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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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65 squadron crest
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) (motto: Vi et armis - 'By force and arms')

Type: Spitfire II

Serial: P7665

Coded: YT-L

Base: RAF Tangmere, West Sussex

Location: Saint-Omer, France

Pilot: P/O Geoffrey Hill. 61046 RAF Age 26. 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 an 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.


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 Touquet 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 (Sq/Ldr. Saunders) and Blue 2 (Sgt. Orchard) 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 13:35 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 a Bf109 G-6 green by American pilots in P-38s over St. Vith, Belgium. Walther Oesau is shown left and 2nd from the left in the group photo. (see Kracker Luftwaffe Archive on this site)

Also lost on the same operation 24 year old, Sgt. Harold Charles Orchard 523288 RAF. Flying Spitfire II P7733 shot down and killed in the same area. (personal details below)

P/O. Hill was imprisoned in Stalag Luft Sagan, escaping from the camp no less than 3 times - the Germans then sent him to Colditz prison 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.

Burial Details:

None, Mr Geoffrey Hill MBE Born on the 16th of July 1916 in Virginia Water. Awarded pilot licence on the 13th of June 1937. Made full-time pilot on the 01st September 1939. Joined 65 Squadron at Hornchurch, direct from 6 Flying Training School. 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 the 04th of 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 midday, during a snowstorm, he climbed over the perimeter wire, dressed as a civilian. A lookout 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 lookout 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 an 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'.

Sgt. Harold Charles Orchard. Neufchatel-Hardelot New Communal Cemetery (Neufchatel) Row B. Grave 4. Born in Weymouth on the 26th December 1916. Educated at Holy Trinity School and Weymouth Central Boys' School. He joined the RAF on 26th August 1935 as an Aircrafthand and trained as a Fitter. On the 24th July 1939 Orchard remustered as an Airman u/t Pilot. With his training completed, Orchard joined 65 Squadron at Hornchurch on the 20th April 1940. He served with the squadron in the Battle of Britain. Son of Charles and Nora Elsie Orchard, of Rodwell, Weymouth, Dorsetshire. Epitaph: 'In Memory's Garden We Meet Every Day'.

Above: Grave and Sgt. Harold Charles Orchard.

We would like to thank the family of Geoffrey Hill for supplying the photo taken in his later years. With thanks to Bert van Dalen, Anthony Moclair, National Archives Kew, Air-27-593-2. Kracker Luftwaffe Archive.

Other sources as shown below.

KTY Updated 15.12.2019

KTY Updated 01.05.2023

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Thank you for your excellent site, it's a delight to those of us interested in aircraft archaeology.

A couple of years ago, we were able to purchase a hand made, hand painted, solid timber model of Pilot Officer Hill's Spitfire (squadron codes YT-L), in which he was shot down and taken prisoner during a Circus sweep in 1941.

The model was a strange thing to encounter in inland NSW, Australia, and in checking the information on your website, we were able to discover that there are some relatives of P/O Hill still alive.

We understand that, due to privacy constraints, you would be unable to furnish us with these relatives' contact details. We were instead wondering if you may forward this email onto them? We are more than happy to post them the model, free of charge, so that it is, in effect, back with its rightful owner.


Thank you so much for this incredible news poor brother Michael has passed away however I am still around. This model would be of great interest to us as we intend to give my fathers medals and his M B E to the Tangmere Museum in West Sussex incidentally they are not aware of this yet!

What could be more exciting than for both to end up together for posterity.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them. - Laurence Binyon
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