There is no doubt a Warbird everyone loves to see and hear is a Supermarine Spitfire. The sound is quite unique, especially the Merlin engine variants. Spitfire aircraft are elegant and aesthetically beautiful examples of the designer’s art. So the eventual inclusion of two more Spitfires on the Australian Warbird scene is cause for excitement.
The Supermarine Spitfire was not as operationally significant to Australia as it was to the UK. Spitfires were supplied to Australia in large numbers during WWII (mainly the Mk V and Mk IIIV) and did see service throughout the Pacific. There is no ignoring the Spitfires pedigree, but in the RAAF context the hard yards had been done by the Curtiss P40 and later the fighter role was largely inherited by the North American Aircraft (NAA) and CAC built Mustang/P51. A large number of Spitfires remained in service and in storage at the end of WW11, however the RAAF had decided to standardize on the Mustang and almost overnight all existing Spitfires were retired and most soon scrapped.
In modern times many Spitfire remains and identities have been exported from Australia, mainly to the UK where there is a thriving industry rebuilding them for the Warbird market.
As they are a rare breed here, Warbird enthusiasts in Australia are very excited when the prospect of a new Spitfire on the scene emerges. There are currently two Spitfires on the Australian register in flying condition, both owned by the Temora Aviation Museum (TAM), Mk VIII VH-HET formally rebuilt and operated by Col Pay at Scone and the ex-New Zealand restored Mk XVI VH-XVI Military S/N: TB863.
There are a number of current restorations to flying condition of Spitfires in Australia and two are located at Pay’s Air Service of Scone, NSW.
It was Col Pay who acquired and rebuilt Spitfire Mk VIII A58-758 VH-HET, an ex RAAF example in 1982 for his Warbird collection. It was eventually sold to TAM in 2000 after it had been extensively displayed around Australia by Col and had become universally known as “The Pay Spitfire”. This was the first Spitfire to fly in Australia since WWII. Sadly Col Pay, the founder of the collection passed away in an accident in December 2007. Since that time the oversight of the Warbird legacy passed to Col’s son Ross Pay, who has a real passion for the aircraft.
Spitfire Mk IX MH603
Ross has always been keen to have a Spitfire back in the fleet since Mk VIII VH-HET was sold to Temora Aviation Museum (TAM). In 2009 that wish was fulfilled with the acquisition of Spitfire Mk IX MH603. Spitfire Mk IX’s did not operate in Australia, however many RAAF pilots flew the type in the RAF.
The Spitfire, with construction number CBAF.IX.5589, was built in 1943 at Castle Bromwich UK. The aircraft, now serialed MH603 was delivered to 39 Maintenance Unit (MU) 15-10-43. It then passed on to 405 Repair and Salvage Unit (ARF) Croydon on 25-10-43. The aircraft was then issued to 331(Norwegian) Squadron a on 3-1-44 and served operationally coded” FN-B”, then moved to 274 Squadron coded as ‘JJ-K’ on 2-6-44, where it was flown by W/O.S.G.Barker . The Spitfire is then recorded as going to Fighter Leaders School FLS Millfield on 21-8-44 and then to the Central Fighter Establishment (CFE) Tangmere on 1-6-45. Following its operational service the aircraft passed through a number of training and maintenance units. Post war in 1949 the Spitfire was sold to the South African Air Force and following retirement in 1955 passed on to South African Metal & Machinery Co, Salt River, Cape Town as scrap until the hulk was purchased in 1980.
In 1983 the aircraft’s hulk was recorded back in the UK with Steve Atkins of Oxford, and then in 1989 the aircraft is recorded as being with John Sykes, Oxford, UK. In 1993 the Spitfire is recorded as being in the USA with Joe Scogna/ Vintage Air, Yardley PA. In 1993 until 2008 the aircraft was a project at Fort Collins CO and in 2008 it was acquired by Provenance Fighter Sales and sold to Pay’s in 2009. Workloads and extensive structural work required on the aircraft have taken time but the Spitfire has made good progress recently. The wings now largely completed as well as the fuselage and tail assembly. Ross was positive about its completion, however as with all restorations it will be finished when it’s finished and no end date has been set. This new Spitfire will be a real draw card to Pay’s collection. Further work has been done following the original restoration work and the aircraft is in excellent condition. MH603 will be completed in one of her wartime color schemes.
Spitfire MK IX BS548
A recent revelation whilst speaking to Ross was his disclosure that he has acquired another Spitfire, MK IX BS548 from Europe and that work on it will commence soon, although this will be a long term restoration. The remains of this aircraft were recovered in France from a crash site in 2012 and will require a complete rebuild. It is Ross’s intention to rebuild Spitfire BS548 as a dual seat Tr 9 to allow for dual instruction and to provide for joy flights. The rebuild will be completed with the “Grace Spitfire” type of canopy configuration rather than the original bubble canopy. The fuselage of this aircraft will be constructed in the UK, whilst the wings and the rest of the aircraft will be finished at Scone.
Spitfire IX BS548 was last flown by famous French pilot Lieutenant Claude Raoul-Duval of 341 ‘Alsace’ Squadron on 17 April 1943 when it was shot down near Tancarville, France by Fw Herbert Gumprecht of 11/JG2. BS548 dived into reclaimed marshland and was completely buried. Fortunately, Claude Raoul-Duval went on to have a distinguished career in the RAF and was even present at the excavation of BS548 in 2012. Claude authored a book ‘Ciel de Sable’ (Sky of Sand) about his service in Libya and Egypt in 1942 at which time he was credited with a Ju88 being shot down. The aircraft was previously with 340 Free French Sqn ‘Ile de France ‘then spent some time with Royal Canadian air Force (RCAF) 402 Sqn and then went back to 340 and later to 341 Sqn.
No.341 Squadron was established on 15 January 1943 at Turnhouse, Scotland, 11 miles west of Edinburgh and was largely composed of personnel of the Free French, which had previously operated in the Western Desert. Equipped with Spitfires, 341 moved to Biggin Hill in March 1943 and were involved in “big wing” sweeps over France.
There are very few collections of Warbirds in the world that can claim a single and two-seat Spitfire in their ranks and even fewer that have rebuilt both in house. The eventual inclusion of these two Spitfires in this iconic Australian collection will be a milestone in the Warbird movement in Australia.
© John Parker 2014
Recovery images and those of Lieutenant Claude Raoul-Duval kindly supplied by Jeff Carless /Aviation Archaeology UK.