Postwar – [5 July 1945 to 21 March 1946] – Base 174, Utersen, Germany – Part Three

Postwar – Base 174, Utersen, Germany,
[5 July 1945 to 21 March 1946]
Part Three

The first twelve new Spitfire Mk. XIVEs began to arrived from No. 41 Squadron, at B.158 Lubeck, Germany, on 13 September 1945, and the old aircraft were ferried to Dunsfold, England. Conversion training began on 16 September, and three more Spit Mk. XIVE fighters arrived the following day. On 23 September, the whole squadron flew the new Mk. XIV Spitfires for the very first time, and by the end of the month, they had 16 on strength.

18 September 1945, five pilots from No. 416 and ten pilots from No. 486 Squadron [Disbanded 7 September 1945] flew the remaining Spitfire Mk. XVIs to No. 83 Disbandment Centre at Dunsfold, Surrey, England. This airfield was an ex-class “A” Bomber Base, built by Canadian Army Engineers, and named RCAF Dunsfold, from 1942-1944. In November 1944, No. 83 Disbandment Centre took over and this became the storage base for Spitfires, Typhoons, and Tempests in late 1945. That’s where the fifteen old No. 416 Spitfire Mk. XVIs were parked on 18 September 1945.

When 150 octane fuel was introduced by RAF Fighter Command in July 1944, the boost of the Griffon engine was increased to plus 25 lbs, allowing a top speed to be increased by 30 m.p.h.

Fuel capacity was increased by 26 gallons, with a new 13 gal. tank fitted into the leading edge of each wing. The engine was a Griffon 65 [above] or Griffon 66 which gave a top speed of 438 m.p.h. at 24,500 feet, or 400 m.p.h. at 2,000 ft. They were assigned to the 2nd Tactical Air Force and were being flown by six squadrons in late December 1944. The new Spitfire had many modifications the Canadians would have to adjust to in the next two weeks.

#1 – The Griffon 66 engine powered a five blade Rotol propeller. #2 – It had a cut-down rear fuselage and bubble canopy. #3 – Had extra 31-gallon fuel tank behind cockpit. #4 – Increased tail fin for control and #5 – larger tail rudder. #6 – Clipped “e” wings. #7 – Two larger under wing air-cooler radiators. #8 – F.24 oblique camera in fuselage. #9 – Anti-balance trim tabs on the tail wing rudders.

One of six images of a Spitfire Mk. XIVE taken by F/O Gordon Hill, and he never flew DN-H. Note the larger pointed tail fin with increased rudder height, and main wing clipped “e” wing-tips, with the five blade Rotol propeller.

The Mk. XIVE came with standard pilot armour protection “A”, however some units modified the bubble canopy with a second plate for pilot head protection “B.” No. 41 RAF Squadron were one of the first two squadrons assigned the Spitfire XIV in September 1994. They modified all their Spitfires, which in turn were received by No. 416 Squadron one year later, 13 September 1945.

Cockpit image Gordon took of the Spitfire Mk. XIV, November 1945

Gordon Hill flew his first Mk. XIVE Spitfire, MJ245, DN-Q on 24 September 1945, the flight lasted 30 minutes. This flight almost ended before it began, with his fighter veering left off the runway. Gordon has never revealed this private story until now, and he explains.

The Spitfire Mk. XVI was powered by a Merlin 266 [same as Merlin 66] built by Packard in the United States of America. The airscrew drive was clockwise or what the British called “Right Hand Tractor” with Rotal constant speed four blade propellers and 1,315 H.P. for take-off. Pilot Hill explains that before take-off, he would set the tail trim tab to the right to off-set the force of the propellers.

On 24 September, as he prepared for take-off, he set the tail trim tab to the right, and then began his take-off. The Spitfire suddenly veered to the left and almost left the runway surface. Gordon stopped and at once realized what he had done wrong. The new Spitfire XIVE was powered by the British made Rolls-Royce Griffon 66 and the airscrew drive was counter clock-wise or “Left Hand Tractor.” This new Spitfire had five Rotol propellers and 2,200 H.P. for take-off. Gordon placed the tail trim tab in the correct left-hand position, and took off with ease.

Gordon cannot recall, but this image was possibly taken on that first flight in DN-Q, 24 September 1945. This photo clearly shows the addition of the second armour plate for protection of the pilot head. This had been completed by No. 41 RAF fighter squadron who flew these aircraft from September 1944 until 13 September 1945. The next group of crash photos of Spitfire MJ245 again show the head armour protection. The date of the crash is not recorded, but this is the same Spitfire DN-Q which Gordon Hill first flew on 24 September 1945. Gordon flew DN-Q one more time on 12 December 1945, which I’m sure was another aircraft.

Colorised version done by Pierre Lagacé

The RCAF ground crew recovery team arrives on scene.

This head-on view of the Spitfire Mk. XIVE shows off another refinement on the Griffon engine aircraft.

The Griffon 65 and 66 engines necessitated two new underwing radiators, which were much larger than the standard Mk. XVI flown by the Canadians.

The RCAF career of Montreal born Group Captain Gordon Roy “Gordie” McGregor, can be found in many publications and on many internet sites. He gained vast experience as a Canadian fighter pilot overseas, came off operations and was appointed Director of Air Staff at RCAF H.Q. London, returning to Canada 17 April 1942. He next formed and commanded the RCAF Wing giving air support to the Americans in Alaska. On 1 January 1943, he was promoted to Group Captain and took over command of RCAF Patricia Bay, [1 April 1943] and the Canadian squadrons serving in defence of the west coast of Canada.

Coming in to land at RCAF Station Patricia Bay, B.C.

When pilot Gordon Hill arrived at No. 133 Boundary Bay, B.C., he would serve and fly under command of G/C McGregor. McGregor returned to England on 23 February 1944, spending four months at H.Q. No. 83 Group, and in mid-July was given command of No. 126 [RCAF] Wing. He earned the title of the oldest Canadian fighter pilot to see action over Germany in WWII. On 28 March 1945, he flew his last operation and destroyed a German locomotive. On 17 September 1945, McGregor would leave No. 126 Wing and returned to Canada, 21 October 1945, released from the RCAF on 27 November 1945.

In late September 1945, a special going away Mess dinner was held at B.174, Uetersen, Germany, and Gordon Hill attended this dinner. The honorary dinner was held in an ex-Luftwaffe Officers Mess building and the staff were all German civilian cooks and staff, under direction of the RCAF. Seven months earlier they were serving German Air Force Officers in the same Luftwaffe Mess.

German civilian staff before the Mess dinner. Enemy one month, friends the next.

German civilian staff viewed from the head table.

Group Capt. Gordon McGregor, DFC, OBE, MiB [3]
signs over his Command of No. 126 [RCAF] Wing.

The date is not recorded, believed to be around 27 September 1945.

Pre-dinner speech by G/C Gordon McGregor.

A toast to Group Capt. McGregor.

Canada’s fighter pilots late September 1945.

 

 

This will be the last Official RCAF Mess Dinner, as all members will soon return to Canada.

The winter snow arrives and no operational flying is conducted.

Total flying training for the squadron in October is 186 Hrs, and Gordon Hill flies 24 hour, seventeen trips in Spitfire DN-T. The war is over; however Canadian pilots will still be killed in flying accidents.

 

Pilot Hill explains another story for the very first time. The No. 416 pilots began to experience engine problems with the new 150 octane fuel, and Gordon kept a list, which surpassed 30 engines that cut-out when RPMs were increased. The problem was reported, and pilots were given instructions to slowly [open the throttle] increasing engine RPMs for every four minutes of flight, to clear the engines. The problem continued and the Americans were also affected, experiencing the same engine problems. A test was conducted and the American Command reported to the RAF, the fuel was not satisfactory for aircraft use, it was full of impurities. Were German civilians causing this problem?

When the engine in a Spitfire fighter quit, the pilot had two choices, if high enough he could jump, or make a crash landing straight ahead.

On 9 November 1945, F/O A. K. Price was taking off on a normal training flight, when his engine quit at 500 feet, and he was killed in the crash landing. On 28 November 1945, P/O Ken Williams lost an engine in Spitfire NH832 and made a crash landing, receiving minor injuries. Gordon Hill recalls his fellow pilots believed both engine failures were caused by bad fuel, which never appears in official RCAF cause of accident reports.

Sometimes one single photo image can capture a rare forgotten Canadian Squadron, and its small RCAF WWII history.

This cold December 1945 image was taken at B.174, Utersen, Germany, and Gordon wrote – “A Taylor Cub.”

A close-up reveals the under wing markings, which appear to read “HQ 664” and the history comes to life for an almost forgotten Canadian Army/RCAF serviced squadron, flying in the postwar months of WWII. The official title of the aircraft was Taylorcraft Auster, which lead to a long line of successive aircraft, including the famous American Piper Cub.

This classic aircraft was designed in 1929, at Rochester, New York, by the Taylor Brothers. In 1938, “Taylorcraft” Aeroplanes was formed at Thurmaston, England, located near Leicester. They built under American licence the model “A” aircraft powered by a 90 horsepower Cirrus Minor aircraft engine. In 1939, the R.A.F. took delivery of one single aircraft, for experimental use by the British Army in the role of Air Observation Post. At once, the value of the small aircraft became obvious to both the British Army and the RAF, which gave it the military official name “Taylorcraft Auster.” Adolf Hitler and the Second World War, gave the aircraft a huge boost in production and aviation history was made. By May 1945, 569 Mk. I, II, and III aircraft were constructed, with the British de Havilland Gipsy Major I engine, powering the last 467 Mk. III aircraft. The next 255 Mk. IVs and 780 Mk. Vs were manufactured with the American compact 130 h. p. Lycoming O-290-3 aircraft engine. Canadian Army pilots, in the Royal Canadian Artillery would fly these last two production models, which were administered and serviced by the RCAF in Europe, under control of the First Canadian Army.

In early September 1941, the Canadian Army saw the advantage to the Auster aircraft and sent three Canadian Army Artillery Officers on a British Air Observation Post course. After nine months training, the Canadian Army Senior Officers changed their mind and sent orders there would be no Canadian Air Observation Post, and the three Army pilots were posted to units of the British A.O.P. During the Italian campaign, these same senior high command officers realized the British Air Observation Squadrons were now a most important part of the modern fighting Army. In June 1944, the Senior Command of the Canadian Army, recommended to the Canadian War Cabinet, the forming of three Canadian Air Observation Post squadrons, in the Royal Canadian Artillery. In short, this was approved and the first squadron, No. 664 [RCAF] Air Observer Post was mobilized on 1 December 1944. It came into effect on 9 December 1944, at RAF Station Andover, Hants, England, under No. 70 Group, RAF Fighter Command, No. 43 Operational Training Unit. They trained in the Auster Mk. IV and Mk. V aircraft, and were sent to the continent at Tilburg, Netherlands, on 23 March 1945, under operational control of the First Canadian Army. Although the pilots and spotters were members of the Royal Canadian Artillery, they were administered and serviced by any local RCAF unit. They flew their first operation on 29 March 1945, Capt. G. M. Henderson in Auster Mk. V, serial RT564. The last operation was flown on 5 May 1945, Auster Mk. V, serial RT515, pilot Capt. D. G. Rouse. They should have had the motto – “Too Little, Too Late” but now they would soon become the male play-toy for Senior Army Military Officers in Europe. A total waste of taxpayer money, the RCAF continued to form two more Air Observation Squadrons, No. 665, on 22 January 1945, and No. 666, on 5 March 1945. Each squadron flew sixteen Auster Mk. IV and MK. V aircraft, which means 48 Auster unofficial “Taxi” cabs were flying Army Officers around England, and Europe. Those were the days.

Soon after the end to hostilities in Europe, 8 May 1945, No. 664 Air Observer Post Squadron was reduced to a full-time Senior Canadian Army Officer priority taxi service, from base to base over Europe. When you read the Daily Operations Diary, it records the Auster aircraft like a flea on a lawn, jumping all around to Paris, London, and back again to Europe. Good times for all and flying first class for free, until they were disbanded at Apeldoorn, Netherlands, 1 June 1946.
Pilot Gordon Hill captured the Auster at B.174, Germany, possibly landing for fuel, to drop off a senior officer, or minor engine problems. It appears two mechanics are working on the aircraft Lycoming engine.

The Daily Operations Record on No. 664 Air Observer Post Squadron 29 March 1945.

F/O Gordon Hill made his last flight in a Spitfire XIV on 20 December 1945, he had a grand total of 940 hours, and 35 minutes, flying time, mostly in Spitfires and Hurricanes.

4 January 1946, Gordon is going home to Canada.

Gordon Hill was sent to the RCAF Release Deport in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and met up with an old High School friend who was graduating from the University of Manitoba. Gordon became her escort for the evening, and had his photo taken after the dinner.

The other males at his table have spent the past four years studying at University, while Gordon was flying around the world, fighting for Canada. I wonder if they had any idea what he had seen and done for them.

2 thoughts on “Postwar – [5 July 1945 to 21 March 1946] – Base 174, Utersen, Germany – Part Three

  1. arrow

    Crikey ! Gordon had the good fortune to fly the Spitfire MKX1VE clipped wing. She was described by British test pilot Geoffrey Quill ( I believe ) whom said of her ” she was a hairy beast”. Pilots who flew the MK X1V Spit (early on) reported that the Griffon engine made so much power (torque) that it felt like the aircraft wanted to ” rotate around the propeller ” not the other way around. The Spitfire MK XIV outclassed the P-51D Mustang in every aspect
    save for “legs” and “external weapons”. Many Spitfire drivers have said “You don’t climb into a Spit, you don’t jump into a Spit, you put it on “. Really like the colorized images. It affords one the opportunity to really see how things looked in the flesh. Great story.

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  2. Pierre Lagacé Post author

    For fear of repeating myself I am glad you have enjoyed these stories. Even if I had only one reader posting this what worth it Arrow. Gordon asks to be remembered for what he did. That’s the message on my post Epilogue.

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