91-year-old vet reunited with his last Spitfire
A 91-year-old fighter pilot was reunited with the Spitfire he flew on his final World War II mission nearly seven decades ago this past weekend.
Lt. Rolf Kolling journeyed from his home in Norway to the North Weald Airfield in Essex, England, last Friday to catch of a glimpse of the Mark IX Spitfire he last piloted in late April 1945, in the waning weeks of the Second World War.
Kolling was joined by wingman and compatriot Eigel Stigset at the home of 332 Squadron, where celebrations took place to mark the 70th anniversary of the wartime links between North Weald and Norway, according to The Daily Mail.
The pair belonged to the Royal Air Force’s Norwegian wing in 1939-1945 conflict.
Returning to the base brought back bittersweet memories for Kolling, who during his combat career of 120 sorties was credited with one confirmed kill – a Focke Wulf – and a share in one probable – an ME 109, The Daily Mail reported.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Kolling said: “Four Spitfires would go up. And none would come back. Two pilots would be dead. Two would be prisoners of war. Every time you got into the cockpit, you knew it could be your last flight.
“Even now I think about those times,” he added. “Every night. Before I left home, I told myself that this would be the last time I came back to North Weald. I am very, very glad I came here.”
Kolling joined Norway’s merchant marine at the age of 18 in mid-1939, just before the Nazi invasion of Poland and the beginning of war.
Norway capitulated to the Germans in 1940 and a year later Kolling jumped ship in Australia and headed to Canada, where Norwegians were being trained as pilots.
Before long, he was serving with the RAF’s 332 Squadron and flew alongside Stigset in Spitfire ML 407.
The duo’s last mission came on April 21, 1945, during which the pair took out a large German armored patrol vehicle while flying at 400 miles per hour, just 500 feet off the ground, according to The Daily Mail.
“They returned to Schijndel, their temporary Dutch base, and the next day were taken out of the front line,” the publication added. “By the next month, they had returned to liberated Norway.”
In total, the two Norwegian squadrons based at North Weald shot down 180 enemy aircraft while losing 72 pilots.
After the war, Kolling’s Spitfire was converted into a two-seater by the Irish Air Corps and was used as a training aircraft until 1960.
It was bought by Nick Grace, a design engineer and amateur pilot in 1979, who restored it to flying condition before his death in 1988.
His son, Richard, 28, flew the plane from its base in Suffolk to North Weald for the poignant reunion.
Later on, the veterans looked on with nostalgia, as the plane performed two low-level passes on the runway before finishing with a victory roll.
(Above: Rolf Kolling, 91, stands in front to the RAF Spitfire he last piloted in 1945, in the waning days of World War II. Photo Credit: The Telegraph.)