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TITLE
Memories of a Spitfire Pilot (7 of 10)
EXTERNAL ID
GB232_MFR_JOHN_NIVEN_07
DATE OF RECORDING
1986
PERIOD
1980s
CREATOR
John Niven
SOURCE
Moray Firth Radio
ASSET ID
41170
KEYWORDS
pilots
aircraft
fighter pilots
World War 2
World War II
Second World War
WW2

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In this audio extract from the Moray Firth Radio programme 'Marshall Meets', Sam Marshall talks to ex spitfire pilot, John Niven.

'Interviewer: The Spitfire was a wonderful plane, it had a wonderful engine, and clearly was flown by wonderful men, but I get the impression that some of the planners and developers developed it to the point of absurdity sometimes. Did you feel that?

There certainly were occasions when it seemed like that. One fairly striking example of that was the development of the long range petrol tank which was an auxiliary tank fixed on to the bottom of the aircraft, and they started off with a 30 gallon tank which was really quite good. It was slung under the centre of the fuselage rather like a bomb, and in fact, it was slung in the same position as the bombs were slung when the plane was used as a fighter bomber. One had to be careful not to switch onto bomb to get more petrol but that wasn't too bad. And then they developed a 45 gallon one and again that was reasonable because the main tanks of the Spitfire held 87 gallons. But then some bright boffin developed a 90 gallon petrol tank which put an entirely different complexion on the whole thing.

First of all, it was very, very difficult to jettison; they had to put a kick, a plunger onto it, to break the front of it away from the aircraft so that the airflow pulled it off the bottom, but it did, of course, affect the operational range, and it was only too easy for the boys to be sent just slightly beyond the range of the main tanks, and then discover that they didn't have enough petrol to get back. And on at least one occasion we were forced down in to France, after the invasion certainly, but we were force down onto French airfields because we didn't have enough petrol to get home.

Interviewer: Did that impress the bigwigs?

No, but it certainly impressed us.

Interviewer: Did the pilots do anything to their aircraft to make them better, or imagine they would make them better.

Yes, they certainly took a great interest in their aircraft and they generally flew the same aircraft all the time. They always had their own favourite one and it was policy to try and clean them up. It was a great thing to polish them up, clean them down and then polish them up, so that you got a better airflow. This is fair enough but I think perhaps it was certainly a morale booster. The - if you were to polish the aircraft up, and then perhaps if you were to clip the wings, and crop the blower, as I said before, and what have you, the thing should run at about 600 miles an hour and, in fact, it didn't really but maybe it did slip through a wee bit quicker.

Interviewer: You've mentioned once or twice during our conversation about clapped out planes. Were they really, some of them, that bad?

No I don't think so, but it depends whether you were chasing or being chased!'


John Brown Niven was born and brought up in Edinburgh. After an education at George Heriot's school he joined the family roofing business, John Low Slaters. However, his passion, since a schoolboy, had been flying, and he successfully applied to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve in June 1939 at the age of nineteen. He applied to study flying at RAF Cranwell College and was accepted, but before taking up his place, he was called up for war in September.

During the war years he had distinguished service in the RAF, flying spitfires in the UK, Indian and Japan. He was Squadron Leader in the 602 City of Glasgow Squadron and 485 New Zealand Squadron. He also flew with 322 Dutch Squadron. For his courageous efforts he was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and bar. (A bar is added to the DFC ribbon for holders who receive a second award.)

After the war John rejoined the family roofing firm, married Dorothy Hood and had three children. He moved to Thurso to work in personnel for the UKAEA (United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority) at Dounreay, before finally settling in Inverness as an employee of HIDB (Highlands & Islands Development Board).

John was a keen golfer (he played off a handicap of 2) and in the 1960s was instrumental in renovating and extending the course at Reay, near Thurso. He retired in 1985 and died in October 1986. His wife, son and two daughters still live in Inverness and Nairn.

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Memories of a Spitfire Pilot (7 of 10)

1980s

pilots; aircraft; fighter pilots; World War 2; World War II; Second World War; WW2;

Moray Firth Radio

MFR: Memories of a Spitfire Pilot

In this audio extract from the Moray Firth Radio programme 'Marshall Meets', Sam Marshall talks to ex spitfire pilot, John Niven.<br /> <br /> 'Interviewer: The Spitfire was a wonderful plane, it had a wonderful engine, and clearly was flown by wonderful men, but I get the impression that some of the planners and developers developed it to the point of absurdity sometimes. Did you feel that?<br /> <br /> There certainly were occasions when it seemed like that. One fairly striking example of that was the development of the long range petrol tank which was an auxiliary tank fixed on to the bottom of the aircraft, and they started off with a 30 gallon tank which was really quite good. It was slung under the centre of the fuselage rather like a bomb, and in fact, it was slung in the same position as the bombs were slung when the plane was used as a fighter bomber. One had to be careful not to switch onto bomb to get more petrol but that wasn't too bad. And then they developed a 45 gallon one and again that was reasonable because the main tanks of the Spitfire held 87 gallons. But then some bright boffin developed a 90 gallon petrol tank which put an entirely different complexion on the whole thing. <br /> <br /> First of all, it was very, very difficult to jettison; they had to put a kick, a plunger onto it, to break the front of it away from the aircraft so that the airflow pulled it off the bottom, but it did, of course, affect the operational range, and it was only too easy for the boys to be sent just slightly beyond the range of the main tanks, and then discover that they didn't have enough petrol to get back. And on at least one occasion we were forced down in to France, after the invasion certainly, but we were force down onto French airfields because we didn't have enough petrol to get home.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Did that impress the bigwigs?<br /> <br /> No, but it certainly impressed us. <br /> <br /> Interviewer: Did the pilots do anything to their aircraft to make them better, or imagine they would make them better.<br /> <br /> Yes, they certainly took a great interest in their aircraft and they generally flew the same aircraft all the time. They always had their own favourite one and it was policy to try and clean them up. It was a great thing to polish them up, clean them down and then polish them up, so that you got a better airflow. This is fair enough but I think perhaps it was certainly a morale booster. The - if you were to polish the aircraft up, and then perhaps if you were to clip the wings, and crop the blower, as I said before, and what have you, the thing should run at about 600 miles an hour and, in fact, it didn't really but maybe it did slip through a wee bit quicker.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: You've mentioned once or twice during our conversation about clapped out planes. Were they really, some of them, that bad?<br /> <br /> No I don't think so, but it depends whether you were chasing or being chased!'<br /> <br /> <br /> John Brown Niven was born and brought up in Edinburgh. After an education at George Heriot's school he joined the family roofing business, John Low Slaters. However, his passion, since a schoolboy, had been flying, and he successfully applied to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve in June 1939 at the age of nineteen. He applied to study flying at RAF Cranwell College and was accepted, but before taking up his place, he was called up for war in September.<br /> <br /> During the war years he had distinguished service in the RAF, flying spitfires in the UK, Indian and Japan. He was Squadron Leader in the 602 City of Glasgow Squadron and 485 New Zealand Squadron. He also flew with 322 Dutch Squadron. For his courageous efforts he was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and bar. (A bar is added to the DFC ribbon for holders who receive a second award.)<br /> <br /> After the war John rejoined the family roofing firm, married Dorothy Hood and had three children. He moved to Thurso to work in personnel for the UKAEA (United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority) at Dounreay, before finally settling in Inverness as an employee of HIDB (Highlands & Islands Development Board). <br /> <br /> John was a keen golfer (he played off a handicap of 2) and in the 1960s was instrumental in renovating and extending the course at Reay, near Thurso. He retired in 1985 and died in October 1986. His wife, son and two daughters still live in Inverness and Nairn.