When Winston Churchill uttered those famous words "this was our finest hour" after the Battle of Britain he was, if anything, understating the wonderful strength of the British people. Numerous gallantries were displayed by both citizen and military participants to protect their fabled island during this most dangerous time.
The story of the Battle of Britain is almost fairytale like in the drama being played out as "good against evil." Evil being represented by Adolf Hitler as he launched his attempt at invasion of the British Isles. Several important factors came into play at a most opportune time to help Britain defend it's kingdom. One of these was the new radar towers used to tell when an air attack was imminent. Another was the Spitfire.
Reginald J. Mitchell was a talented airplane designer with trophies under his belt for the famous seaplanes built by the Supermarine Seaplane Company. While recovering from illness in Germany he watched as Hitler created faster and more powerful fighters and bombers. He recognized the need for Britain to meet the coming challenge and began working on a design for a new fighter.
After several revisions and finally utilizing the new Rolls Royce Merlin P.V.12 engine the plane first took flight on March 5th 1936, flown by test pilot "Mutt Summers." When he landed, he reportedly told the ground crew to leave everything just as it was, it handled perfectly. On succeeding days the beginning of a legend was born. The speed, handling characteristics, and climbing rate, exceeded all expectations.
When Hitler started bombing Britain he didn't expect the amount of losses he was forced to take. His deadline for invasion kept being delayed further and further until he finally quit mentioning it. The reason was simple. When a bombing group started forming up over France the radar towers along the British coast would pick them up. The Spitfires were already there to meet them when they crossed the channel.
The Spitfire model most famous for carrying the load during the battle of Britain was the MK.1 with a 1,050 HP Merlin engine capable of 365 MPH at 19,000 feet. With it's eight .303 Browning machine guns and the ability to out climb any enemy plane it was like an avenging angel, and worse for the enemy, it seemed to be everywhere at once.
With it's classic elliptical wings it was easily recognized by the civilian onlookers as it fought many battles of life and death over the beautiful countryside under blue skies and over green farmland. The British people watching on the ground below could not help but be proud of their modern day knights. The Spitfire gave hope to many but pilots were tired and missions were relentless. Fortunately help was given.
Along with British and Canadian pilots there were also American and Polish volunteers. After Poland was invaded many of their pilots went to Britain to continue to fight for their country's freedom. Like "Pappy Boyington" was doing in China flying P-40 Warhawks, other Americans were now flying Spitfires. Even with these volunteers sleep was rare and missions were many. But deal with it they did.
There are so many wonderful and tragic stories about this legendary struggle. So much death and sacrifice took place, but it always seems that way in a legend. R.J. Mitchell died at 42 years of age while trying to perfect the Spitfire for Britain's defense. He had stomach cancer and instead of treating it with rest, he worked himself to death before the war started. He never knew how much he did for his country. He was just one of thousands who performed their own heroic duty no matter how small.
So this is why the Spitfire is revered not only in Britain, but anywhere great machines are appreciated and respected. While a simple machine itself cannot be a hero, this one has made heroes of many people, pilots and designers alike. Not only because of the machine itself, but because of the people who were affected by it, this airplane will continue to remain one of the most loved and revered in history.