Spitfire shot into sea during WW2 sells for £3.1m

The restored Spitfire has sold for a record price at auction. Picture: PA
The restored Spitfire has sold for a record price at auction. Picture: PA
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AN RAF Spitfire buried beneath the sea for 40 years after it was shot down during the war has sold for a world record £3.1 million - with proceeds going to charity.

The MK1 Vickers Supermarine Spitfire was snapped up by a private European collector at Christie’s ‘Exceptional Sale’ in London.

German soldiers pictured sitting on the fuselage of the downed Spitfire. Picture: PA

German soldiers pictured sitting on the fuselage of the downed Spitfire. Picture: PA

It is almost twice the price paid for the previous record for a Spitfire at auction - shattering the £1.7 million paid in 2007.

The plane, one of just two airworthy MK1 Spitfires restored to original specification, was flown by Great Escape veteran Peter Cazenove in an air battle over Dunkerque.

But just 55 minutes into a flight, on May 24, 1940, Cazenove’s Spitfire was hit by a single bullet fired from a Dornier 17-Z bomber.

While Cazenove survived the crash landing and walked into Calais, the Spitfire, known as P9374, was left to nature and was consumed by successive tides, sinking deeper into the sands where it remained for the next 40 years.

It is an absolute joy to see this aircraft restored to its original condition and taking to the skies once again

Air Marshal Chris Nickols

In September 1980 it was discovered after strong tides pushed it back above the surface.

Although it was barnacled and corroded, the aircraft was largely intact but salvagers and trophy hunters caused serious damage as they tried to get a piece of the plane. It was restored in 2011 and is in airworthy condition.

American philanthropist Thomas Kaplan owned the aircraft and entered it into Christie’s ‘Exceptional Sale’ in London on Thursday evening, where the final price paid was £3,106,500.

Proceeds from the landmark sale are going to the RAF Benevolent Fund and Panthera, a leading wildlife conservation charity.

Air Marshal Chris Nickols, RAF Benevolent Fund controller, said: “It is fitting that this incredible auction took place on the eve of the 75th Anniversary of the start of the Battle of Britain.

“The spectacular level of interest in this sale from around the world is a testament to the incredible bravery of the pilots and the best of British engineering of one of the most iconic aircraft of all time.

“It is an absolute joy to see this aircraft restored to its original condition and taking to the skies once again.”

The Spitfire was originally built at the Vickers Armstrong factory in Woolston and delivered to 92 Squadron at RAF Croydon in March 1940.

It was powered by a Merlin III engine which was built at Rolls-Royce, Derby, on 27 October 1939.

It was Cazanove’s first flight in the Spitfire when he crash landed.

When he realised the aircraft was on its way down, Cazanove radioed in and said “tell mother I’ll be home for tea”, before belly-landing onto the sands of Calais beach.

The Old Etonian then dusted himself off and walked into Calais where he joined up a with a British regiment, but was later captured by German forces and held as a Prisoner of War.

After the Spitfire was recovered, it went to the Musee d’l’Air at Le Bourget, Paris, and subsequently to further collections until the parts eventually ended up with the Aircraft Restoration Company / Historic Flying Ltd. at Duxford.

A team of 12 engineers spent three years meticulously restoring the Spitfire for Mr Kaplan and his friend Simon Marsh.

The completed aircraft successfully returned to flight for the first time since the Second World War in September 2011, and was flown by John Romain, Pilot and Chief Engineer at the Aircraft Restoration Company.

Romain said: “This is a fantastic restoration to be justifiably proud of. Spitfire P9374 is a truly lovely aircraft, and she flies beautifully.”

The new owner wants to remain anonymous.

Robert Copley, deputy chairman at Christie’s UK said: “The Exceptional Sale saw notable demand for individual masterpieces, led by an authentic Mark 1 Spitfire, which reached new heights as the unique sound of the Merlin engine roared across the sale room, establishing a new world record price for a Spitfire at auction.”