The Supermarine Spitfire is an emblematic aircraft, synonymous with Britain’s air defence during World War II. Known for its elliptical wings and remarkable manoeuvrability, the Spitfire is celebrated as one of the most effective fighter aircraft of its time. However, few people are aware of a unique chapter in the Spitfire’s history — when a captured variant was fitted with a German DB605 engine, dubbed the ‘Messerspit’.
This intriguing modification created a singular fusion of British and German engineering.
Capturing a Spitfire
The story begins with the capture of a Spitfire by German forces.
During the course of World War II, several Spitfires were downed over enemy territory, providing the German Luftwaffe with an opportunity to study these formidable aircraft up close.
One such Spitfire, a Mark Vb variant, was repaired and repainted in German markings for evaluation purposes.
The Spitfire was flown extensively by German test pilots, giving them valuable insights into its capabilities and revealing potential weaknesses that could be exploited in combat.
These captured aircraft played a crucial role in helping the Luftwaffe understand their adversaries better.
The DB605 Engine
The Daimler-Benz DB 605 was a German aircraft engine used extensively during the Second World War.
As the successor to the DB 601, it was one of the primary engines used in the Messerschmitt Bf 109, one of the Luftwaffe’s most important fighter aircraft.
The DB 605 was a 12-cylinder, liquid-cooled, inverted V engine capable of producing over 1,400 horsepower in its later versions.
Its design was highly reliable and efficient, which led to its widespread use in various German aircraft, including the Messerschmitt Bf 110 and Me 210, among others.
Its variants included the DB 605A, B, D, and L, each of which offered different capabilities in terms of altitude performance, power output, and fuel injection technology.
The DB 605 remained in production until the end of the Second World War.
Recognising the potential of combining the Spitfire’s airframe with the DB605 engine’s power, German engineers embarked on a daring experiment.
They replaced the Spitfire’s original Rolls-Royce Merlin engine with a DB605A.
This involved significant modifications to the aircraft, including alterations to the engine mounts and the nose structure.
Performance of the Messerspit
Once the DB605 engine was installed, the modified Spitfire underwent a series of test flights. The results were intriguing. The DB605 engine, with its higher horsepower, improved the Spitfire’s speed and climb rate.
However, the changes also impacted the aircraft’s balance and handling characteristics.
It’s worth noting that this modification was not intended to improve the Spitfire for combat use by the Germans, but rather to analyze how changes in engine design could affect aircraft performance.
The modified Spitfire served as a testbed for understanding the interplay between airframe and engine designs.
The story of the Spitfire fitted with a DB605 engine, ‘Messerspit’, is an unusual tale of cross-pollination in aviation design during a time of global conflict.
Although the modified Spitfire was not a revolutionary success, it provided valuable data and demonstrated the significant role engines play in aircraft performance.
Ultimately, this episode underscores the relentless pursuit of knowledge and advantage that characterised World War II aviation, where every captured enemy aircraft presented an opportunity for study and improvement.
As such, the DB605-powered Spitfire serves as a symbol of the ingenuity and adaptability demonstrated by engineers on both sides of the conflict.