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The Supermarine Spitfire Guillows Kit #403

The second of the RAF's modern eight-gun monoplane fighters, the Spitfire, entered service with No 19 Squadron based at Duxford some nine months after the first Hurricanes had been delivered to No 111 Squadron at Northolt. Commanded by Squadron Leader Henry Cozens, No 19 began to exchange its Gauntlet biplanes for Mk I Spitfires when K9789 arrived on 4 August 1938.

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[PIR] At the time of the 1938 Munich Crisis, No 19 was the only squadron to possess any Spitfires at all. The second unit to receive Spitfires was No 66 Squadron, also at Duxford, which acquired K9802 on 31 October 1938. Thus, by the end of 1938, the RAF had two fully-equipped Spitfire squadrons with 100 per cent reserves. By the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939, Spitfires equipped nine squadrons - Nos 19, 66 and 611 at Duxford, Nos 54, 65 and 74 at Hornchurch, No 72 at Church Fenton, Nos 41 and 609 at Catterick and No 602 at Abbotsinch. Additionally, No 603 Squadron was in the process of replacing its Gladiators at Turnhouse. A total of 306 Mk Is had been delivered of which 36 had been written off in training accidents.

The first 77 Mk Is had a two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller. Subsequent aircraft received three-bladed, two-position airscrews, with fine pitch for take-off and coarse pitch for cruising, and these were subsequently retro-fitted to the earlier aircraft. Taller pilots found the headroom very restricitive and this led to the original flat cockpit canopy being replaced by the bulged version which was to become a feature of all future marks. Other improvements included the provision of an armour-plated windscreen and 6mm armour panels on the rear engine bulkhead and behind the pilot's seat. Heating for the guns was also installed after it was found that they froze at high altitude. The original armament of eight .303 Browning machine guns had been chosen because of the ready availability of this weapon but, in June 1939, two 20mm Hispano cannon were fitted to L1007 for trails. These proved unsuccessful as the Hispano had been designed to be mounted on top of a fighter's engine block which would be solid enough to absorb the recoil. The mountings in the Spitfire's wings were too flexible causing the guns to jam. Nevertheless, the Hispano was ordered into production, pending a satisfactory solution to this mounting problem.

Many pilots found the new aircraft diffucult to adapt to - those used to open cockpits, often found the closed canopy claustrophobic and left it fully open. Additionally, these pilots were unfamiliar with the retractable undercarriage, and numerous early accidents were caused by their forgetting to lower the Spitfire's wheels. The aircraft did have a warning klaxon but, as this tended to sound whenever vibration increased, it was often switched off - with embarrassing consequences! Taxying was a zig-zag process requiring the aircraft's tail to be swung from side to side so that the pilot could see ahead beyond the aeroplane's long nose. Combined with the narrow-track and somewhat fragile undercarriage , this made crosswind landings hazardous. Nevertheless, it was considered that the aircraft could be flown without risk by the average fully-trained fighter pilot. New pilots came to the Spitfire via Magister and Master trainers and a short spell at an Operational Training Unit (OTU). Experienced pilots converted to type directly on the squadrons.

Yet the Spitfire legend was in great danger of failing to take off at all. Initial production was so slow that the Air Ministry seriously considered cancelling the type in favour of using the production capacity at Supermarine for the manufacture of other aircraft such as the Beaufighter. The problem was caused by the Spitfire's advanced design, particularly the elliptical wing, which necessitated radical new production techniques to be introduced by inexperienced sub-contractors. The Air Ministry was calling for 12,000 fighters, including those from the next generation - the Tornado, Typhoon and Whirlwind. In the event, however, Supermarine was able to convince the Ministry that output would improve with practice and Lord Nuffield's experience of mass car production was turned to good account in the aircraft industry. This resulted, among other measures, in the building of the 'shadow' factory for Spitfire production at Castle Bromwich.

Before the outbreak of war, considerable interest in buying Spitfires or arranging licence production had been shown by many foreign countries, including Japan. In the event, one example was flown to the French before war dictated that all future production would be earmarked for the RAF. Orders placed before September 1939 amounted to 1,160 to be built by Supermarine with a further 1,000 to be produced by the Nuffield organisation.

Tragically, the first aircraft to fall to a Spitfire's guns were two Hurricanes of No 56 Squadron, shot down by aircraft from No 74 Squadron over the Medway on 6 September 1939. This episode, in which a Blenheim was also shot down by friendly anti-aircraft fire, became known as 'The Battle of Barking Creek' and was caused by a technical fault in the fighter control system. The Spitfire pilots were subsequently exonerated from any blame at a court martial, and as a direct result, the highest priority was given to the production of Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) equipment, forerunner of the modern encoding transponder.

On 16 October 1939, Junkers Ju-88s of 1/KG 30 led by Hauptmann Helmuth Pohle attacked British warships in the Firth of Forth. Nine of the Ju-88s were intercepted over Rosyth by three Spitfires of 603 Squadron, each of which attacked Pohle's aircraft which was hit repeatedly and crashed into the sea. Pohle was the only survivor and was taken prisoner of war. This, the first enemy aircraft to be destroyed by Fighter Command, was credited to Squadron Leader Ernest Stevens, the commanding officer of 603 Squadron. At the same time, two other sections of 603 Squadron engaged and shot down a Heinkel He-111 which had been sent to observe the results of Pohle's raid. Three more Spitfires, this time from 602 Squadron, were joined by two of 603 in time to catch one more of the Ju-88s and shoot it down. Later that day, another He-111 was shot down by 603 Squadron. Thus did the Spitfire spectacularly open its account against the enemy.

The first enemy aircraft to fall on British soil in the Second World War was a Heinkel He-111, which was shot down at Haddington, East Lothian, on 29 November. The aircraft was originally attacked by Flying Officer Archie McKellar of 602 Squadron, who was then interrupted by the arrival of three Spitfires from 603 Squadron. Although argument rages to this day as to which squadron was the victor, the 'kill' was credited to McKellar.

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[PIR] Spitfires based in England registered their first success when 41 Squadron from Catterick brought down a Heinkel He-111 off Whitby. No 74 Squadron from Hornchurch scored its first success when three Spitfires attacked a Heinkel He-111 off Southend and although the Heinkel was not seen to crash, two of its unhappy crew were picked from the sea the next day.

Until this time, photographic reconnaissance was traditionally assigned to bomber-type aircraft, however, the concept of using a small, unarmed aircraft, relying solely on its speed to provide protection was proposed by Flying Officer 'Shorty' Longbotham. The Spitfire was the obvious choice for the task, and the first two Mk Is were converted in October 1939. A five-inch focal length camera was mounted in the in-board gun bay of each wing, inclined so that the field of photography overlapped slightly to give a stereoscopic effect. Stripped of guns, ammunition and radio, and with a high-gloss paint finish, the resulting PR IA was some 30 mph (50 km/h) faster than the standard Spitfire. Contrary to popular belief, the Spitfire was based in France before the Germans overran that country, the Special Survey Flight being established at Seclin with one PR IA. It flew its first sortie on 18 November and, although the mission was unsuccessful because of adverse weather, it nevertheless proved that the Spitfire was eminently suitable for the task.

Throughout this period of the so-called 'Phoney War' - although the Royal Navy has never recognised this description - training was continuous. Excursions by the Luftwaffe over the United Kingdom were comparatively rare and no Spitfire fighters had been sent overseas. The 'Battle of Barking Creek' brutally brought home the necessity of harnessing the different skills and aspects of air defence into one cohesive whole, and full use was made of the time available. Fighter squadrons were expected to operate by day and night, but, after a large number of night accidents, nearly 60 of which involved Spitfires, the Air Ministry reviewed the situation. The Spitfire was particularly difficult to fly at night because of the poor visibility over the nose and the necessity of flying a curved landing approach. The pilot was virtually blind during the final stages of the landing and the problem was exacerbated by the narrow-track undercarriage. Exhaust flame dampers had not yet been fitted and the pilot's night vision suffered accordingly. Consequently, Spitfire night flying was discontinued except on moonlit nights.

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[PIR] The 'Phoney War' continued for the first few months of 1940 until, on 9 April, the Germans invaded Norway. One month later, they invaded the Low Countries and France.

Form 10 May, Spitfire squadrons were authorised to carry out offensive patrols across the Channel. Spitfires first met Bf-109s and Bf-110s on 23 May: two of each type of Messerschmitt were lost, as were three Spitfires of 92 Squadron. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, head of Fighter Command, successfully resisted pressure from the highest levels to reinforce the fighters in France with Spitfire squadrons, thus preserving the Spitfire force for the forthcoming sterner battles in defence of Britain. Despite this, 67 Spitfires were lost during the Battle of France and the Dunkirk evacuation. Some of the RAF squadron commanders learned valuable lessons from these experiences, including the realisation that the Luftwaffe's tactical formation of the 'finger four' was superior to the RAF's traditional vic of three aircraft and that it was advantageous to harmonise the fire of the guns to converge at 250 yards rather than 400. All benefited from the replacement of 87 octane petrol with 100 octane, which increased the Spitfire's speed by 25 mph (40 km/h) at sea level and by 34 mph (55 km/h) at 10,000 feet.

After the fall of France, photographic reconnaissance came under the control of Coastal Command, using types including Spitfires, Wellingtons and Hudsons. The duck-egg blue camouflage gave way to deeper PR blue for high-altitude operations and a pale pink for low level work.

The Battle of Britain was fought between 10 July and 31 October 1940. At the beginning, Fighter Command had 27 squadrons of Hurricanes and 19 of Spitfires and it was the Hurricanes that bore the brunt of the fighting. Between the beginning of July and the end of October, 565 Hurricanes and 352 Spitfires were lost.

During the Battle, 19 Squadron was issued with half a dozen cannon-armed Spitfires, designated Mk IB as opposed to the eight machine gun-armed Spitfire, the Mk IA. The cannon's hitting power was recognised but jamming was still a problem and little success was achieved. Nevertheless, further cannon-armed Spitfires were issued to 92 Squadron and it was eventually realised that the best mix was an aircraft with two cannon and four machine guns.

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[PIR] The performance of the Spitfire Mk I and the Messershmitt Bf-109E was very similar. The former possessed a better turning radius at any height and was slightly faster below 15,000 feet, but the Messerschmitt was superior in the climb and marginally faster above 20,000 feet. The Messerschmitt's Daimler-Benz DB 601A engine had the advantage of fuel injection which enabled the aircraft to bunt (push negative g at the top of a manouvre or climb) without losing power. The Merlin engine of the Spitfire had a float-type carburettor which necessitated the aircraft performing the longer manoeuvre of rolling inverted before diving to maintain positive g, thus preventing the engine from cutting out as a result of fuel starvation.

In August 1940, the chief test pilot of Supermarine, Jeffrey Quill, arranged to be posted to No 65 Squadron for operational experience. He joined on 5 August but was recalled to Supermarine 19 days later to test the Spitfire Mk III. Nevertheless, he saw considerable combat in this short period and his experiences led to two important changes in the Spitfire. At high speed, the stick force from the ailerons had been very heavy and this was found to be due to the fabric covering of the ailerons ballooning and causing a thicker trailing edge section. This was cured by fitting stiffer, metal-covered ailerons. Quill also initiated an improvement in the optical quality of the cockpit side panels. He was concerned about rearward vision from the cockpit and this subsequently led to changes to the canopy and rear fuselage. One recommendation not implementaed, however, was the installation of ammunition round counters, so the pilots still had no means of knowing how much ammunition they had left.

On 24 September, the Luftwaffe raided the Supermarine works at Woolston, on the outskirts of Southampton. Little damage was done to the factory, but nearly 100 workers were killed when a shelter was hit. The area was bombed again two days later, killing 30 more and severely damaging the factory, halting production. This resulted in plans being implemented for the large scale dispersal of production facilities to some 60 different sites. On 30 September, the Westland factory at Yeovil, which had just begun to prepare for Spitfire production, was bombed by He-111s. As a result of these raids, only 59 Spitfires were produced in October, less than half the total for August - indeed, such was the need for fighters that a Spitfire fitted with a pair of Blackburn Roc floats was reconverted to a standard Mk I. The trial of the Spitfire as an amphibian had been mounted because of the lack of suitable airfields during the Norwegian campaign and the need to seek alternatives. Never again did production fall so low.

In August, VHF radio was fitted to a Mk I of 19 Squadron for the first time. However, HF equipment was not fully replaced for another two years.

Late in 1940, the first examples of the Bf-109F were encountered over Southern England. it proved far superior to the Hurricane and more manoeuvrable than the Spitfire above 25,000 feet. The Spitfire Mk III was still in the development stage and thus there was an urgent need to fill the gap.

After winning the Battle of Britain, Fighter Command quickly went on to the offensive. On 20 December, two Spitfires of No 66 Squadron flew the Command's first patrol over France since its fall. Such operations by pairs of fighters were known as 'rhubarbs'. They were to prove expensive.

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[PIR] Early 'rhubarbs' failed to tempt the Luftwaffe into action and, to try to provoke the enemy further, small numbers of bombers with heavy fighter escorts were sent over. These were known as 'circuses'. The first was mounted on 10 January 1941 and consisted of six Blenheims with an escort of six squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes. It cost the RAF one Hurricane shot down and two Spitfires written off in landing accidents, one pilot being fatally injured.

After Coastal Command had taken control of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, Bomber Command decided it needed one of its own. Consequently, No 2 PRU was formed at Oakington under the command of 3 Group. Six Spitfire Mk ICs were used to photograph areas before bombing raids, in order that targets could be properly marked. The Spitfires then re-photographed the areas after the raid so that the damage could be assessed.

By the end of April, all Spitfire squadrons had re-equipped with Mk IIs, the Mk Is continuing to give valuable service at the Operational Training Units. Mk II units immediately began to re-equip with Mk Vs as they became available. Initially seen as a 'stop-gap' to produce a Spitfire with the improved performance above 25,000 feet necessary to counter the Bf-109, pending the availability of the Spitfire Mk VI, the Mk V was subsequently produced in greater numbers than any other version of the Spitfire. The first Mk Vs were converted Mk Is and IIs, the first flying on 20 February. By the end of the month, No 92 Squadron was receiving its first Mk VBs.

The Mk V was the equal of the Bf-109F, which had hit development snags and did not become fully operational until May, by which time production of the Spitfire Mk V was well underway. With the German invasion of Russia in June, the threat of a renewed air offensive against Britain disappeared and with it the need for the Spitfire Mk VI. So, the 'stop-gap' Mk V remained in full production.

During the first six months of 1941, Fighter Command lost 57 aircraft compared to some 20 German losses. Despite the cost, offensive operations over France continued in an effort to relieve the pressure on the Russians by tying down German aircraft in the West. In fact, large numbers of German fighters had been moved to the Russian front and those that remained in the West chose to fight only in the most advantageous conditions. On 7 August, six Blenheims were escorted by 18 squadrons of Spitfires and two of Hurricanes. The Luftwaffe refused to be drawn: nevertheless, five Spitfires and a Hurricane were lost. Two days later, the legendary Douglas Bader failed to return, the tail of his Spitfire being severed after a collision with a Bf-109. Bader spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.

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[PIR] In September, a new, fast, radial-engined fighter began to be encountered in small numbers. The Focke-Wulf Fw-190 had arrived.

Towards the end of the year, the first squadrons with ex-patriate Allied personnel began to form. The first was No 340 Squadron on 7 November with French pilots, followed ten days later by the Belgian squadron, No 349. Squadrons of Poles, Czechs, Dutch and Norwegians also flew Spitfires. Language difficulties, and the fact that, to open the throttle the lever was pushed forward - the opposite to most continental aircraft - led to a spate of early accidents until pilots became used to their new mounts. One welcome improvement to the Spitfire arrived in the form of a diaphragm-operated carburettor for the Merlin engine which solved the problem of the engine cutting out under negative g.

Fighter sweeps over France were temporarily suspended in November on the orders of Winston Churchill. Although they had served to keep the squadrons combat ready, and had taken the offensive to the enemy, they had cost the RAF dearly in pilots and aircraft. In June, July and August alone, Fighter Command lost nearly 200 pilots.

On 11 December, Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, a 19-year old American flying with No 412 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, was killed when his Spitfire collided with an Oxford trainer from Cranwell. Among his effects was a poem, written shortly before he died and entitled 'High Flight'. The first and last lines are inscribed upon the marker of his grave at nearby Scopwick.

At the beginning of 1942, Fighter Command had 60 squadrons of Spitfires. The Fw-190 was first encountered in quantity during operations in connection with the dash through the English Channel by the warships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau from Brest to Wilhelmshaven on 12 February 1942. Despite being aware of the imminence of the break-out, a combination of bad weather and unserviceabilities in the patrolling aircraft had given the Germans a head start. The ships were eventually discovered by a section of Spitfires of 91 Squadron, and by the Senior Air Staff Officer of No 11 Group, Group Captain Victor Beamish, who was aloft in another Spitfire. Spitfires subsequently fought a series of running battles with Fw-190s and Bf-109s.

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[PIR] The Fw-190's advantage came from its powerful BMW engine and its high-rate of roll. The Spitfire Mk V was finding itself outmatched, and 59 were lost in April. In May, the Bf-109G appeared, optimised for high-level operations. The first of 100 Spitfire Mk VIs had entered into service in April with No 616 Squadron, intended for high-altitude operations where the Bf-109 had previously reigned supreme. In response to the introduction of the Fw-190, another 'interim' mark of Spitfire was proposed, pending full scale development of the Mk VIII. The result was the Mk IX. Like the Mk V, this 'stop-gap' was also an outstanding success, 5,665 being built, the second highest number of any mark!

In June, an Fw-190 landed at Pembrey after its pilot had become lost. This gave the RAF an early opportunity to test the aircraft against the Spitfire Mk V, and it proved superior in all respects except for turning ability. Pending the arrival of the Spitfire Mk IX, some Mk Vs had their wing tips removed, decreasing the span by four feet four inches. The 'clipped-wing' Spitfire was marginally faster than the standard Mk V but had a considerably better rate of roll. A Merlin with a modified supercharger was also fitted, which gave a speed at low level equivalent to that of the Fw-190. Such Spitfires were known as 'clipped and cropped'.

The first Spitfire Mk IXs went to No 64 Squadron at Hornchurch in July. When tested against the captured Fw-190, the Mk IX was found to compare favourably. It was just in time. The Luftwaffe began to respond to Fighter Command's offensive by mounting very-low-level hit-and-run raids with small numbers of Fw-190s.

On 19 August, 6,000 Canadian troops were put ashore at Dieppe for a large-scale raid. Code-named Operation Jubilee, the raid was a costly failure but provided invaluable lessons for subsequent seaborne invasions. Of the 67 RAF squadrons committed in support, 48 were of Spitfires - 42 with Mk Vs, four with Mk IXs and two with Mk VIs. Of the 106 Allied aircraft lost, 88 were fighters, most of them Spitfires.

On 29 September, the RAF's Nos 71, 121 and 133 'Eagle' Squadrons flown by American volunteers became the 334th, 335th and 336th Squadrons of the United States Army Air Force. Their primary task was to act as escorts to B-17 bombers, a role for which the Spitfire had never been envisaged and for which it was unsuitable.

The Photographic Reconnaissance Unit was split into four squadrons in October. Nos 541, 542 and 543 were fully equipped with Spitfire Mk IVs, while 544 Squadron had other types as well as some Mk IVs.

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[PIR] European operations had taken precedence over those in the Middle and Far East theatres. The first overseas deployment of Spitfires as fighters took place on 7 March, when 15 tropicalised Mk Vs carrying 90-gallon slipper fuel tanks took off from the flight deck of HMS Eagle bound for Malta, 600 miles (960 km) away. Subsequent deliveries in the same manner turned the air battle for Malta in the RAF's favour. One aircraft suffered fuel-feed failure and became the first Spitfire without a hook to land on an aircraft carrier. By August, the Spitfire had entirely taken over the air defence of Malta. To relieve the aircraft carriers from their ferry role, Spitfire Mk VCs were fitted with an extra internal 29-gallon tank and an external jettisonable 170-gallon tank. Armament was reduced to two machine guns. In this form, the aircraft were able to fly the 1,100 miles (1,750 km) from Gibraltar to Malta, where the extra tanks were removed and the armament refitted. These flights commenced in October. Malta-based Spitfires of 126 Squadron were the first to carry two 250lb bombs, which they did during operations over Sicily.

The first Desert Air Force squadron to receive Spitfires was No 145 in April 1942. These were tropicalised Mk VBs. One was stripped of armour and two 0.5-inch machine guns replaced the normal armament. Fitted with a four-bladed propeller and with its Merlin suitably 'tweaked' to give more power at high altitude, this aircraft climbed to 42,000 feet to shoot down a Ju-86P reconnaissance aircraft. Subsequently, Ju-86Ps were intercepted and brought down from heights of 45,000 and 50,000 feet.

The Seafire was first in action during the Allied invasion of Morocco and Algeria when a Mk IB of No 801 Squadron from HMS Furious shot down a Dewoitine 520 on 8 November. American Spitfire Mk VBs were also used during these landings.

The Fw-190 arrived in the Western Desert in November and, the following month, a few Spitfire Mk IXs were attached to 145 Squadron to counter them. Other overseas deployments of Spitfires had seen three Mk IVs being sent to Vaenga, in North Russia, to keep on eye on German warships. While there, they carried Soviet markings.

Pending availability of the PR Mk XI, 15 Mk IXs were modified for PR work. They were first used operationally in November by No 541 Squadron.

The Poles attached to No 145 Squadron with Spitfire Mk IXs shot down more enemy aircraft in the first two months of 1943 than any other Polish unit in the whole year. In February, No 72 Squadron arrived in North Africa with Mk IXs.

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[PIR] By this time, most 11 Group squadrons had Mk IXs and operations over France and the Low Countries continued with Spitfires escorting the Bostons of 2 Group, mounting fighter sweeps and undertaking shipping reconnaissance sorties. The USAAF had embarked upon its daylight bombing offensive and Spitfire squadrons provided escort for the early and closing stages of the missions - despite the fact that Spitfires were equipped to carry drop tanks of various capacities, the tanks themselves were in short supply.

The first Griffon-engined Spitfire, the Mk XII, came into service with No 41 Squadron in February. Although only 100 were built, they was more than a match for the Fw-190. No 91 Squadron was also equipped with Mk XIIs and, operating from Westhampnett with 41 Squadron, formed a bomber support wing, escorting Typhoons and the bombers of 2 Group. A superb fighter at low level, the Mk XII had little combat success because the Luftwaffe declined to be drawn down. At greater heights, the Mk IX was much the superior of the two.

In early 1943, as a result of the Dieppe raid, Air Sea Rescue squadrons began to receive Spitfire IIs equipped to drop a dinghy, food and medicine packs to ditched aircrew. The Spitfire was able to defend itself while waiting for a Walrus amphibian, which it could then escort home.

In May, 143 Mk VBs were handed over to the Russians. By the end of the war, these had been followed by nearly 1,200 LF Mk IXs. Portugal received nearly 50 Mk Vs in 1943 and a number went to Turkey in the same year. The export of Mk Vs was not at the expense of RAF strength as by this stage they were being replaced by Mk IXs. In fact, production of the Mk IX at Woolston finished in June 1943 but continued at Castle Bromwich until the end of the war.

It was a PR Mk IX of 542 Squadron which brought back pictures of the breached dams following 617 Squadron's legendary raid in May. The Spitfire Mk VII was coming into service, albeit at a very slow rate, but its performance proved disappointing. Only six squadrons were equipped with this mark and, as the high-level threat had disappeared, they operated as normal fighters providing top cover.

August and September saw a series of strafing attacks on enemy airfields in the English Channel area in a largely unsuccessful attempt to gauge the Luftwaffe's real strength, but strafing proved costly in both pilots and aircraft.

After the entry of Japan into the war, the idea of fitting floats to Spitfires was revived. Three Mk Vs were converted and, in October they were sent to Egypt, the plan being to operate them from unoccupied islands in the Dodecanese against transports re-supplying the German-held islands in the group. However, before the Spitfires arrived, the Germans occupied the Dodecanese in force, thus denying the RAF the use of any of these islands.

In the Near East, both Spitfires and Seafires took part in the invasion of Sicily, an aircraft of 72 Squadron being the first to land there on 11 July. During the final period of the North African campaign, particular carnage had been wrought amongst the Luftwaffe's air transport fleet as it endeavoured to keep troops resupplied. This continued in Sicily as the Germans tried to fly in fuel. On 25 July, Spitfires of 322 Wing shot down 21 Ju-52s and four Bf-109s in the space of ten minutes.

During the Salerno landings on the Italian mainland, much of the combat patrolling over the beachhead was carried out by Seafires and in five days, the Fleet Air Arm lost 60, mostly due to carrier-landing accidents. On 12 September, the Spitfires of 324 Wing joined the surviving Seafires ashore at Paestum. In the absence of enemy air activity, the Spitfire was being used increasingly as a fighter-bomber whilst in Northern Europe, Spitfires were taking part in 'Noball' operations against V-1 launch sites, escorting Hurricane IVS.

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[PIR] Early in 1943, three Spitfire Mk VC squadrons, Nos 607, 615 and 136, were based around Darwin, Australia, to counter Japanese air raids. In combat, the Spitfire was faster than the Zero but was at a disadvantage in a dogfight. Further quantities of Spitfire could not be spared for operations in the Far East until September 1943. Their first victory was a Dinah reconnaissance aircraft shot down by 615 Squadron over the Burma front. On the last day of the year, 136 Squadron intercepted a formation of Japanese bombers and fighters and shot down 12 for the loss of one Spitfire.

The first Seafires in the Far East formed one flight of 834 Squadron aboard the escort carrier HMS Battler in October. No 889 Squadron arrived later in the year on HMS Atheling.

On 1 January 1944, there were six squadrons of Spitfires in the Far East, two with Mk VCs and four with Mk VIIIs, the latter version being considered superior to the Zero. By March, the VCs had been replaced and there was a total of seven squadrons of Mk VIIIs. During the 80-day siege of Imphal, for which the garrison's survival depended upon resupply by air, the defending Spitfires were so successful that only three Allied transports were shot down.

In Europe, the Mk XIV entered service with No 610 Squadron early in the year. Attacks on the enemy's road and rail communications were stepped up in preparation for the invasion of Normandy, and although the Germans knew an invasion was imminent, the wide dispersal of targets throughout the Channel area and inland gave no clue as to where it would be mounted.

On D-Day, 6 June, the RAF's Order of Battle included 55 squadrons of Spitfire fighters, plus two squadrons of Spitfires and four of Seafires engaged in air spotting duties and a further four air sea rescue squadrons which had some Spitfires. Marks ranged from Mk Vs to Mk XIVs. No 118 Squadron must have felt rather remote as the only Spitfire squadron left in 13 Group, way up north at Skaebrae. Nine squadrons gave initial air cover to the first troops ashore, while others patrolled the convoys with the vital task of preventing enemy air reconnaissance. In fact, the enemy was hardly seen, mustering no more than 100 sorties during the hours of daylight. One Spitfire pilot had a grandstand view of the invasion - he was shot down into the channel on 5 June and was not picked up from his dinghy until 7 June!

The first Allied fighters to operate from Normandy after the invasion were the Spitfire Mk IXBs of No 222 Squadron, which landed at St. Croix-sur-Mer on 10 June. These were refuelled and re-armed by a Servicing Commando Unit, before taking off to continue their patrol. On 17 July, Spitfire Mk IXBs of 602 Squadron strafed a staff car. The car, containing Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Commander of the German defences, turned over into a ditch and the Field Marshal was taken to hospital with severe fractures to his skull.

The breakout from the Normandy beachhead was achieved by a classic pincer movement between British and American troops, which forced the retreating German Army into the Falaise Gap. Here, 22 squadrons of Typhoons and Spitfires decimated the enemy forces, attacking with rockets, bombs and guns. The Luftwaffe hardly put in an appearance, thus enabling the RAF to operate their aircraft in pairs with little hindrance. No sooner were they refuelled and re-armed than they were back in the fray, some pilots flying up to six sorties a day. In this classic example of the use of tactical air power, the enemy lost the equivalent of eight infantry and two armoured divisions.

On 12 June, the first V-1 flying bombs bean to fall on England. Eleven fighter squadrons were called upon to deal with the threat, including those operating Spitfire Mk IXs, Mk XIIs and Mk XIVs, but the only aircraft capable of catching a V-1 in level flight was the Tempest V. To try to improve the Spitfire's speed the armour and some of the guns were removed and the whole aircraft polished, after which the Mk XIIs and Mk XIVs did well. Apart from shooting down the missiles, another technique was to edge the tip of one wing beneath that of the V-1 so that the disturbed airflow tipped the V-1 over to one side and toppled its gyro, causing it to fall to earth. Spitfires were also employed in attacks against the launch sites as fighter-bombers, a technique which had been tried out first by No 126 Squadron in Sicily. A Wing of four squadrons of Mk XIVEs was formed specifically for this task, each aircraft carrying two 250lb or one 500lb bomb. Other Spitfire squadrons escorted formations of heavy bombers against the same targets.

Spitfires also acted as fighter-bombers in support of the British Second Army's drive to the Rhine. During the ill-fated Arnhem operation and on subsequent resupply flights, they escorted the transport aircraft. On 5 October, the first Me-262 jet fighter to be shot down was credited to the Spitfires of No 401 Squadron.

The versatile Spitfire found alternative employment on more humanitarian duties, when underwing mountings were modified to carry a pair of small beer barrels in place of the bombs. Aircraft returning to the Continent from England were warmly greeted!

The year ended with the launch of the German offensive through the Ardennes under the cover of fog and it was not until the weather lifted on 23 December that Allied aircraft were able to support the hard-pressed ground troops, when the Spitfires' main role was to escort the medium bomber squadrons.

On New Year's Day 1945, the Luftwaffe staged a final grand gesture. Gambling on the element of surprise, which was achieved, some 800 aircraft of all types carried out a dawn attack on Allied Airfields.

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[PIR] One of the worst hit was 131 Wing at St Denis-Westren. The three Polish squadrons - Nos 302, 308 and 317 - lost about 20 Spitfires, some from forced landings due to lack of fuel and Nos 308 and 317 Squadrons each lost a Spitfire in combat. By contrast, the Wing claimed 18 Fw-190s shot down.

No 485 Squadron at Maldeghem was also badly hit, losing 14 of its Mk IXs destroyed on the ground. At Ophoven, Nos 130 and 350 Squadrons had 10 Mk XIVs badly damaged but curiously Nos 41 and 610 Squadrons at the same airfield were unscathed. The five Canadian squadrons of 126 Wing at Heesch lost one pilot from No 442 Squadron in combat, together with his Mk IX and another pilot from the same squadron was injured when he crashed on landing. In all, five Spitfires were lost in the air and two crashed on their return, six pilots were killed and one was wounded. Spitfire pilots claimed 56 of the enemy, mostly Bf-109s and Fw-190s.

Although precise records do not exist, approximately 200 Allied aircraft were destroyed in this action, but, as most were caught on the ground, personnel casualties were light. In contrast, the Luftwaffe lost 300 aircraft and over 200 pilots. Many of the Allies' losses were Typhoons and Spitfires, which were quickly made good. The Luftwaffe never recovered from their losses.

The Spitfire F.21 entered service with No 91 Squadron at Manston in January, despite having suffered early handling problems. The squadron began operations with modified aircraft from Ludham in March, flying armed reconnaissances and on 16 April, two aircraft strafed a midget submarine they caught on the surface and claimed it as sunk.

Spitfires also escorted Lancasters and Halifaxes on two of the last major raids of the war - daylight attacks on Heligoland and Wangerooge. One of the pilots was Bobby Oxspring who had started on Spitfires with No 66 Squadron in February 1939 and was now finishing the war as Wing Leader of No 24 Wing, still flying Spitfires.

As well as providing escort to the bombers, Spitfires were being used as dive-bombers with 250lb and 500lb bombs or, more rarely, as rocket-firing fighter-bombers. Little was seen of the Luftwaffe after New Year's Day but the flak remained intense and accurate. Targets for the Spitfires were varied, and included factories, road and railways communications and German Troop positions.

More than 3,000 F.21s had been ordered when the end of the war brought drastic cuts and only 120 were built - enough to equip four squadrons. A few were fitted with contra-rotating propellers, which eliminated skidding and made the aircraft very stable as a gun platform. This idea was later adopted for the Seafire 47.

In the Far East, there were some 21 squadrons of Spitfires, including nine squadrons of the Indian Air Force, all but one of them equipped with Mk VIIIs. There were also two squadrons of Seafires aboard HMS Indefatigable in January 1945 as part of the British Pacific Fleet. In March, the 21st Carrier Group included three squadrons of Seafires which covered the landings in Rangoon and Penang and the raids on the oil fields in Sumatra. In the absence of any Japanese air activity, the Seafires also strafed enemy positions, ships and airfields. No Seafires were lost in combat, but a number succumbed to landing accidents. The first aerial combat successes came on 1 April when three kamikaze Zeros were shot down.

The last Seafire squadrons to see action were Nos 801 and 880. Carrying American auxiliary fuel tanks which improved their range by 50%, their Mk IIIs shot down eight Zeros without loss while escorting Avengers on 15 August. On VJ-Day, there were 12 FAA Seafires squadrons, all but four flying the Seafire MkIII. The Griffon-engined Seafires were too late to see war service but then quickly replaced the Mk IIIs, the first of these being the Mk XV.

RAF fighter squadrons in the Far East were in the process of being re-equipped with P-47 Thunderbolts, however the end of the war brought a cessation to the American Lend/Lease programme, thus earning a reprieve for the remaining Spitfires.

Regrettably, the end of the Second World War did not mean the end of fighting. In the Dutch East Indies, the movement towards independence brought trouble as it proclaimed itself the State of Indonesia. British forces were sent to help the Dutch authorities and, following the murder of a British brigadier in November, Spitfires of No 155 Squadron attacked ground targets, including the Surabaya radio station.

Parker Information Resources
Houston, Texas
E-mail: bparker@parkerinfo.com
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