Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk XI
Capt. John Blyth Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk XI PA 944
Original Sold
8th Air Force 7th Photo Reconnaissance Group 14th Photo Squadron
No Print Edition
Station 234 RAF Mount Farm August 1944

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32cm x 20cm (12.6" x 7.9") 40cm x 29cm (15.75" x 11.4") Graphite on Drafting Film  Picture Code: AV018-SPITXI-7PRG

Capt. John Blyth - Pilot - 7th Photo Reconn Group
Capt. John Blyth
During the course of World War II the Supermarine Spitfire evolved into many variants and became regarded one of the greatest fighters of the conflict. Alongside its role as a fighter, it was also developed into a very successful reconnaissance aircraft. Of the different PR Spitfire variants, the Mk XI was produced in the greatest numbers - over 470 in total. It was based around the Spitfire Mk IX fuselage, but with extra fuselage and wing fuel tanks and carried no armament, or armour. Visually it differed from the Mk IX by having a deeper nose fairing to accommodate a larger 14.5gal oil tank and also had the un-armoured, wrap-around PRU windscreen. The tailwheel was retractable and most aircraft had a taller, pointed tail fin and rudder, culminating in a top speed of around 415mph at 24,000ft. Different camera configurations could be mounted in the fuselage section aft of the cockpit and outboard of the main wheel wells. As well as seeing service with the RAF and Commonwealth Air Forces, the US Army Air Forces also employed the Spitfire PR XI.

This particular aircraft was assigned to the 14th Photo Squadron of the 7th Photo Reconnaissance Group on 20th April 1944, operating from RAF Mount Farm, near Oxford, England. Like most of the unit's aircraft, it would have been used by several different pilots, but one known to have flown sorties in it was Capt. John Blyth who served with the unit from 1943 through until the end of the war. After completing his training Stateside, he ended up at Petersen Field, Colorado Springs before shipping out to the ETO where he was to initially fly the Lockheed F-5 Lightning with the 22nd Photo Squadron. He then transferred within the Group to fulfil his ambition to fly Spitfires with the 14th Squadron from April 1944.

On September 12th 1944, Blyth, having now reached the rank of Captain, got into some trouble while on a reconnaissance mission behind the Ruhr during which his headset cord got caught in the CO2 manual system for the landing gear resulting in the wheels getting locked in the up position. When he arrived back at Mount Farm he circuited the airfield until his fuel ran low trying every way he could think of to get the lock to disengage and the undercarriage to drop, but all to no avail and so he was forced to bring his Spitfire in for a belly landing on the grass. Luckily he escaped the ordeal unharmed and went on to increase his total sorties in the Spitfire to thirty six, achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and earning a DFC in the process.

In 2005, William Lorton, who's Great Uncle Jim Savage had been the Flight Surgeon assigned to the 7th PRG, went through footage filmed by his relative of the Group's operations during the war. Amongst the cine film was a clip of John Blyth making the belly landing in Spitfire PA 944 and William set about trying to trace him so he could show him the film. In doing so, he created his own excellent short film about this story which can be found on Youtube - Sundance Films: Spitfire 944

This drawing is based on an original photograph which can be found here on the IWM American Air Museum in Britain website.

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