Spitfire – a legend of World War II and a fitting symbol of victory over the Third Reich. Designed back in 1935, it was used by the Allies throughout the war and flew opera-tionally on every front.
It proved more than a match for an-other flying legend, the Messerschmitt 109, and earned its reputation as a lethal weapon against the Luftwaffe.
As the war progressed, the original design underwent numerous modifications, a process which continued even after WWII. Two main phases in its development can be recognized based on the type of engine employed: either the Rolls Royce Merlin or its successor, the Griffon. Interestingly, the ultimate Merlin-powered version of the Spitfire was originally intended to be just a ‘stop-gap’ solution to the urgent need for a higher performance aircraft. In the second half of 1941, the Germans’ latest fighter design, the fearsome Focke Wulf Fw 190, had clearly demonstrated its superiority over the ageing Spitfire Mk. V. However, the latter’s anxiously awaited successor, the Mk. VIII, was not yet not ready for production. Therefore, in 1942, the British pressed into service a hastily modified version of the Spitfire, based on the Mk. V but fitted with a new engine and propeller. This mod-ification, designated ‘Type 361’ at the factory, was subsequently branded the Mk. IX (when powered by the Merlin 61-70) and the Mk. XVI (when coupled to the Packard Merlin 266 engine, produced under licence in USA).
This ‘temporary’ aircraft was destined to become the most numerous version of the Spitfire. A total of 6,719 specimens of both sub-types rolled off the assembly lines (5,665 of the Mk. IX and 1,054 of the Mk. XVI). They were flown in combat until the very end of the war by many Polish fighter squadrons (including the Polish Fighting Team, aka ‘Skals-ki’s Circus’, as well as 308, 316, 303, 317, 315 and 302 Sqns). While flying Mk. IXs and Mk. XVIs, the Poles shot down over 100 German aircraft; 89 of their pilots were lost in action.
The Vickers Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk. XVIe on display at the Polish Air Force Museum in Krakow was a fighter specifically designed for aerial combat at low and medium altitudes, as well as for ground attacks (hence its designation LF, which stands for Low Altitude Fighter). The Mk. XVI prototype was first flown in December 1943 and was of all-metal construction, featuring metal covered ailerons in place of the earlier fabric covered versions. The Krakow example has the early-production fuselage with a high-ridged spine and a fixed tailwheel (later versions sported a teardrop- shaped canopy, cut-down rear spine and a retractable tailwheel). The Packard Merlin 266 engine had a two-stage supercharger and was rated at 1,390 – 1,600 hp. It was fitted with a four-bladed, variable-pitch propeller. The wings of the ‘E’ variant were clipped; they housed a pair of British-Hispano 20mm cannons and a pair of Colt-Browning M2 12.7mm heavy machine guns.
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