I grew up in Regina, and in 1941 at the age of 18, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force so that I could learn to fly. I flew a Spitfire in WWII, which was a 12-cylinder Fighter Aircraft known as a day flyer. We never flew at night.
On December 31, 1944, our squadron of 12 left Brussels at 3:00 p.m. We crossed the Rhine River at the intersection of the Holland, Belgium and German borders, as this was our point of entry into Germany. We had never encountered Germans here. We climbed to 23,000 feet and it was colder than the devil up there because we had no heat!
I felt my plane get hit and I heard it too. There were no German airplanes around, so it had to be flak. My dashboard hadn’t changed and everything seemed to be fine, but a minute later, I was told by my wingman that I was streaming oil. I immediately thought about landing but knew I didn’t want to land in Germany! I radioed to our leader that we were both leaving the formation and immediately headed west to get across that border.
I stayed at the same altitude to maximize my glide. In just 5 minutes the needle on my oil gauge sank to empty. I shut the engine off so it wouldn’t seize, dropped my speed to 120 mph, and descended gradually. With the engine off, I lost everything – no power or radio controls whatsoever.
I pulled my map out of my boot and located Eindhoven, Holland, and hoped I would make it to the base there. The next problem was how to put my wheels down with no power. I vaguely remembered from my early instruction that somewhere in the cockpit, there was an emergency supply of compressed carbon dioxide in a tube designed for this very purpose. I found it and activated the carbon dioxide. It pushed the hydraulics to allow my wheels to lower and lock down!
My wingman returned to the squadron once I landed on an airfield. To my surprise a Canadian kid showed up driving a tractor and asked, “Where can I take you sir?” I thought I saw a spitfire squadron in the corner of the base. He confirmed that and told me it was RAF. The kid towed my Spitfire in, and while they arranged a bed for me, I asked to be taken to the Canadian Officers’ mess.
I happened to run into two officers with whom I had flown in Canada, and since it was New Years’ Eve, we cracked a scotch. It was really nice to have someone to talk to even though it wasn’t my own mess, and it was a pleasant New Year’s Eve. They even bought the scotch! A British mechanic called and told me that my oil cooler needed to be replaced, but they had a spare and could replace it that night.
The next morning my plane was fixed, gassed up and ready to go.
I went to my plane, climbed in, put on my parachute, gloves and helmet and tried to start the engine. Nothing. It needed a boost, so I climbed out and walked to a nearby control truck to tell them. Just then, we heard shots fired.
In that instant, the Germans had attacked all allied airfields simultaneously. My plane was shot and since it had a full tank of gas, it blew up completely.
Later that day I managed to hitch a ride back to Belgium with an anson, and slept in my own bed on my base in Brussels that night.
Gordon Hill, Flying Officer (Ret’d)