When the Second World War was at its height, Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla ordered two Spitfire fighter aircraft. They were received within a day of each other. Later he ordered a Hawker Hurricane aircraft, and a third Spitfire. The Maharaja donated all four aircraft to the Royal Air Force for use in the War. Details of these aircraft are available in the book ‘Gifts of War’ by Henry Boot and Ray Sturtivant.
The first Spitfire Mk Vb bearing serial number W3308 was named Rajpipla (or Rajpipla I). It was received on 6th June 1941 (coincidentally the same date on which the Maharaja had won the Epsom Derby seven years earlier) to 6 Maintenance Unit (MU) at the largest station of the Royal Air Force Brize Norton (RAF Brize Norton)
in Oxfordshire, about 105 kilometres north-west of London. It was allocated to 92 Squadron, and on 17th June performed flying sweeps, circus and rhubarb operations from Biggin Hill Aerodrome. On 24th June Sergeant W.J. Payne destroyed two German Messerschmitt Bf 109E aircraft, and claimed another a day later. On return from a later flight the same day, Sergeant A. Pietrasiak overshot while landing, the engine failed when pilot opened up, and turned sharply to avoid another aircraft. The undercarriage collapsed. It was sent for repairs to No. 1 Civilian Repair Unit, Cowley on 1st July.
Rajpipla Spitfire W3308 was then delivered to 33 MU at Royal Air Force Station Lyneham (RAF Lyneham) in Wiltshire on 30th July. It was allocated on 13th September to 266 Squadron at Royal Air Force Wittering, in Cambridgeshire, which was the main fighter station for much of the southern-east Midlands. Fighters from this station would often patrol as far as Birmingham. On 11th January 1942 Flight Lieutenant Allen-White, on convoy patrol, gave chase along with two other Spitfires to a German Junkers Ju 88, but it was lost in the clouds. The other two Spitfires regrouped, but unfortunately despite search no trace of Rajpipla W3008 or the pilot was found.
The second Spitfire Mk Vb presented by Maharaja Vijaysinhji bearing serial number W3009 was named Windsor Lad after his 1934 Epsom Derby winning horse. Newspapers were quick to run the headline “Now Windsor Lad will fly”. The aircraft was received at RAF Brize Norton on 7th June 1941. It was allocated to 611 Squadron on 25th June to fly circus, rhubarbs and sweeps from Royal Air Force Hornchurch (RAF Hornchurch) in Essex. Having been damaged and sent for repair to Air Service Training, it was flown to RAF Lyneham on 8th February 1942. Windsor Lad W3009 was transferred on 20th June to 307th Fighter Squadron, which was activated as part of the 31st Fighter Group of United States of America Air Force (USAAF) at Royal Air Force Atcham (RAF Atcham) in Shropshire, England. On 28th August its port undercarriage collapsed after 2nd Lieutenant J.M. Winkler made a normal landing.
Windsor Lad W3009 was repaired by 16th September and reverted to RAF Lyneham on 24th October. There were fuel system modifications required for which the aircraft was sent to Philips and Powis at South Marston on 10th March 1943. Thereafter it was delivered on 20th April to 12 MU at RAF Kirkbride in Cumbria. It was allocated to the Czechoslovak manned fighter Squadron No. 312 in Churchstanton, Somerset on 25th May for convoy patrols, roadstead, rhubarb and anti-rhubarb operations until the squadron moved to Skeabrae in Scotland on 24th June. It was transferred to 234 Squadron at Churchstanton on 4th July, moving to RAF Honiley in Warwickshire four days later, and RAF West Malling, Kent in August.
The aircraft joined 504 Squadron Redhill, Surrey on 10th August to fly mainly bomber escorts. Flight Lieutenant B.F.G. Darby damaged a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger on 12th August, and another at the end of the month. The Squadron moved to Castletown for a rest, and the W3009 went to 313 Squadron at RAF Ibsley, Hampshire on 22nd September for sweeps and ramrods. It was further allocated to 118 Squadron at RAF Skeabrae on 2nd June 1944, and sent to 3501 SU Cranfield on 17th June.
Having been delivered to 313 Squadron at RAF Skeabrae on 11th July, its undercarriage collapsed when Flight Sergeant F. Epstein landed. It was sent to Scottish Aviation Preswick on 6th September, and returned on 29th December to 313 Squadron at RAF Bradwell Bay, Essex, which was equipped with Spitfire Mk IXs. The aircraft was sent back 6th January 1945, and then delivered to 45 MU at RAF Kinloss in Scotland four days later. It was transferred to 6 MU at RAF Brize Norton on 8th March, and to 61 Operational Training Unit (OTU) Keevil, Wiltshire on 18th March. The Second World War having ended on 8th May 1945 with the surrender of the Axis powers, Spitfire Mk Vb W3009 Windsor Lad had lasted the course, having successfully served for nearly four years. It was ordered to be scrapped on 4th December 1945, thus ending the heroic saga of Windsor Lad II. Ironically, the original Derby-winning thoroughbred Windsor Lad had died in 1943.
Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla also donated a third Spitfire named Embargo after his horse that won the Irish Derby in 1926. The serial number of this fighter is unknown, hence it has not been possible to trace its history.
The Maharaja further gifted a Hawker Hurricane Mk IIb with a BD8XX serial number named Rajpipla II, which served as a night fighter. Again, with the complete serial number not known, its history could not be traced. The inventor of the Hawker Hurricane, Sydney Camm, also lived in Windsor. There is a full size replica of a Hurricane in Alexander Gardens, Windsor, near the boyhood home of Sydney Camm. It is quite plausible that Maharaja Vijaysinhji would have walked along the River Thames from his estate The Manor, next to where this replica now stands. There was a large Hurricane factory in Langley a few kilometres from Windsor.
The BD8 part of the serial number of the Hawker Hurricane Rajpipla II fighter indicates that it was from the sixth production batch, built at Kingston, Langley or Brooklands during 1941-42. The XX number relates to the Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engine installed. Most of these aircraft went to the Middle-East or Russia. Both Mk IIb and Mk IIc variants were made with the BD8 serial number. Some experts are of the opinion that if the Hawker Hurricane Rajpipla II was a night fighter, it would have been a Mk IIc (canon) variant rather than a Mk IIb (fighter bomber) variant. Further research should provide the answers.
The end of the Second World War, independence of India and the merger of princely states with the Union of India saw the end of the fascinating saga of Rolls-Royce cars, Derby winning horses and fighter aircraft of that era. The name of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla is etched indelibly as one of the prominent personalities of the time.
(Indra Vikram Singh is grandson of Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla. He can be contacted on email email@example.com).