Aviation of World War II
BRITISH ALLY, No. 50, December 10, 1944 Publication of the British Ministry of Information. The price is 2 rubles.
There is not a single battle of the Second World War, there is not a single front, with which the name of the Spitfire * - a wonderful British fighter, would not be associated.
With Spitfires, British pilots won the Battle of Britain, defended Malta, guarded caravans at sea, covered armies in the Middle East, and later cleared German skies from Africa.
Spitfires beat the Germans on the Russian front, they beat and beat them over France and Holland, over Greece and Yugoslavia, and now over the very lair of the Nazis - Germany.
While glorifying our heroic pilots who lead the Spitfires into battle, we cannot forget the name of the man who created this wonderful machine, the brave innovator of aircraft construction, the great British designer Reginald Mitchell.
Mitchell's life is the life of a creator, a seeker, daring to follow new paths, a life of a great scientist.
We don't know much about her, but even what little we know is of great interest.
In the history of the Second World War, dress up with the names of the great leaders of the United Nations - marshals, generals, heroes who led our armies to victory - the names of scientists, designers, who contributed to outstanding successes with their knowledge and creativity will be inscribed in golden letters our troops. One of the first places among these glorious names belongs to Mitchell.
Creator of a Wonderful Machine
He asked to be enlisted in the army.
But when one morning a notice came that Reginald Mitchell's request had been denied, as the Ministry of Armaments needed his services, it no longer caught the addressee. Mitchell left his father's house to pursue his dream...
- I don't think the boy will be able to get this place in Southampton. He's only twenty-two, after all. Too young...
- Young? the father answered. - Not at all. This is what he dreamed of all his life. Barely grown up, and already made airplanes. Studied day and night...
- If you ask me. - continued the mother - I'll tell you straight, he worked too much. Institute, evening classes... Everything was not enough for him. All night long he used to pore over drawings and blueprints.
A knock at the front door... A telegram.
"This is from Reg," Mrs. Mitchell's voice comes into the room. “Just listen: “Got a job. I start right away. Please send things about Southampton.
Parents looked at each other and smiled.
"Let's help him," said the father. “Of course it won't be easy, but at least Reg has what he wanted.
That's how Reginald Mitchell did his job at the Supermarine aircraft factories. He found himself. As a child, he drew models of airplanes, although in those days they were almost completely unknown, and there were not so many cars on the streets anymore. Reginald's skill quickly improved, and soon the neighbors were surprised at the models of gliders flying over the playground.
Airplanes filled all his thoughts. Every free minute Reginald studied higher mathematics, aerodynamics, knowing that this would bring the day when he could create a real aircraft.
And now that time has come.
Already the first models in the design of which Mitchell took part in the Southampton works, revealed his skill. The tasks became more difficult each time. He was barely twenty-two years old when he received the post of chief designer of the plant. Then Mitchell got married. His fiancee - a lively attractive girl - grew up in Mitchell's native town - Stoke-on-Trent.
Sometimes they went together to the rocky island of Burg, located off the coast of Devon. During one of these walks, an idea was born in Mitchell's head that changed the entire further development of aviation.
Lying on the beach, in the shade of the rocks, he watched the seagulls soar with almost motionless wings over the sea.
- You can't get rid of the seagulls, - the wife noticed. - However, - she added with a touch of jealousy, - seagulls are better than some girl.
“Look,” Mitchell said, spellbound, clutching his binoculars, watching the bird descend low above them, “how it soars. How beautiful are its lines... Wings, body, tail - everything seems to be carved... If only our airplanes looked like birds!
- With flapping wings? the wife asked.
- No, with wings merged with the body and tail into a single slender whole. - He put the binoculars aside and looked at her, full of excitement.
— Just think of all the ugly things we make... Four wings, struts, props, cables... How I wish I could build a plane that looks like a bird. And I will build it! I will build!
From that hour on, the thought of a new design never left Mitchell. He set to work with zeal. In March 1925, Reginald Mitchell began work on building a seaplane to compete in the Schneider Cup. On August 25, his car was already launched for testing in the air. She was the embodiment of his dreams - rounded like a cigar, streamlined, with only two planes.
In the United States, where the Cup was coming up, Mitchell's car made a splash. Unfortunately, the floors of the hangar in which she was standing suddenly collapsed, the seaplane was damaged and could not participate in the race. Only Jimmy Doolittle**, representing the United States, started. Since there were no other competitors, he was awarded the cup.
The next meeting of the board of the company where Mitchell worked was very lively. One die-hard director, stubbornly opposed to all the measures that facilitated the work of Mitchell in constructing such an extraordinary machine (just think - not a single strut!), burst into a long speech. Her essence was reduced only to the fact that he supposedly knew about everything, warned about everything, which was simply crazy to give free rein to Mitchell.
Most of the board members agreed that Mitchell was indeed very unlucky.
- There is no doubt that Mitchell is a talented designer. one of the speakers said.
We spent thousands of pounds to win this cup. But we are business people. I insist that Mitchell, like the rest of the industry, should now be engaged exclusively in the design and production of civil aviation aircraft.
The cheers from everyone present meant that in the next two years Mitchell would have to build flying boats, not high-speed aircraft.
Britain did not take part in the next Schneider Cup. This time, the United States and Italy fought fiercely for possession of it. On race day, Mitchell took to the air in a powerful flying boat he had built, and the test pilot ran a series of challenging and difficult tests.
Mitchell did not tell anyone about his thoughts, about his worries. All his thoughts were riveted to the races that took place on the other side of the Atlantic.
If the United States beats the Italians, it will be their third victory, and by convention the cup will remain in their hands forever. If the Italians win, Britain will not lose hope of capturing the coveted prize in the future.
The Italians understood the full significance of Mitchell's constructive ideas. His cantilever monoplane revolutionized aircraft construction. The Italian car racing was a complete replica of his design and the Italians won the cup.
When the flying boat returned to its base, Mitchell was already waiting for a message about the results of the draw. He did not hide his joy. The opportunity for Britain was not yet completely lost.
The RAF decided that British aircraft would participate in the 1927 race. Mitchell was brought in to design the machine. His time has come!
From the cupboards in his study, he took out the sketches of the aircraft, made by him in the rare hours of leisure that had fallen out over the past three years, and set about creating his offspring.
It was a low plane monoplane, the most beautiful machine that people have ever seen. With the exception of the floats and the engine hood, everything resembled the future Spitfire in its forms. This machine now stands in the South Kensington Museum as an immortal monument to Mitchell's craftsmanship.
In Venice, where the races were to take place this time, the British pilots found themselves in an atmosphere of hysteria fomented by the Fascist Party.
Mussolini sent a telegram to the British stating that the Cup would be won by the Italians. In response, Lieutenant Webster flew over Venice in Mitchell's monoplane at a speed of 450 kilometers per hour. The Italian car covered the distance at a speed of 434 kilometers per hour. After the race results were announced, there was a half-minute silence. Following this, the audience burst into stormy greetings addressed to the winners, who flew with a speed that was still unknown to man!
There was another man in Britain who dreamed, like Mitchell, of the magnitude of aviation. His name is Sir Robert McLean, Chairman of the Board of Vickers Aviation. As soon as Sir Robert became aware of the speed shown by Mitchell's car in Venice, he began negotiations to buy the firm of which Mitchell was the designer.
McLean didn't need a firm, McLean needed Mitchell and his assistants. The deal went through. It cost Vickers Aviation half a million pounds.
When all the documents were signed, Sir Robert met with Mitchell. This meeting marked the beginning of a personal friendship and camaraderie at work, which profoundly affected the fate of Britain in the darkest hours of its history.
"You were on time," Mitchell said. — I want to start designing an all-metal aircraft with a powerful engine.
“Excellent,” said Sir Robert. - I will try to create all the conditions necessary for your work. I firmly believe that you are exactly the person who is able to keep our country's leading position in the field of aviation.
* - in modern spelling - "Spitfire"; changed the spelling to Mitchell, the 1944 article had Mitchell. (note by admin.)
** - Now Major General Jimmy Doolittle is in command of the US 8th Air Corps operating from British airfields against German rear targets.
Mitchell went into engineering and built the car exactly as promised. She was supposed to compete in the next Schneider Cup competition. The Italians mobilized all the forces of their aircraft industry to return the lost cup. The best Italian pilots arrived to beat Mitchell's S-6.
The night before the match, the police inspector on duty in Southampton was woken up by a persistent phone call.
"They're talking from the Royal Air Force High Speed Group." He heard an agitated voice. .
"We'll find him," the inspector replied.
He pressed every button on the remote in front of him. All the police were on their feet. And she soon found a designer.
Mitchell rushed in his car to the hangar where his "S-6" was parked.
— Block cylinders are damaged, — said the chief mechanic. “If the motor had continued to run for a few more minutes, they would have been permanently disabled.
Mitchell threw off his coat and calmly replied:
— Well, let's take up the repair.
- Repair? But there is no time, - someone tried to object.
Mitchell turned to the speaker and without changing his tone, calmly said:
— Friends, we have lived all these months in sweat and work not to be beaten because of some accident in the cylinder block. You just need to get to work.
People worked all night. Dawn has come. Soon the first rays of the rising sun flashed on the fuselage skin. The motor was disassembled. Parts of it lay everywhere...
The first spectators appeared on both banks of the Solent. Fans. Those who wanted not to miss anything prudently took their places in advance. Mitchell and his assistants continued assembly. The pilots walked around, afraid to tear the designer away from work. They didn't even ask if there was any hope...
Representatives of the Organizing Committee of the races came. The question, which the pilots did not dare to, was posed, and at the same time, in no uncertain terms:
- Will the British car start?
Mitchell straightened up, wiping his oily hands on the tow.
- Of course, we will start the engine now, and the car can be towed to the start. She is quite ready.
Soon its rumble was heard in the air. It was the roar of a winner. "S-5" came first, showing a speed of 524.4 kilometers per hour.
So, the record remained with Britain. But we have created not only the fastest car. At the same time, the four-engine Southamptons appeared - heavy flying boats that won records for the long-distance group flight England-Singapore-Australia.
Almost at the same time, Mitchell is building the Walrus amphibious vehicle, a vehicle designed for the Air Rescue Service, which actually saved many lives.
But his name remains completely unknown to the general public, especially since Mitchell avoids any hint of popularity and advertising in every possible way. When friends organized a party to celebrate his success, Mrs. Mitchell had to spend long hours persuading her husband to come.
The man is exceptionally sensitive, he lived in a state of intense tension and excitement - the entire period of time when each of his new machines entered the test. He understood that it was impossible for a test pilot to avoid risk. For many weeks, the designer is experiencing the death of a pilot in a disaster that occurred with one of his experimental machines.
In those days, Mitchell was leading the aircraft industry in a new, uncharted way. New were the principles underlying the design of the fuselage, the planes and the transfer of engine power to the propeller. The only way to test the new was through flight tests of an experimental machine. Most of Mitchell's ideas produce brilliant results. To this day, aircraft designers consider Mitchell's work classic.
It remained to win the race for the Schneider Cup once again, so that this prize would forever remain in our country.
Mitchell designs a new machine, on which he expects for the first time in the history of aviation to achieve speeds of over 640 kilometers per hour.
But the black shadow of the economic crisis makes itself felt more and more. There are growing voices protesting against spending money on air races, while the number of unemployed in the country has exceeded two million.
Mitchell tries to explain that this is not about racing, not about the prestige of Britain, but about much more serious things. The design of "Schneider machines" made it possible to accumulate invaluable research materials in the field of high-speed aircraft construction. The lag in this area will throw Britain back.
Mitchell's arguments are supported by Sir Robert McLean and Sir Henry Royce (creator of the marvelous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine that powers most of Britain's finest combat aircraft to this day). They appeal to many influential people, but do not achieve any positive results.
It was believed that they were seeking to receive state subsidies and thereby shift the costs of their own production onto the treasury. Parliament demanded savings. All items of government spending were sharply reduced. A proposal to fund the costs of Britain's participation in the Schneider Cup was defeated in the House of Commons. It seemed that Mitchell's dream was not destined to come true.
Throughout the country at that time there were stories about Lady Houston - an eccentric and richest woman, a millionaire and literally a fanatical patriot.
Lady Huston didn't know anything about Mitchell. Only reports of a lack of funds for the participation of British pilots in the competition reached her. And one day a messenger arrived at Mitchell, handing him a check from Lady Houston for one hundred thousand pounds.
Mitchell joyfully set about his favorite work. There was little time left. There was no need to even think about creating a completely new design now. It was possible to deal only with the improvement of the car that participated in the past competitions.
The Italians raised a terrible fuss around their cars.
Press representatives asked Mitchell to say how high he estimates his chances of winning. Mitchell smiled shyly, nervously. This was supposed to mean:
- I hope we win...
Italian intelligence was on top. Mussolini considered it more expedient not to send a team that was obviously doomed to failure.
The British car went to the start alone. She was awarded the victory. The speed record rose to 651.0 kilometers per hour.
The goal that Mitchell set for himself was fully achieved. The cup now belonged to us, and all the research material related to the comprehensive study of the problems of high-speed flights has been collected and summarized. A new stage in the development of aviation began.
Flying boats, aircraft, built with the work of Mitchell, fly in all latitudes of the globe. In the life of Mitchell came the most joyful period. He was in his prime. All the projects dear to his heart turned into real deeds. Before him opened the future, full of the brightest prospects.
He was a physically strong man, an athlete, with a proud gait, loving comfort and his pipe. He was seen on the golf course, on the tennis court, in the swimming pool and on the sea beaches, at the billiard table. He was a member of auto and yacht clubs. He was seen in the cities of Europe and the United States, but rarely these trips were not connected with the work of the designer.
It was a great happiness for me to hear from the lips of Mitchell himself about the results of the path traveled and the prospects for the near future. This happened five years after the death of the great designer. I was sitting in the Vickers Aircraft Directorate, the radio playing a recording of Mitchell's speech. The text of this speech has never yet appeared on the pages of the press.
Here is how Mitchell assessed the situation: "The problems of further increasing speed are as acute today as they have always been. Nevertheless, we believe that the successes achieved so far have justified the efforts expended. We have at our disposal a huge research material, which will now serve as the basis for the improvement and improvement of aviation."
The year 1931 has come ... The first signs of a terrible disease have long appeared. Cancer... Mitchell was operated on. A slow recovery began. He was allowed to leave the clinic on the condition that he continue his treatment at the resort. Together with Sir Robert McLean, Mitchell went to Tyrol, to the mountains. It was there, not far from Munich, that Mitchell, whose thoughts were absorbed by the grandiose plans for civil aircraft construction, first felt the breath of the impending war.
Lyrical meadows of Tyrol, peaceful huts - everything has now changed. Mitchell and McLean heard youngsters from the German flying clubs busily discussing the quality of engines and very transparently alluding to the German military aviation that was still being born in the underground. Every day they witnessed loud statements, one bolder than the other, about a future "German Europe."
One of the first people Mitchell and Sir Robert met on their return to their homeland was Captain Summers, chief test pilot for Vickers Aviation. Recently captured in Germany, the captain claimed that the Germans were feverishly creating offensive aircraft, that they intended to create five thousand first-line bombers.
"We must act," Mitchell said sharply. “These scoundrels will start a new war.
- Act? asked Sir Robert. "How?"
— It is necessary to knock out the Nazi bombers from our sky, if only the Germans will turn up here. I will build the fastest, deadliest fighter jet the world has ever known. With it, we will stop the enemy.
- Get to work. said Sir Robert. We will give you everything you need.
Mitchell knew that death lay in wait for him, that he needed to hurry if he wanted to finish the job. He set himself a clear, definite task - to create a fighter that develops a dive speed of 16 kilometers per minute and is armed with 8 heavy machine guns.
The disease progressed. Doctors warned Mitchell to leave work immediately. But the ominous shadow of Germany, preparing for war, completely captured his thoughts. He knew the possibilities of aviation. Before his eyes there were scenes of aerial bombardments, the ruins of cities. This is the fate of a country that has no protection. Mitchell ignored the doctors' advice.
The Air Ministry specification forced Mitchell to sacrifice every aspect of a fighter jet in order to maintain a slow landing speed. When the car was ready, its flight tests brought bitter disappointment. The maximum speed of the fighter did not exceed 370 kilometers per hour. How much precious time he has lost!
Convinced of failure, Air Command gave Mitchell free rein. He could design his fighter the way he wanted. No restrictions! No requirements!
Mitchell owes much of this freedom to Air Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Chief of the Research Office of the Royal Air Force. Mitchell repaid the marshal a hundredfold. In 1910, the pilots commanded by Sir Hugh Dowding flew Mitchell's fighters to victory in the Battle of Britain.
The speed with which Mitchell led the design of this remarkable machine was astounding. He knew he had to hurry, he knew that time was tragically short.
Mistakes, disappointments did not stop Mitchell. They arose, they had to be overcome.
Mitchell overturned all the construction deadlines, all the theoretical calculations that justified these deadlines.
The will of the designer was transferred to the workers and engineers of the pilot plant. Its leader, Trevor Westbrook, managed to implement Mitchell's drawings in an unprecedentedly short time.
Mitchell worked every day more and more intensely, and every day the disease worsened. This went on for twenty months, without a single day of respite. Night after night he spent in his design office at the plant, thinking, solving new and new problems that arose in the course of work. The disease has already left its mark on his entire appearance.
Mrs. Mitchell, knowing her husband well enough, his character, did not even try to persuade him to rest. His thoughts were occupied with one thing - to bring the fighter to mass production, to hand over to the army the most advanced machine that he is only able to create.
This task proved to be extremely difficult. There were periods of such moral and physical tension that Mrs. Mitchell became afraid for the future.
One day, very tired, the designer returned home from the factory at four o'clock in the morning. Mrs. Mitchell was awake. She was waiting for him.
"It's completely useless," he said. “Because you won’t sleep for a good half of the night, nothing will change. Understand, I have to finish the car, and as soon as possible.
"Listen to me, Reginald," said Mrs. Mitchell. “You remember very well what the doctors said after the operation. Your life is hanging by a thread. You were warned that such work is capable of putting even a healthy person to bed. You are sick, and yet you work like never before. It can only lead to one.
Yes, dear. Mitchell's face darkened. "That's why I have to hurry."
That night, Mrs. Mitchell realized that he felt the end approaching. She managed to convince him to agree to a consultation with doctors.
When the inspection was over, one of them said:
- You must retire immediately.
After the consultation, Mitchell began to work with even more tension. An experimental machine was being built. It needed to be finished. At the plant, everyone literally idolized this man.
Mitchell is an excellent friend, he could replace everyone at his machine, he could do literally everything. He burned his life with superhuman labor. A number of parts of the lubrication system turned out to be unsatisfactory. Within one night, Mitchell completely redesigned the units and prepared new drawings. Any designer would require many days for this work.
Increasingly, the disease forced him to stay at home, in bed. Then engineers, heads of workshops, foremen came to Mitchell's headboard to receive the necessary instructions, advice, orders.
In the early morning of a clear sunny day in 1936, a solemn moment came. The new fighter was rolled out to the airfield, prepared for the first test in the air. Mitchell climbed to the start.
He almost didn't get out of bed anymore, but he insisted on going. Silently he watched as the car took off, his car piloted by Captain Summers. The fighter easily hovered in the blue of the sky, like a real master of the air spaces.
After landing, Captain Summers climbed out of the cockpit and immediately headed towards Mitchell.
What do you say? the designer asked.
— Good, — said the test pilot.
Mitchell breathed a sigh of relief. He slowly walked to his car, walked around it, gently stroked the fuselage with his hand. Then he turned sharply and told him to go home.
There were many more test flights. In search of maximum speed, about thirty propellers were changed. When it came to high-speed tests, the car lived up to the expectations of a wonderful designer. She showed 600 kilometers per hour.
Its design turned out to be so perfect that not a single serious amendment had to be made during the entire work.
The days of waiting have arrived. Mitchell anxiously waited for the Air Department's decision. Will they accept his car? Will it satisfy the picky demands of the military? Mitchell didn't get out of bed anymore. But his brain continued to work hard.
The phone rang shortly after noon. Mrs. Mitchell came up. A minute later, she was already running up the stairs to the second floor, into the room where Mitchell lay.
- Has anyone called?
— Yes, Sir Robert. It just became known, the car ... They start it up in a series, they will build hundreds of such cars ...
Mitchell was unable to speak for some time. Only later did he whisper:
- I've been waiting for this.
Do you know what they'll call her? Sir Robert himself came up with it. - "Spitfire" ("Firefighter").
The days of enforced inactivity seem long. Mitchell dreamed of helping his son master the specialty that he himself so passionately loved, cherished the idea of building a four-engine bomber, on which he had been working on a preliminary design for the past months.
He knew that he was not destined to see a new offspring turned into flesh and blood. And it was worthy of its predecessor. The same amazing forms, the same principles underlying the design, the search for unbeaten paths.
In his new machine, Mitchell placed bombs in planes. He was going to give her a carrying capacity that no other bomber had ever had, and a speed that exceeded all the wishes of the Air Ministry.
Mitchell's bomber was brought to flight tests after the death of the designer by his friends. But like the man who created this machine, it died before it could fully manifest itself. The handsome bomber was destroyed during one of the German raids. Who can know how the existence of many units of these wonderful machines would have affected the course of the war!
Mitchell died on 11 June 1937 just before the Royal Air Force received the first batch of his Spitfires.
When German bombers attacked Britain, they were met by squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes. Having been rebuffed, the fascist military made every effort to oppose our fighters with a machine that would pave the way for their aircraft to the heart of Britain. So far, the Germans have not succeeded. And it won't work as long as we have people like Mitchell.
The Spitfire, born of Mitchell and his friends, lives on. The designers, led by Mitchell's assistant, Joseph Smith, are constantly improving the car, making it even more perfect.
Speaking on a radio broadcast about her husband's life, Mrs. Mitchell said:
"I want to pay tribute, as Reginald Mitchell himself would, to you fine fellow fighter pilots who fought and won the 'Battle of Britain'. Many did not return from the air battles. They, like Mitchell, gave their lives for our country. Let us proudly remember their names.
Mitchell dreamed of a time when the airplane would help the democratic peoples of the world to come together and get to know each other better. His dream will come true. In days of peace, aviation, which owes so much to Mitchell, will contribute to the rapprochement and friendship of peoples.
An excerpt from The People Forging Victory by Donald Stock.