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A single-propeller Spitfire loops and soars over the green British countryside, its pilot reveling in the craft’s liveliness. Spitfire, a documentary available on Netflix, tells the tale of the last of the fighter planes without a jet engine, a plane that became a symbol of British courage during the Second World War.
By 1940, the Nazi war machine had conquered nearly all of Europe. Adolf Hitler set his sights on the British Isles, and rather than launch an immediate invasion, the German dictator relied on the powerful Luftwaffe and its thousands of bombers and fighters to soften up resistance.
Airplane manufacturer Supermarine had developed a fast, powerful, and responsive fighter plane, the Spitfire. With a unique wing shape, a Rolls-Royce engine, and a narrow fuselage, it became an instant favorite of the Royal Air Force. British pilots were outnumbered 4 to 1 in 1940, although they had the advantage of radar technology.
The documentary lets veteran pilots tell most of the story. From the vantage point of their advancing years, they look back with amazement on the exploits of their late teens and early 20s, shaking their heads at their own youthful courage and naiveté. They describe the intense fear of every mission, when sweat poured down over their eyes and faces as they saw enemy planes all around. Some recall their prayers as they fought. They lost close friends and comrades, and the memories remain near the surface all these decades later. (A few instances of profanity dot the TV-14 film.)
After months of intense aerial fighting, the pilots won the Battle of Britain and the nation lived to fight on. The Spitfire saw 24 different iterations during the war years, becoming more powerful, able to chase and shoot down the hated German V-1 rocket missiles. By the end of the war, jet engines made the Spitfire less relevant. But the plane remains today a powerful reminder of when the freedom of the Western world hung in the balance.