The Battle of Britain + 75

An article in an aviation magazine pointed out that this summer will mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  As a matter of perspective, it’s interesting to observe that the length of time separating the US Civil War from the Battle of Britain is the same as the length of time between the Battle and today.

The archetypal fighter planes of the Battle of Britain were the Spitfire, the Hurricane, and, on the enemy side, the Messerschmitt 109.  Here are some recent pilot reports on what each of these aircraft is like to fly:

Supermarine Spitfire

Hawker Hurricane

Messerschmitt 109

It is now possible to take a ride in a Spitfire–allowing this apparently required some regulatory changes on the part of the British CAA. Here’s one company offering such flights. For pilots, it’s possible to get Spitfire training at Boultbee Flight Academy. I don’t think anyone is offering rides or training in the Hurricane or the 109…very few 2-seat versions of either were built, apparently–so if you want to fly one of these, you’ll probably have to buy one. Here’s a recently-restored Hurricane for sale.

As an interesting historical irony, Israel’s first fighter was a version of the Messerschmitt 109.

See also my post Radar Wars: a case study in science and government, which is about the secret decision-making involved in making Britain’s commitment to a large-scale investment in radar deployment.

13 thoughts on “The Battle of Britain + 75”

  1. When I was at Duxford they were just starting the Spitfire rides. I didn’t have the time. That was a few years ago.

  2. MK….interesting. It does seem that the Hurricane hasn’t gotten near the credit it deserves, being the less-glamorous sister.

    Also interesting that the guy who wrote the flight review I linked above didn’t agree with the common assessment that the Hurricane is a more stable gun platform.

  3. The 109s Israel got from Czechoslovakia were produced there but proper DB605 engines were not there, so they used Junkers bomber engines. Performance and handling were rotten,but they were grateful for whatever they got.

  4. Both the Spitfire and the Hurricane had one major disadvantage compared to the 109: their Merlin engines would cut out in zero or negative G situations. The 109, which was fuel injected rather than carbureted, did not have this problem.

    An engineer named Beatrice Shilling invented a simple device which provided a partial solution for this problem, but a full solution had to wait for the introduction of the pressure carburetor in 1943.

  5. It appears there is a serious danger that the anti-free-speech socialist Ed Miliband will become the next Prime Minister of Britain…among other things, this person believes that “Islamophobia” should be prosecuted as a crime.

    One might ask, if this is where things are going to end up, what was the use of all the courage, sacrifice, and ingenuity shown by Brits during the Battle of Britain and throughout WWII?

    As Ronald Reagan put it, freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction…or, in the words of SF writer Connie Willis, “nothing is saved forever.”

  6. He certainly is following on in the program that Labour had to replace those troublesome Conservative voters with Muslim Labour voters. We are seeing groups press for early citizenship for aliens so they can vote. It’s not just the AFL-CIO. The usual suspects are pressing for more alien voters.

    Some are making it clear that the next election is the goal.

    Sources at the Department of Homeland Security report to PJ Media that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is reallocating significant resources away from a computer system — the “Electronic Immigration System” — to sending letters to all 9,000,000 green card holders urging them to naturalize prior to the 2016 election.

  7. Just north of the town in West Texas where I grew up, a guy named Connie Edwards used to have a huge collection of warbirds. There was an article in AOPA magazine about him putting them up for sale last year.

    Looks like they have been sold….

    I got to meet him when my Dad, who knew him well, took my brothers and I out to his ranch to walk around that hangar and look at the planes. This was when his brother was still alive. It was really neat seeing those planes.

  8. Years ago PBS ran a program comparing the Spitfire with the Me109 – An active duty RAF pilot evaluated them both. The take away points – more room in the Spitfire – Construction methods favored the Me109 for mass production – fuel mgt was easier in the 109. Turning radius was quicker in one (the Spitfire?)

    BTW The Daimler-Benz engine had I believe the first Bosch mechanical fuel injection – a system that with some modifications carried over to their passenger cars in the 50s-60s.

    When that Canadian pilot describes take off in the Spitfire – at full power you need full opposite rudder and full opposite aileron deflection – thank about it – giving the plane everything it has to counteract the massive torque of the engine and prop – called P-factor in prop-planes – to keep it from flipping over on the runway.

    Add in a little crosswind from the right and I suspect that plane killed more than a few pilot-trainees.

    I know the F4U – with its massive 2,000 hp P & W and 13′ prop – did.

    The 109 with its narrow landing gear and similar engine – was even worse I suspect.

  9. IIRC, the Spitfire also did for a good few pilots because of where the fuel tank in it was situated – between the engine and the pilot compartment. If the tank was punctured and the fuel set on fire, it all blew back onto the pilot.

    I did have the opportunity once to interview a Battle of Britain veteran, in the 1980s. I think he was the guest of honor at the Sgt’s Association dinner at Zaragoza AB. Group Captain Bobby Something-or-other. Immediately after the war he was briefly commander at RAF Gatow. We did rather wonder beforehand what kind of interviewee he would be, what with British understatement colliding with fighter-jock flamboyance. Not to worry; he was the chatty sort, hardly stopped talking from the time that he arrived for the interview until the time he left.

    One of his amusing stories was the occasion during the battle when he thought he was on half-hour stand-by and was snatching some sleep, but it turned out he was on alert, and had to scramble NOW! He was praying the whole duration of that flight that he wouldn’t have to bale out … as he was wearing orange silk pajamas and would never, ever hear the end of it.

    I saved the interview – it’s on 1/4″ reel to reel tape somewhere.

  10. Bill….the linked article on the 109 asserts that the problem with the landing gear wasn’t so much the spacing, but rather the camber.

    I’ve seen wildly varying numbers quote on what % of 109s were wrecked in landing accidents, ranging from 30% down to 10% (which is still awfully high for a combat airplane, especially one on the losing side!)…OTOH, I also saw a thread somewhere claiming the whole thing is a myth and the landing accident rate for the 109 was not disproportionately high at all. It’s fascinating how much historical uncertainty there is even about things that are relatively recent in the scale of time.

    The fact that they introduced the 2-seat version late in the war does suggest that they knew they had a problem with trainees getting into trouble.

  11. David – what I find interesting about both the Spitfire & the 109 is that they went through at least 10 variations over the war’s duration – both started with a V12 that was about 1,000 hp and ended up with about 1,700-1,800 hp. That is interesting about the camber and I think you are right – some of our Navy planes like the Wildcat had narrow gear – heck look at the F-16 today. I know that the 109 killed a lot of pilots on takeoff and landing and when you have almost doubled the horsepower on the same basic airframe things could get “interesting”.

    Sgt Mom – never knew that about the fuel tank placement but I know a lot of pilots were horribly burned in those. I have also heard that in the Battle of Britain the Hurricane did the brunt of the work but the more elegant Spitfire got most of the glory.

    A movie I enjoy for its authenticity – but was not a commercial success – was the Battle of Britain in 1969. From what I know of the battle the movie was true to form and what I don’t know – I “assume” is truth (but who knows?)

    One thing I found amusing – was the Luftwaffe squadron commander whose flight accidentally bombed the London docks – breaking a tacit understanding between Hitler & Churchill that they would leave each others cities alone – in the movie the squadron commander’s name was “Major Brandt” – never been able to verify this

    The take away from this battle was by shifting focus away from the RAF airfields to London, the fighters had only 20-30 minutes over the target before they had to return.

    I was surprised at the combat radius of both the Spitfire & 109 – 300 miles or so.

    With the reduced time on target it allowed the RAF to inflict unacceptable losses on the Luftwaffe bombers.

    One other tidbit – I consider the design of the Daimler-Benz DB 600 series of engines to be superior to the Merlin – both were roughly equivalent in performance but the Daimler engine was designed to be inverted – for better CG and much easier serviceability.

    Look at pictures of our guys servicing a Mustang and they are on a ladder stopping down into the cowling – on the 109 they popped the cowling and it was right there.

    I read somewhere that Rolls Royce had considered designing the Merlin to be inverted but obviously didn’t – the lubrication issues were a tough engineering hurdle for one.

  12. I just saw a fascinating program on Netflix – Battle of Britain – the real Story and apparently most/all of the German flyers shot down were taken to this large estate – where British intelligence bugged their rooms.

    Didn’t realize the Me109 was so much better armed – with a 20mm cannon (which L learned the 20mm is just a humongous shell with an explosive in the bullet).

    The early Spitfires just had .30 caliber machine guns.

    It is well worth watching if you can find it – was on Netflix streaming.

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