Today, 5th March 2016 is the 80th anniversary of the first flight of the legendary Supermarine Spitfire. The Spitfire is often described as being one of the most famous aircraft types in the world and its elliptical wings are still one of the most instantly recognisable of any aeroplane. The first Spitfire was originally designed by RJ Mitchell and would become a symbol of resilience during the Battle of Britain (even if it was outnumbered in the Royal Air force by the Hawker Hurricane.)
Regular readers may be wondering why a usually railway themed blog might mention the Spitfire, but in keeping with yesterdays blog post, it is to show how there is more to railways than trains. So here follows some examples of how railways assisted the production of the Spitfire and one of the aircraft used to train its pilots. Before going into these specifics its important to mention that during the Second World War, railway’s were a vital means of transportation of troops, materials and goods for manufacturing industries. The railways and those who worked on them played a vital part in the war effort. I think I should also add that the examples that follow are just some examples and I’m sure there are more to be found!
The first Spitfire flew from Eastleigh airport eighty years ago. You may know of this airport as “Southampton Airport”, as it is now named. Naturally it makes sense to start our blog post here. Supermarine’s factory was based a few miles south in Woolston, Southampton and their expertise traditionally was in building seaplanes – indeed RJ Mitchell learnt many lessons from developing racing Sea Planes that eventually won the UK the Schneider Trophy outright. Building Spitfire’s in quantity would require assistance from elsewhere, as this relatively small firm on its own would struggle to meet the demand. To aid its production, Eastleigh’s Southern Railway works built Spitfire wings. This work would have largely been completed by women and would utilise the works engineering expertise and equipment.
The rival railway town of Swindon also has an important part of the Spitfire story to tell. Over a thousand South Marston Master training aircraft were built in a factory deliberately located near Swindon Railway Works. These aircraft would be used to train RAF pilots who would then go on to fly Spitfire’s and Hurricane’s. The South Marston factory had its own specially built branch line used to transport skilled carpenters from the GWR works. As well as building these trainers, the facility also built wooden components for the Hawker Hurricane using GWR expertise. Interestingly South Marston later built 121 Mark 21 Spitfires as well as 50 Seafire’s (the Royal Navy’s equivalent of the Fighter). The factory was also used to repair Spitfire’s and modify them.
So I think it is fair that we mark the Spitfire’s 80th today here on locoyard! Thanks for reading!