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Geoff Fisken DFC: Most Successful British Commonwealth Fighter Pilot

February 17 1916 - June 12 2011

Geoff Fisken, who died on June 12 aged 95, was the most successful British Commonwealth fighter pilot against the Japanese, credited with destroying at least 10 enemy aircraft.

To bolster the air defences of the Royal Navy’s base in Singapore, a number of fighter squadrons — manned primarily by pilots from Australia and New Zealand — were established in the Far East in early 1941. Fisken joined them in Singapore in March, to fly the American-built Buffalo fighter with No 243 Squadron.

Fisken with his famous 'Wairarapa Wildcat' Kittyhawk

(Photo courtesy RNZAF Official)

When the Japanese invaded Malaya on December 8, Fisken and his fellow pilots were soon in action and suffering casualties. The next day he took off in response to a message that Prince of Wales and Repulse were under attack. Fisken was flying one of the two Buffalos to arrive at the scene first. He later recalled: 'I could see below me a grey metal bow sticking out of the sea, surrounded by an oil slick and many bodies.'

As the Japanese advanced, large formations of enemy bombers attacked Singapore, overwhelming the island’s inadequate air defences; it was soon apparent that the Buffalo was outclassed.

Fisken achieved his first success on January 12 when he shot down a bomber, which exploded beneath his aircraft (he had great trouble maintaining control of his damaged fighter). Over the next few hectic days, he accounted for three more bombers and probably two others as the few RAF fighters engaged enemy formations sometimes numbering more than 100 aircraft.

By the end of January there were so few Buffalos left that No 243 was virtually wiped out. The remnants were formed into a single unit, and on February 1 Fisken fought his last engagement. As he closed with a Zero fighter (later confirmed as having crashed), two others attacked him, badly damaging his aircraft and wounding him in the arm and hip. His engine failed and the undercarriage would not come down, but he managed to crash land among the bomb craters on Kallang airfield.

As he clambered from his wrecked aircraft his mechanic fainted at the sight of a large piece of shrapnel embedded in Fisken’s hip. Fisken tried to extract it with pliers, but was forced to go to hospital. Evacuated just before the fall of Singapore, he returned to New Zealand having shot down at least six enemy aircraft.

The son of a farmer, Geoffrey Bryson Fisken was born on February 17 1916 at Gisborne, New Zealand. Described by one acquaintance as 'flint-eyed and hewn from the rugged Wairarapa coastline', Fisken worked on the sheep farm but found the time to build a glider and learn to fly when he was 14. He enlisted in the RNZAF as war broke out and was posted to Singapore after completing his training.

After recovering from his wounds, Fisken was commissioned and joined No 14 Squadron to fly the Kittyhawk fighter. In June 1943 his unit moved to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, where he flew an aircraft he named 'Wairarapa Wildcat'. He was in action immediately when his squadron was scrambled against a major Japanese attack. In the fierce fighting, Fisken shot down two of the escorting fighters.

As the fighting moved to New Georgia, Fisken was leading a formation when it was attacked by a swarm of Zero fighters. During an intense battle he shot down two before spotting a formation of bombers. He dived to attack and destroyed one. He landed with the tailplane of his Kittyhawk in tatters.

Fisken was the first New Zealander to achieve 'ace' status in the Pacific theatre. In September 1943 he was awarded a DFC, but three months later was invalided out after his wounds had become increasingly troublesome.

He returned to farming, living for 31 years at Roturua. He then sold his farm and worked as a manager for the Egg Marketing Board, retiring in 1976.

Geoff Fisken’s wife, Rhoda, died in 1997; they had five sons and a daughter.

See Archive Report

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 10 April 2021, 14:14