The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Manchester, is spread throughout a range of buildings, clustered in the centre of what is one of the most important cities in the North of England. As such, and given the city’s prominent role in the business and industrial life of the region, it is to be expected that the collections would be of national importance, although with a strong regional bias. The Air & Space Hall (the former Air & Space Museum, which became part of MOSI in December, 1985), is housed in a magnificent Victorian building, the former Lower Campfield Market Hall, built in 1876. As such, there are distinct problems in housing some of the exhibits – I think that they would have needed an outsize shoehorn to get their Avro Shackleton in, even in pieces!
The Spitfire has the distinction of being the only Allied fighter aircraft in production for the whole war; it was subject to a continuous improvement programme, in order to counter developments by the Axis aviation industries. Here we see a fine specimen of the Spitfire FR.XIVe, ‘AX-H’, MT847, (c/n 6S/643779), on display at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester. This is an excellent example of improvisation. When the Fw190 arrived on the Channel coast of France, and began knocking the Spitfire Mk.V squadrons about, something had to be done. Rather than wait for the ultimate Merlin-engined ‘Spit’, the Mk.VIII, to finish development and enter production, Supermarine married a Mk.V airframe with the Merlin 61 – the result was the superb Mk.IX, which restored the balance and more! Similarly, when the late war conditions demanded a high-performance Griffon-engined ‘Spit’, Rolls-Royce shoe-horned a Griffon 65 engine of 2,035 hp into a Mk. VIII airframe, rather than ‘waiting’ for the definitive Mk.XVIII (which would arrive too late, in 1946), the result was the magnificent Mk.XIV.
Capable of 448mph at altitude, the Mk. XIV first entered service with No. 610 Squadron, Royal Air Force, in January 1944, just in time for D-Day and the campaign against the V-1; along with the Mustang, Hawker Tempest, certain marks of the Mosquito, and, of course, the Allies first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, the Spitfire XIV was one of the main fighters capable of catching the ‘Buzzbomb’. It was soon realized that armed reconnaissance was going to play a big rôle in the prelude to D-Day. A special version of Spitfire was evolved – the FR.XIVe. The ‘e’ meant that the so-called ‘universal wing’, which could accept any combination of 20mm cannon, .303″ or .5″ Brownings, had been fitted with 2 x 20mm Hispano cannon, plus 2 x .5″ Brownings. Rather strangely, the heavier cannon were outboard, and the Brownings closer to the fuselage. As well as this, to fulfil the new low-level rôle, the wings were ‘clipped’ to 32 feet 8 inches to increase roll rate, and a rear-fuselage tank, which made the Spitfire rather unstable until it was emptied, was fitted to give a range of 610 miles. Two Williamson F.24, 5″x5″ format cameras were fitted in the rear fuselage, for taking oblique photographs to port and starboard (the F.24 was also made by the U.S. as the K.24). The aircraft we see here is shown in RAF post-war fighter camouflage (also similar to late-war schemes, minus ‘invasion stripes’) of Ocean Grey and Dark Green over Sea Grey Medium. The pilot figure, posed against the port fuselage, has on a ‘Mae West’ life preserver, and is wearing the three stripes and crown of a Flight Sergeant in the Royal Air Force. The ‘Mae West’ is covering his jacket lapels, which is important, as we might have seen two small, brass letter ‘A’s; this would have told us that he was a member of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. No. 613 (City of Manchester) Squadron, RAuxAF, (motto, ‘Semper parati’ - ‘Always ready’) flew from nearby Ringway (it is now Manchester International) from 1946-49, with a mix of FR.XIVe and F.22 Spitfires.
MT847 never saw action, being issued to No. 6 Maintenance Unit, RAF Brize Norton in February, 1945, then spending time with No. 226 Operational Conversion Unit until November, 1951. After a time in store, it eventually was loaned by the RAF to MOSI, where it is an excellent reminder of the local Auxiliary unit, and a great example of one of the very best of the Spitfires.