British aeronautical engineer R. J. Mitchell was born on May 20th, 1895. He is little known today, but as the inventor of the Spitfire fighter plane, he is said to have done more to turn back the Nazi menace than anyone other than Churchill. What makes his story all the more remarkable is that his heroism was largely single-handed and alone, occurring in the mid-1930s before the governments of England and the US were fully awake to the dangers of Nazi Germany.
Alarmed at rapid German rearmament, and without government funding or support, he decided on his own to prepare for German aggression by designing the most deadly fighter plane of his time. However, in the midst of his work, he was diagnosed with cancer before he’d even finished the plans. He nonetheless persevered in completing his remarkable design, literally spending the last cancer-ridden months of his life putting the final touches on his “impregnable wall against the barbarians.” When the Spitfire was finally built, it surpassed even his own expectations for agility and deadliness. It was such an effective fighter, it was the only Allied warplane that was kept in production for the entire duration of the war, and was a key factor in saving the free world from National Socialism. He is celebrated in the film Spitfire.