LEWIS AND HARRIS SPITFIRE

Supermarine Spitfire Mk. II P8149 'Lewis & Harris Fighter' at Castle Bromwich factory

'PRESENTATION' SPITFIRES

Early in World War II, Lord Beaverbrook, who had been recruited into the War Cabinet by Churchill as Minister for Aircraft Production, proposed the idea of 'Presentation' aircraft. An individual, organisation or community could donate the cost of an aircraft to the government, and an aircraft would be allocated to bear the name of the donor. Any aircraft type could be selected but, as at the time the Battle of Britain was fresh in everyone's mind and, the aircraft type best known to the public was the Spitfire, the vast majority of donations were directed towards that aircraft. The cost for a Spitfire was set at `£5,000 (although the real cost was nearer £12,000). At the time, increased production was sorely needed to make good the losses suffered during the intense aerial fighting over Dunkirk, and the south coast during the Battle of Britain.

LEWIS AND HARRIS SPITFIRE APPEAL

Upon the announcement of the 'Presentation' aircraft scheme, a meeting was held in Stornoway on Tuesday 20th August 1940, at which it was decided to open a 'Lewis and Harris Spitfire Fund' to raise the £5,000 needed. At 1940 prices, £5,000 was a large amount for such a small community to raise, and even more so as the target date for raising this sum was Saturday 31st August, barely more than a week! A full-page notice appeared in the Stornoway Gazette newspaper of 23rd August 1940, encouraging everyone to donate to the fund, and stating that almost £2,000 had already been pledged by donors, including the Monday night's takings from the local cinema. The last sentence of the notice read, 'Let us show the Nazis how Blitzkriegs are waged in the Hebrides'. By the deadline of midnight on Saturday 31st August 1940, a total of £6,416-16s-2d had been raised! The final total being announced in the 6th September 1940 edition of the Gazette, although the final total raised when the account was closed on 24th October 1940 was £6,606-19s-10d. This was a remarkable achievement for the islands, and showed just how strong was the public's desire to do their bit towards the war effort.
Letter to Prime Minister from Lewis and Harris Reply from Prime Minister and Lord Beaverbrook Spitfire Fund Committee

SPITFIRE P8149

The money raised on Lewis and Harris went towards funding Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IIa, RAF serial number P8149. This aircraft was one of the first batch of 1,000 Mk. II Spitfires ordered under contract No. 98168/39 dated 12/3/1939, and built between June 1940 and July 1941 at Castle Bromwich works, near Birmingham. The aircraft was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin XII engine and eight Browning machine guns, and was named 'Lewis & Harris Fighter'. Upon completion, the aircraft was taken on charge by the RAF at 24 MU (Maintenance Unit) at Ternhill on 6th March 1941. Here, the aircraft was fitted out for its operational duties and converted to Mk. IIb standard by the installation of two Hispano 20mm cannon, to become one of the relatively few Mk. IIb in operational service.

72 SQUADRON
72 Squadron Spitfire Mk. II

On 6th May 1941, the 'Lewis & Harris Fighter' was handed over to 72 Squadron at RAF Acklington, Northumberland where it was re-grouping and resting after having seen action in support of the evacuation from Dunkirk in June 940. This squadron carried the identification code 'RN' on its aircraft at the time, with each individual aircraft identified by its own third letter. Unfortunately, the individual letter carried by P8149 is not known., but the picture above gives an idea of what its colour scheme and markings would have looked like. 72 Squadron were engaged on convoy escort patrols and the occasional scramble. The first operational sortie of P8149 was on 13th May 1941, when P/O Bocock was scrambled in response to a raid warning over the airfield at Acklington, but was recalled only minutes later. The aircraft then appears several times in the operational record of the squadron, until the last entry on 4th July 1941, when Sgt. Gledhill flew it on a base patrol sortie (see extracts from 72 Squadron Operational Record Book {ORB} below). The aircraft remained with 72 Squadron for only a short period as. on 8th July 1941, they moved south to Gravesend, Kent where they relieved 74 Squadron and exchanged their Mk. II aircraft for the newer Mk. V of 74 Squadron. In turn, 74 Squadron departed for Acklington with 72 Squadron's old aircraft, including P8149.

Extracts from 72 Squadron ORB for 'Lewis & Harris Fighter'
13/5/41P/O BocockScramble
20/5/41P/O StabrowskiScramble
24/5/41P/O BocockConvoy patrol
1/6/41P/O BocockPatrol
8/6/41P/O GodlenskiPatrol base
9/6/41Sgt. BielPatrol Farne Islands to Blyth
17/6/41P/O BocockConvoy patrol
4/7/41Sgt. GledhillScramble (lasr ORB entry for 72 Sqn.)
74 SQUADRON
74 Squadron Spitfire Mk. II 

74 Squadron, the famous 'Tiger' squadron, were stationed at Acklington, like 72 Squadron, for rest and re-grouping after having seen much action during the Battle of Britain flying from Horhchurch over London and the Thames estuary. During this period, 74 Squadron carried the code 'ZP' on its aircraft, as shown above. P8149 only served for just over a month with 74 Squadron, being damaged on 8th August 1941 when Sgt. A.V. Hopkinson swung on landing, to avoid contractors running across the runway, and hit a lorry, but he was exonerated of all blame. Two days later P8149 went to a civilian repair depot for repairs, and then back to 24 MU at Ternhill on 13th October 1941.

Extracts from 74 Squadron ORB for 'Lewis & Harris Fighter'
17/7/41Sgt. FordFormation flying
17/7/41Sgt. FordPractice flying
18/7/41Sgt. FraserFormation flying
19/7/41Sgt, FraserFormation flying
19/7/41Sgt. FraserFormation flying & cannon test
19/7/41Sgt. HopkinsonLocal flying
20/7/41P/O WinterbeckSector reconnaissance
20/7/41Sgt. HopkinsonFormation flying
20/7/41Sgt. BoyleNight flying
21/7/41Sgt. BoyleFormation flying
22/7/41Sgt. BoyleCamera gun practice
22/7/41Sgt. CarterDusk landings
23/7/41P/O BishopCamera gun practice
23/7/41Sgt. JohnsonFormation flying
23/7/41Sgt. AtkinsFormation flying
26/7/41Sgt. HopkinsonFormation flying
27/7/41Sgt. AtkinsFormation flying
28/7/41Sgt. CarterDusk landings
28/7/41Sgt. WilsonAir firing
28/7/41Sgt. FraserAir firing
29/7/41Sgt. CarterCamera gun practice
29/7/41Sgt. AtkinsPatrol
30/7/41Sgt. AtkinsCamera gun practice
30/7/41Sgt. AtkinsFormation flying
30/7/41Sgt. AtkinsFormation flying
3/8/41Sgt. FordSquadron practice attack
4/8/41Sgt. FordSquadron practice attack
5/8/41Sgt. AtkinsFormation & cloud flying practice
5/8/41Sgt. AtkinsDusk landing practice
5/8/41P/O GravesFormation & practice attacks
6/8/41Sgt. HopkinsonSearchlight co-operation
6/8/41Sgt. HopkinsonFormation & practice attacks
6/8/41Sgt. HopkinsonDusk landings
7/8/41P/O GravesPatrol
7/8/41P/O GravesPatrol
7/8/41Sgt. FordFormation flying
8/8/41Sgt. AtkinsFormation flying
8/8/41Sgt. HopkinsonSearchlight co-operation (last ORB entry for 74 Sqn.)
350 SQUADRON
350 (Belgian) Squadron Spitfire Mk. II

By 17th December 1941, the 'Lewis & Harris Fighter' was back with an operational squadron, this time 350 (Belgian) Squadron at RAF Valley in Wales. The squadron was formed from mainly Belgian air force personnel, who had escaped from their own country when it fell to the Germans, and had made their way to the UK. At Valley, Sqn. Ldr. John Thompson DFC, who had already seen plenty of action with other fighter squadrons within the RAF, and was one of the few non-Belgian aircrew, commanded the squadron. The squadron aircraft wore the code 'MN', as seen above. The squadron came to readiness on 22nd December 1941 with the influx of aircraft, P8149 amongst them, and undertook convoy escort duties and scrambles. On 4th January 1942, P/O R. DeWever hit a Magister training aircraft (N3286) at the end of his landing run, injuring the Magister pilot P/O J.D. Fox. P8149 was repaired on site, but two days later, Sgt. D.C. Goodie swung off the runway whilst taxiing and hit another Spitfire (P7544), which was parked. Again, repairs were made on site. The squadron then moved south to RAF Northolt, just outside London where, on 11th February 1942, the official inauguration of the squadron took place. Shortly afterwards, on 23rd March 1942, P8149 was assigned to the Northolt Station Flight.

Extracts from 350 Squadron ORB for 'Lewis & Harris Fighter'
22/12/41P/O FlisnterConvoy patrol
22/12/41P/O DeWeverConvoy patrol
25/12/41P/O FlisnterConvoy patrol
26/12/41Sgt. SeydelScramble (recalled R/T failure - 2 a/c)
27/12/41P/O DeWeverWeather test
4/1/42P/O VenesoenFormation flying
4/1/42P/O DeWeverFormation flying
8/1/42P/O FlisnterFormation flying
28/1/42Flt. Lt. GomeyAir test
28/1/42Flt. Lt. GomeyAir test
29/1/42P/O SmetsScramble
29/1/42Flt. Lt. GomeyScramble (orbit base Angels 20)
29/1/42Flt. Lt. GomeyScramble on patrol
30/1/42P/O FlisnterScramble
30/1/42Flt. Lt. GomeyPatrol base at 5000ft
31/1/42Flt. Lt. GomeySquadron formation flying
31/1/42Flt. Lt. GomeySquadron formation flying
31/1/42Flt. Lt. GomeySquadron formation flying
3/2/42Sgt. LimetConvoy patrol
5/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeyScramble patrol at 5000ft
5/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeyPatrol Holyhead
6/2/42Sgt. SeydelScramble
6/2/42Sgt. SeydelShipping protection
6/2/42Flt. Lt, GomeySquadron formation flying
8/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeySquadron formation flying
8/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeySquadron formation flying
9/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeySquadron formation flying
9/2/2P/O VenesoenScramble 25,000ft
9/2/42Sgt. LimetScramble 2000ft
10/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeyFrom Valley to Atcham
10/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeyFrom Atcham to Northolt
11/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeySquadron formation flying
12/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeySquadron formation flying
13/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeyNortholt to Atcham
14/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeyAtcham to Valley
19/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeyValley to Atcham
24/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeyInterception exercise
25/2/42Flt. Lt. GomeyBalloon 20,000ft
25/2/42P/O DeWeverBalloon 20,000ft (last ORB entry for 350 Sqn.)
Here the story of the 'Lewis & Harris Fighter' goes a bit cold, but it was finally struck off charge by the RAF on 1st April 1945, when it was destroyed beyond repair, presumably in an accident.

'THEY ALSO SERVE.......'

Although the 'Lewis & Harris Fighter' P8149 Spitfire didn't have a particularly gallant or famous career, it did, by its very existence, contribute to this country's survival and eventual victory at a time of extreme danger. The final victory was achieved by many seemingly small gestures, such as the financing of the Lewis and Harris Spitfire by the people of these islands, made especially noteworthy by the short period in which the money was raised. The public of Lewis and Harris could be justifiably proud of their war effort.

THE PHOENIX ARISES

In 2005, 72 Squadron, the first operators of the 'Lewis & Harris Fighter' in 1941, initiated a program of naming their present-day aircraft after 'Presentation' Spitfires which had served with the squadron during WW II. One of these aircraft, Shorts Tucano T.1 trainers, based at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, just outside York, was named 'Lewis & Harris Fighter', in memory of the original Spitfire P8149, and so the name lived on. This aircraft, RAF serial ZF349, has visited Stornoway on a number of occasions, renewing the ties between 72 Squadron and the islands.
 72(R) Squadron Tucano T.1 'Lewis & Harris Fighter' ZF349 at Stornoway

Unfortunately, the 'Lewis & Harris Fighter' Tucano aircraft of 72 Squadron suffered a crash landing at its base RAF Linton-on-Ouse on 8th January 2013, fortunately without injury to its crew. However, the aircraft was deemed beyond repair, and so, until another of the squadron's aircraft can be named, to replace ZF349, the original Lewis and Harris Spitfire does not have a present-day compatriot.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks go to the following people for their help in compiling this history of the 'Lewis & Harris Fighter';

Mr. David Fowler - Stornoway Library and Stornoway Historical Society

Mr. Richard Langhome - Museum nan Eilean

Mr. Henry Boot - Author 'Presentation Spitfires and Other Aircraft'

Sqn. Ldr. Barry Cross - 72(R) Squadron

Mr. Rodney Long
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