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Amongst the best known RAF fighter aces of World War Two was Wg Cdr JE ‘Johnnie’ Johnson DSO** DFC* (rank and awards as at the time of this picture), who is seen with his pet Labrador Sally at Bazenville Landing Ground, Normandy, France, on 31 July 1944.‘Johnnie’ Johnson became the RAF’s top scoring fighter pilot flying in north-west Europe reaching an eventual total of 38 confirmed plus many more shared and probables, though he was known to waive shared victories to boost the confidence of junior pilots. When this photo was taken he had

recently taken command of 127 Wing which comprised three Canadian Spitfire squadrons and which he led through France, Belgium and Germany during the Allied advance through occupied Europe. He joined the RAF pre-war as sergeant pilot with the Volunteer Reserve in 1938 and his first operational posting was to 19 Squadron at Duxford from August 1940.‘Johnnie’ Johnson retired as an Air Vice Marshal in 1966, and during his RAF career he was awarded the CBE in 1960 and the CB in 1965. He died on 31 January 2001. IWM TR2145 Supermarine Spitfire 3


Contents 6 Introduction

48 Alone and unarmed

8 Birth of a legend

54 Shark’s mouth ‘Spit’

10 P7’s new colours

56 Keep ’em flying

18 Spitfire test pilot

57 Rolls-Royce Merlin advertisement

24 Shuttleworth’s ‘missing’ gem

58 Spitfire metamorphosis

26 Historic Aircraft Flight

62 Kiwi tribute

28 BBMF’s newest recruit

66 Early warbirds

32 Goodwood’s Spitfire years

70 ‘Sailor’s’ top guns

38 Spitfire ‘sky spies’

74 The chosen squadron


The beautiful lines of RJ Mitchell’s masterpiece caught in an atmospheric sunset at Duxford. Col Pope Cover picture: Spitfire VIII A58-758 of the Temora Aviation Museum with its fearsome shark’s mouth prominent. Philip Makanna/Ghosts Cover profile inset: Juanita Franzi/Aero Illustrations

Editor:

Jarrod Cotter jcotter@mortons.co.uk Janet Richardson Dan Savage Louise Blackah, Nick Blacow, Martyn Chorlton, Gavin Conroy, Jim Dooley, Jonathan Falconer, Doug Fisher, Juanita Franzi, Alastair Goodrum, Paul Harris, Philip Makanna, Chris Pearson, François Prins, Col Pope, Andrew Simpson, Sqn Ldr Clive Rowley MBE RAF Ret’d

Production editor: Publisher: Contributors:

Designers: Production manager:

Justin Blackamore, Charlotte Pearson Craig Lamb clamb@mortons.co.uk

Divisional advertising manager: Tracey Glover-Brown tglover-brown@mortons.co.uk Advertising sales executive: Nikita Leak nleak@mortons.co.uk 01507 529416 Magazine sales manager: Brand manager:

Paul Deacon pdeacon@mortons.co.uk Sarah Downing sdowning@mortons.co.uk 01507 529549

Operations Director: Commercial Director: Business Development Director: Managing Director:

Dan Savage Nigel Hole Terry Clark Brian Hill

Editorial address:

Aviation Classics Mortons Media Group Ltd PO Box 99 Horncastle Lincs LN9 6JR www.aviationclassics.co.uk

Website: Customer services, back issues and subscriptions:

84 Seafires in action 90 Inside the ‘Spit’ 94 Spitfire sisters

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© 2010 Mortons Media Group Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage retrieval system without prior permission in writing from the publisher. ISBN No 978-1-906167-34-9

96 Spitfire fighter sweep sortie 103 Spitfire masterclass 112 The oldest ‘Spit’ 118 Mk.Ia cutaway

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Supermarine Spitfire 5


“I

have often wondered who the genius was who christened it Spitfire. It was a name that resounded round the free world in those dark days of Hitler’s tyranny, and perfectly symbolized the mood of Britain’s defence.” Powerful words from Sir Douglas Bader’s book Fight for the Sky, in which he later also wrote: “…in the dark days of the German domination of Europe, the word ‘Spitfire’ became synonymous with eventual freedom to the citizens of the occupied countries across the English Channel and North Sea. It was a symbol that good would triumph over evil.” Perhaps these two brief extracts from one of the best-known fighter aces of World War Two help to explain why the Spitfire became such a famous British icon. But of course in his book Douglas Bader also sings the praises and traces the service of the Hurricane – which along with the Spitfire bore the brunt of the defence of Great Britain as the RAF went up again and again as massed waves of Luftwaffe bombers and fighters tried to gain air superiority, ready for a planned German invasion of southern England in summer 1940. As 2010 progresses there will be many moving commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Spitfires and Hurricanes will be in great demand at airshows, and the remaining ‘Few’ will rightly be shown great respect wherever they are in attendance. It is the Spitfire that we focus on in this issue of Aviation Classics; that most quintessential of British fighters. Within these pages numerous aspects of its story are covered, including: the Supermarine racing floatplanes for which monoplane technology was advanced; the very first example of the 6 aviationclassics.co.uk

Introduction breed; the type’s arrival into RAF service; combat in the Battle of Britain; fighter sweeps to occupied France; its conversion to the photo recce role and for Naval operations; and even its part in the formation of the RAF’s commemorative unit. We also feature a selection of the world’s Spitfire warbirds, including some from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, and get a behind-thescenes look inside a UK workshop from which some of the finest Spitfire restorations have emerged and which is currently in the process of restoring a Mk.I to its authentic early configuration – a sight not seen in the air for around 70 years. But of course the story of any aeroplane is not complete without looking at the people involved. RJ Mitchell, Douglas Bader, ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, Alex Henshaw, Geoffrey Wellum, Al Deere and ‘Sailor’ Malan all feature in this issue, and while not a complete list it does offer a cross-section of personalities and influences.

Having thoroughly enjoyed compiling the content of the first three editions of Aviation Classics looking at some of the best-known types from World War Two, I decided that the time is now right to put together one of the ‘surprises’ I mentioned to you in my previous editorial. Therefore, for the next issue we will turn the clock back to World War One, when military aviation was still in its infancy and aerial combat was a new concept of war. I am really looking forward to working on the exciting features that are planned. Meanwhile, I do hope you enjoy the contents within this issue as we look at RJ Mitchell’s masterpiece and would like to again thank all of you who have supported Aviation Classics and sent in such kind and encouraging words about the series so far. ■

Jarrod Cotter Editor Above: The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s brace of Spitfire PR.XIXs, PS915 and PM631, patrol the skies of Lincolnshire in September 2009 flown by Sqn Ldr Al Pinner MBE and Flt Lt Antony Parkinson. Jarrod Cotter

Left: BBMF Spitfire IIa actually fought in the Battle of Britain, so is sure to be in especially great demand for the commemorative and memorial events paying tribute to ‘The Few’ during 2010, which marks the crucial aerial conflict’s 70th anniversary. Jim Dooley


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Birth of a

legend

O

n 5 March 1936, a beautifullooking sleek new monoplane made its first flight from the Supermarine works airfield at Eastleigh in Hampshire – attractive as it may have been, this aircraft was designed to be the leading fighter of its time and intended solely for combat. The Spitfire was born. It had been back in late 1931 that Air Ministry Specification F7/30 was formally put out to industry. This called for a new front line RAF fighter armed with four 0.303in machineguns that could reach a higher speed than the Bristol Bulldog biplane.

Jarrod Cotter summarises the development of the first Spitfire, K5054.

Supermarine, courtesy of the company’s chief designer RJ Mitchell, had recently achieved great success with a series of revolutionary high-speed floatplanes that had set world speed records while taking part in the Schneider Trophy races with the RAF’s High Speed Flight. The ideas and technology used was an ideal basis on which to look into the development of this new fighter – the combination of Mitchell’s designs such as the successful Supermarine S6B, and the Rolls-Royce engine which powered it, had formed a world-leading partnership in the production of high-speed monoplane aircraft.

Numerous manufacturers offered prototypes to meet F7/30 and Supermarine’s example was the Type 224, an open cockpit gull-winged monoplane with fixed undercarriage and powered by a Rolls-Royce Goshawk. K2890 carried out its maiden flight on 20 February 1934. However, its performance was lacking and the Gloster SS37 biplane, which became the Gladiator, won the contract. RJ Mitchell looked at the requirement again, and used his genius to design an aircraft with far cleaner lines and a retractable undercarriage. By then RollsRoyce had also developed its PV12 engine, later named the Merlin. Mitchell was already seriously ill, but persevered with putting everything into the design of a fighter he thought would make a vital contribution to the defence of his country as another war with Germany was already looking ominous. The new fighter was designated the Type 300 and was initially a private venture funded by parent company Vickers and under development at Woolston, though the Air Ministry soon saw its potential and issued a Left: RJ Mitchell (left), designer of the Supermarine Spitfire, seen with Sir Henry Royce whose Merlin engine provided the necessary power and reliability for the new fighter and many other wartime British aircraft. Via François Prins

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K5054 shows off its clean lines in this side-on profile view. A&AEE

contract for the construction of a prototype with a specification written around the design. As the design progressed, the type’s characteristic elliptical wings were developed as aerodynamicists worked on achieving an overall wing structure that was as thin as possible, but which could still accommodate the fighter’s guns.

TAKING FLIGHT

After ground runs had been satisfactorily completed at Woolston, the fighter was dismantled and trucked to the company’s airfield at Eastleigh (now Southampton Airport). It was given the serial number K5054. On 5 March 1936, Vickers’ chief test pilot Capt Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers took the fighter aloft. Over the following weeks further tests were carried out and in late May K5054 went to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath in Suffolk to begin RAF service trials. By this time the aircraft had gained its familiar all-over light blue paintwork. It lived up to all expectations and achieved a maximum speed of 349mph at 16,800ft – an order was placed for the first production batch of this new breed of all-metal fighter.

An A&AEE report dated September 1936 entitled ‘Handling trials of the Spitfire K-5054’ summarised its flying qualities thus: “The aeroplane is simple and easy to fly and has no vices. All controls are entirely satisfactory for this type and no modification to them is required, except that the elevator control might be improved by reducing the gear ratio between the control column and elevator. The controls are well harmonised and appear to give an excellent compromise between manoeuvrability and steadiness for shooting. Take-off and landing are straightforward and easy. “The aeroplane has rather a flat glide, even when the undercarriage and flaps are down and has a considerable float if the approach is made a little too flat. This defect could be remedied by fitting higher drag flaps. ‘In general the handling of this aeroplane is such that it can be flown without risk by the average fully trained service fighter pilot, but there can be no doubt that it would be improved by having flaps giving a higher drag.” On 11 June 1937, having given the development of the Spitfire his all despite deteriorating health, RJ Mitchell died aged 42. At the time K5054 was still the only airworthy Spitfire; its designer did not live to see the aircraft’s full potential put to use in

the defence of this country and its freedom. Supermarine’s Joseph Smith took over the further development of the type and made sure of its war-winning contribution. The prototype was later modified to be a more representative example of a production machine. Modifications included fitting eight Browning .303 machine-guns, progressively more powerful examples of the Merlin and a tailwheel rather than a simple skid; it also lost its pale blue colour scheme in favour of camouflage. It was not until 14 May 1938 that the first production Spitfire I, K9787, took to the air. K5054 was retained for continued testing until October that year, then sent to Farnborough, Hants, where it was heavily damaged in a fatal landing accident on 4 September 1939; ironically one day after the war for which it was designed had begun. !

Prototype Spitfire K5054, shown as configured in mid-May 1936. Juanita Franzi/Aero Illustrations © 2010 Supermarine Spitfire 9


P7’s new colours

Sqn Ldr Clive Rowley MBE RAF Ret’d tells the stor y behind the latest paint scheme applied to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Spitfire IIa P7350, which now represents QJ-K of 92 Squadron as flown by Pilot Officer Geoffrey Wellum in 1940.

W

hen he saw the enemy formation it looked like a swarm of gnats on a warm summer evening; hundreds of German Dornier Do 215 and Heinkel He 111 bombers with Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter escorts intent on attacking England. This was 19year-old Pilot Officer Geoffrey Wellum’s first taste of real combat; his mouth went dry and his heart leapt at this frightening but fascinating spectacle. He and his fellow 92

10 aviationclassics.co.uk

Squadron Spitfire pilots widened their formation and tore head-on into an attack against the lower layer of Dornier 215 bombers. Geoffrey opened fire and was sure he had scored hits against one Dornier; he only narrowly avoided a collision with it as he broke away. Now he had to fight his way through the escorting fighters, which had come roaring down from above to defend the bombers. Geoffrey fired at one and had to defend himself against another, which was shooting at him, by breaking hard towards it.

Geoffrey Wellum’s first combat occurred on 11 September 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain, just over a month after his 19th birthday, on a day when the Luftwaffe launched three large bombing raids against the south-east of England with London, Portsmouth and Southampton all being attacked. During the morning a major raid of some 250 enemy aircraft headed towards the Kent coast and inland towards Central London through the Biggin Hill Sector. "


P7350 wearing its newly applied QJ-K paint scheme in October 2009, shortly after its major overhaul by the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford. Andrea Featherby

Supermarine Spitfire 11


No.92 Squadron Spitfires at dispersal, including QJ-K. Via author

Portrait of Geoffrey Wellum. Via author

No.92 Squadron had been moved to Biggin Hill two days earlier from Pembrey in Wales, where it had been ‘rested’ after suffering heavy losses during the fierce aerial combats associated with the Dunkirk evacuation in May and early June 1940. The squadron had lost seven of its 16 pilots in its first two days of fighting over Dunkirk. While at Pembrey the unit had been given the chance to rebuild and to train new pilots, including Geoffrey Wellum, before being thrown back into battle. Biggin Hill became one of the most famous RAF fighter stations of all time and it was the Biggin Hill Sector that experienced some of the most ferocious fighting during the Battle of Britain. Although 92 Squadron was entering the fray towards the end of the

Battle, it was to win great renown throughout Fighter Command for its panache and vigour, not to mention its success – it would claim 127 enemy aircraft destroyed by December 1940. When he had arrived on 92 Squadron, then at Northolt, on 22 May 1940, Geoffrey Wellum had a grand total of 168 hours flying training behind him (including 95 hours solo) and he was still only 18 years and nine months old. Only just over a year earlier he had been a schoolboy and the captain of the school cricket team. He had never even seen a Spitfire close up, let alone flown one! The squadron’s ‘rest tour’ at Pembrey, which resulted from its heavy losses in the fighting over Dunkirk, had given him the chance to familiarise himself fully with flying the

Spitfire and with operational tactics, although there were still some shortcomings in the tactical training of RAF fighter pilots at this early stage of the war. In a recent conversation with the author, Geoffrey confided that no-one had ever really taught him how to use the reflector gun sight properly, otherwise, he said, he might have been more successful with his shooting! Nonetheless, this enforced period of additional training for Geoffrey before he was flung into combat may well have been the saving of him, although many other slices of luck also played their part in his survival. Indeed, he had already been fortunate to survive, unscathed, a night landing accident at Pembrey, which wrecked the Spitfire he was flying.

odds and was based on inspired technology, indomitable group spirit and great individual courage and heroism. The Battle of Britain turned the tide of World War Two in the Allies’ favour, but the cost was high. Almost 550 RAF aircrew lost their lives; many others were seriously injured. In addition, 23,000 British civilians were killed. The Luftwaffe lost around 1700 aircraft and an estimated 2600 aircrew. 2010 sees the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and the BBMF will be at the centrepoint of numerous commemorations and tributes to mark the occasion. Of course, having actually been used in combat during the Battle P7350 will be in high demand throughout the year, so the timing of this article is most apt highlighting the story behind its latest scheme. For more details about the Flight, including its history, aircraft and personnel, go online at: www.raf.mod.uk/bbmf

Photo: Jim Dooley

BATTLE OF BRITAIN The Battle of Britain, which raged in the skies over southern England between 10 July and 31 October 1940, was a dramatic turning point in the history of World War Two and a defining moment in world history. During these crucial months some 2900 RAF aircrew took part in an historic battle against the German Luftwaffe that was to become the only battle ever to be fought entirely in the air. The Allied fighter pilots involved in the Battle were to become known as ‘The Few’ after Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his famous speech on 20 August 1940 in which he said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” The RAF fighter pilots were supported by an amazing diversity of people on the ground, in and out of uniform, whose efforts and skills, courage and determination allowed the country to fight off a sustained assault by a numerically superior enemy determined to overthrow not just the British Isles but free and democratic processes everywhere. Victory in the Battle was won against incredible 12 aviationclassics.co.uk


An almost timeless study of the Spitfire IIa in the skies over England wearing a 1940 era identity. Andrea Featherby

FIRST COMBAT

Geoffrey Wellum’s first taste of action came when he was launched against an incoming raid as part of a squadron scramble from Biggin Hill. He was flying as wingman to Flt Lt Brian Kingcome, 92 Squadron’s acting commander. (The squadron lost two new COs within days of their arrival and Brian Kingcome led 92 temporarily in the absence of a substantive squadron commander). Geoffrey was flying Spitfire I K9998 coded QJ-K. This was the first Spitfire that he flew to convert to the type after he joined the squadron and by now it had become his personal aircraft. After the initial, frenetic engagement with the German bomber formation and its escorting fighters, Geoffrey became

separated from the other Spitfires and found himself apparently alone in his piece of the sky. Then he spotted a lone German Heinkel He 111 bomber well below him, moving fast between him and the coast, heading towards Dungeness. Without a second thought he dived towards the enemy aircraft. His height and speed advantage allowed him to quickly catch up with the German bomber and to set up a quarter-attack. Ignoring the return fire from the bomber’s gunners, he opened fire and saw his rounds striking the Heinkel, especially the port engine, which started to smoke. As he broke away under the bomber, three holes appeared in his port wing – some of the return fire was a little too close for comfort. Another quarter-to-stern attack from the starboard side of the bomber achieved "

Readiness during the Battle of Britain, with Geoffrey Wellum seen standing. Via author

No.92 SQUADRON Formed as a fighter unit in the latter stages of World War One on 1 September 1917, 92 Squadron moved to France and into action in July 1918. It was engaged in fighter and ground attack duties over the Western Front for the rest of the war, flying the Royal Aircraft Factory SE.5a, and being heavily involved in the Somme offensive of 1918. The squadron was disbanded in 1919. On 10 October 1939, 92 Squadron was reformed at Tangmere from a nucleus of Auxiliary Air Force and Volunteer Reserve pilots, initially being equipped with the

Lightnings of 92 Squadron. Via Martyn Chorlton

Bristol Blenheim If. In March 1940, while the squadron was based at Croydon, it was reequipped with Spitfire Mk.Is and became operational as a fighter unit on 9 May 1940, moving to Northolt. The squadron’s pilots were a cosmopolitan bunch, with two Canadians, a New Zealander, a South African and an Irishman among its numbers; as was normal on squadrons at that time, several of its pilots were NCOs. After taking heavy losses during the air fighting in support of the Dunkirk evacuation, 92 was moved to Pembrey in

June 1940, to rest and recuperate. The unit moved to Biggin Hill and back into the thick of the action on 9 September 1940. This famous airfield became its base for the remainder of the Battle of Britain and up to early 1942 as Fighter Command adopted a more offensive posture, conducting fighter sweep operations over enemy-occupied Europe. In February 1942, 92 Squadron was deployed to the Middle East where it flew fighter sweeps and bomber escort missions with Spitfires before moving to Tunisia and then on to Malta in June 1943. After operating from captured airfields in Sicily, the squadron moved on to Italy in September 1943, where it became a fighter-bomber unit in July 1944 for the rest of the war. No.92 disbanded in Austria on 30 December 1946. The squadron was reformed in 1947 and flew Gloster Meteors, North American Sabres and Hawker Hunters. In 1968 the unit moved to Germany flying the English Electric Lightning F.2/F.2A and McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2s, until it was disbanded again on 1 July 1991. Supermarine Spitfire 13


SPITFIRE IIa P7350 – HISTORY NOTES WARTIME " April 1938 Order for the batch of Spitfires that included P7350 placed with Castle Bromwich, Birmingham’s ‘shadow’ factory for aircraft production (now the Jaguar car factory). P7350 is believed to be the 14th of almost 12,000 Spitfires built there. " 18 August 1940 Test flown and then delivered to the RAF (to 6 MU Brize Norton for preservice inspection/fitment). " 6 September 1940 Issued to 266 (Rhodesia) Squadron at Wittering and then Hornchurch during the Battle of Britain – wore the code UO-T. " 17 October 1940 One of 13 Mk.IIa Spitfires transferred to 603 (City of Edinburgh) AuxAF Squadron at Hornchurch to replace the unit’s Mk.Is, the aircraft’s code letters being changed to XT-W. (No.603 Squadron was the top scoring fighter squadron during the Battle of Britain with 57 victories). " 25 Oct 1940 P7350 shot down. Squadron bounced by Bf 109s as they climbed out of cloud. P7350 was hit, a large hole appearing in its left wing. The pilot, Ludwik Martel, a Pole, was also hit in the left side of his body and legs by shrapnel from a cannon shell. He brought the aircraft back down through cloud, in pain, fighting to stay conscious and force-landed, wheels up, in a field near Hastings. Ludwik was hospitalised and did not fly again until 6 December by which time the Battle of Britain was over. P7350 was moved to 1 Civilian Repair Unit at Cowley, Oxford (the Morris Motors factory), on 31 October 1940 for repair. It was 1941 before it flew again. " March-December 1941 Operational flying with 616 Squadron at Tangmere and 64 Squadron at Hornchurch. " April 1942 Finished operational flying – issued to Central Gunnery School, Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire. " March 1943-July 1944 Training flying with 57 Operational Training Unit, Eshott, Northumberland. POST-WAR " July 1948 Sold for scrap for £25 to John Dale & Co. Saved and presented by them to the RAF Museum at Colerne. " 1968 P7350 made airworthy for flying in the film Battle of Britain. Flown to RAF Coltishall, Norfolk, in November 1968. Presented to the BBMF when filming complete. 14 aviationclassics.co.uk

more hits and the return fire from the gunners stopped. Eventually he had fired all of his 15 seconds of ammunition and his guns fell silent apart from the hiss of pneumatic pressure. He could only watch, fascinated, as the Heinkel lost height fast and was very definitely on fire. He felt sure that it was going down into the sea and would not survive the encounter. Suddenly his own aircraft was hit by cannon fire – frighteningly loud noises and explosions errupted behind him. He had been ‘bounced’ by an unseen German Bf 109 fighter while he was concentrating for too long on ‘his’ bomber target and now he had no ammunition left with which to fight back!

Heart racing and almost panicking as he tried to control his fear and the dismay he was feeling at his own stupidity, he broke hard into the tightest turn possible and commenced a fight for his life. The prolonged and hard-turning dogfight which ensued was extremely frightening and although, in reality, it probably lasted only a few minutes, it seemed to Geoffrey like ‘an age’. The German ‘109’ pilot was determined and skilful, but eventually, thanks to the Spitfire’s superb performance and turn rate, Geoffrey managed to extricate himself from what, moments earlier, had seemed like certain death. He raced back to Biggin Hill where he landed with numerous holes in the port wing

“…thanks to the Spitfire’s superb performance and turn rate, Geoffrey managed to extricate himself from what, moments earlier, had seemed like certain death.”

Spitfires of 92 Squadron at Pembrey in 1940. Via author


GEOFFREY WELLUM

'Against all Odds' is a painting by Philip E West of SWA Fine Art Publishers depicting Geoffrey Wellum's head-on encounter with a Dornier Do 215 on 11 September 1940 while flying Spitfire I K9998 QJ-K, which P7350 now represents. Courtesy SWA Fine Art Publishers/www.swafineart.com

and rear fuselage of his aircraft. He felt justified in claiming the Heinkel as a kill in his combat report. That was the last time that Geoffrey flew in Spitfire K9998 – his much-loved ‘K’ – which was clearly in need of some substantial repairs. He was given another Spitfire coded QJ-G that afternoon and this became his aircraft for the remainder of the Battle of Britain. K9998, which was one of the last of the original batch of Spitfires built at the Supermarine factory at Eastleigh, was subsequently repaired and later served with two different Operational Training Units, training new Spitfire pilots. It was wrecked by one of the pupils in August 1941 – the wing "

Born in Walthamstow on 14 August 1921, Geoffrey Wellum grew up in Essex, always dreaming of flying. At 17 years old, in his last year at school and six months before the war began, he applied to join the RAF.“I was a cocky little b……, a bit full of myself,” he says,“The Air Force soon knocked that out of me.” In 1939, two weeks after leaving school, Geoffrey was training with the RAF. Within a year he was sent to join his boyhood heroes in the hell-raising 92 Squadron. After his first combat in September 1940, Geoffrey Wellum flew throughout the remainder of the Battle of Britain and later completed over 50 fighter sweeps and escorts over northern France and Belgium, surviving in Fighter Command until August 1941, unlike many of his friends and colleagues who paid the ultimate price. In March 1942, after a rest tour, Geoffrey joined 65 Squadron as a Flight Commander. In August 1942, he led eight Spitfires off the aircraft carrier HMS Furious to reinforce the beleaguered island of Malta. After two years of near constant action, with dozens of colleagues killed or wounded, Geoffrey Wellum’s youthful enthusiasm had disappeared forever, replaced by a weary acceptance of death. He had begun to experience sharp waves of pain across his forehead when, soon after arriving in Malta, his health collapsed and a doctor told him he was ‘played out mentally and physically’. He was only 21 years old and his fighting days were over. He was sent home; ‘casevaced’ to use modern parlance.

Geoffrey Wellum DFC in the cockpit of P7350 in October 2009, wearing the newly applied QJ-K code of his Battle of Britain era Spitfire I. RAF Coningsby Photographic Section/Crown Copyright He recovered, though, to become a test pilot at Glosters, testing Hawker Typhoons, and then became a gunnery instructor, staying on in the RAF after the war until 1961. He is now known worldwide after the publication of his widely acclaimed and beautifully written book First Light, a memoir of his wartime experiences, which was first published in 2002 and which became a best seller.

P7350 breaks earthwards in an autumnal skyscape in October 2009. Andrea Featherby

Supermarine Spitfire 15


P7350 undergoing its major maintenance in the ARC workshop at Duxford during August 2009. It returned to flight in October 2009. Jarrod Cotter

MAJOR MAINTENANCE AT ARC DUXFORD The Aircraft Restoration Company (ARC) based at Duxford near Cambridge won a contract in 2007 for five years with an option to extend to seven years for the major maintenance of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight fighters, awarded after a competitive tender process. BBMF Spitfire IIa P7350 was delivered to ARC in October 2008. The extensive work carried out by ARC during this ‘major’ maintenance programme has given the world’s oldest airworthy Spitfire a new lease of life in the air for at least another 50 years. Among the refurbishment work carried out, both wings were re-sparred and the wing carry-through spar was replaced. Several wing skin panels were also replaced to deal with corrosion and to remove previous repairs (unfortunately, the wing skin panels with legacy repairs, which were rumoured to have been battle damage repairs from 1940, had to be replaced with new skin panels). In addition, the fuselage was stripped of its skin panels, all the gloss white paint that had coated the inside was removed and four or five of the fuselage skin panels were replaced to remove previous repairs. In all some 40-50 per cent of the aircraft’s skin panels have been replaced. The fuel tanks were also replaced. All of this work will keep this historic and irreplaceable aircraft flying for very many years to come. Although some of the aircraft’s originality has been sacrificed it retains its authentic appearance and, most importantly, airworthiness, in keeping with the BBMF’s philosophy – not necessarily original but authentic and airworthy. For more on the work of ARC turn to pages 103-110. 16 aviationclassics.co.uk

dropped on landing, the aircraft cartwheeled and the extensive damage meant that its flying days were over for good.

K9998 ‘RESURRECTION’

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Spitfire IIa P7350 is the oldest airworthy Spitfire in the world and the only one flying today that actually flew and fought in the Battle of Britain. Between October 2008 and September 2009 the aircraft underwent a major maintenance programme, conducted by the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford, during which it was repainted to

represent Spitfire K9998 QJ-K, Geoffrey Wellum’s mount on the morning of 11 September 1940 during his first taste of aerial combat and his ‘blooding’ as a fighter pilot. Geoffrey was eventually officially credited with three enemy aircraft destroyed, four ‘probables’ and several damaged. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in July 1941. He was just one of the many fighter pilots who played their own valiant part during World War Two, paying the price for their courage in a variety of ways; many of them making the ultimate sacrifice. All of them deserve our unstinting gratitude. !

The accurate Battle of Britain era camouflage paintwork of P7350 caught over the English countryside. Andrea Featherby Editor’s note: The author of this article, Sqn Ldr Clive Rowley MBE RAF Ret’d, has leaned heavily on Geoffrey Wellum’s own account of this, his first combat during the Battle of Britain, contained in Geoffrey’s autobiographical book ‘First Light’. Geoffrey has seen Clive’s version and has confirmed its accuracy and given it his blessing. Clive has two significant advantages over most writers

in penning this story. Firstly, as an RAF fighter pilot flying Hawker Hunters, English Electric Lightnings and Panavia Tornado F3s for some 30 years, he has a fighter pilot’s understanding of air combat. Secondly, he accumulated over 500 hours of flying Spitfires and Hurricanes with the BBMF between 1996 and 2006, including two years as Officer Commanding.


“He was just one of the many fighter pilots who played their own valiant part during World War Two, paying the price for their courage in a variety of ways; many of them making the ultimate sacrifice.”

Sqn Ldr Al Pinner MBE puts ‘P7’ through its paces and shows off the type's characteristic elliptical wings to great effect. Jim Dooley

Supermarine Spitfire 17

Aviation Classics 3 Supermarine Spitfire preview  

Aviation Classics 3 Supermarine Spitfire preview

Aviation Classics 3 Supermarine Spitfire preview  

Aviation Classics 3 Supermarine Spitfire preview