It’s easy to think of the Supermarine Spitfire as a very British icon. And while it is true that the aircraft was a stalwart of the RAF, it also served with most of the Allied air forces during the Second World War.
It was especially popular with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), South African Air Force (SAAF) and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).
The Spitfire also held the honour of being one a select few foreign-built aircraft to serve in the US Army Air Force and Navy. Around 600 were used by the US during the war – with three Spitfire fighter groups involved in USAAF’s first aerial combat engagement with German aircraft.
After the war, the Spitfire remained in use with many air forces and navies around the world – including those from Belgium, Denmark, Australia, Burma, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, Thailand, France, Hong Kong, Israel, Sweden, Turkey, Syria and Portugal.
Spitfires last saw military action during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when they were actually used to fight each other: Spitfire vs Spitfire.
In one infamous episode on 7 January 1949, two Israeli Air Force (IAF) pilots in Supermarine Spitfires spotted plumes of black smoke rising from the Sinai Desert. Thinking an Israeli motorised column was under attack from three circling Egyptian Air Force Spitfires, they engaged combat and shot them down. Big mistake.
They were not Egyptian. They were actually British RAF reconnaissance aircraft whose pilots had been attracted by the smoke. And to complicate matters, one of the Israeli Spitfire pilots was an ex-Canadian Second World War ace, and the other a former American test pilot – both whom had once served with the British.
Spitfires were retained in active service by some air forces well into the 1960s – and to this day the RAF maintains some for flying displays and ceremonial purposes. The Temora Aviation Museum in New South Wales, Australia also has two airworthy Spitfires, which regularly take to the skies during the museum’s flying weekends.