The Battle of Britain (1)

We visited RAF Hendon on July 22nd 2010. It seems an age ago. Hendon is a fantastic museum, easy to get to from the M1 and FREE ENTRY. What is there not to like?

The first few photographs show the display outside the museum. One is a Hurricane and the other is a Spitfire. I’ll leave you to work out which is which. Here’s an aircraft with a cannon in each wing which, I think, means that it cannot have been a Battle of Britain participant:

Here’s another view of the very first aircraft:

And the second aircraft again… This is as close as I get to that weirdo artistic sort of photograph:

Here’s the last picture of aircraft No 1 and 3:

And here’s a free clue to the identity of this aircraft. American readers…”Sorry!”

And here’s aircraft No 2 and 4 again:

Well, the odd numbers are the Hawker Hurricane and the even numbers are the Supermarine Spitfire, originally called the Supermarine Shrew. The way to tell them apart is that the Hurricane, or “Harry Kane” to give you the answer to the clue, has one huge radiator under the fuselage and the Spitfire always has two smaller ones, one under each wing.

It was months after our visit that I found out that both aircraft outside the museum were counterfeit. Made of plastic, apparently. The museum people don’t make that particularly obvious. I suspect that they’re scared that they’ll be killed in the crush of middle aged men who all want one for the front lawn.
The Spitfire was, of course, designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell who worked for Supermarine Aviation of Southampton. Here he is:

Many Germans could not separate RJ Mitchell from the man who played him in the film, Leslie Howard. Here’s Leslie Howard:

They could be identical twins, couldn’t they?

The Spitfire’s wing was of an innovative shape at the time. I didn’t know though, that there was a good deal of input from Beverley Strahan Shenstone, a Canadian engineer. Here he is. He isn’t in the film. The British  always seem to have kept Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders well out of their films:

Beverley Shenstone studied in Germany under Hugo Junkers and Alexander Lippisch. I found this out in a marvellous book I read recently called “Secret Wings of World War II” by Lance Cole. Here it is. It’s an excellent book:

To quote the author:

“By 1932, Shenstone had authored several papers stemming from his German studies…he was soon employed by RJ Mitchell, Shenstone was the man who within four years had shaped the Spitfire’s ellipsoid wing, its wing fillet and many of its aerodynamic design features.”

A wing fillet is the smooth curve between the fuselage and the wing. It improves air flow. It isn’t particularly obvious in the plastic Spitfire above but there will be a Spitfire Mark I appearing soon and it’s a lot more obvious on that aircraft.

Hugo Junkers was beyond the cutting edge of aircraft design in 1945. This is his Junkers Ju 287 bomber with forward pointing wings. And yes, it flew perfectly:

Even in the 1930s, his designs were astounding. Swept back wings with propellers:

 And a flying wing, the J 1000 Super Duck:

Alexander Lippisch was even better than Hugo Junkers. Here he is:

His first aircraft was not very good:

But after that, by the standards of 1940, WOW!

 The Americans are still flying around in his thoughts and ideas:

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Filed under Aviation, History, Humour

30 responses to “The Battle of Britain (1)

  1. I can always tell them apart because they were my favourite Airfix kits. I read recently that Airfix kits were sold in Germany but without the swastika transfers!

    • As far as I know, all Nazi symbols were illegal in West Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. I just don’t know if that’s ever been changed.
      I used to make a lot of Me 109s mainly because I enjoyed painting them and then putting on the transfers of weird countries such as Slovakia, Croatia and, as far as I can remember, Israel, in the war during the late 1940s. I must have been well into my thirties when I acquired the kit of a Tupolev Tu20 Bear. That was an ambition fulfilled, but a bit disappointing in 1-144 scale! I can’t remember what company made it, perhaps Novo.

  2. A wonderful history post, John. I never fail to learn here.

    • Thank you very much for that. It’s a very kind thing to say. I did find a certain amount of irony in the fact that Hitler was stopped in the Battle of Britain by an aircraft with such a large input from German engineers!

  3. Jan

    The Discovery Channel must bless the wartime German aviation industry for providing such a rich source of “Secret Nazi Technolgy” programmes.

    I once read that Germany lost the war while developing weapons for the 1950s and the Allies won with weapons from the 1930s.

    • Yes, I often think that if there was a ban on programmes about secret Nazi machines, sharks and visits by aliens thousands of years ago, a large part of satellite TV programming would be gone for ever.
      Dwight Eisenhower apparently spoke of the “Four Tools for Victory” in World War II but supposedly, he spoke more than once and changed the four, resulting in up to six or seven contenders. They are the jeep, the DC-3 Dakota, the bazooka, the “Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP)”, the Sherman tank, the M1 Garand rifle and the atomic bomb. Not many there that I would agree with! What about the T-34 tank and the Il-2 Shturmovik, just to take a couple of Russian examples?

      • Jan

        Not glamorous and definitely not high tech’ but I would say that the single most important piece of Allied equipment was the GMC 6×6 Deuce truck. Without the huge numbers supplied by the Americans the Red Army would have been rendered immobile.

      • Jan

        To be nit-pickingly precise it was the Studebaker version of the 6×6 and 6×4 that saw service with The Red Army. Stalin even sent a letter of appreciation to the company after the war.

      • There really cannot be many people who have a letter of appreciation from Uncle Joe Stalin! I hope they framed it and put it on the office wall! (with a translation, of course).

  4. Again another great history lesson, John. Thank you SO much for your invaluable knowledge that you share with us.

    • Thank you, again, Amy! I’m glad you are enjoying my blog posts and that you are learning from them. We should all spend every minute trying to learn, otherwise we run the risk of remaining frozen in time, unable to change our ideas for any better ones.

      • In my way of thinking, John, Life was given to us to learn in order for growth to occur. The moment we stop learning, even if our breath continues, we die. I LOVE to learn and to think for myself. One small example … rules were changed recently not by me (in general I don’t like rules) but by medicine. These new rules did not make sense to me. Not at all. So I thought. WHY would this rule be changed? And then I got it. Because bottom line this rule would give more money to the pharmaceutical companies thereby giving the doctors more money. Yup. It usually boils down simply to money in this world of ours today. Sad but true. Now I gave a little tidbit. (wink) Have a good one!! 😁

  5. Chris Waller

    I certainly had never seen a picture of the Ju 287. Its design seems to defy all logic. I would like to have seen the test-pilot’s face when he first saw the ‘plane.

    • It is a little strange it must be said! The Wikipedia article is worth reading, especially the list of where they scrounged the parts for the aircraft. The wing was forward swept, they say, because “it was suggested by the project’s head designer, Dr. Hans Wocke as a way of providing extra lift at low airspeeds – necessary because of the poor responsiveness of early turbojets at the vulnerable times of takeoff and landing.” Interestingly, that poor responsiveness was one of the main reasons for the Meteor’s toll of young pilots.
      There is also an interesting list of forward swept wing aircraft at

  6. German engineers were way ahead of the allies in the 1930s and 40s. Some of the experimental aircraft and rockets being way ahead of anything the allies had on their drawing boards.

    • With you 100% on that one! You might well enjoy ” Secret Wings of World War II” by Lance Cole. I buy quite a lot of air force books from the cut price “” although you have to be careful to remember that their P/P is almost £4.00. Even with that proviso, I still manage to save myself money by buying them.

  7. Jan

    The list of forward-swept-wing aircraft has a significant omission: Thunderbird 2.

  8. Was the Ju 287 made that way so that we would think it was going home and not coming our way. Great and as I only every got three Airfix model to make I have never been able to distinguish between the Spitfire and the Hurricane. Thanks for the education.

    • My pleasure. The rule would be really, “If you see it in Australia, it’s a Spitfire”. Wikipedia says “Only one Hurricane (V7476) saw service in Australia. It had been shipped, unassembled to No. 226 Group RAF in the Dutch East Indies during early 1942. It was among elements of 226 Grp evacuated to Australia before the Allied defeat in Java. After assembly by RAAF ground staff, this Hurricane served with the following units: No. 1 Communications Flight RAAF, No. 2 Communications Flight RAAF, No. 2 Operational Training Unit RAAF, Central Flying School RAAF. The Hurricane was retired in 1946 and is believed to have been scrapped.

  9. I really must send this post to my brother who is a pilot and who loves planes. What an excellent read, John! Thank you so much!

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