This is an overview of the most important British aircraft of WW II.
The Hawker Hurricane was the most numerous British fighter at the start of the war. In total, 14,000 were built. During the Battle of Britain, it scored more kills than the Spitfire. The Mk I was armed with eight 7.7mm MGs. The Mk II, with a more powerful engine, entered service in September 1940. Armament was changed to twelve MGs or four 20mm cannons. Outclassed by newer aircraft, the Mk II and Mk IV were used as attack and nightfighter aircraft until early 1944. The Sea Hurricane was used as carrier aircraft.
The Supermarine Spitfire is without doubt the most famous British WW II aircraft. More than 20,000 were built. The Mk I Spitfire, powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, was introduced in 1938. It was armed with eight 7.7mm MGs. From 1940 on, it was replaced by the slightly improved Mk II. In late 1940, production of the Mk V started. It had a more powerful engine, and most were built with a smaller wing for improved low-altitude performance. Armament was also changed, with four of the MGs being replaced by two 20mm cannons.
The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 still outclassed the Mk V Spitfire. The Mk IX was designed as interim model with an even more powerful engine. Armament consisted of two 20mm cannons and two 12.7mm MGs. It stayed in production until 1945, with more than 4,000 built.
The Mk XII was the first production model with the Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, appearing in October 1942. At the time it was the fastest aircraft at low altitudes. The Mk XIV, introduced in early 1944, was the last numerous Spitfire model to see combat in WW II. It featured improved high-altitude performance.
The Spitfire was also used as reconaissance aircraft. The Seafire variant was used by the Royal Navy.
The Bristol Beaufighter was used as heavy fighter, nightfighter, fighter-bomber, and even torpedo bomber. Armament consisted of four 20mm cannons and six 7.7mm MGs.
The Boulton Paul Defiant carried four 7.7mm MGs in a turret, designed to attack bombers from below. During the Battle of Britain, its vulnerability to the faster Bf 109 became clear. It continued to be used for some time as night fighter.
The Hawker Typhoon had a troubled development period. It was finally put into service in late 1942. Armed with four 20mm cannons, it was a very effective fighter-bomber and ground attack aircraft.
The Hawker Tempest, introduced in early 1944, was one of the most powerful fighters of the war. It was used for shooting down the V-1, and served as low-altitude fighter. It was armed with four 20mm cannons.The Fairey Fulmar was used as carrier-borne fighter before being replaced by the Seafire.
The allies’ first jet fighter was the Gloster Meteor. It was initially used for shooting down the V-1, and later for ground attacks.
The British also used American aircraft. The Mustang was developed according to RAF specifications, and the Royal Navy flew the F4U Corsair.
The Bristol Blenheim was Britain’s premier light bomber early in the war. It could carry about 1,000 kg of bombs. It was also used as night fighter for some time before being replaced by the Bristol Beaufighter and the Mosquito in this role.
The Fairey Battle was a light bomber. After suffering heavy losses during the Battle of France, it was withdrawn from service in 1941.
The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley was one of three medium bombers used early in the war. It could carry about 3,000kg of bombs. The Vickers Wellington was the most numerous, with more than 11,000 built. The Handley Page Hampden was introduced last, but withdrawn from service in 1942.
The Bristol Beaufort was designed as torpedo bomber, but was more often used in attacking ships using mines and bombs. It saw plenty of use in the Mediterranean, but also in the Pacific.
The de Havilland Mosquito was an all-round aircraft. It was originally designed as fast light-weight bomber without defensive armament, built out of wood. Able to carry almost 2,000kg of bombs, it was first used as bomber in the summer of 1942. At the same time, it was introduced as night fighter, armed with four 20mm cannons and four 7.7mm MGs. The Mosquito was also used as fighter-bomber and for reconaissance.
The Avro Lancaster was the main heavy bomber, capable of carrying 7,000kg of bombs. It was introduced in 1942. More than 7,000 were built. The other heavy bomber was the Handley Page Halifax, introduced at the end of 1940. A third four-engined bomber, the Short Stirling, was less popular. Withdrawn from bomber service in 1943, it was used for other roles, such as glider towing.
The Fairey Swordfish, a 1930s biplane, was the Royal Navy’s torpedo bomber. Even though outdated by the start of the war, it had some spectacular successes and was kept in service until the end of the war.
The Fairey Albacore was introduced in 1940, serving in the same role as the Swordfish, but was withdrawn from service in 1944. It was replaced by the Fairey Barracuda starting in 1943.
The Short Sunderland was a famous flying boat, used for maritime patrols and anti-submarine warfare. The Vickers Warwick was also used for patrols and rescue of downed crews.
The Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle was used as transport, paratrooper and glider towing aircraft, with the Airspeed Horsa being the most numerous glider. The RAF also used the Douglas Dakota, with Dakota actually being the British name. It was called C-47 Skytrain in US service.
The Taylorcraft Auster was used as liasion and observation plane. More famous is the Westland Lysander, which was also used for special operations, such as dropping and picking up agents in occupied France.
During the Battle of Britain, fighters were painted in green/brown camouflage with light blue or light grey undersides. Later in the war, the brown was replaced by grey. Night bombers had black undersides. Reconaissance planes were painted all-grey. For Africa, a sand/light brown scheme was used with a darker shade of blue on the undersides. Navy aircraft used a two-tone grey scheme.