In Europe, the Mk XIV entered service with No 610 Squadron early in the year. Attacks on the enemy's road and rail communications were stepped up in preparation for the invasion of Normandy, and although the Germans knew an invasion was imminent, the wide dispersal of targets throughout the Channel area and inland gave no clue as to where it would be mounted.
The first Allied fighters to operate from Normandy after the invasion were the Spitfire Mk IXBs of No 222 Squadron, which landed at St. Croix-sur-Mer on 10 June. These were refuelled and re-armed by a Servicing Commando Unit, before taking off to continue their patrol. On 17 July, Spitfire Mk IXBs of 602 Squadron strafed a staff car. The car, containing Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Commander of the German defences, turned over into a ditch and the Field Marshal was taken to hospital with severe fractures to his skull.
The breakout from the Normandy beachhead was achieved by a classic pincer movement between British and American troops, which forced the retreating German Army into the Falaise Gap. Here, 22 squadrons of Typhoons and Spitfires decimated the enemy forces, attacking with rockets, bombs and guns. The Luftwaffe hardly put in an appearance, thus enabling the RAF to operate their aircraft in pairs with little hindrance. No sooner were they refuelled and re-armed than they were back in the fray, some pilots flying up to six sorties a day. In this classic example of the use of tactical air power, the enemy lost the equivalent of eight infantry and two armoured divisions.
On 12 June, the first V-1 flying bombs bean to fall on England. Eleven fighter squadrons were called upon to deal with the threat, including those operating Spitfire Mk IXs, Mk XIIs and Mk XIVs, but the only aircraft capable of catching a V-1 in level flight was the Tempest V. To try to improve the Spitfire's speed the armour and some of the guns were removed and the whole aircraft polished, after which the Mk XIIs and Mk XIVs did well. Apart from shooting down the missiles, another technique was to edge the tip of one wing beneath that of the V-1 so that the disturbed airflow tipped the V-1 over to one side and toppled its gyro, causing it to fall to earth. Spitfires were also employed in attacks against the launch sites as fighter-bombers, a technique which had been tried out first by No 126 Squadron in Sicily. A Wing of four squadrons of Mk XIVEs was formed specifically for this task, each aircraft carrying two 250lb or one 500lb bomb. Other Spitfire squadrons escorted formations of heavy bombers against the same targets.
Spitfires also acted as fighter-bombers in support of the British Second Army's drive to the Rhine. During the ill-fated Arnhem operation and on subsequent resupply flights, they escorted the transport aircraft. On 5 October, the first Me-262 jet fighter to be shot down was credited to the Spitfires of No 401 Squadron.
The versatile Spitfire found alternative employment on more humanitarian duties, when underwing mountings were modified to carry a pair of small beer barrels in place of the bombs. Aircraft returning to the Continent from England were warmly greeted!
The year ended with the launch of the German offensive through the Ardennes under the cover of fog and it was not until the weather lifted on 23 December that Allied aircraft were able to support the hard-pressed ground troops, when the Spitfires' main role was to escort the medium bomber squadrons.
| 1944: Return to France | 1945: Victory | Post-War Years | Preserved Examples | High Flight]
DeltaWeb Home Page