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Needed - a definitive guide to Spitfire marks and sub-variants


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I am looking for a definitive guide.

 

Does one exist?

 

Say, for example, the transition from the Spitfire Mk 1a (1/72 Airfix) to the Mk 1b (as in Kovozavody 1/72) and onward through all marques.

 

Which had what aerial, which had Kaufmann bulge over electric, etc

 

Advice most appreciated, preferably in print form but anything will do,

 

Michael

 

 

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Valiant Wings    Airframe & Minature  No.12   The Supermarine Spitfire Merlin variants  Volume No.1   also the Griffon variants Vol 2   is excellent.

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I think somebody else on this site thought this would be a good idea maybe a couple of years back and embarked upon the task.  Not sure it ever reached fruition: think he quickly came to the conclusion that the story was more involved than he appreciated.

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It certainly would:  for example there was no simple transition from Mk.I to Mk.Ib, you would need to track this aircraft by aircraft.  The bulge over the Coffman starter was needed for the Mk.II, but was also seen on some Mk.Vs, and had apparently been standardised again for the Mk.IX, despite not having such a starter.  There is, AFAIK, no way of knowing which Mk.IXs had the rear-view canopy or perhaps the e wing - discounting in-service conversions.  Changes such as the raised canopy and following bulged canopy make similar difficulties.  You may well be able (perhaps) to track down the first production aircraft to have something fitted, but there's no guarantee the following serial did.  Which Mk.IXs had the CB-designed new engine top cowling that the Supermarine test pilots disliked but became standard?

 

There are any number of references that will give you a breakdown of the Mark numbers, and what representative examples of these Marks looked like, but a breakdown by Modification Number, which different parts were on which aircraft within those serial blocks at which stage of its life - this is not an achievable task, even without considering that records no longer exist for aircraft overseas that will have had local modifications with local clearances.

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Well, it would be nice, wouldn't it - having a definitive guide?

 

Of course, less than definitive could give the answer to the most common questions needed for modelling, which I surmise is your aim.

 

Over the years I have bought several books covering most of the Spitfire story, but I wouldn't say that any of them could qualify as definitive.

 

The latest I bought was the Valiant Wings Airframe & Miniature books on Merlin and Griffon Spitfires, which I consider to be excellent references. I really do use these books a lot, but definitive?

 

As Graham says, we are fairly sure how the Spitfire looked like when leaving the factory, but thereafter it becomes clouded, with local modifications and repairs doing odd things.

 

The mantra often heard is "Build it as documented by a photo". That certainly takes the wind out of the sails of the Definitive reference theory. 

 

Still, I like the books, imperfect as they are.

 

/Finn

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10 hours ago, Michael51 said:

I am looking for a definitive guide.

 

Does one exist?

 

As Graham says, no. 

Spitfire -The History is usually quoted as 'the one'  and it's a very useful book, though apparently not without it's glitches, and it's pretty much a reference book.   I must admit to being a bit underwhelmed when I got mine,  partly as by then the Spitfire production site was online,   and a good chunk of the above is the serial listing.  

 

Also because I had this, The Spitfire Story by Alfred Price

https://www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/title/the-spitfire-story/author/alfred-price/

A good overall and readable guide to Spitfire variants, does not cover Seafires though. 

 

It describes the main  variants and the airframe evolution, with a good selection of photos.   Can be got for buttons as well.   

 

 

For the details like this...

10 hours ago, Michael51 said:

Which had what aerial, which had Kaufmann bulge over electric, etc

 

for modelling use, it's reverse research, work from a photo,  or if it's partial photo or assembled from a best guess (EG great uncle Fred  flew serial XX111, with xx Sq,)  then it's a best guess from similar airframes and from the serial listing. 

 

It's the sort of thing a website would do well, as it can be easily updated, while a proper book easily becomes outdated,  as various thread on here have shown.

In many ways, this is your best bet for the kind in detail a modeller wants.

 

HTH

 

 

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24 minutes ago, Troy Smith said:

As Graham says, no. 

Spitfire -The History is usually quoted as 'the one'  and it's a very useful book, though apparently not without it's glitches, and it's pretty much a reference book.   I must admit to being a bit underwhelmed when I got mine,  partly as by then the Spitfire production site was online,   and a good chunk of the above is the serial listing.  

 

 

 

 

I completely agree with you, Troy. I recently acquired a copy, and although it is absolutely filled with minute details, some of the "when did...?"questions that pop up here from time time to time aren't really answered.

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"Spitfire - The History" is a mine of resources but it is not an easy book to read or use as reference. Invaluable for the enthusiast, it sure is not an easy guide for a modeller who just wants to know if part X in the kit goes on the subject he's building. Or better, it can be used for that but only after having already a certain knowledge of the Spitfire features.

Would it be possible to wirte a book covering all the various changes ? Not really, but maybe it would be possible to have a book with chapters dedicated to each variant showing the main features and then listing all the various small and big details that can be seen on aircraft of that variant. Of course nailing all the details to a certain serial number block would still be difficult and assigning with certainty the features to an individual serial number at a certain time would still be impossible without one or more pictures of that particular aircraft.

Of course such a book would end up being large and consequently expensive, and not too many people would buy one, so making it even more expensive....

Alternatively, the next best thing to do is to get a good enough guide to identify the main features of the different variants and main subvariants (like the Valiant Wings volumes), start from there and then keep checking the threads here, where many of the more minute details are often discussed

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Thank you Giorgio,

 

I think you put that rather well.

 

The Valiant Wings publication appears to be the one best suited to my needs.

 

Although out of print, they have advised that a revised edition will be available early 2021 and I will purchase that,

 

Michael

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Interesting that they have misprints, and that a new version will be out next year. Before I saw your post, I was able to find a used but Very Good (seller's description) copy in the UK through abebooks.com, and should have it in a couple of weeks.

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Hi

    what is the vedict accuracy wise on this one

 

The Supermarine Spitfire Part 1: Merlin Powered. a Comprehensive guide (SAM Publications 9781906959357)

 

cheers

   jerry 

 

 

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Not in my library so I am unable to say, especially as it will be a few weeks before my Valiant Wings (misprint) copy reaches our Australian shores.

 

However, I have been wary of SAM publications after purchasing one of their works on the Lancaster some years ago because of several errors even a non-cognoscenti such as I was able to detect - almost as disturbing as that description in Bird's 'Coastal Dawn' of a 'Blackburn Stuka'.

 

Michael

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39 minutes ago, Michael51 said:

Not in my library so I am unable to say, especially as it will be a few weeks before my Valiant Wings (misprint) copy reaches our Australian shores.

 

However, I have been wary of SAM publications after purchasing one of their works on the Lancaster some years ago because of several errors even a non-cognoscenti such as I was able to detect - almost as disturbing as that description in Bird's 'Coastal Dawn' of a 'Blackburn Stuka'.

 

Michael

 

Hi

    i havent got the SAM lanc book, i must avoid it then 

   mind you coastal dawn is worth it for the gun pack drawing 

     i have the valiant wings on the whirlwind, i wish i hadnt spent the money, and it put me off buying any others in the series 

   cheers

     jerry

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4 hours ago, brewerjerry said:

Hi

    what is the vedict accuracy wise on this one

 

The Supermarine Spitfire Part 1: Merlin Powered. a Comprehensive guide (SAM Publications 9781906959357)

 

cheers

   jerry 

 

 

IMHO, They are dated. E.g. it (Vol 2) mentions (in 2001) only one kit of the XII. Both volumes are somewhat similar to the Valiant wings, but the kits mentioned are now more or less obsolete.

 

HTH

Finn

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Warning, long post ! Go to the last paragraph for my view on the SAM books on the Spitfire

 

The SAM books in general suffer from two "problems":

1) the varying knowledge of the subject by the various authors. This resulted in some being very good, others less so. If one volume had errors, it is not necessarily said that another volume had the same kind of errors. Mind, I'm not here blaming any of the authors, however some titles really show a very high knowledge of the subject while other titles do not leave the same taste.

2) the formula is very interesting, however trying to squeeze history, technical evolution, details, camouflage & markings and modelling aspects into one single book means that it is impossible to go into real depth within the size of one book.

Because of this formula, and errors notwithstanding, these books are perfect for those modellers who need/want a general introduction and then to be able to go somewhat in depth in a subject in order to get a model right and start understanding the variations of the subject.

If however the same modeller already has a good grasp of the subject, these books in most cases add very little if anything. In fairness this is a "problem" with most works, as they are very few the ones that shed new light and something like that would be hard to get in a book on say the Spitfire... it would have to be a book on say the Spitfire IX, where all pages are devoted to this variant only (see for example Matusiak's book on the Spit V in Mushroom series). Or something on one single aspect, say a whole book on the Spitfire camouflage and markings, where it would be possible to go into great detail into all variations.

I noticed this very well when I got the book on the F-14, nice book but being someone with another dozen books on all various aspects, in the end I couldn't find anything that I didn't already have in the other book,,, and being relatively knowledgeable on the subject, I found several errors. Mind, mostly small errors that wouldn't make much difference for a novice but that someone with more knowledge would find annoying.

 

The Valiant Wings series are a continuation of the same approach, and again I find this very useful from a modeller point of view. I only have one title so can't comment on all. Have to say that after reading mine in depth (on the Fw.190D), I was very happy with most things but I was still left with the feeling that certain information I was looking for were not there and that the space used for certain aspects could have been better used for others. In any case I had very little on the Dora before so I found a lot of useful stuff in the book. I have seen others, like the one of the Spitfire, and again I feel that they are in any case a very good introduction to an aircraft type. In some cases they are actually more than that, as not all aircraft had the same variations seen on the Spitfire.. Again, a number of different persons have authored the books, some are names that are well recognized as experts on a certain subjects, others may not be.

 

One aspect that makes both series different from the others is the thorough analysis of kits on the market. This is a good thing for many but of course this is a section that is damned to age quickly, particularly at the rate companies issue new kits today. There's nothing that can be done, apart from adding information on the publisher website. In any case I still prefer to read kit reviews in a forum like this one, where modellers can interact and bring their view and knowledge on the various issues.

 

 

Finally, on the question initially asked, how does the earlier SAM books stack up... I have both and they fit my general view on the titles in the series: they are very useful as a first introduction, with indications on the main differences between variants. There are many drawings of details, some coming from manuals of the era and some made for the books. Then there are pictures of details of preserved aircraft and all these together can be very useful. Of course the book in this aspect is not up to the level of dedicated walkaround titles (the WWP one on the IX for example) but still cover most of what is needed for a model.

However do not expect to find discussed the minute details ! For example, there's no mention of the relative position of the underfuselage lights on the IX and VIII or of the different gun bulges between early and late Mk.IX. Or better, sometime these details are covered in the various drawings from the manuals, but there's no indication of what to find where.

Even more annoying is that, in the volume on the Merlin powered variant, the section dedicated to the differences bases these not on a well thought out evolution of the type but on what needs to be added or removed from the kits proposed for the specific variant. So for example for the Mk.Vb they say "build as per kit instructions" and do not show all the many different features of the variant. Even worse, important aspects as the leading edge tanks on the Mk.VIII are not listed as things to be added to the kit.. sorry author, a Hasegawa 1/72 Mk.VIII from the box is far from an accurate Mk.VIII when it comes to the details !

The volume on the Griffon powered Spit is much better in this respect and indicates the details regardless of the kit used.

Speaking of kits, the reviews are clearly based on information that today is not well rated. Just looking at the 1/72 kits (that is the scale I know best), the Hasegawa MkIX is stated to be accurate while the Academy XIV as the best option in that scale. The Hasegawa IX however is quite short and thin in the fuselage while the Academy kit is a mess.

Last but not least... I feel that some pages could have been better used: did we really need a chapter on the Spitfire in Belgian service in both books ? Nothing against our Belgian friends and they sure had great service from their Spits, but maybe this would have been better treated as a separate work ? In a sense I feel the same applies to the list of aftermarket items... these lists can only be a snapshot of a certain situation in time, as detail sets and decal sheets constantly go in and out of production. Maybe those pages would have been better used to show the many variations in the early PR Spitfire variants or some other variation ?

So overall I'd say that if you already know a bit about the Spitfire you may be disappointed, buy these books may be worth if you don't know much on the Spitfire or if you want to have a good number of detail drawings and pictures. The information on the different variants is IIRC generally correct but with omissions (some justified by the scope of the book, others not so much). Information on the camouflage schemes is again generally Ok but don't expect much on the variations. In any case I'd not go investing big money, both because of the problems mentioned above and because the Valiant Wings books have made the previous two obsolete anyway. A tenner is probably what I'd pay today, if I had to pay more I'd probably pass.

Edited by Giorgio N
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Very well put, Giorgio, and expressed with more delicacy than I could have managed.

 

In particular this bit rang true:  "being someone with another dozen books on all various aspects, in the end I couldn't find anything that I didn't already have in the other book,,, and being relatively knowledgeable on the subject, I found several errors. Mind, mostly small errors that wouldn't make much difference for a novice but that someone with more knowledge would find annoying."

 

They're a bit like Wikipedia: 95% of the info is probably correct but spotting the 5% errors undermines confidence in all the rest.  The detail photos and extracts from APs might be useful but even they are often reproduced too small to be much use.  Glad I got nearly all mine secondhand or remaindered: not without their uses but I wouldn't dream of quoting them as authoritative in any discussion with the heavyweights on this forum.

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3 hours ago, Ossington said:

I you you shouldn't answer your own posts, and I should have googled it first. John R. Beaman jnr., 1973. I've never seen as copy, though I have his 109 one.

I have the Beaman monograph; when it was released, it was very useful and described in text and drawings how to model almost every major variant, but there were so few 1/72 kits available back then, it's not nearly as useful now, as so many new and better kits have been released since then and so many more variants. John also did monographs on the Mustang and Bf-109, but the same observations would apply.

Mike

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