Victory Decals “Spitfire: Aces of the Empire” used
The Supermarine Spitfire is the most famous and recognizable British
airplane ever built and as close to immortal as any airplane will ever get.
The Spitfire I first appeared in RAF squadron service in the summer of
1938. Harder to construct than its
stablemate, the Hawker Hurricane, Spitfires were only one-third of the RAF
fighters that fought in the Battle of Britain, yet they are considered
synonymous with that epic battle.
The Spitfire that fought the Battle of Britain was powered by a 980 h.p.
Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which could achieve slightly more than 1,000 h.p.
when fueled with 100-octane avgas, which only became available in quantity
shortly before the Battle of Britain. It was armed with eight .303-caliber
Colt-Browning machine guns.
Fortunately for the RAF, the Spitfire I was competitive with the German Bf-109E
that opposed it in the battle with similar performance, unlike the slower
Hurricane, which could not fly at the altitude the Messerschmitt operated at.
Bob Tuck, the
first Spitfire ace:
Born July 1, 1916, at Catford, London, the second son of Stanley Lewis
and Ethel Clara Tuck, Roland Robert Stanford Tuck
left school in 1932 to became a cadet in the British Merchant Marine.
During two years aboard the Lamport and Holt Line’s refrigerator ship Marconi,
Tuck became expert at shooting sharks swimming near the ship with an old
Lee‑Enfield .303‑caliber rifle, often killing them with a single bullet.
While home on leave in 1935, he saw an advertisement about the RAF and
decided to apply for flight training.
Tuck was not at first a natural pilot, and came close to being “bowlered
out” of the RAF, finally soloing and passing primary flight training with nearly
16 flying hours, nearly twice the average.
Once he soloed successfully, he never looked back. He earned his pilot
wings in August 1936 and was posted to No. 65 Squadron at Hornchurch, flying the
Gloster Gladiator I biplane fighter. During the next two years he was with 65
Squadron, Tuck led in aerobatics, radio navigation, formation flying,
interception and ground attack.
Tragedy struck on January 18, 1938, when Tuck and two other 65 Squadron
pilots were practicing formation flying 3,000 feet over Sussex. Flying Officer
Adrian Hope‑Boyd was in the lead, with Flight Sgt. Geoffrey Gaskell second and
Tuck last, flying slightly higher and to the right of Gaskell’s plane to stay
out of his slipstream, when suddenly the Gladiators hit turbulence.
Gaskell’s Gladiator veered left and was caught by Hope‑Boyd’s slipstream which
threw it into a steep right bank, rearing up in front of Tuck, who slammed his
stick forward to avoid a collision.
His Gladiator struck Gaskell’s, the propeller slicing into Gaskell’s cockpit,
killing him. Tuck’s wings crumpled, and the Gladiator plunged toward the ground.
Tuck tried to slide the canopy open, but it was stuck.
A moment later the wings broke loose, taking the canopy with them. Tuck
got out and deployed his parachute.
Only then did he notice his right cheek had been slashed by a razor‑sharp piece
of wire. He lost blood from the wound and twisted his ankle on landing.
After a six-day stay in hospital, a court of inquiry absolved him of
blame and he was flying again nine days later. The incident changed his flying
style. While his nerve remained
steady, his judgment good and his enthusiasm high, he no longer took needless
risks while flying. As his
biographer Larry Forrester wrote, “He knew that only luck–not skill, not
daring–had saved him, and he had learned that in military flying there were
unpredictable factors that killed the best and the worst pilots with terrible
In December 1938, Tuck was sent to Duxford to be checked out in the new
Spitfire fighter, returning to Hornchurch on January 9 to supervise the
transition of 65 Squadron to their new mount.
He remained with 65 through the months of the “Phoney War,” until he was
transferred to 92 Squadron, commanded by Roger Bushell and based at Croydon, as
On May 23, 1940, bob Tuck
and the Spitfire finally saw combat.
92 Squadron 54, 65 and 74 squadrons at Hornchurch to fly patrols over
Dunkirk. The BEF was being
evacuated, and the Luftwaffe was attacking in force.
At 1030 hours, 92 Squadron took off to patrol off Dunkirk in the first
Spitfire offensive mission of the war, flying Spitfire I N3249 coded GR-P in a
V-of-V formation so tight Tuck could see the two pilots near him give a
V‑for‑Victory salute. Moments after
the squadron arrived on station, the Spitfires were attacked from above and
behind by Bf‑109Es. The squadron broke formation, and Tuck latched onto a 109.
He opened fire at 500 yards, striking the enemy’s right wing. The 109 stalled,
rolled to its left and spiraled down. Tuck followed it down through the clouds
and watched it slam into a field near St. Omer, France. Feeling “quietly
satisfied” with his first kill, Tuck returned to Hornchurch.
92 flew a second patrol over Dunkirk that afternoon, where they found and
attacked thirty twin‑engine Bf‑110C fighters. Tuck shot down one, then went
after a second that nearly collided with him. A low-altitude chase ensued,
pursuer and pursued skimming over roofs and treetops. At one point, Tuck chased
the Messerschmitt beneath some electrical wires.
When he pulled up to avoid the wires, he exposed his airplane’s belly to
the tail gunner, who fired a few rounds into the Spitfire. Tuck dropped his
nose, caught up with the Me‑110 and riddled the gunner. The
pilot crash‑landed in an empty field before Tuck could fire again.
Tuck circled the wrecked airplane as the German pilot climbed out.
He slid his canopy open and waved at the downed opponent, who fired back
with a pistol, narrowly missing Tuck’s head. Angered, he swung around and killed
the German with a burst from his eight Brownings, then headed home.
In his first day of combat, Bob Tuck had shot down three enemy fighters,
while 92 Squadron claimed 20 aircraft shot down for the loss of five pilots,
including Squadron Leader Bushell. As the next senior officer, Tuck assumed
temporary command of 92 Squadron.
On May 24, Tuck led 92 Squadron on patrol near Dunkirk.
Rather than flying an “official” formation, he opened up the formation
until the Spitfires were 200 feet apart.
“I had decided that our rigid flying tactics with formations and that
sort of thing were almost useless in mixed combat with the more experienced
Messerschmitt 109 pilots,” he later recalled.
Shortly after arriving over the beaches, Tuck spotted 20 Dornier Do‑17Z
bombers, escorted by Bf‑110 fighters.
While a Hurricane squadron took on the 110s, 92 attacked the bombers.
Tuck opened fire on one Do-17 at a range of 400 yards, striking its port wing
and fuselage. The bomber dropped out of formation and he went after it, but was
hit in the right thigh before he could fire. Ignoring his wound, Tuck closed on
the stricken bomber and set it afire with another
burst, then watched two of the crew bail out. He rejoined the attack on the
remaining bombers and downed a second Do-17, bringing his score to five in less
than 24 hours to become the first Spitfire ace.
Low on fuel and ammunition, Tuck headed back to Hornchurch, where his
wound was treated by the medical officer, who removed a small duraluminum nut
that had been knocked off his Spitfire by a German machine‑gun bullet. Tuck
keptit, along with a bent penny, for good luck.
Tuck led the squadron over Dunkirk again the next day, where he shared a
half credit for a Do‑17 with his flight commander, Brian Kingcome.
92 returned to Duxford that night for rest and maintenance, ending its
part in the Battle over Dunkirk. On June 2, Tuck led 92 back over Dunkirk where
they spotted eight Heinkel He‑111s, downing one and one of their Bf-109 escorts.
Two weeks later, Tuck was sent to Farnborough with Wing Commander George
Stainforth, to participate in comparative trials of a captured Bf‑109E and a
Spitfire II. Stainforth first flew the 109 with Tuck in the Spitfire as they
went through level flight, dives and turns at various speeds at different
Halfway through, the two switched planes. Tuck found the Bf‑109 was
“without a doubt a most delightful little airplane – not as maneuverable as the
Spit - but certainly it was slightly faster, and altogether it had a wonderful
performance.” Tuck returned from the Farnborough with the ability to put himself
in the enemy’s cockpit. Learning
how his opponents’ hands worked the controls, he knew how to beat the
At a ceremony at Hornchurch on June 28, 1940, Tuck was awarded the
Distinguished Flying Cross by King George VI for his “initiative and personal
example” over Dunkirk.
92 Squadron was assigned to 11 Group as the Battle of Britain began. Tuck
shot down a Junkers Ju‑88A bomber on August 13 and two more 88s on August 14.
Visiting friends at Northolt airfield northeast of London on August 18
when the Luftwaffe launched a major attack on RAF airfields, Tuck took off and
found two Ju‑88s heading back to
France at sea level. He chased them out to sea before shooting one down, then
attacked the second head‑on. He
narrowly avoided a collision, but his Spitfire was hit in the oil and glycol
coolant tanks, and half the propeller was shot away.
Tuck managed to nurse the ailing Spitfire back over the coast before its
engine seized and caught fire, forcing him to bail out.
“I just grabbed one side with both hands, hauled myself up and over, and
pitched out, head first. As soon as I knew my feet were clear I pulled the
ripcord. It seemed to open almost immediately.” He was barely 500 feet above
ground when he bailed ou
and his parachute had just opened when he landed, wrenching his leg.
He had landed on the estate of Lord Cornwallis at Hornsmonden, Kent, and
His Lordship invited Tuck to have tea with the family before he returned to his
On August 25, Tuck was on patrol with two others when ground control
alerted them to a ship under attack in the Bristol Channel. When they arrived
overhead, Tuck spotted a Do‑215 bomber and attacked.
Before he could open fire, the rear gunner raked his Spitfire. Tuck broke
off his attack and headed for shore with his engine off, gliding 15 miles before
crash landing and ending up against a stone wall.
It was his last mission with 92 Squadron.
On September 11, Tuck was given command of 257 Squadron, stationed at
Martlesham, flying Hawker Hurricanes. When he arrived at his new command, he
found the squadron’s personnel demoralized, having suffered heavy casualties in
July and August 1940 with few air victories to compensate for its losses. Tuck,
who had over 1,000 hours in Spitfires, took his first flight in a Hurricane
early the next morning. “My first
impression wasn’t very good. After the Spit, it was like a flying brick – a
great, lumbering farmyard stallion compared with a dainty and gentle
thoroughbred. It nearly broke my heart, because things seemed tough enough
without having to take on 109s in a heavy great kite like this.”
Tuck intensively drilled his pilots for three days, teaching them first
to fly in loose pairs. He had
thought it would take a week to 10 days to get 257 ready for combat, but by the
second day, he found the pilots “clicking into position quickly, keeping better
lookout and–best of all – generally displaying a bit of dash and initiative in
the mock dogfights.” By September 14, he
informed 11 Group that 257 would be ready for action in three or four
The Battle of Britain was reaching its climax, and Fighter Command needed
every squadron without delay. Early
the next morning, September 15, 1940, Tuck led 257 to Debden, where they joined
two other Hurricane squadrons, 17 and 73, in a wing under Tuck’s command.
They flew three patrols that morning without sighting any Germans.
Early that afternoon, the three squadrons were scrambled to intercept
bombers approaching London. Tuck soon sighted the raiding force above them – 50
He‑111 and Ju‑88 bombers plus two squadrons of Bf-109 and Bf‑110 fighters.
With no time to gain altitude or get the sun behind them, the Hurricanes
had no choice but to attack from below, even though they were vulnerable to
attack from above by the escorting Messerschmitts. Tuck led the fighters in a
climb toward the bombers. He and
seven others pulled away, not waiting for the stragglers. Escorting 109s dove
through the close‑packed bomber formation and went after the Hurricanes. Tuck
ignored the 109s, lining up a Ju‑88, but had to break off as a 09 fired at him.
Evading, he saw several Bf‑110s turning on the rest of his Hurricanes as they
closed on the bombers. He picked
out one 110 and shot it down, forcing the rest to break formation.
He swung back toward the bombers and attacked an He‑111 that had broken
away from the others. Before he could fire, a 109 dove on him. Tuck sent his
wingman after the 109 and attacked another that followed the first, damaging it
with a burst. The rest of the
Hurricanes then got among the bombers and broke up the attack.
On October 25, Tuck was awarded a bar to his DFC for this action.
His daring, luck and willingness to fight the Germans at any odds made
him famous in the RAF. “In the face
of constant death,” the London Times wrote, :he preserved a lightness of heart
which was not simply bravura, but was allied to precise and ruthlessly applied
In 1981, six years before his death, I had the privilege of meeting
Robert R. Stanford Tuck. Unlike Douglas Bader and Johnny Johnson, who both
displayed that English condescension toward “the colonials” that drives
Americans up the wall, Bob Tuck was the kind of Englishman who makes Anglophiles
of Americans, with a quick self-deprecating wit and an open manner toward all he
met. I consider him one of the best of the great aces I have met over the years,
as a human being. It was easy to see why men would respond as they had to his
leadership and personality. I
renewed that meeting in 1984 at the best AFAA convention I ever attended, where
I saw him with his good friend Adolf Galland, who also lived up to my
Airfix released a 1/48 Spitfire I just after Hornby took over the company
several years ago. This was the
final product of “old Airfix,” the company run by the bean-counters, and as such
was a mishmash of possibilities: the fuselage, cockpit, horizontal stabilizers
and landing gear was from the Spitfire Vb first released 35 years earlier, while
the wing and prop were new. It was
very much in the
the earlier Seafire III release.
This new kit has nothing to do with that kit other than it is a Spitfire I.
The new kit is in the tradition founded by the release of the Spitfire Vb
last year. It is thoroughly “new
Airfix,” with a choice of early, middle or late canopies and windscreens, a
detailed cockpit, choice of propellers - two-bladed Watts fixed-pitch prop,
three-bladed deHavilland two-position prop, or Rotol constant-speed.
This latter is more appropriate to the Spitfire II, and a quick review of
the “unused” parts in the box reveals that it is entirely possible to create s
Spitfire II, the first time this has been possible OOB.
All control surfaces are separate and positionable, and the gun bays can
be opened to expose the eight Colt-Browning machine guns as is the case with the
new Hurricane kit. Decals are provided for a pre-war Spitfire in 19 Squadron at
the time of the Munich Crisis in 1938, a 1940 Battle of Britain veteran, and an
advanced trainer from 1941. The
decals are by Cartograf and include full stenciling.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again here, and will likely keep on
saying it. The new Airfix
instruction sheets are the most modeler-friendly instruction sheets ever
created. The construction process
logical, and if one commits the revolutionary act of following them, an easy
build and a good-looking model are the guaranteed result.
After painting and detailing the cockpit parts, I proceeded to assemble
the wing while all that was setting up.
I chose to keep the wings closed up, which avoided a lot of work to open
the gun bays and clean them up. I
then assembled the cockpit and installed it in the fuselage, which I glued
together. I then attached the gas
tank section appropriate to the windscreen I was using.
This is the one “fiddly” part of the construction.
Take your time test-fitting here, sand down as necessary to get a smooth
fit, then glue it in position. The
wing sub-assembly attaches to the fuselage sub-assembly without trouble, then
attach the horizontal stabilizers, position the elevator, and attach the rudder.
Tuck’s Spitfire I was in the “B” camouflage scheme.
After painting the black/white undersurfaces, I used Mal Mayfield’s Magic
Mask for the camouflage after I applied the Dark Earth.
This is an “A” scheme mask, which means you will have to use some Tamiya
tape to attach it in position sticky-side up.
With carful application of the RAF Dark Green, followed quickly by
cleanup of the masks with water, the integrity of the masks was preserved for
future use. I followed all this
with a coat of Future.
Victory Decals “Spitfire: Aces of the Empire” was used to do Tuck’s
N3249, the Spitfire in which he became the first Spitfire ace on May 23-24,
1940. These are the best Spitfire
decals available (Caveat Emptor: I helped create this sheet back in 2002), and
provide the modeler with a full range of wartime Spitfires in interesting
markings. I also used the kit
decals for the stencils and other markings.
I gave the model an overall coat of Xtracrylix Flat Varnish, then
unmasked the clear parts and mounted the flat-sided canopy in the open position.
I attached the prop and landing gear.
I finished off by applying “powder residue” on the wings as the airplane
would have looked on its return on May 24, 1940.
Other than that, I didn’t give the airplane any dings since it was
relatively new and had been well cared-for before its missions over Dunkirk.
The Best Spitfire I In Any Scale.
The kit is easy to assemble and any modeler can create a model they will
be proud to display. At the
relatively-inexpensive price you can certainly do more than one if you’re a
Spitaholic. Highly recommended.
Airfix is back!
Thanks to Hornby USA for the kit.
Thanks to Victory Decals for the decal sheet.
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