Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc Trop of No.457 Squadron
Arguably one of the most iconic aircraft of the Second World War is the Supermarine Spitfire. Interestingly, it is the only Allied fighter to have been in front-line service from the start of WW2 (as a global conflict, in September 1939) until the end of WW2 (August/September 1945), with a first flight occurring in early 1936 and a final retirement from service in 1961.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the Spitfire's origins date back to Supermarine and R. J. Mitchell's seaplane designs for the Schneider Trophy (even more surprisingly, T. E. Lawrence helped Supermarine develop these aircraft!). The Supermarine S.5 won the 1927 Schneider Trophy, and in 1929 and 1931 the Trophy was won by Supermarine S.6 and S.6b, respectively. In 1931, when Air Ministry specification F7/30 was put forth, Supermarine submitted a highly modified S.6b, designated the Supermarine Type 224. Unfortunately, the sole Type 224 built was a disappointment, being unable to reach its predicted top speed or climb rate. Out of around 8 designs submitted from about 6 companies, in 1934 the Air Ministry eventually chose the Gloster Gladiator to be the production aircraft resulting from F7/30.
In 1933, R. J. Mitchell and the rest of his design team went to work on improving the unsatisfactory Type 224. This private venture resulted in the Type 300, which at a glance looks very similar to what we now know as the Spitfire. One of the design decisions made was to use the new Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. While the Air Ministry did not accept the Type 300 upon its submission in July 1934, in December of that year they issued contract AM 361140/34 for a modified Type 300. In January 1935, specification F10/35 was issued specifically for the Supermarine design.
One of the most iconic parts of the Spitfire design is its elliptical wing. While difficult to produce, an elliptical wing is one of the most aerodynamically efficient shapes and allowed the Spitfire wing to simultaneously be thin while housing retractable landing gear, armament, and ammo. The early Merlin engine Spitfires had four main types of wing designs, each with the same dimensions but with differing internal armament and fuel tank layouts. The first type of wing, imaginatively called the 'A-type' was the original wing design, with eight .303 calibre (7.7x56mmR) Browning machine guns (four per wing). The 'B-type', introduced in 1940, was basically an A-type that had been modified to accept an overall armament of two 20mm Hispano cannons and four .303 Brownings. Introduced in late 1941, the 'C-type,' also known as the 'Universal wing', was designed to minimize manufacturing time and to accept a wide variety of armament options, including eight .303 Brownings, or four 20mm Hispanos, or two 20mm Hispanos and four .303 Brownings. Additionally, the C-type allowed the Spitfire to carry bombs. A majority of the Mark V (Mk. V) Spitfires utilized the C-type wing, typically in the Hispano + Browning configuration. The final of the first four wing types was imaginatively called the "D-type," and was exclusively designed for some photo reconnaissance Spitfires, with extra fuel tanks rather than any sort of armament. There were at least two other wing designs used by the Spitfire, but these were introduced with either the late Merlin engine powered or Griffon engine powered variants, which are both outside of the purview of this write-up.
The first flight of the prototype for F10/35 occurred in March of 1936 (incidentally, just four months after the first flight of the Hawker Hurricane). Over the next few months incremental improvements were made, and the Spitfire was first revealed to the British public in late June of 1936. Unfortunately, while full-scale production was to have begun at that time, the first production Spitfire did not leave the assembly line until mid-1938. This was due to many factors, including Supermarine factories having to fill orders for other aircraft designs and a reticence to let outside contractors use their blueprints. By the time the first 310 Spitfires had been produced, the project was noticeably over budget and behind schedule. Naturally, the beginning of WW2 and the Battle of Britain did little to help Supermarine's logistical problems.
While considered to be superior to the Hawker Hurricane in a dogfight, the early Spitfires were not without problems. Significantly, a lack of fuel injection in the early Merlin engines meant that a negative-g maneuver would cause fuel starvation in the engine, a potentially deadly problem. In spring 1941, Royal Aircraft Establishment engineer Beatrice Shilling invented a device, known as Miss Shilling's Orifice," a simple but ingenious metal disk that would restrict fuel flow, reducing the probability of fuel starvation. While this contraption did not completely solve the problem, it served its purpose well until pressure carburetors were introduced in 1942-1943.
Due to its long history, the Spitfire has a somewhat complicated version history. In early 1940, the Mk. II Spitfire was finalized, though experiments with some of the changes that would make the Mk. II were begun in the summer of 1939. Most noticeably, when compared to the Mk. I, the Mk. II had the more powerful Merlin XII engine and a different propeller design. By early 1941, every Mk. I Spitfire had either been replaced by or converted into a Mk. II.
In the spring of 1940, the Mk. III Spitfire was developed, using the Merlin XX as its engine. The wingspan was also reduced, the landing gear retraction system redesigned, and the windscreen and cockpit changed. While the Mk. III was slated to replace the Mk. II, the decision to reserve the Merlin XX engine for the Hurricane II series of fighters effectively killed the Spitfire Mk. III.
Plans for what would eventually become the Spitfire Mk. IV were drawn up in 1939, when Supermarine design staff were considering upgrading the Spitfire to use the Rolls-Royce Griffon engine. This new engine design suffered from development issues, though, meaning that the Mk. IV Spitfire prototype would not be completed until November of 1941. This prototype would shortly thereafter be redesignated the Mk. XX, and led to the development of the Mk. XII, the first production Griffon engine powered Spitfire.
The Mk. V was designed in response to the RAF's fear that developments in German aircraft during late 1940 would allow the Luftwaffe to launch a high altitude bombing offensive. This new version of the Spitfire would require a pressurized cockpit and new version of the Merlin engine. Since this would take time to design, the Mk. V was quickly developed as a stop-gap measure. Overall, there were three major sub-variants of the Mk. V: The Mk. Va, Mk. Vb, and Mk. Vc. From what I can tell, the a, b, and c indicate which of the four major elliptical wing designs that particular Mk. V sub-variant used. Out of these three basic permutations, the Mk. Vb was the main production version, and the Mks. Vb and Vc underwent many changes, both small and large. Of particular interest are the tropicalized variants. Denoted as the Mk. Vb Trop and Mk. Vc Trop, these Spitfires had a Vokes air filter fitted over the carburetor air intake (located directly under the engine). The intent was to filter out dirt in the air, preventing rapid engine wear and tear. However, the added weight and drag significantly reduced aircraft performance. An RAF Maintenance Unit in Aboukir, Egypt made field modifications to the Vokes filter, and the resulting "Aboukir" filter was lighter and more streamlined. This field modification would eventually be developed into the Vokes Aerovee filter. It is also important to note that the Mk. Vc Trop was the first Spitfire to be sent overseas in great quantities.
There are many other variants of the Spitfire (around 24, depending on how you count them), and for the sake of time and space I shall cease discussing them with the Mk. V. In a nutshell, variants immediately after the Mk. V began to use Merlin engines with two-stage superchargers (including the well-known Mk. IX), and eventually, the last few Spitfire variants were fitted with Griffon engines.
During the Battle of Britain, Supermarine Spitfires fought alongside Hawker Hurricanes, and while Hurricanes were available in greater supply than Spitfires, the Supermarine design had a lower attrition rate than Hawker's workhorse. The main stratagem employed by Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Command was to use the Spitfires to distract Luftwaffe escort fighters while the Hurricanes focused on the German bombers. Additionally, modified Spitfires were the RAF's first high-speed photo-reconnaissance aircraft (in 1943, photo-reconnaissance Spitfires would verify that that V1 and V2 weapons were being built by the Germans at Peenemünde).
The Spitfire saw service in essentially every major front of WW2: over Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Pacific, and even on the Eastern Front by the Soviet Air Force. Additionally, some units in the U.S. Army Air Force flew Spitfires until they received P-47 Thunderbolts in early 1943.
In the Pacific, the Spitfire was flown by the Royal Air Force (RAF), the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). The first Spitfire received by the RAAF was the Mk. Vc Trop. Interestingly, Spitfire pilots in the Pacific had to adopt tactics that were almost the opposite of their counterparts in Europe. While the Spitfire could easily turn and maneuver with almost any other aircraft over Europe, the Japanese aircraft were in turn much more maneuverable than the Spitfires. However, Spitfires were noticeably faster than their Japanese opponents, while in Europe, they were either as fast as or slower than many other aircraft in the sky. This meant that while turn-fighting (as in a 'classic' dogfight) was a viable strategy in Europe and North Africa, hit-and-run types of strategies were necessary in the Pacific and China-Burma-India theaters of operation.No. 457 Squadron (RAAF)
No. 457 Squadron was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fighter squadron that was formed in England in mid-1941 as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, a large-scale pilot training program created by the United Kingdom and its colonies during World War 2. In the spring of 1942, the squadron flew missions over France, and in June 1942 was eventually transferred to Australia, ending up near Darwin by January 1943.
After the transfer, No. 457 Squadron's initial goal was to intercept and interdict Japanese raids on mainland Australia. In 1945, the squadron was transferred out of Australia to Morotai, and eventually Borneo, to support Allied invasions in those regions. The squadron was disbanded in early November, 1945.
More information about the squadron is available here.The Scale Model
This kit is the Směr 1:72 Spitfire Mk. Vc Trop, which is a 2000 retooling of a 1975 Heller kit. The livery is that of a Spitfire with No. 457 Squadron, RAAF Serial A58-84 and RAF Serial BS219 (nicknamed 'Jiminy Cricket'), presumably in early 1943. This website has very detailed information about RAAF Serial A58-84.
The kit instructions claimed that this livery was of a Spitfire piloted by one Frank Drury 'Bush' Hamilton, when No. 457 Squadron was stationed in New South Wales in 1943. There are a couple of complications with these claims, though. Personally, I do not believe that this livery is A58-84 in New South Wales, as the included decals had two 'victory markings' indicating enemy aircraft shot down. A picture of this Spitfire in February 1943 does not have these victory markings, implying that the kit's livery represents the aircraft after this month. No. 457 Squadron left New South Wales in January 1943, leading to a contradiction between the decals and kit description. Concerning the pilot of this Spitfire, A58-84 was flown by at least four pilots of No. 457, including 'Bush' Hamilton, Rex Wyndham Watson, Thomas Francis Roland Payne, and Robert Bruce Lloyd (source). If you have the time to spare, you should read the linked articles on these pilots of No. 457 Squadron. It's a very interesting history. An imgur album of the scale model and reference photo is available here.