Spitfire Mark IA

Spitfire Mark IA, X4179 ‘QV-B’, of No. 19 Squadron RAF, on the ground at Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire, as the pilot undertakes a cockpit check prior to take off. Copyright IWM.

The two aircraft which won the Battle of Britain were the Hurricane and the Spitfire. The two came from very different stables. The Spitfire was the brilliant product of a genius, Reginald Mitchell. Mitchell had designed the winning entry in the Schneider Trophy of 1931 which, being the third consecutive win by Britain, won the Trophy outright. The Spitfire was the first all metal single seater fighter to see service with the RAF. The prototype emerged in March 1936. It was clearly a winner. But producing it was another matter. It was two and a half years before it at last emerged in sufficient numbers to go into squadron service. In August 1938 19 Squadron at Duxford was the first to receive Spitfires.

It was powered by the Rolls Royce Merlin engine which had virtually been built for it. Pilots loved the Spitfire. It was apparently a joy to fly. In combat it was the equal of the Me109. It had one significant advantage, it could turn in a tighter circle than its rival. This was due mainly to its thin wings.

In the Battle, the Spitfire behaved like a thoroughbred. Its maximum speed of 362 mph matched that of the Me109. In the Battle, it was the Mk1 which saw the most service. As a fighter machine it was the Me109’s all round equal. In one respect, it might be said, to have had an advantage in that it gave the pilots who flew it the reassuring feeling that can only be compared with the jockey who finds himself in the saddle on the winning horse.