Spitfire P7350 (Mk IIa)
Spitfire Mk IIa P7350 was the fourteenth of 11,939 Spitfires which were eventually built at the Castle Bromwich ‘Shadow’ factory, although it was not, in fact, the fourteenth to fly or be delivered to the RAF. Test flown by famous test pilot Alex Henshaw in August 1940, it was taken on charge by the RAF on 13 August and was delivered, by Henshaw, to No 6 Maintenance Unit (MU) at Brize Norton four days later, for the fitting of operational equipment.
With the Battle of Britain at its height, P7350 was allocated to No 266 Squadron at Wittering on 6 September 1940 and given the code letters ‘UO-T’. Subsequently 266 Squadron moved to Martlesham Heath and then to Collyweston taking P7350 with them. Then, on 17 October 1940, P7350 was one of 13 Mk IIa Spitfires transferred to No 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron (AuxAF) at Hornchurch. The aircraft’s code letters were changed to 603 Squadron codes; the individual aircraft letter is not definitely known, but the best guess is that P7350 was coded ‘XT-W’. On 25 October, whilst being flown by Polish pilot Ludwik Martel, P7350 was shot down by a German Bf109. A cannon shell punched a large hole in the port wing and Martel was wounded by shrapnel in the left side of his body and legs. Despite his injuries Martel managed to fly the aircraft down through 16,000 feet of thick cloud, in pain and fighting to stay conscious, to force land in a field near Hastings.
P7350 was dispatched to No 1 Civilian Repair Unit at Cowley on 31 October, where it was repaired. On 7 December it was ready for collection and was flown to No 37 M.U. at Burtonwood, Lancashire, for service preparation and storage.
The Spitfire’s next operational unit was No 616 (County of South Yorkshire) Squadron (AuxAF), based at Tangmere, to which it was issued on 18 March 1941. Then on 10 April it was transferred to No 64 Squadron at Hornchurch. With these units P7350 flew on fighter sweeps over occupied Europe as Fighter Command went on the offensive during 1941. Having seemingly incurred damage from an unknown incident, possibly a landing accident, in August 1941 P7350 was with Scottish Aviation Ltd at Prestwick for overhaul and repair. It was flown to No 37 M.U. again on 29 January 1942.
With higher-performance, better-armed versions of the Spitfire now available, the time had come to withdraw the Mk II Spitfires from operational flying and, on 27 April 1942, P7350 was issued to the Central Gunnery School at Sutton Bridge, near Kings Lynn. Here it spent the next 10 months, suffering another Category B accident (beyond repair on site) on 4 February 1943 and being transferred to Air Services Training Ltd at Hamble for repairs. These repairs were completed by 20 March and, after passing through No 6 M.U. at Brize Norton again, it was issued to No 57 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at Eshott, Northumberland. The next twelve months of its use as a training machine were uneventful, but on 22 April 1944 another Spitfire taxied into P7350, causing further Category B damage, which once again saw it at Air Services Training Ltd for repairs. After repair the Spitfire was placed in storage at No 39 M.U. Colerne.
Having survived all its wartime adventures P7350 was declared surplus to requirements by the Air Ministry in 1947 and in1948 it was sold as scrap to Messrs John Dale and Sons Ltd, who paid the princely sum of £25 for the now-priceless Spitfire. On realising the historical importance of this venerable aircraft, the company generously presented it to RAF Colerne as a museum piece, where it remained until 1967.
The making of the movie ‘Battle of Britain’ saw Spitfire P7350 emerge from 20 years of dormancy when it was selected to fly in the film. It was delivered to No 71 M.U. at Henlow on 3 March 1967 to be overhauled to airworthy standard and on 20 May 1968 it was flown to Duxford for use in aerial sequences in the film.
After filming for the movie was complete, P7350 was allocated to the Battle of Britain Flight, being flown to the Flight’s base at Coltishall by Squadron Leader Tim Mills on 5 November 1968. It has served with the BBMF ever since, the only airworthy Spitfire from the Battle of Britain, a much admired survivor and precious artefact of British aviation history and of the RAF’s wartime heritage.
P7350 is currently presented as Spitfire Mk 1a N3162 of No 41 Squadron, coded ‘EB-G’, the aircraft flown by the top-scoring Battle of Britain fighter ace Eric Lock on 5 September 1940, when he destroyed 3 enemy aircraft in a single sortie.
To read the remarkable and largely unknown story of Eric Lock DSO DFC and Bar, click here.
Header Image: Spitfire P7350 approaching to land (Photographer: Craig Sluman).
Image 1: Polish Pilot Ludwik Martel.
Image 2: Spitfire P7 EB-G on grass at Goodwood in 2011 (Photographer: Mick Dodsworth).