Supermarine Spitfire

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Supermarine Spitfire
Spitfire LF Mk IX
Spitfire LF Mk IX, MH434 , flown by Ray Hanna in 2005. With this aircraft in the service of No. 222 Squadron RAF , a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 was shot down in 1943 .
Type: Fighter plane
Design country:

United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom


Super marine

First flight:

March 6, 1936


August 1938

Production time:

1938 to 1948

Number of pieces:


The Supermarine Spitfire was a British- made fighter aircraft . The low- wing aircraft was used on all fronts by the Royal Air Force and many Allied air forces , especially during the Second World War . The good maneuverability of the at Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers), Ltd. The aircraft originally developed under the chief designer Reginald J. Mitchell and his successors made it very popular with pilots. The machine is one of the most popular types of aircraft ; Supermarine and its licensees have built more than 20,300 Spitfires of all variants . She remained in service well into the 1950s.

The name Spitfire means fire-eater , and in a figurative sense something like hothead . The name is an brainchild of Robert McLean, the chief executive officer of Vickers (Aviation) , who named his eldest daughter Annie Little Spitfire . Mitchell preferred Shrew (German shrew). The German pilots also called the Spitfire spit , alluding to the German meaning of the English word to spit . The Allies simply called it Spit .


Spitfire Mk IA of No. 19 Sqn.

Supermarine had won the Schneider Trophy three times with designs by chief designer Mitchell, which combined powerful engines from Napier or Rolls-Royce with aerodynamically optimized airframes .

Although the technology and requirements for Schneider Trophy racing aircraft could not be fully transferred to military aircraft, a powerful engine and advanced aerodynamics were also required for fighter aircraft . In 1930, in response to a tender from the British Air Ministry , Mitchell produced the first fighter aircraft, the Supermarine Type 224 monoplane with gull wings and a rigid chassis . The Supermarine Type 224 did not meet the Aviation Department's expectations any more than the designs of the competition.

In a project funded by Supermarine, Mitchell turned his attention to an improved design, which also received support from Supermarine's parent company Vickers . The resulting aircraft had significantly better flight performance due to its retractable landing gear, closed cockpit and much more powerful Rolls-Royce PV-12 engine.

In 1935 the Ministry of Aviation put out another contract for a fighter aircraft. The new Supermarine draft was ultimately rejected again on the grounds that it was not suitable for the required armament with eight machine guns .

Based on this design, Mitchell therefore created another fighter called the Type 300, which offered enough space for the on-board weapons thanks to new elliptical wings . The Ministry of Aviation was satisfied with this new type and made funds available for the construction of further prototypes under the project name F.10 / 35. The first of these prototypes of the later Spitfire flew on March 5, 1936. The good flight performance prompted the Aviation Ministry to place an order for 310 pieces while the Vickers test pilots were still testing them. In 1939 the price for a fully equipped Spitfire was £ 12,604, which is roughly £ 580,000 in today's value.

Start of production

The interior of the Spitfire

The Spitfire was presented to the British public at the RAF Air Show in Hendon on Saturday June 27, 1936. Although full production was to begin immediately, production problems caused delays so that the first Spitfire produced (registration number K 9787) could not leave the production facility in Woolston, Southampton until mid-1938. The first and most pressing problem was that Supermarine's main manufacturing facility was running at full capacity with the production of Walrus and Stranraer flying boats. Although other contractual partners were involved in the production of important Spitfire components, especially the wings, Vickers-Armstrong, as the parent company, was reluctant to acknowledge that the Spitfire had to be co-produced by other companies involved and only delivered the necessary blueprints and sub-assembly components with a delay. As a result of the production delays of the Spitfire, the Ministry of Aviation pushed ahead with the plan that Supermarine should initially only produce Bristol Beaufighters after the initial order for 310 aircraft . However, the management of Supermarine and Vickers was able to convince the Department of Aviation that the problems were manageable, which led to an additional order for another 200 Spitfires. These two orders included the K, L and N (pre) series series.

In February 1936, Vickers-Armstrong's director Sir Robert McLean guaranteed the production of 5 aircraft per week within 15 months of receipt of the order; on June 3, 1936, the Department of Aviation placed an order for 310 aircraft at a cost of £ 1,395,000 . Full production began at the Supermarine facility in Woolston, but it quickly became apparent that the order could not be completed in the allotted 15 months. As a small company, Supermarine was busy building Walrus and Stranraer flying boats , Vickers was busy producing Wellington bombers, so it was decided to split up the work to start with. The first Spitfire produced finally left the production facility in mid-1938 and was flown by Jeoffrey Quill on May 15, 1938, almost 24 months after the initial order.

The purchase price of the first 310 aircraft, minus the cost of manufacturing delays and increased construction costs, was £ 1,870,242 or £ 1,533 per aircraft more than originally anticipated, bringing production costs to £ 9,500 each. The most expensive components were the handcrafted fuselage at an average of £ 2,500, followed by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine at £ 2,000, followed by the wings at £ 1,800 per pair, machinery ( guns ) and undercarriage at £ 800 each, and the propeller with 350 pounds.

The wings

Inspired by the Heinkel He 70 , a German high-speed airliner whose aerodynamic design and construction was even superior to the Schneider Trophy racing aircraft, Mitchell opted for an elliptical wing shape. A copy of the Heinkel He 70 was bought by the Rolls-Royce company in 1936 for flight tests of the Rolls-Royce-Merlin engine, which was later to power the Spitfire, because there was no British high-performance aircraft suitable for this purpose.

Typical wing layout

Mitchell's aerodynamicist, Beverley Shenstone, later explicitly emphasized that Mitchell's wings were not - as is often claimed - directly copied from the Heinkel He 70. The Spitfire wings were far thinner and had a different profile. Mitchell also did not use two-spar wings like Heinkel, but the single-spar wings originally introduced by Messerschmitt with a torsion-resistant nose box.

The elliptical wings resulted in a steady increase in lift in flight from the outside to the inside, which offered two advantages: high torsional stiffness under load and particularly low induced drag. The wings, which are particularly large for a fighter the weight of the Spitfire, ensured a tight curve radius. In the high-speed range, the profile of small thickness chosen by Mitchell was particularly advantageous, which gave the Spitfire good properties at speeds of around 70% of the speed of sound. Therefore, the Spitfire was among the fighter aircraft of the Second World War, the propeller aircraft with the second highest achievable Mach number (after the Lockheed P-38 ).

In addition, the elliptical wings offered more space to accommodate the on-board weapons. However, it is not likely that the space available for the on-board weapons was the only reason for using the elliptical wings, since Supermarine also used elliptical wings for the Type 313 design - a twin-engine destroyer whose on-board weapons were concentrated in the nose of the fuselage.

In order to improve the controllability of the Spitfire at high angles of attack, a geometric twist was used which, in the event of a stall, ensured that this only took place at the root of the wing while the outside ailerons were still being flown against. With a relatively large wing area, the Spitfire therefore only had a comparatively low maximum lift coefficient .

Despite the advantages of the elliptical wings, there were also versions of the Spitfire whose wing ends were removed in favor of a higher roll rate. But there were also extended surface ends for high altitude hunters (for example with the Mk VI and Mk VII).


Battle of Britain

Preserved Spitfire Mk IIA

In the public eye, the Spitfire was often seen as the aircraft that contributed significantly to the victory in the Battle of Britain . This impression was mainly due to the British propaganda campaigns intended for the domestic market, which the Spitfire used as a symbol for the modern air force - for example in the nationwide publicized collection campaigns of aluminum objects that could be melted down as raw materials for aircraft construction.

In reality, the inferior Hawker Hurricane was used by the RAF in the Battle of England in larger numbers than the Spitfire and carried the brunt of the dogfights. Because the flight performance of the Spitfire was better than that of the Hurricane, the RAF proposed a division of tasks: the Spitfires should attack the escorts of the German bombers, the Hurricanes the bombers themselves In practice, bomber was able to involve most of the Hurricane squadrons in dogfights before they managed to break through to the bombers. This division of tasks was not implemented in action; the Spitfire squadrons continued to attack bombers when the opportunity arose.

In direct comparison to its counterpart on the German Air Force side , the Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-4, the Spitfire had strengths and weaknesses. Her greatest strength was her superior maneuverability in cornering combat. Since the Royal Air Force, unlike the Luftwaffe, already had large quantities of 100- octane fuel at its disposal in mid-1940 , the Merlin engine of the Spitfire was also able to deliver more power at low altitudes than the DB-601A engine, which ran on 87-octane fuel the Bf 109. As a result, the flight performance of the Spitfire was clearly superior to that of the Bf 109 below an altitude of 4000 m. The Bf 109 had an advantage at the altitudes above 4000 m typical for the Battle of Britain. In addition, the Bf 109 (unlike the Spitfire) had an injection engine . In practice, this meant that the pilot of a Bf 109 could bring the machine forward into a parabolic dive without the engine failing. The Spitfire pilots were unable to do this, as the negative g acceleration disrupted the mixture formation in the carburettor and, in the worst case, the engine died. This was done by the fact that the upward force caused the fuel to flow into the chamber of the float carburetor instead of the engine's supercharger and, as the negative g-acceleration continued, it would accumulate on the top of the carburetor, resulting in a mixture that was too rich. Before the introduction of the Merlin engine with improved carburettors, the Spitfire pilots had to perform half a roll and then downswing before pursuing a descending enemy in order to avoid the negative g acceleration. Exactly these necessary seconds were sometimes decisive in a dogfight and could lead to losing touch with the enemy. Up until the introduction of improved carburetors, Beatrice "Tilly" Shilling, a young engineer at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, found an amazingly simple provisional solution in the form of a metal plate with a bore, which, under negative g-load, severely limited the upward flow of fuel in the carburetor and in the In the opposite direction, just as much fuel passed as the engine needed at full load. Brief negative g-loads were thus possible, but no continued inverted flight. At the beginning of 1941 Beatrice "Tilly" Shilling traveled with a small team from one RAF base to the next to retrofit the flow restrictor officially known as the "RAE restrictor" on site. This retrofit was completed by March 1941. It was not until 1943 that the problem was completely eliminated with the introduction of new carburettors. Another weakness was the relatively small track width of the landing gear , which often led to accidents on landings.

Further war missions

As the war progressed, the Spitfire became the RAF's standard fighter. It proved itself in the fight against the V1 attacks on England in 1944 . A Spitfire is said to have successfully shot down a Me 262 jet aircraft .

During the Second World War, the Spitfire flew under Greek emblems over North Africa, the Mediterranean region and Italy. Some emergency landing machines could be set by the Germans repaired and were then Ob.dL 2./Versuchsverband on. The Soviet Union received from 1942 to 1945 in 1331 the versions Spitfire Mk. V and Mk. IX and nine reconnaissance PR Mk. IV and V. It is worth mentioning a Spitfire with Sharkmouth- Nose-art similar to that of the Flying Tigers , in the same period China fought. Immediately afterwards she flew missions over Greece during the civil war .

The Spitfire's last known military service was during the Korean War . After the Second World War, the Spitfire remained in service in many air forces, including in Egypt , Greece , Ireland , Israel , Syria , Denmark and Turkey until the early 1960s . Curiosity: from 1957, civilian, unarmed Spitfire Mk IX, registered in Belgium for the company COGEA from Ostend , flew target towing missions for the German armed forces with Belgian civilian pilots from Lübeck-Blankensee airport for several years .

Many Spitfires and a few Seafires are still airworthy today and many museums have exhibits of this hunter. The RAF still owns some for air displays and ceremonies. For example, on the occasion of the wedding of William Mountbatten-Windsor and Kate Middleton on April 29, 2011, a Spitfire accompanied by a Hawker Hurricane accompanied a Lancaster bomber ( Battle of Britain Memorial Flight ) overflight over Buckingham Palace .

Speed ​​and altitude records

In the spring of 1944, the British Air Force undertook high-speed dive tests at Farnborough to test the handling of aircraft near the sound barrier . Since it had the highest permitted maximum speed of all allied aircraft at the time, a Spitfire XI was also used for this purpose. During these tests, a Spitfire with the trunk number EN 409, flown by Squadron Leader Martindale, reached 975 km / h (Mach 0.89) in a 45-degree nosedive. The plane couldn't withstand this speed; the propeller and gear broke off. Martindale managed to sail the 20 miles to the airfield and land safely.

On February 5, 1952, a Hong Kong-based weather reconnaissance Spitfire Mk 19 of the 81st RAF Squadron achieved what is probably the highest altitude ever reached by a Spitfire of 15,712 meters. The dive speed of Mach 0.94 allegedly measured in the same flight, which was reported after the evaluation of the instruments carried, is now considered to be falsified by instrument errors and exaggerated.

Production numbers

The Spitfire was built in Great Britain by Vickers (Supermarine) and Vickers in Castel Bromwich and Westland.

British production of the Supermarine Spitfire until July 31, 1945
version Super marine Vickers / Castle Bromwich Westland total
FI 1,497 50 1,547
F.IIa 750 750
F.IIb 170 170
PRIII 30th 30th
PRIV 229 229
F.Va 94 94
F.Vb 780 3,003 140 3,923
F.Vc 478 1,474 495 2,447
F.VI 100 100
F.VII 139 139
F.VIII 272 272
HFVIII 160 160
LFVIII 1,225 1,225
FIX 521 733 1,254
HFIX 400 400
LFIX 40 3,970 4.010
PRX 16 16
PRXI 471 471
F.XII 100 100
F.XIV 526 526
FRXIV 393 393
LFXVI 993 993
F.XVIII 22nd 22nd
PRXIX 172 172
F.21 94 94
F.22 50 50
total 7,349 11,637 685 19,671
Annual production of the Supermarine Spitfire until July 31, 1945
year number
1939 432
1940 1,248
1941 2,517
1942 4.134
1943 4,275
1944 4,917
until July 31, 1945 2.148
total 19,671

At the end of the war the Spitfire was still in series production: at Supermarine the Mk XVIII and Mk XIX, at Castle Bromwich the F.21 and F.22.

Reception in the film

The aircraft and its designer Mitchell were recognized in the film The First of the Few (1942, directed by Leslie Howard ). However, the representation does not exactly reflect the historical facts. William Walton , composer of the film music, arranged parts of it under the title " Spitfire Prelude and Fugue " for the concert stage.

An original Supermarine Spitfire is also used in Christopher Nolan's film Dunkirk . Likewise in Blackberry Time (1998).

Versions of the Spitfire

Spitfire MK V
Spitfire Mk XII
Cockpit of a Mk IX
Preserved Spitfire LF XVIII

There were a total of 24 versions of the Spitfire, from the Mk ("Mark", Eng. "Model") I to the F. 24, and many sub-variants.

Technical specifications

Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IX
Parameter Data
crew 1
length 9.46 m
span 11.22 m
drive a Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 with 1650 hp
Top speed 656 km / h at an altitude of 7600 m
Range approx. 1500 km (with 90-gallon additional tank, economy flight)
Max. Takeoff mass 4309 kg
Armament four MG Browning M1919 (caliber .303 British ), two 20 mm Hispano Mk. II cannons


User states

Station locations in Germany

Airfields that were occupied by a number of squadrons exclusively during the war are not listed; B.100 / Goch , B.101 / Nordhorn , B.114 / Diepholz , B.118 / Celle, B116./Wunstorf and B.154 / Reinsehlen used these from the beginning of April 1945 until the end of the war .

In addition to the above-mentioned French squadrons operating in northwest Germany, there were other French units that were relocated to southwest Germany towards the end of the war in 1945.

(Note: The information available on the Internet about the stationing locations Friedrichshafen and Großsachsenheim in autumn contradict each other in part. It seems certain that the majority of the French squadrons were relocated to Indochina in the autumn.)

Army de l'Air The above-mentioned French squadrons of the RAF had the following French names in addition to their RAF squadron numbers before and after the war:

  • 326th Squadron: Group de Chasse II / 7 Nice
  • 327th Squadron / Group de Chasse I / 3 Corse
  • 328th Squadron / Group de Chasse I / 7 Provence
  • 340th Squadron: Group de Chasse IV / 2 Ile de France
  • 341st Squadron / Group de Chasse III / 2 Alsace
  • 345th Squadron / Group de Chasse GC / II / 2 Berry

Present stock

At the beginning of the 21st century, around 40 Spitfires were in an airworthy condition. However, this number could rise in the future after the Briton Davis Cundall in 2012, after an intensive search in Burma, allegedly found up to 124 machines that were buried during the Second World War - apparently in good condition - and that had been packed in boxes. Finding it becomes increasingly dubious after a long search.

See also


  • Olaf Groehler : History of the Air War 1910 to 1980. 3rd edition, Military Publishing House of the German Democratic Republic, Berlin 1981.
  • Alfred Price: The Spitfire Story. Revised 2nd edition. Silverdale Books, Leicester 2002, ISBN 1-85605-702-X .
  • Alfred Price: Spitfire Mark I / II Aces, 1939–41. (= Osprey Aircraft of the Aces. Vol. 12) Osprey Aerospace, London 1996, ISBN 1-85532-627-2 .
  • England's greatest success , the Classic Extra airplane over the Supermarine Spitfire, Geramond Verlag, ISBN 978-3-86245-484-6

Web links

Commons : Supermarine Spitfire  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ NN: Annie Penrose. In: The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited, October 25, 2011, accessed August 25, 2019 .
  2. The Ten Most Famous Warplanes of World War II  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  3. Morgan and Shacklady 2000, p. 45.
  4. ^ Price 1982, p. 65.
  5. Glancey 2006, p. 61.
  6. ^ Olaf Groehler: History of the Air War 1910 to 1980. 3rd edition. Military Publishing House of the German Democratic Republic, Berlin 1981, p. 254.
  7. ^ Hans-Joachim Mau, Hans Heiri Stapfer: Under red star. Lend-lease aircraft for the Soviet Union. 1941-1945. Transpress, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-344-70710-8 . Pp. 71-74.
  8. cf. Olaf Groehler: History of the Air War 1910 to 1980. 3rd edition. Military Publishing House of the German Democratic Republic, Berlin 1981, p. 255.
  9. a b National Archives, Kew, stock AVIA 10/311
  10. Marco Evers: World War II find in Burma. The mystery of the buried "Spitfires". In: SPON , November 29, 2012, accessed November 30, 2012.
  11. Beat Bumbacher: Spitfires in a mason jar. Hobby archaeologist discovers brand-new buried warplanes from the Second World War in Burma. In: NZZ , April 18, 2012, accessed on November 30, 2012.
  12. There are no buried Spitfires', archaeologists claim , in The Telegraph, November 15, 2012, accessed February 24, 2013.
  13. I'm not giving up ': British farmer, 62, vows to continue search for' buried 'Second World War Spitfires in Burma after visiting 18 times and spending £ 130,000. In: dailymail, January 20, 2013, accessed February 24, 2013.