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The Most Dangerous Enemy 5: The Fighters

April 10, 2011

A Spitfire Mk. IIa, from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

After the excellent chapter 4, this is a bit of a let-down

The chapter opens with an excellently written description of the fighter design process that preceded the advent of the Hurricane and the Spitfire.

It follows with a detailed description of both these mainstay fighters of the RAF.

It falls down, however, on the fanboyish fawning over the Spitfire. Yes, it was a wonderful fighter, easily one of the best in service in WWII among all combatants. However, the way it is almost canonised as the only fighter platform to stay in service until the end is grating. The Bf-109 is given a short mention as being in service until 1945 (in the K–variant), but this is almost summarily dismissed without taking into account that its relative performance in 1945 suffered mainly due to a lack of experienced pilots.

Also, too much is made of the Spitfire’s performance in a level turn. Sure, it’s turn radius was measurably smaller than that of the competition, both in 1940 and later on, but Bungay forgets to discount pilot quality, which is necessary to use this performance advantage. Which is doubly grating because he cites (among others) Mike Spick in his bibliography, an outspoken proponent of the theory that pilot performance trumps technological excellence.

He also falls down in using biased sources (such as Spitfire test pilot Jeffrey Quill) as proof of the wonder weapon nature of the Spitfire. When he cites a fly-off of a captured Fw-190 vs a Hawker Typhoon vs a Spitfire flown by Quill, he appears not to consider that it is no wonder the Spitfire flown by a pilot who intimately knows its strengths and weaknesses wins the contest.

This chapter shows Bungay at his worst: a wonderful writer with an axe to grind. His writing is so good, that an unbiased reader with no knowledge of other sources would come off believing his ‘wonder weapon’ stance.

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