World War 2 Stories for Sheffield


From various unknown sources


The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger (Shrike)  was a German single-seat, single-radial engine fighter aircraft designed by Kurt Tank in the late 1930s. It was used by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War in a variety of roles. Like the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Fw 190 was employed as a "workhorse", and proved suitable for a wide variety of roles, including air superiority fighter, strike fighter, ground-attack aircraft, and operated with less success as a night fighter.

When the Fw 190 started flying operationally over France in August 1941 it was quickly proven to be superior in all but turn radius to the Royal Air Force's main front-line fighter, the Spitfire Mk. V. The 190 wrested air superiority away from the RAF until the introduction of the vastly improved Spitfire Mk. IX in July 1942 restored qualitative parity. The Fw 190 made its air combat debut on the Eastern Front in November/December 1942. Soviet pilots regarded the Bf 109 as the greatest threat in combat on the Eastern Front; nevertheless, the Fw 190 made a significant impact. The fighter and its pilots proved just as capable as the Bf 109 in aerial combat, and in the opinion of German pilots that flew both German fighters, the Fw 190 presented increased firepower and manoeuvrability at low to medium altitude.

The Fw 190 became the backbone of Jagdwaffe (Fighter Force) along with the Bf 109. On the Eastern Front the Fw 190 was versatile enough to be used in Schlachtgeschwader (Battle Wings or Strike Wings), specialised ground attack units which achieved much success against Soviet ground forces. As an interceptor, the Fw 190 underwent improvements to make it effective at high altitude allowing the 190 to maintain relative parity against its Allied opponents. The Fw 190A series' performance decreased at high altitudes (usually 6,000 m (20,000 ft) and above) which reduced its effectiveness as a high-altitude interceptor, but this problem was mostly rectified in later models, particularly in the Focke-Wulf Fw 190D series, which was introduced in September 1944. In spite of its successes, it never entirely replaced the Bf 109.

The Fw 190 was well-liked by its pilots. Some of the Luftwaffe's most successful fighter aces flew the Fw 190, including Otto Kittel with 267 victories, Walter Nowotny with 258 victories and Erich Rudorffer with 222 claimed kills. A great many of their kills were claimed while flying the Fw 190.

Role Fighter Manufacturer Primarily Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG, but also Ago, Arado, Fieseler, Mimetall, Norddeutsche Dornier and others Designed by Kurt Tank First flight 1 June 1939 Introduced August 1941 Retired 1945 (Luftwaffe); 1949 (Turkey) Primary users Luftwaffe.

The Fw 190 was well-liked by its pilots. Some of the Luftwaffe's most successful fighter aces flew the Fw 190, including Otto Kittel with 267 victories, Walter Nowotny with 258 victories and Erich Rudorffer with 222 claimed kills. A great many of their kills were claimed while flying the Fw 190.

Role Fighter Manufacturer Primarily Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG, but also Ago, Arado, Fieseler, Mimetall, Norddeutsche Dornier and others Designed by Kurt Tank First flight 1 June 1939 Introduced August 1941 Retired 1945 (Luftwaffe); 1949 (Turkey) Primary users Luftwaffe.


Heinkel was established at Warnemünde in 1922 as the restrictions on German aviation imposed by the Treaty of Versailles were relaxed. The company's first great success was the design of the Heinkel He 70 Blitz high-speed mail plane and airliner for Deutsche Luft Hansa in 1932. The type broke a number of air speed records for its class and was followed by the two-engine Heinkel He 111 Doppel-Blitz. Heinkel's most important designers at this point were the twin Günter brothers, Siegfried and Walter, and Heinrich Hertel. The firm's headquarters was in Rostock, with an additional "Heinkel-Sud" facility in Schwechat, Austria, after the Anschluss in 1938.

The Heinkel company is most closely associated with aircraft used by the Luftwaffe during World War II. This began with the adaptation of the He 70 and, in particular, the He 111, to be used as bombers. In this role, the He 111 became a mainstay of the Luftwaffe. Heinkel also provided the Luftwaffe's only operational heavy bomber, the Heinkel He 177, although this was never deployed in significant numbers. The German Luftwaffe equipped both of these bombers with the Z-Gerät, Y-Gerät, and Knickebein, developed by Johannes Plendl, and thus they were among the first aircraft to feature advanced night navigation devices, common in all commercial airplanes today.

Heinkel was less successful in selling fighter designs — before the war, the Heinkel He 112 had been rejected in favour of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, and Heinkel's attempt to top Messerschmitt's design with the Heinkel He 100 failed due to political interference within the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM — Reich Aviation Ministry). The company also provided the Luftwaffe with an outstanding night fighter, the Heinkel He 219, which also suffered from politics and was produced only in limited numbers.

From 1941 until the end of the war, the company was merged with engine manufacturer Hirth to form Heinkel-Hirth, giving the company the capability of manufacturing its own powerplants.

The Heinkel name was also behind pioneering work in jet engine and rocket development. In 1939, flown by Erich Warsitz, the Heinkel He 176 and Heinkel He 178 became the first aircraft to fly under liquid-fuel rocket and turbojet power respectively, and Heinkel was the first to develop a jet fighter to prototype stage, the Heinkel He 280. This latter aircraft never reached production however, since the RLM wanted Heinkel to concentrate on bomber production and instead promoted the development of the rival Messerschmitt Me 262. Very late in the war, a Heinkel jet fighter finally took to the air as the Heinkel He 162, but it had barely entered service at the time of Germany's surrender.

Following the war, Heinkel was prohibited from manufacturing aircraft and instead built bicycles, motor scooters (see below), and the Heinkel microcar. The company eventually returned to aircraft in the mid 1950s, licence building F-104 Starfighters for the West German Luftwaffe.

In 1965, the company was absorbed by Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke (VFW), which was in turn absorbed by Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm in 1980.


The Messerschmitt 109 was Nazi Germany’s primary fighter plane in the Battle of Britain. The Messerschmitt 109 was a worthy adversary to the Spitfire and Hurricane but fought in the Battle of Britain with one major disadvantage.

In the mid-1930’s, Willy Messerschmitt was well advanced in his plan for a monoplane fighter. His award winning 108 developed into the 109. The first trials of the 109 took place in October 1935 and led to the Luftwaffe placing orders for ten prototypes of the 109 and its rival, the Heinkel He 112. In an interesting piece of irony, the first 109 prototypes were powered by British Rolls-Royce Kestrel engines!

The 109 entered service with the Luftwaffe in spring of 1937. The plane was used in the Spanish Civil War but this was not publicised by the Germans at the time. Instead, the Germans attempted to impress the aviation world with displays of the 109 at international air shows where the plane won many awards. Numerous variants of the 109 were built prior to the war and in 1939 alone, 1,400 Messerschmitt 109’s were built. At the start of the war, the Luftwaffe had 1,000 Me 109’s available for the Blitzkrieg attack on Poland.

By the time of the Battle of Britain, the Me 109 that faced Fighter Command had one major advantage over its rivals. Its engine had a fuel injection system that allowed a constant fuel flow even in conditions of negative-g. This meant that a pilot could dive away at a much faster pace than his opponents could do and escape trouble. However, it also had one major disadvantage. The 109 had a limited range (see below) and it could not spend too much time over Britain protecting bombers that carried more fuel than they did. As such, their fighting time was limited. Whereas Spitfires and Hurricanes could land and re-fuel, such an option was not open to a 109.

Some variants of the 109 had a cannon placed in the hollowed out nose cone. However, vibrations caused from its firing meant that the idea was dropped from the early 109’s but it was taken up in later ones when the vibration issue had been sorted out. Most 109’s were fitted with two wing-mounted cannon and two machine guns mounted on the top of the nose cone that fired through the propeller arc.


Maximum speed: 385 mph (620 km/h) at 22,640 feet (6900 metres)

Ceiling: 37,895 feet (11550 metres)

Range: 373 miles (600 km).


Willy Emil Messerschmitt

Born in 1898, Willy Emil Messerschmitt was the son of a Wine merchant. As a young boy he became obsessed with aviation after seeing a Zeppelin airship. The young Messerschmitt helped out the German gliding pioneer Friedrich Harth and it was Harth who arranged for Messerschmitt to work with him at a military flying school during the First World War. Harth and Messerschmitt together designed the S8 glider which Harth kept airborne for 21 minutes in 1921, a world record for glider flight at the time.

The first all-Messerschmitt design, a tail-less glider called the S9, made its first flight in 1921. It was followed by a series of powered gliders and small sports machines, all of which were dogged by technical failures and accidents. Even when Messerschmitt took to the air himself for the first time (in 1925) the M17 in which he was flying crashed, putting him in hospital for some time.


Even when Messerschmitt took to the air himself for the first time (in 1925) the M17 in which he was flying crashed, putting him in hospital for some time.

In the late 20s and early 30s Messerschmitt designed the M20, a simple single-engined transport aircraft, the  that was cheap to operate. These were built under the auspices of the Bavarian Aircraft Works at Augsburg, the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, hence the term "Bf" for the aircraft originally produced there. Messerschmitt soon found himself  with an enemy in high places in the shape of Erhard Milch, head of German civil aviation and ardent Nazi. Hans Hackman, a close friend of Milch was killed testing the prototype Messerschmitt M20 transport plane. Milch was incensed by Messerschmitt's lack of remorse for the death his friend, and he made sure that Messerschmitt got no government work. It was also Milch who, as head of Lufthansa, forced bancruptcy on the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke in 1931 following further crashes of M20 aircraft. In 1933 Hitler came to power and German rearmament started. This gave Milch even greater power and it might have been expected that Messerschmitt would suffer the same humiliation as another of Milch's enemies; Hugo Junkers. However Messerschmitt had cultivated friends in high places, Rudolph Hess the deputy head of the Nazi party was one, Theo Croneiss a World War I fighter pilot and associate of Hermann Goring was another. The Bayerische Flugzeugwerke was resurrected in 1933 and set about getting government contracts.

In 1934 Messerschmitt designed the M37 to try and win the European Aircraft Rally. In this he was helped by Robert Lusser who had joined the company in 1933 after working at Klemm and Heinkel. This design turned into the Bf108 Taifun, a remarkable four-seat touring aircraft.

When the contest to find a new fighter for the Luftwaffe was announced Messerschmitt realised this was his chance. The design he and Lusser produced was outstanding; a small metal airframe built around a big engine with a thin wing for speed and Handley Page leading-edge slats to bring down the landing speed. It is hard for us today to realise just how revolutionary the Bf109 was. In the 1930's many designers were experimenting with monoplane metal construction, retracting undercarriage, enclosed cockpits and high lift devices, Messerschmitt was the first to combine all of these elements into a single fighter.

By this time Milch's power to influence the choosing of new equipment for the Luftwaffe had been greatly diminished by the appointment of Ernst Udet, a flamboyant WWI fighter ace, to be head of the air force's development section. When Udet first sat in the prototype 109 he declared it would never make a combat aircraft, but that was before he saw it fly and had flown it himself. First and foremost a man who loved to fly, and who excelled in aerobatics, Udet saw that the 109 was simply the best flying machine in the world at that time. He flew them himself in competition at the 1937 Zurich air races.

Messerschmitt gained worldwide recognition for the 109 design and it went on to be produced in greater numbers than any other single seat aircraft in aviation history. He gave the Luftwaffe exactly the weapon that was needed to secure the aerial dominance of Europe in 1939-1941. The Luftwaffe had ordered the Focke-Wulf FW190 to replace the 109 from 1941 onward, but it was never available in the numbers required, and the 109 was superior to it at high altitude. Thus the Bf109 stayed in production until the very end of the war. When one considers the number of fighter types employed by the allies, the Spitfire, Hurricane, Typhoon, Tempest, Thunderbolt, Mustang, Tomahawk and Kittyhawk, the Migs and the Yaks, not to mention the French and Dutch fighter types, and also the lesser Allied fighters such as the Gladiator and Airacobra, the achievements of the Luftwaffe with just the 109 and its later companion the FW190 are remarkable indeed. The reputation built up by Messerschmitt's designs led to the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke being restyled as the Messerschmitt aircraft company, although aircraft that had started in production before the change of name retained the "Bf" nomenclature.

Before the War started, Messerschmitt had developed the 209, perhaps the ultimate piston engined aircraft. This was the aircraft that secured the world speed record for Germany at 469 mph. He had wanted to develop the Me 209 into the next generation of Luftwaffe fighter, but stripped of its high-powered but unreliable racing engine, and with its novel evaporation cooling system changed for more orthodox radiators, the 209 showed little advantage over the 109.

Messerschmitt went on to design many other aircraft. The Bf 110 was a twin engined, two seat fighter that was used with great effect against Allied bombers. The most fantastic of Messerschmitt's war-time designs was the Me 321, a giant glider able to carry a tank that led to the Me 323, a development fitted with engines that could carry up to 130 men. Perhaps Messerschmitt's finest achievement was the beautiful Me 262 twin jet powered fighter with swept wings, a design years ahead of its time. The 262 saw combat at the end of the war but was never available in enough numbers to be anything but a nuisance to the air-forces ranged against Germany.

There is one wartime aircraft project which was a disaster for Messerschmitt. The Luftwaffe wanted to replace the Bf110, the Ju87 Stuka and some of its twin-engined bombers with a single design. Waldemar Voigt, Messerschmitt's chief designer, came up with an outstanding twin-engined two-seat aircraft with very clean lines and the advanced feature of remotely controlled guns in rearward facing barbettes. The design had the potential to be as good as the British Mosquito, with the added advantage of being at least a year ahead of the "Wooden Wonder". However Messerschmitt insisted on weight-saving measures in the new aircraft, called the Me210, which made it unstable longitudinally and caused the undercarriage to collapse. The Luftwaffe had ordered 1,000 examples of the Me210 "off the drawing board" before the prototype had flown, and the aircraft was essential for the German war effort, so the failure of the project was a terrible blow to the prestige of Messerschmitt. In the end the design had to revert to being very close to Voigt's original plans, manufactured as the Me410 the aircraft ended up being nearly two years behind the Mosquito into combat. Goring, head of the Luftwaffe, said his own epitaph should read: "He would have lived longer but for the Me210." The failure of the Me210 project and the cancellation of the production order in 1942 forced Messerschmitt to resign as head of the company, taking on the post of Technical Director instead.

Other Messerschmitt projects, such as the Me 264, a bomber with the range to strike targets in America, never progressed beyond the design or prototype stage. One revolutionary aircraft that bears the name of the Messerschmitt aircraft company was actually the work of Alexander Lippisch, a designer working for Messerschmitt. This was the Me 163 "Komet" rocket powered fighter.

One failing of the German aircraft industry was the reluctance to build long range single-engined escort fighters. The twin-engined Bf 110 was used for long range escort missions during the Battle of Britain, but suffered considerable losses at the hands of the nimble RAF fighters. When pressed by someone to design a single-engined fighter with long range Messerschmitt replied "What do you want, a fast fighter or a barn door?" Years later, forced to seek shelter together from American Thunderbolts attacking the Augsburg factory the same person announced, "Well there are your barn doors!"

Messerschmitt's reputation as an aircraft designer is somewhat open to question. His early aircraft were all prone to failure, often with tragic loss of human life. Indeed it is hard to think of any other aircraft designer with such a record of disaster! It was only after 1933 with a new team of bright young engineers working for him that he had sustained success. Perhaps he should be best remembered as an aviation visionary and organiser. There is no doubt that he was always questing after aircraft that would be better in every way. His passion for producing the fastest or biggest aircraft was exasperating to many of the Nazi and Luftwaffe bureaucrats who wanted all efforts concentrated on existing designs.

After the war Messerschmitt was arrested and tried for having allowed the use of slave labour in his factories. He was in prison for two years. When released he set to work rebuilding his business. Not allowed to make aircraft in Germany one of his products was the Messerschmitt Bubble Car. He managed to do some aircraft design for Hispano in Spain, including work on the HA 200 jet trainer. He also helped in the design of the HA-300 supersonic jet fighter for Egypt in the mid-60s. Problems with the engine meant this advanced tailed delta design never went into production.

The Messerschmitt concern shared in the post-war success of Germany and is now part of the massive MBB concern, which manufactures parts for the European Airbus and the Tornado strike aircraft

Willy Messerschmitt retired in 1970 and died in 1978.

Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956.

At the outset of the war, the Luftwaffe was one of the most modern, powerful, and experienced air forces in the world, and dominated the skies over much of continental Europe with aircraft much more advanced than their foreign counterparts. The Luftwaffe was central to the German BlitzkriegStuka dive bombers and an overwhelming force of tactical fighters were key to several early successes. Unlike the British and American Air Forces, the Luftwaffe never developed four-engine bombers in any significant numbers, and was thus unable to conduct an effective long-range strategic bombing campaign against either the Russians or the Western Allies. (lightning war) doctrine, as the close air support provided by various medium two-engine bombers,

The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was the most versatile and widely-produced fighter aircraft operated by the Luftwaffe and was designed when biplanes were still standard. Many versions of this aircraft were made. The engine, a liquid cooled Mercedes-Benz DB 601, initially generated up to almost 1,000 hp (750 kW). This power increased as direct fuel injection was introduced to the engine, and it was upgraded to the DB 605. The 109's kill ratio (almost 9:1) made clear that this plane was superior relative to its enemy contemporaries than any other German fighter during the war. In this regard it was followed by the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 at 4:1. This plane had relatively short wings and was powered originally by a radial BMW 801 engine, and later by an inline Junkers Jumo (Fw 190D), and held its own against new, improved Allied aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang. The Junkers Ju 87 StukaBlitzkrieg, able to place bombs with deadly accuracy. The leader of the Luftwaffe was Hermann Göring, a World War I fighter ace and former commander of Manfred von Richthofen's famous JG 1 (aka "The Flying Circus") who had joined the Nazi party in its early stages. 

In the second half of 1940, the Luftwaffe lost the Battle of Britain over the skies of England, the first all-air battle. Following the military failures on the Eastern Front, from 1942 onwards, the LuftwaffeLuftwaffe was no longer a major factor, and despite fielding advanced aircraft like the Messerschmitt Me 262, Heinkel He 162, Arado Ar 234, and Me 163 it was crippled by fuel shortages and a lack of trained pilots. There was also very little time to develop the new aircraft, and they could not be produced fast enough by the Germans, so the jet- and rocket-powered planes proved to be "too little too late". went into a steady, gradual decline that saw it outnumbered and overwhelmed by the sheer number of Allied aircraft being deployed against it.

The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger (Shrike) was a German single-seat, single-radial engine fighter aircraft designed by Kurt Tank in the late 1930s. It was used by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War in a variety of roles. Like the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Fw 190 was employed as a "workhorse", and proved suitable for a wide variety of roles, including air superiority fighter, strike fighter, ground-attack aircraft, and operated with less success as a night fighter.

When the Fw 190 started flying operationally over France in August 1941 it was quickly proven to be superior in all but turn radius to the Royal Air Force's main front-line fighter, the Spitfire Mk. V. The 190 wrested air superiority away from the RAF until the introduction of the vastly improved Spitfire Mk. IX in July 1942 restored qualitative parity. The Fw 190 made its air combat debut on the Eastern Front in November/December 1942. Soviet pilots regarded the Bf 109 as the greatest threat in combat on the Eastern Front; nevertheless, the Fw 190 made a significant impact. The fighter and its pilots proved just as capable as the Bf 109 in aerial combat, and in the opinion of German pilots that flew both German fighters, the Fw 190 presented increased firepower and manoeuvrability at low to medium altitude.

The Fw 190 became the backbone of Jagdwaffe (Fighter Force) along with the Bf 109. On the Eastern Front the Fw 190 was versatile enough to be used in Schlachtgeschwader (Battle Wings or Strike Wings), specialised ground attack units which achieved much success against Soviet ground forces. As an interceptor, the Fw 190 underwent improvements to make it effective at high altitude allowing the 190 to maintain relative parity against its Allied opponents. The Fw 190A series' performance decreased at high altitudes (usually 6,000 m (20,000 ft) and above) which reduced its effectiveness as a high-altitude interceptor, but this problem was mostly rectified in later models, particularly in the Focke-Wulf Fw 190D series, which was introduced in September 1944. In spite of its successes, it never entirely replaced the Bf 109.

The Fw 190 was well-liked by its pilots. Some of the Luftwaffe's most successful fighter aces flew the Fw 190, including Otto Kittel with 267 victories, Walter Nowotny with 258 victories and Erich Rudorffer with 222 claimed kills. A great many of their kills were claimed while flying the Fw 190.


The Ministry of Aviation    was a government department during the period of Nazi Germany (1933–45). It is also the original name of a building in Wilhelmstraße in central Berlin, the capital of Germany, which now houses the Bundesministerium der Finanzen (German Finance Ministry).



Bomber Command 

At the time of the formation of Bomber Command in 1936, Giulio Douhet's slogan "the bomber will always get through" was popular, and was cited by figures like Stanley Baldwin. Until advances in radar technology in the late 1930s, this statement was effectively true. Attacking bombers could not be detected early enough to assemble fighters fast enough to prevent them reaching their targets. Some damage might be done to the bombers by AA guns, and by fighters as the bombers returned to base, but that was not the same as a proper defence. Consequently, the early conception of Bomber Command was in some ways akin to its later role as a nuclear deterrent force. It was seen as an entity that threatened the enemy with utter destruction, and thus prevented war. However, in addition to being made obsolete by technology, even if the bomber did always get through, its potential for damage to cities was massively overrated.

The problem was that the British Government was basing its data on a casualty rate of 50 deaths per ton of bombs dropped. The basis for this assumption was a few raids on London in the later stages of World War I, by Zeppelins and Gotha bombers. Both the government and the general public viewed the bomber as a far more terrible weapon than it really was.

The Avro Lancaster is a British four-engined Second World War heavy bomber made initially by Avro for the Royal Air Force (RAF). It first saw active service in 1942, and together with the Handley Page Halifax it was one of the main heavy bombers of the RAF, the RCAF, and squadrons from other Commonwealth and European countries serving within RAF Bomber Command.

The "Lanc", as it was affectionately known, became the most famous and most successful of the Second World War night bombers, "delivering 608,612 tons of bombs in 156,000 sorties."  Although the Lancaster was primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles including daylight precision bombing, and gained worldwide renown as the "Dam Buster" used in the 1943 Operation Chastise raids on Germany's Ruhr Valley dams.


B-24 in production 

 The Consolidated B-24 Liberator is an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, California. It was known within the company as the Model 32, and some initial models were laid down as export models designated as various LB-30s, in the Land Bomber design category.

At its inception, the B-24 was a modern design featuring a highly efficient shoulder-mounted, high aspect ratio Davis wing. The wing gave the Liberator a high cruise speed, long range and the ability to carry a heavy bomb load. Early RAF Liberators were the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean as a matter of routine. However, the type was difficult to fly and had poor low speed performance. It also had a lower ceiling and was less robust than its far better known counterpart, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. While aircrews tended to prefer the B-17, General Staff preferred the B-24, and procured it for a wide variety of roles.[4]

The B-24 was used extensively in World War II. It served in every branch of the American armed forces, as well as several Allied air forces and navies, and saw use in every theater of operations. Along with the B-17, the B-24 was the mainstay of the US strategic bombing campaign in the Western European theater. Due to its range, it proved useful in bombing operations in the Pacific, including the bombing ofJapan. Long range anti-submarine Liberators played an instrumental role in closing the Mid-Atlantic Gap in the Battle of the Atlantic. The C-87 transport derivative served as a longer range, higher capacity counterpart to the Douglas C-47 Skytrain.

The B-24 was produced in very large numbers. At nearly 19,000 units, with over 8,000 manufactured by Ford Motor Company, it holds the distinction of being the most produced heavy bomber in history, the most produced multi-engine aircraft in history and the most-produced American military aircraft.

At the end of World War II, the Liberator had been surpassed by more modern types such as the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. The type was rapidly phased out of US service, although the PB4Y-2 Privateerderivative would go on to see service with the US Navy in the Korean War.

Boeing B17 Flying Fortress

The Boeing B17 Flying Fortress was the main bomber used by the American Air Force in Europe during the bombing campaign against Nazi Germany. The B17 crews flew thousands of missions over Germany and paid a high price for doing so.

After the carnage of World War One, many nations looked to a new form of military hardware that would ensure the horrors of trench warfare were never relived. By the 1930’s there was a general belief that the bomber would always get through and the devastation of Guernica by the German Condor Legion seemed to emphasise the sheer power bombers could have.

On August 8th, 1934, the American Army Air Corps put out a tender called ‘Proposal 32-26’ for a 250 mph bomber with a range of 2000 miles and an operating ceiling of 10,000 feet. An ailing Boeing Company, headed by Edward C Wells, took up the challenge. Wells used near enough all the spare capital Boeing had – and the manpower – to complete the task. The name of the project was Model 2-99.

In July 1935, Boeing Model 2-99 was rolled out. It was an all-metal four-engine bomber, weighing in at 15 tons. Its specifications were well above those laid down by the US Army Air Corps. The plane first flew in Seattle and one watching journalist is said to have commented that the plane, when in the air, was a flying fortress due to the number of machine guns it carried. The nickname stuck.

However, the Boeing 2-99 had competition for the contract. Martin’s B12 and the Douglas DB1 were rivals. On October 30th 1935, during evaluation exercises for the US Army Air Corps, the 2-99 crashed shortly after take-off killing its experienced two-man crew. The US Army Air Corps then disqualified the 2-99 and the twin-engine Douglas DB1 won. However, a small number of 2-99’s were ordered “for further evaluation” by the Air Force.

As the situation in Europe became more tense, the Douglas DB1 proved to be under-powered. By now Boeing had upgraded the 2-99 to the YB17 model. This had super-charged engines and had a flying ceiling of 30,000 feet – in excess of what the Douglas could do. As war approached in Europe, the American Army Air Corps only had 30 B17’s.

In 1941, as part of the Lend-Lease deal signed between F D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, B17’s were sent to Britain to help out Bomber Command. In total, 20 were sent to Britain. It had an inauspicious debut. The first one to fly to Britain crashed. On July 8th 1941, two B17’s went on a mission with the RAF to attack the naval base at Wilhelmshaven. During the flight, its guns froze and its bombs were dropped off target. The RAF responded to this by putting more armour on the plane, more weapons and keeping its flight path at a lower altitude.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941, B17’s had already been sent there. Based at the Hickham Air Base, they were attacked while on the ground and 12 bombers were lost. However, the attack on Pearl Harbour pushed America into its full military production capability and Boeing was told to produce as many B17’s as was possible.

The US 8th Air Force was based in Britain. It was to be the main US input to the bombing of Nazi-occupied Europe. The RAF decided to attack Germany at night. This, they believed, would give their bombers greater protection against German fighter planes. The US 8th Air Force decided on daylight raids as they believed that this allowed for precision raids and precision bombing. Therefore, they reckoned, fewer raids would be needed in the long term for bombing to succeed.

The first full B17 mission against Germany took place in August 1942. The B17’s flew in a wedge formation that should have given them massive fire power against any attackers. However, German fighter pilots quickly learned that a frontal attack effectively neutralised the huge armaments of the B17’s that were primarily carried on the sides of the bombers.

In January 1943, the Casablanca war conference took place. At this meeting the ‘Casablanca Directive’ was issued by Roosevelt and Churchill. It was a decision to launch a bombing attack on Germany that would destroy Germany’s industrial base.

On August 17th 1943, B17’s attacked the ball-bearing factory at Schweinfurt. This was a very important target as 52% of all of Germany’s ball-bearings were produced there. It was also a massively defended factory. 211 B17’s took part in the raid – 60 planes were lost, a loss rate of just under 30%. In 1943, it was estimated that 1/3rd of all B17 crews would not survive the war and the huge losses sustained in daylight raids nearly caused an end to such raids.  However, a study done by the 8th Air Force in 1943, also showed that over 50% of plane losses were as a result of B17’s leaving the protection of their formation. In 1944, a revised pattern of flying was introduced. B17’s had traditionally flown in wedges of 18. Now they were to fly in a pack of 36. There would be three flights of 12 B17’s tightly packed together, one on top of the other. This gave the flight of 36 huge firepower especially as the new Model G had been given more fire power including more machine guns at the front of the plane to fight off frontal assaults. The Model G now carried thirteen .50 calibre machine guns giving each plane a massively increased firing capacity. However, flying so tightly also led to collisions.

By 1944, the B17’s also had fighter protection in the shape of the awesome Mustang fighter. The Mustangs carried extra fuel tanks and could accompany the B17’s deep into Germany. With their increased fire power and their new bodyguards, the B17 could now concentrate on two primary targets – what was left of the Luftwaffe’s factories and Berlin itself.

In February 1944, the B17’s went all out to destroy the factories that kept the Luftwaffe flying. In February ‘Big Week’ took place. In all, 3,500 B17s were involved in bombing raids on factories in Germany. 244 planes were lost (about 7% of the planes taking part) in just a week but the back of the factories producing for the Luftwaffe had been fatally broken. While the Lutwaffe had planes, many were forced to stay on the ground as they had no parts to keep them airborne.

Berlin was the next target. This was probably the most defended city in the world at this time. The Luftwaffe had kept what reserves it had for planes to defend the city. On March 6th, 1944, in a massive raid on Berlin, 69 B17’s were lost – but the Luftwaffe lost 160 planes. Whereas the 8th Air Force could recover from these losses, the Luftwaffe could not. By the end of the war, The 8th Air Force and the RAF had destroyed 70% of Berlin.

After Berlin, the 8th Air Force turned its attention to Germany’s synthetic oil factories. Attacks on these factories started on May 12th. In just one month, the USAAF dropped 5000 tons of bombs on these factories. In August 1944, 26,000 tons were dropped and in November 1944, the attacks peaked at 35,000 tons. The attacks decimated the Germany military’s ability to move. The Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s attempt to push back the advancing Allies in Europe, ended because of the lack of fuel to keep his tanks moving. Albert Speer, in his book “Inside the Third Reich” commented after the war that there were 300 King Tiger tanks at Munich rail station waiting to be moved to the front – but the Germans had neither the railways nor the fuel needed to move these tanks around; both targets of Allied bombing. However, the raids on the oil factories took their toll – 922 B17’s were lost in total with the loss of nearly 10,000 men killed, wounded or captured.

The bombing raids on Germany by the 8th Air Force and the RAF’s Bomber Command, took the heart out of Germany’s industrial production. By September 1944, Germany had lost 75% of its fuel production. Out of the 1.5 million tons of bombs dropped on Germany, the B17 dropped 500,000 tons. The 8th Air Force had fired 99 million rounds of ammunition during these flights and it is thought that 20,000 German planes were destroyed. In total, over 12,000 B17’s were built in the war and nearly 250,000 Americans experienced flying in them. 46,500 were either killed or wounded. However, the part played by the B17 in the European theatre of war was of great importance.


Bristol Beaufighter

Built as a company-funded long-range fighter (using major components from the earlier Beaufort torpedo-bomber), the prototype Beaufighter first flew on July 17,1939, with Captain Uwins at the controls. This was little more than eight months after the design had been initiated. Exactly two weeks earlier, before the first flight, a production contract for 300 machines had been placed to specification F. 17/39. This seemingly desperate measure by the Air Ministry was, by 1938 to 1939, not uncommon, as it helped speed up the production of much-needed combat planes.

When No 29 Squadron of the Royal Air Force became fully operational with the Beaufighter Mk IF in October 1940, it marked the beginning of operations by a night fighter that was completely capable of performing its task. For although the Bristol Blenheim IF, also equipped with the new (AI) airborne interception radar, was operational, the Beaufighter had two qualities which the other lacked—speed and firepower. Once a Beaufighter had detected a German Bf 110 night bomber, a single short burst from its four cannon was often sufficient to shoot down the enemy.

The fact that a heavy twin-engined fighter such as the Beaufighter was available as soon as the late autumn of 1940 was largely due to the foresight and enterprise of the Bristol Aeroplane Company in envisaging the probable need for a high-performance long-range fighter capable of undertaking duties of a more aggressive nature than those foreseen by official specifications. At the end of 1938, L. G. Frise and his design team began the design of what was virtually a fighter variant of the Beaufort general reconnaissance and torpedo-bomber. The initial proposal was framed, as far as possible, to meet the requirements of specification F.11/37, and envisaged an aeroplane using a large proportion of Beaufort components, including the wings, tail assembly and undercarriage, a pair of Hercules radial engines and carrying a battery of four 20-mm. Hispano cannon. The economy of the proposal was of obvious appeal to the government, struggling to meet the vast requirements of a major rearmament program, and, as the Type 156, four prototypes were ordered.

The Beaufighter IF was soon bearing the brunt of the action against German night bombers, weighing up to 20,800 lb., it attained a maximum speed of 323 mph at 15,000 feet, had a range of 1,500 miles at 194 mph, an initial climb rate of 1,850 ft./min., and a service ceiling of 28,900 feet. Although the Beaufighter IF handled well, it was tricky under certain conditions. There was a strong tendency to swing on takeoff and the danger of flick rolling in the event of an engine cutting suddenly. On landing, the Beaufighter's large flap area pulled the aircraft up rapidly, but there was a tendency to veer from the straight which, if unchecked, resulted in a ground loop, the c.g. being so far aft. The first few Beaufighter Is were delivered without the wing-mounted machine-guns, and initially it was found that when the cannon were fired, the recoil caused the nose to dip enough for the pilot to lose his target. The seriousness of this fault was such that thought was given to alternative armament and, with one pair of cannon and the wing-mounted machine-guns supplanted by a Boulton Paul turret containing four 0.303-in. guns and mounted just aft of the pilot's cockpit, the Beaufighter V was produced. Only two examples (R2274 and R2306) were completed, both being converted Merlin engined Mark IIs, and these were used experimentally by No. 29 Squadron during the early months of 1942, but the installation of the turret drastically reduced performance, and the Beaufighter V was abandoned.

The Beaufighter T.F.X was the final major production variant and passed through several important modification stages without any change in its Mark number. These included, in particular, the introduction of A.I.Mk.VIII radar in a "thimble" nose--this radar having been found suitable for ASV use--and a large dorsal fin (after a trial installation on a Beaufighter 11, T3032) to give the required directional stability and linked with an increase in elevator area to improve longitudinal stability. Before deliveries of the Beaufighter X could begin, a batch of sixty Beaufighter VIs with Hercules XVI engines and provision for torpedo-carrying was built. These were designated Beaufighter VI (I.T.F.)--interim torpedo fighter--and were converted to Mark Xs when more Hercules XVII engines became available.

To the Japanese, the Beaufighter became known as "The Whispering Death" (not be confused with "Whistling Death F4U Corsair) which gives some idea of the speed at which one could suddenly appear, strike and turn for home. Beaufighters were also flown by the air forces of Australia, New Zealand and, in small numbers, the US. In Britain they remained flying as target tugs throughout the 1950s.

When the last Beaufighter (SR919) left the Bristol Aeroplane Company's Weston-super-Mare works on September 21, 1945, a total of 5,562 aircraft of this type had been produced in the United Kingdom. Of these some 1,063 were Mark Vls and 2,231 were Mark Xs. During its operational career it had played a prime role in defeating the Luftwaffe's night "blitz" of 1940-1941, and it had operated in every major campaign of the war, carrying out the last operational sortie of the European war, a strike against German shipping in the Skagerrak, and serving with distinction in the Pacific until the capitulation of Japan. The Beaufighter may have been the product of improvisation, but it was a remarkably successful one.


The Handley Page Halifax was one of the British front-line, four-engined heavy bombers of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. A contemporary of the famous Avro Lancaster, the Halifax remained in service until the end of the war, performing a variety of duties in addition to bombing. The Halifax was also operated by squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Free French Air Force, and Free Polish Air Force, and after the Second World War by the Royal Egyptian Air Force, the Armée de l'Air and the Royal Pakistan Air Force.



Hawker had its roots in the aftermath of the First World War which resulted in the bankruptcy of the Sopwith Aviation Company. Sopwith test pilot Harry Hawker and three others, including Thomas Sopwith, bought the assets of Sopwith and formed H.G. Hawker Engineering in 1920.

In 1933 the company was renamed Hawker Aircraft Limited and took advantage of the Great Depression and a strong financial position to purchase the Gloster Aircraft Company in 1934. The next year it merged with the engine and automotive company Armstrong Siddeley and its subsidiary, Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft, to form Hawker Siddeley Aircraft. This group also encompassed A. V. Roe and Company; Avro.

Hawker Aircraft continued to produce designs under its own name as a part of the Hawker Siddeley Aircraft, from 1955 division of Hawker Siddeley Group. The "Hawker" brand name was dropped, along with those of the sister companies, in 1963. The Hawker P.1127 was the last aircraft branded as "Hawker".

The Hawker legacy was maintained by the American company Raytheon who produced business jets (including some derived from the BAe 125, whose original design dated back to de Havilland days) under the "Hawker" name. This was the result of purchasing British Aerospace's product line in 1993. The name is currently used by Hawker Beechcraft after Raytheon's business jet interests (Hawker and Beechcraft) were acquired by investors and merged together.




The Hurricane was developed by Hawker in response to the Air Ministry specification F.36/34 (modified by F.5/34) for a fighter aircraft built around the new Rolls-Royce engine, then only known as the PV-12, later to become famous as the Merlin. At that time, RAF Fighter Command comprised just 13 squadrons, each equipped with either the Hawker Fury, Hawker Hart variant, or Bristol Bulldog – all biplanes with fixed-pitch wooden propellers and non-retractable undercarriages. The design, started in early 1934, was the work of Sydney Camm.

Sydney Camm's original plans submitted in response to the Air Ministry's specification were at first rejected (apparently "too orthodox," even for the Air Ministry). Camm tore up the proposal and set about designing a fighter as a Hawker private venture. With economy in mind, the Hurricane was designed using as many existing tools and jigs as possible (the aircraft was effectively a monoplane version of the successful Hawker Fury); and it was these factors that were major contributors to the aircraft's success.

Early design stages of the "Fury Monoplane" incorporated a Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine, but this was replaced shortly after by the Merlin, and featured a retractable undercarriage. The design came to be known as the "Interceptor Monoplane," and by May 1934, the plans had been completed in detail. To test the new design, a one-tenth scale model was made and sent to the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington. A series of wind tunnel tests confirmed the aerodynamic qualities of the design were in order, and by December that year, a full size wooden mock-up of the aircraft had been created.


Construction of the first prototype, K5083, began in August 1935 incorporating the PV-12 Merlin engine. The completed sections of the aircraft were taken to Brooklands, where Hawkers had an assembly shed, and re-assembled on 23 October 1935. Ground testing and taxi trials took place over the following two weeks, and on 6 November 1935, the prototype took to the air for the first time, at the hands of Hawker's chief test pilot, Flight Lieutenant (later Group Captain) P.W.S. Bulman. Flight Lieutenant Bulman was assisted by two other pilots in subsequent flight testing; Philip Lucas flew some of the experimental test flights, while John Hindmarsh conducted the firm's production flight trials.

Though faster and more advanced than the RAF's current front line biplane fighters, the Hurricane's design was already outdated when introduced. It employed traditional Hawker construction techniques from previous biplane aircraft, with mechanically fastened, rather than welded joints. It had a Warren girder-type fuselage of high-tensile steel tubes, over which sat frames and longerons that carried the doped linen covering. An advantage conferred by the steel-tube structure was that cannon shells could pass right through the wood and fabric covering without exploding. Even if one of the steel tubes were damaged the repair work required was relatively simple and could be done by the ground crew at the airfield. An all metal structure, as with the Spitfire, damaged by an exploding cannon shell required more specialised equipment to repair. The old-fashioned structure also permitted the assembly of Hurricanes with relatively basic equipment under field conditions. Crated Hurricanes were assembled in West Africa and flown across the Sahara to the Middle East theatre, and to save space, some Royal Navy aircraft carriers carried their reserve Sea Hurricanes dismantled into their major assemblies, which were slung up on the hangar bulkheads and deckhead for reassembly when needed.


The last Hurricane ever built, of 14,533. A Mk IIc version, originally known as "The Last of the Many" and owned by Hawker, this aircraft is now flown by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight


Initially, the wing structure consisted of two steel spars, and was also fabric-covered. Several fabric-wing Hurricanes were still in service during the Battle of Britain, although a good number had had their wings replaced during servicing or after repair. Changing the wings only required three hours' work per aircraft. An all-metal, stressed-skin wing of duraluminium (a DERD specification similar to AA2024) was introduced in April 1939 and was used for all of the later marks. "The metal skinned wings allowed a diving speed that was 80 mph (130 km/h) higher than the fabric-covered ones. They were very different in construction but were interchangeable with the fabric-covered wings, and one trials Hurricane, L1877, was even flown with a fabric-covered port wing and metal-covered starboard wing. The great advantage of the metal-covered wings over the fabric ones was that the metal ones could carry far greater stress loads without needing so much structure beneath."

One of Camm's priorities was to provide the pilot with good all round visibility. To this end, the cockpit was mounted reasonably high in the fuselage, creating a distinctive "hump-backed" silhouette. Pilot access to the cockpit was aided by a retractable "stirrup" mounted below the trailing edge of the port wing. This was linked to a spring-loaded hinged flap which covered a handhold on the fuselage, just behind the cockpit. When the flap was shut, the footstep retracted into the fuselage. In addition, both wingroots were coated with strips of non-slip material.

In contrast, the contemporary Spitfire used all-metal monocoque construction and was thus both lighter and stronger, though less tolerant to bullet damage. With its ease of maintenance, widely-set landing gear and benign flying characteristics, the Hurricane remained in use in theatres of operations where reliability, easy handling and a stable gun platform were more important than performance, typically in roles like ground attack. One of the design requirements of the original specification was that the Hurricane, as well as the Spitfire, was also to be used as a night-fighter. The Hurricane proved to be a relatively simple aircraft to fly at night and was to be instrumental in shooting down several German aircraft during the nocturnal hours. From early 1941, the Hurricane would also be used as an "intruder" aircraft, patrolling German airfields in France at night in an attempt to catch night bombers during takeoffs or landings.


Sea Hurricane Mk IB in formation, December 1941



The Hurricane was ordered into production in June 1936, mainly due to its relatively simple construction and ease of manufacture. As war was looking increasingly likely, and time was of the essence in providing the RAF with an effective fighter aircraft, it was unclear if the more advanced Spitfire would enter production smoothly, while the Hurricane used well-understood manufacturing techniques. This was true for service squadrons as well, who were experienced in working on and repairing aircraft whose construction employed the same principles as the Hurricane, and the simplicity of its design enabled the improvisation of some remarkable repairs in squadron workshops.

The maiden flight of the first production aircraft, powered by a Merlin II engine, took place on 12 October 1937. The first four aircraft to enter service with the RAF joined No. 111 Squadron RAF at RAF Northolt the following December. By the outbreak of the Second World War, nearly 500 Hurricanes had been produced, and had equipped 18 squadrons.

During 1940, Lord Beaverbrook, who was the Minister of Aircraft Production, established an organisation in which a number of manufacturers were seconded to repair and overhaul battle-damaged Hurricanes. The Civilian Repair Organisation also overhauled battle-weary aircraft, which were later sent to training units or to other air forces; one of the factories involved was the Austin Aero Company's Cofton Hackett plant. Another was David Rosenfield Ltd, based at Barton aerodrome near Manchester.

In all, some 14,000 Hurricanes and Sea Hurricanes were produced. The majority of Hurricanes were built by Hawker (which produced them until 1944), with Hawker's sister company, the Gloster Aircraft Company, making 2,750. The Austin Aero Company built 300. Canada Car and Foundry in Fort William, Ontario, Canada, (where the Chief Engineer, Elsie MacGill, became known as the "Queen of the Hurricanes") was responsible for production of 1,400 Hurricanes, known as the Mk X.

In 1939, production of 100 Hurricanes was initiated in Yugoslavia by Zmaj and Rogozarski. Of these, 20 were built by Zmaj by April 1941. One of these was fitted with a DB 601 and test flown in 1941.

Poland took delivery of a single example for evaluation. A subsequent order was placed, with a ship departing the UK in early September 1939 carrying 10 Hurricanes alongside seven Fairey Battles and one Supermarine Spitfire for evaluation, along with other matériel. Polish pilots were sent to the port of Constanta in Romania to meet the shipment and fly the aircraft back to Poland. However, the shipment was turned around at sea on 17 September and the majority of the order was taken over by the Royal Air Force, with some examples making their way to Finland.

A contract for 80 Hurricanes was placed with Fairey's Belgian subsidiary Avions Fairey SA for the Belgian Air Force in 1938, with the intention of arming these aircraft with four 13.2 mm machine guns. Three were built and two flown with this armament by the time of the Blitzkrieg in May 1940, with at least 12 more built by Avions Fairey with the conventional eight rifle calibre machine gun armament.


 Mustang P-51

History: One of the most effective, famous and beautiful fighter aircraft of WWII, the P-51 was designed to fulfil a British requirement dated April 1940. Because of the rapidly-mounting clouds of war in Europe, the UK asked North American Aircraft to design and build a new fighter in only 120 days. The NA-73X prototype was produced in record time, but did not fly until 26 October 1940. The first RAF production models, designated Mustang Mk Is, underwent rigorous testing and evaluation, and it was found that the 1,100-hp Allison engine was well suited for low-altitude tactical reconnaissance, but the engine's power decreased dramatically above an altitude of 12,000 feet, making it a poor choice for air-to-air combat or interception roles. Because of this, the RAF left its eight machine guns intact, but also fitted the Mustang with cameras. In this configuration, it served in at least 23 RAF squadrons, beginning in April 1942.

At the same time, the US Army Air Corps ordered a small number for tactical reconnaissance evaluation as the F-6A. After the RAF found the aircraft's performance lacking, they tested a new engine, the 12-cylinder Rolls-Royce Merlin. This gave much-improved performance, and led to the USAAF fitting two airframes with 1,430-hp Packard-built Merlin V-1650 engines. These aircraft were re-designated XP-51B. Practically overnight, the aircraft's potential began to grow.

Since the RAF had had good success with the Mustang in a ground attack role, the USAAF bought 500 aircraft fitted with dive brakes and under wing weapons pylons. These were initially designated the A-36A Apache, but later retained the name Mustang. Almost simultaneously, they ordered 310 P-51As with Allison engines. Some of these were delivered to the UK as Mustang Mk IIs, and some became F-6B reconnaissance aircraft for the USAAF.

The first Merlin-engine versions appeared in 1943 with the P-51B, of which 1,988 were built in Inglewood, California, and the P-51C, of which 1,750 were built in Dallas, Texas. Both new versions had strengthened fuselages and four wing-mounted 12.7-mm machine guns. Many of these new Mustangs were delivered to the UK as Mustang Mk IIIs, and others went to the USAAF as F-6Cs. The Merlin-powered Mustangs were exactly what the Allied bombers in Europe desperately needed, and they became famous for their long range and potent high-altitude escort capability. The most significant variant, the P-51D, featured a 360-degree-view bubble canopy, a modified rear fuselage, and six 12.77-mm machine guns. 7,956 were built, and once again, many went to the UK as Mustang Mk IVs and others became USAAF F-6D reconnaissance aircraft. Next came the P-51K, which was generally similar. A third of these became RAF Mustang IVs also, and over a hundred became F-6Ks. Very late in the war, the P-51H appeared, although only 555 of 2000 were completed before V-J Day caused the cancellation of the order. US production totalled 15,386, but at least 200 more were built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation of Australia with imported parts and designated Mustang Mk 20/21/22/23. None of these saw service before the end of the war. Under the Lend-Lease program, 50 P-51s were supplied to China, and 40 more were supplied to the Netherlands in the Pacific theatre.

After the war, the P-51 remained in US service with the Strategic Air Command until 1949, and with the Air National Guard and Reserves into the 1950s. It became one of the first fighters to see combat in the Korean War. The RAF's Fighter Command used them until 1946. In addition, over 50 air forces around the world acquired and used the Mustang for many more years, some as recently as the early 1980s. When the US Air Force realigned their aircraft designations in the 1950s, the Mustang became the F-51.


In the last 40 years, surplus Mustangs have been modified and used extensively as civilian air racers, but the latest trend is for private owners to restore them to almost perfect, historically-accurate condition. As public appreciation for the Mustang has grown, the monetary value of the few remaining examples has skyrocketed. War-surplus P-51s, once auctioned from storage for less than (US) $2000, are now usually valued at three-quarters of a million dollars or more. The restoration of existing airframes has become a small industry in the US, UK and Australia, and the total number of flyable examples, despite one or two accidents each year, is growing. Several Mustangs have been or are currently being restored as two-seat, dual-control TF-51s, a trend which promises to ensure that today's operators are better-trained than any previous generation of Mustang pilots. 

Nicknames: Fifty One; 'Stang; Peter-Dash-Flash

Specifications (P-51D):
        Engine: One 1,695-hp Packard Merlin V-1650-7 piston V-12 engine
        Weight: Empty 7,125 lbs., Max Takeoff 12,100 lbs.
        Wing Span: 37ft. 0.5in.
        Length: 32ft. 9.5in.
        Height: 13ft. 8in.
            Maximum Speed: 437 mph
            Ceiling: 41,900 ft.
            Range: 1300 miles
        Armament: Six 12.7-mm (0.5 inch) wing-mounted machine guns, plus up to two 1,000-lb bombs or six 127-mm (5 inch) rockets.

Number Built: Approximately 15,018 (including ~200 built in Australia)

Number Still Airworthy: Approximately 150


Short Stirling

The Short Stirling was the first four-engined British heavy bomber of the Second World War. The Stirling was designed and built by Short Brothers to an Air Ministry specification from 1936, and entered service in 1941. The Stirling was fated to have a relatively brief operational career being relegated to second line duties from 1943 onwards when other four-engined RAF bombers, specifically the Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster, took over its role.



Supermarine Spitfire

Link to the Spitfire Society

The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used into the 1950s both as a front line fighter and in secondary roles. It was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft and was the only Allied fighter in production throughout the war.

The Spitfire was designed as a short-range high-performance interceptor aircraft by R. J. Mitchell, chief designer at Supermarine Aviation Works (since 1928 a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong). Mitchell continued to refine the design until his death from cancer in 1937, whereupon his colleague Joseph Smith became chief designer. The Spitfire's elliptical wing had a thin cross-section, allowing a higher top speed than several contemporary fighters, including the Hawker Hurricane. Speed was seen as essential to carry out the mission of home defence against enemy bombers.

During the Battle of Britain there was a public perception that the Spitfire was the RAF fighter of the battle whereas in fact the more numerous Hurricane actually shouldered a greater proportion of the burden against the Luftwaffe: the Spitfire units did, however, have a lower attrition rate and a higher victory to loss ratio than those flying Hurricanes .

After the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire became the backbone of RAF Fighter Command and saw action in the European, Mediterranean, Pacific and the South-East Asian theatres. Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire served in several roles, including interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter-bomber, carrier-based fighter, and trainer. It was built in many different variants, using several wing configurations. Although the original airframe was designed to be powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine producing 1,030hp (768 kW), it was adaptable enough to use increasingly more powerful Merlin and the later Rolls-Royce Griffon engines; the latter was eventually able to produce 2,035 hp (1,520  kW).

R. J. Mitchell's 1931 design to meet Air Ministry specification F7/30 for a new and modern fighter capable of 251 mph (404 km/h), the Supermarine Type 224, resulted in an open-cockpit monoplane with bulky gull-wings and a large fixed, spatted undercarriage powered by the 600 horsepower (450 kW) evaporative-cooled Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine. This made its first flight in February 1934. The Type 224 was a big disappointment to Mitchell and his design team, who immediately embarked on a series of "cleaned-up" designs, using their experience with the Schneider Trophy seaplanes as a starting point. Of the seven designs tendered to F/30, the Gloster Gladiator biplane was accepted for service.

Mitchell had already begun working on a new aircraft, designated Type 300, based on the Type 224 but with a retractable undercarriage and the wingspan reduced by 6 ft (1.8 m). The Type 300 was submitted to the Air Ministry in July 1934, but again was not accepted. The design then evolved through a number of changes, including incorporating a faired, enclosed cockpit, oxygen-breathing apparatus, smaller and thinner wings, and the newly-developed, more powerful Rolls-Royce PV-XII V-12 engine, later named the Merlin. In November 1934, Mitchell, with the backing of Supermarine's owner, Vickers-Armstrong, started detailed design work on this refined version of the Type 300  and, on 1 December 1934, the Air Ministry issued a contract AM 361140/34 providing £10,000 for the construction of Mitchell's improved F7/30 design. On 3 January 1935, the Air Ministry formalised the contract and a new Specification F10/35 was written around the aircraft.


and the newly-developed, more powerful Rolls-Royce PV-XII V-12 engine, later named the Merlin. In November 1934, Mitchell, with the backing of Supermarine's owner, Vickers-Armstrong, started detailed design work on this refined version of the Type 300  and, on 1 December 1934, the Air Ministry issued a contract AM 361140/34 providing £10,000 for the construction of Mitchell's improved F7/30 design. On 3 January 1935, the Air Ministry formalised the contract and a new Specification F10/35 was written around the aircraft.

In April 1935 the armament was changed from two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns in each wing to four .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings, following a recommendation by Squadron Leader Ralph Sorley of the Operational Requirements section at the Air Ministry.On 5 March 1936 the prototype (K5054) took off on its first flight from Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport). 

At the controls was Captain Joseph "Mutt" Summers, chief test pilot for Vickers (Aviation) Ltd., who was reported in the press as saying "Don't touch anything" on landing.This eight minute flight came four months after the maiden flight of the contemporary Hurricane.

K5054 was fitted with a new propeller and Summers flew the aircraft on 10 March; during this flight the undercarriage was retracted for the first time. After the fourth flight a new engine was fitted, and Summers left the test-flying to his assistants, Jeffrey Quill and George Pickering. They soon discovered that the Spitfire was a very good aircraft, but not perfect. The rudder was over-sensitive and the top speed was just 330 mph (528 km/h), little faster than Sydney Camm's new Merlin-powered Hurricane. A new and better-shaped wooden propeller meant the Spitfire reached 348 mph (557 km/h) in level flight in mid-May, when Summers flew K5054 to RAF Martlesham Heath and handed the aircraft over to Squadron Leader Anderson of the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE). Here, Flight Lieutenant Humphrey Edwardes-Jones took over the prototype for the RAF. He had been given orders to fly the aircraft and then to make his report to the Air Ministry as soon as he landed. Edwardes-Jones made a positive report; his only request was that the Spitfire be equipped with an undercarriage position indicator. A week later, on 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires, before any formal report had been issued by the A&AEE; interim reports were later issued on a piecemeal basis.

The British public first saw the Spitfire at the RAF Hendon air-display on Saturday 27 June 1936. Although full-scale production was supposed to begin immediately, there were numerous problems which could not be overcome for some time and the first production Spitfire, K9787, did not roll off the Woolston, Southampton assembly line until mid-1938. The first and most immediate problem was that the main Supermarine factory at Woolston was already working at full capacity fulfilling orders for Walrus and Stranraer flying boats. Although outside contractors were supposed to be involved in manufacturing many important Spitfire components, especially the wings, Vickers-Armstrong (the parent company) were reluctant to see the Spitfire being manufactured by outside concerns and were slow to release the necessary blueprints and sub-components. As a result of the delays in getting the Spitfire into full production, the Air Ministry put forward a plan that production of the Spitfire be stopped after the initial order for 310, after which Supermarine would build Bristol Beaufighters. The managements of Supermarine and Vickers were able to persuade the Air Ministry that the problems could be overcome and further orders were placed for 200 Spitfires on 24 March 1938, the two orders covering the K, L and N prefix serial numbers.

In the mid-1930s, aviation design teams worldwide started developing a new generation of all-metal, low-wing fighter aircraft. The French Dewoitine D.520 and Germany's Messerschmitt Bf 109, for example, were designed to take advantage of new techniques of monocoque construction and the availability of new high-powered, liquid-cooled, in-line aero engines. They also featured refinements such as retractable undercarriages, fully enclosed cockpits and low drag, all-metal wings (all introduced on civil airliners years before but slow to be adopted by the military, who favoured the simplicity and manoeuvrability of the biplane).

Mitchell's design aims were to create a well-balanced, high-performance bomber interceptor and fighter aircraft capable of fully exploiting the power of the Merlin engine while being relatively easy to fly. At the time, no enemy fighters were expected to appear over Great Britain; to carry out the mission of home defence, the design was intended to climb quickly to meet enemy bombers.

The Spitfire's airframe was complex: the streamlined, semi-monocoque duralumin fuselage featured a large number of compound curves built up from a skeleton of 19 frames, starting from the main engine bulkhead (frame number one) to the tail unit attachment frame. Aft of the engine bulkhead were five half-frames to accommodate the fuel tanks and cockpit. From the seventh frame, to which the pilot's seat and (later) armour plating was attached, to the nineteenth, which was mounted at a slight forward angle just forward of the vertical stabiliser, the frames were oval, each reducing slightly in size and each with numerous holes drilled through them to lighten them as much as possible without weakening them. The U-shaped Frame 20 was the last frame of the fuselage proper and the frame to which the tail unit was attached. Frames 21, 22 and 23 formed the fin; frame 22 incorporated the tailwheel opening and frame 23 was the rudder post. Before being attached to the main fuselage the tail unit frames were held in a jig and the eight horizontal tail formers were riveted to them.

A combination of 14 longitudinal stringers and two main longerons helped form a light but rigid structure to which sheets of alclad stressed skinning were attached. The fuselage plating was 24, 20 and 18 gauge in order of thickness towards the tail, while the vertical fin structure was completed using short longerons from frames 20 through 23, before being covered in 22 gauge plating. There was ample room for camera equipment and fuel tanks which were to be fitted during the Spitfire's operational service life.

The skins of the fuselage, wings and tail plane were secured by rivets and, in critical areas such as the wing forward of the main spar where an uninterrupted airflow was required, with flush rivets; the fuselage used standard dome-headed riveting. From February 1943 on, flush riveting was used on the fuselage, affecting all Spitfire variants. In some areas, such as the rear of the wing, the top was riveted and the bottom fixed by woodscrews into sections of spruce; later, pop-riveting would be used for these areas.

At first, the ailerons, elevators and rudder were fabric-covered. However, when combat experience showed that fabric-covered ailerons were impossible to use at high speeds, fabric was replaced with a light alloy, enhancing control throughout the speed range.

In 1934 Mitchell and the design staff decided to use an elliptical wing shape to solve two conflicting requirements; the wing needed to be thin, to avoid creating too much drag, while still able to house a retractable undercarriage, plus armament and ammunition. Beverley Shenstone, the aerodynamicist on Mitchell's team, explained why that form was chosen:

The elliptical wing was decided upon quite early on. Aerodynamically it was the best for our purpose because the induced drag, that caused in producing lift, was lowest when this shape was used: the ellipse was ... theoretically a perfection ... To reduce drag we wanted the lowest possible thickness-to-chord, consistent with the necessary strength. But near the root the wing had to be thick enough to accommodate the retracted undercarriages and the guns ... Mitchell was an intensely practical man...The ellipse was simply the shape that allowed us the thinnest possible wing with room inside to carry the necessary structure and the things we wanted to cram in. And it looked nice.

Mitchell has sometimes been accused of copying the wing shape of the Heinkel He 70, which first flew in 1932; but as Shenstone explained "Our wing was much thinner and had quite a different section to that of the Heinkel. In any case it would have been simply asking for trouble to have copied a wing shape from an aircraft designed for an entirely different purpose."

The wing section used was from the NACA 2200 series, which had been adapted to create a thickness-to-chord ratio of 13% at the root, reducing to 6% at the tip. A dihedral of six degrees was adopted to give increased lateral stability.

A feature of the wing which contributed greatly to its success was an innovative spar boom design, made up of five square tubes which fitted into each other. As the wing thinned out along its span the tubes were progressively cut away in a similar fashion to a leaf spring; two of these booms were linked together by an alloy web, creating a lightweight and very strong main spar. The undercarriage legs were attached to pivot points built into the inner, rear section of the main spar and retracted outwards and slightly backwards into wells in the non-load-carrying wing structure. The resultant narrow undercarriage track was considered to be an acceptable compromise as this reduced the bending loads on the main-spar during landing.

Ahead of the spar, the thick-skinned leading edge of the wing formed a strong and rigid D-shaped box, which took most of the wing loads. At the time the wing was designed, this D-shaped leading edge was intended to house steam condensers for the evaporative cooling system intended for the PV-XII. Constant problems with the evaporative system in the Goshawk led to the adoption of a cooling system which used 100% glycol The radiators were housed in a new radiator-duct designed by Fredrick Meredith of the RAE at Farnborough; this used the cooling air to generate thrust, greatly reducing the net drag produced by the radiators. In turn the leading-edge structure lost its function as a condenser, but it was later to be adapted to house integral fuel tanks of various sizes.

Another feature of the wing was its washout. The trailing edge of the wing twisted slightly upward along its span, the angle of incidence decreasing from +2° at its root to -½° at its tip. This caused the wing roots to stall before the tips, reducing tip-stall that may have resulted in a spin. This washout was first featured in the wing of the Type 224 and became a consistent feature in subsequent designs leading to the Spitfire. The complexity of the wing design, especially the precision required to manufacture the vital spar and leading-edge structures, at first caused some major hold-ups in the production of the Spitfire. The problems increased when the work was put out to sub-contractors, most of whom had never dealt with metal-structured, high-speed aircraft. By June 1939 most of these problems had been resolved and Spitfire production was no longer held up by a lack of wings.

All of the main flight controls were originally metal structures with fabric covering. Designers and pilots felt that having ailerons which were too heavy to move at high speed would avoid possible aileron reversal, stopping pilots throwing the aircraft around and pulling the wings off. It was also felt that air combat would take place at relatively low speed and that high-speed manoeuvring would be physically impossible. During the Battle of Britain pilots found that the ailerons of the Spitfire were far too heavy at high speeds, severely restricting lateral manoeuvres such as rolls and high speed turns, which were still a feature of air-to-air combat. Flight tests showed the fabric covering of the ailerons "ballooned" at high speeds, adversely affecting the aerodynamics. Replacing the fabric covering with light alloy dramatically improved the ailerons at high speed.

The Spitfire had detachable wing tips which were secured by two mounting points at the end of each main wing assembly: when the Spitfire took on a role as a high altitude fighter (Marks VI and VII and some early Mk VIIIs) the standard wing tips were replaced by extended, "pointed" tips which increased the wingspan to 40 ft 2 in (12.3 m). The other wing tip variation, used by several Spitfire variants, was the "clipped" wing; the standard wing tips were replaced by wooden fairings which reduced the span to 32 ft 6 in (9.9 m) The wing tips used spruce formers for most of the internal structure with a light alloy skin attached using brass screws.

The airflow through the main radiator was controlled by pneumatic exit flaps. In early marks of Spitfire (Mk I to Mk VI) the single flap was operated manually using a lever to the left of the pilot's seat. When the two-stage Merlin was introduced in the Spitfire Mk XI the radiators were split to make room for an intercooler radiator; the radiator under the starboard wing was halved in size and the intercooler radiator housed alongside. Under the port wing a new radiator fairing housed a square oil cooler alongside of the other half-radiator unit. The two radiator flaps were now operated automatically via a thermostat.

The light alloy split flaps at the trailing edge of the wing were also pneumatically operated via a finger lever on the instrument panel. Only two positions were available; fully up or fully down (85°). The flaps were normally lowered only during the final approach and for landing, and the pilot was to retract them before taxiing.

The ellipse also served as the design basis for the Spitfire’s fin and tailplane assembly, once again exploiting the shape’s favourable aerodynamic characteristics. Both the elevators and rudder were shaped so that their centre of mass was shifted forward, thus reducing control-surface flutter. The longer noses and greater propeller-wash resulting from larger engines in later models necessitated increasingly larger vertical and, later, horizontal tail surfaces to compensate for the altered aerodynamics, culminating in those of the Mk 22/24 series which were 25% larger in area than those of the Mk I.

Improved late wing designs

As the Spitfire gained more power and was able to manoeuvre at higher speeds, the possibility that pilots would encounter aileron reversal increased, and the Supermarine design team set about redesigning the wings to counter this. The original wing design had a theoretical aileron reversal speed of 580 mph (930 km/h), which was somewhat lower than that of some contemporary fighters. The Royal Aircraft Establishment noted that, at 400 mph (640 km/h) IAS, roughly 65% of aileron effectiveness was lost, due to wing twist.

The new wing of the Spitfire F Mk 21 and its successors was designed to help alleviate this problem; the wing's stiffness was increased by 47%, and a new design of aileron using piano hinges and geared trim tabs meant that the theoretical aileron reversal speed was increased to 825 mph (1,328 km/h). Alongside of the redesigned wing Supermarine also experimented with the original wing, raising the leading edge by one inch (2.54 cm), with the hope of improving pilot view and reducing drag. This wing was tested on a modified F Mk 21, also called the F Mk 23, (sometimes referred to as "Valiant" rather than "Spitfire"). The increase in performance was minimal and this experiment was abandoned.

Supermarine developed a new laminar flow wing based on new aerofoil profiles developed by NACA in the United States, with the objective of reducing drag and improving performance. Supermarine estimated that the new wing could give an increase in speed of 55 mph (89 km/h) over the Spitfire Mk 21. The new wing was initially fitted to a Spitfire Mk XIV; later a new fuselage was designed, with the new fighter becoming the Supermarine Spiteful.

Carburettor versus fuel injection

Early in its development, the Merlin engine's lack of direct fuel injection meant that both Spitfires and Hurricanes, unlike the Bf 109E, were unable to simply nose down into a steep dive. This meant a Luftwaffe fighter could simply "bunt" into a high-power dive to escape an attack, leaving the Spitfire behind, as its fuel was forced by negative "g" out of the carburettor. RAF fighter pilots soon learnt to "half-roll" their aircraft before diving to pursue their opponents. Carburettors were adopted because, as Sir Stanley Hooker explained, it was believed that the carburettor "increased the performance of the supercharger and thereby increased the power of the engine." In March 1941, a metal diaphragm with a hole in it was fitted In the fuel line, restricting fuel flow to the maximum the engine could consume. While it did not cure the problem of the initial fuel starvation in a dive, it did reduce the more serious problem of the carburettor being flooded with fuel by the fuel pumps under negative "g". It and became known as "Miss Shilling's orifice" as it was invented by Beatrice "Tilly" Shilling. Further improvements were introduced throughout the Merlin series, with Bendix-manufactured pressure carburettors, which were designed to allow fuel to flow during all flight attitudes, introduced in 1942.


Due to a shortage of Brownings, which had been selected as the new standard rifle calibre machine gun for the RAF in 1934, early Spitfires were fitted with only four guns, with the other four fitted later. Early tests showed that while the guns worked perfectly on the ground and at low altitudes, they tended to freeze at high altitude, especially the outer wing guns. This was because the RAF's Brownings had been modified to fire from an open bolt; while this prevented overheating of the cordite used in British ammunition, it allowed cold air to flow through the barrel unhindered. Supermarine did not fix the problem until October 1938, adding hot air ducts from the rear of the wing mounted radiators to the guns, and bulkheads around the gunbays to trap the hot air in the wing. Red fabric patches were doped over the gun ports to protect the guns from cold, dirt and moisture until they were fired. Even if the eight Brownings worked perfectly, pilots soon discovered that they were not sufficient to destroy larger aircraft. Combat reports showed that an average of 4,500 rounds were needed to shoot down an enemy aircraft. In November 1938, tests against armoured and unarmoured targets had already indicated that the introduction of a weapon of at least 20 mm calibre was urgently needed. A variant on the Spitfire design with four 20mm Oerlikon cannon had been tendered to specification F37/35 but the order for prototypes had gone to the Westland Whirlwind in January 1939.

In June 1939, a single Spitfire was fitted with a single drum-fed Hispano in each wing, an installation that required large blisters on the wing to cover the 60-round drum. The cannons suffered frequent stoppages, mostly because the guns were mounted on their sides to fit as much of the magazine as possible within the wing. In January 1940, P/O George Proudman flew this prototype in combat, but the starboard gun stopped after firing a single round, while the port gun fired 30 rounds before seizing. If one cannon seized, the recoil of the other threw the aircraft off aim. Nevertheless, 30 more cannon-armed Spitfires were ordered for operational trials, and they were soon known as the Mk IB, to distinguish them from the Browning-armed Mk IA, and were delivered to No. 19 Squadron beginning in June 1940. The Hispanos were found to be so unreliable that the squadron requested an exchange of its aircraft with the older Browning-armed aircraft of an operational training unit. By August, Supermarine had perfected a more reliable installation with an improved feed mechanism and four .303s in the outer wing panels. The modified fighters were then delivered to 19 Squadron.


In February 1936 the director of Vickers-Armstrongs, Sir Robert MacLean, guaranteed production of five aircraft a week, beginning 15 months after an order was placed. On 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 aircraft, for a price of £1,395,000. Full-scale production of the Spitfire began at Supermarine's facility in Woolston, Southampton, but it quickly became clear that the order could not be completed in the 15 months promised. Supermarine was a small company, already busy building the Walrus and Stranraer, and its parent company, Vickers, was busy building the Wellington. The initial solution was to subcontract the work out. The first production Spitfire rolled off the assembly line in mid-1938, and was flown on 15 May 1938, almost 24 months after the initial order.

The final cost of the first 310 aircraft, after delays and increased programme costs, came to £1,870,242 or £1,533 more per aircraft than originally estimated. Production aircraft cost about £9,500. The most expensive components were the hand-fabricated and finished fuselage at approximately £2,500, then the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine at £2,000, followed by the wings at £1,800 a pair, guns and undercarriage, both at £800 each, and the propeller at £350.

In 1935, the Air Ministry approached Morris Motor Company to ask how quickly their Cowley plant could be turned to aircraft production? This informal asking of major manufacturing facilities was turned into a formal plan to boost British aircraft production capacity in 1936, as the Shadow factory plan, under the leadership of Herbert Austin. Austin was briefed to build nine new factories, and further supplement the existing British car manufacturing industry, by either adding to its overall capacity or capability to reorganise to produce aircraft and their engines.

Under the plan, on 12 July 1938, the Air Ministry bought a site consisting of farm fields and a sewage works next to Castle Bromwich Aerodrome in the West Midlands. This shadow factory would supplement Supermarine's original factories in Southampton in building the Spitfire. The Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory ordered the most modern machine tools then available, which were being installed two months after work started on the site. Although Morris Motors under Lord Nuffield (an expert in mass motor-vehicle construction) at first managed and equipped the factory, it was funded by government money. When the project was first mooted it was estimated that the factory would be built for £2,000,000, however, by the beginning of 1939 this cost had doubled to over £4,000,000. The Spitfire's stressed-skin construction required precision engineering skills and techniques outside the experience of the local labour force, which took some time to train. However, even as the first Spitfires were being built in June 1940 the factory was still incomplete, and there were numerous problems with the factory management, which ignored tooling and drawings provided by Supermarine in favour of tools and drawings of its own designs, and with the workforce which, while not completely stopping production, continually threatened strikes or "slow downs" until their demands for higher than average pay rates were met.

By May 1940, Castle Bromwich had not yet built its first Spitfire, in spite of promises that the factory would be producing 60 per week starting in April. On 17 May Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, telephoned Lord Nuffield and manoeuvered him into handing over control of the Castle Bromwich plant to Beaverbook's Ministry. Beaverbrook immediately sent in experienced management staff and experienced workers from Supermarine and gave over control of the factory to Vickers-Armstrong. Although it would take some time to resolve the problems, in June 1940, 10 Mk IIs were built; in July 23 rolled out, 37 in August, and 56 in September. By the time production ended at Castle Bromwich in June 1945, a total of 12,129 Spitfires (921 Mk IIs, 4,489 Mk Vs, 5,665 Mk IXs, and 1,054 Mk XVIs) had been built. Today it is owned by Jaguar Cars, and known as Castle Bromwich Assembly used for final assembly of all current Jaguar vehicles.

During the Battle of Britain, concerted efforts were made by the Luftwaffe to destroy the main manufacturing plants at Woolston and Itchen, near Southampton. The first raid, which missed the factories, came on 23 August 1940. Over the next month, other raids were mounted until, on 26 September 1940, both factories were completely wrecked, with 92 people being killed and a large number injured; most of the casualties were experienced aircraft production workers.

Fortunately for the future of the Spitfire, many of the production jigs and machine tools had already been relocated by 20 September, and steps were being taken to disperse production to small facilities throughout the Southampton area. To this end, the British government requisitioned the likes of Vincent's Garage in Station Square Reading, which later specialised in manufacturing Spitfire fuselages, and Anna Valley Motors, Salisbury, which was to become the sole producer of the wing leading-edge fuel tanks for photo-reconnaissance Spitfires, as well as producing other components. A purpose-built works, specialising in manufacturing fuselages and installing engines, was built at Star Road, Caversham in Reading. The drawing office in which all Spitfire designs were drafted was relocated to another purpose-built site at Hursley Park, near Southampton. This site also had an aircraft assembly hangar, with its associated aerodrome, where many of the prototype and experimental Spitfires were assembled and flown.

Four towns and their satellite airfields were chosen to be the focal points for these workshops:

  • Southampton and Eastleigh Airport
  • Salisbury with High Post and Chattis Hill aerodromes
  • Trowbridge with Keevil aerodrome
  • Reading with Henley and Aldermaston aerodromes.

Completed Spitfires were delivered to the airfields on large Commer "Queen Mary" low-loader articulated trucks, there to be fully assembled, tested, then passed on to the RAF.


Flight testing

All production Spitfires were flight tested before delivery. During the Second World War, Jeffrey Quill was Vickers Supermarine's chief test pilot, in charge of flight-testing all aircraft types built by Vickers Supermarine; he also oversaw a group of 10 to 12 pilots responsible for testing all developmental and production Spitfires built by the company in the Southampton area. Quill had also devised the standard testing procedures which, with variations for specific aircraft designs, operated from 1938. Alex Henshaw, chief test pilot at Castle Bromwich from 1940, was placed in charge of testing all Spitfires built at that factory, coordinating a team of 25 pilots; he also assessed all Spitfire developments. Between 1940 and 1946, Henshaw flew a total of 2,360 Spitfires and Seafires, more than 10% of total production.

Henshaw wrote about flight testing Spitfires:

After a thorough pre-flight check I would take off and, once at circuit height, I would trim the aircraft and try to get her to fly straight and level with hands off the stick ... Once the trim was satisfactory I would take the Spitfire up in a full-throttle climb at 2,850 rpm to the rated altitude of one or both supercharger blowers. Then I would make a careful check of the power output from the engine, calibrated for height and temperature ... If all appeared satisfactory I would then put her into a dive at full power and 3,000 rpm, and trim her to fly hands and feet off at 460 mph IAS (Indicated Air Speed). Personally, I never cleared a Spitfire unless I had carried out a few aerobatic tests to determine how good or bad she was. The production test was usually quite a brisk affair: the initial circuit lasted less than ten minutes and the main flight took between twenty and thirty minutes. Then the aircraft received a final once-over by our ground mechanics, any faults were rectified and the Spitfire was ready for collection. I loved the Spitfire in all of her many versions. But I have to admit that the later marks, although they were faster than the earlier ones, were also much heavier and so did not handle so well. You did not have such positive control over them. One test of manoeuvrability was to throw her into a flick-roll and see how many times she rolled. With the Mark II or the Mark V one got two-and-a-half flick-rolls but the Mark IX was heavier and you got only one-and-a-half. With the later and still heavier versions, one got even less. The essence of aircraft design is compromise, and an improvement at one end of the performance envelope is rarely achieved without a deterioration somewhere else.

When the last Spitfire rolled out in February 1948, a total of 20,351 examples of all variants had been built, including two-seat trainers, with some Spitfires remaining in service well into the 1950s. The Spitfire was the only British fighter aircraft to be in continuous production before, during and after the Second World War.

The operational history of the Spitfire with the RAF started with the first Mk Is K9789, which entered service with 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford on 4 August 1938. The Spitfire achieved legendary status during the Battle of Britain, a reputation aided by the famous "Spitfire Fund" organised and run by Lord Beaverbrook the Minister of Aircraft Production. Although the key aim of Fighter Command was to stop the Luftwaffe's bombers, in practice the tactic was to use Spitfires to counter German escort fighters, particularly the Bf 109s, while the Hurricane squadrons attacked the bombers.

Well-known Spitfire pilots included J E "Johnnie" Johnson (34 enemy aircraft shot down), who flew the Spitfire right through his operational career from late 1940 to 1945. Douglas Bader (20 e/a) and R S "Bob" Tuck (27 e/a) flew Spitfires and Hurricanes during the major air battles of 1940, and both were shot down and became POWs while flying Spitfires over France in 1941 and 1942. Some notable Commonwealth pilots were George Beurling (31 1/3 a/e) from Canada, A G "Sailor" Malan (27 e/a) from South Africa, New Zealanders Alan Deere (17 e/a) and C F Gray (27 e/a) and the Australian Hugo Armstrong (12 e/a).

The Spitfire continued to play increasingly diverse roles throughout the Second World War and beyond, often in air forces other than the RAF. The Spitfire, for example, became the first high-speed photo-reconnaissance aircraft to be operated by the RAF. Sometimes unarmed, they flew at high, medium and low 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. In 1941 and 1942, PRU Spitfires provided the first photographs of the Freya and Würzburg radar systems and, in 1943, helped confirm that the Germans were building the V1 and V2 Vergeltungswaffe ("vengeance weapons") by photographing Peenemünde, on the Baltic Sea coast of Germany.

In the Mediterranean the Spitfire blunted the heavy attacks on Malta by the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe and, from early 1943, helped pave the way for the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. On 7 March 1942, 15 Mk Vs carrying 90-gallon fuel tanks under their bellies took off from the HMS Eagle off the coast of Algeria on a 600-mile flight to Malta. Those Spitfires V were the first to see service outside Britain. Over the Northern Territory of Australia, RAAF Spitfires helped defend the port city of Darwin against air attack by the Japanese Naval Air Force. The Spitfire also served on the Eastern Front: approximately a thousand were supplied to the Soviet Air Force. Though some were used at the frontline in 1943, most of them saw service with the Protivo-Vozdushnaya Oborona (English: "Anti-air Defence Branch").

The Spitfire is listed in the appendix to the novel KG 200 as "known to have been regularly flown by" the German secret operations unit KG 200, which tested, evaluated and sometimes clandestinely operated captured enemy aircraft during World War II.

Beginning in late 1943, high-speed diving trials were undertaken at Farnborough to investigate the handling characteristics of aircraft travelling at speeds near the sound barrier (i.e., the onset of compressibility effects). Because it had the highest limiting Mach number of any aircraft at that time, a Spitfire XI was chosen to take part in these trials. Due to the high altitudes necessary for these dives, a fully feathering Rotol propeller was fitted to prevent overspeeding. It was during these trials that EN409, flown by Squadron Leader J. R. Tobin, reached 606 mph (975 km/h, Mach 0.891) in a 45° dive. In April 1944, the same aircraft suffered engine failure in another dive while being flown by Squadron Leader A. F. Martindale, when the propeller and reduction gear broke off. Martindale successfully glided the Spitfire 20 mi (32 km) back to the airfield and landed safely.

A Spitfire was modified by the RAE for high speed testing of the stabilator (then known as the "flying tail") of the Miles M.52 supersonic research aircraft. RAE test pilot Eric Brown stated that he tested this successfully during October and November 1944, attaining Mach 0.86 in a dive.

On 5 February 1952, a Spitfire 19 of No. 81 Squadron RAF based in Hong Kong reached probably the highest altitude ever achieved by a Spitfire. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Ted Powles, was on a routine flight to survey outside-air temperature and report on other meteorological conditions at various altitudes in preparation for a proposed new air service through the area. He climbed to 50,000 ft (15,240 m) indicated altitude, with a true altitude of 51,550 ft (15,712 m). The cabin pressure fell below a safe level and, in trying to reduce altitude, he entered an uncontrollable dive which shook the aircraft violently. He eventually regained control somewhere below 3,000 ft (900 m) and landed safely with no discernible damage to his aircraft. Evaluation of the recorded flight data suggested that, in the dive, he achieved a speed of 690 mph (1,110 km/h, Mach 0.96), which would have been the highest speed ever reached by a propeller-driven aircraft, but it has been speculated this figure resulted from inherent instrument errors.

The critical Mach number of the Spitfire's original elliptical wing was higher than the subsequently-used laminar-flow-section, straight-tapering-planform wing of the follow-on Supermarine Spiteful, Seafang and Attacker, illustrating that Reginald Mitchell's practical engineering approach to the problems of high-speed flight had paid off.

As its designer, R. J. Mitchell will forever be known for his most famous creation. However, the development of the Spitfire did not cease with his premature death in 1937. Mitchell only lived long enough to see the prototype Spitfire fly. Subsequently a team led by his chief draughtsman, Joe Smith, developed more powerful and capable variants to keep the Spitfire current as a front-line aircraft. As one historian noted: "If Mitchell was born to design the Spitfire, Joe Smith was born to defend and develop it."

There were 24 marks of Spitfire and many sub-variants. These covered the Spitfire in development from the Merlin to Griffon engines, the high-speed photo-reconnaissance variants and the different wing configurations. More Spitfire Mk Vs were built than any other type, with 6,487 built, followed by the 5,656 Mk IXs. Different wings, featuring a variety of weapons, were fitted to most marks; the A wing used eight .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns, the B wing had four .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns and two 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano cannon, and the C or Universal Wing could mount either four 20 mm (.79 in) cannon or two 20 mm (.79 in) and four .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns. As the war progressed, the C wing became more common. Another armament variation was the E wing which housed two 20 mm (.79 in) cannon and two .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns.

Supermarine developed a two-seat variant known as the T Mk VIII to be used for training, but none were ordered, and only one example was ever constructed (identified as N32/G-AIDN by Supermarine). In the absence of an official two-seater variant, a number of airframes were crudely converted in the field. These included a 4(SAAF) Squadron Mk VB in North Africa, where a second seat was fitted instead of the upper fuel tank in front of the cockpit, although it was not a dual-control aircraft and is thought to have been used as the squadron "run-about." The only unofficial two-seat conversions that were fitted with dual-controls were a small number of Russian lend/lease Mk IX aircraft. These were referred to as Mk IX UTI and differed from the Supermarine proposals by using an inline "greenhouse" style double canopy rather than the raised "bubble" type of the T Mk VIII.

In the postwar era, the idea was revived by Supermarine and a number of two-seat Spitfires were built by converting old Mk IX airframes with a second "raised" cockpit featuring a bubble canopy. Ten of these TR9 variants were then sold to the Indian Air Force along with six to the Irish Air Corps, three to the Royal Dutch Air Force and one for the Royal Egyptian Air Force. Currently a handful of the trainers are known to exist, including both the T Mk VIII, a T Mk IX based in the U.S., and the "Grace Spitfire" ML407, a veteran flown operationally by 485(NZ) Squadron in 1944.



Main article: Supermarine Seafire

The Seafire, a name derived from Sea Spitfire, was a naval version of the Spitfire specially adapted for operation from aircraft carriers. Although the Spitfire was not designed for the rough-and-tumble of carrier-deck operations, it was considered to be the best available fighter at the time, and went on to serve with distinction. The basic Spitfire design did impose some limitations on the use of the aircraft as a carrier-based fighter; poor visibility over the nose, for example, meant that pilots had to be trained to land with their heads out of the cockpit and looking alongside the port cowling of their Seafire; also, like the Spitfire, the Seafire had a relatively narrow undercarriage track, which meant that it was not ideally suited to deck operations. Early marks of Seafire had relatively few modifications to the standard Spitfire airframe; however cumulative front line experience meant that most of the later versions of the Seafire had strengthened airframes, folding wings, arrestor hooks and other modifications, culminating in the purpose-built Seafire F/FR Mk 47.

The Seafire II was able to outperform the A6M5 Zero at low altitudes when the two types were tested against each other during wartime mock combat exercises. Contemporary Allied carrier fighters such as the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair, however, were considerably more robust and practical for carrier operations. Performance was greatly increased when later versions of the Seafire were fitted with the Griffon engines. These were too late to see service in the Second World War.

The first Rolls Royce Griffon-engined Mk XII flew on August 1942, and first flew operationally with 41 Squadron in April 1943. This mark could nudge 400 mph (640 km/h) in level flight and climb to an altitude of 33,000 ft (10,000 m) in under nine minutes. Although the Spitfire continued to improve in speed and armament, range and fuel capacity were major issues: it remained "short-legged" throughout its life except in the dedicated photo-reconnaissance role, when its guns were replaced by extra fuel tanks.

Newer Griffon-engined Spitfires were being introduced as home-defence interceptors, where limited range was not an impediment. These faster Spitfires were used to defend against incursions by high-speed "tip-and-run" German fighter-bombers and V-1 flying bombs over Great Britain.

As American fighters took over the long-range escorting of USAAF daylight bombing raids, the Griffon-engined Spitfires progressively took up the tactical air superiority role as interceptors, while the Merlin-engined variants (mainly the Mk IX and the Packard-engined XVI) were adapted to the fighter-bomber role.

Although the later Griffon-engined marks lost some of the favourable handling characteristics of their Merlin-powered predecessors, they could still out-manoeuvre their main German foes and other, later American and British-designed fighters.

The final version of the Spitfire, the Mk 24, first flew at South Marston on 13 April 1946. On the 20th February 1948, almost twelve years from the prototype's first flight, the last production Spitfire, VN496, left the production line. The Spitfire 24 was used by only one regular RAF unit, with 80 Squadron replacing their Hawker Tempests with F. Mk 24s in 1947. 80 Squadron continued its patrol and reconnaissance duties from Wunstorf in Germany as part of the occupation forces, until it relocated to Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong in July 1949. During the Chinese Civil War, 80 Squadron's main duty was to defend Hong Kong from perceived Communist threats. They kept their Spitfires until 1 April 1954 when the last operational sortie of an RAF Spitfire was flown. Operation Firedog during the Malayan Emergency saw the Spitfire fly over 1,800 operational sorties against the Malaysian communists by Spitfires.

The last operational Spitfire sortie was by a PR Mk 19 Spitfire, PS888 flying from RAF Seletar, in Singapore. Photographer George Yallop took a photo of PS888 in which the ground crew painted the words, "The Last" onto the port engine cowling of the PR 19 after the final flight.

The last non-operational flight of a Spitfire in RAF service, which took place on 9 June 1957, was by a PR 19, PS583, from RAF Woodvale of the Temperature and Humidity Flight. This was also the last known flight of a piston-engined fighter in the RAF. The last nation in the Middle East to operate Spitfires was Syria, which kept its F 22s until 1953.

In late 1962, Air Marshal Sir John Nicholls instigated a trial when he resurrected a Spitfire P.R 19 to fight against an English Electric Lightning F 3, a supersonic jet-engined interceptor, in mock combat at RAF Binbrook. At the time British Commonwealth forces were involved in possible action against Indonesia over Malaya and Nicholls decided to develop tactics to fight the Indonesian Air Force P-51 Mustang, a fighter that had a similar performance to the P.R 19. He concluded that the most effective and safest way for a modern jet-engined fighter to attack a piston-engined fighter was from below and behind, contrary to all established fighter-on-fighter doctrine at that time.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one pilot
  • Length: 29 ft 11 in (9.12 m)
  • Wingspan: 36 ft 10 in (11.23 m)
  • Height: 11 ft 5 in (3.86 m)
  • Wing area: 242.1 ft² (22.48 m²)
  • Airfoil: NACA 2209.4(tip)
  • Empty weight: 5,090 lb (2,309 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 6,622 lb (3,000 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 6,770 lb (3,071 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1× Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 supercharged V12 engine, 1,470 hp (1,096 kW) at 9,250 ft (2,820 m)


  • Maximum speed: 378 mph, (330 kn, 605 km/h)
  • Combat radius: 410 nmi (470 mi, 760 km)
  • Ferry range: 991 nmi (1,140 mi, 1,840 km)
  • Service ceiling: 35,000 ft (11,300 m)
  • Rate of climb: 2,665 ft/min (13.5 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 27.35 lb/ft² (133.5 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 0.22 hp/lb (0.36 kW/kg)


  • Guns:
    • 2 × 20 mm (0.787-in) Hispano Mk II cannon, 60 rpg (drum magazine)
    • 4 × 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns, 350 rpg
  • Bombs: 2 × 250 lb (113 kg) bombs

Comparable aircraft

  • Bell P-39
  • Curtiss P-40
  • Dewoitine D.520
  • Focke Wulf Fw 190
  • Hawker Hurricane
  • Hawker Tempest
  • Heinkel He 112
  • Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien
  • Macchi MC.202 Folgore
  • Macchi C.205 Veltro
  • Martin-Baker M.B.5
  • Messerschmitt Bf 109
  • Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3
  • North American P-51 Mustang
  • Yakovlev Yak-9




Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

The aircraft that was to become the heavyweight Republic P-47 Thunderbolt strangely started out as a design for a lightweight fighter in the late 30s.
Alexander Kartveli's XP-47 lightweight fighter design was radically re-worked to a machine twice as heavy and redesignated XP-47B.

The powerplant for this new heavy fighter was to be the massive double row radial engine developed by Pratt & Whitney, this engine being the Double Wasp.

Despite the somewhat bulky appearance of the aircraft, the Thunderbolt was a fast machine. The P-47D variant could attain 433mph in level flight.
This high level of performance is due not only to the superb supercharged Double Wasp engine which developed around 2,300hp in the P-47D but also to the efficient semi-eliptical wing used on the plane.

A specially prepared Thunderbolt held the world airspeed record for a period of time.


P-47D Thunderbolt with razorback canopy  

Operationally P-47s entered service in 1942 with the US forces. The aircraft was heavily used in Europe as both a fighter and fighter-bomber, the later of these two roles is where the plane really proved it's capabilities. On ground attack missions the P-47s speed and firepower (2,500 lbs of ordnance plus 8 heavy machine guns) proved a devastating weapon in the hands of skilled pilots. This aircraft and the RAF Typhoon caused havoc to ground forces across western Europe.  

The P-47 was also a tough machine which could absorb a tremendous amount of damage and survive to get itself and the pilot back to base. Over two thirds of the planes survived WW2. Considering how risky ground attack missions were this is a remarkable survivability rate.  

P-47N bubble canopy Thunderbolt 

The aircraft quickly gained the nickname of Juggernaut (the mighty jug) from it's pilots. This being due to it's huge size for a fighter (the aircraft weighed over 5 tonnes even before it was loaded).  Later versions had a bubble canopy for increased pilot visability, the previous non-bubble types being known as razorbacks.

For bomber escort the P-47 suffered a lack of range when compared to a drop tank equipped P51 Mustang. The P51 was able to go all the way to the target with the bombers, even on the longest range sorties. P-47s would have to turn back early due to lack of fuel.
The heavy and powerful P-47 also needed it's own technique when up against fighters. The machine was best suited to shoot and zoom methods due to it's high speed performance but less than brilliant turning circle.


Vickers Wellington 

The Vickers Wellington was a British twin-engine, long range medium bomber designed in the mid-1930s at Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey, by Vickers-Armstrongs' Chief Designer, R. K. Pierson. It was widely used as a night bomber in the early years of the Second World War, before being displaced as a bomber by the larger four-engine "heavies" such as the Avro Lancaster. The Wellington continued to serve throughout the war in other duties, particularly as an anti-submarine aircraft. It was the only British bomber to be produced for the entire duration of the war. The Wellington was popularly known as the Wimpy by service personnel, after J. Wellington Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons and a Wellington "B for Bertie" had a starring role in the 1942 Oscar-nominated Powell and Pressburger film One of Our Aircraft Is Missing. The Wellington was one of two bombers named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, the other being the Vickers Wellesley.