Spitfire P7350 (Mk IIa)
Spitfire P7350 is the oldest airworthy Spitfire in the world and the only Spitfire still flying to have actually fought in the Battle of Britain. Believed to be the 14th of 11,989 Spitfires built at the Castle Bromwich ‘shadow’ factory in Birmingham, ‘P7’ entered service in August 1940. After serving initially with 266 Squadron at Wittering and Hornchurch at the height of the Battle of Britain, it was one of 13 Mk IIa Spitfires that were then transferred to 603 (City of Edinburgh) AuxAF Squadron at Hornchurch on 17 October 1940, to replace the Squadron’s older Mk 1s.
On 25 October 1940, whilst with 603 Squadron, ‘P7’ was damaged in a combat with German ME Bf 109s and by the subsequent forced landing. The aircraft was hit by cannon fire in the left wing and the pilot, Ludwik Martel (a Pole) was wounded by shrapnel in the left side of his body and legs. He fought the aircraft back down through cloud, in pain and fighting to stay conscious, and forced landed, wheels up, in a field near Hastings. Ludwik did not fly again until 6 December 1940. It was 1941 before ‘P7’ was operational again after repair at the No1 Civilian Repair Unit at Cowley, Oxford (run by Morris Motors).
‘P7’ subsequently served operationally with 616 Squadron at Tangmere and 64 Squadron at Hornchurch, flying on fighter sweeps over occupied France as Fighter Command went on the offensive in 1941. In April 1942 ‘P7’ was withdrawn from operational flying and relegated to support duties serving with the Central Gunnery School at Sutton Bridge and 57 OTU at Eshott, Northumberland, before ending its wartime career at 19 MU. During the War, ‘P7’ is believed to have suffered damage in three ‘Cat B’ flying accidents (at Hornchurch, Sutton Bridge and Eshott), being repaired each time.
Having survived all its wartime adventures, ‘P7’ was sold for scrap in July 1948 to Messrs. John Dale & Co Ltd for the princely sum of £25. Fortunately the historical significance of the aircraft was recognised and it was saved and generously donated to the RAF Museum at Colerne.
Restored to flying condition in 1968 for the epic film ‘Battle of Britain’, she was subsequently presented to the BBMF after filming was complete.
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).