No aircraft is more closely identified with the Battle of Britain than the Supermarine Spitfire. No matter that more Hurricanes flew in the Battle or that the Spitfire made major contributions in other campaigns of the Second World War. The Spitfire, with its unique elliptical wings, is quite simply THE symbol of the RAF -- of "the Few" -- in the Battle of Britain.
If the Me109 descended from gliders, the Spitfire's forefathers were racing aircraft designed to win trophies for speed. So, it is perhaps not surprising that the Spitfire was the fastest of the four fighters that figured prominently in the Battle of Britain with a maximum speed of 360 mph -- or (a very marginal) three mph faster than the Me109 and ten mph faster than the Me110. Yet it was not the Spitfire's speed that made it the fighter most feared by the Luftwaffe. It was her sheer mastery of the air.
For those focused merely on the technical specifications, this statement is not comprehensible. The Spitfire could not dive as steeply as the Me109 -- her Merlin engine, which did not have fuel injection, cut out if she dived to steeply. Nor could she climb as rapidly as the Me109, at least at altitudes below 20,000 feet. Furthermore, the Me109 packed a harder punch in the form of two cannon rather than eight machine guns.
Yet the focus on the purely technical aspects of an aircraft -- at least in the 1940s -- is dangerously misleading. In the Second World War, aircraft had to be flown by humans, and it was the symbiosis between pilot and aircraft that accounted for combat (as opposed to test) performance.
Both the Me109 and the Me110 required considerable strength to handle at high speeds or altitude. The Me109 had a number of other bad habits such as right torque. The Spitfire, in contrast, could be controlled with the pilot's fingertips. She could be trimmed practically to fly herself. Pilots report coming to after losing consciousness in a dive or spin to find that the Spitfire had literally trimmed herself to fly straight an level. Pilots loved her -- unabashedly and uninhibitedly. Their confidence in her made them bolder. Their trust in her sustained morale even at the darkest moment. Their love of the Spitfire enabled them to perform on average at a higher level than had they been in a different aircraft.
While the Me109 has been compared to a vamp, the term most commonly used to describe the Spitfire was "a lady." The term was probably first coined by the Supermarine Test Pilot Jeffrey Quill, who allegedly remarked after his first flight in "her": "Here is a real lady." One of the RAF's highest scoring aces, "Sailor" Malan called her "a perfect lady." He claimed, "she had no vices. She was beautifully positive. You could dive till your eyes were popping out of your head ... [and] she would still answer to the touch." Battle of Britain Ace Bob Doe preferred to fly the Spitfire in shoes rather than flying boots in order to obtain a lighter and more direct control of the rudder -- rather like a rider on a young thoroughbred rather than an old hack. He claimed that the Spitfire "became part of you. It was an absolute joy."
The British public fell in love with the Spitfire too. Drives to collect scrap metal were called "Spitfire funds" -- not "Hurricane funds." Bungay in his book The Most Dangerous Enemy claims the Spitfire played "the role of the mythological role of a magical weapon, the equivalent of Achilles armour or the swords Excallibur or Nothing." [Aurum Press, 2000, 82]
Yet the greatest compliment to the Spitfire came from her opponents. The Luftwaffe respected the Spitfire but quite unjustly dismissed the Hurricane. This became known as "Spitfire snobbery." Luftwaffe pilots repeatedly made claims of shooting down -- or at least dogfighting with "Spitfires" -- when RAF records show there wasn't a Spitfire in the sky at the time and place designated. The Luftwaffe was fighting with and being shot down by Hurricanes -- they just weren't willing to admit it.
The later point is particularly glaring because far fewer RAF squadrons were equipped with Spitfires than Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain: 19 Spitfire Squadrons compared to 33 Hurricane squadrons. Furthermore, in the course of the Battle, Hurricanes accounted for more RAF "kills" at a rate of 3 for every 2 kills made by Spitfires. These kills, however, included bombers, while the Spitfires accounted for a higher proportion of the German fighters shot down.
Historically, the value of the Spitfire was demonstrated by her endurance. The Spitfire not only served in every theater of the war, it served in a variety of roles as 20 different "marks" or modifications of the Spitfire were designed. Spitfires flew from Royal Navy aircraft carriers, they were converted to fighter bombers, capable of carrying a 250 lb bombs under each wing and a 500 lb bomb under the fuselage. They were extremely successful and valuable as high altitude photo-reconnaissance aircraft.
Later models of the Spitfire were capable of speeds of 440 mph and could fly at 40,000 feet. They successfully shot down V1 rockets. Spitfires were not retired from service with the RAF until the introduction of jet aircraft in the early 1950s.
“Where Eagles Never Flew” shows the Battle of Britain from both sides of the Channel by following the fate of German characters as well as British ones. The British characters are members of the fictional No. 606 (Hurricane) Squadron based at Tangmere. The German characters are the pilots and women auxiliaries of a Me109 Gruppe based in Northern France. Find out more about “Where Eagles Never Flew” at: https://crossseaspress.com/where-eagles-never-flew or watch a video teaser at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnAoMC0d6Mo