Griffon Power! The Spitfire Mk. XIV

Every manufacturer seems to make a GT or Supercar version of their favourite model these days but, out of necessity, Supermarine had their version too; if the famous Mk. IX ever had a GT version, it was this…. the Powerful, the Puissant, and the Potent: Spitfire Mk. XIV.

AvBuyer  |  01st September 2022
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The AvBuyer editorial team includes Matt Harris and Rebecca Applegarth who contribute to a number of...

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Spitfire Mk. XIV

The ‘Naming’ of the Shrew?

From the seeds sown by Supermarine in the 1930s, the Spitfire, or as it was initially to be named the ‘Shrew’ (Shark and Serpent were also shortlisted until it’s official naming on the 28th July 1936), a number of very special Mk.s (24 to be exact!) progressed from the drawing board to the blue skies above. Having already covered the background and initial development of the Spitfire in a previous feature (see GA Buyer Europe, October 2022), I wanted to continue the Spitfire story with a specific look at this hugely interesting example; the mighty Mk. XIV!

Following a call from the Royal Navy, which requested a “higher performing, low altitude fighter”, Rolls-Royce got back to work on an engine they had started in 1938. A design that was actually paused to concentrate on the smaller ‘Merlin’ engine (although not for a second am I suggesting the Merlin is a small engine!). This revitalised push led to a series of engines under the name ‘Griffon’ (named after a breed of vulture) and their model, the ‘Griffon 65’ was the powerplant of choice for the Mk. XIV Spitfire. It was a whopping 37 litre twin-supercharged V-12 powerhouse that could produce some 2,050 HP! this of course needed a very capable front end to deliver the huge power and that came in the shape of a 10’ 5”, five-bladed propellor made by Rotol Airscrews, a company formed by Rolls-Royce and Bristol Motors in 1937 (Rotol is actually named after both founding companies: Ro + tol).

As you might imagine, this amount of power gave quite the swing on takeoff which not only required some skilful input from the pilot, it required the opposite foot to that most were used to. The Merlin produced a left swing requiring right pedal to balance, whereas the Griffon caused a right swing and a left foot to keep straight. The designers tried a six-bladed contra-rotating propellor on a test aircraft but at the time the complex propellor gearbox didn’t deliver consistent results, so this was abandoned until improvements were found (which were later installed on such aircraft as the Seafire).

With engine ready, Supermarine used the base design of the Spitfire Mk. VIII airframe and following a nose extension to accommodate the Griffon engine, and a few other tweaks including a bigger fin and rudder to help manage the torque, Supermarine presented the Mk. XIV to a ready and waiting British military.

A trivia note for that unassuming comment in the flying club — you can tell the Griffon engine apart from the Merlin if you look at the exhaust stack along the sides of the Spitfire nose; the Griffon exhaust stack has a set of round ejector stubs, compared with the pinched looking outlets on the Merlin. There’s several tel- tales of course, but there’s something about this one that I like for some reason!

The Mk. XIV rolled out of production in October 1943 and entered active service in early 1944. And it came head-to-head with its German opposition the Messerschmitt Me 109G-6. Reports came back thick and fast about the MK. XIV’s performance. It was found to be faster than the MK. IX throughout its performance envelope and it could achieve an almost vertical climb at a rate approaching 5,000 ft / min!

Production picked up (although never got close to the Mk. IX) with assembly plants located at Aldermaston, Chattis Hill, Keevil, Southampton and Winchester. These facilities produced two variants of the Mk. XIV: the ‘F’ (Fighter version) and the ‘FR’ (Fighter-Reconnaissance).

The FR had a distinct-looking camera window on both sides of the fuselage a little aft of the canopy. Talking of canopies, there were two options that were accommodated by the fuselage being built as either a ‘High Back’ or a ‘Low Back’. The ‘High Back’ had the normal classic Spitfire three-piece canopy, whereas the ‘Low Back’ had the bubble canopy. The Mk. XIV ‘F’ could have a ‘High Back’ or ‘Low Back’ whereas the ‘FR’ only ever had the classic ‘Low Back’.

Pilots were drawn to its boost in power and speed over other Mks. Indeed, Spitfire test pilot Jeffrey Quill described the Mk. XIV as a “splendid and potent aeroplane!” In level flight it could achieve an amazing 400 mph at 2,000 ft, 417 mph at 12,000 ft, and could top out as high as 446 mph above 25,000 ft! And it was that speed that gave its pilots the upper hand… 

Defence Against the ‘Doodlebug’

The Mk XIV was used extensively by the 2nd Tactical Air Force as their main high-altitude air superiority fighter in northern Europe and it was populated into six squadrons. But perhaps the Mk. XIV is best known for its ability to deal with the infamous V-1 Missile.

The V-1 missile (‘V’ meaning ‘Vergeltungswaffen’ in German) was commonly called the ‘doodlebug’ and it was a fearsome unknown object when it crossed the shores heading for London on 13th June 1944. It was just over 8 metres long (excluding the jet engine tail pipe) and had a wingspan of about 5.5 metres. It was generally launched from catapult ramps and flew close to 400 mph, making it incredibly difficult to defend against at those speeds.

However, Mk. XIV equipped No.91 Squadron did more than their fair share. They began air patrols on 16th June and had their first V-1 victory at the hands of Flight Lieutenant H. Moffett when he destroyed a V-1 over Kenley in Surrey having been in pursuit for some 20 miles! In total, No. 91 Squadron defeated an amazing 104 of the 300 V-1 victories recorded by Mk. XIV pilots.

Following the V-1 was the V-2; a long-range ballistic missile. But the Mk. XIV did its part there too, for, in December 1944, they carried out the heaviest fighter-bomber raid of WWII when they hit a V-2 rocket facility.

Outside of its operational duties against the V-1 (and V-2), the Mk. XIV also took up arms against another new era of aviation in the war. A little before the V-2 raid, another new initiative was necessary, this time to defend against the formidable and what must have felt like something right out of the future; a ‘Jet Fighter’! Or, more specifically, the Messerschmitt Me 262.

The first victory against an Me 262 was actually recorded by a Mk. IX (of No. 401 Squadron) on the 5th October 1944, but the sheer speed and performance of the Mk. XIV was recognised as a strong counter-defensive against the Me 262 for there wasn’t much in the sky that could get anywhere near it at nearly 550 mph! So, the Mk. XIV was sent up on something probably not many people expected to say at the time; ‘anti-jet’ patrols.

In total, 957 Mk. XIVs were built. After the war, those that remained in service (and a few that were close to airworthy) were exported to a number of foreign air forces; 132 went to the Royal Belgian Air Force, 70 went to the Royal Indian Air Force, and 30 went to the Royal Thai Air Force. 

Picture Aircraft

Our stunning picture aircraft is a beautiful (and very recently) restored Spitfire FR MK. XIV. Originally built in 1944, ‘RM927’ was operated during WWII by No. 430 (Canadian) Squadron from its RAF base in Eindhoven, Holland. After the conflict, it was sold to the Belgian Air Force and flew there until November 1947.

Much later, in 1969, the aircraft went into preserved storage at the Victory Air Museum in the USA where it rested until an initial inspection and the very first part of a restoration was started, that long-term project concluded just this year at the hands of renowned Spitfire specialists Air Leasing at Sywell Aerodrome in the UK.

RM927 is said to be 85 percent original, which makes it all-the-more special to its new owner, W Air Collection with Mr. Brice Ohayon, a French Warbird pilot, at the controls (have recently been flying one of my all-time favourites, the wonderful Corsair).

The aircraft took to the skies again on 5th July this year at the hands of well-known Spitfire pilot Mr. Richard Grace with RM927 wearing its original livery. And, as I’m sure you’ll agree, it presents a very wonderful sight indeed.

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