Friday, 23 September 2016

The BBMF Spitfire and Hurricane & Heroes of the Sky

BBMF Image © B Henderson 2016
When I heard recently that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) would be dropping in at my local airport to refuel, I grabbed the camera and dashed out the door. Destination - airport. Luckily I made it with ten minutes to spare. Time to warm up the camera and take a few practice shots (I'm not very good) and then I heard those magnificent Rolls-Royce Merlin engines humming in the distance, growing into a throaty growl as they flew overhead before landing.

The image below is the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight Hurricane PZ865 (Mk IIc). This was the last Hurricane ever built, and she rolled off the production line at Hawker in July 1944. She bore the inscription, "The Last of the Many" on her port and starboard sides, but years later this was removed and placed on display at the BBMF HQ. In 1950, this particular aircraft was flown by Group Captain Peter Townsend CVO DSO DFC in the King's Cup Air Race and came second.

PZ865 was refurbished at Duxford six years ago in 2010, and now bears the colour scheme of the aircraft Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Whalen DFC flew during the war. Jimmy was sadly killed in action on 18 April 1944, just before his 24th birthday, during the Battle for Kohima. He flew 176 sorties and was credited with destroying 3 ME-109s and damaging another. He was also credited with destroying 3 Japanese Navy Val Type 99s over Ceylon. Jimmy was part of 34 Squadron, South East Asia Command.

BBMF PZ865 Hurricane. Image © B Henderson 2016

PZ865 in flight with a bird behind. Image © B Henderson 2016
Last but not least, this beauty is the BBMF Spitfire and happens to be the oldest airworthy Spitfire in the world and she saw battle in the skies over England during the Battle of Britain. On the 25th October 1940, she was damaged in combat with a squadron of ME Bf-109s while with 603 Squadron. Her Polish pilot, Ludwik Martel was wounded in his legs and left side and yet he still managed to land the aircraft, executing a wheels up landing in a field near Hastings. It would be 1941 before this aircraft was airworthy once more. P7350 would go on to serve with 616 Squadron at Tangmere and 64 Squadron at Hornchurch, flying fighter sweeps over occupied France. 

Martel survived the war and was released from the Polish airforce in 1947. In 1953 he became a pilot for the Colonial Office in East Africa and retired a Chief Pilot in 1966.
In April 1942, P7350 was removed from operational flying to carry out support duties and was based at the Central Gunnery School at Sutton Bridge and 57 OTU at Eshott, Northumberland. She ended her war service at 19 MU.

BBMF Spitfire P7350 (Mark IIa) Image © B Henderson 2016

P7350 was sold for scrap after the war, but luckily someone recognised her historical value and she was donated to the RAF Museum at Colerne. She was restored and made airworthy for the epic movie Battle of Britain in 1968 and afterwards was gifted to the BBMF. She is currently in the colours of Spitfire Mk 1a N3162 of No 41 Squadron, 'EB-G', the aircraft flown by Eric Lock on 5th September 1940 when he destroyed 3 enemy aircraft during a single sortie. Eric was 19 when he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve. It had been his dream to fly and, as he would show, he was a natural and became a top scoring fighter ace. Eric became a household name and was the RAF's most successful British pilot during the Battle of Britain, credited with destroying 16 German aircraft, and with a half share in another. 

Pilot Eric Lock Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Eric survived some terrifying moments in the air, was injured more than once, at one time he sustained serious injuries that would see him endure fifteen operations to remove metal fragments from his body. He eventually returned to service but the battle for air supremacy had moved on since the Battle of Britain, and Fighter Command now flew long range sweeps over occupied France, known as Rhubarbs. 

On 3rd August 1941, Eric flew such a sortie over France when he happened to spot German soldiers somewhere near Calais. He was last seen swooping down to attack. It's presumed he was brought down by ground fire. The wreck of his aircraft and his body have never been found. You will find his name on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, along with the names of 20,000 British and Commonwealth airmen who were all reported as missing in action in WW2.

Shropshire born Eric Lock has a road named after him in Bayston, and the bar at Shropshire Aero Club, which is based at the old wartime airfield of Sleap, is named in his honour.
The BBMF do an amazing job of keeping the old wartime aircraft in airworthy condition and feature at airshows throughout Britain and Ireland each spring/summer. They also have a Lancaster Bomber and if you live in the UK near to or in the old bomber county of Lincolnshire, you will often have the privilege of watching these glorious old aircraft grace our skies.

And one final word, if you're interested, you can grab yourself a copy of this book by Author Steve Brew, and lose yourself in a detailed biography of the life of Eric Lock, DSO, DFC & Bar. I love the title, it's brilliant and so apt, don't you think?  This is available from Fighting High Publishing: 
And also Amazon:

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