This is a press day in May 1939; these aircraft are all lined up outside what we today call Hangar Four. HF King of Flight Magazine who was here described a Spitfire as a poem of speed and precision.
To understand the Spitfire you need to understand what came before the Spitfire. That's what was home to Number 19 squadron and this image shows them in classic formation flying their Gloucester Gauntlets. A lot of the skills that they learned while flying these beautiful little aeroplanes they had to relearn quite rapidly. So what you see here is pilots of Number 19 squadron in front of one of their aircraft. Second from the right you have Flight Attendant Banham, who was a flight commander with 19 squadron. One of the first people to fly the Spitfire, he flew when he went down to Martlesham Heath,
John Banham: "We each of us flew for about half an hour in the thing. Oh it was a tremendous thrill. But of course it's so different from a Gauntlet. It was more restricted, forward vision, and flying the Gauntlet with a radial engine."
It's a monoplane rather than a biplane, it's got an incredibly powerful engine. Very little visibility on the ground because you've got an enormous nose in front of you, it's got a retractable undercarriage. So all of these differences took a lot to overcome and flight officer Gordon Sinclair tells a fabulous story about his first flight in a Spitfire which led to this.
Gordon Sinclair: "I must admit I didn't terribly like the Spitfire to begin with, but then I had a reason not to, because the first flight I ever did in one I turned it upside down on the aerodrome landing. And I suppose it gave me an inborn fear of it. It took me quite a lot of hours to get over that."
These are the main of number 611 Squandron Auxiliary Air Force. Now they were actually at Duxford on their summer camp in August 1939, so as soon as war was declared they were made a full-time unit. In fact their CO went into Cambridge to buy some car mirrors to fit to his Spitfires because they didn't have any mirrors for looking behind them, which as pilots later in the Battle of Britain would tell you was probably the most important piece of kit on an aircraft.
Before we get to the Battle of Britain number 19 squadron were involved in the defence of the evacuation of Dunkirk. Fighter pilot Gordon Sinclair gave a very vivid account of fighting over Dunkirk.
Gordon Sinclair: "It was exhilarating. I've got to say that, it was and I think everybody found that. And flying in and out of the cloud over Dunkirk you never knew whether you were going to see a Messerschmitt or a Junkers, or another Smithville or a Hurricane, or even a Defiant."
So now we have a very classic shot taken in September 1940. Sitting in the middle of the wing is George 'Grumpy' Unwin, widely regarded by his squadron colleagues as one of the best pilots that they'd ever seen. Douglas Barder gave him his nickname 'Grumpy'
George Unwin: "He had two new tin legs and here I am trying to get some sleep, and these new legs of his were not quite perfect fits. And he was sitting there taking a leg off, filing it, and I said 'for Christ's sake go outside and do that'. Oh he said 'shut up Grumpy'. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were on at the local cinema. From then on it was Grumpy."
Duxford worked with another airfield during the Battle of Britain, Fowlmere, it was basically a farm with a couple of Nissen Huts, which you can see here. But it was from there that Duxford Spitfires effectively operated for most of the battle. The 19 squadron daily diary, the operations record book, recorded for the 24th of July when they're heading to Fowlmere, 'now with six Nissen Huts established we continued the good work of 264 squadrons and settled down to enjoy the excellent messing facilities. The irrepressible pilot officer Howard Williams restarted his excellent bar.'
Duxford became at the centre of a controversy about how best you use fighters. Trafford Leigh-Mallory who commanded the group within which Duxford sat, wanted to form a large wing of aircraft. Richard Jones gives a very good account of flying in this enormous wing.
Richard Jones "I personally thought we were wasting too much time getting up, but then as a mere junior pilot officer, sitting in his Spitfire, and you are going to meet the enemy and you looked around you and you saw 65 to 70 Spitfires and Hurricanes, it completely changed your idea and give you terrific confidence."
We're leaping forwards in time now. The Spitfire that is here at IWM Duxford is the F24 so it is the final mark of Spitfire, and when you think of an aircraft having 24 different marks; there were 22,000 built which is testament to what an extraordinary aeroplane it was.
Duxford and the Supermarine Spitfire have a shared history. RAF Duxford's No. 19 Squadron was the first RAF squadron to re-equip with the new Supermarine Spitfire, and the first Spitfire was flown into RAF Duxford in August 1938.
IWM Historian Carl Warner tells the story of the special relationship between Duxford and this iconic aircraft of the Battle of Britain.