Spitfires Down Under

Australia and New Zealand have a unique warbird scene which is dominated by World War Two era aircraft. One of the most classic fighters of that period was the British built Supermarine Spitfire, an aircraft that was flown by both RAAF and RNZAF pilots during the war.

The famous "Grey Nurse" Spitfire Mk.VIII of the Temora Aviation Museum in Australia. This was the last Spitfire acquired by the RAAF in 1945
The famous “Grey Nurse” Spitfire Mk.VIII of the Temora Aviation Museum in Australia. This was the last Spitfire acquired by the RAAF in 1945 (photo taken at Avalon International Air Show 2013)

New Zealand did not  actually own any Spitfires outright. In the Pacific theatre they operated the Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk and Vought F4U Corsair fighters but RNZAF pilots did fly Spitfires on behalf of the RAF in Europe and North Africa (RNZAF Squadron 485 operated in Europe).

RNZAF 485 Squadron members in Britain 1941
RNZAF 485 Squadron members in Britain 1941(Photo Source: Wings Over Cambridge)

The RAAF on the other hand not only had pilots flying RAF Spitfires in Europe, North Africa and Burma (RAF serialled aircraft were flown by RAAF Squadrons 451, 451, 453 and 457 in Europe an North Africa) but also operated 656 Spitfires in the Pacific theatre (Squadrons 79, 85, 452 and 457). The RAAF aircraft were delivered between 1942-1945  and included the following Spitfire variants: 246 Mk. Vc, 251 Mk.VIII and 159 HF Mk.VIII.

RAAF Spitfire Mk.VIII 1944
RAAF Spitfire Mk.VIII 1944

The Spitfire was used by the RAAF as an interceptor to protect northern Australia and later New Guinea from Japanese air attacks. The Spitfire’s range was found to be a bit short-legged for Pacific operations but remained alongside the Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk as the main RAAF fighter until the much longer ranged CAC Mustang (Australian built P-51) was introduced in 1945. RAAF Spitfires were disposed of between 1946 – 1952.

RAAF Spitfires awaiting disposal in Oakey, QLD in 1946
RAAF Spitfires awaiting disposal in Oakey, QLD in 1946

Luckily there are quite a few of Supermarine Spitfires remaining in both countries. These include 4 flying examples (2 in Australia and 2 in New Zealand).

The Temora Aviation Museum Spitfire Mk.VIII landing at Avalon International Air Show 2005
The Temora Aviation Museum Spitfire Mk.VIII landing at Avalon International Air Show 2005
Temora Aviation Museums Spitfire Mk.VIII slowly raising it undercarriage at the 2008 RAAF Air Pageant at Point Cook
Temora Aviation Museums Spitfire Mk.VIII slowly raising it undercarriage at the 2008 RAAF Air Pageant at Point Cook
RAAF Spitfire Mk VIII  Temora
RAAF Spitfire Mk VIII
The Temora Spitfire Mk.VIII was restored and put back into the air in 1985 by famous Australian warbirder Colin Pay
The Temora Spitfire Mk.VIII was restored and put back into the air in 1985 by famous Australian warbirder Colin Pay
Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII Temora NSW
The beautiful lines of a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.VIII of the Temora Aviation Museum in 2008
Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI during a Temora Aviation Museum Flying Day in 2008
Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI during a Temora Aviation Museum Flying Day in 2008
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XVI at a Temora Aviation Museum flying day in 2008
The Temora Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XVI in 2008
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX a beautiful day at Classic Wings Omaka 2009 in NZ
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX taxiing for take off on a beautiful day at Classic Wings Omaka 2009 in NZ
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX Wings Over Wairarapa 2013 Al Deere
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IXc in the markings of NZ Air Commodore Alan Deere when based at Biggin Hill in Britain in 1944 (photo taken at Wings Over Wairarapa in NZ 2013)
Supermarine Spitfire Tr.IX two seat trainer NZ
Supermarine Spitfire Tr.IX two seat trainer (photo taken at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013)
NZ Spitfires in close formation Wings over Wairarapa 2013 Masterton
NZ Spitfires in close formation at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013
NZ Spitfire Tr.9
Despite the second cockpit this Tr.IX trainer still retains those famous classic lines of the Spitfire (taken at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013)
Spirfire Tr.IX landing Wings Over Wairarapa 2013
The Tr.IX landing at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013 – the desert scheme and two seat configuration really makes this Spitfire stand out!
Spitfire Mk.IX landing at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013
The NZ Mk.IX landing at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013
Spitfire &  de Havilland Mosquito takes of at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013
The NZ Spits glistening in the sun as another impressive British design the de Havilland Mosquito takes of at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013
NZ Spitfire Mk.IX at Classic Fighters Omaka 2009
NZ Spitfire Mk.IX at Classic Fighters Omaka 2009
Spitfire Mk.VIII at the 2010 RAAF Air Pageant in Point Cook
Spitfire Mk.VIII at the 2010 RAAF Air Pageant in Point Cook

In addition to the flying Spitfires there is about 20 non-flying examples of various models in museums and private collections around both countries. These aircraft are either restored and on display, in storage or in various states of restoration.

RAAF Supermarine Spiftire Mk.Vc fitted with a tropical engine filter South Australian Aviation Museum
RAAF Supermarine Spiftire Mk.Vc fitted with a tropical engine filter (photo taken at the South Australian Aviation Museum in 2011)
Spitfire Mk.Vc was delivered to the RAAF in 1943 SA Aviation Museum
This Spitfire Mk.Vc was delivered to the RAAF in 1943
SA Aviation Museum Spitfire
The tropical filter certainly took away from the streamlined appearance of the Spitfire, but despite some loss of performance it was necessary in the hot and dusty conditions in which the Spitfires flew in Northern Australia and later in New Guinea
Nose art on the Spitfire Mk.Vc South Australia Aviation Museum
Nose art on the Spitfire Mk.Vc
Spitfire Mk.22 RAF Bull Creek WA Australian Aviation Museum
A late model Spitfire Mk.22 operated by the RAF in 1945 (photo taken at the Aviation Heritage Museum in Western Australia 2004)
Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.XVIE NZ AF Museum 2005 REach for the sky
1945 RAF Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.XVIE (painted in RNZAF Squadron 485 markings) – this aircraft featured in the movie version of Reach For The Sky in 1955. It was purchased at an RAF disposal and shipped to NZ in 1963 where it was displayed on a pole outside the Canterbury Brevet Club clubrooms. In 1984 it was donated to the RNZAF Museum who restored it in 1984-1985 (photo taken at RNZAF Museum 2005)
Spitfire LF Mk.XVIe formerly in NZ but now part of the Temora Aviation Collection formerly the Alpine Fighter Collection in Wanaka NZ
Spitfire LF Mk.XVIe formerly in NZ but now part of the Temora Aviation Collection (photo taken at the Alpine Fighter Collection in Wanaka NZ in 2005)
Spitfire F Mk.IIa that operated in Europe in 1941 - this one is very rare in that it still has the original paint from World War Two Australian War Memorial
Spitfire F Mk.IIa that operated in RAAF squadrons in Europe in 1941 – this one is very rare because it still has the original paint from World War Two (photo taken at Australian War Memorial in 2008)

I have seen all 4 flying examples at various air shows in Australia and New Zealand and it never gets old seeing a Spitfire take to the skies. The graceful lines of the aircraft, especially the elliptical wing accompanied with speed and the sound of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine are pure magic!

Elliptical wing of the Spitfire Mk.VIII
Elliptical wing of the Spitfire Mk.VIII
A Spitfire in flight is a beautiful sight Spitfire Mk.IX Wings Over Wairarapa 2013
A Spitfire in flight is a beautiful sight (photo taken at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013)

Museums the aircraft featured are displayed in and further information on the aircraft:

Air Force Museum of New Zealand (Wigram, Christchurch)

Australian War Memorial (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory)

Aviation Heritage Museum (Bull Creek, Western Australia)

RAAF Museum (Point Cook, Victoria)

South Australian Aviation Museum (Port Adelaide, South Australia)

Temora Aviation Museum (Temora, New South Wales)

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