A long-lost World War II Spitfire that was assembled and finished at RAF Henley (Upper Culham Farm site, off Culham Lane, Wargrave) has been found on a Norwegian mountain almost intact 76 years after it was shot down.
This type of Spitfire (AA810) were built under a veil of upmost secrecy in the Vincents Garage right next to Reading train station and when they were ready for final assembly, they were moved to the secretive Vickers hangar at RAF Henley. Here a small group of experience fitters completed the final assembly and tests before she was cleared for flight testing.
More than 500 specially modified ultra-lightweight long-range Spitfires were built. The planes were used by RAF’s Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) and were sent on highly dangerous secret missions to photograph enemy ships, troop movements, manufacturing facilities, railways and dams. Unarmed, stripped of all their armoured plating and windscreens and without even a radio, they had extra fuel tanks – four times the range of a conventional Spitfire. Many of the planes were shot down over the North Sea so have never been located.
The discovery of this Spitfire AA810 in Norway is an extremely rare and unusual find. The aircraft was piloted by Scotsman, Alastair Gunn and shot down by two Messerschmitt 109 fighters on 5 March 1942. The careful archaeological excavation of the plane has revealed it was hit by 200 machine gun bullets and 20 rounds of cannon fire. Before it hit the ground its engine had stopped and its starboard side and nose and cockpit were both ablaze. Because of the shallow angle of impact and the mountainside was covered in deep soft fresh snow the plane survived relatively intact. Pilot Gunn bailed out but was captured and executed by the Nazis for being part of the war’s most famous prisioner-of-war breakout.
This Spitfire AA810 was discovered 56 miles southwest of Trondheim embedded in a mountainside peat bog and was identified by Spitfire historian and restorer Tony Hoskins from Sussex with the help from local people.
After the excavation and meticulous on-site recording, the aircraft’s component pieces (around 70%) have been carefully packed into boxes and driven back to the UK. Key parts of the fuselage and wings will now be reassembled and combined with parts from other Spitfires to ensure that by 2022 (80 years after it was shot down)the AA810 will fly again. It will be the first time ever that a PRU Spitfire has been reconstructed to flying condition.