The Supermarine Spitfire Mark I was an elegant and agile fighting machine. The ground-breaking original design meant the plane could be upgraded with new engines and armaments.
The Spitfire played its part in many of the crucial battles of World War Two giving the RAF a critical edge over the German Luftwaffe.
The ground breaking original design meant the plane could be upgraded with new engines and armaments. As the war progressed so did the Spitfire. After the original designer RJ Mitchell died in 1937, his successor Joe Smith developed the fighter to make it faster and more powerful.
Battle of Britain
In 1940 Hitler sent 2,600 Luftwaffe fighters and bombers to destroy the Royal Air Force. At the start of the battle the RAF only had 640 fighters – Hurricanes and Spitfires – and German commander Herman Goering confidently predicted victory would only take a few days.
Britain stepped up the production of fighter planes, building them faster than Germany. The Hurricanes, with their sturdy frames, took on the bombers. The Mark I Spitfires, with their superior speed and agility, were sent up to shoot down German fighters. By the end of the battle the better organised RAF had defeated the Luftwaffe and downed 1,887 German planes. The RAF lost 1,023 planes. The tide of the war started to turn. Britain was now a launch pad for future attacks on Germany.
Air battle for Malta
Malta was a key strategic Allied base in World War Two. Axis forces laid siege to the island and attacked British supply ships. By 1942 stocks were running low. The RAF called for reinforcements and over the summer hundreds of Spitfires were shipped in by aircraft carriers.
These improved Spitfire Mark Vs had a top speed of 371mph and were armed with powerful 20mm cannons. The plane proved decisive in gaining air superiority. The siege was broken and Malta became an important base for supplying British troops in Africa and launching future attacks on Italy.
In June 1944 Spitfires played an important part in the biggest seaborne invasion in history as the Allies landed in Normandy and gained a crucial foothold in France.
The latest Spitfire Mark IX had a 1,720 horsepower engine and was equipped with both 20mm cannons and .50 calibre machine-guns. The fighters provided crucial air support for the D-Day landings and many were adapted to be fighter-bombers to carry out attacks on German ground forces.
Why was the Spitfire a Symbol of Victory?
An RAF fighter pilot who took down a German plane over the beaches of Normandy on D-Day has passed away at the age of 99 – and a Spitfire and Hurricane will tip their wings in his honour with a flypast over his funeral service.
Percy Beake passed away just weeks after the death of his wife Evelyn. He died at the Kingfisher Lodge retirement home in Saltford a little over a month after her death. They had been married for 75 years.
The Canadian-born former pilot grew up in Bristol before his service call up at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
He took part in missions involving dive-bombing rocket sites in northern France and targeting enemy ships in the English Channel as well as over the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
He became an instructor in 1944 flying a Hawker Tempest aircraft with his initials PH-B on the side. He was released from the RAF on January 21 1946.
Mr Beake was awarded the Legion D'Honneur for his services – France's highest level military medal – which he received from the French Consul in Bath last year.
Mr Beake went on to work for Unilever in the milling business where he was based in Avonmouth and London before moving to Exeter.
He spent his retired years with his wife in Ottery St Mary, Devon, before moving to Bath in 2008 and more recently Saltford. He leaves behind two daughters, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
His funeral will take place at St Thomas A-Becket Church in Widcombe on Thursday July 21, at 12pm followed by a Spitfire and Hurricane flyover above Haycombe Cemetery at 3pm.
• During the war people across Britain were encouraged to raise money to build Spitfires. This gave the population a powerful connection with the iconic plane.
• Prince Harry named his training scheme for wounded servicemen and women, “Project Spitfire” and took a spin in one to promote it.
• National events such as the Queen's 80th birthday and royal weddings are marked by a flypast of World War Two planes including the Spitfire.
• In the 1960's British films like Reach For The Sky and Battle of Britain celebrated the exploits of the Spitfire and the men who flew them.
Spitfire to pay moving flypast tribute in the skies above the funeral of 99-year-old RAF Ace
By David Clensy | Posted: July 12, 2016
Percy Beake is to be honoured with a Spitfire flypast at his funeral
By James Holland - Historian
The Spitfire is the most famous plane of World War Two. Its ground-breaking design and superior specifications gave the British a decisive advantage fighting the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.
However, the early models were often cruelly exposed in head-to-head duels with the enemy. It was only after multiple improvements that the Spitfire’s winning combination of speed, manoeuvrability and firepower turned it into a formidable killing machine and a much loved British icon.