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Posted on Feb 3, 2005 in War College

Profile: Supermarine Spitfire Vc

By Austin Vance

DESCRIPTION

Manufacturer:  Supermarine Divison of Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd.
Basic Model:  Fighter
Designation:  Spitfire Mk. Vc
Aliases:  Spitfire
Entry into Service:  Late 1941 
Total built:  2,447  
Total production (Variants):  20,351 
Cost:  Unknown

SPECIFICATION

Length:  29 ft. 11 in 
Height:  11 ft. 4.75 in. 
Wingspan:  36 ft. 10 in. 
Empty Weight:  5,050 Ibs 
Gross Weight:  6,785 lbs 

PERFORMANCE

Powerplant:  One twelve-cylinder, liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 of 1,470 hp
Maximum Range:  470 miles
Maximim Speed:  374 mph   
Cruising Speed:  322 mph
Service Ceiling:  37,000 ft 

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ARMAMENT

Guns:   Normally two Hispano 20 mm cannon (120 rounds per gun) and four Browning .303 machine guns (350 rounds per gun). Some with four Hispano 20 mm. cannon 

Ordnance:  two 250-lb. bombs or one 500-lb. bomb

STORY

Following the Battle of Britain in 1940, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had planned to replace its Spitfire Mk. I and II fighters with the Mk. III, which had been under development for two years. The Mk. III included significant improvements such as an improved wing design, a retractable tail wheel, and a new Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engine.

Before the RAF could put the Mk. III into production, however, the Germans introduced the improved Messerschmitt Bf 109F. Since this new German fighter greatly outperformed the current Spitfires at high altitude, the RAF could not wait for the factories to be retooled for the Mk. III, and they hurriedly developed an interim aircraft, the Sptifire Mk. V (the Mk. IV designation had already been assigned to another version).

Essentially, the Mk. V consisted of a modified Mk. II airframe with a new Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 engine (a Merlin XX modified to ease production and improve high altitude performance). Initially, the wing remained unchanged, but three different types emerged depending on the armament. With the suffix letter indicating the type of wing, the Mk. Va had eight Browning .303 machine guns, and the Mk. Vb had two Hispano 20 mm cannon and four machine guns. The Spitfire Mk. Vc introduced the "universal" wing which enabled this variant to be fitted with various combinations of armament, including four 20 mm. cannon and four .303 machine guns.

Most Spitfire Mk. Vc fighters had the B version armament with the outer cannon positions being covered, but the C wing carried 120 rounds for each cannon versus only 60 for each cannon on the B wing. The universal wing also used a strengthened landing gear that had been moved two inched forward to correct the Spitfire’s tendency to nose over on its propeller. In addition, the Spitfire Mk. Vb and Mk. Vc could carry two 250-LB bombs or one 500-LB bomb.

Unwilling to wait while the Mk. V went into hurried production, the RAF quickly converted more than 100 Spitfire Mk. I aircraft into the Mk. V version. These converted aircraft started arriving at the combat units in March 1941. In addition to these converted aircraft, a total of 6,464 Spitfire Mk. Vs were built between 1941 and 1943. Fighting on every front during the war, these Mk. Vs equipped more than 140 RAF squadrons, including the "Eagle" Squadrons composed of American volunteers flying for the RAF. Nine other Allied nations, including the United States, flew Mk. Vs. The United States Army Air Forces’ (USAAF) 31st and 52d Fighter Groups flew them first during Operation TORCH, the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. Some of the American pilots removed one machine gun from each wing to lessen weight and thereby improve maneuverability. Also, to protect the engine in the desert climate, the RAF tropicalized (Trop) the Spitfire Mk. Vs by adding either a Vokes or a smaller Aboukir air filter to the aircraft.

Originally, the Spitfire had been designed as a short-range home-defense fighter, but by 1941, the RAF had begun offensive operations over Nazi-occupied Europe. To extend the Mk. Vs range, the RAF adopted 30- and 9-gallon jettisonable fuel tanks which fit flush under the fuselage. Also, as the war progressed and fewer enemy fighters were encountered, the Spitfires began flying ground strafing missions. To improve the low-altitude characteristics, most Spitfire Mk. V’s had their wingtips removed. Categorized as low-altitude fighters, these aircraft carried the prefix of "L.F." (i.e. Spitfire L.F. Mk. Vc).

The Museum’s Aircraft:

The aircraft on display is a Spitfire Mk. Vc (Trop) built for Supermarine under license by Vickers-Armstrong in June 1943. Shipped to Australia in September 1943, it served with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). This aircraft is temporarily replacing the Hawker "Hurricane" that is normally displayed with the Battle of Britain Dispersal Hut. It is painted in the Standard RAF camouflage scheme for northern Europe to represent an aircraft flown by Americans with the RAF Eagle Squadrons. Our Hurricane has been removed from display to undergo final restoration, and it will be returned to this display in time for the opening of our third building. At that time, this Spitfire will be repainted to represent one flying with the USAAF in North Africa in 1943 and will take its place in the greatly expanded World War II gallery.

Suggested Reading:

Philip D. Caine, American Pilots in the RAF
Vern Haugland, The Eagles’ War

For more information, please visit http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/

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