World War Two Spitfire unearthed after 73 years

PUBLISHED: 08:00 16 July 2015

Dan Snow at the Spitfire dig site in Somerset, PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 10, 2015. TV presenter Dan Snow and the pilot's family joined experts as they started to excavate the Spitfire site in Somerset. See PA story HERITAGE Spitfire. Photo credit: Dean Belcher/PA Wire

Dan Snow at the Spitfire dig site in Somerset, PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 10, 2015. TV presenter Dan Snow and the pilot's family joined experts as they started to excavate the Spitfire site in Somerset. See PA story HERITAGE Spitfire. Photo credit: Dean Belcher/PA Wire

MORE than 70 years after it crashed into farm land, a World War Two Spitfire has been dug up from a field near Cheddar by TV Historian Dan Snow.

The Spitfire

n The Spitfire was used by the Royal Air Force and other allied countries during World War Two.

n It was produced in greater numbers than any other British combat aircraft before or since the war, with 20,341 built in total.

n The Spitfire is known for its role in the Battle Of Britain, a major turning point in World War Two. But the Hurricane actually outnumbered the Spitfire in the battle against the Luftwaffe.

n There are only about 55 Spitfires in airworthy condition worldwide.

On July 12, 1942 a deep rumbling hum echoed from the skies above Weston.

Military aircraft had become a common sight over Somerset during World War Two, and the Spitfire was among the finest in Britain’s arsenal.

But this particular Spitfire was hurtling to the ground towards Cheddar at more than 300 miles per hour after colliding with another aircraft.

Its pilot – 24-year-old Sergeant William James Johnston – baled out with his parachute and landed in a field in Draycott, none the worse for wear.

Undated handout photo of a team of archaeologists unearthing a rare Mark II Spitfire which crashed in a farmer's field in 1942 in Somerset. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 10, 2015. TV presenter Dan Snow and the pilot's family joined experts as they started to excavate the Spitfire site in Somerset. See PA story HERITAGE Spitfire. Photo credit: Dean Belcher/PA WireUndated handout photo of a team of archaeologists unearthing a rare Mark II Spitfire which crashed in a farmer's field in 1942 in Somerset. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 10, 2015. TV presenter Dan Snow and the pilot's family joined experts as they started to excavate the Spitfire site in Somerset. See PA story HERITAGE Spitfire. Photo credit: Dean Belcher/PA Wire

But his Spitfire, called The Black Horse, crashed in a marshy field and remained untouched for 73 years.

On Friday, Mr Snow and aviation experts excavated what is believed to be the best preserved Spitfire in the UK.

Sergeant Johnston was out training that day in July 1942, and Mr Snow explained: “While flying over Weston, the aircraft suddenly and dramatically had its tail carved off by another trainer Spitfire – the Enfield Spitfire.

“With the plane struggling, Johnston realised he needed to get out if he was to survive.

Undated handout photo of  pilot Sergeant William James Johnston, as a team of archaeologists are unearthing a rare Mark II Spitfire flown by him which crashed in a farmer's field in 1942 in Somerset. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 10, 2015. TV presenter Dan Snow and the pilot's family joined experts as they started to excavate the Spitfire site in Somerset. See PA story HERITAGE Spitfire. Photo credit: Family handout/PA WireUndated handout photo of pilot Sergeant William James Johnston, as a team of archaeologists are unearthing a rare Mark II Spitfire flown by him which crashed in a farmer's field in 1942 in Somerset. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 10, 2015. TV presenter Dan Snow and the pilot's family joined experts as they started to excavate the Spitfire site in Somerset. See PA story HERITAGE Spitfire. Photo credit: Family handout/PA Wire

“He managed to make a successful bale out and within hours he was back at the base.”

The aircraft was paid for by 12,000 members of staff and directors at Lloyds bank, who raised £7,000 in six days.

All Spitfires paid for by donations rather than the Government became known as Presentation Spitfires, and about 1,500 were built.

Lloyds named theirs The Black Horse, after the company’s logo, and the completed aircraft was delivered to the 72 Squadron RAF Acklington, Northumberland, in May 1941.

It took part in patrols protecting naval convoys, and shot down a German Messerschmitt over Gravelines in Northern France.

It suffered a number of crashes during its service, including belly-landing when its undercarriage failed to deploy, engine failure and crash-landing in strong winds.

But as improved Spitfires were unveiled by the RAF, The Black Horse was moved to Somerset 
and used for training new young pilots.

Sergeant Johnston, who was from Ireland, was back in the air the day after his crash.

He flew in numerous squadrons and served in Nigeria, Sicily and France.

It has taken years of research for experts to find The Black Horse Spitfire, and the dig was held to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Battle Of Britain.

They unearthed its Rolls Royce Merlin engine and the starter motor, which was in extremely good condition.

The specific location of the field has been kept secret while work continues.

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