05.02.1941 No. 65 Squadron Spitfire II P7665 YT-L P/O. Hill
Operation: Circus 3
Date: 5th February 1941 (Wednesday)
Unit: 65 Squadron (East India Squadron)
Type: Spitfire II
Base: RAF Tangmere, West Sussex
Location: St. Omer, France
Pilot: P/O Geoffrey Hill. 61046 RAF PoW No: 405 Camp: Oflag Saalhaus Colditz O4C
We had been contacted (December 2013) by a Mr. Anthony Moclair who has discovered a carved and hand painted model of Spitfire P7665 in a antique shop in Australia - we have put him in contact with the relatives. The model was posted to the family who then presented it to the Tangmere Aviation Museum as they already held P/O. Hill's medals.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Circus 3. Shot down by ME109 near St. Omer. One of 9 aircraft lost on this Circus, 4 Spitfires and 5 Hurricanes. with the loss of 6 pilots killed.
11 Spitfires of 65 Sqdn took off from Tangmere between 12.08 hours and 12:19 hours to accompany No. 610 and No. 302 (Polish) Squadron with No. 302 Squadron leading to rendezvous over Rye with Blenheim bombers, and No. 601 Squadron. They were to proceed to St. Omer aerodrome, crossing the coast between Boulogne and La Touquat to attack the aerodrome and buildings at St. Omer.
Close escort to be provided by No. 601 Squadron, and further cover provided by other squadrons of fighters. No. 65 Squadron made the rendezvous but 'A' flight lost sight of the 'circus' as did Blue 3 and Green 3 also, and these joined up with 'A' flight. The weather although apparently clear over Rye, was hazy in patches, and it was in one of these patches that 'A' flight lost sight of the rest of the formation.
They therefore proceeded to the French coast but failing to find the 'circus' came back and patrolled Dover and Folkestone, returning to base at 1350 hours. Blue 1 and Blue 2 proceeded above the formation and were later joined by Green 1 and Green 2 when nearing the French coast. About 10 miles inland Green 1 and Green 2 saw a number of ME 109s which came from behind. Three of these attacked Green 2 (P/O. Hill) and Green 1 (F/O. Finucane) immediately attacked the leading aircraft with a short burst. The enemy aircraft then dived towards the ground and Green 1 followed, getting in a further burst.
The enemy aircraft then crashed into a wood. Green 1 then observed a Spitfire which he assumed to be Green 2 flying very slowly about 100 feet from the ground and being attacked by 2 Me109s. Green 1 approached and drove off the enemy aircraft without being able to fire for fear of hitting Green 2.
He last saw Green 2 flying very slowly near the ground. Green 1 having by this time lost sight of the formation returned to base and landed at Tangmere at 13:15 hrs.
It is widely believed that the Luftwaffe pilot who carried out this action was the German Ace Walther Oesau. Walther had a claim of over 117 abschüsse and was himself shot down and killed on May 11th, 1944 flying an Bf109 G-6 green by American pilots in P-38's over St. Vith, Belgium. Walther Oesau pictured left and 2nd from the left in the group photo.
P/O Hill was imprisoned in Stalag Luft 111, escaping from the camp no less than 3 times - the Germans then sent him to Colditz prison (PoW No: 405) where he remained for the rest of the war. He was released in May 1945 as a Flight Lieutenant and made an MBE for distinguished service as a PoW. (see below)
Sgt. Herbert David Denchfield (shown right) of 610 Squadron was also shot down the following day and met up with Geoffrey. His story can be read here.
After the war, he started an antiques business until his death in 1997. His family have since taken it over. We are delighted to say that relatives of P/O. Geoffrey Hill have contacted us.
Above and below: Luftwaffe pilots looking over the wreck of P7665 YT-L.
The wreck of P7665 YT-L. seen here lying in a French scrapyard. Picture kindly supplied by Bert van Dalen, Holland.
None, Mr Geoffrey Hill MBE survived the war and after his release, he founded in London a very prominent antiques business, Jeremy Ltd which he ran, in conjunction with his two sons, brothers John and Michael, until his death in November 1997. The business still flourishes under their control today.
Details of MBE. London Gazette 1st October 1946:
Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Hill (61046), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 65 Squadron. Flight Lieutenant Hill was captured near St. Omer on 4th February, 1941, after his aircraft had crashed. In January, 1942, while imprisoned at Stalag Luft I at Bault, he made his first attempt at escape. At mid-day, during a snow storm, he climbed over the perimeter wire, dressed as a civilian. A look-out post was close by, but Flight Lieutenant Hill counted on the sentry being kept in his box by the storm and on the high wind covering the noise of his climb. The driving snow squalls hid him from the sentries at neighbouring look-out posts. Flight Lieutenant Hill successfully negotiated the perimeter and got away.
His objective was Saggnitz, about 80 miles away but, due to the intense cold, he was arrested on its outskirts some days later, suffering from exposure and exhaustion. In the summer of 1943, Flight Lieutenant Hill made a second attempt to escape. He bribed one of the sentries to allow him and another officer to climb the perimeter wire near a look-out post. This attempt was made about sunset but was also unsuccessful as the bribed sentry thought the escapers had been seen and fired as they were trying to cross the wire, with the result that they were recaptured almost immediately.
Right: Model of Spitfire P7665 found in a antique shop in Australia
On other occasions, Flight Lieutenant Hill made abortive escape attempts. Once, while serving a term of imprisonment in cells for a previous attempt, he attempted to cut through the window bars. During the whole period of his captivity, he was closely connected with all escape activities and never flagged in his determination to escape.
We would like to thank the family of Geoffrey Hill for supplying the photo taken in his later years. With thanks to the following, 'Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Bert van Dalen, Anthony Moclair.