls-Royce P.V.12, later to become the Merlin, saw Specification F.37/34 issued on the 3rd January 1935 for a prototype to be built.

The prototype Spitfire was powered by a 900-hp Merlin 'C' engine and Captain J 'Mutt' Summers piloted the aircraft on its maiden flight, lasting eight minutes, on the 5th March 1936. Further flights continued before Captain Summers handed over test flying duties to his assistants who included Jeffrey Quill, who would test every Spitfire Mk, and Alex Henshaw. As a result of these flights and further changes to the aircraft, which enabled a top speed of nearly 350 mph, 310 Mk I aircraft were ordered on the 3rd June 1936, with an expected completion date of March 1939.

Fifteen days later on the 18th June in front of three hundred invited guests the Spitfire made its first appearance during an open day at Vickers, Eastleigh. This was followed on the 27th June when the public got their first taste of this new aircraft at the RAF Hendon Airshow. Sadly the following year on the 11th June 1937 R.J. Mitchell passed away, with development of the Spitfire given to Joe Smith.

The maiden Spitfire Mk I first flew on the 14th May 1938 and was powered by the 1,030-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin II engine with newly introduced ejector exhaust stubs and instead of the skid the prototype featured a tail wheel was installed. Although at this stage the undercarriage had to be hand-pumped. Initially only half of the intended eight 0.303-in machine-guns were fitted due to supply shortages and when Spitfires with eight machine-guns did appear they were designated as Mk IAs, a small number of Mk IBs with four machine-guns and two 20-mm cannons appeared in 1940 for operational trials, but as the cannon kept jamming these were withdrawn. Development of the type continued with hydraulics for the landing gear and flaps, bullet proof windscreens, bulged canopy and a three blade metal propeller all being added.

The Spitfire was a more complex aircraft to produce, compared to the Hawker Hurricane, as a result the initial order for 310 aircraft would be completed 6 months behind schedule, with the first Spitfire Mk Is entering service 26 months after the initial order was placed. It would be No. 19 Squadron, based at Duxford, who would be the first to receive the Spitfire when on the 4th August 1938 they had their Gloster Gauntlets replaced. A further eight squadrons would be equipped with the type by the time the Second World War started in September 1939. The next month would see the Spitfire score its first victories when on the 16th October two Junkers Ju 88s were shot down over the Firth of Forth by No. 602 Squadron, claiming the first German aircraft shot down over Britain in World War 2, and on the same day No. 603 Squadron claimed a Heinkel He 111. The following month would see a number of Mk Is deployed to France, but these would serve in the reconnaissance role only. July 1940 would see a total of 19 Squadrons now equipped with the Spitfire as the Battle of Britain loomed, and alongside the Hurricane the pair formed a formidable partnership, with the Spitfires being assigned to deal with the fighter escorts, usually Messerschmitt Bf 109s, and the Hurricane the German bombers.

Serving as a prototype of the Mk II a Spitfire Mk I was used, with a 1,175-hp Merlin XII powering the plane and most of the Mk IIs built were classed as Mk IIA, which had an armament of eight machine guns, with some others being designated Mk IIBs, which had the same four machine guns and two 20 mm cannon armament of the Mk IB, but to overcome the previous cannon problems, it was turned on it's side. Some Spitfire Mk IIs were used for air sea rescue and so became Mk IIC.

Another Mk I Spitfire was to be used as the prototype for the Mk III, featuring clipped wings, strengthen structurally, a retractable tailwheel and other minor changes and also a 1,280-hp Merlin XX. The other prototype which would become the Supermarine Spitfire Mk XX, it was originally named the Mk IV, was powered by a Rolls-Royce Griffon IIB. The name change was to avoid mistaking the plane for the Mk P.R.IV, powered by the Merlin 46, it was an unarmed reconnaissance plane, and carried 3 cameras, two vertical and one oblique and entered service in September 1941.

Pink Spitfires!
Whilst undertaking very low-level reconnaissance some Spitfires were painted pink to blend in with the sun as it either was rising or setting, however when looking at the plane from above it was clearly visable.

The next version the Mk V was powered by a 1,470-hp Merlin 45 engine, and the main three versions were the Spitfire Mk VA, Mk VB and Mk VC. The Mk VA and Mk VB had the same armament as the Mk IIA and Mk IIB respectively. The Mk VC had a 'universal wing' which meant it could have the armament of the Mk VA or Mk VB, or four cannons, and either one 500lb bomb or two 250lb bombs, the range of aircraft was increased with the addition of a drop tank. 1943 saw some Supermarine Spitfire Mk L.F.V's appear with clipped wings and were powered by a 1,585-hp Merlin 45m engine for low altitude operations.

Entering service in December 1940, the Spitfire Mk II was among a number of aircraft which went on 'Rhubarb' sweeps over occupied Europe. The Mk V then entered service in February 1941, with No. 92 Squadron. Malta were the first to receive Spitfires to serve overseas as fighters, when 15 Mk VBs were flown from HMS Eagle on the 7th March 1942. In fact a Spitfire Mk VB fitted with an arrestor hook would be used to assess the types viability for use on an aircraft carrier which would lead to the Seafire being developed. Tropicalised Mk VBs which had an air intake filter under the nose were sent to No. 145 Squadron based in the Middle East during May 1942. In February 1943 No. 54 Squadron based at Darwin received the first Pacific theatre Mk V.

To counteract German bombers operating at high altitude, the Supermarine Spitfire Mk IV was developed, with a Mk VB used as a base and with the introduction of a Merlin 47 engine, extended wingtips and a pressure cabin. This was used as an interim plane until the Spitfire H.F.VII appeared, which was first flown in April 1942. As well as other improvements it was the first mark to be designed to take the two-stage Merlin 60 engine.

German Spitfire!
A Spitfire Mk VB, serial number EN830, flown by Pilot Officer Bernard Scheidhauer had to make a forced landing in Jersey and was subsequently tested by the Luftwaffe.

The development of the Spitfire continued throughout the war with different versions of each mark of the Supermarine Spitfire developed depending on the role it was used for. These roles included, interceptor, low and high altitude, fighter-bomber and photographic reconnaissance. In fact the Spitfire was the only Allied fighter already in production at the start of the Second World War to remain in production throughout the war, and also served with US and Russian squadrons.

Some of the notable later marks included the Spitfire Mk XVI which was the last Merlin engined Spitfire, and the Mk XIV, an example of which was fitted with a laminar flow wing and provided the basis from which the Supermarine Spiteful was conceived, which on the 4th October 1944 claimed the first Messerschmitt Me 262 to be shot down by the Allies. The last Supermarine Spitfire to be made was a Mk 24, and was completed in October 1947, meaning the total number of Spitfires built was 20,334. The last operational sortie was made on the 1st April 1954 by a Spitfire Mk XIX of No. 81 Squadron, Malaya.

Also see Supermarine Seafire


Click on the aeroplane image to view a larger version.

Max Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
Spitfire Mk I 364 mph 425 miles 34,500 ft eight 0.303-in machine-guns
Spitfire Mk II 354 mph 500 miles 37,600 ft eight 0.303-in machine-guns
Spitfire Mk III Experimental aircraft, only one built.
Spitfire Mk V 368 mph 475 miles 38,500 ft eight 0.303-in machine-guns
Spitfire Mk IV Powered by the new Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, with only one built.
Re-designated later on as Mk XX
Spitfire Mk VI 364 mph 470 miles 39,200 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 20mm cannons
Spitfire Mk VII 408 mph 660 miles 43,000 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 20mm cannons
Spitfire Mk VIII 408 mph 680 miles 43,000 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 20mm cannons
Spitfire Mk IX 408 mph 434 miles 43,000 ft eight 0.303-in machine-guns
one 1,000lb bomb
Spitfire Mk X 417 mph 1,370 miles 43,000 ft none, photo reconnaissance
Spitfire Mk XI 417 mph 1,200 miles 44,000 ft none, photo reconnaissance
Spitfire Mk XII 389 mph 329 miles 37,350 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 20mm cannons
Spitfire Mk XIII 349 mph 500 miles 35,000 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
Spitfire Mk XIV 448 mph 460 miles 43,000 ft two 0.50-in machine-guns
two 20mm cannons
and either one 500lb bomb or
rocket projectiles
Spitfire Mk XVI 405 mph 430 miles 40,500 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 20mm cannons
one 1,000lb bomb
Spitfire Mk XVIII 437 mph 460 miles 41,000 ft two 0.303-in machine guns
two 20mm cannons
and either three 500lb bombs or
rocket projectiles
Spitfire Mk XIX 445 mph 1,500 miles 42,600 ft none, photo reconnaissance
Spitfire Mk 21 455 mph 580 miles 42,800 ft four 20mm cannons
Spitfire Mk 22 449 mph 580 miles 45,500 ft four 20mm cannons
1,500lb bombs or
rocket projectiles
Spitfire Mk 23 None produced, but would have been known as the Supermarine Valiant.
Spitfire Mk 24 454 mph 965 miles 43,000 ft four 20mm cannons
rocket projectiles


On Display

(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

Variant Location
Spitfire Mk I Battle of Britain Memorial
Spitfire Mk IIA Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Visitors Centre
Spitfire Mk VB
Spitfire Mk LFXIE
Spitfire Mk PRXIX x2
Spitfire Mk IX Castletown D-Day Centre
Spitfire Mk IIA Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum
Spitfire Mk IX Eden Camp
Spitfire Mk IA Imperial War Museum, Duxford
Spitfire Mk VB x 2
Spitfire Mk IXB
Spitfire Mk XIV
Spitfire Mk F.24
Spitfire Mk IA Imperial War Museum, London
Spitfire Mk 21 Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Spitfire Mk I Kent Battle of Britain Museum
Spitfire Mk IX
Spitfire Mk VB (R) Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre
Spitfire Mk LF.XVIE National Museum of Flight, Scotland
Spitfire Mk II Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum
Spitfire Mk LF.XVIE (F)
Spitfire Mk XVI Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Spitfire Mk XVI RAF Manston Spitfire & Hurricane Memorial Museum
Spitfire Mk I Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford
Spitfire Mk IA Royal Air Force Museum, London
Spitfire Mk VB
Spitfire Mk F.24
Spitfire Mk IA Science Museum
Spitfire Mk VC Shuttleworth
Spitfire Mk 24 Solent Sky Museum
Prototype Tangmere Military Aviation Museum
Spitfire Mk IXC Thinktank - Birmingham Science Museum
Spitfire Mk VIII Welsh Spitfire Museum
Spitfire Mk I Yorkshire Air Museum

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