Last week, our friend Stephen Comber from the Center of Aviation Photography (COAP) took part in the air-to-air photography event organized by the Aviation-PhotoCrew at the Athens Flying Week in the skies over Tanagra Air Force Base near Athens, Greece. As regular readers will recall, Stephen sent us some glorious air-to-air photos of the Hellenic Air Force’s F-4 Phantoms in action which we covered in a previous article.
However, another subject he captured during this event, albeit from the ground, was the recently-returned Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IXc (MJ755) known to many of us here simply as the ‘Greek Spitfire.’ While we covered this aircraft’s arrival at Biggin Hill for rebuild in 2018, its restoration, first flight, and dramatic return to Greece (this June) the Athens Flying Week show probably represented the first proper chance for the Greek public at large to see this magnificent aircraft strut her stuff in the air since her days in active service more than six decades ago.
Technically belonging to the Hellenic Air Force Museum, Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IXc MJ755 made her first post-restoration flight on January 19th, 2020. The fighter arrived home in Greece on Thursday, May 27th, 2021, following a three-year restoration stint within the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar at former RAF Biggin Hill near London, England. MJ755 is the only ex-Hellenic Air Force Spitfire extant, and had not flown over Greece since her retirement from military service on December 8th, 1953 – naturally her homecoming garnered significant attention, both domestically and overseas!
As we have related previously, MJ755 has an interesting history. She rolled off the production line at Supermarine’s shadow factory in Castle Bromwich during late 1943, arriving with 33 Maintenance Unit at RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire that December. In early 1944 the Spitfire received its first combat assignment, joining the RAF’s Middle East Air Force, arriving in Casablanca aboard the SS Fort Liard on March 13th. MJ755 joined the ‘Fighting Cocks’ of No. 43 Squadron and took part in Operation Dragoon, flying cover for the Allied forces landing in the south of France during mid-August, 1944. No.43 hopped from airfield-to-airfield as the invasion progressed across France, extending into Peretola, Italy in October, 1944, and finishing up in Klagenfurt, Austria at war’s end.
Following the war, the RAF transferred 77 Supermarine Spitfires, a mixture of Mk.IXs and Mk.XIVs, to Greece to help the nation rebuild the Hellenic Air Force. MJ755 was one of these airframes, arriving at its new home on February 27th, 1947; she joined 335 Squadron at Sides that April. By 1949, MJ755 had been relegated to the Air Force Pilot’s School at Tatoi Air Base in Dekeleia to serve within the Reserve Pilots Training Center. In 1950, the Spitfire journeyed to Athens for a full overhaul at the State Aircraft Factory, where it also received modifications with the fitment of two cameras for aerial reconnaissance missions. As already noted, her last flight took place on December 8th, 1953. For a while, MJ755 remained ground-bound with the Aircraft Storage Squadron at Hellenikon Air Base, but later returned to Tatoi for gate-guard duties. The Spitfire eventually became a part of the Hellenic War Museum in Athens, sitting on external display for several decades before formal transfer to the newly-formed Hellenic Air Force Museum at Dekeleia in 1995. In 2008, the museum removed MJ755 from display, disassembling the fighter for a planned airworthy restoration effort. However, other than taking the fighter apart and stripping off her paint, little substantive restoration work appears to have taken place until a decade later when financing became available to fund her restoration in England. Once that was in place, progress towards the first flight occurred rapidly. She arrived at Biggin Hill for restoration in early 2018, which we covered HERE, and made her first flight less than two years later. Had it not been for the pandemic, it seems certain that her return home would have taken place last Spring.
For her performance at the Athens Flying Week, the hugely experienced British warbird pilot Dan Griffith had the honors, however Hellenic Air Force pilots are expected to take on these duties in the near future as Steven Comber noted: “I spoke with Dan Griffith (Spit Pilot) on Tuesday at Headcorn. He said he is selecting and training two pilots from the HAF and they should be completed training in UK & Greece by endow Oct/Mid November by which time he will not be expected to go out there unless they need additional flight training. They will initially train with Dan on the Harvard then transition having most likely used the Spitfire simulator at Goodwood.”
Many thanks again to Steven Comber for these beautiful photos. To learn more about the Centre of Aviation Photography (COAP)and the aviation adventures they organize, please visit their website HERE. While the pandemic will have 2021 plans in flux for the moment, they are sure to have an amazing lineup of fabulous aviation photography adventures lined up for next year!