I was recommended to join this forum as being the best place likely to help me. I am on a quest – here are the details and the reason why:
On 8 November 1941 a Spitfire Mk Vc serial number AA963 rolled off the production line at the Supermarine factory at Eastleigh in Southern England. It was test flown later that day. This Spitfire was then christened “Borough of Southgate” as it was presented to the RAF and bought from funds raised by the citizens of the London Borough of Southgate, a working class suburb of North East London, which had suffered badly at the hands of the Luftwaffe during the 1940/41 Blitz. The fact that the people of Southgate had managed to raise the money to buy ‘their’ Spitfire was remarkable as this was a predominantly poor area, and it was testimony to their spirit and determination to get back at Goering’s air force that they succeeded in just a few months.
(Photo of AA963 fresh off the factory)
This ‘presentation’ Spitfire was technically quite unique, as it was one of the very first Mark V’s to carry the ‘C’ wing armament option which dispensed with Browning machine guns and carried a total of four x 20mm Hispano cannon instead. (This 4 x cannon option quickly proved to be unsuccessful in combat and later aircraft were usually armed with a mixture of cannon and mg’s). However AA963 never had an opportunity to prove her worth in combat as she was crated up in mid-December 1941 and sent to the port of Liverpool to wait for a ship to the States.
The reason for this was that after the events of 7 December 1941, a request was made by President Roosevelt to Winston Churchill for ‘one of the latest Spitfires’ to tour the US and assist in fund raising for the War Bond Drive. Spitfire AA963 arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 10 March 1941 and was shipped on to Wright Field for assembly and evaluation. After being briefly displayed at Chicago Municipal Airport in April 1942 she then joined a US War Bonds promotional tour called the ‘Cavalcade of the Air’, which commenced with a flypast over New York on 13 June 1942 in the company of a British Beaufighter, P39 Aircobra, P40 and a captured Messerschmitt bf109E (RAF serial AE479. This bf109 aircraft was flown all over the US before being pranged by a US Navy pilot in November 1942, ultimately being rescued post-war from a Canadian junk yard then transported back to the UK where it is currently on display at Duxford museum).
The ‘Cavalcade’ tour covered many US cities over a period of 3 months, including St Louis, Washington and Kansas City.
I have many gaps in the precise ‘Cavalcade of the Air’ itinerary and would very interested if any of your readers could supply any information of this era of Spitfire AA963’s US service. My last ‘sighting’ of AA963 was at Lincoln AFB in Nebraska in mid-1943, where I believe she was being used as a non-flying instructional airframe for fighter aircraft mechanics under training. At this time there were US fighter squadrons using Spitfire Mk V’s in the European Theatre of Operations under the ‘Reverse Lease Lend’ scheme and it is logical that a Spitfire Mk V airframe would come in handy for mechanics to train on before an overseas tour of duty.
(Last known photo repainted in USAAC colours but still bearing her RAF serial - presumably at Lincoln AFB)
What happened after Lincoln AFB is anybody’s guess – the trail has gone well and truly cold. If anybody reading this is able to shed some light on the missing details of AA963’s service, I would be extremely grateful, as I started my quest to track her down when I was a cadet at No 85 (Southgate) Squadron and my Commanding Officer gave me the first photos taken at the factory on the day she first flew. I was born in Southgate, and was a pilot for many years. It is my intention one day to write down the full history of this aircraft and present it to the people of Southgate, my home town. I now live in Auckland New Zealand. Thanks for taking the time to read this.