Early Mk I Supermarine Spitfires in RAF ‘vic three’ formation, 1939, climbing into a stormy sky.

The Spitfire entered service as a front line fighter in August 1938, the first 77 being powered by the Merlin II engine and a two-blade, wooden, fixed pitch propeller.

The striking Night and White paint scheme of the undersides went through a number of variations, but early on had this complex pattern of alternating mainplanes-fuselage-tailplanes, and ailerons. Underwing roundels had not yet been introduced.

The tight, V-shaped “vic” formation of three aircraft displayed considerable discipline and was designed to concentrate the fighters’ firepower but was hopelessly impractical – pilots had to worry about not hitting each other, so could not keep a proper lookout. It was gradually abandoned after war broke out, though a pilot’s survival might well depend on how quickly this happened in his squadron.

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