The Spitfire

The most prominent stage prop of the current tour (“Legacy of the Beast,” European leg 2018, North-and South America leg 2019) is a gigantic replica of a warplane during “Aces High” (Powerslave, 1984) – a Spitfire, an icon of British history and culture.

Spitfire in Imperial War Museum in London (Get off at tube station “Lambeth” – this is where William Blake lived). © Katharina Hagen

The Spitfire is a one-seater which was widely used during World War II, especially the Battle of Britain. (cf. https://www.britannica.com/technology/Spitfire) The term “Battle of Britain” refers to the attempt of Nazi-German Luftwaffe to prepare British invasion. It took place between July and September 1940. Luftwaffe did air raid Britain and British pilots had to thwart off the attacks. (cf. https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Britain-European-history-1940) That is what we encounter in “Aces High.”

The song describes the scenario of such an air raid, the alarm going off, pilots running to their aircraft, hoping they will make it in time.

The RAF succeeded in fighting off Luftwaffe. Their radar warning system (Chain Home) proved to be very advanced and effective, the actions of their opponents were lacking a strategic plan, and, British aircraft were superior to their German equivalents. We encounter the Messerschmitt BF 109, the counter-part of the Spitfire (cf. https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Britain-European-history-1940), as ME 109 in the song.

The Battle of Britain was won by Britain; Great Britain was safe from invasion. (cf. l. c.)

© Katharina Hagen

Although, in reality, there were actually more Hurricanes involved and they were even more successful than the Spitfire were, it is the Spitfire which gained such importance because it could take on fighters (whereas the heavier and more robust Hurricane would take on bombers) and played another large role in gathering intelligence. The machine guns were replaced by tanks to give it a wider range and thus equipped it made possible to spy on Nazi Germany from a high altitude. (cf. https://www.britannica.com/technology/Spitfire) The Spitfire is a small and agile aircraft (for comparison: it has one Merlin engine (cf. l. c.), whereas a Lancaster has four (cf. https://www.britannica.com/technology/Lancaster-airplane), a fact which probably added to its popularity. (If you happen to see a version of the Merlin engine – you will find that it is a gigantic engine, much larger than, for instance, a car engine would be.)

I hope this shows that the importance of the Spitfire cannot be underestimated and illustrates why it plays such an important role in British culture. Not only did it come to the rescue for the individuals who were under immanent threat, it also contributed largely to win the battle. One was given to Allied partner France and can now be found in the Musée de l’Air + Espace in Paris. (cf. https://www.museeairespace.fr/a-voir-a-faire/expositions-permanentes/hall-1939-1945/) This stage prop exceeds the average decoration of a concert.

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