75th Anniversary of the Spitfire

George Kerevan of The Scotsman has written a wonderful tribute to the Spitfire on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. An article that I just had to draw your attention to for its poignancy and the skill of its writing. The article is simply entitled- “The Spitfire – An Appreciation”. You won’t read anything like it in the NZ Herald.

75 years ago today, as darkness loomed across Europe, an achingly beautiful aircraft soared into the heavens on its maiden flight. The plane would become both an eight-gunned instrument of freedom and a near-spiritual symbol of it. The Spitfire was born.

AT 4:35pm on the afternoon of 5 March, 1936, a pilot called Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers walked across the grass of Southampton Airport – currently a hub for Flybe. Summers had spent a tiring day testing a new RAF bomber. Now, he had to squeeze in the first flight of a new fighter called the “Spitfire”. A plane that would become a legend and – arguably – hold the pass in 1940 long enough to save us from fascism.

[..]The Spitfire was the inspired creation of a true engineering genius, Reginald Joseph Mitchell. He was born in 1895, the son of two Stoke-on-Trent primary school teachers. His poor background precluded university, so he began an engineering apprenticeship with a locomotive builder.

[..] The Spitfire is one of the most beautiful aircraft ever designed. One Battle of Britain veteran later called it “flying totty”. Its trademark elliptical wing curves like a piece of Lalique glass. But the wing was more than an ornament. It gave the Spit the manoeuvrability and turn of speed that proved the edge over the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitts during the Battle of Britain.

These are just excerpts. If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, please go and read the full article, it is well worth it. Mr. Kerevan finishes off thus-

The nearest the non-pilot will ever get to what it felt like to sit alone in the cockpit of a Spit is a poem by John Gillespie Magee, a Scots-Irish American who came to Britain in 1941 to fight the Nazis:

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth;
“And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
“Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth;
“Of sun-lit clouds – and done a hundred things;
“You have not dreamed of…
“And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod;
“The high untrespassed sanctity of space;
“Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

On 11 December, 1941, Magee was killed when his parachute failed to open. He was 19. At a time when the RAF is being cut to shreds, we should remember the Spit. But we should also remember the men and women who built it and flew it.

I have to reflect too on a man like Magee, who wrote that wonderful poem at 19, but more, came from America to the UK just to fight against the Nazis. At that young age. And what of today’s youth with their nihilistic worldviews and their cellphones and their gaming? Would they want to go and fly that plane and shoot down other men in planes? Would they write such a poem? A more stark measure of what we have lost would be hard to come by.

A Spitfire from the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and a 3 Squadron Typhoon fly in formation over Lincolnshire (from the Daily Mail)

9 thoughts on “75th Anniversary of the Spitfire

  1. “A more stark measure of what we have lost would be hard to come by.”
    Yes indeed. There are still such young men, but they exist almost as a contradiction within our societies.

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  2. It’s still a cool looking aircraft even after 75 years of further development; better than the Typhoon I reckon. Some things never lose their style.

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  3. ” You won’t read anything like it in the NZ Herald”

    No you won’t. Not in a country where our left wing politicians ,journalists and academics would rather our children believe the day that will live in infamy was 6 August at Hiroshima and not Pearl Harbour on 7 December.

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  4. “A plane that would become a legend and – arguably – hold the pass in 1940 long enough to save us from fascism.”

    Except it was the more workaday Hurricane that did the heavy lifting. Certainly the Spitfire was in equal parts beautiful and deadly, but it annoys me how overlooked the Hurricane is when it comes to WW2.

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  5. Yeah, the writer does actually address that point Bear-

    “Today, there are those who feel the Spitfire’s reputation is overblown. They point to the fact that in the vital Battle of Britain, the rival Hurricane made up 63 per cent of RAF Fighter Command aircraft and was responsible for shooting down 61 per cent of Nazi planes. This is true, but it ignores one over-riding fact: the exceptional performance of the Spitfire allowed it to take out the Luftwaffe’s fighters in 1940, leaving the slower Hurricanes free to kill the lumbering German bombers.”

    What do you think of that claim?

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  6. Good character is by and large bestowed by good parenting. John Gillespie Magee Jnr’s father was an Episcopal minister missionary in China. He organised the safety zone in Nanking City during the Japanese invasion and subsequent massacre. He saved many lives, documented and filmed the atrocities at great personal risk. His testimony later held great weight in the indictement of Japanese military criminals. A man who had turned his back on the fortunes of family investments to follow his conscience and calling produced Magee the RCAF fighter pilot. While he attended Rugby School his poetic talents became apparent; I think his gift was superior to his Rugby allumnus Rupert Brooke. Its a great pity it was snuffed out at age 19. Who knows what he might have become? And that can be said of all that generation, the brightest and the best. Next time you quibble about giving the car keys to your 18 year old, remember those Mitchell and the country gave a Spitfire to and told them to fight for their lives and the rest of the country

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  7. Red: “I have to reflect too on a man like Magee, who wrote that wonderful poem at 19, but more, came from America to the UK just to fight against the Nazis. At that young age. And what of today’s youth with their nihilistic worldviews and their cellphones and their gaming? Would they want to go and fly that plane and shoot down other men in planes? Would they write such a poem? A more stark measure of what we have lost would be hard to come by.”

    And also further to what Keith said at 09:58. I often wonder if we were to go to war who exactly would we send? Our youth, and often that includes those even up to the age of 25, are so conditioned to being given everything by the efforts of others, are so self-absorbed, and are so indoctrinated by socialism, environmentalism, etc that it is hard to imagine them being able to “step up” to the challenges before them. Surely to go to war requires moral fortitude and a self sacrificial perspective – of being prepared to sacrifice oneself for the “greater good”; for Western civilisation. Do today’s youth even place any value on Western civilisation? And if not, would they be prepared to die for it and the people which make it up?
    Sadly, I think the answer to those questions is “No”.

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  8. “What do you think of that claim?”

    I think there is more than one way to look at it. Certainly, the Spitfire was undeniably quicker, easier to manoeuvre and better armed, but it wasn’t as adaptable. And to take the line that the Spitfire shot down the fighters is a fair call, but then the fighters weren’t dropping tonnes of high explosive on Britain.

    It’s a debate that will always rage, I suppose, but one that keeps alive the memory of two fantastic aeroplanes.

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