Spitfire takes to the skies 71 years after leaving Hornchurch RAF

A Second World War Spitfire that lay buried under a Calais beach for more than four decades has again taken to the skies in a historic flight last week.

It was a touching moment for the team behind the multimillion pound restoration of the plane, which made its last fateful flight from Hornchurch Aerodrome on May 24, 1940.

With Pilot Officer Peter Cazenove at the helm, the P9374 Mk1 Spitfire had taken off from the former RAF Hornchurch with the 92 Squadron, headed for the Dunkirk evacuation.

But just before reaching the French coast the squadron ran into German aircraft, which shot down Cazenove’s Spitfire.

The pilot managed to make an emergency landing on a beach near Calais, then still in Allied hands.

The Spitfire landed wheels-up, with Cazenove walking away unharmed only to be captured by advancing Germans soon after.

Cazenove was to be a prisoner of war for the next five years and even involved in some of the planning for The Great Escape – made famous by the 1963 film of the same name.

Most Read

Meanwhile, his spitfire was left to sink forgotten into the sand for the next 40 years…until a chance discovery in 1980 that would ultimately see it take to the skies once more.

After being recovered by military aircraft enthusiasts, the plane was later sold to a multibillionaire American collector.

The collector invested millions restoring P9374, with the plane finally making two successful 15minute test flights last Thursday and Friday in Duxford, near Cambridge.

It’s the first time P9374 has flown in 71 years, making it the world’s oldest surviving airworthy Mk1 Spitfire.

Unfortunately, the special flight will never be seen by Cazenove who passed away just weeks before the spitfire was discovered.

According to military historian Andy Saunders, who has written a book on P9374 to be released by Grub Street publishers at the end of the year, Cazenove even said to his wife ‘I wonder what ever happen to my spitfire,’ not long before passing away.

Mr Saunders told the Recorder: “The engineering that’s gone into recreating it is astonishing. It’s a huge development done by somebody with huge enthusiasm and deep pockets.”

Do you have an interesting story about the former Hornchurch Aerodrome? Contact the news desk at: news.desk@romfordrecorder.co.uk