Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk XI PL965
Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk XI serial number PL965 left the Aldermaston factory in mid 1944. Built as a PR Mk XI photo reconnaissance aircraft, she was designed to operate at high altitudes (over 30,000 ft) as well as at high speeds of over 400 mph, and as such was the fastest of all the Merlin powered Spitfires. She was allocated to No.9 MU Cosford on 1st October 1944 and then ferried to No 34 Wing and thence allocated to16 Squadron, which at the time was a forward squadron based at Melsbroek airfield near Brussels in Belgium as part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force. She proudly wore the identifying code "R" for Robert.
16 Squadron was commanded by Squadron Leader Tony Davis DFC and his Spitfires were called upon to provide photographs of enemy territory for bomb damage assessment, to monitor airfields harbouring jet and rocket propelled aircraft and to build up the vital photographic mosaic maps which were used by the bomber groups for "pin point" bombing accuracy. The PRU blue painted Spitfires operated at low and high altitudes, always flying alone.
Over the next year or so, PL965 flew in excess of 40 operational missions over Germany, France and Holland . Squadron and pilot records include such destinations as Osnabruck, Bremen, Dortmund, Hanover, Hamburg , Kiel, and Berlin itself. Several distinguished pilots were entrusted with her safety on these long and dangerous sorties. Pilots such as Norman Godfrey DFC and Croix de Guerre, Willy Willshaw DFC, Group Captain Richard Bowen DFC, to name but a few.
With such missions being conducted at both high and low altitudes, she encountered anti-aircraft fire and was often intercepted and attacked by German fighters, including the new jet powered ME 262, one of the few aircraft that had the speed to catch her.
At the end of hostilities, PL965 returned to the UK for a short time but was then flown to Buckeburg near Minden in Germany and served with 2nd TAF Communications Wing. Her story continues in Europe, as she was "retired" and sold for the princely sum of £25.0s.0d to the Royal Netherlands Air Force and on the 10th July 1947 flown to Deelen in Holland, where she was used as a ground technical instruction aircraft.
As one of the lucky wartime survivors, by 1960 she was an exhibit at the Dutch War Museum at Overloon. Here she remained for 27 years, eventually returning to the UK in 1987, for restoration to airworthy status in the hands of the late Nick Grace. Prior to his tragic death, Nick had arranged for the rebuild to be carried out at Rochester by MAPS Ltd. and over the next 5 years she was lovingly and painstakingly restored by this highly experienced and dedicated team.
Returning to the skies in December 1992, PL965 was flown by the late and sadly missed Mark Hanna. Since then, PL965 has been a well-loved participant on the air show scene both here and in the USA from where she had recently returned in the summer of 2004.
In September 2004, PL965 made the move from her old home at Breighton in Yorkshire to North Weald in Essex. Since becoming part of the Hangar 11 Collection, this extremely rare and unusual example of a Spitfire has been a welcome sight at air displays and special events across Europe and has also taken part in a number of television programmes.
To see more images of the aircraft, click here.