Yet more Arbroath Spitfire tales revealed

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ARBROATH businesswoman Gill Howie, a partner in Squadron Prints Ltd., with Berry Vissers, is continuing to research the history of the Arbroath Spitfire, the machine donated to the Royal Air Force by the people of the town in May, 1942.

Last week she related how Second World War flying ace, Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson, flew ‘Red Lichtie’, Spitfire EP121, on numerous occasions.

She has since confirmed that in February, 1943, Arbroath’s Spitfire was involved in many flights and was flown by many different people. However, the aircraft was not only flown regularly by Johnnie Johnson but was allocated as his own aircraft when he was leader of 610 (County of Chester) Squadron.

Gill has received copies of some pages of the Squadron Operations Book and in conjunction with the pages from Johnnie Johnson’s logbook continues the aircraft’s operational history.

The February 1 flight for the Arbroath Spitfire was at 12 noon for a 1 hour 5 minute weather reconnaissance flight as the lead of Red Section comprising two other Spitfires. The section flew between Fecamp and Dieppe at zero feet five miles off the French Coast.

Gill said: “Can you imagine the sight of the Arbroath Spitfire being flown by the legendary Johnnie Johnson skimming the waves just off the coast of France? Amazing! The report went on to state that the weather was gusty and squally over the Channel with rain storms. What skill these fighter pilots had to be flying so low and so fast in such conditions! Thankfully they all got home safely”.

Gill went on: “On February 2, our Spitfire was in the air twice! The duty code for the flight was Circus 257 with a 10.50 a.m. take-off time. ‘Red Lichtie’ led a flight of 12 Spitfires and joined with 485 Squadron became ‘Tangmere Wing’. Wing Commander Brothers DFC led the wing over Merlimont Plage on the French coast at 21,000 feet. The wing continued on with similar profiles but did not encounter enemy aircraft and returned home at 12.30. Obviously there was a wee problem with EP121 and Johnnie Johnson took to the air again for an air test that afternoon.

“The Squadron launched three sections on February 3, Blue, Red and Green each of two Spitfires between 8.30 and 9.30 a.m. for convoy patrols. Red Section took to the air again just after noon for a further patrol. ‘Red Lichtie’ was in the air but the Boss took his aircraft for an air test and by 3.35 p.m. he was in the air again on an operational mission leading another 11 Spitfires. Following orders from controllers they found themselves over the French coast and again they all returned home safely. There are no reports from February 4 and 5 apart from Johnson doing an air test but something must have been going on because Johnson’s logbook includes several enemy aircraft claimed by different people but, sadly, also states Sergeant H.R. Parker was missing.”

Gill continued with her story: “Saturday February 6 started quietly but the calm quickly disappeared and by 1.30 p.m. Johnson was airborne leading in EP121 Red Section of six Spitfires on an air sea rescue mission about 20 miles North of Cap Barfleur to search for Sergeant Parker. Flying between zero and 1,000 feet they were vectored to the position from where the ‘Mayday’ had been received. It took them 25 minutes to get there and they searched for 20 minutes. They then zig-zagged home in 20-mile legs. The air sea rescue launch and a naval tender were observed about six miles off the English coast. Two unidentified enemy aircraft were observed flying low about five miles west but turned away after sighting Johnson’s section. They safely returned at 3.05 p.m.

“The search went on for Sergeant Parker and the second Red Section of the day, with a further six Spitfires, got airborne at 3.30 returning at 4.50 p.m.

“Johnson took to the skies again in the Arbroath Spitfire at 3.55 p.m. leading a section of three Spitfires to escort a Defiant and still looking for Sergeant Parker. The section crossed the coast at Selsey and escorted the Defiant for about 30 miles before being ordered to return owing to an enemy aircraft being plotted.

“The Defiant was escorted back to the coast and EP121 returned home 35 minutes later, landing at 4.30 p.m. That was our Spitfire’s day over but the Squadron flew a further two sorties. Blue and Green Sections of four Spitfires went out again to search and escort rescue launches and later Yellow and White sections rendezvoused with a Defiant and launches but still nothing was found of Sergeant Parker.

“A sad end to a busy week!”