Which Spitfire?

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More than 20,000 Spitfires were built between 1936 and 1948. The design was adapted and developed into many different variants. Here are some examples for you to compare.

Some variants were vital to the war effort. The Mark IX competed with Germany’s new Focke Wulf Fw 190. Photo-reconnaissance Spitfires, like the Mark 19, flew long distances to take photographs behind enemy lines. 

The pressures of war meant that not all developments were successfully introduced. As Spitfires got faster and heavier they became more challenging to handle. Some variants never made it into production.

At first, mark numbers followed the tradition of using Roman numerals. Later, new mark numbers used Arabic numerals.

These illustrations were kindly provided by Steve Lucas of Spitfire Mark-by-Mark.

Spitfire Examples

1936

Prototype (Type 300)

Maximum speed: 349 mph, (562 km/h)
Service ceiling: 35,400ft (10,790 m)
Weight: 5,332 lb (2,419 kg)
Engine: Rolls-Royce Merlin C (950 hp)
Armaments: none

The prototype ‘Type 300’ made its first flight in March 1936 but wasn’t officially named ‘Spitfire’ until two months later. On 3 June 1936 the Air Ministry placed its first order for 310 Spitfires.

1938

Mark IA

Maximum speed: 363 mph (584 km/h)
Service ceiling: 31,900 ft (9,723 m)
Weight: 5,935 lb (2,692 kg)
Engine: Rolls-Royce Merlin III (1,030 hp)
Armaments: 8 x 0.303” Browning machine guns

The majority of Spitfires in the Battle of Britain were Mk Is. By the end of 1940, most had been replaced in service by the Spitfire Mk II.

1941

Mark VB

Maximum speed: 370 mph (595 km/h)
Service ceiling: 35,000 ft (10,668 m)
Weight: 6,525 lb (2,960 kg)
Engine: Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 (1,470 hp)
Armaments: 2 x 20 mm Hispano cannon, 4 x 0.303” Browning machine guns, capacity for 2 x 250 lb bombs or 1 x 500 lb bomb

The image shows a ‘tropicalised’ Mk VB applied with desert camouflage scheme. Almost 6,500 Spitfire Mk Vs (of all types) were produced, more than any other mark.

1942

HF Mark VII

Maximum speed: 408 mph (657 km/h)
Service ceiling: 45,100 ft (13,746 m)
Weight: 7,900 lb (3,583 kg)
Engine: Rolls-Royce Merlin 64 (1,710 hp)
Armaments: 2 x 20 mm Hispano cannon, 4 x 0.303” Browning machine guns

This mark was designed for high altitudes with a pressurised cockpit, extended wing tips, and specially tuned engine. It was intended to intercept high altitude bombers, though by the time it entered service the threat had subsided.

F Mark IXE

Maximum speed: 403 mph (649 km/h)
Service ceiling: 43,400 ft (13,228 m)
Weight: 7,400 lb (3,357 kg)
Engine: Rolls-Royce Merlin 61 (1,560 hp)
Armaments: 2 x 20 mm Hispano cannon, 4 x 0.303” Browning machine guns, capacity for 2 x 250 lb bombs and 1 x 500 lb bomb
Designed as a stop gap solution to the Focke-Wulf 190 by putting the new Merlin 61 engine into a Mark V airframe. The new engine had a two-stage, two-speed supercharger and dramatically improved the Spitfire’s performance.

1944

LF Mark XVIE

Maximum speed: 406 mph (653 km/h)
Service ceiling: 41,500 ft (12,649 m)
Weight: 8,228 lb (3,732 kg)
Engine: Packard Merlin 266 (1,670 hp)
Armaments: 2 x 20 mm Hispano cannon, 2 x 0.50” Browning M2 machine guns, capacity for 2 x 250 lb bombs and 1 x 500 lb bomb

The Mark XVI is essentially a Spitfire Mark IX modified to accommodate the American-built Merlin 266 engine. Our Spitfire is an example of this mark.

PR Mark 19

Maximum speed: 457 mph (735 km/h)
Service ceiling: 43,500 ft (13,259 m)
Weight: 8,575 lb (3,890 kg)
Engine: Rolls-Royce Griffon 65 (2,035 hp)
Armaments: none

The most successful photo reconnaissance variant and one of the fastest piston-engine aircraft of all time. These Spitfires remained in active RAF service until 1954.

1946

F Mark 24

Maximum speed: 454 mph (731 km/h)
Service ceiling: 43,000 ft (13,106 m)
Weight: 10,102 lb (4,582 kg)
Engine: Rolls-Royce Griffon 61 (2,050 hp)
Armaments: 4 x 20 mm Hispano cannon, capacity for 2 x 250 lb bombs and 1 x 500 lb bomb
The last Spitfire mark. Test pilot Jeffery Quill recalled, “The genius passed on by Mitchell had died. The beautiful symmetry had gone; in its place stood a powerful, almost ugly fighting machine.”

1948

Seafire F/FR Mark 47

Maximum speed:  452 mph (727 km/h)
Service ceiling: 43,100 ft (13,137 m)
Weight: 10,700 lb (4,853 kg)
Engine: Rolls-Royce Griffon 88 (2,350 hp)
Armaments: 4 x 20 mm Hispano cannon, capacity for 5 x 500 lb bombs or 8x 60 lb rockets or Mk IX depth charge

Seafires were adapted from the Spitfire design for use on Royal Navy aircraft carriers. The wings could fold upwards. This last Seafire variant shows the most dramatic evolution from the 1936 prototype Spitfire.

Discover More

More resources on Spitfire variants

Spitfire Mark by Mark

Spitfire Mark by Mark

Spitfire Mark-by-Mark (e-book)

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