Spitfire MK356 (Mk LFIXe)
Built at Castle Bromwich, Spitfire LFIX MK356 was allocated to the newly-formed 443 ‘Hornet’ Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force at RAF Digby, Lincolnshire, in March 1944. MK356 soon moved with 144 Wing to Holmsley, near Bournemouth, then to Westhampnett (now Goodwood) and later to Ford in Sussex. On 14 April 1944 ‘MK’ flew its first operational mission as part of a ‘Rodeo’ fighter sweep over occupied France, piloted by 20-year-old Canadian, Flying Officer ‘Gord’ Ockenden, who flew 19 ‘ops’ in the aircraft. From then on, MK356 was involved in fighter sweeps and in attacking ground targets by dive bombing and strafing in the lead-up to the ‘D-Day’ invasion and in support of the landings and fierce fighting afterwards. In 60 days of furious flying and fighting, ‘MK’ flew 60 operational sorties, was damaged by enemy fire on three occasions and suffered three ‘wheels-up’ landings. On D-Day+1 (7 June 1944) during a beachhead cover patrol in MK356, ‘Gord’ Ockenden’s flight engaged four ME Bf 109Gs “on the deck”. He fired at one of the ‘109’s and saw his rounds hitting the enemy aircraft. His wingman finished it off and each pilot was credited with a half share of the kill. On 14 June 1944 the aircraft’s third ‘wheels-up’ landing of the war ended its short but intense operational life, as the next day the Squadron moved to airfield ‘B-3’ in France and ‘MK’ was left behind to be collected and stored by a maintenance unit.
Post war, MK356 was used as an instructional airframe at RAF Halton until 1951, and then for the next 17 years was a ‘gate guardian’ at Hawkinge, Bicester, Locking and Henlow. ‘MK’ featured as a static airframe in the epic film “Battle of Britain” in 1968 and then joined the RAF Museum Reserve Collection. In January 1992 a complete restoration to airworthy status was begun by a team from St Athan. The refurbishment was completed in November 1997 when the aircraft flew again for the first time in 53 years, subsequently joining the BBMF.
MK356 is presented as ‘UF-Q’ (MJ250) of 601 (County of London) Squadron, AuxAF. Unusually, this aircraft was finished in a silver, natural metal finish. 601 Squadron conducted ground attack, dive-bombing and strafing, operations in support of the Eighth Army’s advance up through Italy, as well as some bomber escort sorties. The silver Spitfire was often flown by Flt Lt Desmond ‘Ibby’ Ibbotson DFC*. Tragically, ‘Ibby’ was killed on a test flight in another Spitfire, which crashed close to Assisi, Italy, in November 1944, one month after his 23rd birthday. MJ250 survived the war but was then scrapped.
To read the full story of ‘Ibby’ Ibbotson, 601 Squadron and Spitfire operations in Italy in 1944, click here…
Header Image: ( Larger size) Spitfire MK356 in flight
Image 1: ( Larger size) Fg Off Gorden Ockenden from the Royal Canadian Air Force
Image 2: ( Larger size) Spitfire MK356