Heywood Spitfires

From 'Spitfire Dawn', by Mark Bromley.
From 'Spitfire Dawn', by Mark Bromley.

The full flight history for two Heywood Spitfires (MK Vb W3898 and Mk Vb EP646) has been revealed for the first time, thanks to Councillor Alan McCarthy.

Both Spitfires had work completed on them at the RAF Maintenance Unit in Heywood (35MU)) during the Second World War. 35MU closed in 1967 and is now the Distribution Park.

Staff pose with a Spitfire, RAF Detling, 1944
RAF Detling, 1944. (© 602 Squadron Museum Association)

Spitfire MK Vb W3898

The Spitfire MK Vb (tail number W3898, code LO W), designated as a low-level fighter, was built at Eastleigh and first flew on 17 September 1941, presumably having had long range tanks fitted at Heywood 35MU on 19 September.

W3898 transferred to 602 Squadron 25 September 1941.

602 Squadron originally formed in 1925 as a light bomber squadron, its role changed in 1938 to army co-operation and in 1939 to that of a fighter squadron.

During the Second World War, the squadron flew Spitfires and took part in the Battle of Britain.

In July 1941, it arrived in south-east England to take part in sweeps over France for a year before moving back to Scotland.

W3898 transferred to 19 Squadron (2 April 1942).

19 Squadron was stationed in the UK after the outbreak of the Second World War, reforming on 1 April 1924 at Duxford and was part of No. 12 Group RAF, RAF Fighter Command, during the Battle of Britain.

19 Squadron formed part of the Duxford Wing, 12 Group's 'Big Wing' formation.

W3898 transferred to 350 Squadron (4 October 1943), along with ID code change to 'MN-J'.

No.350 Squadron was formed at Valley on 12 November 1941, as the first Belgian-manned fighter squadron.

Equipped with Spitfires, it became operational on defensive duties on 22 December and moved south in April 1942 to begin flying sweeps over northern France.

W3898 transferred to 322 Squadron (11 January 1944).

No.322 Squadron was formed at Woodvale on 12 June 1943, from No.167 Squadron which had a high proportion of Dutch personnel and was already operational with Spitfires Vs on defensive duties in the Irish Sea area.

At the end of December 1943, it moved south to Hawkinge and began flying convoy patrols and sweeps over the Channel for two months, before moving to Scotland for tactical training at Ayr.

W3898 transferred to the Central Gunnery School RAF, Pembrey (7 October 1944).

The Central Gunnery School transferred in from RAF Sutton Bridge in March 1944, continuing its role of training experienced aircrew to become Gunnery Instructors for both Fighter and Bomber Commands. The principal aircraft used were Spitfires and Vickers Wellingtons, together with support aircraft for roles such as target towing.

W3898 transferred to No 1 Air Gunners School (28 November 1944).

Between 1941 and 1945 Pembrey was host to the RAF's Air Gunnery School, involving Bristol Blenheim and Vickers Wellington bombers and Spitfire fighter aircraft, and included experimental courses.

W3898 was struck off (RAF) charge on 29 September 1945.

Spitfire Mk Vb EP646

The Spitfire Mk Vb EP646 was built at Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory. It was delivered to Heywood 35MU on 19 July 1942 after a Cat AC flying accident (repair is beyond the unit capacity, but can be repaired on site by another unit or a contractor).

Transferred to Air Service Training (7 September 1942).

Transferred to 118 Squadron on (24 September 1942); Code NK.

On 20 February 1941, No. 118 reformed at Filton as a fighter Squadron equipped with Spitfires. On 28 March convoy patrols began and in June the Squadron began to provide bomber escorts and took part in fighter sweeps over northern France. In January 1943, it moved to East Anglia and began sweeps over the Netherlands, moving in September to northern Scotland on defensive duties.

In January 1944, the Squadron came south again to join Second TAF but returned to the Orkneys in March for four months. Sweeps and bomber escort missions were resumed in July 1944 and in January 1945.

Transferred to 84 Group Communication Flight 24 April 1944 (Codes 2O and 7H).

No. 84 (Composite) Group was formed on 15 July 1943 within 2nd Tactical Air Force. It was disbanded on 15 December 1947.

Transferred to 57 Operational Training Unit (Codes JZ, LV, PW, XO) where it swung on landing and suffered wheel collapse at RAF Boulmer in a Cat AC flying accident 13 October 1944.

EP646 was struck off (RAF) charge on 12 February 1945.

Thanks to Cllr Alan McCarthy, Armed Forces Lead Member for Rochdale Council, for providing this article to 'Monkey Town', January 2017.

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