Toca History: The Spitfire
Southampton City Centre is steeped in history with many of our properties near by, some of which are part of the history themselves! We take a look at one of the famous parts of the city of which is actually closer than you think.
Few people know that one of Britain’s iconic symbols was born and bred in Southampton. The first prototype Spitfire first flew from Southampton airport and production of the earliest models was based at the Supermarine factory in Woolston. In World War II the factory was heavily bombed with a huge loss of life.
Production continued in and around Southampton dispersed in the most unusual of locations as varied as bus garages and launderettes. Lord Beaverbrook the Minister for Aircraft Procurement came to Southampton and insisted that the Spitfire must be produced locally in any location where aircraft could be built. Southampton folk were deemed brave in continuing to build the Spitfire under constant threat of enemy bombing raids.
Designed by R J Mitchell the Spitfire was powered by a deep roaring Rolls Royce Merlin engine that could handle arms of 8 machine guns. The saddest part of the story is that it’s creator died before it was put into operational use.
No fewer than 310 Spitfires were ordered for the RAF by the then Air Ministry and by 1940 the area of Woolston was at full capacity. With the Battle of Britain fast approaching the factory was literally bursting at the seams with production. With Southampton a key target for the German bombing raids because of its docks and aircraft facilities, living here was a difficult time for the locals. To add insult to injury German pilots would use Ordinance Survey maps produced in the town itself.
Few now fly around the world with replicas now finding their way into museums (including here in Southampton – see below). In the summer of 2012 one flew down to Malta for the International Air Show. The Mediterranean island’s link with the Spitfire began in WWII when the island – under British rule – was heavily raided by German forces. The Maltese people raised enough money to replace their aging Tiger Moths yet their aircraft never arrived. One did make it back in 2006 with it now living in the Aviation Museum on the island.
Many families in the city now have had their lives touched by the Spitfire’s history – whether it be in production or working in the factory that made over 22,000 of the much loved aircraft.
Southampton has since lost its Supermarine factory to developments however it’s history still lives on. Many streets in the city bear the name of this stunning war machine in one form or another. There is a monument paying tribute to the history of the Spitfire, which can be clearly seen at Southampton Airport – a fine fitting tribute and location to a great, and much loved flying machine.
You can find out more about the love affair between Southampton the Spitfire by heading to Solent Sky, the city’s only museum on the greatest story of local aviation history. For more info click here: http://www.spitfireonline.co.uk/