Sandwood Bay Spitfire engine resurfaces in double anniversary year

Tidal and weather conditions reveal poignant reminder of the Second World War usually buried by sand

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of an aircraft accident on the north west coast of Scotland which left behind one of the more unusual monuments to the bravery of those who fought off the Nazi threat during World War Two.

On 30 September 1941, Sergeant Michael Kilburn from 124 Squadron at RAF Castletown was flying Spitfire R7154 south west of Cape Wrath when the engine failed. He crash-landed the plane on the beach at Sandwood, and managed to escape uninjured. 

The Spitfire had been a ‘presentation aircraft’ paid for by the town of Accrington in Lancashire and the adjacent villages of Church and Oswaldthistle, their names painted on the fuselage. Unfortunately it was wrecked on the beach and over time its bodywork was eroded away by the sea.

But its engine – the famous Rolls Royce Merlin, manufactured in Glasgow, Derby, Crewe and Manchester – survived. It has lain buried under the sand ever since, occasionally emerging into full view whenever tidal and weather conditions permit.

The engine recently resurfaced just in time for the 80th anniversary of the maiden flight of the first Spitfire, when the prototype Supermarine K5054 took to the skies above Hampshire on 4 April 1936.

Don O’Driscoll the John Muir Trust manager at Sandwood Bay said: “Several times over the past year, the engine has been completely bare.

“We see this not as unsightly debris to be cleaned away, but like the bothy at Strathchailleach, part of the story of Sandwood.

“Anyone who has heard the throaty, tearing roar of these engines that were made in Glasgow, or seen a Spitfire in flight, will never forget it.

“These planes and the people who flew them played a major part in stopping the Nazis in their tracks, so we see this as a poignant memorial to generations past.” 

 Sandwood Spitfire engine revealled 2