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FEATURE – BBMF Spitfire in new colours: Al Deere’s story

Photo: Sqn Ldr Mark 'Disco' Discombe, OC BBMF, flying Spitfire Mk.IIa P7350 following its repaint at Biggin Hill. PHOTO - DARREN HARBAR

 

Deere’s Third ‘Flightless’ Fighter

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire Mk.IIa P7350 has received the colours of New Zealander Alan Deere’s KIWI III. Former OC BBMF and the flight’s current historian, Clive Rowley, tells the story of the original resilient machine and its inspiring and audacious pilot. 

Recent major servicing has anointed a rare Spitfire in the livery of an aircraft flown by renowned New Zealand ace Al Deere in the Battle of Britain. Work on the BBMF Mk.IIa P7350 was completed under contract by The Spitfire Company (Biggin Hill), and it now wears a fresh scheme representing Spitfire Mk.I R6895/KL-B, KIWI III. Careful research ensured P7’s new colours were as accurate as possible. A wartime report from Deere himself sets the scene: “Taking advantage of our height above the enemy bombers to work up a high overtaking speed, thus making it difficult for the protecting enemy fighters to interfere with our initial run in, I led the two sections of Spitfires into the attack. A momentary buffeting as I hit the enemy bombers’ slipstream, a determined juggling with the control column and rudder, a brief wait for the range to close, and the right-hand Dornier bomber received the full impact of my eight Brownings. In a matter of seconds, in which time only a short burst was possible, I was forced to break off the attack for fear of collision. It was perhaps just as well, as the 109s were now all around us. In the next few minutes, a frenzy of twisting and turning, I managed quick bursts at three enemy fighters, as singly they passed fleetingly through my line of fire.”

This is Battle of Britain fighter pilot Al Deere’s description of combat off Kent’s North Foreland at around midday on July 24, 1940. Deere was flying his third personal Spitfire Mk.Ia R6895, which wore the 54 Squadron code letters KL-B, had his personal emblem of a Kiwi bird and the name KIWI III painted on both sides of the fuselage, under the windscreen quarter lights.

CHASING THE DREAM

Al Deere was born in Auckland in December 1917 and raised in Westport on the South Island of New Zealand. His family moved to Wanganui on the country’s North Island in 1929. More of a sporting than an academic youngster, Deere represented his school at rugby, cricket and boxing. After finishing his education, he found employment briefly as a shepherd and then a law clerk. At the age of 19, despite his father’s strong disapproval, Deere followed his childhood dream and joined the RAF, setting sail for Britain in September 1937.

After completing his training, Plt Off Deere joined 54 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch, Essex in September 1938. The unit was equipped with Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters, but in March 1939 it began converting to the Spitfire.

Deere’s first taste of combat came in May 1940, when 54 was one of the first Spitfire operators to participate in the intensive air fighting supporting the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk.

His first ‘kills’ were made on the morning of May 23 when he and Plt Off ‘Johnny’ Allen (who subsequently died on July 24 during the combat described earlier) escorted a Miles Master trainer to Calais-Marck airfield during a daring attempt to rescue Sqn Ldr Francis White, the 74 Squadron CO, who had force-landed there. The Master was flown by one of 54’s flight commanders, Flt Lt James Leathart, known as ‘The Prof’. Attacked by 12 Bf 109s, Deere and Allen fought an epic battle protecting the Master. Deere claimed two Bf 109s destroyed and Allen another, with three further ‘probables’ between them. The rescue was successful and both pilots returned safely to Hornchurch.

This was the beginning of a remarkable run for Deere who was officially credited with seven confirmed kills in six days…

The rest of this feature can be read in the current FlyPast, in UK shops now, or available at www.flypast.com

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