Not only revered by the British public but feared by the Germans, the Spitfire legend was born during the Battle of Britain and grew throughout the war. Many German bomber crews hated the sight of Spitfires pouncing on them and the phrase "Achtung Spitfeuer!" (Attention Spitfire) became a regular chorus barked out over German radio.
Adolf Galland, the legendary German ace also apparently wanted a squadron of Spitfires at his disposal. Whether the story is totally true is up for conjecture but when Hermann Göring asked his Luftwaffe commanders what they needed to defeat the British, Galland supposedly requested a squadron of Spitfires. Galland was known for his dislike of Göring so it might have been a ploy just to rile the Luftwaffe commander. Galland believed that the Spitfire was an incredible plane, although he preferred the Messerschmitt, Galland knew that as a defensive fighter, the Spitfire was without peer especially in the early years of the war.
Famous Spitfire Aces
Some famous aces flew Spitfires during World War 2.
Considered to be the first Spitfire ace (credited with five enemy kills), Deere was a New Zealander, who joined the RAF in 1937. Deere became an ace in 1 week while defending British forces in France and at Dunkirk. He was shot down, but managed to find the British lines and was back across the channel in a matter of 19 hours! Deere had many other lucky escapes including a mid-air collision with a BF109 and an encounter with BF109's over Calais after he had chased one across the channel. Deere had this to say about been bounced by the Germans.
"Bullets seemed to come from everywhere, and pieces flew off my aircraft. Never did it take so long to cross the Channel. Then my Spitfire burst into flames, so I undid my straps and eased the stick back to gain height before bailing out. Turned my machine on its back and pushed the stick hard forward. I shot out a few feet but somehow became caught up. Although I twisted and turned I could not free myself. The nose of my aircraft had now dropped and was pointing at the ground which was rushing up at an alarming rate. Then suddenly I was blown along the side of the fuselage and was clear. A hurried snatch at the rip cord and, with a jolt, the parachute opened."
Deere ended the war with 22 confirmed victories, ten probable victories and 18 other aircraft damaged.
The second highest scoring British ace of the war, Johnson was an exceptional fighter pilot. Johnson joined the RAF in the late 1930's, but a problem shoulder that required an operation kept him out of the Battle of Britain. He then joined 616 squadrons based at Tangmere in 1941 and began to fly regularly, often in the Tangmere "Big Wing" with another ace Douglas Bader. By this time, the RAF were flying offensive missions over France and Johnson quickly became an ace. Johnson continued to fly regularly throughout the war and was the top scoring British pilot against the feared Focke Wulf FW190. He ended the war with 34 confirmed victories, 7 shared victories and 10 damaged plus one aircraft destroyed while on the ground.
The famed "legless" ace of World War 2, Bader had lost both his legs in a flying accident in the early 1930's. In the late 1930's, with war approaching, Bader re-enlisted although it took some time to prove that he indeed could still fly with artificial legs.
Bader started out flying Hurricanes but moved to Spitfires shortly after the Battle of Britain. He was a proponent of the "Big Wing" theory. Bader believed that the more RAF aircraft in the sky, the more chance of shooting down large numbers of Luftwaffe. Bader was an exceptional fighter pilot, although a little reckless. Because of the loss of his legs, it is believed that he could withstand higher "g" forces than regular pilots. This, coupled with the Spitfires incredible rate of turn, made him a fearsome opponent.
Bader was captured in 1941 when he collided with a German aircraft over France. As his Spitfire plummeted to the ground, Bader's artificial leg got stuck in the cockpit. He had to loosen it to be free of his doomed Spitfire. In later years, it was suggested that Bader might have been accidentally shot down by one of his own men and that he made up a story to protect that particular pilot.
Bader became a pain to his German captors and even managed to escape from a hospital in St Omer. He was caught and sent to Colditz Castle in Germany.
He ended the war with 20 victories, four shared victories, six probable and 11 aircraft damage.
Famous Spitfire Squadrons
A number of squadrons are remembered for operating Spitfires during the war.
Based at Duxford, 19 Squadron were the first operational Spitfire squadron receiving their aircraft at the end of 1938. Forming part of Group 12 of Fighter Command, 19 Squadron saw much action during the Battle of Britain. They flew Spitfire up until 1944, when they converted to Mustangs to allow them to fly long-range escort duties.
303 Polish Squadron
One of 16 Polish squadrons to fly out of Britain during the war, 303 were made up of Polish pilots and ground crew. 303 were in fact the highest scoring squadron during the Battle of Britain, claiming 126 Luftwaffe aircraft. They converted from Hurricanes to Spitfires in 1941.
Initially based in Scotland, 603 Squadron were involved in shooting down the first German raider of the war when together with 602 Squadron, a number of Junkers Ju 88 bombers were intercepted over the Forth of Firth. Two were shot down, one was heavily damage while no RAF planes were lost.
603 moved to Southern England during the Battle of Britain where according to German records, they identified it as the highest scoring British squadron of the Battle of Britain. Later, 603 moved to Malta to help defend the small Mediterranean island.