The Making of a WW II RCAF Spitfire Pilot – Part Five

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

From 1 January 1945 to January 16, the squadron were operational for 44 sorties, 64 hours and 40 minutes. On 1 January F/L David William Armstrong Harling DFC, took off to attack 30 German fighters who were strafing the airfield, but was killed when he was shot down and crashed in Brussels, Spitfire SM304. Harling came from Westmount, Quebec, age 23 years, buried in the Brussels Town Cemetery, Belgium, on 3 January 1945, with most of squadron attending to pay their respects.

The weather throughout the end of the month was unfavorable and few operations were flown. In five armed recons several German transports were destroyed.

On 13 January, F/O William Frederick Bridgman failed to return from patrol, when his Spitfire SM279 was hit by flak. Bridgman came from London, Ontario, and is buried in the War Cemetery, Hotton, Luxembourg, Belgium.

P/O G.W. Haines and F/Sgt. McGregor were posted in as replacements for the two pilots killed in action.

This picture was taken at the end of December 44.

On the left is F/O M. R. “Mush” Sharun. On the wing is F/L D. W. Harling . Below is F/O W.F. Bridgman, then F/O W.D. “Wally” Hill and F/O Gordon “Gord” Hill, W/O L. J. “Lou”Jean, F/L W. R. “Webb” Harten, F/O J. Leyland and F/O R.W. “Tap” Tapley.

Colorised picture by Pierre Lagacé

On 1 January 1945, the Germans attacked all RCAF fighter units.

“Harpy” was code letter H, with black outline under nose, TB756. Next is the Spitfire of American F/L Steve Straub.

Seen above is a cold morning Spitfire start for “Sweet Sixteen” in late January 1945. F/O Gordon Hill flew 14 sorties in January, assigned seven different Spitfire fighters. SM466, [twice], SM404 [four times], SM248, SM389 [[twice], SM503 [three times], SM191, SM308, and his SM403.

On 1 March 1945, Lynx Squadron moved by road 55 miles north to Base 90 at Petit Brogel, Belgium. The squadron 17 Spitfire Mk. XVI aircraft were flown in the next day.

Adjutant F/O Rod J. Howe, in his tent office at B.90, Petit Brogel, Belgium.

P/O Larry E. Spurr arrives on 2 March 1945.

The weather was good for two weeks and they flew 190 operational sorties, totalling 240:40 hours. They did not encounter any enemy activity, and only P/O E.D. Downer made a successful crash landing when his engine gave out. S/L J. D. Mitchner, DFC, received the Dutch Bronze Cross by Dutch authorities.

Two of the French Connection, Roland Brouillard, an unidentified ground crew, and Louis Nault.

F/L L.L. Nault, F/O F.G. Picard, F/O J.J.M. Menard, and F/O R.C. Brouillard, were called the “French Connection.” by Gordon Hill. On 25 February 45, F/O Jacques “Jack” Menard had to force-land his Spitfire due to an engine failure, and became a P.O.W.

Spitfire Mk. XVI, DN-H, serial TB756, showing the clipped wing-tips.

Aerial view of B.90 Petit Brogel, Belgium

The airfield B.90 Petit Brogel, Belgium, 15 March 45.


Some of the ground crews, unsung heroes

Gordon Hill with Adjutant Howe

The squadron pilots are now living in three British Nissen Huts, a big change from the house in Brussels. Stu Hartley combs his hair.

Stu Hartley

An American battery fires at them, and then an American P-51 attacks them.

Two fighters lost to the Americans and none to the Germans. Trigger happy Americans again but no lives lost this time.

Arming a Spitfire in the rain and mud at B.90 Petit-Brogel, Belgium.

P/O Chuck Darrow and his German uniform

This 416 Squadron pilots photo was taken between 16-30 March 1945, showing 24 of 28 pilots. All of them were identified by Gordon Hill.

The squadron’s ground crew and personnel, photo taken at B.90 Petit Brogel, Belgium, mid-March 1945.

1. F/O Chris Preston J44034, arrived 21 February 1945.

2. F/O Gordon Hill, [Gordie] arrived 2 October 1944.

3. F/O W.D. Hill J35989, [Wally] arrived 14 November 1944.

4. F/O K.J. Ken Williams J9261, arrived 26 December 1944.

5. F/O Jack Leyland J26993, arrived 18 October 1944, ex-421 Squadron.

6. F/O Keith F. Scott J21239, arrived 27 February 1945.

7. F/O S.H. Steve Straub, arrived early October 1944.

8. P/O Chuck Darrow, arrived early October 1944.

9. F/L Larry L. Spurr, arrived 23 August 1944.

10. F/O B.E. Parry [Bert] J14717, arrived 13 January 1945.

11. F/O C.W. Haines [Cliff] J49322, arrived 21 January 1945.

12. F/Sgt. N.M. McGregor [Mac] R193516, arrived 21 January 1945.

13. F/O L.P. Comerford [Len] arrived 4 October 1944, ex-403 Squadron.

14. F/L Neil G. Russell J8136, arrived 4 July 1944, ex-Malta, 2nd tour.

15. F/O W.I. Gordon [Rocky] J6718, arrived 27 February 1945, 2nd tour.

16. S/L J.D. Mitchener DFC, [Jake] J16799, assumed command November 1944, replacing S/L J.F. McKiroy, DFC, end of tour.

17. C.O. F/O G. A. Cameron [silent Joe] arrived 3 July 1944, ex-Malta, 2nd tour.

18. F/O Vernon W. Mullen [Moon] arrived 15 March 1945. Shot down by American P-51, 31 March 45.

19. F/O L.J.R. Jean [Lou] arrived 20 October 1944.

20. F/O S.A. Round [Sam] J42360 arrived 3 February 1945.

21. F/O W. L. McCallum [Mac] J37906, arrived 3 February 1945.

22. F/O Walter Norman Douglas. [killed on 14 May 1945, accident, shotgun blast to face].

23. F/O F.G.H. Picard [Pic] arrived 29 September 1944.

24. P/O W.G.D. Roddie [Bill] J86972, arrived 9 August 1944

25. Sgt. Brechnel, ground crew member.


A dummy German Ju 88 mock-up at B.90 Belgium 1945

The squadron pilots were up at 03:45, 24 March 45, and in the air at first daylight. The C-47s with airborne troops and paratroopers passed directly over the base to Germany, crossing the Rhine.

Crossing the Rhine

Returning to England

Trap-shooting at B.90

P/O Chuck Darrow taking bath.

31 March 1945, the new home at B.78 Eindhoven, Holland.

Batman LAC Wally Grieve

The RCAF Squadron Jeep

Fueling a Spit from “Jerry” cans

Jules, our Flemish Batman


Ken Williams and Webb Harten

Group of pilots. Pilot [second from the left] “Webb” John Edmund Harten.


John Edmund Harten, age 24, was killed in Spitfire RR256, 19 April 1945, hit by German flak and crashed in flames Wilster, Germany.


End of Part Five
Next time, The move into Germany

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