THE STORY OF SPITFIRE EN915
Author: Dennis Williams
Spitfire EN915 was built at the Vickers-Armstrong aircraft factory, Castle Bromwich, and delivered to the Royal Air Force at 37 Maintenance Unit, Burtonwood, on 17 May 1942. It was issued to 154 Squadron at Hornchurch on 12 June 1942. During its time with 154 Squadron, EN915 was flown by Plt Off Ted Hurt on four operations, the last of which was a sweep over France on 29 June 1942. Hurt was shot down and killed near St Omer on 30 July 1942.
On 19 July 1942, EN915 was transferred to 71 (Eagle) Squadron at Debden. This unit included many American personnel, and took part in convoy patrols, as well as Circus, Rhubarb and Ramrod operations over enemy-occupied territory.
With 71 Squadron, EN915 was flown by various pilots, including: Plt Off S M Anderson, 2nd Lt D W Beeson, Wg Cdr R M B Duke-Woolley, 2nd Lt V J France, Plt Off H D Hively, 2nd Lt A H Hopson, Plt Off R D McMinn, Plt Off R L Priser, Sgt A J Seaman, Capt R A Sprague, Plt Off W D Taylor and 2nd Lt G H Whitlow. Plt Off Bill Taylor was EN915’s regular pilot, and flew the aircraft on several operations, including three in support of the Dieppe raid, ‘Jubilee’, on 19 August 1942. He was shot down off the Belgian coast on 31 August 1942, and has no known grave.
71 Squadron was transferred from the RAF to the US Army Air Forces on 1 October 1942, and re-numbered as 334 Squadron. On 1 December 1942, EN915 was damaged in a mid-air collision with Spitfire W3636. Capt Bob Sprague, the pilot of the latter aircraft, was killed in this accident.
On 13 April 1943, EN915 was dispatched to Scottish Aviation Ltd for repairs. It joined the Telecommunications Flying Unit at Defford on 1 October 1943. At Defford, EN915 acted as a ‘target’ during radar flight trials, but also had a secondary role, providing air defence for the station.
On 1 February 1945, the Station Commander, Gp Capt John McDonald, took off from Defford on a flight to St Davids in Pembrokeshire. En route, directional control was lost, because a bolt in the control linkage to the rudder had not been properly secured. Gp Capt McDonald headed back to Defford, but decided that it would be safer to abandon the aircraft by parachute than to attempt a landing without the use of the rudder. Over open country, he climbed EN915 to a height of 9,000 feet, then baled out.
Gp Capt McDonald landed safely near Stoke Orchard airfield, while EN915 dived steeply into the ground at The Leigh, to the south of Tewkesbury. Surface wreckage was cleared from the crash site, but all parts forward of the cockpit were left buried there. When these remains were unearthed at Leigh Court Farm nearly 50 years later, the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was found to have penetrated the ground to a depth of 12 feet as a result of the Spitfire’s high speed impact.
Note by Bob Shaw:
The Merlin engine from EN915 and other parts recovered from the crash site are now preserved by DAHG.