Work to excavate Spitfire which crashed in 1940 begins

A Spitfire X4593.
Picture: Aviva Group Archive.

A Spitfire X4593. Picture: Aviva Group Archive. - Credit: Archant

A week-long excavation to unearth a Spitfire which crashed at Holme Lode in 1940 began on Monday.

Pilot Harold Penketh.
Picture: Aviva Group Archive

Pilot Harold Penketh. Picture: Aviva Group Archive - Credit: Archant

The mark 1 fighter plane came down on November 22 in what is now part of the Great Fen habitat restoration project, between Huntingdon and Peterborough.

Spitfire X4593, of 266 Rhodesian Squadron Royal Air Force, was based at RAF Wittering and was on a routine training flight with two other Spitfires.

Pilot Officer Harold Edwin Penketh was seen to break formation entering a dive from which he failed to recover.

Witnesses at the time said that his aircraft partially recovered at around 2,000ft but then re-entered a dive and struck the ground vertically.


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Mr Penketh did not attempt to use his parachute and was killed in the crash, his body was recovered and returned to his home town of Brighton.

Investigations concluded that either a failure of the oxygen system or a physical failure had occurred.

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Now, more than 70 years on, excavations will begin to recover the plans from its final resting place.

Following the excavation the land will be restored to a mix of fenland habitats and managed as part of the Great Fen nature reserve by the Wildlife Trust.

A geophysical survey of the site was conducted back in August by Peter Masters, from Cranfield University’s forensic unit, and the remains of the plane have been located.

The excavation will be carried out by Oxford Archaeology East. They will be joined by members of the Defence Archaeology Group, a military initiative using aspects of field archaeology to aid the recovery of injured service personal and veterans.

Great Fen staff and volunteers from the Great Fen Archaeology Group will also join the excavation.

All artefacts from the dig will be transferred to the RAF Wyton Pathfinder Museum before a full archive report will be produced and deposited in Cambridgeshire County Council’s historic environment record.

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