Spitfire: the History

By Eric B. Morgan and Edward Shacklady

Published by Key Books

Review by Mike O'Hare


Morgan and Shacklady's Spitfire: The History is a bible. There's just no other way to phrase it. Forty-three chapters. Ten appendices. Six-hundred and fifty pages. Scores of photographs, countless drawings, pages of profiles, hundreds of excerpts from official blueprints. This massive tome is the single most complete reference you are ever likely to find on any one aircraft. It is so thorough it boggles the mind.


Beginning with a comparatively brief prologue contextualizing British aviation in the years leading up to the development of the Spitfire, complete with three view drawings and specifics on no fewer than fourteen different types, it's clear from the start that this is an exceptionally thorough reference. Each chapter of the main body deals with a specific era of the Spitfire's development, the first four being the early pre-production prototypes and developments, while the rest deal with Spitfire and Seafire production blocks, from the Spitfire Mk.1 to the Seafire Mk.47. Each chapter ends with a list of the aircraft serial numbers appropriate to that sub-type - every aircraft built is included, and where possible, specific and unusual modifications are noted, along with where it served and what its fate was. This alone is astonishing enough, but each chapter is also loaded with images and drawings of the specific intricacies of the version being discussed. As an example, the Mk.II chapter includes a series of images depicting the eight different propellers a single machine used. Every last nut, bolt and rivet ever seen on the real thing is covered SOMEWHERE in the volume; if you've ever wanted to include an accurate pneumatic system in your Spitfire VB model, there's a schematic from Supermarine for that, too (hey, 1/24 IS pretty big…). If you just want something simple, like dozens of pictures and drawings of the gun bays, of course the book has all that and more, but why worry about boring stuff like that when you can also study the lashing down procedures for engine tests? If anything, the sheer quantity of information included is overwhelming. There is so much to absorb, it seems almost daunting on first inspection, but the books clear layout makes it easy to get into, and to find the specific information you need.  And while it's not exactly light summer reading, it does provide an excellent technical insight into the Spitfire that few other books touch, and no other work can match.


With a book so thorough, so comprehensive, so all encompassing, it's difficult to find enough superlatives to praise it. Simply put, it has everything. Everything one could possibly want to know about the Spitfire can be found somewhere between its covers. Any Spitfire fan MUST own this book. Any WWII fan must own it. Even anyone with an interest in aviation in general or a die hard jet head would do themselves a service to buy it, for the phenomenal insight it provides into the Spitfire specifically, as well as aircraft in general. Following the development of the Spitfire, one is able to see parallels with the development of countless other aircraft. Seeing how the Spitfire was built and how it worked, one is able to better understand how all aircraft of its time were built, and how they worked. At the same time, it also serves as the pinnacle of what aviation references can be, and is about as close to the holy grail of aviation reference books as one could hope to come. It is, quite simply, an astonishing work, and one that will engross the reader for years to come.