Flt. Sgt. George “Grumpy” Unwin, No. 19 Sqn. RAF, May – September, 1940.
In late May, 1940 the BEF was forced from continental Europe by the Germans at Dunkirk. The now famous retreat was covered in part by Spitfires of No.19 Squadron. Flight Sergeant George Unwin was already an experienced Spitfire pilot by this stage of the war having been chosen to be one of the five member evaluation team when the very first Spitfire was delivered to the RAF in 1938. On May 27, covering the Dunkirk beaches flying Spitfire MkIA QV-H K9853, George scored his first victory, downing a Hs 126. The next day he shot down a Bf 109E.
Following the conclusion of the Dunkirk evacuation No.19 Sqn was chosen to receive the new cannon armed MkIB’s. The pilots were excited to get cannon armed fighters but were perturbed to learn each cannon only carried enough ammunition for six seconds firing! All enthusiasm completely evaporated when they experienced how terribly unreliable the new weapons were, rarely firing all their ammunition due to constant jamming.
Stoppages notwithstanding however, George still managed to add to his total as the Battle of Britain gathered momentum in July and August, 1940. On August 16 George claimed as a probable kill a Bf 110C of 2/ZG26 (though Luftwaffe records indicate this machine managed to limp back to base). This despite one cannon jamming and the aircraft yawing viciously when the working cannon was fired! George described it as trying to fly a twin engined aircraft on one engine, having to kick full opposite rudder to compensate for the recoil of the working cannon. On September 3 George scored the last No.19 Squadron victory in the MkIB’s (another Bf 110C-2 form 7/ZG26) as later the same day the Squadron were able to exchange their cannon armed Spitfires for twelve “clapped out” ex-OTU MkIA’s. “…at least their guns fire…” was the verdict noted in the Squadron daily record book.
George’s new machine (P9546 QV-H) was in better shape than most and he used it to good effect on the 7th to bring down two more Bf 109E’s and adding a He 111 a few days later on the 11th. Later the same day George was himself the victim when return fire from a Do 17 damaged the cooling system and pierced the armored glass of the windscreen. George managed to find a suitable landing area before the engine seized and made a safe wheels down forced landing.
September 15 is commemorated now as Battle of Britain Day, and it was on this day in 1940 that George had his best day in combat. Starting with a Bf 109E-4 of 3/JG53 on his first sortie of the day he followed up with a further two 109s on his next mission. During this mission George narrowly missed being shot down himself after having barely escaped being surrounded by “…literally thousands of yellow nosed Messerschmitts…whistling by all around me less than 100 yards away…” George credited the Spitfire for saving his life that day because it could sustain a continuous rate of turn inside the 109 without stalling.
By late September No.19 Squadron replaced its MkIA’s with MkII’s. The MkII featured an increase in power of around 100HP and constant speed Rotol propeller. By then George had amassed 11 kills and been awarded the DFM. In December George was promoted to Warrant Officer and sent to the RAF College at Cranwell to be an instructor. He wasn’t done with combat though, in 1944 George joined No. 613 Squadron and flew Mosquito MkVI’s until the end of the war. In 1961 Wing Commander George Unwin retired from the RAF.
The Supermarine Spitfire Mk IA
After the Air Ministry ordered production of the Gloster Company’s Gladiator in response to it’s Specification F.7/30, Reginald Mitchell (Supermarine’s Chief Designer) continued work on fighter Type 224 undeterred under a new Ministry Specification of F.7/30 (modified). In November, 1934 development was given a huge boost because of the new Rolls-Royce engine, the PVXII (soon to be named Merlin) with its projected power output of being around 1000hp. Mitchell proposed further development of the Type 300 (as the Type 224 was now called) with new engine to the Vickers Board (Vickers had owned Supermarine since 1928), who agreed to fund continued work. Within a month the Air Ministry issued a contract for a prototype fighter and in January, 1935 wrote Specification F.37/34 around Mitchell’s proposal.
The new aircraft posed several issues to contend with, such as the Merlin engine’s weight. Also, the wing design had to accommodate several requirements; the thickness to chord ratio had to be kept as small as possible whilst at the same time the wing had to house four Browning .303 (from Air Ministry Specification F.10/35) machine guns and the undercarriage. Because of these multiple requirements, an elliptical shape to the wing became the most practical solution. However, there was more to the wing than the shape. Mitchell incorporated a 2.5 degree “washout” or twist to the wing from root to tip. This meant the root of the wing would stall before the tip giving the pilot a stall warning buffet in a tight turn. Riding on the edge of the buffet, the pilot could maintain the tightest of turns without fear of the aircraft suddenly flipping out of the turn in a stall. This one facet of the design may have saved more lives and contributed to the success of the Spitfire than any other.
In March, 1936 the prototype (serial number K5054) was ready for flight trials. The Air Ministry had recently announced the purchase of 900 of the new monoplane fighters, of which 600 were to be Hurricanes. Vickers and Supermarine hoped that production of the Spitfire could begin as early as September, 1937.
On March 5, 1936 Vickers’ chief test pilot, “Mutt” Summers took K5054 for its first flight from Eastleigh airfield (now Southampton Airport). This first flight lasted around five minutes. The next day Summers took it up again, this time for twenty minutes and when he returned his first comment was “I don’t want anything touched.” Many took this to mean the aircraft was perfect as it was, but this was not the case.
K5054 began an exhaustive flight testing program that honed it to the Spitfire that became legend. At 16,800ft it recorded a true airspeed of 349mph and reached 380mph in a dive. Test pilots took it up to 34,700ft. It was flown by many different pilots and following their collective experience the Spitfire was deemed an aircraft the average RAF pilot could learn to fly. With this final part of the report, the Air Ministry was satisfied and placed and confirmed the initial order for 310 Spitfire MkI’s.
Production began in Spring, 1938 with K9787 taking to the air on May 15th though the first RAF squadron to receive Spitfires, No.19 did not take receipt of their first Spitfire until August 4th and was not up to full strength until December. With the appearance of production aircraft the role of the original Spitfire, K5054 diminished (K5054 was destroyed in a fatal accident on September 4th, 1939). In the period between initial production and the beginning of World War Two, the aircraft was refined further with better starters and heating was ducted into the guns to prevent them freezing up at high altitude. Still more was needed though, and eventually the fixed pitch two bladed propeller was replaced with a three bladed variable pitch model.
The Day war was declared, the RAF had ten squadrons equipped with Spitfires, with one more (No.609) building up strength. On October 16, 1939 Sqn. Ldr. Ernest Stevens became the first RAF pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft with a Spitfire when he destroyed a Ju88 over the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh. However, it wasn’t until May of the following year that Spitfires first met the adversary that was to become the other half of its legend, the Bf 109E.
Much has been made of the comparison between the two fighters and debate rages as to which was truly the best. Wing Commander A.C.Deere wrote;
“As a result of my prolonged fight with a 109, it was possible to assess the relative performance of the two aircraft. In early engagements…the speed and climb of the 109 had become legendary and were claimed by many to be far superior to the Spitfire. I was able to refute this contention and indeed was confident that, except in a dive, the Spitfire was superior in most fields and, like the Hurricane, vastly more maneuverable… There were those who frankly disbelieved my claim, saying that it was contrary to published figures. Later events, however, proved me right.”
Note: these comments are based on Deere’s experience flying a Spit Mk.I with Rotol constant speed, and at that time his was the only squadron so equipped. The DH prop was converted to constant speed only just in time for the Battle of Britain. (This information contributed by Bob Sikkel)
Regardless of Deere’s opinion though, the Spitfire was not armed with cannon as was the 109. Some MkI’s were fitted with cannon were unofficially designated MkIB but the experiment failed as the weapons continually jammed. The 109 also had a greater range than the Spitfire as well as an injected engine. The Merlin was fueled through a gravity fed carburetor which would starve the engine of fuel in negative G maneuvers.
As the Battle of Britain reached its climax in August and September, 1940 the MkI’s were joined by MkII Spitfires and the process of continual refinement of the world’s most famous airplane began. By the time the last of the 20,351 Spitfires of all marks was produced in 1948, its all up weight had risen from 5,935lbs to 10,100lbs, its power from 1,030HP to 2,050HP, its max speed had risen from 355mph to 454mph and service ceiling went from 34,000ft to 43,000ft. However, the legend was already born with the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion and victory of “The Few” flying MkI Spitfires during the summer of 1940 (with due note made of the Hawker Hurricane’s contribution).
1/48 Scale Tamiya Supermarine Spitfire Mk1A
The first sentence of the construction section is always a problem, how many ways can I say construction begins with the cockpit? Well, it does, though because the completed assembly is actually installed in the fuselage after it’s joined together you could start with that. I built the cockpit on the road in a hotel room and was quite please with how it turned out. I used lead foil for the seat belts and my usual cockpit techniques (described elsewhere) to finish the front office.
With the cockpit assembly complete, I installed it into the completed fuselage (I cut out the pilot’s entry door per the kit instructions as I wanted to display the model with the door open) and continued with the rest of the construction. I decided to join the upper wing halves to the fuselage first, and then attach the single lower wing piece to that. I did this to get a really good wing root join and was successful. I recommend doing it this way on this kit at least, it works. The kit really is so good, I almost made it without the need for filler, but did need some for the wing to lower fuselage joint.
I had previously posted some questions to the Hyperscale Discussion Board about the Tamiya kit and Bob Sikkel responded with the answer to the question I did ask, and also an answer for a question I didn’t know to ask,
“…and another thing, except for very early ones, is add the “gun heat extraction” fairings near each (underside) wingtip. They got ’em on the Vb kit, but either goofed or chose to leave them off the Mk.I.”
I searched through my references and was able to come up with a picture to work from and made the fairings with some scrap sprue.
With the wings on and the tail installed, there wasn’t much left to do before painting. I masked the windshield and canopy with Tamiya tape and installed them with white glue. I used the cut out door tacked in place to make sure the cockpit was sealed against over spray.
One thing worth noting, the fit of the lower half of the engine cowling (part # A34) was so good that I decided to attach it after painting as the join was the demarcation between the Sky and the camouflage colours.
RAF Spitfires in September 1940 were painted Dark Earth and Dark Green in either “A” scheme or “B” scheme (as I have painted mine) which is a mirror of “A”. The “B” scheme was discontinued in January 1941. The spinner was usually painted black. The underside had been black and white split down the centre line of the aircraft until June, 1940 when the colour “Sky” was introduced.
I began with the Sky underside using (as I did for all paints) Gunze acrylics. When the this was cured I masked with Tamiya tape and applied the Dark Earth. I masked the camouflage by cutting out the brown areas on the painting guide supplied in the kit and tracing them on tape. I then applied the applied the tape to mask off the camouflage. I decided to mask for a hard edge as all my reference pictures showed zero over spray on the 1:1 Spitfire.
When the paint was fully cured, including fixes, I sprayed a couple of coats of Future and set it aside to dry. While that was going on, I assembled and painted the propeller and spinner, the undercarriage and wheels, and all the other bits and pieces to ensure a quick completion once the painting was done.
Decaling is both my favorite and least favorite part of modeling. It’s the moment when the model begins to represent something tangible for me as the specific markings are applied. It’s also where a great deal of my screw ups occur!
Based on my references I decided to mark Unwin’s Spitfire thus:
Upper wings – 56″ Type B Roundel (in use September 1939 – February 1945)
Lower Wings – 25″ Type A Roundel (in use August 1940 – November 1940)
Fuselage – 49″ Type A.1 Roundel (in use May 1940 – May 1942)
Fin Flash – Fin Height x 21″ (January 1938 – August 1940)
Squadron Code – 6″ wide x 36″ high Grey (until August 1941)
Serial Number – 8″ black
Gun Muzzle Patches – Red decal sheet cut to size
I used a combination of kit decals (upper wing roundels and stencils), home made (serial numbers), an Aeromaster generic sheet for the squadron codes and a set of Watermark decals for the fin flash and fuselage roundels. All the decals went down well, though the thickness of the Tamiya and Watermark decals took a while to knock down with lots of setting solution.
Once the decals were dry, I cleaned off the setting solution residue and applied a wash to the control surfaces and access panels only. Once that was dry, I used Dullcote to bring the finish down to a satin sheen.
More Construction and Finish
Now that I was on the home stretch, I was still waiting for the big screw up to occur! I attached the undercarriage, the pitot tube and the antenna mast, all without mishap. I drilled holes for the aerial wires with a #79 drill bit and didn’t slip once. I used stretched sprue for the wires and made them all fit first time. I felt sure I would lose the rear view mirror but even that went into its slot first time.
I used pastels and weathered sparingly, because this was not a well used airplane when Unwin got it, and because Spitfires generally seem to have very little exhaust staining anyway. I also put some very light paint chipping on the port wing root and around some of the access panels. This seems to have been lost in some of the pictures but it is there.
Bob Sikkel – For his emailed corrections and contributions to the piece following its initial posting
“Aircraft of World War II – A Visual Encyclopedia”
Michael Sharpe, Jerry Scutts and Dan March. ISBN 1-85648-589-7 PCR Publishing Ltd.
“Cockpit – An illustrated History of WWII Aircraft Interiors”
Donald Nijboer and Dan Patterson ISBN 1-55046-253-9 Boston Mills Press.
“Spitfire – RAF Fighter”
AVM Ron Dick & Dan Patterson. ISBN 1-57427-071-0 Howell Press Inc.
“Spitfire – Flying Legends”
John Dibbs and Tony Holmes ISBN 1-85532-594-2 Reed Consumer Books Ltd.
“Fighters of World War Two”
Edited by David Donald. ISBN: 1-84013-150-0 Grange Books.
Copyright: As usual, I make no claim of original work in this article except for the photos of the models and text describing their construction and painting. Except where noted otherwise, I sourced all images and photos from the internet and are used under fair-use. Any copyrighted material will be removed or credited forthwith upon request by its owner.
Categories: Feature Article