19.08.1942 No. 414 Squadron Mustang Ia AG375 RU-F Fl/Lt. Fred E. Clarke
Date: 19th August 1942 (Wednesday)
Unit: No. 414 Squadron RCAF
Type: Mustang 1a
Base: RAF Croydon.
Location: English Channel, off Dieppe, France
Pilot: Fl/Lt. Frederick Edsall Clarke RCAF Age 23. Ditched - rescued.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Radio Interview on 50th Anniversary of Dieppe Battle:
Below is an extract from an interview a reporter conducted in August of 1992 in a conference telephone call with Hollis Hills and Fred Clarke on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Dieppe battle.
The battle over Dieppe on August 19, 1942 is known in some circles to have been the largest single air battle of the War.
Fl/Lt. Frederick Edsall Clarke in 1942 (courtesy Christopher Clarke collection)
P/O. Hollis “Holly” Hills and Fl/Lt.. Fred Clarke had flown the first sortie at 04.45 for 414 squadron on the morning of the Dieppe Raid and were on their second sortie at 10:25 – a tactical reconnaissance south of the town of Dieppe. Holly was flying as “weaver” or cover for Freddie as he was to do a low level visual check of the road from Abbeville to Dieppe.
The squadron pilots had all been briefed about landing near the Dieppe race track if they were damaged or disabled but able to land. A Canadian corps was supposed to have secured this site during the morning for just such an eventuality but by the mid-day it had become all too clear that the raid was going badly.
Without the cover of night, it was particularly important that the relationship between the observer and his cover be maintained at all points during the mission. Observing radio silence according to the standing orders, they had no way of knowing that Fl/Lt. Clarke's Radio/Telephone had failed him once again. As they neared the coast west of Dieppe Hills spotted a flight of three FW 190s to the right at 1,500 feet, on a course that would take them directly overhead of the two Mustangs as they crossed the beach. Hills broke silence and called twice, the second time after Clarke had turned left toward the Amiens road but directly under the Germans, giving the 190’s ideal attack advantage.
L-R: Sq/Ldr. Frank Greenwood, F/O. Cliff Horncastle, Fl/Lt. Fred Clarke, W/Cdr. Doug Smith and Alan Macdonald. (courtesy Christopher Clarke collection)
Realising that he would have to take extraordinary action, P/O. Hills swung wide to his leader's left:
"This put me right over town dusting the chimney tops. I believe the 190s had lost sight of me as I had stayed under them. My plan was to cut off the lead FW before he could open fire on Freddie. My timing all went to pot when a crashing Spitfire forced me into a sharp left turn to avoid a collision. That gave the FW pilot time to get to firing position and he hit Freddie's Mustang with his first burst. . . Glycol was streaming from the radiator but there was no fire. I was able to get a long shot at the leader but had to break hard right as the number two man was having a go at me. He missed and made a big mistake sliding by my left side. It was an easy shot and I hit him hard. . . . I knew that he was a goner." Holly Hills
Fl/Lt. Clarke was oblivious to the action that was unfolding above his head until the first shells slammed into the oil cooler of his aircraft's Allison engine:
"The next thing I know is `all Hell and corruption's going by. . . . I'd been hit. . . . The radiator was shot up; my instruments on either side of me were gone. The armour plating saved me. So I jettisoned the hood hoping that it hadn't been jammed with the shots, and it wasn't. And I thought, `They're right, it's nice--not windy in here at all.'. . ." Fred Clarke
Instinctively he twisted his aircraft into a hard climbing right hand turn:
"I got about 800 feet. That's all she'd get." Fred Clarke
Without his radiator he knew that it was only a matter of time before the engine seized completely. Although the pilots had been offered the inland race track as a potential crash landing site, he had no intentions of risking capture, and preferred instead to take his chances in the channel. He would never have made it had it not been for the timely return of Hills to the scene of his leader's obvious distress. Assuming the FW now tailing the stricken Mustang was hoping for the capture of an intact Mustang, Hills saw him begin to slide in behind for the kill to stop Clarke short of the channel.
"I had to try to stop him so I gave a short high deflection burst at him. I was hoping to get his attention and it worked. He broke hard left into my attack." Holly Hills
As P/O. Hills attempted to mix it with the German, proving that the Mustang could at least out turn the Focke-Wulf, Clarke continued in his struggle to reach the water. It was a perilous moment, considering that no one had been known to "ditch" a Mustang and survive, principally because of the large air scoop under the belly that acted as a rather unfortunate rudder, directing the nose of the aircraft immediately toward the bottom. This did not happen in Clarke's case. Unfortunately it is still unknown as to exactly what did happen in the last seconds of the crash landing. Fl/Lt. Clarke's memory has survived only to include the moment above the water at 10 feet, an airspeed indicator reading 90 knots, and the moment when he woke up in the bottom of a landing craft:
414 Squadron Mustang Ia AG375 RU-F (courtesy Christopher Clarke collection)
"I limped out to the water. Just as I crossed the coast that prop . . . seized as solid as a . . . . There I am down wind, across the trough. . . . Everything's ag'in ya. Using my trim to keep my tail down, the last thing I remember is about 90 miles an hour on the clock, trying to get that tail down. I wanted the tail to hit first to kill the speed before she flopped in, because it would just go in if you hit the air scoop. The next thing I remember I came to in a landing craft. . . . I hit the gun site I think. The perspex was coming out of (my forehead) until ten or fifteen years ago. They say a young army guy hit the water with his arms going and got me out of the aircraft. I would give anything to have known who he was." Fred Clarke
Fl/Lt. Clarke was transferred with the other wounded to the Destroyer HMS Calpe which was itself under extremely heavy attack for most the late morning and early afternoon while they tried to retrieve those persons whom they could. After being treated for the wound to his head Clarke finally returned to Purley where he and Holly were billeted in a requisitioned house:
"About five the next morning, my door burst open. I was grabbed in a bear hug by what smelled like a huge clump of seaweed. It was Freddie Clarke, rescued by the Amphibious forces as I had [told the squadron]. . . on my return from the mission. His head sported a huge bandage covering the severe cuts he had received in the ditching. We had been warned that ditching a Mustang could be hazardous to your health." Holly Hills
Fl/Lt. Frederick Edsall Clarke and ground crews (courtesy Christopher Clarke collection)
Fl/Lt. Clarke was the only pilot to have ditched a Mustang during the war and survive.
On his return to the squadron the morning of August 20th, Fl/Lt. Clarke confirmed seeing a FW 190 crashing in a steep dive into the ground. This was deemed to be the one that P/O. Hills had first fired on.
Holly Hills taken in 1941 when the squadron were flying Tomahawks. His ID 'Joker' was also painted and presented to him by his nephew before Holly passed away. (courtesy Christopher Clarke collection)
Holly Hills went on to a distinguished career as a fighter pilot, and survived his own harrowing adventure after being shot down in the shark infested waters of the Pacific as a naval aviator with the US Navy.
Another 414 squadron pilot, Clifford Horncastle, who was to be ‘Best Man’ at Freddie Clarke's wedding was killed just days before the wedding.
Postscript: The following was not part of the original transcript:
NOTE: After a very brief convalescence to heal the wound to his forehead Fl/Lt. Clarke flew more sorties over France until May 1943. At that time he was given 10 days sick leave due to the severe migraine headaches he was suffering, (he had kept the partial blackouts he was experiencing to himself). On his return the commanding officers became aware of the full nature of his problems and he was grounded permanently. Later in 1943 he became 414 Squadron's Operations Liaison Officer and stayed with the squadron through their time in Holland and Belgium after the invasion.
Freddie Clarke, my father, was the last surviving member of the original 414 pilots who formed the squadron on August 7, 1941. Sadly, he passed away in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in May of 2005.
Hollis H. (Holly) Hills was an American who enlisted in the RCAF and fought both in Europe and then in the Pacific when he was recalled by the US Navy.
He passed away on October 31, 2009 in Melbourne, Florida and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia with full military honours.
We are indebted to Christopher C. Clarke who provided this and so much more information on 414 Squadron aircrew and photographs. In addition we are pleased that we have also placed him in contact with other relatives of pilots from the squadron.