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Geoffrey Fisken DFC RNZAF Ace in Pacific Theatre

Geoffrey Bryson Fisken, DFC (17 February 1916 – 12 June 2011) was a New Zealand fighter pilot who was the British Commonwealth’s leading air ace in the Pacific theatre of World War II. He is credited with shooting down 11 Japanese aircraft.

Fisken was born in Gisborne on 17 February 1916. He was the son of a farmer, and entered that profession himself, farming sheep at Masterton. Fisken learnt to fly privately during the 1930s, taking lessons in a DH60 Gypsy Moth.

Geoffrey Fisken

In September 1939, at the outbreak of World War II Fisken (left: photo courtesy RNZAF Official) volunteered for the Royal New Zealand Air Force, but was initially barred from enlisting. At the time in New Zealand farming was a reserved occupation as it was considered vital for the war effort, and therefore it was not until early 1940 that Fisken was able to enlist, after convincing his employer to release him for service. Following this Fisken was accepted as a pilot and undertook training at Bell Block in New Plymouth and also at Ohakea, before graduating as a Sergeant Pilot in 1941.

In February 1941, Fisken was posted to Singapore to join No. 205 Squadron RAF which was flying Short Singapore flying boats at the time. When he arrived, however, he discovered that these machines were being transferred to No. 5 Squadron RNZAF, so Fisken was instead sent to complete a fighter conversion course on Royal Australian Air Force CAC Wirraways, and Brewster Buffaloes. Upon completion of this course, he was posted to No. 67 Squadron RAF, which was primarily made up of New Zealanders at the time and was in the process of forming at Kallang along with No. 243 Squadron RAF.

The all-metal monoplane Buffaloes that equipped these squadrons were an advance on the biplanes that Fisken was used to, as well as the Wirraways he had flown during his fighter training. However, the stubby Buffalo has acquired a mixed reputation as a fighter. Successful in Finnish hands against the Soviets during 1941–44, nevertheless it was placed on second-line duties by the Royal Air Force, who found the aircraft that arrived in Singapore had multiple faults, including secondhand poorly-conditioned engines, design flaws in the undercarriage, and unserviceable weapons and oxygen. As increasing numbers of aircraft arrived at the end of 1941, local modifications were hurriedly contrived to make them more battle ready.

In October 1941, as fears of Japanese aggression increased, No. 67 Squadron moved to Mingaladon, Burma, but Fisken was posted back to Kallang to join No. 243 Squadron.

The Japanese attacked Allied territories in Asia and the Pacific on 8 December 1941. Initially, No. 243 Squadron concentrated on the unsuccessful defence of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse. Fisken was flying one of two Buffaloes to arrive at the sinkings first, describing the scene as 'a grey metal bow sticking out of the sea, surrounded by an oil slick and many bodies'. As the Japanese advanced down the Malay Peninsula, Singapore came under an increasing number of bombing raids, and 243 Squadron was tasked with defending the city.

Fisken in flying gear

Guadalcanal 1943: Fisken in (mostly) American flying gear (photo courtesy RNZAF Official)

On 16 December, Fisken claimed a victory over a Zero. A fortnight later, on 29 December, he claimed two unidentified Japanese bombers. On 12 January 1942, Fisken claimed a Nakajima Ki-27. He claimed a Mitsubishi A6M Zero two days later on 14 January, being lucky to land after being caught in the explosion of the Japanese plane. On 17 January, he shot down, or assisted in the destruction of, three Mitsubishi G3M bombers, and four days later brought down another fighter.

By this time, 243 Squadron had lost the majority of its pilots and virtually all its aircraft. As a result, it was merged with the Australian No. 453 Squadron RAAF, which continued to operate, along with No. 488 Squadron RNZAF. Fisken claimed another fighter on 1 February. Five days later, he was 'bounced' by two Japanese fighters. He nevertheless shot one down, but only narrowly escaped the other, being injured in the arm and leg by a cannon shell before the dogfight ended. He was evacuated to New Zealand shortly before Singapore fell.

In late March the RNZAF formed the surviving pilots from No. 243 and 488 Squadrons into No. 14 Squadron RNZAF at Ohakea. Employed in the home defence role, they were initially equipped with Harvards, while awaiting delivery of Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks.

14 Squadron Guadalcanal 1943 with Geoff Fisken

Fisken (standing back, 3rd from left) with 14 Squadron at Guadalcanal June/July 1943

(photo courtesy RNZAF Official)

As a result of his performance in Singapore, Fisken received a commission and was promoted to the rank of Pilot Officer. In April 1943, he joined No. 14 Squadron at Wigram. Later the squadron was posted to the New Hebrides where they were based at Palikulo Bay Airfield on Espiritu Santo, before moving to the front line at Kukum Field on Guadalcanal on 11 June 1943. The following day Fisken destroyed two more Zeroes. On 4 July, flying the colourful P-40 'Wairarapa Wildcat' he had his last victories, destroying a further two Zekes and a Mitsubishi G4M. 'Wairarapa Wildcat' also had success in the hands of other pilots. NZ3072 was scrapped after the war, but NZ3009 was restored and painted to represent NZ3072 'Wairarapa Wildcat'.

In September 1943 Fisken was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. However, he found himself increasingly troubled by the injuries he had received in Singapore, and was medically discharged from the RNZAF in December 1943.

Although his last victories in the Solomons were clearly documented, the number of his confirmed victories (as against probables) over Singapore has been contested, giving rise to totals of between 10 and 13 in different texts. Nevertheless, his final score is believed to be 11 confirmed kills and he is considered to be the highest scoring British Commonwealth ace in the Pacific theatre.


Malaya / Burma / Singapore February 1941 - February 1942

In February 1941 he was posted to Singapore, where he was attached to the RAAF at Sembawang for a conversion course on to Wirraways, and then on to Buffalos.


Two RAF squadrons, 67 and 243, were in the process of being formed at Kallang, and Fisken was posted there. These embryo squadrons had only a few pilots (mostly New Zealanders, with RAF Commanders) and did not form into separate units until more personnel had arrived from New Zealand where they were in training.


In October 1941, Fisken was moved to Mingaladon, in Burma, with 67 Squadron but returned a few days later to Kallang to serve with 243.

After the Japanese invaded Malaya on December 8th, 1941, the squadron was quickly into action. Fiskens' aircraft was a Brewster B339E Buffalo serialed W8147 and coded WP- O .

One Ki-27 claimed on January 12th, 1942.
One 'Zero' claimed on January 14th, but aircraft damaged when the Japanese plane exploded underneath. W8147 apparently was not badly damaged, as Fisken flew it again on January 17th when he claimed a G3M, and shared in the destruction of a further two G3M's.
On January 21st, again flying W8147, he claimed another 'Zero'.
(W8147 was shot down later on the same day when being flown by another pilot, Sgt. Victor Arthur).

By the end of January, 243 Squadron had virtually ceased to exist as a unit due to severe losses, and the surviving pilots, Fisken amongst them, took their aircraft and attached themselves to 453 (RAAF) Squadron.
On February 1st he claimed a 'Zero' while flying W8237.

On February 6th, he claimed a further 'Zero' while flying W8143, but was wounded in the arm and leg during this action, and soon after was evacuated from Singapore.

Pacific - April 1943 - December 1943

In late March, with other Kiwi pilot survivors from 243 and 488 Squadrons, Fisken returned to New Zealand. After a short stay at Wigram in Christchurch, he was posted to Ohakea.


Fisken along with some of the other pilots who had flown in Singapore and Malaya, were to provide a nucleus for the formation of 14 Squadron, the first New Zealand fighter squadron to be formed for service in the Pacific theatre. The squadron's first Commanding Officer was Squadron Leader John Mackenzie DFC who had served in the RAF. At this time, Fisken was commissioned as a Pilot Officer.

14 Squadron then moved to Masterton and trained on Harvards before receiving its Kittyhawks.
In April 1943 the squadron was posted to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides.


It moved to Guadalcanal on June 11th, and the next day, on its first combat mission, shot down six enemy aircraft, of which two 'Zeros' were destroyed by Fisken. Whilst patrolling over Rendova on July 4th he claimed another two 'Zeros' and a G4M 'Betty' bomber.

In September 1943 Fisken was awarded the DFC. He was then invalided out of the RNZAF in December due to the wounds he had received in Singapore.


Following his discharge from the RNZAF, Fisken returned to farming. He was later employed by the Egg Marketing Board after selling his farm before eventually retiring in 1976.

He died on 12 June 2011 at Lara Lodge in Rotorua where he had lived for 31 years. His wife, Rhoda, predeceased him by 14 years. Together they had six children, five boys and a girl.

Notes

Allied pilots during this period tended to refer to all Japanese fighters as Zeroes; this aircraft was probably a Nakajima Ki-43 'Oscar', as used by the IJAAF.

Military Service Summary

  • Royal New Zealand Air Force, attached Royal Air Force AWMM
  • Attached RAAF
  • 243 Squadron, RAF
  • 21 Squadron, RAAF
  • 453 Squadron, RAAF
  • 14 Squadron

Sources: Wikipedia, Aircrew Remembered archives, rnzaf.hobbyvista.com, Air Force Museum of New Zealand

See Daily Telegraph Obituary

SY 2018-06-06

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Last Modified: 10 June 2018, 23:56

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