WWII Spitfire airplane raises $4.8 million at auction

A restored World War II Spitfire airplane, shot down over northern France in 1940, has been sold at auction for $4.8 million. The proceeds have been donated to wildlife and veterans' charities.

By May 24, 1940 the Allied forces were deep in crisis. The Netherlands and Belgium had fallen, and the German army had cornered more than 300,000 British, French and Belgian troops during the Battle of France - fueling Adolf Hitler's conviction in a total Nazi victory over Europe.

As the German troops closed in on the stranded Allied soldiers, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, fearing "a colossal military disaster," ordered a daring evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk, known as Operation Dynamo.

Leading up to and during the campaign, more than 200 British and Allied boats were sunk and 145 aircraft lost in the desperate defense and evacuation campaign - amongst them Spitfire P9374, flown by British pilot officer Peter Cazenove, which was shot down in dramatic combat with the Germans over the French coast on May 24.

Cazenove survived the assault and was taken as a prisoner of war. The Vickers Supermarine Spitfire was soon swallowed up by the shifting sands of the beaches of Calais, where it would remain entombed for 40 years until the wreckage was discovered, washed up in 1980.

In 2000, British art collector Thomas Kaplan (pictured) purchased the aircraft - which was in good condition, despite its tragic fate - and set about restoring it to flying condition. In August 2011 the plane - one of only two Mk. 1 models restored to original specifications and in working order - finally took to the skies over Britain once more.

"It is arguably one of the most beautiful pieces of technology ever created," Kaplan said at the Churchill War Rooms museum in London, where the plane has been on exhibition. "The Spitfire is in a way the most iconic symbol of the Battle of Britain and Battle of Britain was really one of the most pivotal turning points in modern history."

The sale commemorates the 75th anniversary of both the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, in which the iconic Spitfire played a pivotal role combating the German Luftwaffe over the English Channel and beaches of Calais.

The aircraft fetched $4.8 million (4.3 million euros) at a Christie's auction in London on Thursday evening (09.07.2015), of which proceeds will go to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and wildlife charity Panthera. The buyer has not been named. It had been excepted to sell for $3 million.

Kaplan said that the donations were "to pay homage to those who Churchill called 'the Few', the pilots who were all that stood between Hitler's darkness and what was left of civilization. The events of today are, more than anything else, concrete gestures of gratitude and remembrance for those who prevailed in one of the most pivotal battles in modern history."

DW had previously reported the wrong date of the auction, which in fact took place on July, 9. jgt/kbm (AFP, Reuters, dpa)