Restoration of RAF 54 Squadron Leader E M Gibbs Spitfire Mk Vc

During the time in 1943 that William “Bill” Hinds was with RAF 54 Squadron in Darwin, his commanding officer was Squadron Leader Eric Malcolm “Bill” Gibbs. RAF Nos 562696 (NCO) and 43200 (Officer)

Spitfire Mk Vc Tropicalised of 54 Squadron RAF, No.1 Fighter Wing being pushed into its camouflaged bay at Parap airfield, Darwin in June 1943. This aircraft was the aircraft of the Commanding Officer of 54 Squadron, Squadron Leader Eric Malcolm “Bill” Gibbs DFC. (Photo credit Australian War Memorial black and white original colourised by Mile Pegs NT))
CO of 54 Squadron RAF S/L Eric M. “Bill” Gibbs leads a flight of Spitfire MkVcT’s over the Northern Territory in his personal mount, A58-63 in 1943. He was to record 5.5 kills in this machine over the NT and it is currently being restored in NSW. (Photo credit Australian War Memorial black and white original colourised by Mile Pegs NT))

RAF 54 Squadron had mainly new personnel and Gibbs, who was a RAF regular, had little fighter experience, having recently been posted in from a general reconnaissance squadron, where he had been flying Avro Ansons.

In Darwin on the left is Squadron Leader E M “Bill” Gibbs DFC and to his right, Flight Lieutenant John Cock DFC from The Grange, South Australia. (AWM negative by H Dick)

Both flight commanders, Flt Lt Bob Foster and Flt Lt Robin Norwood, however, were Battle of Britain veterans.

Flight Lt Robin Norwood and Flight Lt Bob Foster Winnellie NT 1943

Born on the 14th July 1912 at Whittington, Staffordshire in the UK, E M “Bill” Gibbs had joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice at Halton in September 1928. He was later chosen for pilot training and on 1st April 1940 he was Commissioned from Sergeant and served as a coastal command pilot with 608 Squadron flying Avro Ansons. He was promoted to Flt Lt on the 1st April 1942 and posted to 54 Squadron on the 9th of April, 1942, when it was based at Castleton in the north of Scotland. He led the Squadron out from England departing on the “Stirling Castle” on the 20th June 1942 and arriving in Melbourne on the 13th August 1942 with only 6 aircraft (the other 42 allocated to the Fighter Wing had been offloaded from the “Nigerstown” in Sierra Leone and diverted to the Western Desert.) The Squadron then moved by train to Richmond RAAF Base in NSW, arriving on the 24th August. Replacement Spitfires reached Australia on the 25th October 1942. On the 14th January 1943, RAF 54 Squadron left Richmond for Darwin with the aircraft arriving at the civil aerodrome, Parap, on the 17th January 1943 and the rest of the squadron crew on the 25th January by Motor Vessel “Maetsuycker”. Bill Gibbs continued to be the Squadron CO in Australia until the 11th January 1944. He was awarded the DFC in November 1943. He stayed in the RAF after the war and transferred to the Secretarial Branch and retired from service in July 1953. He passed away in 1972.

Winnellie, NT. 25 April 1943. Squadron Leader E. M. “Bill” Gibbs, the Commanding Officer of No. 54 (Spitfire) Squadron RAF inspects the tail unit of his aircraft damaged by Japanese bullets.

Squadron Leader Gibbs’ Spitfire Mk Vc is currently under restoration by Ross Pay at Vintage Fighter Restorations of Scone in NSW. (Information below from John Parker’s website http://www.warbirdsonline.com.au)

A58-63/BS164 is a significant aircraft to Australia’s history, having flown in combat over Australia during WWII. In fact, she was the personal aircraft of RAF 54 Squadron’s commanding officer, Squadron Leader E M Gibbs, who is credited with shooting down five and a half Japanese aircraft in this same airframe. The Spitfire was initially coded K and later DL-K and featured 54 Squadrons unique “Nip Glass” “Kill Markings” instead of Japanese rising Sun markings – unique to Australia.

Squadron Leader E M Gibbs Spitfire A58-63/BS164 Showing 2 Nip Glass kill markings.

Spitfire BS164 was arguably the most successful Mk Vc to serve in Australia’s Northern Territory. She is a unique and famous representative of the type. She also appeared physically different to the more usual Spitfires of the day, being a “Trop” (tropical) variant. She featured the ungainly-looking Vokes air filter under the “chin” which was designed to protect the Merlin engine from the ingress of sand and grit frequently present in arid locations. RAF/RAAF Spitfires in the Northern Territory also carried the “Slipper” style drop tank when on long range missions and the combination of the Vokes filter resulted in a very different looking Spitfire to the standard Mk V. Later Australian deliveries of Mk V aircraft from the UK came without the Vokes filter fitted and, indeed, some RAAF units removed the system from older aircraft then in service.

Spitfire A58-63 in fuselage jig at Vintage Fighter Restorations, Scone, NSW.

Given past experience with Spitfires, progress on BS164’s fuselage in the fuselage jig should be fairly quick. As of December 2019, all of the necessary components were readily available as “kit sets” from companies in the UK. BS164 joined the Australian civil register as VH-CIP. Work also commenced on the Mk V wings in the two sets of wing jigs available at Scone.

Spitfire A58-63 in fuselage jig at Vintage Fighter Restorations.

This restoration will take several years to complete, however Australian enthusiasts will be happy to learn that the owners plan to keep this historic, Australian Campaign aircraft at Scone with Ross Pay’s collection once she is flying again. To be sure, it is likely the most significant Australia-based Spitfire to undergo restoration and will make a great addition to the nation’s vintage military aircraft movement.

Update from Warbirds Online and Vintage Fighter Restorations as at August 2020 – “The first of the MK Vs, A58-63 Supermarine F.VC RAF serial BS164 the aircraft of Squadron Leader E M “Bill” Gibbs will be the first fuselage to be mounted in the jig for rebuilding. From here the rebuilding of the fuselage follows the well-travelled pathway of previous Spitfire rebuilds at Scone with the initial installation of all the fuselage frames in the jig, then stringers and other structural components. This process must be done to exacting standards to ensure the fuselage is straight and structurally sound.

“From now the fuselage of Spitfire A58-63 F.VC / BS164 will start to emerge in the jig as the frame structure is assembled, then all the skins and finally the fit out of all the systems including hydraulic, electrical and fuel. Once this construction has occurred the cockpit fit out takes place with the instrument panel, controls, gunsight, seat and finally canopy and windscreen.

“The wings and tail group will be rebuilt over time to complete the aircraft with precision a timescale of around 4 years seems feasible based on previous Spitfire restorations at Scone.

“If you want to see more photos and read more about the Spitfire components then go to the news article on the Warbirds Online website at https://bit.ly/3phXxmv

History of A58-63 Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vc RAF Serial BS164

Spitfire A58-63 History. Of interest is the Type noted as Capstan. This was for security reasons so that the Japanese would be unaware of the presence of Spitfires in Australia. The engines were sometimes noted as Marvels.

Vickers-Supermarine built this Spitfire at their Chattis Hill satellite factory as construction number 3074 against contract No B19713/39 Order 5 dated October 24th, 1940. They fitted her with a Rolls-Royce Merlin 46 engine. Her first flight took place on June 21st, 1942. The RAF took her on charge at No 8 Maintenance Unit on June 22nd, 1942. She moved to 215 Maintenance Unit on July 19th. By October 23rd, 1942, she was aboard the cargo ship SS Hoperidge, bound for Australia. The RAAF received her at No 1 Air Depot on November 4th, 1942. After assembly and testing, the Spitfire joined 54 Squadron RAF (a unit of No 1 Fighter Wing RAAF) based, at that time, at Richmond, NSW on November 30th, 1942 coded as K, and later as DL-K. During its service with 54 Squadron in Darwin, she was the personal aircraft of the Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader E M “Bill” Gibbs. She was the aircraft in which he scored five and half Japanese victories. Interestingly, 54 Squadron recorded their victories in the form of a “Nip glass” instead of the Japanese rising sun flag; BS164 carried these on her cockpit side. Later in the war (November 30th, 1943) the Spitfire moved to RAAF 352 Squadron. Sadly,  at 1530hrs on January 13th, 1944, BS164 (then coded as A58-63) collided with another Spitfire, A58-214, during a training flight over Humpty Doo NT, 10 miles East North East of Strauss Strip. Her pilot, Flt Sgt James Basil Gibbs RAF died in the subsequent crash, as did the other Spitfire’s occupant, Flt Sgt John Hoyle Whalley RAF. RAAF crews partially salvaged both aircraft during the war, however substantial wreckage remained for members of the Aviation Society of NT, Darwin to recover when they collected it in 1975. The aircraft went to private owners in South Australia in 1982 and was purchased by Ross Pay and Paul Bennet in 2019.

File:54 Sqn RAF pilots Richmond 1942.jpg
At Richmond NSW in 1942. From left Flt Lt R W “Bob” Foster; Sqdn Ldr E M “Bill” Gibbs; F/O J Anthony “Tony” Tuckson and F/O John Lenegan.

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