The Spitfire Site

A Tribute to Britains Finest Fighter

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Author Topic: The Kenya Presentation Spitfires  (Read 2480 times)
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« on: January 04, 2010, 01:40:40 PM »

In the summer of 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain, there was one easily recognisable shape in the skies over England, that of the Spitfire fighter plane with its elliptical wings. Together with the Hurricane they proved to be the major weapons available to the Royal Air Force in their fight against the German Luftwaffe, and the attempt to invade England. The Spitfire was designed by Reginald Mitchell who had joined the firm of Supermarine in 1916. Within a year he was designing seaplanes for the Schneider Trophy races and eventually as chief designer, responded to the Air Ministry request to produce a modern fighter to replace the biplanes then in service. The prototype Spitfire K5054 first flew in March 1936 but just over a year later Mitchell died of cancer. The development of the aircraft was entrusted to Joseph Smith who had worked on the project from the outset. Smith oversaw the evolution of the Spitfire’s design throughout World War II, when it served in every area of combat as a fighter and fighter-bomber, in reconnaissance and as a carrier-based fighter aircraft for the Royal Navy. The Spitfire was constantly upgraded and refined and its maximum speed increased by a quarter while its weight and engine horsepower  doubled during the development of forty different versions of Mitchell’s original design. By the time it retired from active service in 1954, more than 20,000 Spitfires had been manufactured in Britain.

Early production numbers had been limited and before long the Ministry of Aircraft Production was tasked with expanding the output of all types. The people wanted to help and the idea of Spitfire Funds was born. Inspired by the public imagination funds sprang up all over England and it was not long before the colonies and other countries followed suit and subscribed to the ‘Buy a Spitfire Fund’.
Before long thousands of pounds were being contributed and the Ministry of Aircraft production set a figure of £5,000 as the cost of an aircraft. The true cost was £8,897, with the fuselage costing £2,500 and the Rolls Royce Merlin 1,050 horsepower engine £2,000. Other items included the wings at £1,800 and the tail at £500. One of the most important parts were the eight Browning .303 machine guns that cost £100 each and of course the thousands of rivets that cost 6 pence each. Providing the sum raised totalled over £5,000 the donor was permitted to name an aircraft. As the designated presentation aircraft rolled off the production line, so the name was stencilled or painted on the fuselage in front of the cockpit and the necessary photograph and a certificate and later a plaque was sent to the donor.

To quote from the official wording for a fighter; ‘The donor of £5,000 is entitled to name an aircraft. So long as it remains in service it bears that name; when its life comes to an end so does the tangible recognition of the gift’. The choice of a name was left to the donor who was invited to make a suitable selection. There were however certain restrictions. No company names were permitted but in some cases a few slipped through. Some were straight forward like ‘City of London’, others were more imaginative like ‘The Dog’s Fighter’ subscribed to by the British Kennel Club.

Kenya however did its fair share and raised an enormous amount of money for ten Spitfires and two Hurricanes. In the case of Mombasa when the fund for a Spitfire was announced, £1,500 was raised in the first five minutes and the Kenya Uganda Railways & Harbours staff raised £1,600 towards another. The records show that the Spitfires were named : Kamba - Mam, Kamba - Meru,  Kenya Daisy, Kikuyu - Embu and Mombasa, while two Hurricanes were named Kenya Weekly News.

The first two Kenya Spitfires were donated by funds raised by the Kikuyu, Kamba and Meru tribes in 1941 who raised a total of £27,245. The first Spitfire Mk1a, serial no R7152 named KAMBA - MAM was delivered to a training unit on 26 February 1941. After some intensive use the aircraft crashed on 5 October but was repaired, and a year later shipped to Port Sudan and allocated to 132 Squadron. On 7 August 1943 the tail wheel broke off on landing while allocated to a training unit at Abu Sueir in Egypt, and later that year the engine cut out resulting in a forced landing. The aircraft was eventually struck off charge and presumably sold for scrap on 1 March 1944.

The second Presentation Spitfire Mk 1a, serial no R7159 named KAMBA - MERU was delivered to 411 Squadron (Royal Canadian Air Force) on 23 June 1941. A month later having been used for formation flying and dogfight training the aircraft was transferred to a training unit where on 29 October it hit overhead power cables but landed safely. Further transfers to other training units followed during the next twelve months after which the aircraft was crated and shipped to Portugal in November 1942. It was assembled and flown at Ota Air Force base after which nothing is known.

A third unidentified Spitfire Mk Vb also carried this name but nothing is known of this aircraft other than it served with 165 Squadron in England in October 1942, and a fourth Spitfire Mk IX serial no MH879 also carried the name from 11 October 1943 when it was delivered to 129 Squadron operating from an airfield outside London. The aircraft was destroyed in a German air raid on 22 February 1944.

Another Spitfire Mk 1a was named KIKUYU - EMBU from funds collected by the Kikuyu and Embu tribes in late 1940. The aircraft, serial no R7155 first flew on 26 February 1941 and was delivered to 124 Squadron before being transferred to the Royal Navy. On 27 October 1942 it was damaged when the propeller hit the ground on take off as the pilot raised the tail too quickly. After two more years service the aircraft was scrapped on 30 December 1944.

The Kenya Pyrethrum Growers and the Digo Local Native Council also raised a substantial amount and nominated an aircraft to be named KENYA DAISY. Spitfire Mk Vc AB453 was taken on charge on 12 March 1942 and allocated to 66 Squadron flying convoy protection patrols until 19 April when the pilot forgot to lower the undercarriage when landing. The aircraft was repaired and a year later damaged a second time and repaired. In May 1943 the aircraft was passed to 610 Squadron and on 22 June flown by Flying Officer Wood probably destroyed a Focke Wulf 190 over Belgium. Four months later on 2 October the aircraft stalled and crashed killing the Canadian pilot Flying Officer Shewell who was buried in a cemetery in Bath. 

The name was transferred to a second Spitfire Mk Vc, BM271 that was allocated to 133 Squadron. After a period of night operations the aircraft was transferred to 72 Squadron and engaged in fighter sweeps over Europe and shot down a Focke Wulf 190 over Calais in July. It was later transferred to 65 Squadron and a year later joined 130 Squadron on bomber escorts. With improved versions of the Spitfire coming into service the aircraft was withdrawn from frontline service and allocated to various training units and maintenance units where it was condemned and sold for scrap on 2 January 1946.

The name passed to a third Spitfire Mk Vc, EN905. Allocated to 66 Squadron in June 1942 it was soon in action and destroyed a Focke Wulf 190 in July. It was damaged in a wheels up landing in August, repaired and joined 167 squadron engaged in convoy escort and air sea rescue duties. In March 1943 after a short overhaul it was allocated to 91 Squadron but damaged when the undercarriage failed and the aircraft slid across the grass. A second undercarriage failure saw the aircraft repaired and reissued to 322 Squadron. On 4 January 1944 the aircraft tipped on its nose when it swung off the runway and sustained repairable damage. After repairs it was sent to a training unit and on 28 March 1945 was struck off charge and scrapped.

A Spitfire Mk 1a was named MOMBASA after a donation of £5,508 was received from the people of Mombasa through the chairman of the Standard Bank of South Africa in Nairobi. The aircraft R7161 was allocated to 92 Squadron at Biggin Hill in April 1941and over the next three months shot down four enemy aircraft. On 7 August the aircraft crash landed injuring the pilot. It was sent for repair and fitted with a more powerful Rolls Royce engine before returning to 315 Squadron. On 13 March 1942 it collided with another Spitfire while taxying. After repair it was sent to 318 Squadron and on 16 August was shot down over France killing the Polish  pilot Flying Officer Ilinski who was buried in Le Havre cemetery. 

By the end of the war around £14,000,000 had been contributed from funds for a variety of aircraft types. The close of hostilities saw thousands of aircraft cut up for scrap, but Spitfires were popular with foreign air forces and hundreds were sold abroad. By the late 1950s the day of the Spitfire was over and many that had not been scrapped were displayed at the entrance to numerous Royal Air Force stations throughout the world. Those that remained in storage were dragged out and sold for £5 each, some with no more than twenty minutes flying time in the log book. A number were restored to fly for the Battle of Britain film in 1967 and this began the restoration movement that continues to this day. Today the Spitfire lives on, with individuals and companies flying and restoring this symbol of what is considered the ultimate single seat fighter. To buy a Spitfire today will set you back at least a £1,000,000, while the operating costs are soaring skywards.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2010, 02:48:37 PM by ndege » Logged
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