Kaj Birksted's Wingco Spitfires
Kaj Birksted becomes Wing Commander (flying) of the North Weald Wing on 1 August 1943. As Wing Commander he had the privilege to carry his initials as identity code on his aircraft. He is believed to have had three Spitfires carrying "KB" on the fuselage. This article is an attempt to compile information on these aircraft - at the time being with a focus on the first.
First of all, the article identifies each of the three Spitfires and then suggests the appearance of the aircraft. This can only be a suggestion as only one of them appears to have been photographed.
The first - BS458
On 26 July 1943, Birksted takes off from North Weald leading the Wing on Rodeo 250 with No. 331 Squadron. He is flying the Spitfire F IX (BS458) on the sortie. This aircraft is believed to be the first of three Spitfires carrying his initials while Wing Commander (flying) of the Wing.
Some confusion concerns this aircraft though, as the Operational Record Book (AIR 27/1728) of 26 July 1942 states that Birksted is leading the No. 332 squadron taking off on Rodeo 250 with No. 331 Squadron in Spitfire IX (BS548). But none of the existing sources place Spitfire IX BS548 at No. 332 Squadron or any of the other North Weald Wing squadrons for that matter. The identity is also supported by the fact that the Form 540 of 15 October 1942 states that re-equipment with Spitfire IX has commenced; the first two have arrived. One of these aircraft is BS458 and it seems only natural that the Wing Commander Flying is one of the first pilots to re-equip with this new type. Thus, evidence support that the aircraft in question is indeed BS458.
The aircraft was a Merlin 61 engined Spitfire F IX built at Eastleigh. The aircraft had its first flight on 19 September 1942. It arrives at North Weald about a month later on 15 October 1942. In the following months it is piloted by the changing Wing Commanders at North Weald; W.G.G. Duncan Smith, D.S.O., D.F.C., P. G. Jameson, D.S.O., D.F.C., and H. Mehre, D.F.C.
In late July 1943 Birksted had not yet been formally appointed Wing Commander; he is appointed on 1 August 1942. Thus, the aircraft still carried the initials of W/C H. Mehre ‘HM’ on the flight. Lassen (2004), supported by Birksted’s log book, states that the initials change on 15 August 1942. Birksted claims two damaged and three destroyed in this aircraft.
The aircraft leaves No. 332 Squadron on 4 October 1943 for a major overhaul and is delivered to No. 611 Squadron (as FY-F) on 17 July 1944, but suffers category Ac damage during operations on 23 August 1944. It is repaired on site, returns to No. 661 Sqn., but a few days later et is transferred to No. 312 Squadron. On 1 February 1945 it is damaged (as DU-F) during a forcelanding at Bradwell Bay. Initially categorised as category B damage it is re-categorised as category E on 16 April 1945 and the aircraft is struck of charge on 18 April 1945.
Some sources, including Hurt (2004) claims that the aircraft also served No. 306 Sqn. (as UZ-Z), but I believe that this is an error and refers to BS456 in stead.
The second - MH830
The day after BS458 leaves North Weald, Birsted’s second Wing Commander Spitfire arrives. This is Spitfire F IX (MH830) a Merlin 63 engined Spitfire F IX built at Castle Bromwich Aero Factory. The aircraft arrives at North Weald on 5 October 1943 from No. 33 Motorisation Unit.
Birksted claims three destroyed in this aircraft.
The third - MJ462
In the Spring of 1944 No. 132 Wing prepares for the invasion practising low level bombing. During this period they convert to Merlin 66 engined Spitfire L.F. IXc built at Castle Bromwich Aero Factory optimised for low-level flying.
According to Lassen (2004) Birksted flies Spitfire L.F. IX (MJ462) on 2 February 1944. This is a bit confusing as this aircraft according to Form 78 does not arrive at No. 132 Wing - No. 66 Sqn. - before 8 June 1944.
The aircraft leaves No. 132 Wing later that year on 5 October 1944. He has no claims flying this aircraft.
(Lassen, 2004; Morgan and Shacklady, 2000; Hurt, 2004; AIR 27/1927; Air Ministry Form 78; Olav Hungness)