Rarely is even a passing mention made to all the people who contributed to the Spitfire design and its continuing update through the years of WWII. Some mention is made of Rolls Royce for their outstanding Merlin engine. This leaves a lot of people out of the story who should be mentioned and that includes those like Beverley Shenstone who made significant contributions that can be argued to be the critical contributions without which there would never have been an immortal Spitfire.
NAME: Secrets of the Spitfire, The Story of Beverley Shenstone the Man Who Perfected the Eliptical Wing
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Lance Cole
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non fiction
DESCRIPTION: When a subject such as the Supermarine Spitfire is covered by yet another book, a reviewer can come to the task with caution. Several Spitfire books add very little if anything to the story, other than offering a book that is in print and available. Some repeat old inaccuracies that should have been removed from circulation. Others offer a few fresh insights or that extra little detail. Occasionally, a new Spitfire book arrives that is not only well written and well illustrated, but adds a strong new dimension to the story. This new Pen & Sword book is one of those rare books and is a pleasure to read. The general story that is told by other authors attributes the Spitfire to Reginald Mitchell and his success with designing the winning Schneider Cup Supermarine float planes. Rarely is even a passing mention made to all the people who contributed to the Spitfire design and its continuing update through the years of WWII. Some mention is made of Rolls Royce for their outstanding Merlin engine. This leaves a lot of people out of the story who should be mentioned and that includes those like Beverley Shenstone who made significant contributions that can be argued to be the critical contributions without which there would never have been an immortal Spitfire. The author has correctly attributed the concept of the elliptical wing to British pioneer Sir Frederick Lanchester and included a photograph of him with his 1894 flying test model that proved the advantages of the elliptical wing, long before the Heinkel 70 of 1932 which some misguided commentators attributed to the discovery of the benefits of elliptical wings. Had Shenstone not been a key member of the Mitchell team, the elliptical wing form probably not have been chosen for the Spitfire and Mitchell may well have either gone for the wing form used in the trophy winning floatplanes with its very thin braced aerofoil, or selected a much thicker wing on the lines of the rival Hurricane which made manufacture and repair easier and provided space for guns and ammunition. In the case of the Hurricane, Hawkers had based their design on the Fury biplane to speed design and construction at lowest manufactured risk. The result was a machine that outperformed the contemporary Me/Bf 109 and proved a very stable gun platform. Most importantly, it was able to enter squadron service ahead of the Spitfire and be available in numbers for the Battle of Britain where it became an effective bomber killer but was beginning to be outclassed by the Me/Bf 109 and completely outclassed by the German Fw 190. However, the wing design of the Hurricane was strong and easy to adapt to heavy armament. As a result, the Hurricane happily accommodated four 20 mm canon at a time when the Spitfire was struggling to take a pair of 20 mm canon after adaptation of the wing, and the Hurricane was to go on to carry 40 mm anti-tank guns in the tank killer role in North Africa. During 1940, the rugged and easily repaired Hurricane wing helped to return battle damaged machines to combat and relieve demand on factories for raw materials and production space. Although pilots and enthusiasts will long argue the relative merits of the Spitfire and Hurricane, the reality is that the two machines together made victory possible in 1940 and then continued to make a contribution through to the end of the war but beginnig to go in different directions as the Hurricane increasingly work as a ground attack aircraft and was moved to the lower priority theatres and to aircraft carriers. While the Hurricane was a very competent development of the biplane heritage of Hawkers, the Spitfire was a very advanced design that made no compromise to ease manufacture and repair, placing emphasis on speed and agility as the classic dog fighting aircraft. Much of that was attributable to Shenstone. The result was a fast fighter that was even able to survive transonic speeds in a dive and able to fully used more powerful engines with little modification. The final Mks of Spitfire were able to go from the early Merlin of 1000 hp to the Rolls Royce Griffin of more than twice that power and requiring a pair of contra rotating propellers. The author has provided a comprehensive biography of Shenstone that starts with an necessarily extended Introduction and Prologue set in the Winter of 1943. The story then steps back to his birth in 1906 into comfortable and well connected Canadian family. The author has covered the early years in adequate detail, but concentrated on providing a full account of Shenstone’s career. It is difficult to say what the full contribution to aviation was during his career. His wing design for the Spitfire was important in aviation terms but most significant because of the power and flexibility that the design built into the Spitfire, enabling it to hold its own even into the jet era. However, he made important contributions to airliners and passenger services. He also authored many important papers. The mystery may be why he has not received wider and earlier recognition, but here is a book that sets all of that to rights. This is one of those books that an aviation enthusiast cannot be without.