Mustangs over Dieppe
Flt. Lt. Freddie Clarke and Hollis Hills
By Stephen Sherman, Apr. 2002. Updated January 23, 2012.
(In December, 2002, I was delighted to receive the following information and photos from Christopher and Ian Clarke, sons of Freddie, who was with Holly Hills on the Dieppe mission. - ed.)
I surfed to your web page looking for my father's name [Freddie Clarke] and that of Hollis (Holly) Hills, and have a few additional comments.
Holly Hills and Freddie Clarke were on their second sortie over France at the time dad was shot down during the air cover over the Dieppe Raid on August 19, 1942. The "flight" that was scheduled to take that flip "respectfully declined" and Clarke and Hills took it on instead. Holly was flying as cover for Dad to do the photo reconnaissance of the road from Abbeville to Dieppe. The battle over Dieppe is known in some circles to have been the largest single air battle of the War.
The pilots had all been briefed about landing near the Dieppe race track if they were shot down or disabled but able to land. A Canadian corps was supposed to have secured this site during the morning for just such an eventuality. By the mid-day it had become all too clear that the raid was going badly, so when dad's oil cooler was hit by fire from the FW 190, he had no inclination at all to look for the track. Instead he did a "climbing turn hard right, to use whatever I had left" and got from the tree top level to about 800 feet before his engine seized, freezing the prop.
Dad's radio malfunctioned (not an uncommon occurrence in those days - but potentially a deadly one) and that's why he never heard Holly's warning about the FW 190's closing in behind him.
He also never saw the shot coming at him and his aircraft was hit, on fire and streaming glycol cooling fluid. Fortunately, he was not hit personally; however he did head for the English Channel. Having confirmed Hills' "kill," he was concentrating on getting set up to ditch (a non-habit forming task in those days since the air scoop under the aircraft would catch the water surface flip the nose down to vertical and the plane would sink before the pilot had a chance to escape.). The last thing he remembered was being "about 50' above the deck, tail down, with 90 knots on the clock," slowing down as much as possible by trying to "flare" the aircraft just before it hit so as to "pancake" it in. Although he didn't "nose in" as is thought common for the Mustang, he hit with sufficient force that he struck his head on the rear-view mirror and the windscreen. (For years little pieces of perspex would emerge from his forehead above his right eye and he suffered cluster migraines for a long time after). At this point during the raid, the landing craft were frantically rescuing the few remaining troops (Canadians predominantly with a number of Americans and a British Commando unit) who had not been killed or captured. One was nearby when dad hit the water. A soldier or sailor from the landing craft swam to the Mustang and pulled him unconscious from the cockpit. He awoke in the bottom of the vessel before being taken aboard the destroyer "HMS Calpe" that carried him back to England and the happy reunion with Hills.
He doesn't remember much past that until waking up on a destroyer. Apparently, a soldier had jumped from his transport from the beach and pulled Dad to safety - Dad never did get his name.
At the time he was the only pilot to ditch a Mustang and survive.
Holly was truly a hero since he nailed the first FW which is the one Dad confirmed and then he came in behind the second FW that was following Dad down for the kill and almost nailed him as well. The German left off from my Dad and engaged Holly in a game of cat and mouse until they both broke off and headed home. Had Holly not been there there would not have been a wedding in late '42, nor the birth in October 1943 - me (Chris).
Holly Hills went on to a distinguished career as a fighter pilot, and survived his own harrowing adventure after being shot down in the shark infested waters of the Pacific as a naval aviator with the US Navy. Dad flew a few more sorties over France and then in late 1943 became 414 Squadron's Ops Officer which he remained through their time in Holland and Belgium after the invasion. He and Dad have seen each other on occasion and were reunited by phone when the local CBC radio station did a special on them for the fiftieth anniversary of the Dieppe Raid on August 19, 1992. We had brought Dad a bottle of red wine from Dieppe's mainstreet to complete the celebration--he has never been there.
Dad is currently (2002) the last survivor of the original pilots of 414 squadron, which was disbanded by the RCAF this spring at Comox, British Colombia. About six of the fellows from that era attended and enjoyed the reunion. I was particularly impressed with the respect that the young pilots in the modern day squadron held for their predecessors.
Since then one of them, Charlie (Smokey) Stover, a CO of the squadron, has died of a stroke. He was one of my dad's dearest friends and Dad is beginning to feel a bit lonely since almost all of them are gone. Holly had a stroke a couple of years ago, but he is still alive, however, I don't know where in the US he is living.
As you know, Holly was an ACE serving in both theaters of war. Truly an almost unknown American hero. Thank you for including the information of the event.
By the way, Dad has the dubious honor of being the first combat Mustang to be shot down in the war by the Germans.
Christopher C. Clarke, P. Eng.
Calgary, AB, Canada