Spitfire recovered in Norway

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The port side of the fuselage, showing the amazingly well-preserved Royal Norwegian Air Force markings. JAN ERIK ARUD

Sixty-eight years after Royal Norwegian Air Force Spitfire LFIX MK997 crashed into the Samsjøen lake, west of Trondheim, the substantial remains of the fighter were recovered on 13 August. The Spitfire will now be restored to fly for eventual operation with the Norwegian Flying Aces organisation at Notodden Airport, in the Telemark area of western Norway.

Originally delivered to No 1 Squadron, RAF at North Weald on 16 April 1944 as the unit was trading in its Hawker Typhoons for Spitfire IXs, MK997 was given the codes JX-F. On 29 April the squadron was posted to Predannack in Cornwall on fighter-bomber duties, and was flown on least one occasion by 23-year-old Danish volunteer pilot Sgt Jorgen Preben Herner Petersen. He was one of four Norwegian pilots that had been posted to No 1 Squadron on 7 April.

With the onset of V1 attacks on southern England, the squadron moved to Detling in Kent on 22 June to help counter the ‘doodlebug’ threat.

On 4 July, MK997 was damaged when it hit a barrage balloon cable at 200ft near Gatwick after breaking away from a V1 interception. The unit went back to flying bomber escort missions following a move to Manston on 18 December 1944, a role it undertook until May 1945 when No 1 Squadron moved to Ludham and re-equipped with Spitfire 21s.

Following three years of storage at High Ercall, MK997 became one of 32 MkIXs selected for the Royal Norwegian Air Force, being delivered to Norway on 1 May 1948. It was allocated to 331 Skvadron at Værnes in February 1950, but that August, while being flown by 2nd Lt Finn Thorstensen at low level over the Samsjøen lake, it struck the surface, the pilot being killed instantly as the aircraft broke up.

In 2009 airline pilot and historic aircraft owner/operator Øyvind Munch Ellingsen received permission from the family of Finn Thorstensen and the Royal Norwegian Air Force to recover the wreck. Øyvind says, „I was lucky to get Trondheim-based diver Hallgeir Revhaug on the team, and in 2011 we found the wings, aft fuselage and armour plate and a frame just aft of the cockpit. The following year we discovered the Merlin engine.

There were then several years with little activity, since Hallgeir had a bad shoulder and the other divers did not have enough time.

„In November 2017 I went into partnership with Runar Vassbotten from Norwegian Flying Aces. Runar is now the owner of the majority of the shares in MK997 with me as a minority owner. Runar promised the use of a helicopter, which inspired the divers to the great effort this summer in bringing the major parts to the surface.”

On 16 August, Runar Vassbotten added, „The rebuild to lying condition will start soon, and I will be travelling to the UK next week to have meetings regarding this. We have not yet made the decision whether it will be rebuilt as a two-seater or into its original coniguration. We already have a two-seater under rebuild in the UK.”

That aeroplane is Spitire IX EN570/LN-AEA, the irst Spitire restoration to go onto the Norwegian civil register.

The fuselage is being built at Airframe Assemblies on the Isle of Wight, with the wings under construction at the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, close to where it was briely based during 1943. Delivered to No 611 Squadron at Biggin Hill on 15 May 1943, EN570, coded FY-J, was credited with the destruction of a Focke- Wulf Fw 190, but fell to the guns of another ‘190 on 11 June near Saint-Pol-sur- Ternoise, in the Pas-de-Calais.

Runar Vassbotten continues, „Earlier this year we found another Spitire IX, MJ785, which crashed during the summer of 1945 while being operated by No 165 Squadron in Norway. So we then have the possibility to rebuild MJ785 as our second two-seater and keep MK997 as a single-seater: due to its Norwegian history that would be very nice.”

The recovered parts of MK997 were due to be displayed at the Telemark Airshow at Notodden on 2 September. Norwegian Flying Aces already operates several aircraft from Notodden, including North American T-6 LN-FTX, Boeing Stearman PT-17 LN-FTX, and a North American T-28B, C-GSLA. A 1934 Cessna C-34 Airmaster, LN-JAN, is being restored in the workshops there, and will soon join 1946 Cessna 140 LN-KCJ on the active leet.

The fighter’s Rolls-Royce Merlin is brought ashore. JAN ERIK ARUD

MAIN PICTURE: The fuselage of Spitfire LFIX MK997, just after emerging from Lake Samsjøen on 13 August. JAN ERIK ARUD