Almost 75 years after it crashed on the beaches of Calais in the Battle of France, Spitfire P9374 is once again making history. One of only two remaining Mk. 1 models restored to the original specification and still flying, the aircraft will be auctioned by Christie's in July to benefit the RAF Benevolent Fund and other charities. Mike Neville, the charity's Director of Fundraising, tells us more about the aircraft, its pilot, and this very generous support.
In May, 1940, France was desperately trying to stop the German advance and the RAF had taken to the skies in assistance. Just days before the Battle of Dunkirk began, Flying Officer Peter Cazenove of 92 Squadron took the controls of Spitfire P9374 and flew across the Channel from RAF Croydon, engaging with the enemy.
Struck by a single bullet from a Dornier 17-Z Bomber, the aircraft’s cooling system failed and its overheating engine forced FO Cazenove to belly-land on the low tide sand beach of Calais.
"Tell mother I'll be home for tea!" FO Cazenove radioed back before the landing. But this was not to be. The pilot escaped the aircraft, fought with the British army in the battle of Calais, and was ultimately taken as a Prisoner of War.
Peter was imprisoned at Stalag Luft III during the latter years of the war with the commanding officer of 92 Squadron and the Great Escape mastermind Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, who almost certainly flew Spitfire P9374 as well.
"I wonder what happened to my Spitfire and I wonder if anyone will ever find it?" wondered Peter Cazenove, shortly before his death in 1980.
He was never to know that his Spitfire would emerge from the sands in September of that same year.
While P9374 emerged largely intact, it would be another twenty-five years or so until the aircraft passed into the hands of American Tom Kaplan and his friend and partner Simon Marsh.
It was their vision to restore the Spitfire to its original specifications, a project they entrusted to the Aircraft Restoration Company / Historic Flying Ltd. at Duxford. Considered to be the most authentic restoration of a Mk. 1 Spitfire to date, the aircraft returned to flight in September 2011.
The RAF Benevolent Fund is simply astounded at Mr Kaplan's incredible generosity. The restoration alone is such a fitting tribute to the iconic aircraft that helped RAF pilots beat back the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.
In auctioning the Spitfire and donating a portion of the proceeds, Mr Kaplan will help the RAF Benevolent Fund continue to support the entire RAF family – from those remaining veterans of the Battle of Britain to those serving today. We are so grateful to him.
The beautifully restored aircraft will fly this summer at the VE Day Anniversary Air Show at IWM Duxford on 23-24 May before going on public display at the Churchill War Rooms on 4-9 July. Christie's Exceptional Sale will take place on Thursday, 9 July 2015 at 5pm in London.
In addition to the auction of Spitfire P9374, Mr Kaplan is also donating restored Spitfire N3200 to the Imperial War Museum Duxford.