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.
Spitfire MK356 is now painted to represent Spitfire Mk IXc ML214, coded ‘5J-K’, the personal aircraft of Squadron Leader ‘Johnny’ Plagis, the Commanding Officer of No 126 Squadron from July 1944. Plagis named all of his personal Spitfires after his sister ‘Kay’ (Katrina) and ML214 bore her name on the port side above two scrolls displaying 16 swastikas - his kill markings. The aircraft is painted with black and white invasion stripes on the underside of the wings and rear fuselage. For some unknown reason, certain fighter units of the UK-based No 10 Group, Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB), painted non-standard, narrower stripes on their aircraft (nine inches wide instead of the standard eighteen) and this was how the 126 Squadron Spitfires were marked.
To read the full background of the colour scheme of MK356 and to find out more about ‘Johnny’ Plagis, join the Official RAF Memorial Flight Club and receive the BBMF 2014 Yearbook which tells the story.
Header Image: Spitfire MK356 (Richard Paver)
Image 1: Fg Off Gordon Ockenden RCAF (flew MK356 on D-Day 1944)
Image 2: MK356 invasion stripes (Richard Paver)