This is an original World War II-era Supermarine Spitfire Mark IXB, it’s been fully restored to airworthy condition and it’s appeared in a number of films including “The Longest Day” and “The Battle of Britain” as well as many airshows across Britain.
The aircraft is now due to be auctioned by Bonhams later this week with a price guide of £3,500,000 – £4,500,000 or approximately $4,391,765 – $5,646,555. If you’re anything like me you’re going to need to spend a fair bit of time rummaging around under the couch cushions to afford it.
Fast Facts – The Supermarine Spitfire Mark IXB
- The Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX was created to give the Royal Air Force a fighter aircraft that could defeat the German Focke-Wulf 190A which had proved itself superior to the existing Spitfires of the time.
- In order to get a new and improved Spitfire into active service as quickly as possible the Mk IX was based on a Mk Vc Spitfire with the minimal changes done to it to enable the fitting of Rolls Royce Merlin 60/70 series supercharged engines.
- The Spitfire Mk IX was made in three versions: the Mk IXA was fitted with a Rolls Royce Merlin 61 supercharged engine, the Mk IXB was fitted with the Merlin 66 supercharged engine, and the IXC was fitted with the Merlin 70 engine and was specifically for high altitude operations.
- Supermarine Spitfire #MH415 was made as a Mk IXB fitted with the Rolls Royce 66 supercharged engine and saw active service during the Second World War.
- MH415 also served as a movie star with appearances in the motion pictures “The Longest Day” and “The Battle of Britain”.
- MH415 is fully restored and has appeared at air-shows in Britain.
The Mighty Spitfire
The Battle of Britain was the first defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War, and it jarred the Nazi war machine into a technology race in an attempt to create a superior fighter aircraft that could defeat the British Spitfires and Hurricanes.
By late 1941 they succeeded with the advent of the Focke-Wulf FW 190A, an aircraft that was superior to the British Spitfires and which proceeded to inflict casualties on the Royal Air Force that forced a strategic withdrawal from most operations over Europe until a new improved Spitfire could be created that would turn the tables on the Luftwaffe.
The RAF fighter pilots were called “The Few”, following on from Winston Churchill’s statement “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”, and the British did not want them to become even fewer.
This new improved Spitfire was created in stages, beginning with modifications to the existing Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vc to be fitted with a Rolls Royce Merlin 60/70 series engine.
The planned new version of the Spitfire was to be the Mk VIII but, because it involved a redesigned fuselage, it would take too long to get it developed and into production to combat the Focke-Wulf. So to ensure “the Few” did not get any fewer the plan was to improve the Mk Vc by fitting it with the upgraded Rolls Royce Merlin 61 engine and doing the minimum changes to make it immediately able to enter production. This series of aircraft were to be designated the Mark IX.
The Rolls Royce Merlin 61 engine featured a twin-stage supercharger that enabled it to function far better at higher altitudes than its predecessors, and this was the engine fitted to the first type of Mk IX Spitfire which was designated the F.IX, otherwise referred to as the Mk IXA.
The first test Mark IX aircraft made its inaugural flight on 26th February 1942. Development was so rapid that it then entered full production the following June and entered active service a month later. When a nation is at war the designers and engineers burn the midnight oil liberally and things happen at an amazing pace, the nation’s survival depends on it.
RAF groups equipped with the Mk IX Spitfire were once again able to venture into Europe and do a bit of catching up on lost opportunities due to their temporary strategic withdrawal.
Development of the Mk IX by no means ended there of course. The second variant was fitted with the Rolls Royce Merlin 66 supercharged engine. This engine was designed to produce its peak performance at the slightly lower altitudes of around 21,000 feet, which was the altitude range favoured by the Focke-Wulf 190. This second Mk IX was the LF. Mk IX otherwise known as the Mk IXB.
These were introduced in 1943 and proved to be an aircraft that could better than match the enemy fighters.
There was also a special high altitude Mk IX, the HF. Mk IX which was fitted with a Merlin 70 engine.
The Mk IXB was the Spitfire that proved to be the preferred weapon of choice against the Focke-Wulf 190A being about 30 mph faster, with better climbing ability and substantially more maneuverability, in other words it was the right tool for the dog-fights against the Nazi fighters.
That the Mk IXB was the preferred fighter comes over in the production numbers. There were 1,255 Mk IXA produced, 4,010 Mk IXB, and 410 of the more specialist HF.Mk IX high altitude Spitfires.
Armament for the vast majority of the Mk IX Spitfires was by the “C Wing” which either featured four Hispano Mk II 20 mm cannon or two 20 mm cannon and four .303″ machine guns. So equipped a Mk IX was able to send a great deal of high velocity nastiness in the direction of an enemy so as to cause them significant discomfiture.
With their speed and maneuverability combined with their armament the Mk IX proved to be an absolute nemesis to the Luftwaffe, for example Spitfire Mk IX’s of 401 Squadron had the distinction of being the first to shoot down a Messerschmidt Me262 jet fighter on 5th October 1944.
Spitfire Mk IXB MH415
Very few Spitfires survived after the end of the Second World War, the advent of the jet engine saw them become obsolete for Britain’s Air Force so a very few found overseas buyers whilst the vast majority were scrapped.
One of the fortunate few to have been sold was chassis #MH415. She had originally been built at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory in the summer of 1943 and delivered to 129 (Mysore) Squadron at Hornchurch in August 1943 where she was assigned to Squadron Leader Henri Gonay (DFC, Croix de Guerre, Pamle d’Or).
Henri Gonay was a Belgian veteran of the Battle of Britain who had slipped out of Europe in 1940 in order to join the RAF. In Gonay’s hands MH415 made various sorties into Europe as a part of the Allied air campaign.
Gonay was not the only pilot to fly MH415 and it was on 24th September 1943 on a bomber escort sortie with Flight Officer Desmond F Ruchwaldy in the cockpit that MH415 met up with a Focke-Wulf 190A and emerged from the ensuing dog-fight victorious.
On 4th October 1944 MH415 was transferred to the 222 (Natal) Squadron and was given the identification code ZD-E. With that squadron she participated in eighteen sorties, most of these being bomber escort duties.
From there MH415 was again transferred, this time to 126 squadron at Bradwell Bay, Essex in late September of 1944. At that point in the war the D Day landings at Normandy had been successfully carried out and the Allies had taken the war back into Europe with a view to liberating the invaded nations from the grasp of the Nazis.
At the end of the war MH415 was transferred to storage facilities until the August of 1946 when she was sold with other Spitfires to the Dutch government for use in the Dutch East Indies. In the final stages of the war in the Pacific, as the Japanese realized that they were going to lose the war they made a point of establishing groups that would fight against the return of their European colonial rulers, and so when the Dutch returned to the islands that would later become Indonesia they were met with organized resistance.
MH415 was shipped out to the Island of Java with 322 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force where she served until she was shipped back to Holland before being sold again, this time to the Belgian Air Force where she served at the L’École de Chasse at Koksijde.
In June 1956 MH415 was sold to Belgian company COGEA (Compagnie Générale d’Exploitation Aéronautique) and was initially used to tow targets for anti-aircraft crew training, but her life was about to become rather more interesting as she was hired for use in the movie “The Longest Day” in 1961.
“The Longest Day” was a movie about the D Day invasion and I remember seeing it at the movies when it was released in Britain. The war had affected every family. My father had served as a gunner on armed merchant ships during the war.
My mother had been working at the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield Lock making Bren guns, and had lived through the Blitz, having needed to sleep in the subway stations at night to have some measure of protection from the bombing.
So “The Longest Day” made a great impression on me, it brought to life things that family members and friends had lived through.
The icing on the cake happened for me when my Dad, younger brother and I went to the Biggin Hill air show, which we did every year, and saw a Spitfire do a fly-past: things in life one never forgets. MH415 was one of those Spitfires that did a Biggin Hill fly-past so I’m confident I was there to see her fly-past in person.
But MH415’s movie career did not end there. In 1966 she was given a thorough servicing and then in 1968 was back on a movie set for the film “The Battle of Britain”. The film shooting needing to be done initially in sunny Spain and then in the South of France because England’s green and pleasant land was being rained on mercilessly making filming of the dramatic dog-fight sequences impossible.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to see “The Battle of Britain” its well worth it. The aerial combat filming is quite superb.
At the conclusion of the filming MH415 was sold to one of the pilots who had been involved in the filming: a man from Texas named Wilson ‘Connie’ Edwards. The Spitfire was shipped to his ranch at Big Spring, Texas.
In Edwards ownership MH415 was treated to some restoration work including having been repainted in her wartime 222 Squadron livery complete with identification code ZD-E.
This graceful warhorse languished in storage at Edwards’ ranch until 2015 when she was shipped to Vintage Fighter Restorations of Scone, New South Wales, Australia, in whose hands she was given a thorough restoration with great care being taken to preserve as much of the original components as possible and still achieve a certificate of airworthiness.
From Australia MH415 was transferred to the care of Air Leasing Ltd of Northampton UK in whose hands she undertook her test flight in 2021.
This war veteran and movie star Spitfire has performed in air shows all over Britain. She retains 95% of her original parts and as restored is very much as she was when she was first made back the the dark days of 1943.
MH415 is coming up for sale by Bonhams on 9th September 2023, at Chichester, Goodwood and you can find the sale page here. Spitfires don’t come up for sale very often, and a Spitfire that has documented active service, and that has featured in two of the major motion pictures about pivotal events in the Second World War, is a rare warbird indeed.
This sale presents a rare opportunity to acquire an aircraft that is both historic, and iconic.
Images courtesy of Bonhams
Jon Branch has written countless official automobile Buying Guides for eBay Motors over the years, he’s also written for Hagerty, he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome and the official SSAA Magazine, and he’s the founder and senior editor of Revivaler.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine, and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China, and Hong Kong. The fastest thing he’s ever driven was a Bolwell Nagari, the slowest was a Caterpillar D9, and the most challenging was a 1950’s MAN semi-trailer with unexpected brake failure.