WWII

The Spitfire Shot Down Over Dunkirk... And Still Flying Today

The aircraft was shot down in 1940, and it was decades before it was rediscovered on a Dunkirk beach.

Eighty years ago, the Dunkirk evacuation took place.

It came about because of more than 300,000 British and Allied troops who has been left stranded on beaches of Dunkirk in northern France in 1940, cornered by advancing German forces.

The only way out was retreating back across the Channel to the UK. 

Civilians and the Armed Forces worked together to carry out the mission. 

It proved vital to the war effort, with hundreds of thousands of troops rescued and able to continue fighting.

While the evacuation was carried out by sea, the Royal Air Force was tasked with trying to control the skies above.

Facing the Luftwaffe in a stretch between Calais and Dunkirk was Spitfire N3200, from 19 Squadron at Duxford.

The squadron was going after a formation of German JU-87 Stukas when they were attacked by around 30 Messerschmitt 109s.

The Spitfire was shot down and crashed on to the beaches during the evacuation, where it remained for nearly 50 years until it was rediscovered.

The Spitfire N3200 crashed onto the beaches during the evacuation, before it was discovered in the 1980's and sent back to the UK for restoration in 2000.

"It sank under the sands until about the 1980s, when the tailplane of the aircraft became visible [and] people realised there was something there," said Adrian Kerrison, a curator from the Imperial War Museum.

The aircraft was later recovered from the beach and sent back to the UK in 2000, where it was restored in Duxford, before going on to fly again in 2014.

The pilot of the Spitfire in 1940 escaped and saw out the war as a prisoner - it was the aircraft's first mission.

The aircraft still flies today and can be seen at the Imperial War Museum site in Duxford.

In the water, meanwhile, one boat that took part in Operation Dynamo was Tamzine - a 15-foot inshore fishing boat believed to be the smallest vessel known to have taken part in the evacuation. 

Civilian boats of all sizes sailed across the Channel to help.

Tamzin is the smallest known boat to take part in the evacuation of Dunkirk (Picture: Imperial War Museum).

John Delaney, head curator of World War Two at the Imperial War Museum, said that "days before the operation started, the call went out" for civilian vessels, many of which were "requisitioned by the Royal Navy and taken over by Royal Navy crews".

He added that in "dozens of cases, boats were taken over by civilian owners [on a] impromptu basis".

As a result, Mr Delaney said there is "no real, official record" of how many of these boats took part in the evacuation.

The Tamzine boat is on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.