Spitfire loaned to Soviet Union in WWII has £2million makeover

Stalin’s Spitfire: Wrecked in Russia in 1945 after being loaned to the Red Army, iconic aircraft is brought home… and given a £2million makeover

  • Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, serial number PT879, was one of 1,328 British fighters supplied to the Red Army
  • Was part of often forgotten ‘lend-lease’ scheme by the Allies to help Joseph Stalin’s forces fight the Nazis
  • After a restoration project, it is now the only flying example of a ‘Russian Spitfire’ in existence
  • Was flown by British owner Peter Teichman over Grafham Water reservoir near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire 

It is probably the most famous fighter aircraft in history, its sleek shape familiar to millions after it helped to defeat the German air assault during the Battle of Britain.

So it may come as a shock to see a Spitfire bearing the Soviet red star on its fuselage and wings instead of the usual RAF roundels.

But that is how this warplane appeared – unfamiliar markings and all – until it crashed in 1945, and was abandoned on the tundra in a remote part of Russia.

The Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, serial number PT879, was one of 1,328 British fighters supplied to the Red Army from 1942 to 1945 under an often forgotten ‘lend-lease’ scheme by the Allies to help Joseph Stalin’s forces fight the Nazis on the Eastern Front.

After a restoration project costing more than £2million, it is now the only flying example of a ‘Russian Spitfire’ in existence.

It is pictured being flown by its British owner Peter Teichman over Grafham Water reservoir near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire.

The Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, serial number PT879, was one of 1,328 British fighters supplied to the Red Army from 1942 to 1945 under an often forgotten ‘lend-lease’ scheme by the Allies

After a restoration project costing more than £2million, it is now the only flying example of a ‘Russian Spitfire’ in existence. Pictured: Parts of the plane are seen in 1998 after it recently arrived back in the UK. The plane crashed in a remote part of Russia in 1945

Built at the Vickers-Armstrongs factory at Castle Bromwich, on the edge of Birmingham, PT879 was shipped to Murmansk in Russia’s far north in October 1944.

It joined a Russian squadron, but crashed on May 18, 1945, on the nearby Kola Peninsula.

Official reports say PT879 had completed a total of 18hrs 29mins of flying time before the crash during dogfight training when another Spitfire hit it with its wing, cutting off its tail, according to historian Peter Arnold.

PT879’s pilot Lieutenant Grigoriy Vasilievich Semyonov bailed out safely.

It is pictured being flown by its British owner Peter Teichman over Grafham Water reservoir near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire

Russian aircrew are seen preparing to clamber into their British Spitfire’s in an image taken during the Second World War

Russian aircrew are pictured leaning against a Spitfire which had been converted into a two-seater

Supermarine Spitfires are seen being prepared for delivery to the Soviet Union at Abadan, Iran in 1943

Mr Arnold said Spitfires, with their delicate undercarriage and high performance at high altitude, were ‘not a particular favourite’ of Russian pilots who preferred ‘more rugged’ aircraft for the intermediate height combats on the Eastern Front.

After its recovery by a Russian farmer in 1997, PT879 was sold to a UK buyer.

Six years later, it was bought by Mr Teichman, who runs The Hangar 11 Collection in North Weald, Essex.

A licensed display pilot in his 60s, he provides planes for airshows, corporate events, films and weddings and has restored several wartime machines. 

His collection includes a more familiar looking Spitfire Mark XI and an American P51D Mustang.

Despite PT879’s remains being badly damaged, Mr Teichman (pictured) was able to harvest thousands of parts including its wings, fuselage, cannon and machine guns 

Built at the Vickers-Armstrongs factory at Castle Bromwich, on the edge of Birmingham, PT879 was shipped to Murmansk in Russia’s far north in October 1944

Official reports say PT879 had completed a total of 18hrs 29mins of flying time before the crash during dogfight training when another Spitfire hit it with its wing, cutting off its tail, according to historian Peter Arnold

Mr Arnold said Spitfires, with their delicate undercarriage and high performance at high altitude, were ‘not a particular favourite’ of Russian pilots who preferred ‘more rugged’ aircraft for the intermediate height combats on the Eastern Front

Despite PT879’s remains being badly damaged, Mr Teichman was able to harvest thousands of parts including its wings, fuselage, cannon and machine guns. 

The Arctic tundra had even preserved some of the Spitfire’s paintwork.

A replacement Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 engine was sourced from Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar in Kent, where the restoration was completed.

It was even fitted with 250lb bombs – as Spitfires often were late in the war – although these are fibreglass replicas. 

PT879 made its first test flight post-restoration last October and has a Civil Aviation Authority permit to be flown at displays.

A replacement Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 engine was sourced from Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar in Kent, where the restoration was completed. It was even fitted with 250lb bombs – as Spitfires often were late in the war – although these are fibreglass replicas

Parts of the original aircraft are seen above. Mr Teichman was able to incorporate parts of the original plane into his restoration project

Mr Teichman said he had been supported by his wife Karen during the project, adding: ‘It’s been a labour of love for both of us

Mr Teichman said of his wife: ‘Karen likes flying too, but as it’s only a one-seater I can’t take her with me unless she was strapped to the wing – and she’s not keen on that!’

Out of the more than 20,000 Spitfires built from 1938 to 1948, around 60 are still airworthy.

Mr Teichman said he had been supported by his wife Karen during the project, adding: ‘It’s been a labour of love for both of us.

‘Karen likes flying too, but as it’s only a one-seater I can’t take her with me unless she was strapped to the wing – and she’s not keen on that!’

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