Operational Record of Spitfire Mk IXB ML407

From Johnnie Houlton's autobiography

Johnnie_ML407

In Johnnie Houlton's words . . .

Against quite formidable odds Spitfire OU-V ML407 has survived in England, and has been converted to a two-seat dual control configuration. She is being completely overhauled and reassembled for flight by Nick Grace, her dedicated owner today.

I am touched, and honoured, to learn that Nick is permanently restoring the markings, emblem and insignia of OU-V, exactly as they were when I flew the aircraft during the summer of 1944. So there is also a chance that I may yet fly again in that Spitfire, forty years on from our last flight together in Normandy.

I believe, however, that the survival of Spitfire ML407 had a historical significance which will long outlive the fighter pilots who flew her into action.

In wartime service this aircraft was flown, almost exclusively, by pilots from New Zealand, France, Belgium and Norway; during the crucial period when the Allied Forces were reversing the defeats of 1940, in the process of restoring freedom and security in the Western world.

From Johnnie Houlton's autobiography Spitfire Strikes (1985), page 212.

Johnnie_ML407
Photo from Johnnie Houlton’s book ’Spitfire Strikes’
Johnnie Houlton with his aircraft Spitfire LF Mk. IX ML407/OU-V (for Vicky, his wife).

FrontLine
Photo from Johnnie Houlton’s book ’Spitfire Strikes’
ML407 and other aircraft of 'B' Flight, Merville Airfield, Normandy, September 1944.

Sadly, Nick Grace died in a car accident in 1988, having acquired ML407 in late 1979 from Sir William Roberts' Strathallan Museum. He spent five years meticulously restoring the Spitfire to flying condition in its two seat configuration (it had been selected by Vickers-Armstrongs for conversion to the two seat configuration for the Irish Air Corps as an advanced trainer in 1950) and designed what is known as the ‘Grace in line Canopy Conversion’: a design which removed the pronounced rear canopy and created a more streamlined version in keeping with the Spitfire’s clean lines.

His widow, Carolyn, knew there needed to be a Grace flying ML407 and so took on the immense task of learning to fly the Spitfire. In 1990 she went solo, and ML407 became known as the Grace Spitfire in memory of Nick Grace. Carolyn attained her display authorisation in the Grace Spitfire in 1991 and carried on to add an Aerobatic and Formation qualification over the next two years. Carolyn had displayed the Grace Spitfire for 25 years - amassing over 900 hours on Spitfires - before retiring from flying in 2017.

~ Source: Ultimate Warbird Flights

Grace
Author: User Guinnog on en.wikipedia
Mk IX trainer ML407, owned and operated by Carolyn Grace in the colours of No. 485 Squadron RNZAF: Duxford, 2001

1 May - 31 December 1944 with 485 (NZ) Squadron, 135 Wing of 2nd TAF: Sqn letters OU-V

Personal aircraft of Johnnie Houlton, 1 May - 1 October 1944. During its eight months of service with the New Zealand Squadron, the aircraft was flown on the following sorties:

Fighter sweeps and escort to bomber formations
69
Dive-bombing with one 500lb bomb
32
Patrols over the Normandy beach-head
30
Armed recce
6
Flown by 16 New Zealand pilots altogether, total sorties:
6

Enemy aircraft claimed by OU-V include 2 Ju 88s (1 shared with the Section); 2 Me 109s destroyed; and 1 Me 109 destroyed.

1 - 5 January 1945 with 341 (French) Squadron, 145 Wing of 2nd TAF; Sqn letters NL-D

Fighter support operations
3
Scramble
1
Flown by 2 French pilots, total sorties:
4

22 - 24 January 1945 with 308 (Polish) Squadron, 131 Wing of 2nd TAF; Sqn letters ZF-

Weather recce
1
Dive-bombing
1
Flown by 2 Polish pilots, total sorties:
2

8 - 13 February 1945 with 349 (Belgian) Squadron, 131 Wing of 2nd TAF; Sqn letters GE-P

Armed recce
10
Flown by 4 Belgian and 2 English pilots, total sorties:
10

28 February - 13 April 1945 with 345 (Fighting French) Squadron, 145 Wing of 2nd TAF

Armed recce
14
Flown by 7 French pilots, total sorties:
14

16 - 22 April 1945 with 332 (Norwegian) Squadron, 132 Wing of 2nd TAF; Sqn letters AH-B

Patrols
3
Armed recce
2
Flown by 3 Norwegian pilots, total sorties:
5

In her 12 months of operational service with 84 Group of the RAF Second Tactical Air Force Spitfire ML407 thus flew a grand total of 172 sorties. The homelands of all but two of her wartime pilots were outside the UK.

ML407
Photo © Darren Harbar.