Messerschmitt Me109G-6 (Trop), Maggiore Antonio Vizzotto, Regia Aeronautica, 150 Gruppo, Sicily, July 1943.
Just as the famous Fokker Eindecker had previously done during the Great War, the Messerschmitt Bf 109 would re-define aerial warfare and was an aircraft which was intended to dominate the sky. An aircraft which incorporated all the latest technological developments the aviation world had to offer, this project may have advanced as a lightweight monoplane fighter, but possessed the one attribute all hunting aeroplanes needed, and that was great speed. Produced in response to a Reich Aviation Ministry requirement for an advanced single-seat fighter aircraft, the design submitted by Bayerische Flugzeugwerke was radical in the extreme, diminutive and lightweight in construction and utilising the most powerful in-line aero engines in development in Germany at that time.Taking much of its design inspiration from the successful Messerschmitt Bf108 Taifun four-seat sports touring aircraft which preceded it, the Bf 109 was a relatively small, yet powerful monoplane fighter, one which was incredibly fast, heavily armed and highly manoeuvrable. At a time when the world's major air forces were mainly equipped with biplane designs for their front line fighter force, you might think that German pilots were desperate to get their hands on an aircraft which was so advanced that it was at the very forefront of world aviation, but that didn't initially prove to be the case. As they were used to slower, highly manoeuvrable aircraft with open cockpits, the enclosed cockpit of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 must have been more than a little claustrophobic for them, however, they soon warmed to the many impressive qualities of this aviation phenomenon, an aircraft which would allow them to dominate the skies. Interestingly, due to the advanced nature of the design and the fact that the new German built powerplants were not ready, the prototype aircraft was actually powered by a British Rolls Royce Kestrel engine, something of a strange dichotomy for a fighter which would go on to become the scourge of the Royal Air Force.Proving successful during flight trials with competing rival aircraft from other famous German aircraft manufacturers, the Messerschmitt Bf 109 would eventually enter service in 1937, a time where it's interesting to note that the Royal Air Force were just withdrawing their Bristol Bulldog biplane fighter from service and introducing the Gloster Gladiator, with the Luftwaffe clearly holding a significant technological advantage at that time. Nevertheless, even in Britain, the winds of aviation change were blowing and both the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire were already in development.The Messerschmitt Bf 109 would go on to become something of an aviation legend, in manufacture throughout the Second World War and eventually produced in greater quantities than any other fighter aircraft in history. In expert hands, the Bf 109 was a capable adversary until the very last days of the war and as a consequence, would be flown by many of the world's most prolific air aces at times during their service careers. The fighter would also see service with several other European nations during WWII, including Finland, Hungary and notably with Italy's Regia Aeronautica. Just as was the case with its traditional adversary the Spitfire, the name Messerschmitt came to be used in common parlance to refer to any enemy aircraft seen encroaching in British skies.As the Regia Aeronautica came under increasing pressure from ever greater numbers of Allied aircraft in the Mediterranean Theatre, aircraft combat losses soon began to outstrip the rate at which these losses could be replenished by their ailing aircraft industry. The Italians had already been using German engines to power some of their fighters, however, this was still not enough and if the Germans wanted Italian forces to continue fighting the Allies, a more radical solution would be required. At a time when the Luftwaffe needed every fighter it could muster, it was decided that new Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters would be supplied to the Italians, with aircraft taken straight from the production lines, a combination of F-4, G4 and G6 variants. As such, the aircraft were delivered in standard factory applied finishes, complete with Luftwaffe markings, which clearly required some work before they could be committed to combat. German national insignia was painted out using the closest Italian paint shades available and whilst most existing camouflage was retained, any future modification would be done using standard Regia Aeronautica paint stocks. Italian national insignia and theatre markings were applied, but this was still very much the most famous Axis aircraft in the skies, just under new ownership.The Messerschmitt Bf 109G variant was undoubtedly superior to the Italian fighter types pilots had been flying previously, however, they were familiar with their Macchi 202 and 205 fighters, something which would have been crucial to them in a combat situation. Whether it was down to a lack of effective conversion or the fact that Allied air forces were becoming stronger by the day at that stage of the war, the use of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters by Italian pilots did little to change Axis fortunes in the Mediterranean and proved to be little more than an interesting footnote of the conflict. Hunted by Allied aircraft whilst in the air and on the ground, Regia Aeronautica use of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was effectively nothing more than symbolic, despite the best efforts of their brave and tenacious pilots. By the time No.150º Gruppo was withdrawn from Sicily back to Ciampino near Rome, they only had three serviceable Messerschmitt Bf 109G fighters available to make the flight.One of the leading figures within the Regia Aeronautica during the Second World War, Antonio Vizzotto may not have appeared amongst the list of most successful Italian air aces of the WWII, however, he was a skilled and brave pilot, exceptional leader of men and arguably the most decorated Italian airman of that period. Involved in some of the most successful early war operations by Italian air units, Vizzotto would become an inspiration to fellow pilots and his countrymen alike, gaining regular promotions and viewed as something of a national hero. With the rank of Maggiore, Vizzotto was given command of No.150º Gruppo, a fighter group which comprised Nos 363a, 364a and 365a Squadriglia and as Italian forced headed for North Africa, Vizzotto and his units were requested to join the operation by Italian ground units who were aware of the unit's reputation for success in aerial combat.Despite scoring several notable early successes, the increasing strength of Allied air power in the region gradually eroded any chance of victory and even when the unit traded their Macchi C.202 fighters for German Messerschmitt Bf 109Gs during the spring of 1943, it was only a matter of time before the Allies secured a hard fought superiority in the air.In April 1943, No. 150º Gruppo under the command of Maggiore Antonio Vizzotto were the first unit to re-equip with German Messerschmitt Bf 109G fighters and subsequently committed to combat, operating from both Santo Pietro and Sciacca airfields on Sicily. Soon facing the might of the Allied forces during Operation Husky and the invasion of Sicily, they were unable to either post telling air combat successes, or prevent the fall of Sicily and would be reduced to fighting defensive, retreating actions for the remainder of the war. The 'Gigi Tre Osei' emblem adopted by 150º Gruppo was related to Italian celebrity pilot and Olympic gliding champion Luigi Caneppele, a highly decorated airman and national hero who was lost whilst serving on operations during the North African campaign. In his honour, the emblem of the Italian gliding association licence (three stylised soaring eagles) was modified to include a North African oasis scene and included the 'GIGI TRE OSEI' wording, a tribute 150º Gruppo pilots proudly took into combat against Allied air forces.The distinctive Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 fighter presented here was the mount of Maggiore Antonio Vizzotto in actions during the Allied invasion of Sicily, where Regia Aeronautica pilots faced overwhelming odds in the face of the Allied onslaught. A beautifully unusual presentation of a wartime Bf 109G fighter, this aircraft retains most of its factory applied Luftwaffe camouflage, with German national insignia mostly painted out and new Regia Aeronautica and theatre markings added, with the rear fuselage also benefitting from a coat of Italian Verde Oliva Scuro paint. Adding weight, but also much needed additional firepower, Vizzotto's aircraft was also fitted with under-wing cannon gondolas, each complete with 120 rounds of ammunition.
Bristol F-2B Fighter, A7194, Capt. Arthur H Peck & Capt. John JL Williams, No.111 Squadron, Egypt, October 1917.
With the aeroplane becoming such a vital weapon during the Great War and with the Royal Flying Corps' Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c reconnaissance aircraft suffering so badly at the hands of the German Fokker Eindecker, an effective replacement in the armed reconnaissance/fighter role was desperately needed. At the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Chief Designer Frank Barnwell was determined that he was going to produce such an aircraft and he was uniquely qualified to deliver on his promise. A qualified Royal Flying Corps pilot with combat flying experience over the Western Front, he knew what qualities the new aircraft must possess and perhaps of even greater importance, what RFC crews would need from it. The new aircraft must be capable of effectively defending itself from enemy attack, but also to possess the ability to turn the tables in such circumstances and make any Luftstreitkräfte pilot regret their decision to tangle with the new British aircraft.The prototype Bristol Type 12 (F.2A) made its maiden flight on 9th September 1916 and powered by the new 190hp Rolls Royce Falcon I engine, posted impressive performance from the start. A relatively large and purposeful aircraft, suitably impressed War Office officials placed an order for further development aircraft and 50 production aircraft for RFC training units, all of which would eventually be assigned to No.48 Squadron. Following training in the UK, this unit would take their Bristol Fighters across the Channel and make their combat debut in April 1917 at the Battle of Arras.The new Bristol Fighter, or Brisfit (as it would be referred to by everyone in the Royal Flying Corps) underwent early improvement and modification and would quickly lead to the production of the most capable and ubiquitous version of the aircraft, the F.2B variant. This latest version featured the new, more powerful Rolls Royce Falcon III engine, a 285hp unit which gave the Bristol Fighter and impressive top speed of 123 mph and significantly greater climbing capability, making this an exceptionally capable fighting aeroplane. It would go on to make a significant contribution towards wrestling superiority of the air from the Germans and would remain a competitive combat aircraft for the remainder of the war. A relatively large aeroplane when compared with such enemy types as the Albatros series and Fokker Dr.1, the Bristol F.2B Fighter was surprisingly nimble for its size, possessing both the speed and heavy armament needed to claim a significant number of aerial victories for its crews. With well trained and experienced F.2B crews working as one, this nimble gunship could keep its guns pointed at an enemy aircraft during any engagement, resulting in many an unwary Luftstreitkräfte pilot quickly finding themselves starting as the hunter, only to quickly become the hunted. Rather than adopting effective defensive tactics, the Bristol Fighter was so good that RFC pilots actively went looking to tangle with the enemy.By November 1918, orders had been placed for over 5,500 Bristol Fighters, and whilst some of this number would eventually be cancelled due to the end of hostilities, by the time the production lines were finally closed in September 1919, no fewer than 4,747 aircraft had been produced. Bristol Fighters would serve on many fronts during the Great War and in a variety of operational roles, from training and reconnaissance to day and night fighter, with the last examples remaining in RAF service until the early 1930s. One of the most important Allied aircraft of the early twentieth century, the Bristol F.2B Fighter effectively proved the concept of the multi-role aircraft, one which excelled in several different operational situations.When Turkey declared war against Britain and France on 5th November 1914, the integrity of the Suez Canal, a vital trade route for Britain, was placed in some jeopardy and resulted in the Royal Flying Corps sending a small defending force of aircraft to the region. Initially, this force was made up of a motley collection of ageing aircraft types, however, the importance of this region to the British Empire soon dictated that more modern types would be sent to ensure the Central Powers could not threaten this vital trade route. The arrival of the newly formed No.111 Squadron RFC and their Bristol F.2B fighters in August 1917 was a significant development for forces in the Middle East, who now had access to aircraft which possessed all the attributes to secure mastery of the skies and therefore, maintain the balance of power in the region.One of the most successful individual aircraft in these desert duals was No.111 Squadron's Bristol F.2B Fighter A7194, an aircraft which would have at least five aerial victories to its name and possibly several more. In the hands of pilot Captain Arthur Hicks Peck and his Observer/Gunner Captain John Lloyd Williams, A7194 would be used to destroy three enemy aircraft between 30th October and 8th November 1917, however for Gunner Williams, this spree would actually bring his personal victory total to five enemy aircraft, as he had claimed a further two earlier in October whilst flying with a different pilot. Captain Arthur Hicks Peck would remain with No.111 Squadron when they converted to SE5a single seat fighters by the end of the year and he would score a further five aerial victories in the Middle East, earning the coveted status of 'Ace'. Bristol F.2B Fighter A7194 would later be transferred to No.1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps, who continued to maintain Allied air supremacy in the Middle Eastern Theatre.This beautifully presented aircraft sports distinctive (slightly off) white painted upper surfaces over the standard Protective Covering Number 10 dope finish (olive green shade), a scheme it received during its time serving with No.111 Squadron RFC in the Middle East. Several of the unit's aircraft were presented in this manner and whilst there didn't appear to be any officially documented reason for the markings, several theories have been suggested over the years. It could have been to make the aircraft visible to other Allied units during combat, or to confuse the enemy with such a radically different presentation of the feared Bristol Fighter. Other theories centre around the fact that it may have simply been an attempt to combat the heat of the desert sun, or even the fact that with air superiority secured, there was more possibility of losing an aircraft due to a technical issue than during combat and should a crew have to set their Brisfit down in the desert, this scheme would make the aircraft more visible from the air for those sent to rescue them. Whatever the reason, Bristol F.2B Fighter A7194 was a particularly attractive aircraft and when combined with its air combat successes, must have been one of the most popular aircraft on the Squadron at that time.
Bristol Beaufort Mk.I L9866, RAF No.217 Squadron, St Eval, Cornwall, Attack against German Cruiser Admiral Hipper, 1st February 1941. As arguably Britain's most capable maritime strike aircraft, the Bristol Beaufort was charged with carrying a heavy burden during the early years of the war, particularly when the RAF were engaged in targeting German surface raiders putting into port at Brest for repair and replenishment. Having already taken a heavy toll of Allied shipping during a previous Atlantic patrol, the mighty Admiral Hipper had successfully completed a period of repair in Brest and was almost ready to return to sea once more by the end of January 1941, something the RAF could not allow. Charged with the task of stopping her, several Beaufort torpedo bombers of No.217 Squadron were dispatched from RAF St. Eval in Cornwall just before 15:00 hrs on 1st February 1941, a force which included L9866/MW-J under the command of Sgt John Bell Rutherford. Setting a course for Brest Harbour, the Beaufort crews knew they were headed for one of the most heavily defended locations in Europe, but worse than this, they also knew that as the German ship was about to come under steam, enemy defences would be expecting a visit from the RAF and would be ready for them.
If the British bombers were to successfully press home their attack, they would need much more than just flying skill to survive this withering German defensive onslaught, in addition to the unwanted attentions of the Luftwaffe before and after making their strike run.
Desperate to ensure the Spitfire maintained its ongoing combat effectiveness, designers at the Vickers Supermarine Company were almost constantly engaged in modifying, upgrading and improving their famous fighter throughout the Second World War, however, during that time, there were occasions when unexpected Luftwaffe advancements called upon their flexibility and ingenuity. With a significant new variant of the Spitfire at the advanced stages of development, the introduction of a capable new German fighter aircraft in the skies over occupied Europe caused great concern amongst RAF officials, who were now losing Spitfires at an alarming rate and needed an immediate response. With the proposed squadron introduction of the new Spitfire Mk.VIII variant still some months away, Supermarine designers had the idea of mating the intended new powerplant for this aircraft, the Rolls Royce Merlin 60 series engine, with existing Spitfire Mk.V airframes already on the production line, a temporary solution which might just buy them the time they needed.The idea was given official approval and the RAF's Emergency Interim Fighter Programme got underway, with the new variant given the designation Spitfire IX, a stop-gap solution which would actually prove to be something of a fighting thoroughbred. In actual fact, this undertaking was not without several rather significant challenges for the team at Supermarine to overcome and but for the severity of the situation in the skies over Europe, may have actually been regarded as too problematic. Attaching the powerful new variant of the Merlin engine to existing Spitfire airframes was fraught with challenges, as the new unit was larger, wider and featured a redesigned rear section, all of which made this far from a simple exchange of engines. Supermarine technicians had to remove all existing systems and connections, design a new engine mount, then replace all fittings with newly upgraded components, all of which were essentially hand built. In fact, it could be argued that many of the first Spitfire Mk.IX fighters were hand built, with each one having an incredible number of man hours devoted to their production.Once test aircraft were passed to the Air Fighting Development Unit and later the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment for extensive evaluation, it was found that this interim, stop-gap Spitfire was a marked improvement on existing Spitfires in performance terms. What had started as something of a desperate attempt to address a critical situation facing the Royal Air Force would actually result in the service introduction of an exceptional fighting aeroplane and a continuation of the incredible Spitfire story. The Spitfire Mk.IX would go on to be considered so successful that it would become the second most heavily produced variant in the entire production run of the fighter, second only to the Mk.V and if including aircraft powered by the American produced Packard Merlin in this number, actually eclipsed the Mk.V in terms of production number. It would also be the last major Merlin powered variant of the Spitfire, before the introduction of the mighty Griffon.Just one of many Commonwealth airmen who served and fought with great distinction within the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, New Zealander Colin Falkland Gray initially had some difficulty in joining the force, failing twice to do so on medical grounds. Having spent some time improving his fitness levels, he was eventually accepted for a short service commission in the late summer of 1938, but rather than stay and train with the Royal New Zealand Air Force, elected to travel to Britain for his flying training, where he would gain his wings and later graduate as a probationary Pilot Officer in October 1939 without too many difficulties. This proved to be a rather tumultuous period for the Royal Air Force and Europe as a whole, as Britain and her allies were now at war.By the end of the so called Phoney War, Gray was flying Spitfires with No.54 Squadron at Hornchurch, gaining as much operational experience as he could in advance of what seemed certain to be just around the corner, a clash with the all-conquering Luftwaffe. He would make his combat introduction during the Battle of France, flying patrol and fighter support sorties over the areas of Calais and Dunkirk, during which time he would gain both his first combat experience and his first aerial victory. He would go on to see plenty of combat action during the Battle of Britain and by the time No.54 Squadron were withdrawn for rest and replenishment, Gray had amassed an impressive total of at least 14.5 confirmed combat victories, making him the seventh most successful RAF pilot of the battle. With his victory tally continuing to grow, along with a succession of commendations, decorations and promotions, Gray would later take command of No.81 Squadron in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations at the end of 1942, initially reporting to Gibraltar, where he and the rest of his new unit were to take delivery of their new Spitfire Mk.IX fighters, the first MTO squadron to do so. Operating from several airfields in North Africa, Gray would continue to score victories over his adversaries, which now included the opportunity to pit his flying skills against the fighters of the Regia Aeronautica.During his time serving in the MTO, Gray continued to display exceptional airmanship when in combat and a burning desire to sweep the enemy from the skies. On one occasion, his Spitfire developed engine problems which forced him to abort his position in a sortie and return to his home airfield, but on arrival, found the base had just been shot up by several Focke Wulf fighter bombers. He immediately gave chase, but his engine was not producing its usual power output, so he was unable to catch them, but on transit back to his home airfield, he came across a lone Messerschmitt fighter, which he promptly dispatched. During his time serving in the Mediterranean, Gray would operate from airfields in North Africa, Malta and Sicily in support of the Allied war effort and by the time he returned back to Britain having accepted a staff position with No.9 Group, he had been credited with 27.5 aerial victories, a figure which made him the top scoring New Zealand air ace of the Second World War. Although he would fly operationally before war's end, he would not increase his victory tally further.In its striking desert livery, Gray's Spitfire Mk.IX MA408 proves the old aviation adage that a Spitfire looks good in any colour, however, it has to be said that this one is particularly attractive. Colin Gray used this fighter during Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, but was just one of several Spitfires in which he flew and scored victories during his time in the Mediterranean. He and his fellow MTO pilots effectively cleared the skies of Axis aircraft and helped pave the way for eventual Allied victory, both in this Theatre of Operations and further afield.Colin Falkland Gray would retire from the Royal Air Force in early 1961, before returning to his native New Zealand.
Supermarine Spitfire T.9 TE308 (G-AWGB) Finished as A58-606 ‘Grey Nurse’ Sharkmouth, operated by Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar.
As one of the most successful fighter aircraft of the Second World War and one which was produced in huge numbers, it can be a little surprising to learn that the Supermarine Spitfire was not produced in a two seat training variant during the war, meaning that pilots converting to this awesome machine would be making their first flight in the Spitfire as their first solo. The Vickers Supermarine company did propose the development of a two seat variant of the Spitfire to Air Ministry officials as far back as 1941, but as there was no official support for the project at the time, they simply returned to further development of single engined fighters.
Once the war had ended, stories of unofficially modified two seat Spitfire projects started to circulate, with the ones produced by the Soviet Air Force being perhaps the most significant. Britain would eventually supply Russia with more than 1000 Spitfires and it was discovered that they actually converted several Spitfires to two seat configuration, however, rather than moving the front cockpit slightly forward as Vickers Supermarine would later do, the Russians elected to simply add a second cockpit behind the existing one, using a narrower section of the fuselage. Making these aircraft extremely distinctive, this also must have also created a rather claustrophobic working environment for the second pilot.
With this information in hand, Vickers Supermarine revived their interest in producing a two seat Spitfire as a private venture and in 1946, selected a Spitfire Mk.VIII airframe as their donor aircraft. In fact, one of the most interesting facts about the two seat Spitfire variant is that there is no such thing as a new-build Spitfire T.9 trainer, because every single example was originally manufactured as a single seat fighter. Something of a post war phenomenon, the two seat Spitfire did attract several military operators over the years, including the Irish Air Corps, however, it is during the warbird restoration era and more specifically over the past two decades that the popularity of ‘Spitfires made for two’ has really become established. As arguably the most famous aircraft of all time, the ability to boast that you had flown in a Spitfire used to be the preserve of talented and extremely fortunate pilots, however, as they now had the opportunity to carry a passenger, the chance to fly in a Spitfire was now open to anyone and there has been no end of people desperate to have a Spitfire flying experience.
Nowadays, offering Spitfire experience flights has become an extremely lucrative business, to a point where only a few years ago, almost every Spitfire under restoration was being converted to T.9 or two seat Spitfire standard. These aircraft are now much loved in their own right, regularly appearing at Airshows, in addition to operating in all but the poorest weather conditions, taking its latest lucky passenger on their Spitfire experience flight. These Spitfires made for two are maintaining and even enhancing the legacy of this magnificent aeroplane, bringing R.J Mitchell’s classic fighter to the attention of a new generation of Spitfire aficionados.
Supermarine Spitfire TE307 was originally constructed as a Mk.IXe fighter variant in 1945, but due the end of the war in Europe, was immediately placed in storage, where she would remain for the next five years. She was then selected as a conversion airframe to T.9 trainer standard, initially earmarked for service with the Egyptian Air Force, but when this sale fell through, embarked on a service career flying with the Irish Air Corps. Following retirement and disposal, she would go on to be used during the filming of the famous move 'The Battle of Britain', before moving into private ownership and periods spent with different owners in France, Canada and the US over the next few decades. She would later be purchased by Warbird Experiences at Biggin Hill and returned to British skies at that time wearing the famous standard RAF wartime day fighter scheme, however, she was about to take on a very different persona.
In a development which saw this aircraft become one of the most distinctive airworthy Spitfires in the world today, TE307 was given a smart new scheme in honour of the fighters flown by the men of No.457 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force during WWII. With each of their aircraft benefitting from the application of sinister looking shark mouths under the engine cowling, the unit was known as the 'Grey Nurse' Squadron and Spitfire TE307 now carries the registration A58-606 and the codes ZP-W in honour of Squadron Leader Bruce Watson, who flew with this unit.
If you would like to fly in one of the most distinctive Spitfires in the world today, you need to get in touch with our friends at the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar and join the long queue of people hoping to have this unique aviation experience.
Junkers Ju-52/3m g6e BJ+YD, Medical Evacuation Aircraft, Stalingrad, Air Bridge Operations, November 1942. Ordered to stay and hold their positions by Hitler, the encircled German 6th Army at Stalingrad were informed that the Luftwaffe were about to establish an Air Bridge to keep them supplied with the food, ammunition and general supplies needed to allow around 300,000 German troops to keep fighting. In the depth of a Soviet winter and woefully unprepared for such an undertaking, Luftwaffe crews quickly learned that if Soviet aircraft didn’t shoot them down during the flight in, they were just as likely to be destroyed on the ground, striking one of the many snow covered shell craters that littered Pitomnik airfield, or being hit by mortar or artillery fire from Soviet forces who were fighting their way ever closer.If they did land safely, inexperienced ground crews lengthened the time aircraft stayed in this ‘hell hole’ and when they did eventually leave, their aircraft would be laden with injured troops, desperate to escape the Stalingrad cauldron. With Luftwaffe supply efforts never coming anywhere close to delivering even the minimum quantities required by the beleaguered German troops in the Stalingrad region, Pitomnik airfield soon resembled something of an airfield graveyard, with burnt out and destroyed transport aircraft lining the edge of the runway, serving as something of a macabre aviation guard of honour for the aircrews which were still engaged in this increasingly desperate supply operation.