The restored Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mark.1A, P9374, just one of two airworthy Mk.1 Spitfires, was sold on July 9th in auction by Christie’s (London), for a record $4.8 million Business Insider’s journalist, reports. Spitfire P9374 has been sold at Christie’s to benefit the RAF Benevolent Fund and Panthera, a leading wildlife conservation charity.
The Warbird sold, a single engine fighter, was at the frontline of British defence in the air campaign waged by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940. It fought against countless waves of German bomber’s attacks for three months and three weeks. This battle is most known as the Battle of Britain. The battle started on July 10th 1940, 75 years ago.
The 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. Records show that P9374 had a total flight time of 32 hours and 5 minutes at the time of its loss.
During Spitfire P9374’s service with 92 Squadron it is known to have been flown by at least eight different pilots, included Pilot Officer Williams, however, who ‘blooded’ P9374 in action on 23 May when he claimed a Me 110 destroyed over the French coast and Officer Peter Cazenove who was flying the aircraft on 24 May 1940 in what was his first and last combat sortie of the war. On this day, the P9374 was crashed on a beach near Calais. It 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 belly-landing on the beach, Cazenove had radioed that he was OK, and: “Tell mother I’ll be home for tea!”.
Cazenove was captured when the Germans overran Calais. He became a POW, ending up in the notorious Stalag Luft III, on the German-Polish border, where he helped organise the legendary Great Escape, which saw 76 POWs escape in March 1945. Cazenove was a big man and wouldn’t fit in the tunnel. Cazenove survived the war and died in 1981, still wondering what happened to his Spitfire.
German soldiers sit on P9374 on Calais beach in 1940. Photo courtesy of the Peter R Arnold collection
The wreck of the Spitfire were sunk deeper into the sands for the next four decades, until it had vanished from sight. Its return to the life was in September 1980. Initially, the identity of the aircraft remained a mystery but following its recovery by the manager of the nearby Hoverport in January 1981, the Spitfire was identified as P9374, an early Mk 1 version of Supermarine’s finest creation. The remains ended up at the Musée de l’Air in Paris, from where it was acquired by a French collector, Jean Frelaut, in 1981. It was subsequently passed around until Kaplan got wind of the find in 2006.
Thomas Kaplan, chairman of the New York-based Electrum Group, is an American gold investor, philanthropist, plane buff and unabashed Anglophile. He bought the wreck and embarked on a three-year restoration costing millions of dollars at the Aircraft Restoration Company in Duxford, England. Twelve highly skilled engineers were working on it. P9374’s Rolls-Royce Merlin engine roared back to life in 2011 and it returned to the air. It’s 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.
Spitfire P9374 is just one of two Mk.1 planes still flying. Photo: John Dibbs
Kaplan said he embarked on the project with his childhood friend, Simon Marsh, to pay homage to the pilots Churchill called “the Few”, standing against the might of Hitler’s bomber force.
There are only two remaining Mk.1 models restored to the original specification and still flying today, P9374 and N3200, both belonging to Thomas Kaplan. Spitfire P9374 has been 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.