Warbirds Wiki

A Spitfire Mk. XI

The Supermarine Spitfire was a single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by Great Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II.


The first production model of the Spitfire was the Mk I and it had a liquid-cooled, Merlin II engine capable of propelling the Mk I at speeds of up to 571.3 kmh.[1] The armament of the Mk I consisted of eight .303 MGs, each with 300 rounds of ammunition.[2]

The Mk I proved to be quite a reliable fighter and was quickly a popular choice among British pilots. It also had higher climb rates and maneuvering than some of the early German fighters giving it the edge during key early confrontations.[3]


The Spitfire had many variants throughout its service life. There were eventually 26 variants of Spitfire, not including the carrier based version, the Supermarine Seafire. The first variant was the Mk IA, [N 1] which was supplemented by the similar Mk II.[N 2] Some Mk IIA aircraft were fitted with a 40 UK gallon long range fuel tank under the outer starboard wing, and were known as the Type 343.[4]

The next major variant was the Mk V (Type 349) with Merlin 45 engine. As well as A and B type wings, the Mk V introduced the 'universal' C type wing, which could carry four machine guns, one cannon and two machine guns or two cannon.[4]

Following introduction of the superior Fw 190, it was decided, as a matter or urgency, to fit a Mk V airframe with a series 60 Merlin engine, in order to produce a new variant known as the Mk IX (Type 361), which could serve as an interim type until the dedicated Mk VIII (Type 359) could be made readily available. Initially fitted with the 'C' wing, later Mk IX aircraft received the 'E' wing, which had a 0.5 in machine gun located in the inner cannon space, with the 20 mm cannon moved to the outer position. [5]

The similar Mk XVI was fitted with Merlin engines built by Packard. Later Mk XVI aircraft had enlarged rudders and cut down fuselages with 'teardrop' rear vision hoods. [6]


High Altitude

During 1940-41 work on pressure cabins by the Royal Aircraft Establishment and Supermarine led to the development of a high altitude version of the Mk VB. Known as the Mk VI (Type 350), 100 examples of this version were built, and were equipped with a pressure cabin,[N 3] Merlin 47 engine,[N 4] four bladed propeller units with Jabo blades, and pointed wingtips, which increased the wingspan to 40 ft 2 in. Armament was similar to the VB.[7]

The Mk VI was followed by the Mk VII (Type 351), which was a Mk VI airframe redesigned to use the Merlin 60 series engine. [7]

in 1942, a pair of Mk VC in the Middle East were modified to undertake combat against high flying Ju-86 bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. One airframe eventually reached an altitude of almost 50,000 ft, despite neither aircraft being fitted with pressurization equipment. [8]


The idea of equipping Spitfire aircraft with floats was first considered in response to the Norwegian campaign of 1940. A single Spitfire Mk I was adapted to take floats similar to those fitted to the third Blackburn Roc, and was known as the Type 342,[N 5] but not completed before the end of the Norwegian campaign.

In 1942 the idea was revived, and Supermarine designed a set of floats with 90 percent buoyancy for the Spitfire Mk V. The floats were built and fitted by Folland Aircraft, and were attached to the wing spars some five feet from the centre-line using cantilever struts. The modified aircraft was tested as the Type 355, with one of the three examples built being flown in the Mediterranean area. in 1943 Folland fitted a set of floats to a Mk IX aircraft, which became the Type 385. All four aircraft had additional fin area, including an under fin to counteract destabilisation caused by the floats. [8]

The Air Ministry later requested submission of a proposal for a float variant of the F.21 Super Spitfire, but interest never progressed beyond the specification stage. Supermarine's involvement in Spitfire floatplanes was limited to design and specification work, with the actual conversions being carried out by Follands. [10]

Carrier Based versions

See entry for the Supermarine Seafire

The relative sophistication of the Spitfire led to a 1941 proposal for a two seat version of the Spitfire, which could be used for advanced training purposes.[N 6] Although the idea was not officially adopted by the British until after the war, ES127, a Mk VC assigned to 261 Squadron at Catania in Sicily, was fitted with an open cockpit in front of the original.[11] A Mk IX was modified in 1945 at No 1 Aircraft Depot, Leningrad for use as a two seat trainer, by the installation of a second closed cockpit behind the regular one.[12]

Speed Spitfire

In the late 1930s, as tension between Britain and Germany increased, the arms race in the air took on a literal form. At an international flying meeting in Zurich in July 1937, the Germans boasted that a highly modified Me 109, winner of the Circuit des Alpes, was now the fastest fighter in the world, capable of reaching 379 mph. The Air Ministry was unwilling to let this claim go unchallenged and Supermarine, working with Rolls-Royce, were instructed to build a special high-speed version of the Spitfire, which could break the world speed record for a land plane. The plane that the company came up with had a number of changes compared to the Mark I production Spitfire, including a reduced wing area, an absence of gun mountings and radio fittings, a streamlined skid instead of a tailwheel, a new windscreen, a four-bladed propeller, and a highly polished finish. Above all, the aircraft had an adapted Merlin engine, based on the type used in the last Schneider Trophy winner and capable of 2,000 horsepower.

It was not until November I938 that the racing Spitfire was finally ready, by which time the Germans had extended their lead, as in June a Heinkel 100 had established a new record of 394 mph. However, Supermarine had not given up entirely and, in February 1939. the Speed Spitfire N.17 took off from Eastleigh and reached 408 mph. But more work was needed if a genuine challenge was to be mounted.[13] This led to the radiator being replaced with a water tank and condenser fitted in early 1940, in place of the upper fuel tank. However, any lingering hopes were extinguished in March by the news from Germany that an He 100 had attained the breathtaking speed of 463 mph, smashing not only the world land plane speed record but also the absolute world speed record, until then held by the Italian Macchi MC 72 seaplane at 440 mph. There was no chance that even the most streamlined and altered Spitfire of 1939 could go at anything like that pace. [N 7]

Exchanging it's N.17 record attempt identity for it's original serial number of K9834, the Speed Spitfire was converted to 'standard' condition, with a normal windscreen, three bladed Rotol propeller, Merlin XII engine and conventional radiator and oil cooler. Delivered to the RAF's Photo Reconnaissance Unit in November 1940, the aircraft was soon fitted with an oblique F.24 camera, but as the upper fuel tank had not been restored, the aircraft's range was reduced, limiting it's usefulness in the reconnaissance role. After further use as a unit 'hack' and communication aircraft,[16] as well as being flown over the Normandy beach head on D-Day by Air Commodore Bootham as his personal aircraft, K9834 was eventually struck of charge on 14 June 1946.[17]

Model XXX

Shortly after D-Day, a Spitfire Mk Vc was modified under this designation to transport two barrels of bear across the English Channel. The 18 gallon barrels were provided by Sussex Brewers Henty and Constable, and carried under the wings by modified bomb racks.[18]


The Spitfire was introduced into RAF service on 11th August 1938, at RAF Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK. They were used by 19 Sqn. It was designed by Reginald J. Mitchell, and was heavily based on his Schneider Trophy winning design, the S.6B. Unfortunately, Mitchell died before he had chance to see the Spitfire's success. The Spitfire was also used by many other allied countries throughout WWII, and it was continually used as a front line fighter up until the 1950's. The Spitfire was the most produced Allied fighter throughout WWII. It was most famous for its service defending against German aircraft during the Battle of Britain.


  1. Retrospective designation applied to distinguish the eight machine gun Type 300 aircraft from the IB version, the Type 331, which was fitted with two 20 mm cannon and four machine guns. [4]
  2. The Mk II (Type 329) was basically the Mk I powered by a 1,175 hp Merlin XII. Built at Castle Bromwich, the Mk II incorporated all the improvements developed for the Mk I, such as constant speed airscrew, on the production line. Like the Mk I, the Mk II was built with A (eight machine gun) and B (two cannon and four machine gun) wings. [4]
  3. This was fitted between the fore and aft cockpit bulkheads, and topped with a non sliding canopy to ease pressurisation. A Marshall blower provided an atmosphere differential of 2 lb per sq in, reducing apparent altitude from 40,000 ft to 28,000 ft.[7]
  4. This was the high altitude version of the Merlin 45.[7]
  5. Also known as the Narvik Nightmare.[9]
  6. A similar proposal for a two seat version of the Hawker Hurricane had been submitted in 1939.[11]
  7. Furthermore, the Heinkel record for a piston-engined plane was subsequently beaten when the Me 209 set a new record of 469 mph,[14] This record, which was falsely attributed to a Bf 109R (A non existent sporting version of the Bf 109),[15] stood for thirty years until it was beaten in 1969 by a Grumman Bearcat flying at 482 mph.[13]


  1. http://www.wwiivehicles.com/unitedkingdom/aircraft/fighter/supermarine-spitfire-mk-i.asp
  2. Template:Famous Fighters Page 138.
  3. http://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=218
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Famous Fighters Page 130.
  5. Green, William. Fighters. 1975. Page 134.
  6. Famous Fighters Page 135.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Famous Fighters Page 133.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Famous Fighters Page 136.
  9. Morgan, Eric B and Edward Shacklady. Spitfire - The History. 2000. ISBN 0 946219 48 6 Page 380
  10. Morgan, Eric B and Edward Shacklady. Page 386
  11. 11.0 11.1 Morgan, Eric B and Edward Shacklady. Page 303
  12. Morgan, Eric B and Edward Shacklady. Page 324
  13. 13.0 13.1 Template:Portrait of a Legend - Spitfire Pages 128-129
  14. Template:Combat Legends Spitfire I - V page 79
  15. Template:A&L Bf 109 Page 49
  16. Caygill, Peter - Spitfire page 77
  17. Morgan, Eric B and Edward Shacklady. Page 67
  18. McKinstry, Leo. Page 370

All items (16)