RARE exhibits from Britain's aeronautic heritage have been stolen during a raid on a Hampshire museum.

Raiders broke into the Solent Sky museum, Albert Road South, Southampton, before stealing a number of items, including a cigarette case engraved with RJM – standing for RJ Mitchell, famed for designing the Spitfire.

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Museum trustee Andy Jones said the cigarette case was stolen from a fireproof safe (below).

He said the burglars gained entry by smashing a glass door and made their way to the top of the building, where they used crowbars and sledgehammers to open the 6ft tall safe.

“Everyone at the museum is absolutely gutted,” he said.

“We believe the cigarette case is the only personal artefact of Mitchell's that survives. It would have been on him when he designed the Spitfire and when he watched the first test flight.

“His test pilot, Jeffrey Quill, knew Mitchell personally and it was given to him by the Mitchell family.”

Daily Echo:

Describing the item's value as “huge” in historical terms, Mr Jones added: “It's difficult to know if this was a targeted attack or a random theft.

“I think someone cased the joint, thought we were worth having a go at and just happened to find the cigarette case.”

Medals and a few items of memorabilia are also thought to have been taken in the raid.

PC John Woodfield, said: “Solent Sky is a charity run aircraft museum in Southampton.

"The offenders have specifically targeted the rare pieces within the museum and made off with some irreplaceable items.

“It is possible that the offenders may try and sell these items on; please contact us if you see anything for sale that you think may have been stolen from the museum, or if you have any other information to assist the investigation.”

The incident from happened some time between 8.45pm and 10.45pm on Monday, March 9.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact PC Woodfield at Southampton police station by calling 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, where information can be left anonymously.