Dismantling the Spitfire myth

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There are too many myths about the Supermarine Spitfire to list, but uppermost is the notion that it was in any way a war-winning weapon. In fact, it might have been a war-losing one had circumstances been different. Britain certainly didn’t need it, and in some respects would have done better without it. It was not a bad aircraft so much as the wrong aircraft at the wrong time.

Let’s be clear. The Spitfire is a very pretty aeroplane and a very charismatic one, which is great to see at airshows. It’s also said to be lovely to fly. The first three of these points mattered little in 1939-45, and the third was not as important as other factors. It’s pretty well accepted these days that the Battle of Britain was won by the Hurricane, and there’s no reason to suspect that more Hurricanes wouldn’t have defeated Goering’s armada just as soundly, if not more so.

What were the best fighters at the outbreak of the war? The surprising answer is here.
The Spitfire had a number of shortcomings – its range in fighter variants was always poor, its narrow-track undercarriage invited accidents and its roll rate wasn’t competitive, a dangerous shortcoming for a fighter. Its main Achilles heel though was the sheer difficulty of manufacturing a Spitfire. It took 13,000 man hours to build the airframe – for that amount of effort you could have two-and-a-half Hurricanes or three-and-a-bit Messerschmitt Bf 109s.
In other words, British industry, under a barrage of bombs and in wartime conditions, was building one Spitfire when it could have built three fighters of a simpler design. That’s crazy. Moreover, it could have been dangerous. When the Battle of Britain was raging, operational Hurricane squadrons increased from 25 to 34. Spitfire Squadrons increased from 19 to… 20. And that additional squadron came only at the very end of the Battle. Spitfire production lagged behind Hurricane production for the whole Battle as well, and twice as many Hurricanes as Spitfires were built in that period. When it came to serviceability, the Hurricane was better too, with more damaged aircraft returned to squadrons more quickly.

Spitfire_Fighter_Aircraft_'Hot_Starting'_Engines_MOD_45156196.jpg

Matters were little better in the air – Richard Overy points out that at the end of the Battle, Spitfires were being shot down at a faster rate than Hurricanes. Had the Battle gone on much longer, the Spitfire could have become a millstone around Fighter Command’s neck. The point that is often made that the Spitfire could better deal with the Bf 109 is irrelevant, as Fighter Command needed to knock down bombers and actively avoided engagements with fighters (and in any case, exactly as many Spitfires were shot down by Bf109s as Hurricanes).
Moreover, the priority that was placed on Spitfire production in 1940 (as well as Hurricanes, to be fair) pulled effort from other services, effectively hamstringing the Fleet Air Arm for years and preventing the development of newer designs. And not content with wasting industrial effort at the beginning of the war, the Spitfire remained in production for the length of hostilities. Who knows what might have been achieved with three aircraft produced for every Spitfire? Alternatively, for the same number of fighters, a greater number of bombers could have been produced. Or for the same number of aircraft, more factory workers could have been released for active service.

A high maintenance beauty
Many fans maintain that the Spitfire was a work of aerodynamic perfection and stayed competitive for so long as a result. By 1936 standards, it certainly did have a good performance, but it did so at the unforgivable expense of ease of manufacture. Contemporary designs such as the Bf 109 and Heinkel He 100 show that it was not necessary to make this compromise even in the late 1930s, let alone later when types such as the Mustang arrived. Indeed, the Spitfire could take more powerful engines than it had been designed for, but its wing was too flexible in torsion to do this forever, and by the time the Mk.21 appeared, its once-fine handling had degenerated to barely-acceptable levels. This left it as a fighter with an inferior performance, armament and range.

The default fighter
The main reason the Spitfire kept on weighing down British industry after it should have been retired was not its inherent brilliance but seemingly the lack of an alternative. The Hawker Typhoon, which was meant to replace it, wasn’t up to the job and the Air Ministry failed to change tack early enough. It’s not that there weren’t possibilities – in 1939, Martin-Baker was commissioned to develop a design to replace the Hurricane and Spitfire and came up with the brilliant MB.3, which outperformed most contemporary designs and was very simple to build and maintain. Unfortunately, Martin-Baker was a cottage industry, and James Martin was chronically incapable of finishing anything on time, being continually sidetracked by different jobs (the company had also been commissioned to develop gun installations and cockpit canopies) and striving for tiny gains at the expense of delay after delay. Had the design been given the support of a major manufacturer, or even handed over in its entirety to, say, Hawker or Bristol, a viable Spitfire replacement that did not hoover up man-hours in the same way could have been in service by 1943.

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The superb Martin Baker MB.3 failed to attract an RAF order.


The wrong aeroplane
If the Air Ministry had decided not to push the MB.3, there were still possibilities. In 1942, Fairey was pushing to build P-51 Mustangs under licence, and it would have made more sense to switch British production to this type. Not only was the Mustang faster with a less powerful engine, and had the legs to take it to Berlin and still dogfight, it had been designed with simplicity and ease of production in mind. But Spitfire production continued, and the Second Tactical Air Force even ended up with Spitfires it didn’t particularly want to replace worn-out fighter-reconnaissance Mustang Mk. Is that there were no longer replacements for. Bizarrely, the RAF ended up using Spitfire Mk. XVIs as dive bombers when A-36s, Mustang Mk. IIs, Thunderbolts or Tempests would have made a good deal more sense.
As it was, the Allies won the war, so it was a moot point. But for Britain’s industry to have expended so much effort at a crucial time, building 22,000 over-complicated aircraft that were not especially competitive in the second half of the war, deserves much greater examination.

Matthew Willis

Read Jon Lake’s rebuttal of this argument here

Mr Willis has since made the following corrections: “In the second paragraph: change ‘for that amount of effort you could have two-and-a-half Hurricanes or three-and-a-bit Messerschmitt Bf 109s’ to ‘for that amount of effort you could have one-and-a-half Hurricanes or three-and-a-bit Messerschmitt Bf 109s’ (bold just to emphasise the change, shouldn’t be bold in the published version)

In the fifth paragraph: change ‘Who knows what might have been achieved with three aircraft produced for every Spitfire?’ to ‘Who knows what might have been achieved with two or three aircraft produced for every Spitfire?” (as above re bold).

I’ve developed the arguments a fair bit since the original piece was posted, but it wouldn’t be fair to go chopping and changing it now. I stand by everything I wrote apart from the bits above that need correcting.”

What was the most combat effective piston-engined fighter ever made? An analysis can be found here.

You may also enjoy top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an alternate history of the TSR.2, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is the The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker.

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Matthew Willis @NavalAirHistory

Writer and aviation history journalist working on naval aviation projects. Author, novel Daedalus and the Deep, co-editor short story anthology A Seeming Glass. Editor of navalairhistory.com

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89 comments

    • Mike Gill

      The author Omits one very important fact about the Spitfire …IT Achieved Air Superiority in EVERY Theatre it entered ….. does any more need to said ? It was an interceptor NOT a Bomber escort and even in mock fights against other allied fighters it beat all of them !!!

      • Stewart

        Not true! It only wins dog fights that are tailored to it’s strengths. If it is put into potential Zoom and Boom scenarios, it fails miserably. When it was used for cross channel sweeps it failed miserably and lost 4.5 to 7 for each kill it made. So you can not state it got, or earned air superiority in any case but the BoB.

      • Barrie rodliffe

        Absolutely correct.
        The problem is that the Spitfire had so many strengths it was hard to find a situation where the Spitfire was not great.
        Cross Channel sweeps were only a problem for a while when the F w 190 arrived but even that did not last since the improved Spitfire Mk V`s could take on the F w 190 and the Spitfire Mk IX more than matched it, in fact sweeps continued right through 1943 when Spitfires flew for over 1,000 miles on sweeps over France.
        The Spitfire achieved air superiority over Malta, and for every major action, Sicily where the Seafire did the job until land based Spitfires could take over, over Italy, for Normandy and the advance through France and into Germany it was Spitfires doing the job, even escorting USAAF bombers on many occasions.
        It is hard to find any occasion when the Spitfire did not more than earn the title of the best allied fighter of the war

  1. Justin Bronk

    One significant flaw in your interesting argument: aircraft replacements were not the problem in the Battle of Britain or later on – it was lack of adequately trained pilots. Many more Spits and Hurri’s were produced during the battle than there were pilots to fly them and, crucially, the spitfire had a number of flying attributes that made her more effective for very green pilots than any other contemporary fighter.

    Justin

    • navalairhistory

      Replacements may not have been an issue but expense of effort surely was, and a shortage of aircraft for Bomber Command and the Fleet Air Arm was a big issue – industrial effort that was that could have been freed up but for the need to build Spitfires. (There’s also an economic point – the UK had to supplement its fighter strength by buying fighters in large numbers from the US, and Lease-Lend effectively bankrupted Britain by 1941. If it hadn’t been for the US, replacements certainly *would* have been an issue). I would also dispute ‘many more’ Spits being produced than were needed during the BoB – there were desperate efforts to get Castle Bromwich factory up and running, which failed until it was too late, while for most of the Battle, Spitfire production only managed 20-30 a week, barely outstripping operational losses, and that’s without aircraft under repair taken into consideration. The Spitfire had some flying attributes that helped green pilots, but this was of relatively low importance, probably not crucial – the main thing that helped pilots survive and become effective was combat experience. If you managed to get through a few weeks, you’d probably do well whatever you were flying. And the Hurri also had attributes that helped less trained pilots – wider-track undercarriage helped landing and take-off, steadier gun platform with less diffusion of gunfire etc. The Mustang was less sweetly handling than the Spitfire, but that didn’t matter – it beat the Luftwaffe in its own skies.

      • blowback

        Forget Bomber Command, Coastal Command was the command of the RAF that needed any extra aircraft. For instance, just how crazy was it to lose 266 long-range bombers attacking the submarine pens in north west France, when Coastal Command had only eighteen aircraft with a range suitable for their critical task in the Battle of the Atlantic. That Bomber Command didn’t sink any submarines and barely dented the submarine pens has actually reduced me to tears on a couple of occasions.
        As for the Fleet Air Arm, that they had to continue to rely on old kit was probably a good thing, otherwise some bright spark might have decided to replace the Fairey Swordfish with something less suitable for killing submarines.

      • Barrie rodliffe

        Strange how all these American aircraft did nothing during the Battle of Britain when the Spitfire and Hurricane did all the work. Just as well Britain had enough of both to beat the Luftwaffe.
        By the time the P 51 eventually arrived with a decent British engine and was used over Germany in 1944 the Luftwaffe had already been badly beaten and had few experienced pilots, they were also short of planes, fuel and ammunition, very lucky for the USAAF.

      • Stewart

        The Spit was not even close to being the best allied fighter of WW-II! When it was forced to engage in the exact same type of combat scenarios as the BoB, but on the other side of the cannel, it was a miserable looser. W/L Ratios were between 4.5 and 7 to 1 in favor of the enemy! Combat over England during the BoB gave the RAF huge tactical advantages over the Luftwaffe. When those advantages were on the other side, the Spit was massacred like the second rate plane it was.
        What you fail to under stand is that it was designed to mimic a Biplane as much as possible and the qualities of same were given at the expense of other and much more important qualities to a fighter plane. Such as being very easy to fly close to the edge and having good stall characteristics as opposed to speed and concentrated fire power. The Germans had a saying that; “One gun in the nose was better than two in the wings!” and they were not quite right. One gun on the CL was much better than four in the wings outside of the prop disc. Secondly since most combat in turns was done at less than 2 Gs, the ability to turn was not that vital to success. Watch all the film you like and see that there is very little were either plane has much more than 30 degrees of bank on the wings. He is pulling less than one G at the time! A 1G turn requires 45 Degrees of bank. 2Gs = 60 Degrees of bank, an attitude almost never seen. As to using all of the power to turn any plane had, it was nearly impossible because of the speed and altitude that was lost in such turns. The main advantage that the 109 had over ALL others was the leading edge slats over the outer part of the wing which gave it the singular ability to use more AoA than any other plane in the war. That let it soot farther across the circle than any other plane in the war!
        This was a huge advantage and no other plane had it!

  2. Stuart Burton

    When you say it took 13,000 hrs to build a Spit fuselage versus a third of this for a Bf109 your not comparing properly. Your using the figure for the first batch of Spits built with few jigs and power tools to the last model of 109 the K series built using slave and conscripted labour, with massive use of jigs and prefabricated parts. Try comparing Apples with Apples your not even comparing Apples and Oranges your comparing Apples and Potatos.

    • navalairhistory

      The 13,000 figure is for a Spitfire Mk.V vs 4,000 for a Bf109 G as quoted in Corelli Barnett ‘Audit of War’, to which Stephen Bungay adds the comparison with the Hurricane in ‘The Most Dangerous Enemy’.

      • elleetoo

        Whoa, hold it right there. ‘Audit of War’ is not a good source. In order to be convinced of this I’d like to see numbers from something more convincing. As it is, I was nodding along until I got to this comment: ease of construction and ‘good enough’ were what won the Allies the war: gold-plating wonder weapons were the way that the Germans squandered their technological advantages.

        Of course, the decisive battle of 1940 which saved the British Empire was fought by the RN, not the RAF, but that’s another story altogether.

      • Paul Stoddart

        Hi, I have tried twice to upload a comment but without success. Am I making a mistake of some sort? Regards P J Stoddart

        Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

      • Paul Stoddart

        Thanks. It is a very interesting site and it’s particularly good to have reasoned debate rather than people sounding off.

        Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

  3. airscapemag

    Congratulations. History is the propaganda of the victor, so it’s always valuable to see the fog rolled back a little. Obviously WW2 was an incredibly complex “event” (for want of a better word) so it’s always dangerous to link any particular outcome to any one factor; and equally dangerous to act as if changing one factor wouldn’t have caused a domino-run of other changes that may or may not have affected the ultimate outcome. However, your argument is a good one, and your maths in indisputable. There is very good proof of it later in the war, when the tables were turned: The Luftwaffe developed an almost unassailable point defence fighter in the Me.262. But there was no way 1,400 – or even, say, 5,000 without leadership meddling – Me.262s could defend their territory against 15,000 Mustangs… What we can say with confidence is that the Battle of Britain was a “very near run thing”, as Wellington described Waterloo; and that, if anything, American mass production won the war.

    • Ari

      ”What we can say with confidence is that the Battle of Britain was a “very near run thing”, as Wellington described Waterloo; and that, if anything, American mass production won the war.”

      Absolutely true and not to mention the 100 percent octaine fuel provided by the Americans without which the RAF would have had even more difficulties !
      Every country has its own version of the history …

      • Barrie rodliffe

        What can you say, the Battle of Britain was a resounding defeat for the Luftwaffe, they failed to achieve a single objective.
        American mass production eventually started in 1942 or well after Hitler was being beaten.
        The British 100 octane fuel which the RAF had plenty of in 1940 meant the RAF had more than enough for the whole Battle of Britain without any from USA.
        America certainly has a version of history it is based on Hollywood movies made to make America look great.

  4. glevumknight

    What you fail to mention is that the Spitfire had a far better kill-to-loss ratio than the Hurricane in the Battle of Britain. They shot down nearly as many aircraft, with half the numbers.

    You also fail to analyse the Spitfire’s sheer versatility and upgradeability…these were war-winning factors!

    • navalairhistory

      Kill to loss ratio means little, what mattered in the context of the Battle of Britain was knocking down bombers, which the Hurricane did in much greater numbers. The Hurricane’s KLR was in any case higher early on due to the fuselage fuel tank not being self-sealing. The Hurri knocked down more bombers than all other defences combined, and even more Messerschmitt 109s than it was shot down by (about 1.6:1 if I recall).

      Versatility and upgradeability are the kinds of virtues praised in aircraft that have outstayed their welcome – the Hurricane and Swordfish were both versatile and upgradeable, but in an ideal world they wouldn’t have needed to be. The Spitfire could take more power and weight and remain flyable, but it still didn’t keep up with the latest types and was still much more labour-intensive, which is the crux.

      • Daren Cogdon

        “The Spitfire could take more power and weight and remain flyable, but it still didn’t keep up with the latest types”

        Bollocks. The MkXIV was the epitome of the fighter variants – extremely capable of handling the higher-performance German types, such as the Bf109K or Fw190D-9 that were in large-scale service. It even managed to knock down a few Me262s. True, the Mk.XIV’s manoeuvrability did suffer to the point where it was not as nice to fly as the earlier models, but it still had the speed and the turning circle – which DID matter in a dogfight – and still had some of the more desirable characteristics which set it apart.

        If the Spitfire was so bad, why were there 22,000 (Spitfires and Seafires) produced?? Because there was nothing better? No. Because it was a proven, adaptable design, which lent itself extremely well to increased development and modification.

      • Timmo

        That the Hurricane was free to take on the bombers was surely because the Spitfire was generally accepted to be keeping the escorting Me109s occupied. However, this alone is probably too simplistic a view in that at times both British fighters would engage either enemy fighters or bombers. As has been noted before the production of aircraft wasn’t the key issue it was the lack of pilots. When looking at the BoB as a whole Spitfire pilots had a better chance of survival than the Hurricane pilots. I’d like to see your figures for the greater attrition of Spitfires to Hurricanes due to the narrow track u/c. From what a former WW2 pilot has told me they used a short approach flying on a cross wind angle to give them a better field of vision immediately before landing although in both aircraft it was dreadful on the ground.

        Although we’ll never know had we not had the Spitfire in certain situations the Hurricane simply wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the Me109s and the Luftwaffe may well have developed their tactics to fully exploit that key advantage.

      • Timmo

        If you look at the squadron records in detail the most successful unit was 303, a Hurricane unit but on a squadron by squadron basis the Spitfire squadrons typically out performed the Hurricane squadrons. The former having a kill to loss rate of around 3:1. In many Hurricane squadrons it didn’t even approach 2:1. Can you explain in more detail why the kill to loss ratio didn’t matter as every other source seems to suggest it was the vital factor and that which both sides were painfully aware of. It was only once the german loss to kill ratio dipped to critical point that they stopped flying massed bomber formations in daylight.

  5. glevumknight

    Actually, this article misses the point. In the Battle of Britain, Spitfires had a much better kill-to-loss ratio than the Hurricane. They shot down nearly as many enemy aircraft, with half the numbers…so the Hurricane certainly did not “win the battle”.

    Also, you are totally forgetting the sheer versatility, and upgradeability, of the Spitfire’s airframe. In fact, I would say that although this article is well written, it is very poorly researched…

    • navalairhistory

      Responded to most points above. I would dispute that the Spitfire ‘shot down nearly as many aircraft with half the numbers’. Claims were 1,560 by Hurricane squadrons, 1,189 by Spitfire squadrons, and at the beginning of the Battle there were 25 Hurricane units, 34 at the end (as stated above) and Spitfire units were 19 and 20, so somewhat more than half. Also note that Spitfires were being shot down in the same numbers as Hurricanes by the end of the Battle, and therefore at a faster rate.

      • K. Outski

        Your ‘kills’ ratio is in direct proportion to the Hurricane vs Spitfire ratio so proportionally the Hurricanes did not shoot down significantly more aircraft ‘per head’. You fail to recognise that Hurricanes could not endure the 109s without some help from the Spitfires. You roll early production difficulties and more difficult repair of the Spitfire versus the biplane technology of the Hurricane into the reason why “the Spitfire was not as good” but these had little to do with it’s combat capability. I would agree that the 109E3/4, flown correctly, versus the MkI Spifire, may have been the better aircraft under it’s preferred conditions by a small margin, in high speed attacks, whilst bomber attacks were more protracted. However, as we know, it was not allowed to be flown that way for too much of the Battle and once engaged with the Spitfire in a dogfight it’s weaknesses showed up. It was also weaker in the dive as it’s wing strength did not match the Spitfire’s. It’s even narrower undercarriage was even more dangerous than the Spitfires. The MkV was a more than adequate match for the 109F and although the MkV was not as powerful as the 109G and was dominated by the early FW190’s, the Spit MkIX redressed the balance until the advent of the Dora and possibly the 109K but by then the MkXIV and Tempest were coming on line. To suggest that “the Spitfire” was not a great aircraft without a detailed, rather than selective, analysis of it’s evolution and contemporary competition is absurd. It could never be a “war winning weapon” as neither could Hurricane, Me109, FW190 etc as wars are not won by fighter aircraft. The Mustang, if available, would not have been any better in the BoB, not just because the two stage Merlin wasn’t available – it would have had Allison engines – it would not have been fighting under it’s optimum circumstances of very high altitude nor in the massive numbers that were a major key to defending the bombers later in the war. Is this all just an inter-services afficionado creation? Read the accounts of those that flew them – on both sides.

  6. S.Roberts

    You seem to be conveniently forgetting the published opinions of the pilots who flew both types at the time. I’ll take their word over that of an armchair expert any day.

    • sglover

      “You seem to be conveniently forgetting the published opinions of the pilots who flew both types at the time. I’ll take their word over that of an armchair expert any day.”

      It’s a good bet that those pilots were generally **not** concerned with the very persuasive economic arguments presented here. As the old Lenin line has it, “Quantity has a quality all its own”, so all else being more or less equal ease and speed of production will always carry the day.

      It’s also worth noting that if the Spitfire’s ultimate justification is supposed to be the Battle of Britain, we’ve really stumbled onto a case of damning with faint praise. Sure, it was dramatic and picturesque, but the Battle of Britain was strategically meaningless. Unless the Royal Navy managed a Czar Nicolas-like scale of incompetence, there was no way that Hitler was going to pull off an invasion across the channel. Look at what was used to conduct and support the Normandy invasion, and compare that to Germany’s meager naval resources (throughout the war, let alone in 1940).

      In the end, the Red Army fought and won the war against Hitlerism. By comparison, everything else was almost a sideshow.

      • GBooth

        “Very persuasive economic arguments?” Hardly. This opinion piece, while provocative, is strikingly devoid of facts or statistics, and it’s analysis of the Spitfire – from both an economic standpoint as well as vis-a-vis its contemporaries – is breathtakingly thin. It’s good clickbait, though. I don’t think I’ve yet seen a posting on Hush Kit that has attracted so many comments in so brief a time (including mine!).

        While the Soviets indisputably bore the brunt of the fighting against Germany – once they had unwittingly switched from being a de-facto Axis power – by some estimates as many as half of all Second World War casualties, 36 million lives, occurred in the ill-named Pacific Theatre. A sideshow? I think not.

      • navalairhistory

        @sglover – the problem with the Battle of Britain was that the Germans thought they could win it. To have done so they would have needed to destroy 1.8 British fighters (on the ground or in the air) for every aircraft they lost, and most days they struggled to exceed 1:1. German intelligence overestimated the number of aircraft they were destroying and underestimated British industry’s capability to replace them. Although seen at the time as a close-run thing, it would have taken a good deal worse fortune to even lose it in the air. Had the RAF been totally destroyed and the Germans still had reasonably significant air power, I think it would have been possible for Germany to defeat the Royal Navy in the Channel, but only if there was no air cover whatsoever.

      • Glen

        Student the commander of the German paratroopers said later in his autobiography that he thought that Op Sea lion was a bluff. To get the British to sue for peace

      • Deedub

        Lenin’s opinion that “Quantity has a quality all it’s own” is a meaningless statement here.
        It has already been established that while it may have been possible to produce Hurricanes at a ratio of 2.5:1 Spitfire as the writer has claimed,mthere were not enough qualified pilots to fly them.

        Does the writer acknowledge that in it’s key role, the defence of the British Isles, the Spitfire outperformed the Hurricane? In that use-case I would rather see a qualified pilot in the most advanced tool for the job.

      • sglover

        @ GBooth — If production man-hours isn’t a telling **economic** indicator, I don’t know what is. I also don’t understand your tone. I think Spitfires are pretty slick airplanes, but they’re not — or shouldn’t be — religious icons. The author’s analysis is interesting and persuasive. Why should we be surprised or hostile when it turns out that long-held truisms have cracks?

        @navalairhistory — Even if the Germans had totally smashed the RAF, **and** accumulated enough landing barges, **and** got a sizable force across the Channel — how likely is it that they could have kept that force supplied across the Channel? It just seems that everything would have to go exactly, uncannily right. Further, it seems quite possible that too many German successes would have just spurred FDR to adopt a Lend-Lease policy earlier than he did.

    • navalairhistory

      I’m not sure what the published opinions of pilots has to do with it. My argument is with a waste in production effort rather than flying qualities. Moreover, the popularity of aircraft among their crews is usually related only weakly to their effectiveness in combat. Fairey Battle pilots were perfectly happy with their aircraft in 1939, yet going into combat with them was akin to suicide. Later in the war, the Fairey Barracuda was widely (though not universally) reviled by its crews, yet it knocked the Tirpitz out of action for three months, sank 40,000 tons of shipping in a few months and destroyed vital Japanese facilities in the East Indies.

  7. Mike

    Interesting, but the challenge I have with it is the feeling you are grafting today’s advance statistical analysis onto a 1940s era decision making environment which lacked the knowledge of cognitive biases. Also, to assume the MB3 was a viable alternative with only one prototype being built and not having been combat tested is extrapolating a small sample into a large assumption. Despite the fact the Spitfire was a flawed aircraft its airframe was able to be consistently improved throughout the war and its performance remained on par with the best German fighters of the day. Was it the “best” option? Probably not, but very rarely is the best option chosen in history and at the end of the day, it’s long term value as a symbol cannot be quantified.

    • sglover

      “Interesting, but the challenge I have with it is the feeling you are grafting today’s advance statistical analysis onto a 1940s era decision making environment which lacked the knowledge of cognitive biases.”

      I don’t know that comparing production man-hours per plane really counts as “advance statistical analysis”, but even if you disagree with that, consider the history. If I remember correctly, the Mustang was spawned in response to a **British** proposal for a new fighter design. The RAF did **not** propose that North American crank up license production of Spitfires, which presumably would have been the quickest way to get a lot of fighters built had Spitfires been all that great. (Were **any** Spitfires manufactured outside of the UK?) In contrast, the Spitfire’s engine, which apparently really was a terrific design, was manufactured by the tens of thousands throughout the war, on both sides of the Atlantic.

      • navalairhistory

        The Mustang resulted from the Air Ministry requesting that NAA build Curtiss Tomahawks/Kittyhawks under licence (there’s also the possibility that NAA producing the Curtiss P-46 which turned out to be inferior to the P-40D) and NAA suggesting they could produce a better design as quickly. Both the P-40 and in particular the Mustang were designed with mass production in mind. It’s probably telling that the Mustang was produced in Australia rather than a British design.

  8. Pete

    What an utterly misguided and jaunted peice of writing. The author evidently has an axe to grind about the Spit. Could have insulted the Queen and would have caused less offence…

    • Ari

      I don’t think so mate, The author is not alone on this. Spits mythical status is higly exaggerated. German 109 pilots didn’t worry about Spits,they worried more about lack of range and the amount of fuel in their tanks.. Spit neither won the Battle of Britain nor it played any decisive role in European theatre after BoB. Reality and pure jingoism shoud be seperated. Don’t let facts get in the way of distorted nationalist POV:
      I know many Aerospace engineers and academicians who would share the authors view entirely ..

      • Daren Cogdon

        “nor it played any decisive role in European theatre after BoB.”

        But there were plenty of other types that did, of course….!

      • Barrie rodliffe

        Really,? So the Spitfire did not outperform the Bf 109 in the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire did not achieve air superiority for Malta, the Seafire and Spitfire did not achieve air superiority for Sicily and italy, no Spitfires were used by the USAAF, The Spitfire did not achieve complete superiority for D Day and so much more.
        I know many pilots who would call such comments stupid.

  9. canuckdriver

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I think you are dead wrong. Yes, they should, perhaps, have built some MB5’s, but it was a Mustang competitor, not a Spitfire competitor. Rolls Royce was putting in vast amounts of effort to increase the Mustangs performance in conjunction with North American.

    The Spitfire was conceived as an interceptor, not a long range escort fighter. Without it, the Hurricanes would have had little hope against 109F, G and later models and none at all against FW190’s. The Hurricane, while a good gun platform was simply too slow, both in climb and straight line speed. No model of Hurricane was as fast as Spitfire Mk1, never mind the superb Marks 9, 16 and 14. The Spitfire kept pace with, or was one jump ahead of both the 109 and 190 for most of the war. Adolph Galland referred to the Hurricane as, “a nice aeroplane to shoot down”.

    Hence, your assertion that the Hurricane won the Battle of Britain is inaccurate. Without the Spitfire to engage the fighters, the Hurricanes would have had no opportunity to engage the bombers. Essentially, the Hurricane needed a Spitfire escort to protect it from either the 109s or the 190’s. Both aircraft were needed to score the win. Yes, I am fully aware that Hurricanes shot down more aircraft during the Battle of Britain than did the Spitfire. However if you look further into this, you will see that Fighter Command had roughly twice as many Hurricanes as Spitfires. The Spitfires took on the fighters, primarily, while the slower climbing Hurricanes went for the bombers. Kill ratios, however were better for the Spitfire than for the Hurricane.

    Would the MB5 have proven to be a better fighter? The A&AEE and the AFDU thought that it offered little if any advantage over the Spitfire. Trying to set up a new production line, diverting engines and materials, workforce, security, etc. during the BoB might well have been all the edge that the Luftwaffe needed.

    • sglover

      “Essentially, the Hurricane needed a Spitfire escort to protect it from either the 109s or the 190’s. Both aircraft were needed to score the win.”

      How true is that? I mean, during the Battle of Britain (when there were no FW-190’s). My sense is that through most of that battle RAF squadrons engaged piecemeal, as they encountered the Germans. The “Big Wing” theory only came into practice late in the battle, and then on only a few occasions. In the absence of that, how often did commanders have the luxury of saying, “OK Spitfires, you exclusively attack the fighters, while you Hurricanes focus solely on the bombers”? I suspect the actual fighting was too fluid and chaotic to allow such neat assignments.

      • navalairhistory

        @Sglover – the Luftwaffe was desperate to get its fighters into contact with the RAF’s, but the fighter control system made them relatively easy to avoid. One tactic they adopted was to fit bombs to groups of 109s and 110s so they could attack targets as fighter-bombers, hoping that they would be reported as bombers and fighters vectored to intercept. Spitfires were generally stationed at higher altitudes, assuming they could get to their assigned height before being bounced, so were somewhat more likely to encounter German fighters, which at times also patrolled above the bombers. But overall it was not nearly as simple as ‘Spitfires>fighters and Hurricanes>bombers’.

    • navalairhistory

      There are a number of issues I’d disagree with here. If you read the article you’ll see I was referring to the Sabre engined MB3, not the later Griffon-engines MB5. You suggest it was a Mustang competitor, not a Spitfire competitor – this is reasonable, as what was needed c.1941-2 was a Spitfire replacement. The MB3 and Mustang were both of a later design, and it showed.

      The point about Hurricanes vs Bf109Fs and Gs/Fw190/ is reasonable – however, I never suggested that the Hurricane should supplant the Spitfire after 1940, indeed, like the Spitfire it should have been replaced as quickly as possible after the Battle of Britain. I also dispute that the Spitfire was one jump ahead of the Bf109 and Fw190. The 190 ran rings around the Spitfire Mk.V and even when the Mk.IX came along, the Spitfire’s roll-rate was far inferior.

      Galland’s opinion proves little. The Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain made a great deal out of Hurricanes being poor and Spitfires being the only worthy foe. The trouble was, they were wrong. Another 109 pilot, Hans Otto Lessing wrote home saying that ‘the Hurricane is a tire old puffer’. Stephen Bungay points out that the following day, a tired old puffer shot him down.

      As to the point that Hurricanes needed a Spitfire escort, this is a popular misconception but simply not the case. First of all, Fighter Command’s tactics were to avoid engagements with fighters wherever possible and attack only bombers. When large groups of German fighters flew free-hunting missions, they were easy to avoid. When they stuck to the bombers, their qualitative advantage eroded. Hurricanes shot down Bf109s at a rate of 1.6:1. Furthermore, the 109’s short range meant that it needed to find and bounce a target quickly. The notion that the Spitfire kept the 109s off the Hurricanes’ back is attractive to Spitfire fans, but not borne out by the evidence.

  10. Gaston Marty

    The Spitfire’s tactical strong points are probably among the most poorly understood of WWII fighters. It is generally an overrated but capable design. Here are some salient points of its tactical advantages/disadvantages.

    #1: It did not turn that well (inferior to both the Hurricane and the FW-190A in prolonged turning, according to RCAF pilot John Weir, and many combat accounts demonstrate this very well, including those by top ace Johnny Johnson): The Spitfire’s wing for some reason displayed poor lift while turning, but excellent 3 axis control while stalling: This, combined with overly light elevators, allowed it to stall and turn itself to point “inside the circle”, in effect allowing to briefly shoot “across the circle” while stalling: The powerful 20 mm wing guns often made this brief advantage pay off. Most of the time, with an average 2% hit rate, the target had to be shot at a long time, which made turning dogfights far more important in WWII than is generally acknowledged.

    The Spitfire sustained turns poorly, so much so Russian tactics had to be adapted when they used this aircraft (they even tried removing the outer guns to help it), the Russians being forced to use instead dive and zoom tactics to which the Spitfire was well adapted (as did most users of the Spitfire, including the RAF). However, its light elevators did allow some harsh initial turns at high speed, giving the impression of a high turn rate after a dive, again helpful in diving attacks.

    #2 It rolled poorly: This is well established, but less well-known is that it was actually one of the poorest of all WWII fighters in roll at higher speeds: This was not so pronounced at high altitudes, because the thinner air was more forgiving to its flexible wings, and its low lateral stick leverage.

    #3 It was a great diver: For extreme high speed dives from high altitudes, it was one of the better WWII propeller fighter aircraft, superior in diving speed even to the US fighters, until denser lower altitude air was encountered, where its lack of wing rigidity allowed US fighters to overcome it. Again this was a feature favourable to diving and zooming attacks, which is how it was actually used.

    #4 It was an extremely good climber: Little emphasized is that the +25lbs boost LF Mk IX probably had the highest climb rate of any WWII piston engine fighter below 20 000 feet. Again a feature helping vertical fighting and dive and zoom tactics.

    As a fighter it was forgiving to novice, and its engine kept up with the pace of development: Its short range severely reduced its usefulness.

    One on one it was a match to the Me-109, but much inferior to the FW-190A in overall maneuverability, particularly for roll and sustained horizontal turns, but far superior on the vertical plane where the 190 was very poor. It roughly matched the P-51, and far outclimbed the P-47, but like the FW-190A, the P-47 was better on sustained horizontal turns, which is why almost all combat accounts have the big fighter obsessively used in turns, especially vs the Me-109, while the Spitfire climb and dived.

    As to the airframe cost in man-hours, I would point out that the relevance of this may depend on the industry: With an excess of labour and a lack of machinery, and especially materials, it might make sense to go for a labour-intensive design that is economical in materials: The engine is the most costly item in any case… Pilot training is also much more costly in time, and the pilot was always more valuable than his machine. In any case, whatever the case may be, the Spitfire did not provide any large superiority except for its climb rate, and maybe its handling at very high altitudes (25 000 feet plus).

    Gaston

    • navalairhistory

      Thanks Gaston, really interesting insight and great details. I hadn’t come across the stalling and turning across the circle ability, though I imagine it would take a skilled pilot to make that work (much as it would to use the Bf109’s automatic slats to improve its turning circle, as some pilots claimed).

      I’m interested in the suggestion that the Spitfire was a better diver than other fighters, as my sources (generally Air Fighting Development Unit, A&AEE etc) make it a middling performer in that regard – although that could be because tests were carried out at lower altitudes. Certainly the Spitfire’s thin wing gave it a higher critical Mach number than just about any other WWII fighter, though I’m not sure how much use that was tactically. AFDU puts the Typhoon and Tempest quicker to accelerate in the dive, though the Spitfire then catches the Typhoon, and states that the Mustang Mk.III is far superior in the dive in all conditions to the Spitfire IX, and still has an advantage over the Spitfire XIV though the difference is less marked. It was, as you say, one of the best climbers out there in a sustained climb, though other aircraft like the Tempest V and Mustang could zoom climb a bit better.

      What I’d like to look into further is where the Spitfire did have tactical superiority and if this suited the prevailing nature of combat at the time. For example, it was pretty well suited to combat over Britain at 20,000 feet in 1940 (I think it was Stephen Bungay who said that if the BoB had been fought at 30,000ft, Britain might well have lost) but less well suited to fighter sweeps over France, and its high-altitude superiority didn’t count for much in late 1944-45 when most air combat was at lower levels. But I need to do further research on this aspect.

      • Gaston Marty

        The better diving was a function of the high mach number of its wing, which is THE critical issue at high altitude, while structural rigidity and buffeting is the limitation at low altitudes: At high altitude it could dive to higher speeds than some US fighters, but it was a slim advantage: Against the Me-109 this advantage was more pronounced, but the Me-109 may have had the better acceleration into the dive (no negative G loss of power due to fuel injection), which could initially “mask” the Spitfire’s “theoretical” advantage in absolute dive speed.

        The view of the Spitfire I am presenting is unusual because it is largely an issue of test pilot opinion vs front line pilot observations in combat: Front line pilots observations proved more consistent to me, and paint a radically different picture from test pilots like Eric Brown.

        For a test pilot like Eric Brown, the heavier and smaller winged FW-190A could never compete with the Spitfire in a turning match -it just does not fit aerodynamic theory- but ask a frontline 32 kill pilot like top Ace Johnny Johnson, and you will find the reality he describes is completely the reverse… The case of the Mk IX “redressing the balance” against the FW-190A is often presented to me to counter the notion of a more maneuverable FW-190A…

        The Spitfire Mk IX was compared to a Spitfire Mk V, and the only large advantage to a Mk V that was found was its tremendous climb rate (the Mk IX was deemed equal in turns, but was in fact slightly inferior to a Mk V): This climb rate is what allowed the Mk IX to outperform the FW-190A when climbing above it and diving to attack: Vertical maneuvers were the bane of the FW-190A, which was limited to being a superior turn fighter, and the fact test pilot Eric Brown advocated the opposite shows you how removed test pilots were from the front line reality… This is despite Eric Brown having had one personal encounter with the FW-190A while in a Spitfire: Neither could get hits, probably because both were flying opposite to their aircraft’s predilection…

        A 1943 Russian article in “Red Fleet” did a detailed analysis fo the FW-190A and the Me-109G’s relative strengths, and they described from frontline experience how they “related” and “complemented” one another (German ace Rall described the 190 as “Saber” and the 109 as a “Rapier”, which is very explicit on this point): FW-190A was the better turner and was used exclusively in horizontal maneuvers at lower speeds and altitude (Quote: “The FW-190A will -inevitably- offer turning combat at a -minimum- speed”), while the Me-109G flew above that and made high speed diving attacks (this pattern remained in effect all the way to Boddenplatte in 1945). They found vertical maneuvers and maintaining high speeds were the best way to defeat the FW-190A, while they found the Spitifire inadequate for slow horizontal maneuvers, which were traditional Russian tactics against the Me-109, tactics that had to be changed while using the Spitfire, or against the FW-190.

        Interestingly, one of the few aircrafts the Russians found that could fight both on the vertical and the horizontal quite well was the early P-39s, but later models became unbalanced and dangerous in a way they never entirely figured out: Later P-39 models killed several of their aces…
        Gaston

        .

  11. Joshua Letchford

    It would be interesting to see some statistics not only on how many planes Hurricanes and Spitfires shot down, but how many fighters and how many bombers they shot down, respectively, and compare those stats with reports about whether Air Command attempted (and succeeded) to pair Hurricanes with bombers and Spitfires with fighters.

    Because *if* the Spitfire was more often facing fighters, then it’s no surprise it endured heavier losses than the Hurricanes, but it would be surprising that they had a higher kill ratio against tougher opponents.

    On another subject- given the limited number of pilots, the question “what if they had built Hurricanes instead of Spitfires, and had 3x as many planes” is irrelevant because there was nobody to fly them. Suggestions about what else the resources could have been spent on are more relevant, although in the BoB at least, up till maybe 1942 perhaps, the RAF was far more important than either Bomber Command or the Navy’s aerial capacity.

    • navalairhistory

      Actually I’d suggest that with the BoB won, it was exactly the time to catch up on deprioritised types. In 1941, while Fighter Command was casting about France either encountering no opposition or taking heavy losses, the Royal Navy was being pummelled in the Med with inadequate air cover. On the day FC staged a 100-fighter sweep with no results, HMS Illustrious was virtually being bombed to scrap, protected by a few Fulmars. Formidable suffered similar at Crete. Question is less about more fighters for the BoB than more sustainable squadrons, and having to make fewer compromises elsewhere to achieve them. For all the times we hear that aircraft supplies were not the problem in the BoB, industrial capacity was still a huge issue for UK air power as a whole.

      • Matt

        Presumably resources that could also have been put into ASW during a crucial period of the Battle of the Atlantic

  12. pjstoddart

    The article was very interesting and clearly thought and comment provoking. It is right to question reputations as they can develop incorrectly if early assertions are repeated uncritically. Too may documentaries are filmed through rose tinted filters with no analysis and too many people saying “You didn’t fly it, you strapped it on”.
    Regarding the roll rate, the Spitfire was certainly deficient compared with the Fw 190 but then most if not all other WW2 fighters were as well, It is also important to distinguish between the Spitfire’s roll rate with the standard wing and its notably higher rate with the tips clipped. See https://www.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://i7.photobucket.com/albums/y294/mynameisroland/RollChartClr2.jpg&imgrefurl=http://forum.il2sturmovik.com/topic/6207-roll-measurements-fw-190-rae-1231/&h=745&w=554&tbnid=ApfGVdUm_tbuMM:&docid=E-uURmK4ehGeBM&hl=en&ei=dotoVvPGGobse43JiPgB&tbm=isch&ved=0ahUKEwjz2Z_Qy8_JAhUG9h4KHY0kAh8QMwgeKAEwAQ . The poor roll rate, especially at higher speeds was partly a function of insufficient wing torsional stiffness; this was not fixed until the Mk 21, ie years after the problem was spotted. There was a similar delay in adapting it for a bubble canopy.
    The narrow track of the Spitfire was less forgiving, especially on rough fields and carrier flight decks than the Hurricane’s outward opening landing gear. However, the Bf 109’s even narrower u/c was responsible for many accidents.
    The Air Ministry and RAF missed a major opportunity (and obligation) by failing to develop the Spit’s radius of action. The Americans modified two Mk IXs at Wright Field with additional internal fuel plus drop tanks and then presented them to Boscombe Down as proof that the Spit could be made into a viable escort fighter. The reaction appeared to be along the lines: “This may work in practice but unfortunately it is contrary to doctrine”. ACM Portal (then CAS) apparently could not be convinced that extending the Spit’s RoA was possible or desirable. See ‘Air Enthusiast’ late 2000 for an assessment of Spitfire RoA potential.
    Inferior armament is a fair criticism. The retention of the 0.303 inch Browning was excessive given the far greater effectiveness of the 0.50 inch calibre as a complement to the excellent 20mm Hispano. Where the Spitfire was arguably most deficient was in ammo capacity with notably less than most of its opponents. Combat endurance requires ammunition as well as fuel.
    The great capabilities of the Spit were its development potential in accepting more power for more performance plus its relatively benign handling for a fighter. The washout caused the roots to stall first so retaining lateral control. This helped less experienced pilots to approach the limits with some confidence. The Fw 190 had a sudden and vicious stall; not a major problem for an expert but a threat to the novice.
    Certainly the Spitfire had its faults and its full potential was not realised. Overall, I acknowledge that the article has some good points but I certainly disagree that it was “not especially competitive in the second half of the war”. The Mk V was inferior to the BF 109F and G and most definitely to the Fw 190 A. However, the Mk IX/XVI and XIV were very capable aircraft

    • Daren Cogdon

      “The Air Ministry and RAF missed a major opportunity (and obligation) by failing to develop the Spit’s radius of action.”
      So, you discount the long-range droptanks fitted to increase the range, or the integral wing tanks that were built into some marks?

      “Inferior armament is a fair criticism. The retention of the 0.303 inch Browning was excessive given the far greater effectiveness of the 0.50 inch calibre as a complement to the excellent 20mm Hispano.”
      The Spitfire IX was fitted with a single .50cal in each wing from early 1944 onwards. The single 20mm cannon and .50cal armament fit was adopted for the Mk.XIV, XVI and XVIII afterwards.

      “The narrow track of the Spitfire was less forgiving, especially on rough fields and carrier flight decks than the Hurricane’s outward opening landing gear. However, the Bf 109’s even narrower u/c was responsible for many accidents.”
      The Spitfire’s gear is narrower – if you look at the two from the front, the ‘109’s gear splays outwards slightly further. It’s the toe-in on the wheels, the torque from the propeller/engine, the small vertical tail surfaces and the fact that the ‘109 was tail-heavy which contributed most to ground-handling accidents.

      “The Mk V was inferior to the BF 109F and G and most definitely to the Fw 190 A.”
      Yet still gave a good account of itself against such aircraft, particularly in Malta.

      • pjstoddart

        Daren,
        Thanks for the comments. I was half way through replying when the laptop decded to shut itself down so you may this reply more than once.
        “The Air Ministry and RAF missed a major opportunity (and obligation) by failing to develop the Spit’s radius of action.”
        So, you discount the long-range droptanks fitted to increase the range, or the integral wing tanks that were built into some marks?
        Reply: I do not discount these modifications, my point is that they were not pursued with enough vigour so reducing the impact they might have achieved. The first drop tanks were the flush fitting ventral tanks of ‘bath’ like form. These were of high drag for their volume compared to cylindrical or ‘teardrop’ tanks as used by the Mustang under the wing and, eventually, by the Spitfire under the centreline. The ‘bath’ tanks came in 30, 45, 90 and (from memory) 170 gallon sizes with the last used solely for ferry purposes (eg to Malta). The American modified Mk IXs (two only) used teardrop form tanks under the wing but the RAF did not adopt this option. The rear fuselage tanks contained 75 gallons (or 66 gallons in the cut down rear fuselage case). Like the Mustang, the rearward shift in the CoG induced handling problems. The Americans dealt with it by using the rear tank fuel first so bringing the CoG back into limits. The leading edge wing tanks were almost full span in the PR versions but limited to the wing root in the fighters. It should have been possible to develop leading edge wing tanks for the fighter inboard and outboard of the armament so achieving greater capacity. The autumn 2000 ‘Air Enthusiast’ article on Spitfire range potential gives details of fuel volume and tank options. My point is that the Spitfire had potential as a long range escort that the Air Ministry did not fully achieve.

        “Inferior armament is a fair criticism. The retention of the 0.303 inch Browning was excessive given the far greater effectiveness of the 0.50 inch calibre as a complement to the excellent 20mm Hispano.”
        The Spitfire IX was fitted with a single .50cal in each wing from early 1944 onwards. The single 20mm cannon and .50cal armament fit was adopted for the Mk.XIV, XVI and XVIII afterwards.
        Reply: Yes but I believe that the 0.50 Browning could and should have been adopted sooner. The RAF used the weapon in the P-40 (and the FAA in the Wildcat) so it was a well understood option. Limits to industrial capacity may have been the main obstacle.

        “The narrow track of the Spitfire was less forgiving, especially on rough fields and carrier flight decks than the Hurricane’s outward opening landing gear. However, the Bf 109’s even narrower u/c was responsible for many accidents.”
        The Spitfire’s gear is narrower – if you look at the two from the front, the ‘109’s gear splays outwards slightly further. It’s the toe-in on the wheels, the torque from the propeller/engine, the small vertical tail surfaces and the fact that the ‘109 was tail-heavy which contributed most to ground-handling accidents.
        Reply: My mistake. I thought no further than the wing root mounting of the 109’s oleos and did not take into account the outwrad splay.

        “The Mk V was inferior to the BF 109F and G and most definitely to the Fw 190 A.”
        Yet still gave a good account of itself against such aircraft, particularly in Malta.
        Reply: I need to read up on the Malta campaign. Around autumn 1941, CinC Fighter Command formally informed the Air Ministry that the Mk V was outclassed by the latest German fighters especially the 190.

    • navalairhistory

      I suspect you’ve hit the nail on the head there elleetoo. Spine-tingling stuff. (Although there are two shots in the video that are actually Hurricanes!) And there’s a whole other argument about whether the propaganda value of having Spits in service throughout the war outweighed some other considerations. I’m interested in whether or not the Spitfire’s iconic status gets in the way of an objective assessments of the aircraft’s strengths and shortcomings. From some of the responses I’ve had here and elsewhere, I think I’d say broadly yes, but there’s hope.

      • Neilw

        You describe the aircraft as if they are autonomous robots. If Spitfires were being shot down faster this is more to do with pilot and tactics rather than airframe I’m afraid, so your assumption that things would have got worse if the BoB had gone on is misguided at best.

        At the start of a conflict you make do with what you have – that was Spitfire and Hurricane production and you overcome any flaws best you can.

        The Spit was a more advanced design – but that’s progress otherwise Sopwith Camels would have been fighting instead.

        As already pointed out the RAF were not short of airframes but experienced pilots.

        Roll rate is a well known issue which later clipped wing types improved upon as mentioned. Again something that comes down to how it is used!

        By the time the Mk.21 was in service (1945) the Meteor FMK1 had been in service for about 6 months. It too had many flaws and wasn’t that fast to begin with – but only another jet matched that interceptor performance you will find.

        The Spitfire had some flaws but writing a 100% negative article in order to bash as much as possible is not warranted – it proved more than good enough compared to contemporary piston fighters of the era.

      • Stewart

        Many have made light of the Spit’s terrible rate of roll at higher speeds. But what they all failed to understand is that a plane can not make any significant turn without first rolling to “bank” it’s wings into the turn.
        As it rolls, it is going straight as a perfect target. Most studies of the subject state without equivocation that the “vast majority” of “all planes shot down had less than 30 Degrees angle of bank on” when they died.
        I do not think any here will dispute these facts as they are very widely known and accepted.

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  30. Matteo Belletti

    And so why Mr. Adolf Galland ask for Spitfire to win Battle Of Brittain?

    I think Spitfire was one of the most iconic fighter aircraft ever made. Much more than Thyphoon and Tempest will never be.

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  32. Gibbs

    You over look the genius forward thinking in the spitfire’s design. Its elliptical wings meant that the plane fitted perfectly onto thousands of crappy commemorative plates.

  33. Bill Malcolm

    Of course, one can bend one’s statistics fifty ways to Sunday, make certain assumptions that may or may not be valid, and proclaim a revelation.

    It’s always been a fact, from everything I’ve read, that Britain had a dire shortage of Merlin engines in 1940, in fact right up till Packard starting making a difference. So, if somehow they could have knocked out three times as many Hurricane airframes instead of Spits, they would have had no engines to put in them. Ponder that.

    Then there’s the matter of the actual manhours needed to make the airframes. Where did you get your figures from? Seriously. If one reads Postan, British War Production, then the Hurricane took 10.3 thousand hours, the Spit 15.2, and a Halifax bomber 76,000 hours. These figures are totally different from yours, and I see no reason to believe yours rather than these – if these are true, well the case for the Hurricane goes out of the window.

    http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/UK-Civil-WarProduction/UK-Civil-WarProduction-4.html#fn89

    Don’t forget to go back up the page and read about the Merlin engine shortage!.

    As for the various comments on its handling qualities and inspired amateur attempts to pull cotton wool out of one’s left ear, here’s a link to a rather more learned article from Ackroyd from the Aircraft historical Society in 2013:

    https://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://aerosociety.com/Assets/Docs/Publications/The%2520Journal%2520of%2520Aeronautical%2520History/2013-02_SpitfireWing-Ackroyd.pdf&ved=0ahUKEwiflN_jqo_QAhVF94MKHXV6CzAQFghVMBE&usg=AFQjCNGmObkISmfgFmRF3Muo3EAa42ZBHw

    Don’t you hate Google links to a .pdf? Still, people with actual knowledge have critiqued this article, and speaking as a professional engineer, not a British pumber, it seems to address the Spitfire’s wing design from a somewhat less devil-may-care attitude than the revelations I got reading your post.

  34. Stewart

    Quote” It’s always been a fact, from everything I’ve read, that Britain had a dire shortage of Merlin engines in 1940, in fact right up till Packard starting making a difference. So, if somehow they could have knocked out three times as many Hurricane airframes instead of Spits, they would have had no engines to put in them. Ponder that.

    Then there’s the matter of the actual manhours needed to make the airframes. Where did you get your figures from? Seriously. If one reads Postan, British War Production, then the Hurricane took 10.3 thousand hours, the Spit 15.2, and a Halifax bomber 76,000 hours. These figures are totally different from yours, and I see no reason to believe yours rather than these – if these are true, well the case for the Hurricane goes out of the window.” End Quote;
    If there was a shortage, they could have stopped building bombers to make more fighter planes. In times of critical shortages, good managers make critical choices to allocate resources where they are needed most.
    So much for the engine shortage.
    Now on to other questions never raised in the Spitfire mythos. It was not the best fighter plane Britain could have bought, or built in that time frame because the flying qualities that made it easy to fly also made it a less than great weapon.
    More on this later, if you are willing to have a rational discussion.

  35. Barrie rodliffe

    What a load of Bollocks. The Spitfire was the best allied fighter of the war without question. without it the Battle of britain would have been much harder, Malta may have been lost, Sicily the Seafire and Spitfire gave complete air superiority, Italy the same and also D Day.
    Also the spitfire performed many jobs other fighters could not do, even late in the war when the RAF had the excellent Tempest they still used the spitfire for top cover, against the V 1 the spitfire played a very important role, against the Me 262 the Spitfire showed how good it was. Even the USAAF often used Spitfires for escorting their bombers.

  36. Stewart

    QUOTE “December 7, 2015 – 9:31 am navalairhistory
    @sglover – the problem with the Battle of Britain was that the Germans thought they could win it. To have done so they would have needed to destroy 1.8 British fighters (on the ground or in the air) for every aircraft they lost, and most days they struggled to exceed 1:1. German intelligence overestimated the number of aircraft they were destroying and underestimated British industry’s capability to replace them. Although seen at the time as a close-run thing, it would have taken a good deal worse fortune to even lose it in the air. Had the RAF been totally destroyed and the Germans still had reasonably significant air power, I think it would have been possible for Germany to defeat the Royal Navy in the Channel, but only if there was no air cover whatsoever.”

    Most of the history written at the time states that the RAF was just two days from defeat when the Germans switched strategic plans and lost the BoB! If they had continued to bomb the air fields instead of switching to London, the RAF would have had to pull all of their AC back out of range leaving the channel and southern England helpless.
    If the Spit had to fly from bases in Wales and the Midlands, they would have intercepted a tiny fraction of the planes they did during the Blitz. They also would have had to use the same throttle restrictions as the Germans, or fail to RTB and be lost.

    The throttle restrictions imposed on the Germans by the cross channel RTB cause the inferior RAF Planes to appear to be much better than they were. Then it would be likely that instead of the Nazis shooting down fewer RAF planes, they would most likely have shot them down in very much greater numbers, like those over France where Spits lost 4.5 to 7 for every EA they shot down.

    This factor is never discussed, but fuel state makes a huge difference to how well your plane performs. If you have more fuel, you can use more throttle and the plane is both faster and more maneuverable. Each time a plane turns, it slows down, or it must use more throttle to maintain it’s speed. Pull enough G and no amount of throttle on any prop plane other than the VTOL XVF-1 tail sitter, it slows down, and eventually stalls out, or pulls less G! It is the difference between thrust required for straight and level flight and a heavily loaded turn that determines which plane can out maneuver which! Any P-38/39/40 with gas to spare can easily out maneuver any plane with “Bingo” fuel!
    This fact is not in dispute by any real pilot! For instance, the maximum range cruising speed of the Spitfire Mk-1/3 that fought the BoB is about 195 MPH. Fly faster than this and you are shot down by your own bad fuel management before you can RTB! At that speed and throttle, it can pull about 4 G for about 45-60 degrees of turn, then 3 G for about 60-90 more, then 2 G for maybe 90 more! After that, it will be flying just BARELY above stall speed, going straight and level for several minutes until it can slowly build up speed AT VERY SMALL THROTTLE OPENINGS. Take your pick, but any of the previous three planes can pull more G for longer than that if they have fuel to burn and no pilot on earth can out fly any of them with dry tanks!

    • Ivan

      I suppose to alleviate a Merlin shortage they could have built 300 Lancaster’s with radial engines instead of stopping bomber production.

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