F/Lt. John Dunlop Urie and the shortest serving Spitfire…
602 squadron had been on 5 days at readiness for around 16 hours per day, with significant combat activity, when, at lunchtime on 18th August 1940, they were finally stood down for well-earned rest.
The pilots had just returned to their messes, where, as Urie, temporarily in command, recounts:
“I sat down with some relish to a pint of beer, I had taken two sips when the telephone went: we were to take off as soon as possible.”
Sprinting back the ¼ mile back to their aircraft, Urie found his plane on stands with the wheels removed, with the ground crew laying into their backlog of maintenance. Unwilling to leave his Squadron leaderless, Urie’s only option was to take this Spitfire, X4110. Brand new, just arrived as a replacement, with guns unharmonised and no Squadron markings.
Ten minutes later the Squadron engaged a formation of 60 Stukas. Urie himself managing to cause damage to five of the attacking aircraft.
Out of ammunition, Urie turned for home. He recalled:
“There was a machine on my tail which I assumed was my No.2. It wasn’t …”
It was an Me 109. Seconds later, canon shell strikes tore into his rear fuselage. Splinters from the impact tore into his legs and parachute. A second attack caused further damage but then, his aggressor turned for home.
Flying at only 500ft with the cockpit jammed shut, his legs numbing with pain, and control wires that might fail at any moment, Urie felt that his only choice was to try to make the landing at Westhampnett. The flaps had jammed, forcing a fast approach. In an incredible act of airmanship, especially given the pain he must have been suffering, Urie brought the aircraft in and to a controlled halt, despite one tyre being shot to pieces. Urie was pulled safely from the aircraft and treated for his injuries. He continued to serve with the RAF throughout the war.
Spitfire X4110 was barely more than a wreck and would never fly again. Its operational life had been only 24 minutes, possibly the shortest of any Spitfire.
The painting depicts Urie in the damaged X4110, forward slipping the aircraft on his fast and low approach to Westhampnett.
Oil on Canvas Board, Size c. 20"x16". Price £723 (+p&p large)