Spitfire Mk.Vb BL655 FJ - B  

 

Flying Officer Norman Alexander Watt

 

Royal Canadian Air Force

 


 

On September 3rd 1989, a team from the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group carried out the recovery of Spitfire Vb BL655 from the aircraft’s resting place deep underneath Dorrington Fen, between the Lincolnshire villages of North Kyme and Billinghay.  With the assistance of a mechanical digger, the recovery was completed in only eight hours, nevertheless a thorough search and investigation was undertaken, resulting in the current sizeable display in the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre’s main hangar.

 

On the 1st July 1943, three Spitfires of 416 (City of Oshawa) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, lifted off from RAF Digby for a routine training flight. At 11.10, some thirty minutes into the flight, contact was lost with 21 year old Canadian Pilot Norman Alexander Watt in Spitfire Vb BL655. The aircraft was seen falling in an inverted dive, from which it never recovered. Sadly, the aircraft ploughed into the ground at Dorrington Fen, only six miles from its home airfield. Flying Officer Watt was buried at Scopwick and the grave was reinterred with additional remains following the excavation.

 

During the excavation the aircraft was discovered inverted at depths between eight and twelve feet; the fuselage having been compressed, wedged itself under the Merlin engine which was facing backwards, with the front facing upwards. However, the presence of large quantities of fuel and oil aided the preservation of most of the wreckage and some contents, including items such as the dingy and the contents of its survival kit.

 

Spitfire BL655 is noteworthy as being a ‘presentation’ aircraft, carrying the name Hurlingham  on its starboard side forward of the cockpit, and below the engine exhaust stubs was the title Argentine British Squadron; interestingly, this dates back to service during 1942 with 164 Sqn - funded by the British community in Argentina through the 'Wings for Winston Foundation of Buenos Aires'. This Foundation collected funds with the aim of creating an all Argentine fighter squadron (i.e. planes purchased with Argentine money and flown by Argentina born pilots). A review of Pilot names serving with the Squadron would suggest the Argentine element was quite scarce, but nevertheless the Squadron was declared operational in early May 1942 at RAF Peterhead.

 

The display of BL655’s partially reconstructed fuselage and cockpit with recovered items was opened on 1st October 1991 by Brother Leslie. Sister Glenna was presented with a mounted spark plug by members of the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group.

 

My sincere gratitude is extended to David Stubley of the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group for the use of the original excavation photographs.

 

 

Brief History of Spitfire Vb BL655:

  • 1941

BL655 constructed at the Vickers-Armstrong aircraft factory at Castle Bromwich. It is thought BL655 was completed, with the Merlin engine built at Crewe, towards the end of 1941.

  • 1942

4th February: Taken on Charge at 9 MU and allocated to 416 Sqn at RAF Peterhead.

April 3rd: Cat Ac damage when undercarriage not lowered during night flying training.

April 8th to 13th: Under repairs on site.

July 15th: Allocated to 602 (City of Glasgow) Sqn, RAF Redhill.

September 11th: Joined detachment of 164 Squadron and coded FJ-B at RAF Tangmere, where it is thought the naming ceremony (as Hurlingham) took place.

  • 1943

February 3rd: Transferred to 341 (Alsace) Sqn, RAF Turnhouse.

February 4th: To Scottish Aviation for repairs.

March 13th: Awaiting collection.

March 30th: Sent to 45 MU at RAF Kinloss then Vickers Armstrong for fuel system modifications and wing stiffening.

May 8th: To 33 MU at RAF Lyneham and later 129 (Mysore) Sqn.

June 11th: Returned to 416 Sqn, RAF Digby

July 1st: Spun out of cloud and crashed six miles from RAF Digby, killing Flying Officer Norman Alexander Watt

  • 1989

Crash sited excavated.

  • 1991

Display of partially reconstructed fuselage and cockpit with recovered items was opened on 1st October 1991 by Leslie Watt at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby.