Or rather, it does for some but not for me! I’ve recently written an article for Fly Past Magazine comparing the two marks that were available in 1940, the Me109E and the Spitfire Mk I, in which I came down in favour of the Messerschmitt. This has prompted a number of letters to Fly Past’s editor, Ken Ellis, two of which he has published in this month’s edition, one agreeing with my argument, the other vehemently not so. The latter is from Mark Laity in Belgium. ‘The idea that after 70 years anyone is going to come up with anything truly new about the Battle of Britain is unlikely, although with so much literature already available the need to appear to offer something different is also self-evident!’ he begins. I completely disagree – there’s tons of stuff out there, because for the most part, people have only ever looked at comparatively narrow sources and generally only from one side. I wrote the book equally from the German and British perspective not because I was desperate to appear to offer something new but because I wanted to have a clearer picture of what was going on myself. I can assure you, I’m a Spitfire lover and it pained me greatly to say that the Me109E was better. I wasn’t doing it to be alternative and unnecessarily provocative but because those were the conclusions I drew having examined the evidence.
‘I cannot recall any Battle of Britain pilot saying the Bf 109 was better than the Spitfire – and there is no shortage of such memoirs,’ Mark continues. Well that was because most people never got the chance to find out. Only a handful of British pilots ever had a chance to fly the Me109. He is right, though, that the Spitfire was a more graceful bird to fly, but that is missing the point. The Me109E could climb faster and dive faster than a Spitfire, two key facets of air-to-air fighting. You don’t need to turn in tight circles if you can dive out of the fray faster than anything else in the sky. The third crucial advantage was its fire-power – 55 seconds’ worth of ammunition compared with 14.7, and 20mm high explosive cannon shells as well as machine-guns, cannons that even without their explosive charge packed a punch 200% heavier than a .303 bullet. People can argue all they like about handling, wing-loading, under-carriage widths etc etc, but the bare-faced facts are these: the Me109 could climb faster, had considerably greater fire-power, and could dive faster. That made it the best air-to-air fighter of 1940. That’s not a debate, it’s a fact.