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Spitfire miracle which helped win the Battle of Britain
Work at Elliots of Newbury
Spitfire production was shifted to small workshops

The Spitfire is forever associated with the RAF's victory in the Battle of Britain, 70 years ago.

But the production of the iconic fighter only continued thanks to a remarkable feat of industrial organisation.

The planes were initially only manufactured at the Supermarine works beside the River Itchen in Southampton.

That made it vulnerable to attack and the factory was bombed twice by the Luftwaffe in September 1940.

Dispersal factories

Despite the factory in Woolston being destroyed, a staggering logistical feat kept the Spitfires flying.

Spitfire in flight
The Spitfire was the RAF's most advanced fighter in 1940

After the Luftwaffe bombing, which left 140 people dead, production of the fighter was swiftly moved to dozens of smaller workshops all over Hampshire and surrounding counties.

All kinds of buildings from bus stations to laundries were commandeered to each host a stage in the Spitfire manufacturing process.

Alan Jones, director of Southampton's Solent Sky museum explained how "anywhere with a roof" could become a potential spitfire factory.

He said: "Everybody just buckled down and got on with it. You can imagine going back [after the bombing] and having to sort this mess out, having lost many of your friends in the raids, and then within weeks sorting out moving stuff across Southampton."

Existing machinery had to be removed from these small factories, and Spitfire tooling equipment installed as quickly as possible in order to satisfy the RAF's demand for what was its most advanced fighter aircraft.

Supermarine factory
The Supermarine factory at Woolston was bombed by the Luftwaffe

Luckily the most important precision machines in the Supermarine factory were virtually undamaged and were quickly moved to these new factories.

Workers moved to 28 sites around Southampton as well as Reading, Hungerford, Newbury, Salisbury and Winchester.

In Newbury, Elliott's furniture factory was requisitioned as was Vincent's Garage in Reading.

Salisbury's local bus depot was one of seven factories in the city where wings and fuselages were built.

"Stunning achievement"

Rodney Young was a 17-year-old apprentice at the Supermarine factory.

He recalled: "The RAF loaned several Queen Mary trailers and we were helping to load them and going with them to unload at the empty bus station, empty garages... It was a peculiar sort of escape."

Within a few weeks of these factories being requisitioned, new Spitfires were taking off.

While the bulk of Spitfire production was moved to Castle Bromwich in the West Midlands, by the end of the war 8,000 planes had been built in the dispersal factories around Southampton.

Alan Jones said: "It's quite amazing that in a matter of months they started to get back to production again. It must have been the darkest hour of this country when there was no Spitfire production."

Like the 'little ships' had done at Dunkirk, it was the unsung little workshops which played a crucial part of the legendary victory of the Battle of Britain.

He continued: "The logistics in bringing all those parts together into one aeroplane and then taking off from Eastleigh into operational service - I think that really is a stunning achievement."




SEE ALSO
Spitfire design deadline arrives
10 Aug 10 |  Hampshire & Isle of Wight
Battle of Britain: Middle Wallop
05 Aug 10 |  History
Spitfire celebrates 70 years
04 Aug 08 |  UK
In pictures: Spitfire re-enactment
05 Mar 06 |  In Pictures

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