In this instalment of our 12 part series on Military blueprints, we look at the British Supermarine Spitfire.
The Supermarine Spitfire was the primary fighter aircraft of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. The Spitfire was designed as a short-range, high performance interceptor by R. J. Mitchell and Joseph Smith, and first flew in 1936. Though it entered service with the RAF in 1938, only a few squadrons were equipped with Spitfires, when war broke out the following year.
It’s distinctive elliptical wing were designed to have the thinnest possible cross-section, helping give the aircraft a higher top speed than contemporary fighters. Original models were powered by a 1,030 hp Roll’s Royce Merlin engine. The airframe was strong and adaptable enough to use later, more powerful Merlin engines. Rolls-Royce Griffon engines producing up to 2,340 hp were installed in late war models. As a result, the Spitfire’s performance and capabilities improved over the course of its service life.
Following the Battle of France, the frontline of WW2 moved to the skies of Britain. It was during the Battle of Britain that the Spitfire attained it’s legendary status. A reputation aided by the famous “Spitfire Fund” organised and run by Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production. The Hawker Hurricane was more numerous throughout the battle, and shouldered the burden of the defence against the Luftwaffe. However, because of its higher performance the overall attrition rate of the Spitfire squadrons was lower than that of the Hurricane units, and the Spitfire units had a higher victory-to-loss ratio. The principal aim of RAF Fighter Command was to stop the Luftwaffe’s bombers and whenever possible, Spitfires were sent against the escorting fighters and the Hurricanes against the bombers.
The Spitfire was the first high-speed photo-reconnaissance aircraft to be operated by the RAF. Sometimes unarmed, they flew at all altitudes, often ranging far into enemy territory to closely observe the Axis powers and provide an almost continual flow of valuable intelligence information throughout the war. Photo reconnaissance aircraft were often painted a pale, “Camoutint” Pink. It was found this colour provided excellent camouflage when flying below clouds.
With continuous improvements to both performance and firepower the Spitfire remained one of the top fighter aircraft throughout the Second World War.