P9374 left the factory on the 2nd of March 1940 and was flown to No.9 Maintenance Unit for final checks before going on to 92 Squadron, based at Duxford, England. It was one of seven Spitfires sent to the unit on 6th March when the old twin-engined Blenheim fighters were given up.
Shortly after the arrival of P9374 at Duxford, Flying Officer Peter Cazenove was finishing his final training on the Miles Master single-engined trainer. Soon after, P9374 became Peter Cazenove’s personal aircraft, which he would fly whenever possible - although others would fly it on several occasions.
On 9th May, Sergeant Ronnie Fokes flew it from Northolt to Croydon. On May 10, Peter Cazenove flew twice: a sector reconnaissance in the morning and formation flying in the afternoon. May 10th was the day the German Blitzkrieg began, with armoured spearheads smashing into Holland and France, while German paratroops assaulted the Belgian defences. It would not be long before 92 Squadron and P9374 entered combat.
Neither Cazenove nor P9374 flew again until the 14th of May as 92 Squadron was still not operational. However, that day the squadron continued training with Cazenove flying practice attacks in the morning and practice dusk landings, followed by a night sector reconnaissance, from which Cazenove landed his aircraft at 23.35 hours. Thirty minutes later, refuelled, Pilot Officer Johnny Bryson flew P9374 on another sector reconnaissance
During the afternoon of May 15th, Peter Cazenove took P9374 up again, and ran the little fighter threw thirty-five minutes of exuberant aerobatics. Then, at 18.50 hours, it was airborne again, this time with Sergeant R.H.Barraclough at the controls, for a half-hour of night flying training. View videos of Spitfire inspections.
Pilot Officer C.H. Saunders flew it on the 16th, practicing circuits and landings, and next evening, Sergeant Peter Eyles took it up for more night flying training. Johnny Bryson flew it again on the 18th, a sector reconnaissance at 22.05 hours and on the 19th, it made three flights. Flight Lieutenant Charles Green took it to Hendon at 07.05 hours, and Saunders flew it back again, landing at 08.50. That night Sergeant Barraclough again flew a night flying training session.
By now, the situation in France was getting desperate. Holland and Belgium had fallen and the British Expeditionary Force was being driven back to the Channel. It was time for 92 Squadron to finish its training. On the 20th of May, Peter Cazenove flew his last training sorties. At 11.45 it was formation flying and acting as target for practice attack by other squadron members. Then, at 14.55, he took off for formation attacks.
Three days later, pronounced combat-ready, 92 Squadron went to war, but on the first sortie P9374 stayed on the ground. Bushell led twelve pilots off at 10.45 hours to patrol from Boulogne to Dunkirk. Here they met the aggressive Messerschmitt Bf109 pilots from I. /JG 27 and a vicious fight ensued. Pilot Officer Pat Learmond went down in flames as the Bf109s hit them, and then it was every man for him as the Spitfire formation broke up. Both sides overclaimed heavily; the relatively inexperienced RAF pilots claimed two destroyed and four more ‘unconfirmed’ while I. /JG 27 claimed three Spitfires. Pat Learmond was the sole casualty from either side.
At 17.20 hours they were off again, this time with Pilot Officer Desmond Williams flying P9374. Off Boulogne, they sighted a mass of twin-engined aircraft that were quickly identified as Messerschmitt Bf110s. The German fighters dived on them from above and Bushell broke the squadron hard to port. The Bf110s charged through them, cannon and machine-guns blazing.
Desmond Williams was in the thick of it. He reported:
“Green Section, of which I was No.2, was lower than the rest of the squadron. The enemy formation split and I saw three Me110s below the main formation. On the first enemy aircraft, I delivered a beam, changing to a quarter attack. After a five-second burst I saw bits fly off the wings and one of the engines gave off clouds of white smoke. I then saw a second Me110 in front of me, broke from the first, and delivered a dead astern attack on the second enemy aircraft, firing three bursts of three seconds each at 200 yards range. I saw bits flying off the wings of the enemy aircraft, and a little smoke issuing from the engines. I then saw a third Me110 spiralling towards the ground. I got on its tail, and he started a very steep climb. I followed it, still on its tail, firing short bursts of 2-3 seconds until my ammunition was expended. I saw bits flying off both wings and noticed that the starboard engine was dead. I followed the aircraft to the ground and saw it crash.”
P9374 had been truly bloodied. Williams returned, claiming one Bf110 destroyed and two ‘possibles’. It is not known whether his first two opponents were credited, as ‘unconfirmed destroyed’ or ‘damaged’, but it was likely that it was the latter. When the battle was over, Roger Bushell was gone, as was Sergeant Paul Klipsch and Flying Officer J.Gillies. Bushell and Gillies became prisoners-of-war. Paul Klipsch was, like Learmond, dead. But 92 Squadron had claimed a total of seven destroyed, four unconfirmed, and four damaged (including Williams’ claims), plus two Ju88s destroyed. Flight Lieutenant Bob Tuck’s aircraft had been badly shot and Pilot Officer Tony Bartley’s had received some hits, as had Flight Lieutenant Charles Green’s.
The Final Hours of P9374
92 Squadron was stood down until the early morning of the 24th. At 08.05 hours, they were scrambled to patrol between Calais and Dunkirk. Flight Lieutenant Bob Tuck, now promoted to Acting Squadron Leader following the loss of Roger Bushell, was leading, and Pilot Officer Peter Cazenove was flying P9374, with another squadron pilot, Tony Bartley, leading one of the sections of that flight.
One of those pilots flying in Tony Bartley’s section had been Peter Cazenove and the bombers they had intercepted were, in fact, Dornier 17-Zs of I./KG 77. Whilst the Spitfires had luckily avoided the fighter escort the gunners on board the Dorniers were putting up a spirited defence, with Tuck describing how the gunners “blazed defiance” and “laid on a heavy crossfire”. It was into this defensive crossfire that Cazenove gamely followed Tony Bartley, and whilst Bartley’s Spitfire was hit it was not mortally damaged. Exactly what happened to P9374 we cannot be absolutely certain, although it is reasonable to assume that Cazenove’s Spitfire took hits from the Dornier gunners, probably disabling the engine. It only took a single round in the wrong place to cripple the fuel supply, wreck the oil pressure or to knock out the cooling system. Certainly, it would appear that nothing major from a structural point of view had affected the Spitfire and it could clearly still fly under control – although Cazenove had obviously decided a return across the Channel or back to Hornchurch was out of the question. Below him lay a wide, flat and open expanse of sand with the tide far out. Fortunately, this was a little to the south of the evacuation beaches, and thus he had a clear landing site to head for. Wheels up, he skidded across the beach throwing up a great arc of sand and water as his windmilling propellor kissed the surface, bending under impact as the radiator and oil cooler scoops dug into the wet surface. The Spitfire finally came to a halt not far away from the Phare de Walde light tower. Before he climbed out of the cockpit, Cazenove had time to radio to Tony Bartley who was circling protectively overhead: “Tell mother I’m OK. I will be back in a few days”. Turning for home, Bartley watched his friend head out across the beach for the sand dunes that mark the coast just north of Calais where he would ultimately be taken prisoner of war.
Cazevone spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war during which he survived a forced march from Calais to Desvres – during which he unsuccessfully tried to escape three times – followed by a stint at Stalag Luft I in Barth, France until 1943 and at Stalag Luft III at Sagan, Poland where he remained until the end of the war. Whilst at Stalag Luft III he was involved in preparations for the famous ‘Great Escape’ although ultimately, and perhaps fortunately, he did not manage the break from the camp.
In 1980, P9374 was found washed up in the sandy beach near Calais. Although the aircraft was soon recovered, Peter Cazenove did not live to see it, as he was in poor health during his last few years and he died on the 7th December 1980.