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Supermarine


Spitfire production

A legend is born

After the sucess of the Schneider Trophy win in 1931, R. J. Mitchell turned his talents to developing designs for the Air Ministry specification F7/30 for a single-seat monoplane four-gun fighter. Convinced that this first design was merely a step in the journey and there was more to come. Vickers and Rolls Royce, who were providing the engine, decided to finance the operation themselves allowing Mitchell and Supermarine to continue development. The wealth of aerodynamic experience gained during the Schneider Trophy races was to prove the key. Without Air Ministry involvement Mitchell was given the freedom to concieve an eight-gun monoplane fighter that had a retractable undercarriage. It was smaller and neater than the previous design with an enclosed cockpit; powered by the Rolls Royce PV12 engine that later became the Merlin. Everything came together at the right time and place and a legend was born. 

Supermarine factory, Hazel Road, Woolston

magnify Supermarine Factory, Hazel Rd Southampton.

The immediate success of the Spitfire took Supermarine by surprise. The Air Ministry placed an order for 450 planes in 1936, the same year that the prototype K5054 flew. The Spitfire was the company‚Äôs first major landplane programme and they had never before received such a large order for an aircraft. The works were too small to build so many planes at once and so parts of the construction were subcontracted out with assembly at a Supermarine factory in Eastleigh.

During the Blitz of September 1940 Southampton received extensive bombing. The Supermarine factories were hit several times badly damaging the Itchen and Woolston works, with the loss of over one hundred lives. As a result the Minister for Aircraft Production, Lord Beeverbrook, ordered the dispersal of Spitfire production over the South coast. It was eventually spread over sixty-five different units that between them built over 85,000 aircraft. In Southampton production was carried out over twenty-eight locations and employed approximately 3,000 people. The other well-known design Supermarine produced during the Second World War was the life-saving Walrus air-sea rescue aircraft. This amphibian was responsible for rescuing a large number of ditched Allied airmen during the Second World War.

After the Blitz devastation, the company in December 1940 moved its operations out of Southampton to a country mansion near Winchester called Hursley Park. The control centre of the Spitfire programme was located at the mansion for the duration of the war. The Supermarine design office continued there post-war, until 1957 when the staff were absorbed into the main Vickers-Armstrong organisation or re-located to South Marston in Hampshire which had been acquired by Vickers to be the headquarters of Supermarine. Throughout Supermarine's fifty years of operation, beginning in 1913, it maintained its commitment to marine aircraft the last one: the Scimitar, was produced in 1963 at South Marston.  

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