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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 139059
Last updated: 22 August 2020
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Date:23-MAY-1940
Time:09:00 LT
Type:Silhouette image of generic SPIT model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Supermarine Spitfire Mk I
Owner/operator:92 (East India) Squadron Royal Air Force (92 (East India) Sqn RAF)
Registration: P9374
C/n / msn: 557
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Waldam Beach near Calais, Pas de Calais, Department de Nord -   France
Phase: Combat
Nature:Military
Departure airport:RAF Hornchurch, Essex
Destination airport:
Narrative:
Spitfire P9374 was one of a batch of 138 Spitfires built under Air Ministry contract at Supermarine’s Woolston works and delivered to the RAF on 2 March 1940 before arriving at 92 Squadron at RAF Croydon four days later. At that time this famous fighter squadron was engaged on Home Defence duties.

The squadron’s aircraft carried the fuselage identity letters ‘GR’ with P9374 being allocated the individual identity letter: ‘J’. Thus, this particular Spitfire became GR-J / P9374. The Merlin III engine installed in P9374 was built at Rolls-Royce, Derby, on 27 October 1939 – tested on 2 November 1939 – with a delivery date of 6 November 1939 when it was dispatched to 14 Maintenance Unit, RAF Carlisle.

During Spitfire P9374’s service with 92 Squadron it is known to have been flown by at least eight different pilots, including Sergeants Barraclough, Eyles and Fokes, Pilot Officers Bryson, Saunders and Williams and Flight Lieutenant Green. It was Pilot Officer Williams, however, who ‘blooded’ P9374 in action on 23 May when he claimed a Me 110 destroyed over the French coast.

Additionally, it is almost certain to have been flown at some stage by the Commanding Officer of 92 Squadron, Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, later ‘Big X’ of the Great Escape fame. Another man who piloted P9374 was Flying Officer Peter Cazenove who was flying the aircraft on 24 May 1940 in what was his first and last combat sortie of the war. Records show that P9374 had a total flight time of 32 hours and 5 minutes at the time of its loss.

Flying from RAF Hornchurch in Essex, 92 Squadron was covering operations on the ground in what would ultimately see the fall of Calais to German troops. During this early morning sortie P9374 was hit by what is thought to have been a single bullet fired from a Dornier 17-Z bomber which holed the Spitfire’s coolant system. With an overheating engine, and with no realistic hope of returning across the English Channel, Cazenove made a wheels-up forced landing at low tide on the beach near Calais.

Before executing what was a perfect belly-landing Peter Cazenove had radioed that he was OK, adding, ‘Tell mother I’ll be home for tea!’ From where he had landed he made his way into Calais town and fought a rear-guard action with the army before the town eventually fell to the attackers and he was taken as a POW.

During his time as prisoner Cazenove made several escape attempts but was later incarcerated at Stalag Luft III from where the Great Escape was mounted. Cazenove became involved in forging documents for the escapers, but of the many scheduled to break out of the tunnel he was last on the list. His physical size led to fears that he would become stuck in the tunnel, but this may well have saved his life as the escape was discovered before Cazenove’s turn came. Of those who escaped and were recaptured, 50 were executed by the Gestapo. Among them was Cazenove’s CO, Roger Bushell, who had been shot down and taken prisoner on 23 May 1940.

The occupying Germans did not attempt to recover the wreck of P9374 and on successive tides the Spitfire sunk deeper into the sands until it had vanished from sight. Its re-emergence in September 1980 is thought to have been the result of nearby sand dredging related to the operation of cross-channel hovercraft.

After a four-year rebuild, the completed aircraft was first flown at Duxford on 1 September 2011. In July 2015, P9374 was sold at auction at Christie's (and with premiums and taxes) the final price paid was £3,106,500. It has also been allocated the civil registration G-MKIA to allow it to fly at air displays.

Sources:

1. Royal Air Force Aircraft P1000-P9999 (James J Halley, Air Britain, 1978 p 52)
2. National Archives (PRO Kew) File AIR 81/522: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C14502143
3. http://www.airhistory.org.uk/spitfire/p008.html
4. https://www.christies.com/spitfire/interactive/index.html
5. http://francecrashes39-45.net/page_fiche_av.php?id=6619
6. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3155260/Spitfire-faithfully-restored-40-years-buried-French-beach-sells-world-record-3-1million-fee-auction-proceeds-going-charity.html
7. https://www.aircraftrestorationcompany.com/mk1s
8. https://www.rafbf.org/news-and-blogs/story-behind-restoration-spitfire-p9374
9. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/goodwood-revival/8753919/A-rare-Spitfire-Mark-I-takes-to-the-skies-once-more.html
10. https://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/heritage/spitfire-takes-to-the-skies-71-years-after-leaving-hornchurch-raf-1-1015649
11. http://francecrashes39-45.net/recits_avions/p9374a.pdf (French text)
12. https://www.lavoixdunord.fr/archive/recup/region/calais-restaure-l-avion-de-chasse-retrouve-sur-la-ia33b48581n2805847 (French text)
13. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-33472028
14. https://forum.keypublishing.com/forum/historic-aviation/145495-spitfire-p9374-heading-stateside


Related books:

Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
08-Oct-2011 11:28 ThW Added
20-Dec-2011 14:59 angels one five Updated [Cn, Operator, Source, Narrative]
25-Dec-2011 05:30 Nepa Updated [Aircraft type, Operator, Location, Source, Narrative]
16-Jan-2012 14:02 Nepa Updated [Operator, Source]
04-Nov-2012 19:59 angels one five Updated [Aircraft type, Cn, Location, Source, Narrative]
10-Aug-2019 21:42 Dr. John Smith Updated [Time, Other fatalities, Location, Source, Embed code, Narrative]

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