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The Supermarine Spitfire

The Supermarine Spitfire by Chaz Bowyer. Prentice Hall, 1983, 64 pp.

The Supermarine Spitfire—a famous British fighter of the Second World War, noted for its actions during the Battle of Britain—was the only Allied fighter in continuous production throughout the war. In this fascinating account, British aviation historian Chaz Bowyer narrates the Spitfire’s story from the aircraft’s beginnings to its retirement from the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1950.

The opening chapter relates the progress of the Spitfire, a replacement for the RAF’s Bristol Bulldog, from the drawing board to its first flight in 1936 and entry into service two years later. The Spitfire joined the fight when a flight scrambled to intercept Luftwaffe Ju 88 bombers headed for the dockyard at the Firth of Forth, Scotland.

Subsequent chapters cover the fighter’s actions at the Battle of Britain, the highlight of its career along with that of the Hawker Hurricane, and during the Allied offensive from late 1941 to 1944. Bowyer also chronicles the Spitfire’s desert service during campaigns from the Island of Malta to North Africa, through the invasion of Sicily, to the independence of Israel in 1947. Notably, the air forces of both Israel and its adversaries flew Spitfires.

The naval version of the Spitfire, the Seafire, saw action in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic against German battleships and with the British Pacific Fleet. They were also in the Pacific, arriving in-theater in mid-1942 during operations against Japanese forces from Malaya and Australia up to India. Bowyer also mentions the RAF’s using the Spitfire for photo reconnaissance as early as 1939.

The penultimate chapter of the book focuses on the aircraft’s last years in the RAF through retirement in early 1950. Retirement did not mark the end of its career, however, since a number of Spitfires and Seafires continued to fly with the air forces and naval air arms of European, Middle Eastern, African, and Southeast Asian nations until 1960.

Each chapter is fully illustrated with photographs, cutaway drawings, and full-color artwork that would appeal to scale modelers. Supplementing the book are appendixes including performance data on all Spitfire models, a comparison of the Spitfire and Seafire, and a listing of all RAF, Royal Navy (Fleet Air Arm), and Commonwealth Air Forces squadrons that flew these magnificent aircraft. Furthermore, a four-page pictorial account introduces readers to famous Spitfire pilots and aces of the RAF, such as Wing Cdr Johnnie Johnson, credited with 38 victories, and Col Chesley Peterson, US Army Air Forces, who served in the “Eagle Unit.”

Aviation author Chaz Bowyer, who served in the RAF for 26 years, is to be commended for this impressive book. I highly recommend it to all aviation enthusiasts, scale modelers, military and civilian historians, students, and readers interested in the history of the RAF.

CDR Mark R. Condeno

Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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