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Spitfire

Spitfire

Spitfire Mk1 Dunkirk Veteran

P9374 left the factory on the 2nd of March 1940 and was flown to No.9 Maintenance Unit for final checks before going on to 92 Squadron, based at Duxford, England. 92 Squadron went to war, but on the first sortie P9374 stayed on the ground. Bushell led twelve pilots off at 10.45 hours to patrol from Boulogne to Dunkirk. Here they met the aggressive Messerschmitt Bf109 pilots from I. /JG 27 and a vicious fight ensued. Pilot Officer Pat Learmond went down in flames as the Bf109s hit them, and then it was every man for him as the Spitfire formation broke up. Both sides overclaimed heavily; the relatively inexperienced RAF pilots claimed two destroyed and four more 'unconfirmed' while I. /JG 27 claimed three Spitfires. Pat Learmond was the sole casualty from either side. At 17.20 hours they were off again, this time with Pilot Officer Desmond Williams flying P9374. Off Boulogne, they sighted a mass of twin-engined aircraft that were quickly identified as Messerschmitt Bf110s. The German fighters dived on them from above and Bushell broke the squadron hard to port. The Bf110s charged through them, cannon and machine-guns blazing. P9374 had been truly bloodied. Williams returned, claiming one Bf110 destroyed and two 'possibles'. It is not known whether his first two opponents were credited, as 'unconfirmed destroyed' or 'damaged', but it was likely that it was the latter. When the battle was over, Roger Bushell was gone, as was Sergeant Paul Klipsch and Flying Officer J.Gillies. Bushell and Gillies became prisoners-of-war. Paul Klipsch was, like Learmond, dead. But 92 Squadron had claimed a total of seven destroyed, four unconfirmed, and four damaged (including Williams' claims), plus two Ju88s destroyed. Flight Lieutenant Bob Tuck's aircraft had been badly shot and Pilot Officer Tony Bartley's had received some hits, as had Flight Lieutenant Charles Green's. 92 Squadron was stood down until the early morning of the 24th. At 08.05 hours, they were scrambled to patrol between Calais and Dunkirk. Flight Lieutenant Bob Tuck, now promoted to Acting Squadron Leader following the loss of Roger Bushell, was leading, and Pilot Officer Peter Cazenove was flying P9374, with another squadron pilot, Tony Bartley, leading one of the sections of that flight. Despite being quite intact, and still looking very much like a Spitfire, the challenges of recovery, preservation, conservation and restoration are clearly apparent in this side view of P9374. One of those pilots flying in Tony Bartley's section had been Peter Cazenove and the bombers they had intercepted were, in fact, Dornier 17-Zs of I./KG 77. Whilst the Spitfires had luckily avoided the fighter escort the gunners on board the Dorniers were putting up a spirited defence, with Tuck describing how the gunners "blazed defiance" and "laid on a heavy crossfire". It was into this defensive crossfire that Cazenove gamely followed Tony Bartley, and whilst Bartley's Spitfire was hit it was not mortally damaged. Exactly what happened to P9374 we cannot be absolutely certain, although it is reasonable to assume that Cazenove's Spitfire took hits from the Dornier gunners, probably disabling the engine. It only took a single round in the wrong place to cripple the fuel supply, wreck the oil pressure or to knock out the cooling system. Certainly, it would appear that nothing major from a structural point of view had affected the Spitfire and it could clearly still fly under control -- although Cazenove had obviously decided a return across the Channel or back to Hornchurch was out of the question. Below him lay a wide, flat and open expanse of sand with the tide far out. Fortunately, this was a little to the south of the evacuation beaches, and thus he had a clear landing site to head for. Wheels up, he skidded across the beach throwing up a great arc of sand and water as his windmilling propellor kissed the surface, bending under impact as the radiator and oil cooler scoops dug into the wet surface. The Spitfire finally came to a halt not far away from the Phare de Walde light tower. Copyright © 2012 Malcolm Auld This video and audio material may not be reproduced in any form (except as an embedded video on any other website), without written permission.

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