Primarily for general aviation discussion, but other aviation topics are also welcome.
I know nothing of this story. The thing that strikes me is that at that point in the war any operational squadron would happily trade a MkV for a MkIX which would bring a huge bonus in terms of likely survival in combat.

Had he wrecked the Mark V and returned a serviceable IX the brass hats may not have been pleased, but the pilots would have bought all his drinks for weeks.

Rob P
Last edited by Rob P on Fri Feb 01, 2019 10:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
A story of an Engineering Officer who rebuilt himself a Spitfire and flew it is told in the book "Spitfire Singh". It is a fascinating story, told by Mike Edwards, of a man who joined the fledgling Indian Airforce as a Sepoy (had to be lower than the lowest RAF rank) and rose through the war years to become Air Vice Marshall. It is a story of amazing leadership and a unique talent for mending and rebuilding aircraft. As an engineer, he managed to get a PPL by rebuilding broken civil aircraft, a Cub and then a Bonanza, and then rebuilt and flew a wrecked Spitfire he found on a dump. Eventually trained as an IAF pilot he actually flew his own Spitfire to his Wings parade.

The Spitfire is now part of the IAF Vintage Flight and Mike Edwards, a BA pilot, was awarded the MBE for helping them to become established.
kanga liked this
Not a Spitfire, but a Halifax, in the words of the pilot'. (From my Parish Magazine this month).

GILBERT STEERE CGM - A Rusper, West Sussex village Boy at War

In 1944 Gilbert was Flight Engineer in a Halifax plane manned by a Canadian crew on a routine bombing rand of marshalling yards at Acheres near Paris.
In Gilbert’s own words his nephew Harold Steere relates the amazing story of his Uncle’s bravery,

“On our way , the day being June 6th 1944, we were hit by fIak. I remember being most surprised that we were hit as the target was supposed to be an easy one. We had seen the shipping in the channel making their way across for the Normandy landings. Much to my surprise Andy our pilot gave the order to bale out. Three of the crew did so. I then realised something which changed the whole course of events and to a large extent changed my life - Andy, the pilot, had passed out and the aircraft was nosing down. A quick check of the instruments toId me that everything mechanical was OK. I leaned over and took hold of the control stick. The aircraft responded, the nose started to come up aid I realised we had a perfectly good aircraft with no pilot and the people who could navigate or operate were gone. I told the remaining two crew members we had a perfectly good aircraft and I would try to fly home to England. It must be appreciated at this point that I had never taken the controls of an aircraft, we were only taught the theory of flight at training school but had no practical experience of flying.

At some point Andy the pilot came round briefly and was able to select the lFF distress frequency on the radio . This probably saved our lives because of the very strict clearance of all aircraft, due to D Day precautions, anything unidentifiable would be shot down”

Gilbert needed to sit in the pilot’s seat, which with some difficulty he managed to do only to find that his chest parachute, when sitting in the pilot’s bucket seat, blocked his view out of the cockpit. He had no idea where they were.

“I just struggled on flying on the instruments trying to maintain an even height and steer a course due north.”

Finally he saw the lights of an airfield but then had a problem explaining to ground control that he was not able to land the plane this was a two man job, to try and land this monster would be madness. Meantime the pilot had been attached to a parachute.

“I notified ground control requesting they send out the Home Guard, who found Andy dead - he had been shot through the lungs." The remaining two crew then parachuted out, leaving only Gilbert.

“I tried to train the aircraft to fly straight and level and remember praying it would stay that way long enough for me to jump clear. I suppose, because I was so afraid of not being able to get out, to a large degree it overcame my fear of jumping.
I remember what a beautiful morning it was once my chute had opened. I watched the aircraft go down in an enormous curve and crash, immediately bursting into flames. I saw this field with buttercups growing and cows grazing by the river. It was the cows who had this surprise person fall amongst them !
About a month later I was at a crew gathering at our squadron base when the Wing Commander announced that I had been awarded the CGM and the two gunners the DFM.
I was so amazed. All I had done was to try and get home with a perfectly good aircraft when I knew our pilot, Andy, hadn’t a hope of bailing out over France.”
gaznav, Cowshed, kanga and 4 others liked this
Rob P wrote:I know nothing of this story.

Just to edit this. Having a clear-out of my stack of Britain At War Magazines I came across the June 2018 / Issue 134 which carries a six page article by John Nichol covering this very story.

Paraphrasing as best I can, a combat pilot 'Bamby' Taylor was forced to land his Spitfire IX on a beachead temporary airfield with engine issues but otherwise undamaged. He was marooned there and under shellfire.

'Greggs' Farish, the engineer in question, had a couple of hours dual instruction on an Italian biplane. nothing more. He didn't want to lose the pilot and he didn't want to lose the IX, and there was a Spitfire V squadron hack sitting out on the airfield.

Why nobody challenged an engineer seen heading towards an aircraft with Mae West and chute is not recorded. Especially as on his way to his jeep he asked a pilot sunbathing nearby "A Spit's landing speed is round about 90 mph, isn't it?" He was told 85 mph with flaps extended.

The story then goes on to include a hair raising take off with one attempt to get airborne prematurely. In upper air he wondered about the howling noise he could hear, eventually realising the gear was still down and the canopy open. He also couldn't resist firing off a few rounds of 20mm.

The flight took him forty minutes. the landing was astonishingly uneventful. "The ground came rushing up to meet me, I waited for the last moment then pulled the stick back. The huge nose came up and obscured my vision entirely. I bounced once then settled down, then felt a violent swing to starboard and jammed on full brake and rudder. I was very surprised the legs didn't fold up"

After he'd regained some steadiness he went looking for Taylor, only to find he'd hitched a lift out on a Dakota. Having nothing else to do he wandered across to the IX and set to work.

While he was working the strip was bombed and strafed by Luftwaffe 109s, missing both of the potentially flyable Spitfires. Then later, a 93 Squadron Spitfire flown by 'Screw' Rivett crabbed in to land with some problem. 'Greggs' suggested he get the Mark V out of danger. "There's a five over there. Take it back and tell them I'm OK" Rivett asked if it was serviceable, to get the response "Of course the bastard thing's serviceable. I've just flown it up here! And tell them I'm not going to fly anything back myself."

Overnight he slept in some Americans' trenches, in the morning resuming work on the original IX. Mid-morning a 93 Squadron Spitfire flown by 'Richy' Richardson belly landed. Asked what he was doing there Greggs replied "Fixing Spits. I have a spare one over there but it still needs a bit of fixing" They completed the work, Richardson passing spanners as required, all the time under shellfire that was landing around the airfield.

Finally Richardson was able to get this Spitfire, the original IX from the start of the story, airborne and away; almost simultaneously a jeep with white helmeted American MPs who'd been instructed to put him under arrest. With the arrival of a further two Spitfires needing work the arrest was forgotten about temporarily, and it was agreed that Farish would be given a lift back in a Fairchild four-seater that had recently arrived. He set to work on the new arrivals, restoring both to serviceability

When the Fairchild finally got him back to base he was immediately sent to the hospital in an attempt to establish his sanity, or lack of.

At the court martial he was charged with Improperly and without authority taking off in and flying an aircraft, and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. His mitigation plea of having got four combat pilots airborne and returned to service three combat Spitfires was not accepted. The sentence was a severe reprimand and six months loss of seniority. The Air Council later decided this was too harsh and decided to remit the seniority loss.

It's a cracking story, worthy of a comic book or Hollywood, but fully verified. If you want to read the whole thing back issues are available from Key Publishing I don't doubt.

Full acknowledgment to John Nichol for the story I have hacked to death above.

Farish's own book, the snappily titled Algiers to Anzio with 72 and 111 Squadrons: An RAF Engineer Officer's Experiences in North Africa and Italy with 239 Wing DAF During World War II is available secondhand on Amazon and possibly also as an e-book.

Rob P
Last edited by Rob P on Sun Feb 10, 2019 6:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Cowshed liked this
It's also covered on pages 295 to 306 in "Spitfire: A Very British Love Story” by John Nichol (who obviously used the same research material for the article). It's a book I heartily recommend. Very readable.

Thanks Rob for expanding on the story - in my view it is was an amazing deed on several fronts and to my mind shows a fair amount of jobsworthyness by whoever it was that decided to court martial him. Farish's decision to do what he did was totally reckless, but other totally reckless behaviours have resulted in bravery decorations (often with less tangible results).
Rob P, townleyc liked this