September 1944 to May 1945

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September 1944 to May 1945[edit]In September 1944, with the end of the anti-"Diver" campaign, the Griffon-engined Mk XIV units41,350and610Squadrons were transferred from the ADGB to 2 TAF and began operating fromRAF Lympne. At about the same time322(Dutch) Squadron, which had been equipped with the Mk XIV, reverted to Spitfire IXs. On the last day of September130andNo. 402 Squadron RCAF, also equipped with Mk XIVs, flew to airfield B.82,Grave.[107]Their arrival was timely as they, along with theHawker Tempestunits, were needed to counter theMe 262nuisance raids. In December the three Lympne based units flew to join the others on the Continent, eventually becoming part of 125 Wing. Further deliveries of the potent Mk XIV would be to fighter-reconnaissance units and, in February 1945, 610 Squadron was disbanded to help maintain the level of aircraft and pilots of these units.[108]Along with theHawker Tempestsquadrons, the Spitfire XIVs would provide the 2 TAF with modern fighters for air-superiority,[109]with the Spitfire being the primary high-altitude fighter, while the Tempest fulfilled the low-to-medium altitude role.[110]As events turned out those F.R units equipped with F.R Mk. XIVs wereNo. 403 Squadron RCAFwas equipped with F.R. Mk XIVs and, although its primary role was tactical reconnaissance, the unit also engaged in fighter sweeps resulting in successful encounters with Luftwaffe aircraft, including the destruction of an Me 262.[111]Spitfires took part in theDefence of the Reichcampaign, and were tasked with providingAvro Lancasterbombers with fighter escort. Targets were attacked over an area ranging from German occupied Dutch territory into the heart of Germany.[112]The Second Tactical Air Force notes identified flak, and specialist "flak trains" as the main threat during this period. The Germans had developed special flak wagons to protect valuable transport trains from air attack and "set traps" for unwary Allied fighter pilots. The trains would be disguised to look like vulnerable and tempting targets, which, when attacked, would open up its "wagons" to reveal powerful concentrations of firepower which inflicted inevitable losses on the Spitfire units.[113]Pilots still had to be aware that they were still in hostile skies, and care had to be taken not to be caught by surprise. On 8 December the 2nd TAF performed a number of sweeps over the Dulmen-Munster area.[114]While attacking a train they were bounced by a dozen German fighters, Fw 190s and Bf 109s. Flt Lt Harry Walmsley described the Spitfire XIV's performance against the Bf 109:They definitely caught us by surprise. I think they had been on patrol, or had been scrambled, and when they saw the smoke from the train they knew where we were and attacked out of the cloud. The Spitfire XIV is definitely better than the Me 109, as I could do a better climbing turn even with my drop tanks still on!During this engagement Walmsley scored the third of his future total of 12 kills.[115]On a number of missions, Spitfires were attacked in error by USAAF P-51s. One such incident came about on 31 December 1944, when 610 Squadron RAF was attacked. Using the Spitfire's "stunning" climb performance, pilots were "easily" able to escape and evade the Mustangs.[116]In December 1944, RAF Fighter Command lost 53 Spitfires on the western front to all causes. Just eight fell to enemy aircraft.[117]On 29 December Flt Lt R J Audet, a French Canadian onNo. 411 Squadron RCAF, shot down three Fw 190s and two Bf 109s during one sortie. Audet claimed a further five aircraft before he was shot down and killed in his Spitfire IX on 3 March 1945 while strafing a train.[118]On 1 January 1945 the Luftwaffe launchedOperation Bodenplatte. Spitfire units took part in the heavy air fighting that day, destroying at least 32 German fighters[119]for the loss of 13 Spitfires.[120]Of these, seven were shot down in aerial combat, the remainder were strafed on the gro