S31 Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk XIX
The Spitfire PR Mk XIX was the last of the specialised photo reconnaissance Spits and the only one with a Griffon engine, being delivered to the RAF from mid-1944 to shortly after the end of WWII.
The Mk XIX was unarmed and could carry two vertical cameras and/or one oblique camera in a heated compartment aft of the cockpit. It had a top speed of 716 km/h, a cruising speed of 430 km/h and a ceiling of about 13000 metres. With an external auxiliary tank, the total fuel capacity was 1563 litres and top range 2250 kilometres. The cockpit was pressurised with the aid of an engine-driven blower.
In 1945, the Swedish Air Force had a pressing need for a single-seat reconnaissance plane. As a stop-gap measure, a number of obsolete J9 fighters (Seversky P-35A) were converted and transferred to the F11 reconnaissance wing at Skavsta in Nyköping.
In 1948, the cold war prompted an urgent upgrade of the Swedish AF, but the planned PR version of Swedens indigenous swept-wing jet fighter, the SAAB J29 Flying Barrel, was delayed since the fighter version had priority.
As an interim solution, in 1948 a total of 50 surplus PR Mk XIX Spitfires were bought from England at a bargain price and assigned to the F11 wing with the Swedish designation S31. The recce wing was thus equipped with a plane which flew faster and higher than any of the Swedish AF fighters in service at the time. The S31 was instrumental in developing new AF reconnaissance tactics.
The last S31 was retired from Swedish service in August of 1955 and, in an act of bureaucratic vandalism, every single Spitfire was either scrapped, used for target practice or relegated to fire fighting drills. Still, an immaculate S31 in Swedish colours is currently on display in the Swedish Air Force Museum at Malmen near Linköping.
The S31 in the Swedish Air Force Museum
Since all the S31:s were destroyed, the Air Force Museum had a gaping void in its collection which was not filled until S31 number 51 was rolled in on March 15th 1989.
Starting life as PM627, this Mk XIX had a chequered career, having flown in the RAF from late 1945-51. It served in the Indian Air Force between 1953 and -57 and was then displayed in the Indian Air Force Museum until it was bought in 1971 by the Canadian Fighter Pilots Association.
Located by the indefatigable Mr. Sölve Fasth of the AF Museum, this Spitfire was acquired in 1982 through a complex and costly barter deal. The Museum had to relinquish no less than one Tp79 (DC-3), one J34 (Hawker Hunter), one AD-4 Skyraider and two and a half (!) SAAB A32 Lansen attack jets.
In return, the Museum got one rather dilapidated Mk XIX, lacking its engine, mainwheels, most of the cockpit equipment, windscreen and canopy. The complicated and extremely thorough restoration took some 10 000 man hours, put in by volunteer Spitfire enthusiasts from 23 to 76 years old.
Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk XIX (S31)
The museum's example is a subject of the photo essay. Since there are many photographs, the material has been divided into sections below.
Much has been written about the Spitfire, but two books especially for the Mk XIX enthusiast should be mentioned.
The obvious first choice is S31 Spitfire Mk XIX i den svenska flygspaningen by Axel Carleson which covers the the PR Mk XIX in Swedish AF service and also includes notes on the restoration of the Museum S31. The book is jam-packed with unique contemporary pictures (some in colour), cockpit and camera installation drawings and is generally a treasure trove for the modeller. The text is in Swedish, sadly without even a summary in English for international readers. Still, the excellent illustrations make it worthwhile even if you do not understand the language. It was published in 1996 by Östergötlands Flyghistoriska Sällskap, ISSN 1102-7088.
Born Again Spitfire PS 915 was published in 1989 by Midland Counties Publications, ISBN 0 904597 74 1. The booklet (48 pages) covers the history and restoration to airworthy condition of PR Mk XIX PS915, now belonging to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The many photos and detail views make this publication invaluable to modellers.
©1998 Joachim Smith