Spitfire lost for almost 50 years will be back flying at IWM Duxford
The engine of a Spitfire Mk1a N3200 housed at IWM Duxford has been repaired in preparation for the Duxford Summer Air Show on June 18-19.
Built at Southampton in 1939, this Supermarine Spitfire Mark 1a was issued to No 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford in April 1940. On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded France and the Low Countries, pushing the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), along with French and Belgian troops, back to the French port of Dunkirk.
Stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, the BEF faced certain capture that would have meant the loss of Britain’s only trained troops and the collapse of the Allied cause. The Royal Navy hurriedly planned an emergency evacuation – ‘Operation Dynamo' – to get troops back to Britain.
On May 26, Operation Dynamo began, which included the Royal Air Force sending all available aircraft to protect the evacuation. No 19 squadron leader Geoffrey Stephenson piloted Spitfire N3200 on its first and only operation as he led his squadron on a patrol to cover the evacuation of Allied forces.
After shooting down a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bomber, Stephenson was himself shot down. He crash-landed on a beach at Sangatte, near Calais, and was captured. Stephenson remained a prisoner for the rest of the war, including a period spent at Colditz Castle, while his Spitfire gradually sank under the sand.
Stephenson continued his RAF career after the war but was killed in 1954 while test-flying in America. His Spitfire was recovered from the French sands in 1986, more than 45 years after it sank. The wreckage was excavated during the spring of that year and, though largely intact, very few parts could be salvaged.
Following the recovery of the aircraft’s remains, Spitfire N3200 was acquired in 2000 by Dr Thomas Kaplan and Simon Marsh. Dedicated to the restoration of this historic aircraft, they commissioned Historic Flying Limited to undertake the intensive work required to return the Spitfire to its former glory.
After much work, this unique aircraft was restored to flying condition and returned to the air in 2014. In 2015 it was generously donated to IWM and the nation by Dr Kaplan and his family. This substantial gift enables the Spitfire to be treasured for generations to come, and for its story to continue to be told.
Philip Hood, IWM Duxford Air Show event manager, said: “When people come to a flying event at IWM Duxford they expect to see a Spitfire or two and we are so lucky to have our very own Mk1 as part of the IWM collection with such a rich and interesting history.
“With just four weeks to go now until the Duxford Summer Air Show, we are gearing up to get everything ready to welcome visitors back to our first full-capacity air show since the pandemic. Our Spitfire is currently in the hands of our trusty engineers over at Aircraft Restoration Company who are making sure it is in tip-top condition to entertain crowds over the flying season.”
Connor Dimmock, Aircraft Restoration Company engineer, added: “The maintenance of historic aircraft is a labour of love and, as we come into IWM Duxford’s flying season, there are a lot of essential checks and maintenance tasks to do on various aircraft to make sure they are in perfect flying condition.
“Working on Spitfire Mk.I N3200 is really fascinating as it is such a historically important aircraft and it so closely resembles the original Spitfire first designed by RJ Mitchell. Over the next few weeks, we will be carrying out a lot of work on the aircraft, including rebuilding and ground running the engine, before performing an air test to ensure everything is performing as it should be.”
For more information, visit iwm.org.uk/airshows/duxford-summer-air-show.