Daily Archives: September 20, 2017

The Making of a WWII RCAF Spitfire Fighter Pilot – Part Three

The Making of a WWII RCAF Spitfire Pilot

P/O Gordon Hill J37340

Part Three – We are heading for Holland tomorrow…  

On 30 September 1944, No. 416 RCAF [Lynx] Fighter Squadron 19 Spitfire aircraft Mk. IXB., departed from B.68 Base at Le Culot, Belgium for B.82 Grave, Holland.

F/L S. H. Straub, F/O E. E. Whitehead, and P/O Gordon Hill departed No. 83 Group Support Unit in an Avro Anson, and landed at Base 82 Grave, Holland, just after 15:40 hrs. The name of P/O Hill never appears in the Operations Record Book…


Gordon explains –

As we left the Anson aircraft, I met a fellow pilot from Canada, F/O John McColl, and we began to talk about life at No. 133 Squadron, etc. He asks if I would like to join the squadron on a patrol, and I answered “Yes.” I dumped my gear in the orderly tent, climbed into Spitfire Mk. IXE “G”, serial ML415, and we took off for the front German lines at 16:02 hrs. The flight lasted one hour, saw 20 plus German 190s passing east above us at around 2,000 ft. and two jets, McColl fired but no results were seen. After landing, I checked directly into the pilots [Dutch house] quarters at 17:30 hrs. and my name was never recorded in the Daily Diary. That is how I joined No. 416 Squadron at Grave, Holland. On 4 October, I was assigned Spitfire DN-D, which I flew on most of the patrols that first month.

Due to daily German anti-personnel bomb attacks, pilots were ordered to wear British – “Twitch Hats.”

With the sound of an aircraft engine, Canadians had developed a twitch, the name was applied to the British steel helmets, appearing in Daily Diary 26 October 1944.

On 12 October 1944, a direct hit was received on the dispersal site, damaging six Spitfire aircraft, and killing five of the ground crew members who had been working on the fighters.

One of the five…

J.D. Beck

F/O Hill carried three passport size photos taken wearing a civilian suit.

Should he be shot down in Holland and not be captured, these photos would allow the Dutch underground to print false official identification papers, to fool the German check-points. These are Gordon’s original photos.

The Commanding Officer, S/L J. F. McKlroy, DFC and Bar, and five other pilots completed their tour in October and more new replacements were posted in – F/O S.H. Staub, P/O E.E. Whitehead, F/L R. D. Phillip, F/O R. W. Tapley, F/Sgt. C. Darrow, F/Sgt. J. E. M. Patus, F/L W. R. Harton, F/L A. E. Fleming, P/O J. Leyland, WO I L. J. R. Jean, joined P/O Gordon Hill.

The RCAF stay at Grave lasted 22 days and Gordon would fly 40 patrols until 19 October, sometimes three flights per day. From the 1st to 18th October 1944, they flew 458 sorties, damaged four German trains and left two vehicles in flames. Total pilots on strength were 24 Officers, and one NCO, eleven listed above, in yellow.

No. 416 Squadron began flying the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IX series in January 1944, and had 20 production Mk. IXEs on strength in October 1944. The Mk. IXs production was second in total Spitfires built, reaching 5,665, at a cost of $180,000 U.S. dollars [1943] per fighter. [45,000 English pounds in 1943]

This is the first Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXE image taken by pilot Hill at Grave, Holland, early October 1944. The pilots were instructed not to show code letters and most of all serial numbers of fighters in any photographs taken. Gordon cannot recall, but this might be his assigned Spitfire DN-D. This fighter was constructed with the British “c” Wing [extended] which has a much more pointed tip, compared to the normal standard “e” wing construction. This fighter also carried a rear fuselage band in light color, common to RAF units.

For protection from the German bombing, the 25 Canadian pilots were housed in a private home located some 30 miles north-west of the airfield, in the City of Ravenstein, Netherlands.

This became their new home for the next 22 days at Grave, Netherlands. The ground crews lived in tents on the base, and six would be killed from German attacks. The new Canadian pilots also became a major attraction to the local Dutch children, who are seen in many images taken by F/O Hill. Note pilot in second story window.

Flying/Officer Jack Leyland J26993 [left] and W/O Class I, Louis J. R. Jean with Dutch children.

These two pilots had just arrived with No. 416, replacements along with F/O Gordon Hill.

F/L Neil ‘Russ’ Russell with children at Ravenstein, Netherlands.

F/L Russell became Officer Commanding “B” flight, tour ended 17 March 1945.

F/O Rex W. Tapley at Ravenstein. ex-Malta pilot, 2nd tour, arrived 6 October 44.

Windmill at Ravenstein, October 1944.

The tree line around the ex-German airfield contained hundreds of Luftwaffe bombs.

In early October 1944, F/O William “Bill” Bridgman [left] looking at this strange bomb. It is believed this was an unpowered German guided Fritz-X bomb, that reached an impact velocity near the speed of sound.

F/O Bridgman will be killed on 13 January 45, flying Spitfire SM279.

The railway bridge over Meuse River at Ravenstein, destroyed 10 May 1940, by Dutch engineers to prevent invading Germans from crossing into Netherlands.

Dutch children at Ravenstein returning home from school, October 1944.

Formation of “A” flight passing over airfield Grave, Holland, October 44.

Formation flying over Holland, No. 403, No. 421, and No. 416 Squadrons.

“A” Flight takes off Grave, Holland.

On 15 October 1944, the RAF Allied Expeditionary Air Force is disbanded and when taking part in airborne operations, Lynx Squadron will now come under control of Commanding General, First Allied Airborne Army.

The remains of the 17 September 1944, “Operation Market Garden”,
American Waco gliders landing zone. Photo taken 16 October 44.

16 October 44, F/O Mush R. Sharun and F/O Gordon Hill [wearing his twitch hat] visit the area on the south bank of Waal River, just north of the Nijmegen bridge. The ground was covered with American Waco gliders used in Operation Market Garden invasion. Gliders used by the famous 82nd Airborne during their assault on this area, 17 September 1944. Germany was only six miles East from this drop zone.

F/O “Mush” R. Sharun


Gordon had flown his last operation from Grave, Holland, on 15 October, a high front line patrol at 20,000 feet. On the 19 October, the heavy winter rains came and flooded the airfield, all flights were cancelled.

This image shows the conditions the ground crew lived and worked in at Grave. On 21 October, the squadron was ordered south to Brussels for a two-week rest, and the Spitfires departed, Hill flying DN-B. Flying out proved to be very dangerous as water was everywhere. Each Spitfire required four ground crew members, two on tail, and one on each wing, just to taxi for take-off. The take-off was conducted in three or four inches of water, and all aircraft departed safely.

No. 67 on the map is the location of Base 82/Grave, Holland, where No. 416 remained from 30 September until 21 October 1944. This base in Holland was flooded by heavy rain fall on 19 October and the Spitfire aircraft departed south on 21 October. The next day the squadron moved south to Brussels and Base 58/Melsbroek, a “castle” [No. 19 on map] and two weeks’ rest. This was the first break the squadron received in the past four months. No. 20 on map was Base 56, Evere, Belgium, where they moved to on 4 November 44.

End of Part Three

Next time, Part Four

The Making of a WWII RCAF Spitfire Pilot – Part Two

The Making of a WWII RCAF Spitfire Pilot
P/O Gordon Hill J37340

Part Two

No. 416 Squadron

No. 416 [Lynx] Fighter Squadron was formed at Peterhead, Scotland, 22 November 1941, the sixth RCAF fighter squadron formed overseas. They chose the image of a Canadian Lynx leaping in front of a large Maple Leaf, with motto – “Ad saltum paratus” [Ready for the Leap].

The original art creation came from AC1 Matthew Cecil Ferguson, an aero-frame mechanic who came to the squadron in early March 1942. Mat was born in England, then immigrated to Canada with his parents and grew up in Calgary, Alberta. He would become Canada’s most famous WWII nose artist and created three RCAF badges which were submitted to Chester of Herald in England. Two were officially approved, including the Lynx badge, authority King George VI, 16 November 1944.

Mat Ferguson arrived with No. 416 Squadron in the first week of March 1942, around the same time a new C.O. Squadron Leader L. V. Chadburn, DFC, took over the squadron. On 14 March, S/L Chadburn led “A” flight from Peterhead to Dyce, Aberdeen, Scotland. On the same date, “B” flight [Ground Train Party] moved from Peterhead to Montrose, leaving by train at 08:15 hrs, one officer and eighty other ranks. These are the orders published on 12 March 1942, listing Mat Ferguson as one of the ground crew mechanics.

No. 416 Squadron “B” Flight, and Mat Ferguson, remained at Montrose, Scotland, until 27 March 1942, then moved back to home base at Peterhead on 28 March 1942. This photo [PL15079] was taken in late March at either Montrose or Peterhead, Scotland, showing S/L Lloyd V. Chadburn standing proudly in front of his Spitfire with new Lynx nose art. He flew Spitfire BL920 and BL932 during this period of time.

The nose art Lynx was a stencil created by Mat Ferguson and I believe this was the very first art showing of the squadron badge. Chadburn fully understood the importance of creating an identify for his new fighter squadron, and I’m positive worked with Ferguson to create this image.

In September 1942, C.O. Chadburn, DFC, began to send letters to have his squadron officially adopted by the City of Oshawa. No. 416 was now based at Redhill, Surrey, from 23 September 1942 until 31 January 1943, flying in Canadian Kenley Wing. This is where the squadron was officially adopted by the City of Oshawa, officially on 4 October 1942.

Another very special event took place on 16 December 1942, when Lt. General McNaughton presented the squadron with a presentation Spitfire, from the Policemen of Canada, [Canadian Police Association]. The Spitfire nose art was painted by AC 1 Mat Ferguson.

Photos of event – [PL15100, PL15105, and above nose art PL15099]

The presentation spitfire contained the very same stencil nose art Lynx, with a smaller Maple Leaf. The background Maple Leaf would become a trade-mark for artist Mat Ferguson.

Lynx Squadron flew Spitfire aircraft on defensive and then offensive air operations over England and later North-West Europe. In Scotland and England, they flew under No. 14 Group, Peterhead, Aberdeen, Scotland, No. 11 Group, Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, No. 12 Group, Canadian Wing, Wellington, Lincs., No. 11 Group Merston Sussex, and again No. 12 Group, Canadian Digby Wing at Wellington, Lincs. This part of their history can be found in some sixty pages of detailed Daily Operations, which can be confusing even to an historian. To make it simple, they flew as part of RCAF Fighter Command units of the R.A.F. in the Air Defence of Great Britain. On 12 February 1944, they came under Second Tactical Air Force, No. 83 [Composite] Group, No. 127 [RCAF] Wing, at Kenley, Surrey, and Tangmere, Sussex, until 15 June 1944.
On 16 June 1944, Lynx Squadron moved to ALG (Advanced Landing Ground) B.2, Bazenville, France, under R.A.F. H.Q. Allied Expeditionary Air Force, and flew in ground support of N-W Europe. On 28 August 1944, they moved to B.26 at Illiers l’Eveque, France, and B.68 Le Culot, Belgium, on 22 September 1944. The next move came on 30 September 1944, to B.82 Grave, Holland.

In early September 1944, British, Canadian, and American troops first entered the southern border of the Netherlands, just three months after the D-Day landings in Normandy. On 17 September, the Allies launched Operations Market Garden, a massive airborne assault on the Dutch town of Arnhem. This Arnhem attack failed and the Allied advance was stopped, keeping most of the Netherlands under German control. Canadian forces were now given the deadly task of liberating the Netherlands from Nazi Germany occupation.
After three years of flying defensive and offensive operations against the German forces, No. 416 [Lynx] would now begin offensive air operations in support of Canadian ground forces in the Netherlands. This assault on the Netherlands is very complex and can be found on may Websites, books, and movies. From October 1944 to April 1945, the Canadian First Army fought the Germans on the Scheldt estuary, opened the port of Antwerp and cleared the north and western Netherlands of the German Nazis. Today, Canada is fondly remembered by the Dutch people for ending their long oppression under the Nazis. On 30 September 1944, No. 416 Squadron arrived in the middle of the battle, just six miles from Germany, at an airfield called Base 82, Grave, Netherlands. A new Spitfire pilot Gordon Hill had just arrived with Lynx Squadron and captured on film much of the following history. Most of these images have never been shown before and it is possible a number of the Dutch children are still living today.

This badge was officially approved on 16 November 1944, recorded in Daily Diary.

We are heading for Holland tomorrow…