Aboukir’s High-Altitude Spitfire (Original Modification)

Discussion in 'Basic' started by HF_Spit, Mar 13, 2017.

  1. HF_Spit

    HF_Spit New Member

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    #1 HF_Spit, Mar 13, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2017
    Hello
    I would like to try & get the records straight about the event that took place in North Africa during WW2, where a modified Spitfire shoots down a JU86.

    I am the Grand son of the mechanic who made this modification. My granddad's name is Bert Woods.
    I hope you understand that this is important to me to get this straight & also important amongst aviation enthusiasts.

    He told me about this event long before it was posted on the internet.
    I am pretty sure he didn't realise the significance of what he was doing at the time but it certainly made a difference.
    Although we were close he didn't say too much but he told me about this not long before he died so it must have been important to him.

    This is what he told me.
    There was a German reconnaissance aircraft flying every day over us & we couldn't do anything about it, it was flying much too high for any fighter. He said you could hear it but do nothing. Then every night there was a bombardment. He told me it was obviously spotting positions.

    So they decided to do something about it. (I could tell Bert was annoyed while he was telling me this, he had his annoyed, angry face)

    He made it very clear they only had one aircraft & that was a Spitfire that he maintained. He made this very clear because he told me how the conditions were pretty bad where he was.

    The way he told me the story, it did not sound like a very planned modification at all. It was one done quickly & worked first time.

    He told me about removing the Hispano Cannons and other details that match most of the Wikipedia information but
    there is one big detail he told me that is not mentioned anywhere else yet about this modification. He went into detail about how long it took to remove many of the Spitfires main bolts. He told me that these took a lot weight up. I queried him about this but he insisted this is what he did. This detail is not mentioned anywhere else because no-one else knows apart from the real man who did it & who ever he decided to divulge the information to, I am assuming he told the Pilot too. Also the modifications that took place after this original most likely would not have had this done & so it would not have been recorded.

    He said the pilot took off and shot down the reconnaissance plane.

    He made it clear that after this the bombing stopped at night.

    Bert Woods (Far Left)
    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Welcome to the forum, and thanks for the info.
    When you mention "main bolts", do you know which bolts your Grandfather was referring too ?
    The 'high flyers' in the UK itself, not only had the cannon and associated equipment removed, but also the armour plate, and any unessential equipment and fittings.
     
  3. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    That is awesome, thanks for posting this.
     
  4. Robert Porter

    Robert Porter Well-Known Member

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    Very interesting, I too would love to know what he meant by main bolts.
     
  5. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #5 stona, Mar 13, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2017
    Is this a No.145 Squadron Spitfire we are talking about? At least one of these was indeed lightened and shot down a Ju 86 P in 1942.

    All high altitude adaptations required the removal of all non essential equipment, 145 Squadron reduced the armament to just two .50 calibre machine guns. The lack of radio (wireless in the 1940s) meant that the lightened aircraft operated in conjunction with a normally equipped aircraft which could maintain radio contact with controllers on the ground. Once visual contact was made the lightened aircraft would attempt the interception.

    Later No.41 Squadron adopted a system of flying a pair of Spitfires, one armed with only .303 machine guns which would attempt to drive the target down to an altitude at which its cannon armed partner could finish it off.

    There were many different attempts to lighten and tweak Spitfires for extremely high altitude interceptions.
    'Bill' Kain (who may still have been with No. 127 Squadron) flew a modified Mk IX, MA504, to an altitude of 47,000ft on a test flight, 16th April 1944.

    MA504 was later much photographed while serving with No. 41 Squadron.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  6. HF_Spit

    HF_Spit New Member

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    #6 HF_Spit, Mar 13, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2017
    I have added a picture of Bert & his unit which my cousin has just sent to me.
    Bert was clear when he told me only one Spitfire was used to bring down a JU86.

    Bert was also clear about this being the first modification like this. He was an excellent mechanic & worked on many interesting projects & British WW2 Aircraft throughout the war.

    Regarding the Bolts he talked of removing. This is something that stuck very clearly in my memory. What I do remember was that he told me there was a lot of them & this is what took time. I imagine only a real Spitfire mechanic would really understand.

    It's amazing to think that this one Spitfire could make so much difference because it was not expected.
     
  7. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    Great picture! When I was last in Egypt a few years ago you couldn't get near those monuments for the throngs of tourists!

    The first specially modified Spitfire was the Mk V converted on No. 145 squadron as far as I know. I think this may be the one which your relative worked on. That aircraft was the first to make a successful interception of a Ju 86 and it would indeed have been a nasty surprise to the Luftwaffe, but it was not the only one, nor the last.
    There were numerous other conversions, several Mk IXs later in the war. This is a matter of historical record.

    There are plenty of people who know and understand how a Spitfire goes together and works. I don't think that they or a 'Spitfire mechanic' would know what 'main bolts' indicates. Most would interpret that as meaning something to do with either the wing or engine attachment, and those fixings were definitely not removed :)
    The weight was saved by the removal of non essential equipment, non essential in the sense that it could be removed without compromising the integrity of the airframe or its ability to fly. For example, all pilot armour was removed. It was considered non essential, but what the pilots thought about this might be different. Later all paint was removed, again deemed non essential, and the aircraft puttied and sanded to a smooth finish before being polished.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  8. HF_Spit

    HF_Spit New Member

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    #8 HF_Spit, Apr 20, 2017
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2017
    Hi,
    The reason Bert (My Grand Dad) mentioned main bolts to me because these were Bolts which could be considered by some to compromise the integrity of the Aircraft. This is why he made such a point about it to me & why i have made such a point about it here.
    In his opinion the Spitfire would be ok without theses 'Bolts'. As he led me to believe they were not to do with non-essential equipment, that it was a calculated risk. He also made no mention of extended wing tips.

    He did tell me some details to do with the shooting down.
    The pilot only just managed & struggled to reach the altitude of the German aircraft, that the pilot & his Spitfire was barely able to get shots in & only damaged it just enough. He said we were really lucky.

    I am sorry Steve but this is how he explained it to me. I can not go into more detail than this. I guess it is unfortunately open to interpretation.
     
  9. HBPencil

    HBPencil Member

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    Cool, thanks for the info :)

    At the risk of exposing myself to ridicule as I'm no engineer but I can see how removing a number of bolts from, say, the empennage and wing roots may work given that the aircraft was not expected to be exposed to anything but moderate maneuvering given the extreme altitudes it was to operate at? I guess the pilot would've been obliged to descend gently and keep an eye on his airspeed.
     
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