Spitfire (2018) Movie Script

You can't fly a Spitfire and forget
about it. It stays with you forever.
It stays with you forever.
(new speaker) The Spitfire
was just like a dancing fairy.
It was gorgeous.
I can't really explain it.
It was absolutely wonderful.
(new speaker)
It was childishly simple to fly.
Before I could say "nada",
I was up at 8,000 feet
in an aircraft that was doing 400 mph.
I'd never been at that speed ever.
(new speaker) It was the nearest thing
to having wings and flying oneself.
You only had to blow
on the control stick
and it seemed to do what you wanted.
(new speaker) It's so beautiful.
It is a work of art.
But at the same time, you are aware that
the purpose of this plane
was to shoot and kill.
It's a killing machine.
(new speaker)
But it's a weapon of war, a Spitfire.
It's a weapon of war, and you've got to
learn how to use it as a weapon of war.
(machine gun fire)
(narrator) Coningsby is home
to three squadrons of RAF jet fighters.
On the shoulders of these men and women
rests the air defence of Great Britain.
But it is also home to
the most revered aircraft of all time:
the Spitfire.
And this was the last ever
to see service.
(newsreel) A few of these famous
aircraft have been operated
on daily met flights, helping
in the task of weather forecasting.
But now, 21 years
after the prototype first flew,
the last of the Spitfires
are to be retired.
Their day is done,
though three Spits will be kept by
the RAF for Battle of Britain flypasts,
commemorating the battle
they did so much to win.
(new speaker) For me,
and I think the British people,
these aeroplanes represent innovation,
ingenuity, determination,
and an unwillingness to be bullied.
And really, the Spitfire
is emblematic of that.
This beautiful machine
is our Mark ll Spitfire,
and, in my opinion,
this is the most
precious flying machine on the planet,
bar maybe the Apollo 11 Command Capsule
which brought the boys back
from the first trip to the moon,
the first landing on the moon.
And the reason I say that is,
this is the only Spitfire in the world
still flying today
that actually fought
in the Battle of Britain.
So it's a truly, truly priceless
flying machine.
And it also happens to be
one of the most,
if not the most beautiful machine
that man has ever made, in my opinion.
I think, for most of the pilots
on the flight,
this one holds a particular place
in their hearts
because, of course, we grew up with
the legend of the Battle of Britain.
For people who joined the Royal
Air Force, it's part of our core ethos.
So to then be able to sit
in this machine, or to even fly it,
is an incredible privilege.
These are the planes that saved Britain
and Europe in its darkest hour.
At the height of the Second World War,
a film was produced
which would forever fix the Spitfire
in the public's imagination.
"The First of the Few" told the story
of the famous fighter aircraft
and its creator, RJ Mitchell.
(woman on film)
What have you been up to?
- Thinking.
- Great thoughts?
- Oh, terrific.
- (woman) Such as?
- The birds fly a lot better than we do.
- (gulls cry)
You don't say!
I do, but then they've been at it
some millions of years.
We've got to learn from them
if we ever want to fly properly.
The film had a huge impact
and turned a weapon of war
into an international icon.
(man on film) See how
they wheel and bank and glide?
And all in one;
wings, body, tail, all in one.
- But you wait.
- (gulls cry)
Someday I'm going to build a plane
that'll be just like a bird.
Why, it is like a bird.
What a strange-looking machine.
(new speaker) As a child, for me,
running around this place was magical.
If we were to come down at the weekend,
my father would be doing
a particular job on one of the aircraft.
I was left to roam.
And it gave me a great sense
of what these aircraft were about,
even at an early age.
So, looking at what it means
to aviation,
and what it means
to the story of the Spitfire,
this aircraft, the Supermarine S.6,
I think it's the most important aircraft
we've got here.
What gets me is it's so narrow.
Even after all this time
of knowing the aircraft, it's so narrow.
You appreciate, of course, they
went in sideways and then turned round
so they got their shoulders
under the coaming here.
Head back on here.
And a very thin cushion to sit on.
(Andy Jones) So N248 was built for
the Schneider Trophy Contest in 1929.
The Schneider Trophy
was a race for seaplanes.
It started before the First World War
as a fairly small event in Monaco.
By 1931 it was
an international spectacle.
At the last race, in 1931,
a million people came down
to the shores of the Solent
to watch the race happen.
These machines,
like N248, and the Italian machines
and the American machines that entered
were the fastest machines on Earth.
And the pilots who flew them
were the fastest men on Earth.
(Alan Jones) When this
competition started,
the speeds were around about 40 mph.
By the time it finished,
they were 400 mph.
Well done indeed. Well done indeed.
(newsreel) Mr RJ Mitchell, of
Southampton, England, will talk to you
on the design
of the Schneider Trophy seaplane.
(Mitchell) In the design
of a seaplane of this type,
the one outstanding
and all-important requirement is speed.
Every feature has to be sacrificed
to this demand.
It is not good enough to follow
conventional methods of design.
It is essential to break new ground
and to invent and evolve new methods
and new ideas.
(Andy Jones) There is the myth
around Mitchell
of being a genius who designed
all these aircraft on his own,
with a little notebook and a pencil.
In fact there was an enormous
design team for a Supermarine.
He had around him people who had
superior knowledge on high-speed flight.
And that was invaluable
when they went back to the drawing board
after the race in 1931
and started on the Spitfire.
It wasn't just Britain
making strides in aviation.
In Germany, a new and increasingly
sinister political force
was using aircraft
to spread its influence.
These new developments became
a powerful symbol of Nazi ambition.
By 1933,
this could no longer be ignored.
For months, some of us have been
trying to impress on the government
that the danger is growing.
But this is a democratic country.
The policy of the government
is the will of the people.
Or it's supposed to be.
And the passionate desire of every
sane, thinking person is for peace.
Well, Mitchell, what do you propose?
I want to build a fighter.
The fastest and deadliest
fighting aeroplane in the world.
It's got to do 400 mph,
turn on a sixpence,
climb 10,000 feet in a few minutes,
dive at 500
without the wings coming off,
carry eight machine guns.
(new speaker) As far as
aeroplane design goes,
everybody's looking for
those few percent improvements.
That slight edge in performance.
Aerodynamics, engines, structures,
this type of thing.
This is the old 24-foot wind tunnel
at Farnborough.
It was used basically to wind-tunnel
test full-scale aeroplanes.
Various countries, particularly Germany,
were heading towards a war situation,
were developing fast bombers.
So fighters had to
become faster as well.
We were terribly behind.
But there was this constant
between what the Germans were doing and
what we were doing here at Farnborough.
And this is the key to the whole story
of the Spitfire's wing.
Beverley Shenstone was a young Canadian
aeronautical engineering graduate
who came over to Britain
and then immediately got himself
a job with Junkers in Germany
to try and find out what the Germans
were doing in this area.
I think it has been suggested
that he might have been a spy,
but I don't know
about that side of things. (laughs)
He met one of the great names
in aerodynamics, Ludwig Prandtl.
And it turned out that in 1918,
Prandtl had published
the description of all their work
during the First World War,
including a wing plan form
shaped as an ellipse.
But he didn't just draw
a simple ellipse,
he drew two halves of two ellipses.
A bluntish ellipse here,
and a much deeper ellipse there.
And that, I have to say,
is not only like, similar to,
it's damn well geometrically identical
to what emerged on the Spitfire.
And I think Shenstone picked up
that idea and brought it back
when he came to work for Supermarine
in 1933, and suggested it to Mitchell.
So, basically,
the Spitfire had a German wing.
And I suspect that a lot of people
have been too embarrassed
to say anything about it.
(newsreel) In the aircraft factories
of Britain, our workmen are trained
to build to the most severe standards
of accuracy in the world.
Every part has been tested and re-tested
until human ingenuity can do no more.
(newsreel) There are over 11,000 parts
in a Merlin engine.
Over 140 separate machining operations
are needed
to produce the Merlin crankshaft.
Women prove themselves
to be particularly adept
at this exacting work.
At each station, a sub-assembly,
or component, is added to the engine.
At the end of the line, the completed
engine is vetted by an inspector
who notes the numbers
of individual components
and assigns a new number
to the whole engine.
From now on, it has an identity.
On March the 5th, 1936,
the new fighter's prototype
was ready for testing.
There is only one person alive today
who remembers
the Spitfire's first test flight.
(new speaker)
Well, I was four and a half.
My father worked at Supermarine
for RJ Mitchell.
So we grew up with the aeroplanes
and the Spitfire especially,
because Father was looking after
the development of that.
One day he said to Mother,
"Do you want to come and see
the first flight of our new aeroplane?"
So we got in the back of the car
and off we all went to Eastleigh.
(engine fires up)
The pilot came out and got in.
And then off he went.
(newsreel) This is the latest type
of single-seater fighter,
and as you can see, a monoplane.
In design and construction, she is not
unlike the last Schneider Trophy winner.
We are flying along in our own plane
at about 175.
So, what speed she is capable of
you may judge from the pace
at which she overtakes us.
And she's going to be a great asset
to the RAF, it's pretty obvious.
(Judy Monger) Father was very pleased
that it had taken off all right
and flown and come back.
"Oh, that was all right, that was good,"
or something.
And that was the first flight
of the Spitfire. (laughs)
Just two days later,
on March the 7th, 1936,
Hitler's troops marched
into the Rhineland.
It was an ominous moment
for the future of Europe.
(archive recordings of Hitler)
(new speaker)
We knew perfectly well it was coming.
The rise of Hitler and all this business
about occupying the Rhine
was the time that we realised
that there was a war on the way.
Churchill had been warning us, kept
warning us and warning us all the time,
about what was going to happen.
But at that age,
you don't worry about the future.
(new speaker) I don't think
I had any specific feelings.
The average 18-, 19-year-old
is not terribly interested in
what's happening in the future.
I certainly don't remember thinking,
"Oh, my goodness," you know.
"We've got a war possibly coming."
With the threat growing by the day,
and time running out,
Britain needed the Spitfire.
But in June 1937
came a terrible setback.
Well, I suppose you know
something of the trouble
or you wouldn't have come to me.
I had an idea of it, yes.
I'm afraid you're a rather sick man,
Mr Mitchell.
I had an idea of that, too.
(Judy Monger)
Well, he'd been ill for some time.
We weren't aware of it, being children,
but obviously Father would've been.
Because we used to go to his house
at weekends if there was something,
information that Father had
that he had to discuss with him.
And we just stopped doing that.
Father all dressed up in black one day
and went off and...
that was it.
It was very sad, obviously,
for everybody, especially in the team,
when their leader's gone.
In its hour of greatest need,
the country had lost
its greatest aircraft designer
at the age of 42.
It was now a race against time
to get the Spitfire finished.
It would join Britain's other
new fighter, the Hawker Hurricane.
Both would prove vital
in the coming conflict.
(newsreel) A welcome sight
in the Vickers works at Eastleigh,
one of the factories
where the production of Spitfires
is rapidly going ahead.
In the present state of Europe,
the country couldn't possibly have
too many of these fighters,
which claim to be
the fastest in the world.
Their powerful engines are lined up
ready for installation,
and every operation of manufacture
and assembly is carried out
with that delicate precision for which
British workmanship is famous.
On completion the machines
are given a thorough try-out.
You'll be pleased to notice
the rapidity of their climb
and their handiness in the air.
(new speaker)
I'd reached the dizzy age of 19,
and it was a time when everybody
was beginning to think of joining up.
And I decided the best thing to do
was to join the RAFVR,
volunteer reserve.
And, in due course,
I did get called up for flying training.
And so my flying career
started in a Tiger Moth.
(new speaker) I wanted to fly
but it was an expensive business.
So I thought, "The cheapest way
is join the Air Force."
"They probably pay you to learn to fly."
I wrote off to Air Ministry saying that,
basically, I was leaving school within
a year and wanted to fly an aeroplane
and could they give me a job, really.
In August 1938,
the Spitfire entered RAF service.
It was not a moment too soon.
(Chamberlain) This morning,
the British ambassador in Berlin
handed the German government
a final note,
stating that unless we heard from them
by 11 o'clock, that they were prepared,
at once,
to withdraw their troops from Poland,
a state of war would exist between us.
I have to tell you now that no such
undertaking has been received,
and that, consequently,
this country is at war with Germany.
(Paul Farnes) It came over the radio
that we were at war.
Had half a mug of wine each
and wished each other good luck.
And that was it.
It was quite emotional at the time.
We discussed it with each other and...
Well, it's the sort of thing I think
anyone would find a bit emotional
if you're suddenly told
that war had already been declared.
You knew you were in it.
Because after all,
it was what you were being trained for.
(new speaker) It was exciting, exciting.
We wanted the war to start, you know,
and wanted to be in it.
Didn't want to be left behind.
And don't forget, I was 18, 19.
Very enthusiastic about everything
in those days.
(new speaker) What went
through my mind was
how long would it be
before I got on a squadron?
I went first of all
I think it was to Biggin Hill.
And the CO looked at me and said,
"How many hours have you done
on Hurricanes, Pickering?"
I said, "I've never even seen one, sir."
So, he said, "Well, go on out there,
go and have a look at it." (laughs)
(new speaker)
Towards the end of my training,
I think the war was getting
a bit worrying to everybody
and I was taken out of practice camp
and I ended up in a Spitfire squadron.
When I first saw the Spitfire I thought,
"My gosh, this is quite something."
The ground crew had strapped me in
and it was all a bit intimidating,
you know. Even the start-up.
(engine roars)
Smoke coming right back...
I can see it now.
I remember taxiing out
and being very careful.
It seemed to hurtle itself in the air
with me hanging on
to the stick and the throttle,
dragging me along with it, you know.
In the spring of 1940,
Hitler's attack in the west began.
Europe crumbled.
When France fell,
the British army retreated to Dunkirk
and by a miracle return home.
Now just one country remained
in Hitler's sights.
What General Weygand has called
the Battle of France is over.
The Battle of Britain is about to begin.
Hitler knows that he will have to
break us in this island or lose the war.
If we can stand up to him,
all Europe may be free
and the life of the world may
move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
(Tom Neil) The Germans were going to
land with a quarter of a million people
on the south coast of Britain
between Brighton and Dover.
Had they landed, they would have won,
without a doubt.
And the course of world history
would've been changed.
(Tony Pickering) We fully realised
that we'd got to stop the Hun
from getting over.
And we knew that we were
an important line in the defence,
being fighter pilots.
If he ever landed and secured
a foothold, we'd never get him out.
(Ken Wilkinson) There was never ever
any thought of defeat. Never.
We were cocky. We were the bee's knees.
After all,
we'd got wonderful aircraft to fly.
We were very fortunate,
in spite of the Treasury,
that we had Spitfires and Hurricanes.
For a German invasion to succeed,
Hitler needed to destroy
the Royal Air Force and its airfields
and secure mastery of the skies.
The Luftwaffe had 2,600 aircraft.
They outnumbered RAF Fighter Command
by four to one.
For most of the young pilots,
it would be their first time in action.
If they failed, the country would fall.
(Geoffrey Wellum) Obviously
we were going to be involved
in a pretty serious business.
Being shot down didn't appeal to me.
So I thought, "How do I avoid it?"
Make yourself a difficult target.
How do you do that?
Never fly straight and level
for more than ten seconds.
It's always the German you did not see
that shot you down.
(Paul Farnes) My thoughts never went
to what the future might hold
or whether we were going to get
through it or what was going to happen.
After all, we were only
about 19 or 20, 21, you know.
We were pretty young.
(Ken Wilkinson)
We were all pals together.
The camaraderie was great.
We knew we depended upon each other.
We knew that we were sure of
getting support, wherever we were.
(new speaker) I was sent to Uxbridge,
which is 11 Group headquarters,
into the operations room.
I don't want to blow my own trumpet,
but I was a good plotter.
(laughs) I shouldn't say that.
But that was why I was always
on the southeast corner,
which was the busy corner.
Enemy aircraft was picked up
on the radar.
All that information
was sent to fight command.
They sorted it out, and then sent
the plots out to the groups.
(bell rings)
So we'd say "scramble" and they would
have to get up in the air.
As the plots kept coming through,
we would put the arrows on the table
so that the controller
could see what was going on.
The controller had the information
and was able to pass it on to the pilot.
(Tom Neil) I remember climbing up,
struggling for height, and looking up.
And this one went out.
One of 20 to 30 above my head.
And there's this fascination
of seeing the enemy close at hand.
Seeing the black crosses and things
on the aeroplanes.
And you know that it's going
to attack you in a moment or two.
You had 15 seconds of ammunition.
Three hundred rounds per gun.
Our advice was to go in head-on attack,
and go straight through.
And don't hang around.
'Cause their fighters would come
and pick you off if they could.
You went straight through them,
fired your guns,
closed your eyes and fired your guns.
(Geoffrey Wellum) Then, providing
you weren't hit by return fire,
you were through the other side.
In seconds, in seconds.
Phew, got away with that.
(laughs) Yeah.
(Paul Farnes) You got 109s, Spitfires
and Hurricanes screaming round.
You wouldn't know who was who
half the time.
We were up here in the Spitfires.
But you could see
what the Hurricanes were doing.
I can remember three Hurricanes
diving in to 500 Heinkels.
(machine gun fire)
And the Heinkels scattering.
You see the enemy,
you're within feet of them.
Close enough to touch.
I remember firing at an aircraft
directly in front of me
Two people came out so close with
their parachutes still undeveloped.
They came straight at me,
and I thought he was going to hit me.
(machine gun fire)
(Geoffrey Wellum) There was this bang.
I suddenly realised
it was a 109 right behind me.
He had his goggles down
and I could see his head.
Oh, yeah, he was close.
He was real close.
And I looked up
and I could see him looking at me.
(Tony Pickering)
You learnt the hard way.
(machine gun fire)
Once you saw flames,
you didn't stop on board an aircraft.
It could easily just blow like that.
And it wouldn't give you a chance
to get out.
Release that pin and out you came,
like a cork out of a bottle.
I remember landing by parachute
in the guards depot at Caterham.
They took me to the colonel, who very
quickly opened a bottle of whisky.
Waugh-S) "Have a sip!"
(Paul Farnes) So I saw the Stukas.
Once they'd finished their dive,
they didn't climb up again.
They stayed low
and headed out towards France.
And, so... it made it easy for us.
(newsreel) In recent operations,
RAF automatic cameras, taking film
of the small home-movie type,
were attached
to Hurricanes and Spitfires.
Built for the job,
the camera fits into the wing.
It automatically takes pictures
when the pilot fires his machine gun
and stops when the gun stops.
(Paul Farnes) I attacked one of them,
I think, and it was shot down.
The other one went into the sea.
You don't have any feelings about it.
All you think about is trying to get
a decent shot at it.
I can't help it, but I did enjoy it.
I think probably quite rightly,
from the human point of view I suppose
you shouldn't say you enjoyed it,
when other people alongside you
were being killed.
But I'm afraid I... I probably did.
It's extraordinarily difficult to put
an easy story on it, it really is.
There certainly were times when one was
quite frightened of what was going on.
We, all three, got on his tail
and I can remember, after firing at him,
he was just more or less skimming along
in the water.
And although I didn't knock him
into the sea,
the chap following me certainly got him
and he burst into flames
and went into the sea.
(Geoffrey Wellum) We were told
there were 109s over Broadstairs.
And I happened to look down and I saw
these two chaps right on the water
going out from the coast.
And we quite clinically got behind them.
Right on the deck, they hadn't seen us.
(machine gun fire)
We shot them both dead.
Just a "born-bond" .
You've got to remember,
we're talking about total war.
And we were up against it, because
there was nobody else helping us.
All the Continent had fallen down
and it was us against this monster.
By the end of August 1940,
the Luftwaffe's daily assaults
on the airfields
were stretching RAF resources
to the limit.
Pilots and ground crews were exhausted.
(Tom Neil) You never thought
you were going to be killed.
And it's only in retrospect,
when you're lying in bed at night,
and the bed alongside you
is suddenly empty.
The fact that they were killed
20, 30, 40 miles away
means that you wiped them
from your memory.
(Tony Pickering)
You never got too dose.
You kept yourself at a certain distance.
'Cause inevitably, you would lose
friends, there was no doubt about it.
(Paul Farnes) The damage that was being
done to the country was very worrying,
I think one was conscious of that.
I think in many ways
it made one even more determined
to stop the German invasion.
(air-raid siren)
On September the 7th,
the Luftwaffe changed tactics.
Hitler's new target was London,
not the airfields.
The Blitz would bring misery
to Londoners.
But it bought valuable time for the RAF.
At last, the pilots could rest.
The runways could be repaired
and aircraft could be serviced.
But the day of reckoning
was approaching.
I can remember looking up
at the sky and thinking,
"It's going to be a lovely day again,"
you know. "Oh, God."
And I offered up a little prayer.
"It's going to be a very busy day,
O Lord,
and if I forget you,
don't you forget me."
"Give me this day, please.
Please, give me this day."
(Tom Neil)
According to the German plans,
if things were going right for them,
they would invade
on the 15th of September.
Der Tag. This is the day
they were going to invade.
(Joan Fanshawe) That was the day
that Churchill came down
and I was actually on duty that day.
But we were not ever allowed to look,
turn around and look up there at all.
We always had to keep our heads down
and look at our plot.
In the plotting room, Churchill
watched the enemy attacks building.
He asked if fighter command
had any reserves.
The answer was none.
(Tom Neil) Two thousand people in action
over Kent and Sussex.
I flew four times that day.
(Geoffrey Wellum) We were in
a vast panorama of blue sky
with the green contrasting fields
of England below.
And it was that that helped you.
I can hear him to this day,
the controller coming up and saying,
"A hundred and fifty plus
approaching Dungeness."
And Brian said,
"Tally ho, I can see them."
Well, I looked ahead,
and there was this great big cloud
of gnats on a summer evening.
109s above, Heinkels, and I thought,
"Oh, gosh," you know.
"Where do we start on this lot?"
I kept a diary.
I was not allowed to keep a diary.
I mean, it was
a court-martial offence to keep a diary.
"We had an absolutely frantic watch."
"We were almost driven potty
we were so busy."
"There were air raids
all over the country."
"We hardly had any relief at all,
did our best to sleep,
but in any case, it was rather fitful."
(Tom Neil) On the 15th of September,
enemy aircraft
were falling like confetti
all over the Southern counties.
We were cock-a-hoop.
September the 15th
marked the turning point of the battle.
When it ended, six weeks later,
it would become the first defeat
of Hitler's forces.
The first victory
in the fight for freedom.
(Tony Pickering) I think we realised
that we were there,
and we'd got a job to do,
and we had to do it.
And we did it
to the best of our ability.
I always remember the elderly ladies
in the East End of London
come putting their arms around you
and giving you a kiss and saying,
"Keep 'em away, boys, keep 'em away."
It meant a lot to us, really, that.
(Big Ben chimes)
(Churchill) The gratitude of every home
in our island, in our empire,
and indeed throughout the world,
except in the abodes of the guilty,
goes out to the British airmen
who, undaunted by odds,
unwearied in their constant challenge
and mortal danger,
are turning the tide of the world war
by their prowess and by their devotion.
Never in the field of human conflict
was so much owed by so many to so few.
(newsreel) The constant drone
of machinery in our aircraft factories
is the music of victory.
Over acres of floor space,
men and women are turning the money
from the thousands of Spitfire funds
into machines for the RAF.
Despite heavy bombing, the two factories
in Southampton and Birmingham
continued to build Spitfires
in large numbers.
Women now played a key role
in their manufacture,
and, as the Spitfire evolved,
in their design.
Women were also recruited to fly them
from the factories to the airfields.
(newsreel) These women
are in the news at home
because they've undertaken
a somewhat unusual war job.
All these women of the Air Transport
Auxiliary are most experienced pilots,
each with a record of about
a thousand flying hours to her credit.
(new speaker) In 1941, I joined
the Air Transport Auxiliary as a pilot.
(newsreel) By carrying out this duty,
they're relieving the pressure of work
that would otherwise fall to RAF pilots.
Oh, that was great.
I was with 16 other girls
that had already joined.
So that was wonderful.
And at that time,
I think I was one of the youngest ones,
and so I had to behave myself.
(new speaker) We were all very young.
We weren't in the services
so we didn't have to have our hair cut.
And we did look very glamorous,
with our gold wings
and our gold badges of rank
on the shoulder.
Whenever you went into an RAF mess,
you know,
they were always anxious to talk to you.
It was a very glamorous life
and it was very difficult
not to be spoiled, I guess.
(Mary Ellis) Well, I did have
lots of boyfriends. (laughs)
It takes me back about 50 years,
doesn't it?
(newsreel) But to keep
the Royal Air Force on the offensive,
hundreds of aircraft
must be flown each day
between the factories, the maintenance
depots and the aerodromes.
(Mary Ellis) I saw these Spitfires.
I hadn't seen a Spitfire before.
I'm sure my heart was beating
hundreds to the dozen. (laughs)
(Joy Lofthouse)
When you actually were told
you're going to fly in a Spitfire,
I suppose it's almost breath-taking.
It's partly nervousness,
"Will I do it properly?"
And partly elation
that you have finally made it.
(Mary Ellis) I got in the aircraft
and the chappie said,
"How many of these
have you flown, miss?"
And I said, "I haven't flown one at all
yet, this is the first one."
And he promptly went... (gasps)
...and fell off the aeroplane. (laughs)
I was excited, and I started
the aeroplane, taxied out.
Fortunately, made the perfect take-off.
Up in the air, I thought,
"I'm here, I must do something."
So I went round and round
and up and down.
It was so delightful.
I had a lovely time
before I had to land it.
I thought, "Oh, my goodness."
(Joy Lofthouse)
A test pilot once said
that she was a lady in the air,
but a bitch on the ground.
Now this was because she had a much
narrower undercart than the Hurricane.
So you had to be very careful
in landing.
(Mary Ellis) It was quite often
very dangerous.
We had no radio at any time.
No aids whatsoever.
In between this, there was
the hazards of the bad weather
and the balloons which would pop up.
And people did get killed.
(Joy Lofthouse) There were casualties.
One heard of them all the time.
But I think
the thought of what was happening,
the war as a whole,
was always in the back of our minds.
There was always news coming through
of either defeats or setbacks.
And it was a nice feeling,
however modest,
that you were doing something
to help the war.
In 1941, with Britain beyond his reach,
Hitler turned his attention
to North Africa.
The prize was control of the
Mediterranean and the Arabian oilfields.
As battle raged in the desert, his
supply lines were under constant attack
by British aircraft based on Malta.
The tiny island was subjected to
a massive bombing campaign.
(ship's horn)
It had to be defended at all costs.
With Spitfires being held back
in Britain,
Hurricanes were sent
on aircraft carriers to do the job.
The young pilots would face
a new challenge, fraught with risk.
(Tom Neil) None of us had taken off
from a carrier or landed on a carrier.
So the day arrived,
and we were going to fly off at dawn.
Now, I hated flying off at dawn.
I used to think,
"Why in God's name don't we take off
at lunchtime after a good lunch?"
You always had to do it at dawn.
So there I was, one of 23 aircraft,
lined up waiting to take off.
We were being led by a Fulmar.
Now if there was one thing that was
worse than a Hurricane, it was a Fulmar.
It was a useless, useless aeroplane.
And we were going to follow the Fulmar
all the way to Malta.
And everything was radio silence.
We weren't supposed to utter a word
in case we gave the whereabouts
to the fleet.
And we did go for an hour, and suddenly
the Fulmar which is leading us
had an engine problem
and disappeared into cloud.
So I was left there.
I didn't have any maps.
I didn't know where Malta was.
All I knew was
I was surrounded by the enemy.
And I was just 20 years of age.
I didn't know what to do.
And I flew round in circles with ten
people following me around in circles,
them looking at me as a leader,
and me not knowing what to do.
And I can tell you, I prayed, I prayed.
I didn't know what to do, what to do.
And God answered.
He doesn't answer you
with a flash of lightning,
he puts something in your head
that you never thought of before.
And I thought, "What I'd better do now
is fly all the way back to Gibraltar,"
which was 850 miles
in the opposite direction.
So I set off. By the grace of God,
I came across the wake of the Navy
and found the Ark Royal
and all the fleet, 20, 25 ships.
I thought,
"What are they going to do with me?"
"They're going to shoot at me.
They'll think I'm the enemy."
"How do I let them know
that I'm a friend?"
So then they found another Fulmar,
they scrambled it,
and we began to follow it again,
20 feet above the waves.
We'd been in the air several hours.
We had no fuel.
No fuel at all.
And Malta suddenly appeared.
And I remember going over the cliffs.
And I was approaching Luqa,
and the airfield in front of me rose up.
Bomb blasts and craters.
All the time I'd been looking down
to see if I was going to land
on the ground.
I looked up, and the air
was filled with Germans.
About 50 or a hundred of them.
I said, "Sod it, no matter what I do,
I'm going to land her."
So I landed between all the bomb holes.
And two days later...
(siren wails)
...we heard the air-raid sirens going
and then these three 109s appeared
20 feet above the ground, firing.
And the bullets were going through
the tent above my head.
They wrote us all off
before we'd even taken off.
So we didn't have aeroplanes to fly.
And suddenly,
the Spitfires arrived in March 1942,
by the grace of God.
With the fate of Malta in the balance,
the arrival of the Spitfires
came just in time.
(new speaker) And that's 124 Squadron,
the first squadron
that I joined.
In those days I was a sergeant pilot.
And there I am,
one, two in from the right, there.
A very young 18-year-old.
Now, I was posted to Malta. The Eagle.
And that's the one we flew off.
They took us a thousand miles
down the Med, and we had the rest to do.
You just had enough fuel to make it
comfortable to get into Malta.
It was just a matter of getting in
as well as you could,
missing the potholes
and getting into a pen.
Within minutes,
my Spitfire was being refuelled
by swarms of airmen passing petrol cans
to one another to fill it up.
Amazing. I mean, you'd only just arrived
there and your Spit was ready to fly.
Welcome to Malta.
Our job was to get the bombers,
not the fighters.
We had to get as much height as we could
because then you had
the advantage of coming down.
You didn't aim to get into a dogfight
with Messerschmitts
because we were too short of Spitfires
to lose one.
Hit the bomber.
(machine gun fire)
Make sure that they'd clobbered him
and then spiral down to the sea
and try and escape.
But Messerschmitts soon cottoned on
to this and they followed down.
So we ended up with a dogfight anyway,
at sea level.
Fighting for my life.
When two of them attack you,
you get your sights on one, quickly,
and keep your eye on the other one
coming down behind you.
- You get a quick squirt.
- (machine gun fire)
And then always your eyes are flicking
towards number two coming down.
You've got to outwit him,
you've got to out-fly him.
You sweat profusely.
You're not sweating because you're hot,
you're sweating fear.
And it trickles down your forehead
and then from the eyes, it trickles down
into the mouth, and it's salty.
That's fear. It's a salty taste.
You always put these swastikas in.
That was the first one in Malta
that I got.
And that was the three
in one fight, here.
I think six of us claimed that one.
It shows you the actual
Junkers 88 down there.
The poor old pilot was there.
You become an ace when you shot
five or more aircraft down.
And funnily enough,
it's rather strange, that,
but I am the last surviving ace
from Malta living today, the last one.
Isn't that amazing?
The Spitfires have done the job.
By November 1942, the island was safe.
The tide of the war was turning.
The United States and the Soviet Union
were now fighting on the Allied side.
With the constant need for pilots,
the RAF became a truly multinational
fighting force.
They came from all over the world and
from the conquered countries of Europe.
And they all wanted to fly Spitfires.
(new speaker) I remember
first flight from the Polish wing.
Three squadrons of Spitfires
over France.
The object was to throw the gauntlet:
come and fight!
And by gum, they did.
(Franciszek Kornicki)
A lot of blood was spilt over France.
Ours and theirs.
It was hard fight all the time.
(Tom Neil) We had Spitfire Vs
and suddenly a new enemy aircraft
arrived on the scene
called a Focke-Wulf 190.
And it made rings around us.
They would come up above and then just
dive straight down, pick somebody off.
We'd lost...
Oh, we lost several pilots.
So that wasn't a very happy time.
(newsreel) Very interesting indeed.
Something we've been wanting to examine
for some time: the Focke-Wulf 190.
The RAF forced it down
on the south coast of England,
where an armed patrol promptly grabbed
the pilot before he could do any damage.
Now it's in the RAF.
(Geoffrey Wellum)
The 190 was a very potent aeroplane.
So we had to respond.
The Spitfire loaned itself
to development.
And almost overnight,
Rolls-Royce took the engine out, stuck
a great big blower on the back of it.
And there was a difference
in performance. Incredible.
(engine roars)
(Franciszek Kornick/) Spitfire IX
was a really very, very good machine.
It's got a lot of power.
And that's what was needed.
(Ken French) When you got
to a height of about 10,000 feet,
it would suddenly whoosh
and the supercharger came in,
which gave us an extra bit of life
to go higher.
And after that, the FW190s,
they were no fear for us.
(machine gun fire)
Any time we met them...
(machine gun fire)
...we got the better of it.
The new Spitfire
had helped to secure aerial supremacy.
The liberation of Europe
could now begin.
(Ken French) In 1944, we were stationed
down at Bognor Regis
for the forthcoming invasion.
We saw them
painting black and white strips
under the wings of our planes
for identification,
and we knew what that must mean.
But we still didn't know
where or when we were going.
And on the evening of the 5th of June,
we were all called over to a briefing.
When we got into the tent there,
we saw a big map of Normandy.
And that was our first knowledge that
that was where it was going to be.
And, of course, this was June
when dawn came early
and we didn't get any sleep.
But I do remember that we were all
sitting round in little groups talking.
Because we knew that this was going
to be the biggest day of our lives.
(newsreel) Four years ago,
Europe was Hitler's.
The lights of freedom went out.
Now the world of free men
strikes in all its assembled might
at the weakening chains of bondage.
Here are the first pictures
of the opening of the second front;
pictures which security demands
should be meagre at this stage,
yet thrilling because they carry
the first flush of excitement
as the mammoth task gets underway.
(Ken French) We could see the landing
craft running up on the beaches.
It must have been absolute hell,
you know.
We were completely detached from it.
On D-Day, I went over there three times.
It was quiet all the time.
We never saw the German air force.
Quite honestly, if they had turned up,
they would have had
a very, very hard time
because not only the RAF, but all the
American fighters were up there as well.
Very, very successful actually,
because the whole of northern France
air was covered with fighters.
While civilian Britain sleeps,
history's greatest story
is being written.
Between midnight and breakfast,
the D-Day plan is launched.
And when the news breaks,
the people at home rush to buy it.
Eagerly, they absorb every line
of the rationed information
as it comes to hand.
The news is good,
far better than they'd dared to hope.
Bridgeheads are won,
we penetrate inland.
Airstrips are under construction and,
best of all, casualties amazingly light.
(Ken French) We used to escort bombers.
And they were dropping bombs on woods.
And we never knew why.
We did know that the Germans had
some sort of a secret weapon coming.
(Ken French) Doodlebugs.
They were pretty fast,
they were over 400 mph they travelled.
I chased one once, across the Channel,
but it was too fast for me.
(engine roars)
The jet-propelled V-1 was taking warfare
in a new and frightening direction.
(engine falls silent)
The country needed an answer.
And once again, it was the Spitfire.
(newsreel) Mark XIV.
She's slightly larger and even faster
than her predecessors
and was designed to meet
the constant demand for more speed.
The wings are clipped to give
better manoeuvrability at low altitudes.
A completely redesigned fin and rudder
was essential for the Mark XIV
and an even more powerful
Rolls-Griffon engine.
To accommodate this new engine,
the nose was lengthened again
and a bigger spinner was needed.
(Geoffrey Wellum)
Spit XIV was a Griffon engine.
It was no slouch.
The acceleration was something
like I'd never experienced before.
That was a real Spitfire.
(newsreel) A Spitfire pilot
gets in a successful burst.
(machine gun fire)
(Geoffrey Wellum) The Spitfire
was built as an interceptor fighter.
Get up there, have a go, come down,
refuel, up. That sort of thing.
But it went on to be developed
into 24 marks,
with a speed over the initial one
of over 100 mph,
carrying twice or three times
the weapon load.
It was a design which was brilliant.
(Tom Neil) By the end of the war
in 1945, I flew pretty well all of them.
All 24 marks.
We used to appeal to Supermarine.
We used to say,
"For God's sake,
try and design something else."
You got to the stage
where the engine was so powerful,
that the aircraft was turning
around the propeller,
rather than the propeller
around the aircraft.
It had had two-bladed propeller,
three-bladed, four-bladed,
five-bladed, six-bladed propeller.
It had outlived its life.
Twenty-two thousand Spitfires were built
before the jet engine
brought its life to an end.
But 75 years after the end of the war,
over 50 of these planes still fly.
And more are being returned to the air
every year.
(Ken Wilkinson)
Well, it's the extraordinary thing
about public opinion, isn't it?
It does funny things.
I mean, the Spitfire did fly
all the way through the war,
and a lot of people
like to see them nowadays.
They're so precious.
It brings back all sorts of memories.
All sorts.
(Allan Scott) I am amazed to this clay
at the reputation that the Spitfire has.
And especially the pilots.
Amazing how people
have got onto this Spitfire business.
(Joy Lofthouse) The fact
that people revel in the Spitfire
and the iconic feel it has,
I can't really explain it.
There are some who would
rather have a flight in a Spitfire
than spend their pension money
on a Jag or something, I think.
That must tell you something.
But the aura surrounding the Spitfire
is more a post-war phenomenon
than a wartime thing.
It was just an instrument of war then.
(Tony Pickering) I don't know why
human nature is such
that we have to fight each other
and destroy each other.
Well, it was something
which I was asked to do.
And I did.
But life's very strange.
One gets tested and checked
and things like that.
You've got to try and live a life where
you try and not upset other people.
I don't know whether
it's a good thing or a bad thing,
but I don't know
whether we should forget it.
But we've got to always remember
those who didn't come back.
You've always got to remember them.
(Paul Farnes) At the time,
one didn't think anything of it at all.
I'm very proud to have taken part in it.
I think all those who took part are.
I think the chaps who are still alive,
I think they have a certain pride in it.
There aren't many of us left alive,
you know.
I'm not getting any younger.
I suppose in another five years,
I doubt if there'll be any of us.
(Ken Wilkinson) It never goes away.
It never goes away,
this threat of warfare.
The generation before us
had been through a war.
The generations after us
have been through wars.
In all conscience,
the world needs a change
from all this hostility and warfare.
The world needs a change.
(Geoffrey Wellum) It's not about medals.
It's not about who shot down what.
It's not about the thank yous.
But it is nice to be remembered
because being remembered
covers everybody
who served, flew and fought in the war.
(new speaker) She's original,
98 percent of her.
All the skin panels and all
the inner parts, they are original 1944.
The reason for it is that
she never saw combat.
She was actually delivered
from the factory by Mary Ellis
who was one of these ATA girls,
the Air Transport Auxiliaries.
Mary Ellis was a slip of a girl,
but I know
that she flew 1,000 aircraft during
the war, of which 400 were Spitfires.
And for some reason,
she decided, on a whim,
to sign her name
on this aeroplane in 1944,
which was then Mary Wilkins.
And you can still see the signature,
very faded,
"Mary Wilkins, ATA
for Air Transport Auxiliary".
But the most wonderful thing
is that she is still alive
and she's going to be 100
in two or three months' time.
(Mary Ellis) This wonderful Spitfire
that I flew in 1944
on a delivery flight from the factory
is coming in this afternoon.
I can't wait. (laughs)
Here he is.
Wow! (laughs)
Oh, how lovely.
How very super.
It seems so small now,
doesn't it, the Spitfire?
- Oh, so great!
- Dear Mary.
- (Mary Ellis) It is so great.
- So good to see you.
- How are you?
- I'm very well, thank you.
- Always excited about this one?
- Yes, of course.
I flew about 1,000 aeroplanes
during the war.
- Yes.
- That's the only one I signed.
- The only one.
- That's magical.
It's fabulous.
And what came over you,
that you decided to sign this one?
- I suppose it was a romantic mood.
- (both laugh)
Thinking that some handsome RAF chap
might be fighting, you know,
and suddenly see my name and contact me.
- And look you up.
- It never happened.
- It never happened?
- (Mary Ellis) No, until now.
(both laugh)
Don't tell your wife I said that.
I won't.
This is between us and all the cameras.
- Yes.
- Yes.
Would you mind stepping inside again
and signing the aeroplane again
for this day?
- (Mary Ellis) Is that all right?
- That's right.
Thank you for allowing me
to write on your aeroplane. (laughs)
Delighted and honoured.
(Maxi Gainza) When I was a child,
I read about Spitfires
and the Battle of Britain.
This aeroplane stands for so much.
Grace and gallantry.
She's a symbol of freedom.
Here he comes. Here he is.