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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 87344
Last updated: 4 September 2020
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Type:Silhouette image of generic SPIT model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Supermarine Spitfire Mk IA
Owner/operator:19 Squadron Royal Air Force (19 Sqn RAF)
Registration: K9858
C/n / msn: 75
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:RAF Horsham St Faith, Norfolk, England -   United Kingdom
Phase: Take off
Departure airport:RAF Horsham St Faith
Destination airport:
19 Sqn RAF flew Gauntlet IIs until it received a first batch of Spitfire during the summer of 1939, the last Gauntlet being finally replaced in February 1939. One of the main complaints of the pilots about their new fighter was the extraordinary long take-off roll the fighter boasted with the original fixed-pitch two-bladed wooden propeller, particularly when compared with the nimble and light Gauntlet. The propeller had been optimised to give its best performance at both high speed and medium to high altitude. Duxford, where 19 Sqn was based, only had a grass strip that was 800 to 900 yards long, and to further compound the squadron’s initial problems, there was no wind of any note to assist the take-offs between the delivery of the two first Spitfires in early August and late September.

The pilots had to resort to taxying as near to the leeward hedge as possible. The brakes were then applied whilst they opened the throttle flat out, and one the RPM gauge was showing constant revs, the brakes were released and the Spitfire began its seemingly endless take-off run. Even with this time-consuming pre-flight procedure, which would have been totally impractical in a proper wartime scramble, the fighter barley cleared the hawthorn hedge at the far end of the grass strip.

Fortunately, Supermarine were quick to realise that their product was being hindered by such a device, and the interim de Havilland two-pitch ’bracket’ type propeller was adpoted, although this in turn brought with it problems, with pilots forgetting to select fine pitch for take-off on the cockpit control box above the throttle and duly running out of airfield - the Spitfire accelerated too slowly in coarse pitch to achieve take-off speed.

One such accident directly attributable to wrong pitch selection befell no less an RAF legend than Douglas Bader. He joined the RAF in 1928, and was commissioned in 1930. In December 1931, while attempting some aerobatics, he crashed and lost both his legs. Having been on the brink of death, he recovered, retook flight training, passed his check flights and then requested reactivation as a pilot. Although there were no regulations applicable to his situation, he was retired against his will on medical grounds. After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, however, Bader returned to the RAF and was accepted as a pilot. Flg Off Bader was posted to 19 Sqn in February 1940 to gain experience on the Spitfire, prior to being posted to 222 Sqn as a Flight Commander.

Detailed to carry out a convoy patrol, he was leading a three-ship formation take off from 19 Sqn’s satellite field at Horsham St Faith on 31 March 1940 when his Spitfire Ia K9858 crashed through the boundary hedge and cartwheeled across a ploughed field. It was a total write-off. Taking off slightly downwind directly from dispersal, Bader’s wingmen realized their leader’s error in having failed to select fine pitch, and managed to open their throttles and just clear the hedgerow. Bader became aware of his error at about the same time, and hit the appropriate button on his propeller selector control but it was too late.

He escaped without a scratch, although his artificial legs were damaged beyond repair, as his Spitfire. This aircraft had been delivered to the RAF on 4 February 1939 and received by 19 Sqn twenty days later.


"Spitfire Flying Legend", by John Dibbs and Tony Holmes. ISBN 1-84176-210-5

Related books:

Revision history:

07-Jan-2011 00:40 angels one five Added
07-Jan-2011 00:48 angels one five Updated [Date, Registration, Cn, Operator, Location, Narrative]
07-Jan-2011 02:06 angels one five Updated [Date, Registration, Cn, Operator, Location, Phase, Narrative]
25-Dec-2011 15:00 Nepa Updated [Aircraft type, Registration, Operator, Nature, Departure airport, Narrative]
22-Jan-2012 20:36 angels one five Updated [Aircraft type, Narrative]
04-Nov-2012 15:20 angels one five Updated [Aircraft type, Registration, Cn, Operator, Total fatalities, Total occupants, Other fatalities, Location, Nature, Source, Narrative]
05-Nov-2012 00:23 angels one five Updated [Aircraft type, Narrative]
19-Jul-2017 06:53 Laurent Rizzotti Updated [Aircraft type, Location, Nature, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]

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