Anybody who has even the slightest tinge of affection for the WW2-era piston-engine classics is going to LOVE this one.
On 26 May 1940, No 19 Squadron Leader Geoffrey Stephenson left RAF Duxford airfield in Spitfire N3200, piloting the aircraft on its first and only mission. Before the Battle of Britain, Duxford’s Spitfires were recruited in the defence of Operation Dynamo.
Dynamo was the emergency evacuation of the British Expeditionary Forces from the French port of Dunkirk by the Royal Navy, and had air cover from all available Royal Air Force aircraft – including Spitfire N3200.
Now, 82 years on, the recovered aircraft stands proudly at IWM Duxford, just a short walk from the very same hangar where the No 19 Squadron’s Spitfires were kept during World War Two. Spitfire N3200 has also been fully restored to flying condition, and is set to take flight once again at Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show on 10 and 11 September 2022.
But what happened to Spitfire N3200 in May 1940, and how did it return to its home at Duxford?
The Brylcreem Boys of No 19 Squadron were tasked with a crucial mission in the renowned Miracle of Dunkirk: flying CAS as close-pressed hordes of British, Belgian, and French footsloggers were plucked from the beach and ferried across the Channel to safety. And then…
After shooting down a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bomber, Stephenson was himself shot down, crash-landing on a beach at Sangatte, near Calais. He was captured, remaining a prisoner for the rest of the war.
While Stephenson spent the war imprisoned, including a stint at the notorious Colditz Castle, Spitfire N3200 sank slowly into the sand.
Which is when events took a REALLY interesting turn.
Over 45 years later in 1986, Spitfire N3200 emerged from the sand on a French beach. Strong currents had revealed the crashed aircraft, and so began the process of excavating the wreck, which although largely intact, not much could be salvaged.
The Spitfire’s pilot, Geoffrey Stephenson, survived the war but was not able to see his aircraft dragged from the beach. He was tragically killed in America in 1954 during a test flight.
In 2000, Dr Thomas Kaplan and Simon Marsh commissioned Historic Flying Limited to restore Spitfire N3200 to its former glory. Only 4 years later, the aircraft returned to the skies.
As you can see, glory is most definitely the mot juste for this war-eagle reborn.
Beautiful, no? And with such a unique story to tell, too.