The Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb was the most widely produced variant of the Mk.V series of Spitfires. Entering service with the RAF in early 1941 the Mk.Vb variant incorporated a number of improvements over earlier Spitfires. Most notably it was the first common variant to be fitted with the ‘B’ wing, comprising two 20mm cannons and four .303in Browning machine guns. This gave the Mk.Vb a big increase in firepower, something lacking from the earlier all machine gun armed Spitfires.
Also introduced were fishtail exhausts, giving a slightly improved exhaust thrust and therefore performance, metal covered ailerons, a deeper oil cooler and the front windscreen was also altered to one featuring an internally armoured section. The Malcolm Hood was also improved, offering a better overall view for the pilot.
Two different types of propellers (DeHavilland and Rotol) were used and the Mk.Vb could be fitted with long range slipper tanks. Other modifications were introduced for the Mk.Vb Tropical including the prominent tropical filter under the nose and a deeper radiator. While the Spitfire Mk.Vb was used by the RAF in large numbers it was also the first to be truly out-performed by an enemy fighter. With the introduction of the Focke Wulf Fw190 in mid-1941, the Mk.Vb was outclassed over the Channel Front and in an effort to compete with the Fw190's manoeuvrability, some Spitfire Mk.Vbs had shortened wing tips, but it was not until the introduction of the Mk.IX some time later that the RAF found its Spitfires in the ascendancy again.
The Mk.Vb was later equipped with bombs and used as a low-level fighter-bomber and even a dive-bomber, roles to which the Spitfire did not prove to be ideally suited. However, the Mk.Vb was used to great affect over the Mediterranean where its shape and sound become synonymous with the defence of the beleaguered island of Malta. A beautiful machine to fly, the Spitfire Mk.Vb is today considered by many to be one of the prettiest and best of the breed.