The final player now enters the story, my friend Dave Wadman, he responded to a plea for help in interpreting some images of the event I’d found in the stills library of the British Pathe-News film archive at http://www.britishpathe.com.
Not only did Dave have better quality copies of the Pathe archive stills but also some comments that supported my own ideas. We agreed on the fuselage roundel and he suggested a perfectly credible explanation for the repainted colour, the outer yellow ring had been painted out and in the process the whole blue portion of the roundel painted over, the ratio of the outer blue rings proportions to the red and white of the roundel is not correct.
Dave’s prompting also led me look more closely at my own downloaded images, and it was here that I finally noticed what had been staring me in the face for all this time!
I’ve looked at the images in great detail and using digital zoom and sampling tools to test various ideas, I think I’ve formed an opinion that RK917 was painted very differently from the scheme I’d assumed she was wearing.
The image above highlights this. Compare the tone of the lighter grey of Bader’s aircraft in the immediate foreground, with the tone of the same area on the aircraft behind. Notice also the brighter patch of grey on the side cowling of the same machine.
The archive stills and newsreel footage tell a similar story and if anything are even more conclusive, there is no visible demarcation between the grey applied to the upper surfaces and the grey applied below.
It was also clear from the archive images that RK917 had no underwing serials on the day of the flypast, nor a sky tail band or yellow leading-edges on the wings.
In fact the colour scheme I see when I look at the pictures now is of overall Medium Sea Grey with a Dark Green disruptive pattern. I don’t think the regular Day-Fighter scheme is correct at all.
This scheme, more typical of Mosquito night fighters was in addition to the non-standard fuselage roundels and the custom DB codes in white with a black outline. I’m sure the spinner was probably Roundel Blue despite Dave suggesting once more that it was red. The fuselage serials were black.
What we have is a very distinctive Spitfire indeed, potentially wearing an ersatz RAF Nightfighter colour scheme, odd fuselage roundels and those “DB” codes.
Having read much about Bader’s career and anecdotes about him I’m well aware that he would normally have frowned upon his personal aircraft being turned out in anything other the first-class trim, What has puzzled me about RK917 is that it appears to have been painted and marked in such a non-standard colour scheme, it goes against the personality of its pilot.
In my opinion, and after all that is all I’m offering here, RK917 was freshly painted for the flypast, the paint in Dave Wadman’s picture certainly looks new and clean and there doesn’t appear to be any visible stencilling. Why the colours are so odd is anyone’s guess but I think it might have been to make his aircraft more easily visible during the formation assembly ready for the flight over London.
For an RAF enthusiast like me any reason to model a distinctive Spit is welcomed and so I’m pleased with being able to justify this colour scheme, at least to myself, and maybe a few others.
I’ve been discovering things about RK917 since the SAM publication was released. I don’t know quite why this subject has held so much appeal for me, possibly because the materials to base an informed opinion on are there for the looking, or maybe because Bader has always been a hero of mine and this period of his career hold a lot of interest for me.
What’s most likely is because I wanted to see how easy or hard it was to pick a subject and learn what I could about it in order to make a better model.
What I did pick up along the way were a good bunch of contacts who have become my friends in this quest, each wanted to contribute something and were willing to go the extra distance with images and notes and suggestions, Jonathon went so far as to send me a few beautifully printed pairs of Bader’s fuselage codes in 1:48th and 1:72nd scales.
The following profile images were generously provided by Stephen Mudgett to whom I am very grateful, more of Stephen’s work can be found at www.stephenmudgett.com