Spitfire PR Mk. XIX – Cold War Warrior

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Spitfire PR Mk. XIX

Cold War Warrior

The PR Mk XIX was the last of the specialised photo reconnaissance variants of the Spitfire, the only one with a Griffon engine and ...
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The PR Mk XIX was the last of the specialised photo reconnaissance variants of the Spitfire, the only one with a Griffon engine and arguably the finest of them all. Delivered to the RAF from mid-1944 to shortly after the end of WWII, it provided the RAF with a formidable photo-reconnaissance platform. By the end of the war, this mark had virtually replaced the earlier PR Mk XI for long-range duties, but more notably it lasted in front-line service up to the early 1950s, still excelling at high altitude despite the fact that its projected opposition now included jet fighters.

There were two variants of the Mk XIX, type 389 and 390. Supermarine Type 389 was the initial production variant without pressurised cockpit, of which 25 were manufactured. All remaining aircraft were designated Type 390 and featured the pressurised cabin of the PR Mk X, with pressure blower driven from the engine, plus the fuel capacity increased to 256 gallons, three-and-a-half times the capacity of the original Spitfire.

The Mk XIX was unarmed and could carry two vertical cameras and/or one oblique camera in a heated compartment aft of the cockpit. It had a top speed of 445 mph (716 km/h), cruising speed of 265 mph (430 km/h) and a ceiling of about 42,500 feet (13,000 m). With an external auxiliary tank, its top range was 1,400 miles (2,250 km).

RAF Benson

Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk. XIX
RM643/Z of No. 541 Squadron
Benson, Autumn 1944
Click on the image to enlarge

Deliveries of the PR Mk. XIX started in May 1944, just in time for first operational aircraft to fly in support of Operation Overlord. RM643 shown above served with No. 541 Squadron PRU operating from Benson.

Reconnaissance types often retained a full set D-Day stripes for a longer period than their fighter contemporaries. The finish is PRU Blue overall with Type B roundels on the fuselage and upper wings. This aircraft subsequently stayed in active service until 1951.

The operational career of the PR Spitfire in the UK is intimately coupled with Benson, the RAF station which gained considerable fame as the home of photographic reconnaissance units during World War II. In June 1943, the initial No 1 PRU was re-formed into No. 106 Wing, comprising five squadrons – Nos. 540, 541, 542, 542 and 544, plus an Operational Training Unit. The Wing was further elevated to Group status in April 1944, with two Mosquito and two Spitfire Squadrons, No. 543 Squadron having been disbanded. The No. 106 Group was assigned to the Coastal Command’s Photo Reconnaissance assets with the whole of Northern Europe as its operational area.

The station retained a reconnaissance role for some years after the war, operations continuing with the Spitfire, Mosquito, Gloster Meteor PR. Mk 10 and English Electric Canberra PR. Mk 3 aircraft.

Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk. XIX
PS887 of No. 541 Squadron
Benson, late 1945
Click on the image to enlarge

Another aircraft from No. 541 Squadron was PS887, depicted here as it looked in the immediate post-war period, when the aircraft for the first time received their squadron and individual code letters. PS887 carried overall PRU Blue finish with spinner left in natural metal.

Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk. 19
PS934 of No. 541 Squadron
Benson, ca. 1950
Click on the image to enlarge

Transferred to Africa and disbanded in 1946, No.541 was reformed at Benson on 1 November 1947, once again with Spitfires PR.19 for photographic reconnaissance and survey duties. The new unit code letters were WY. Note the squadron emblem on the fin.

Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk. XIX
PS925 of Photographic Reconnaissance Development Unit
Benson, 1948
Click on the image to enlarge

Another aircraft based at Benson at that time was PS925, flying with Photographic Reconnaissance Development Unit. It served as a test machine for various installations. In January 1949, this aircraft spun in on approach at Leuchars, killing the pilot.

Lower view  of PS925 shows a typical placement of underwing serial numbers on post-war Mk. XIXs. These were usually painted in black with the size as shown, but variations occurred.
Click on the image to enlarge

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6 Comments | Add New

By Bob North  |  2010-10-18 at 03:37  |  permalink

Just a few comments on PS890. It spent its last years at RAF Seletar, not RAF Tengah. It was one of 3 Spitfire XIXs we had on the Squadron in April, 1953 when PS888 made the last operational flight of an RAF Spitfire. I had the pleasure of being an engine mechanic and servicing them. PS890 is still flying and is owned by a Frenchman – it is in the guise of a French Air force Squadron. You can see old and new photos of PS890 on my website “81squadron.com”. I hope you find these comments useful. Bob North.

By Don Robson  |  2013-03-03 at 11:24  |  permalink

This is a query for Mr North.
Having just bought the new Airfix Spitfire PR XIX in 1/48 scale I obtained the decals mentioned above. I am modelling PS890 and the instructions say that I should use the large ‘D’ type roundels for the upper wings. They seem too large compared to the roundels supplied in the Airfix kit for PS888. The roundels suggested for PS934 seem to be similar in size to the Airfix decals.
So which are right? any suggestions would be appreciated greatly.

By Mike McDougall  |  2013-07-04 at 17:11  |  permalink

The picture of RM 643Z above shows the aircraft as a type 390: the later pressurized version.

I think, from the black and white photograph at


the aircraft, was a type 389, and un-pressurised lacking the cabin blower intake and of course having the entry door.

By glen d miles  |  2014-07-20 at 10:43  |  permalink

Ref. spitfire PM 660.
I was a leading aircraftsman and served on the Berlin airlift until it ceased operating in1949. I was then transfered to RAF Wunsdorf and serviced the spitfires based there .

I have a photo, black/white, of Spitfire PM 660 that I serviced (amongst many others). I would see the aircraft out (explosive start up!) and check all ok upon return. Very Busy!

Regards Glen

By Justin Bedford  |  2016-01-09 at 00:05  |  permalink


Is there any chance of seeing a copy of your PM660 photo?

Best regards,


By glen d miles  |  2014-07-20 at 10:57  |  permalink

I have read that some builders are concerned about the spinner colour on PM 660. Although my photo is black/white the spinner looks black.

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