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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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616 crest
616 Squadron Spitfire VII MB768 Fl/Lt. Jack Cleland

Operation: Rodeo 169 (fighter sweep)

Date: 12th June 1944 (Monday)

Unit: No. 616 Squadron. (motto: Nulla Rosa Sine Spina - 'No rose without a thorn') (1)

Type: Spitfire VII

Serial: MB768 (2)

Code: YQ-X

Base: RAF Culmhead, Somerset

Location: English Channel

Pilot: Fl/Lt. Jack McGifford Cleland NZ/411371 RNZAF Age 29. Safe


During the afternoon engaged Luftwaffe fighters over Laval airfield and shot down two Fw190's. His aircraft suffered several hits and whilst crossing the French coast hit again by flak. Damaged the wing, hood, and engine he was forced to bale out over the channel. After just 15 minutes rescued by an RAF high-speed launch.

24-year-old, Fl/Lt. Geoffrey Harrison 60102 RAFVR flying Spitfire VII MD121 was not so lucky, he was rammed or collided with a 109, crashing near Laval and lost his life. (3)

13b pilots course, No. 2 Service Flying Training School, RNZAF Woodbourne. 1941

(We have only been able to identify some of the pilots) L-R: Rear; W.R Cook, George Thirlwell Brown NZ/411364 killed 27 August 1942, George Samuel Beca NZ/39985, B.D New, A/C Allison, Garth Reginald Gunn NZ/411397 killed 21st September 1944.
Third row; F.L Leckie, Norman George Clark NZ/411370 killed 25th February 1943, W.C Anderson, W.F McGechie, Howard Keith Kemp NZ/411514 killed 11th April 1944, F.J King, R.G Tait, G.L Kennedy.
Second row; Frederick Rex Higgott NZ/41329 killed 24th October 1942, K.L Boyd, Lincoln Leslie Arnold Craig NZ.411376 killed Died 07th November 1942, Colin Moncur NZ/411431 died 29th September 2009, E.R Banks, J. Sweeney, P. Olson, R.E Rathbone, H.C Collins.
Front; Peter Reginald Kingsford NZ/ killed 19th July 1942, Lester Charles Woodward NZ/133107 died 09th August 1989, Russell William Strode Penny NZ/404937 killed 18th December 1942, Cyril Keith Silcock NZ411641 died 13th June 1977, Russell Henry Suckling NZ/411469 killed 28th September 1942, E.G Rhodes, James Elliot Jenkinson NZ/411410 killed 12th June 1944, Jack McGifford Cleland NZ/411371 died 0 1st February 1970.

(1) On the 12th July 1944, the 616 squadron became the first RAF squadron to receive jet equipment in the form of Gloster Meteor Mk. I fighters, testing them at RAF Culmhead. The first Meteor operational sortie was on the 27th July from RAF Manston when it intercepted V-1 flying bombs launched against southern England. The first victories came on 04 August when one V1 was tipped over after a pilot's cannon jammed and another was shot down. The loss rate of the still unproven Meteor Mk. I was high, with three being written off in non-combat incidents between 15th and 29th August. Re-equipment with improved Meteor Mk.IIIs began in January 1945 and in February a detachment was deployed to Melsbroek near Brussels in Belgium. It was intended as a defence against Me 262s but in the event, they did not ever face them. In early April the complete squadron moved to Gilze-Rijen in the Netherlands, commencing ground attack sorties on the 16th April. The squadron was disbanded at Lübeck, Germany on the 29th of August 1945 by being renumbered to No. 263 Squadron RAF.

(2) Spitfire MB768 was built at Eastleigh and first flew on the 15th of August 1943. Fitted with the Merlin 64 engine.

Burial details:

Survived the war. Fl/Lt. Jack McGifford Cleland. Died 01st February 1970, age 56. Enlisted in March 1941, trained with No. 2 Service Flying Training School. In just 4 months he qualified as a staff pilot. Left for England in August 1941. Various advanced training units before joining 615 squadron in June 1942.

After nine months with 616 Squadron on channel patrols and forays on escort missions into France, he spent two months in North Africa, a period for which no flying was recorded in his logbook. Returning from Africa by troopship he met his future wife Isobel, a member of an ENZA group, in Gibraltar. Back in the

the UK, he attended a fighter reconnaissance course at Hawarden in October 1943.

On the 5th July, the New Zealander was attached to a USAAF fighter unit, made his first flight in a 363rd Squadron USAAF Mustang out of Leiston on the 15th, and was issued with his “personal” P-51D B6-V on the 21st. In honour, of Isabel, the aircraft was named Isabel III with two crosses below the cockpit - a reminder of his earlier successes. P-51D, 44-13573, Isabel III, code letters B6-V (also said to be in B). After a few days escorting B-17s over Germany, he flew an escort mission on 6th August to Danzig before landing at Prryatin in Russia after six hours 45 minutes in the air. On the following day, he escorted B-17s from Russia to southeast Poland before returning to Prryation, logging six hours 35 minutes. On the 8th he escorted B-17s from Russia to Ploesti in Rumania before landing at San Severo in Italy after nearly six hours aloft. Two days later he shepherded six Dakotas for five and half hours to Yugoslavia and return, a flight he noted in his logbook as most interesting.

On the 12th of August, the American fighters escorted more B-17s from Italy to southwest France before the Mustangs returned to Leiston after seven and a half hours airborne for the day. The “Russian Shuttle” was complete; six very different days in the life of a New Zealand fighter pilot. A short period of some three weeks followed until early September 1944 on escorts into Germany and sweeps into occupied France strafing trains, trucks, and cars. His last mission with the USAAF unit was a sweep escorting Fortresses to Stuttgart on the 05th of September.

During Jack’s period of flying with the Americans, he also met another pilot who was to become the most famous test pilot in the world - Chuck Yeager. Yeager (shown above right with Jack) was also attached to the 363rd and the two of them shared missions. Charles Elwood Yeager born 13th February 1923, died 07th December 2020 - the first pilot in history 'confirmed' to have exceeded the speed of sound in level flight.

After a short time back with No. 616, his next posting was an instructional one to 53 Operational Training Unit at Kirton in Lindsey in October 1944, lasting until mid-1945. He returned to New Zealand in October 1945 with 250 operational hours logged of 950 hours.

Jack Cleland returned to his pre-war position with MGM, becoming NZ General Manager before leaving in 1953 to set up a Wellington transport company with his wife, today still a family business as Jets Transport NZ. The only kiwi fighter pilot to have flown with the USAAF in WWII for a complete tour.

Son of Oswald Hugh Cleland (died 03rd January 1953) and Ivy Ethel Cleland (née Gibbs - died 18th September 1977). Brother of Marie Annie McKnight (died 1994, age 86), Ronald Joseph Cleland (died 18th May 1990, age 79), Oswald Douglas Cleland (died 16th February 1985 age 85), Ian Cleland and Margaret Cleland of 62 Nelson St., Petone, Wellington, New Zealand. Husband of Isabel Marian Figgis.

(3) Fl/Lt. Geoffrey Austin Harrison 60102. La Pellerine Communal Cemetery. Son of George Geoffrey Harrison (/died 1974, age 84) and Charlotte Harrison (née Coldwell - died 01st September 1958, age 66) Brother off Muriel and Hugh Raymond, of Marino, County Down, Northern Ireland. His brother 22 years old, Fl/Lt. Hugh Raymond Harrison DFC. was missing in action the following month. On an operation to Kiel on the 23/24th July 1944 - all 7 crew lost on 625 squadron Lancaster, I LM174 CF-P.

Fl/Lt. Hugh Raymond Harrison DFC. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 202. Son of George Geoffrey and Charlotte Harrison, of Marino, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Fly and Fight website. Colonel Anderson is a WWII Triple Ace fighter pilot and a veteran military experimental test pilot. During WWII he served two combat tours escorting heavy bombers over Europe in the P-51 Mustang, November 1943 through January 1945. He flew 116 combat missions (480 hrs) and destroyed 16 and 1/4 enemy aircraft in aerial combat and another one on the ground. Some of the information on Jack was used in this archive report.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to Fly and Fight, and to the extensive research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, Auckland Library Heritage Collection, Airforce Museum New Zealand, TracyJames50 for grave photo, other sources as quoted below:

KTY 24-12-2021

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Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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