Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIIIc

The third most produced Mark of the famous Spitfire, the Mk VIII served exclusively outside of Great Britain. That mainly means Mediterranean , Pacific and CBI.

Let’s take a look at the late Merlin powered type.

I’ll start with the mandatory Spitfire disclaimer, so much of its production was a jumbled mess that you can add a “most”, “but” or “I think” to virtually every sentence that follows.

The 60 series Merlin was used in three, more or less similar, Marks of Spitfire. With the Spitfire Mk V in production Supermarine was planning on a remodeled airframe with a number of aerodynamic improvements in addition to the latest Merlin from Rolls-Royce. The extra power of the new powerplant (70% more power than the Mk I Spitfire) meant a strengthened airframe and enlarged rudder. There was also a retractable tailwheel and several less noticeable tweaks. The new Mark would have either a Merlin 66, 61 or 70 depending on if it was boosted to optimize low, medium or high altitude. There were enough changes it would require some downtime to switch over an assembly line.
As so often happened, Summer of 1941 led to some shocking developments in combat. The then current Spitfire Mk V was encountering a new German type, the Fw 190, that could completely outperform it. The RAF couldn’t wait while the new Mk VIII tooled up, so Supermarine was ordered to put the new engine on a Mk V fuselage, no changes aft of the firewall. The first of these new “Mark IX” Spits were converted from existing Mark Vs. This simple change added 70 MPH to the type’s top level speed, and included a number of warning placards about overstressing the airframe. The Mark IX would ultimately be the second most produced of all Spitfire variants. I’ve seen it listed as the most produced version in some sources, but I think they are combining that total with Mark XVI Spitfires. The Mark XVI is identical to the Mark IX, except for using a Packard Merlin (usually listed as a “260” series engine). This distinction truly only matters to the mechanic, who needs to know if he’s using Metric or Imperial gauge tools.
Ultimately the Mark IX would be modified in production, until late build examples had all the changes intended for the Mark VIII except for the retractable tailwheel.

The white stubs on the leading edge of the wing, just outboard of the cannon, is where a second cannon could be mounted. But every Mk VIII I’ve seen carries the .303 machine guns (covered with red patches, to improve airflow and keep debris out until firing) instead. This was by far the more common fitting on all Spitfires with the “c” wing.

Due to the hurried introduction of Mark IX, it took until mid-1943 for the Mark VIII to enter service. Over 1600 were built, so it was a major and important type. All Mark VIIIs were the same except for the altitude boost of the engine. They all even used the “c” wing, in theory that means either 4 x 20 mm cannon or 2 x 20 mm cannon and 4 x .303 machine guns for armament. But I *think* all VIIIs were built with the second of those options. I also think this all means the Mk VIII was the most evolved form of the Merlin-engine Spitfire; although some might argue for a late-build Mk XVI, the last Merlin Spitfire in production.

This aircraft was assigned to No. 155 Squadron in Burma, the last two years of the War. Readers may recall I previously featured a Curtiss Mohawk Mk IV also assign to that squadron. In January of 1944 they were re-equipped with the Spitfire Mk VIII. Those two types represent their Wartime equipment. The most famous pilot to pass through the squadron was James H “Ginger” Lacey. He was the second most successful ace in the Battle of Britain with 18 kills in Hurricanes (+5 in the Battle of France). He switched to Spitfires afterwards and scored two more kills before taking an instructor position in 1942. In 1943, still as an instructor, he was assigned to India. In November of 1944 he was posted back on operations, flying several weeks as an observer with 155 Sqn prior to taking command of 17 Squadron. He scored one more kill in Asia for a total of 26 confirmed, making him one of the very, very “Few” who flew operationally from the first day of the War to the last. In April, 1946 he became the first to fly a Spitfire over Japan.

A warbird Mk VIIIc in flight. The retractable tailwheel is apparent here. [photo from airpowerworld.info]

This was the regular mount of F/Lt Paul Ostrander. He flew a tour of duty with 155 Sqn from July 1944 to May 1945. The symbol on the nose is a “Chindit”, the badge of the Long Range Penetration Group commanded by Orde Wingate. They performed long patrols deep behind enemy lines, and 155 Sqn often provided close support for them.

Spitfire Mk VIII shown with an earlier Mk IX. This example still has the earlier style rudder, so may have original style, lighter fuselage build as well.
155 Sqn flew Mohawk Mk IV from the start of the Pacific War until January 1944 when they re-equipped with Spitfire Mk VIII.

This the Eduard kit. It is a true beauty. As a “profipack” it comes with pre-painted photo-etch parts and painting masks. Really a complete package, speaking for myself I can’t imagine ever buying any aftermarket other than a decal sheet for this kit. It is significantly more complex and fiddly than the older Tamiya kit, but Tamiya only ever did the Mark I and Mark Vb. Eduard has provided us with every other major Mark (plus the Mark I and Vb). The level of detail is stunning. Of course that also means its a slower process than the Tamiya, but never really in a “bad” way. Fit/engineering are excellent throughout, just a lot of tiny pieces.

Japanese Army “Oscar” would have been the most common aerial foe of CBI based Spitfires, and “Ginger” Lacey’s only kill in theater was over one. But Japanese airpower was fading by 1944 and most missions involved carrying bombs and strafing.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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15 Responses to Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIIIc

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Well researched as always.

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I don’t have this one… Yet.

  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby V.

  4. jfwknifton says:

    A very interesting and thorough account of these various marks of Spitfire. Casualty rates against the new Fw190s could be disastrous for Spitfire Vs with scores over Northern France such as 6-0, 8-1 and worse. One book I read said that they were bad enough to have killed off all the experienced pilots who had fought the Battle of Britain and survived.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah the Fw 190 caused major problems for the RAF for a period.
      What I haven’t touched on yet here was the ways the Mk V was modified to cope. Eventually I’ll have to do a “Clipped, Clapped and Cropped Spitty” too!
      That really may have been one of the worst crisis faced by Fighter Command during the War. Much like the need to rebuild Bomber Command after it almost bled out, or the 8th Air Force’s unsustainable losses of late 1943. That whole see-saw way of things really pushed innovation and development during the War years.

  5. Whichever mark you look at, the Spitfire is just stunning!

  6. Hello Dave,
    Great job on the Mk. VIIIc. My writing is to share with you an observation of model kits over the decades. I’ve just finished building a Hobby Boss TBF-1C Avenger in 1/48 scale. I recall as a youngster building a Monogram Avenger kit. My Hobby Boss kit is stunningly detailed and the fit and finish are superb. My annoyance is the wings in the Hobby Boss kit can be either completed in the Sto-Wing folded position or fixed for flight position. If my memory serves me correctly the old Monogram kit allowed you to fold and unfold the wings. With the modern kit design using CAD tools, why couldn’t Hobby Boss provide this little feature to enhance the historic functionality of the aircraft? Just my little comment.
    Best regards,
    Ken in PA

    • atcDave says:

      My guess would be that they felt they could do more accurate detail with an either/or option. But it would be fun to see a model that could actually fold its wings (maybe by a powered option) to really demonstrate the functionality of the real thing! Of course that may be getting into a sort of mechanical modeling that’s way beyond me.

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