Last of It’s Kind Spitfire

by Inga Yandell

Spitfire © Peter R Arnold Collection

Christie’s London is honoured to present a unique and remarkable piece of British history at auction – an authentic and immaculately restored Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1A – P9374/G-MK1A (estimate: £1,500,000-2,500,000, illustrated above). As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, Christie’s is proud to mark this moment in history by offering Spitfire P9374 in The Exceptional Sale on 9 July 2015.

There are only two remaining Mk.1 models restored to the original specification and still flying, P9374 and N3200, both belonging to Thomas Kaplan, American philanthropist and art collector. As part of a hugely generous gift, Spitfire P9374 will be sold at Christie’s to benefit the RAF Benevolent Fund and Panthera, a leading wildlife conservation charity. Spitfire N3200 will be going to the Imperial War Museum Duxford. One of the most instantly recognisable silhouettes in the air, the Spitfire is not just a thing of beauty but a war machine that helped save Britain in 1940 and ultimately to win the Second World War.

In September 1980 the wreckage of Spitfire P9374 emerged from the sands of Calais beach where it had crash-landed after being shot down on 24 May 1940 during the air battle of Dunkirk. With eight Browning machine guns hiding beneath elliptical wings, Peter Cazenove, Flying Officer and later a veteran of the ‘Great Escape’, was flying the aircraft when it was attacked and hit by what is thought to have been a single bullet fired from a Dornier 17-Z bomber. Before executing his belly-landing on Calais beach, Cazenove had radioed that he was OK, and: “Tell mother I’ll be home for tea!” Cazenove was soon captured as a Prisoner of War and Spitfire P9374 was consumed by successive tides and sunk deeper into the sands; he sadly passed away shortly before the recovery of his aircraft.

Post-recovery the Spitfire went first to the Musée d’l’Air at Le Bourget, Paris, and subsequently to further collections until the parts eventually ended up with the Aircraft Restoration Company / Historic Flying Ltd. at Duxford, who have since brought this remarkable Spitfire back to life. Twelve highly skilled engineers have spent three years carrying out what is considered to be the most authentic restoration of an original Mk.1 Spitfire to date, incorporating many components from the original plane into the build. The completed aircraft successfully returned to flight for the first time since the Second World War on 1st September 2011, and was flown by John Romain, Pilot and Chief Engineer at the Aircraft Restoration Company who later remarked of P9374: “This is a fantastic restoration to be justifiably proud of. Spitfire P9374 is a truly lovely aircraft, and she flies beautifully.”

Originally built at the Vickers Armstrong factory in Woolston, Spitfire P3974 was delivered to 92 Squadron at RAF Croydon in March 1940, one of the most celebrated squadrons in the RAF. The Merlin III engine installed in P9374 was built at Rolls-Royce, Derby, on 27 October 1939. During Spitfire P9374’s service with 92 Squadron it is known to have been flown by at least eight different pilots, and was almost certainly flown by the Commanding Officer of 92 Squadron, Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, later ‘Big X’ of the Great Escape fame. Records show that P9374 had a total flight time of 32 hours and 5 minutes at the time of its loss.

Spitfire © John Gibbs

Explore an interactive documentary following the full story of this remarkable Spitfire at: http://www.christies.com/features/Last-of-its-kind-Spitfire-5969-3.aspx

The Exceptional Sale, Christie’s London, King Street, Thursday, 9 July 2015, 17:00 pm

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
Inga Yandell

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