After Coastal Command had taken control of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, Bomber Command decided it needed one of its own. Consequently, No 2 PRU was formed at Oakington under the command of 3 Group. Six Spitfire Mk ICs were used to photograph areas before bombing raids, in order that targets could be properly marked. The Spitfires then re-photographed the areas after the raid so that the damage could be assessed.
By the end of April, all Spitfire squadrons had re-equipped with Mk IIs, the Mk Is continuing to give valuable service at the Operational Training Units. Mk II units immediately began to re-equip with Mk Vs as they became available. Initially seen as a 'stop-gap' to produce a Spitfire with the improved performance above 25,000 feet necessary to counter the Bf-109, pending the availability of the Spitfire Mk VI, the Mk V was subsequently produced in greater numbers than any other version of the Spitfire. The first Mk Vs were converted Mk Is and IIs, the first flying on 20 February. By the end of the month, No 92 Squadron was receiving its first Mk VBs.
During the first six months of 1941, Fighter Command lost 57 aircraft compared to some 20 German losses. Despite the cost, offensive operations over France continued in an effort to relieve the pressure on the Russians by tying down German aircraft in the West. In fact, large numbers of German fighters had been moved to the Russian front and those that remained in the West chose to fight only in the most advantageous conditions. On 7 August, six Blenheims were escorted by 18 squadrons of Spitfires and two of Hurricanes. The Luftwaffe refused to be drawn: nevertheless, five Spitfires and a Hurricane were lost. Two days later, the legendary Douglas Bader failed to return, the tail of his Spitfire being severed after a collision with a Bf-109. Bader spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.
In September, a new, fast, radial-engined fighter began to be encountered in small numbers. The Focke-Wulf Fw-190 had arrived.
Towards the end of the year, the first squadrons with ex-patriate Allied personnel began to form. The first was No 340 Squadron on 7 November with French pilots, followed ten days later by the Belgian squadron, No 349. Squadrons of Poles, Czechs, Dutch and Norwegians also flew Spitfires. Language difficulties, and the fact that, to open the throttle the lever was pushed forward - the opposite to most continental aircraft - led to a spate of early accidents until pilots became used to their new mounts. One welcome improvement to the Spitfire arrived in the form of a diaphragm-operated carburettor for the Merlin engine which solved the problem of the engine cutting out under negative g.
Fighter sweeps over France were temporarily suspended in November on the orders of Winston Churchill. Although they had served to keep the squadrons combat ready, and had taken the offensive to the enemy, they had cost the RAF dearly in pilots and aircraft. In June, July and August alone, Fighter Command lost nearly 200 pilots.
On 11 December, Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, a 19-year old American flying with No 412 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, was killed when his Spitfire collided with an Oxford trainer from Cranwell. Among his effects was a poem, written shortly before he died and entitled 'High Flight'. The first and last lines are inscribed upon the marker of his grave at nearby Scopwick.
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