Supermarine Spitfire

Probably the most famous airplane of the Second World War, the Spitfire was the only aircraft that could really rival the German fighters (in particular at the time of the Battle of Britain). The first prototype took off on March 5, 1936, in Eastleigh (Hampshire) and was piloted by Mutt Summers. The British officers were quite impressed. The Spitfire was remarkably easy to handle and its graceful lines helped make it an instant legend.

The war saw several versions of the aircraft; the Merlin engine, in particular, went from developing 1 440 hp to 2 050 hp, a 42% increase. Throughout the war, the British pilots (as well as pilots from France, Poland, Canada, Australia and other countries) flew this airplanes over Britain and Europe battlefields.

Spitfire

The greatest compliment paid to this aircraft was probably made at the height of the Battle of Britain by a German ace, who in a moment of anger and frustration, turned to his Commander in Chief and demanded a squadron of Spitfires!

Over 1,500 Spitfire were produced between 1939 and 1945.

Spitfire

Type: Single-seat fighter / interceptor
Engine: 1 Rolls-Royce Merlin 45, dev. 1440  – 2050 hp.
Max speed: 594 km/h (370 mph) @ 6 000 m  (13,000 ft.)
Ceiling: 11 000 m (37,000 ft.)
Range: 1 800 km (1,135 mi.)
Weight (empty): 2 260 kg (5,000 lb.)
Weight (loaded): 2 911 kg (6,400 lb.)
Wingspan: 11,23 m  (36 ft. 10 in.)
Lenght: 9,12 m  (29 ft. 11 in.)
Height: 3,02 m  (11 ft. 5 in.)
Armament: Eight 7.7 mm (.303 cal.) Browning  machine guns with 350 rounds per gun and up to 227 kg (500 lb.) of bombs.
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39 thoughts on “Supermarine Spitfire

  1. George E. Klump

    Some years ago i had the privilege of meeting and talking at length with a former RAF pilot of a Spitfire who flew in the Battle of Britain. While he was semi-retired, of course, he did part-time work as a substitute priest in the Episcopal Diocese in Dallas, Texas. We talked more than once, of course, and did he have stories to tell! His one story, which was an indication of the precariousness of Britain’s position at the outset of WW II, was that only Winston Churchill, he and a few of his fellow officer pilots in the RAF, had any concept of how close Britain was to defeat by the German Luftwaffe. In one squadron they had gotten down to a mere handful of Spitfires which were immediately operational, when German Messerschmidts were detected heading their way. They scrambled quickly, a total of about 11 Spitfires, and managed to take on and shoot down most of the Messerschmidts with what little ammunition they had at the time and the remaining few German planes turned and headed back across the Channel. Britain today owes its existence to these brave men. I suspect the younger generation has no real idea of what the Spitfire and the men who flew them did for the freedom of the British people.

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    1. Steve

      Not only Britain but the entire free world … if Britain had fallen it’s doubtful the Commonwealth countries would have been able to sustain operations, Russia would have fallen without Germany fighting on two fronts and without the money and arms supplied from UK, critical intelligence networks would have collapsed, Germany would have had free control of the middle east oil, and the US would have had to fight alone on two fronts with no European foothold, with both Germany and Japan free to focus all main forces on them, only one outcome there I’m afraid. So thank God for the Hurricane, the Spitfire, the men who flew them, and the men and women who kept them in the air!

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      1. scott

        The Spitfire was a good defensive fighter. I say that because of its range being 1/3 of the Mustangs (Merlin engine ) and minimal ammo load. It was used primarily as a defensive fighter and for this purpose was very good given the aircraft the Germans had. When the U.S. began shipping aviation fuel to Britain the pilots noticed a marked increase in performance as did the Germans. This was a result of the fuel sent from U.S. refineries having a higher octane. The Germans noticed it to and reverse engineered fuel in a captured Spitfire and then improving their fuel. The Spitfire was a great plane but has a somewhat narrow wheel base and is a grass runway aircraft. It was not the plane the mustang was based on range, ammunition load, speed and service ceiling. The real offensive aircraft in the allied fleet was the P-51 as a result of its speed, service ceiling, and having three minutes of 50 ca. rounds in each of the six browning machine guns. I have talked to American and German WW ll pilots and all said the Mustang was the best, especially for escort as well as dogfighting. more speed and firepower were the reasons they gave. The spitfire intercepted incoming aircraft and as a result was primarily a defensive aircraft. Both are fine aircraft.

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        1. Glenn Ridsdale

          The P-51 was a magnificent escort fighter. Four of the P-51D’s six guns had 270 rpg, enough for about 20 seconds firing. The inner pair had 380 rpg, or around 30 seconds firing. All six guns fired at once. You appear to think they fired sequentially! Or perhaps that the total ammunition load was available for every gun. Most Spitfires had ammunition for around 10-12 seconds of firing. The P-51B and later models used the Merlin 60 series engine, the same engine as the Spitfire Mk VIII, IX and XVI, which made up the majority of Spitfire production, and which gave comparable performance to both types. The P-51A, of course, used the wholly inadequate Allison V-1710. Later models of Spitfire used the Rolls Royce Griffon engine which made them both more powerful and faster than any Mustang. They were also much more agile than the Mustang with a tighter turning radius. The Mustang’s great advantage was, of course, its immense range, gained partly from carrying a heavy fuel load and partly from its laminar flow wings. Armed Spitfires could never match this, although the range of the Mk IX and onwards was greatly improved over early models.

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      2. Ricoberto

        That is it. Right now it needs cleaned, and then rntiaeped. It is currently natural metal, but the metal is heavily corroded. Do you live local to this aircraft? Any interest in helping restore it?

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  2. j c ouellet

    very informative .

    i would like to know if the spitfire was made of metel or wood or a combination of both.

    thank you.

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    1. Duncan Arthur

      The spitfire (at least the framework) was largely constructed of aluminium alloys over a steel frame, this allowed it to be light and maneuverable but also retain a lot of strength to withstand damage.

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    2. Glenn Ridsdale

      The removable wingtips were made of plywood, with an aluminium alloy skin secured by brass screws. The rest of the structure and skins were entirely alloy, except the control surfaces which were fabric covered until mid-1940.

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  3. Daryl

    I think the Supermarine Spitfire is one of the best planes ever to fly
    My favourite two ww2 planes are Supermarine spitfire and Messerschmitt

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    1. Woody

      Naw, the P-51D with the Rolls engine was the best all around fighter of the war, the Spitfire lacked in just a couple of areas compared to the Mustang, this kind of hurts to say because I am of British ancestry, but I am a realist and have read and researched things like this and WW2 history in general over 35 years. Many WW2 era pilots and Mustang adversaries have said the P-51 was their toughest opponent. The Spitfire was/is a great aircraft that helped the allies earn their hard fought victory in WW2. The P-51D had much more range and the 6 50cal guns were superior to the Spitfire armament and had a higher top speed due to its laminar-flow wings. Neither the Germans nor the Japanese ever came to terms with the speed and strengths of the Mustang…

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      1. Doug Sink

        The P-51 was an excellent fighter. One of it’s major shortcomings was it had a tendency to break apart in violent thunder storms. Another was, being liquid cooled, it was vulnerable to ground fire
        in the ground attack mode. The radial powered P-47 was better suited for that role. It could make it back to base with a couple of pistons shot out.

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      2. Crickbuzz

        I’d debate that the Mustang is anywhere near ‘the best all round fighter of the war’. If we compare the P51-D variant with a contemporary Supermarine Spitfire of the time – the Mk XIV, the only advantage that the Mustang has is range. The Spitfire was faster, turned better, climbed better, and, contrary to your opinion, had far more devastating armament: Two 20mm Hispano cannon and either 4 x .303 machine guns, or 2 x .50 machine guns. The above information is garnered from an official RAF report based on comparison tests between the Spitfire XIV, the P51-D, and the FW190. Just for your information, the FW190 was a far superior dog fighter to the P51 as well. Thought this might help with your research 🙂

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      3. Glenn Ridsdale

        The laminar flow wings did indeed give high speed, but most importantly gave great fuel efficiency. P-51B’s and Cs were hared with four .50 cal Browning M2s mounted on their side. This made them very prone to jamming. Early Spitfires (up to late 1940) were armed with eight .303″ Brownings with a high rate of fire but low penetration. Later Spitfires carried heavier armament: two 20mm Hispano cannon and four .303″ Brownings, or two Hispanos and two .50″ Brownings, or four Hispanos.

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    2. scott

      Between 1/3 and 1/2 of the ME 109s were destroyed on takeoff and landing as a result of the very small vertical stabilizer and the main gear struts being attached to the outside of the fuselage. A recipe for disaster and the reason so many were lost on take and landing. I have sat in one and after getting out and looking the plane over viewed it as a flying coffin. The CAF had four and a fellow ground looped one and lost his life. As a result the CAR sold the other three. It is a very small aircraft as the Germans were short on natural resources. It did a job but I heard the leading German ace ( Gunther Roff ) say he hated to go up against the Mustang as the 51 was 5-100 mph faster, had a better climb rate and climbing capacity, and more firepower. The 109 could only stay over the UK for about 20 minutes and the turn back because of range limitations. I can say a B-17 pilot I met with hated the 109 as opposed to flack because they flew through the formation very fact and posed much more of a threat.

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    1. matthew neville

      all i know about spitfires is that the only time that it ever flew in battle unlike the mustang was when a fighter pilot supposedly flew it under a bridge on the old A30 road towards southampton and crashed it through sheer stupidity and the bridge was named spitfire bridge. whether the bridge is still there i do not know but i have actually drove under the bridge when i was young but do not know where it is because of the by-pass they have put there

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  4. Ben R

    i must say the mustang is the better plane with a lot more fire power and speed it could get the job done. but the spitfire does have its mobility and speed to be swift and easily strike his opponent and keep coming back for more

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  5. Wilbur Finnigan

    Woody Small point on the P51 Mustangs. They were built with the PACKARD Merlin V1650-7 of the British designed Merlin. And the Merlin engine in them was made in the USA…No British built Merlin was used in a Production Mustang…Packard also built 37,137 Merlin engines for the Brits..the Lancaster Mk B III made in England and the Mk X made in Canada 3,440 of them as well as 1500 Mosquitos 1200 Hurricanes and 1,054 Spitfire Mk XVI used the Packard built engines just a FYI

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    1. scott

      Good information. I go to airshows just to hear that V-12 in the mustang. Too bad all the guys that really knew how to fly the P-51 are gone and all we see now are low passes at maneuvering speed. If first saw one in Galveston, TX in 1974. The pilot opened up that merlin engine and did very large Cuban eights with the bottom run right over the runway. All noise was ceased so everyone could hear. I had to experience it and after 18 years of trying I got to ride in a D model flown by one of the best Mustang pilots around. He really put the plane through its paces with the throttle open. He did some Cuban eights, rolls, split S, etc. He passed away several years ago but I will never forget that ride. He won the Gold Cup heat Reno in that stock plane in 1976. It looks so smooth and sounds so fine from the outside but I have never heard such a loud noise when I took my helmet off to see how loud it was in flight. Could only stand it for 2-3 seconds and when coming to the low en of a Cuban eight the G force on you is very high as you are going about 400 mph. I am too old now to go in another one but frankly I have not seen many good Mustang pilots that will fly the plane like it is supposed to be.

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  6. Fella

    Yeah. Actually the Spitfire wasn’t the best plane of the war but it was relatively cheap to make and easy to fly so it was the most or at least the more popular plane of the war. I am not English but i am biased on terms of the Supermarine

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  7. Barrie

    Woody gets a couple of things wrong, the Mustang used the Packard built Merlin, and the top speed of the P 51D which entered service mid 1944 was just 437 mph, the Spitfire Mk XIV which entered service 6 months earlier had a top speed of 448 mph, so faster as well as better climb and acceleration, the Spitfire was also more maneuverable, so the Mustang did have more range but it needed to carry a lot of fuel which affected the performance.
    There are also mistakes in the text at the top ” The Merlin engine, in particular, went from developing 1 440 hp to 2 050 hp, a 42% increase.”
    The Merlin actually went from 980 hp, 1030 at the start of the war up to 1720 in the Spitfire Mk IX, the 2050 hp is the Griffon, although the Merlin did develop 2,200 hp for the DH Hornet, I don not know about the 1,440hp, maybe the Merlin 45 which was used in the Spitfire Mk V,
    Another mistake is the over 1,500 Spitfire were produced between 1939 and 1945, over 15,000 would be closer.

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    1. scott

      The sped issue it not so important when you consider the Mustang had more firepower and was took off with much more fuel. It was a superior airplane and many Brits wanted to fly them. One was an long range escort, offensive fighter and the other did most of its flying over its homeland defending it and doing it well. It was the Mustang that rapidly thinned out the German air force in 4-8 weeks once the Merlin was placed into it. The Red Tails fly the 51 D but by the time they got there the German air force was pretty much gone and its pilots were inexperienced. I checked and could not find where one became an ace but it could have happened. The red Tails were good but got slim pickens.

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  8. kernal scott

    Don’t forget that later spitfires were armed with 20mm cannon and 50 cal mgs. P51 outgunned. PR spitfires could fly to Berlin and beyond. P51 equalled. The p51 was constructed on the basis of an raf specification. But so what. Both were flown by young and brave men of many nations fighting for freedom. That’s what is really important especially on VE day.

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  9. downdie

    This year is the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and to celebrate it Spitfires will be flown at many events to commemorate the victory. She is a very fine specimen of aircraft, who did her nation and those brave young men who flew her during the wars she battled in. It does not matter what was better and in what areas one was superior in, she did what she was designed to do and that was fight and fly with ease and veracity of a woman scorned, the Luftwaffe bomber pilots feared her and many even when they saw Hurricane squadrons coming at them would ofter shout Achtung Spitfire, such was her charm, loved by one nation and feared by another.

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    1. scott

      There were some U.S. pilots that volunteered to fly for the Brits before the U.S. was really engaged in the war and they all seemed to love the Spitfire and rightfully so. It was the best in the sky at the time. One last comment. I think the Corsair was the best Pacific Theater fighter even though the F-6-F Hellcat was a Zero killer -297 Hellcats lost and 5,000 Jap planes shot down. 305 Hellcat aces created. God bless them all. I just wish we had the quality of leadership in Washington we had in the military during WW ll. Where have all the great leaders gone?

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  10. Steve S

    I was born in the south of england, the Spitfire was designed & first flew from Southampton, a few miles away from where I was born. My father sneaked me onto an airbase when I was 10 years old, & managed to arrange for a flight sergeant to let me sit in the cockpit of a mk XIX Spitfire (with Griffon engine).

    We still regularly see examples flying around here – some in private hands, some operated by the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

    They are fantastic aircraft, which always stir memories in anyopne who has ever heard them in action. I remember when I was younger my grandmother could always tell when a merlin-engined aircraft was flying overhead (in the 1960s) heading for an airshow somewhere …

    People have mentioned the Mustang in comparison to the Spitfire – they are related in evolutionary terms, developed to meet the same needs

    the Hurricane was commissioned in 1936 as a private venture – Sydney Camm (inventor of the Sopwith Camel in the first world war, & later the Harrier VSTOL aircraft) built the Hurricane using existing 1930’s aero technology – largely a wooden framework, covered with doped fabric (plus some sections of aluminium plating). Strong, but thick section wings. Later hurricane II’s had tubular steel framework in the fusalage

    The Spitfire’s design was untested technology, using aluminium frames & spars, with flush-riveted outer skins, a forerunner of modern monocoque construction, & with thin, laminar flow wings (high speed, low drag)

    The Mustang was designed to meet a requirement published by the british air ministry (possible the same requirement document as the spitfire?) an aluminium framed aircraft with thin, laminar wings. The US army air force was not interested in the Mustang before war broke out, which originally had an Alison powerplant which proved underpowered. The RAF used some of the original Alison-powered mustangs, then uprated them with Merlin engines, eventually negotiating the licencing deal for packard to manufacture merlins in the US.

    Once the Mustang had been uprated & proven in combat then the US armed forces showed interest in the once-rejected North American design (built to meet RAF requirements)

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    1. Gordon A, C. Lewis

      Amy : Considering the fact that the pilots that were used for the film “The Battle of Britain” had to be retrained to fly the spitfire. As it literally had to be flown into the ground. “It is a tail dragger and has no flaps” also the wheels were so close together it was not a really stable aircraft to land. So I would say Quite low. ME109’s have flown up the Medina river on the Isle of Wight, past J.S. Whites Shipyard and they were low enough to see the pilot. “I am quite sure Spitfire and Hurricane pilots were equally able if not a little better” I imagine the height above the ground the aircraft is flown at, is more due to the ability of the person piloting the aircraft than the plane itself. Technically, planes are in flight until the moment their wheels are in contact with the ground, so the question is actually moot.

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  11. Ray

    All these comments as to which was the better plane are irrelevant. The Hurricane (which shot down most German aircraft) and the Spitfire were the only available British aircraft on a par to the Bf109E during the Battle of Britain. Had it not been for these aircraft Britain would have fallen, Russia would have followed and faced with a war on two fronts America would have been defeated.

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  12. Gordon A, C. Lewis

    There was one British pilot that flew 51 or thereabouts missions over Berlin during WW2, This plane was an UNARMED SPITFIRE, (with extra gas tanks) it carried cameras only. It was fast and flew very low. I was a very young boy during the war, 8 years old in 1939 when it all started, 14 when it ended. I remember watching dogfights and getting into trouble for being outside the shelter during an air raid. During this time there were no P51 aircraft, Only Spitfires , Hurricanes and to us the abominable ME109. The P51 as admirable an aircraft as it was had no relevance during the early part of the war. The Spitfire caught the imagination of the populace, But the one thing that people should remember is. Were it not for the bravery of the young men that flew them. ((From all nations) Some of whom today would be considered children) None of us would be free to have any discussion today. There were many great aircraft during WW2 The Spitfire as much as I love it, was but one of them.

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  13. Jon Eddolls

    Hi, this was a thread to discuss the Spitfire, it doesen’t take long for people to start comparing the Spit to the Mustang. Seen it many times before, please note the Spitfire was superior to any Mustang variant in all respects except zoom climb, owing to the extreme weight of the aircraft (Mustang) ignoring range also.. The Spitfire in normal climbing attitude climbed far faster as did the Bf109. In addition any difference in top speed was negated by the far superior acceleration enjoyed by the Spit, I am thinking of the MkIX here. Please also note that the Luftwaffe had been ‘thinned’ by the RAF and Red Airforce before the US started operations. The Luftwaffe of 1944 was very different from that of 1940.

    The Spit was designed for Air Superiority, in that it excelled. In a previous comment above I noticed a correspondent stating that the Mustang had three minutes of fire power against the 15 seconds of the Spit, my research indicates 20-25 seconds of fire power maximum, the P51B had only four guns and initially had jamming problems. Only the D model had six weapons.

    Both aircraft were excellent and were in the right place at the right time. Luckily for us both were allied.

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  14. steve brittain

    Yes, the P-51D had the range to get to Berlin and back with drop tanks supplied by a British company. BUT if the P-51’s were bounced over say, Belgium, Holland and France and they had to drop their tanks, the trip to Berlin was NOT POSSIBLE. I understand that P-47’s and Spitfires had to protect the USAAF bomber formations AND THE P-51’s until they themselves had to return to their bases for fuel. only then did the P-51’s start doing their jobs. The Spitfire was a much more flexiable aircraft than the P-51, used on every front during the war (including the arctic circle) Recce, world’s fastest float plane, Seafire, and when stripped down it managed to shoot down high flying German Recce aircraft, 43000 feet above the UK, could also carry weapons under the wings, bombs, rockets, tanks and beer barrels. both aircraft deserved their fame, but I think that the SPITFIRE fame is a little more earned.

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