I am not the only one who writes on this blog.
I am always more than happy to let my readers write about the veterans they have met.
Pat Murphy had the privileged of meeting several Spitfire pilots, and his way to pay homage to them was to build replicas of their Spitfires.
Pat Murphy has contributed a lot to this blog. First with his article about the Smith brothers.
Pat has not stopped contributing, and this is his latest contribution about a true Canadian hero. I will add hyperlinks throughout Pat’s article so you can see what I mean by “a lot”…
I will also post pictures taken from Walter Neil Dove’s collection along the way. I am sure Pat won’t mind me doing so.
Squadron Leader, Hartland “Hart” Finley DFC
RCAF. Spitfire Pilot.
By Pat Murphy
Hart Finley flew 2 operational tours with the RCAF during the Second World War, he flew 224 sorties totaling 385 hours and when you include the time flying Seafires and an assortment of other Mks of Spitfires at the’ Intensive Flying Development Unit at Boscome Down his total logged flying time on both types totaled 582 hours. During his RCAF service Hart Finley would serve with 416 Squadron, 403 and 443 Squadron. Hart was an above average pilot and because of his extraordinary skill at the controls of a single engine fighter, having earned his wings and much to his dismay he was selected to instruct other pilots at the same flight school he had just graduated from. Hart would remain as an instructor for 16 months. In February 1943 his prayers would be answered and he was posted to England for fighter pilot training.
Hart joined the RCAF in August 1940 while still attending McGill University, one can only speculate why he enlisted, the news of the day would be dismal at best as the Battle of Britain would have been the lead story in the Montréal Newspapers, all Canadians would indeed be concerned at the successes of the Luftwaffe as the deadly struggle for air supremacy took place in the skies over the south of England. Young men lined up at RCAF recruiting offices during the summer of 1940 with a strong desire to be part of the fight to preserve freedom. Hart Finley was one of these young men.
Upon arrival in England Hart was posted to an Operational Training Unit (OTU) Here he would be introduced to advanced training and tactics for surviving war in the air, he would also log some time on some of the RAF’s finest fighter aircraft, the Hawker Hurricanes and Typhoon plus the Supermarine Spitfire. In July 1943 Flying Officer Hart Finley would be posted to 416 Squadron RCAF based at Digby, Lincolnshire under the Command of Lloyd ‘Chad’ Chadburn. Hart would soon experience his first combat sortie with 416 Squadron and the experience would be memorable and almost be his last. He would qualify for membership in 2 of three unique clubs that was limited only to flyers.
During this August 12, 1943 sortie code named ‘Ramrod 196’ the Squadron had escorted 36 USAAF B-26 Bombers to targets in France. On the trip back to base one of Harts wingman informed Hart that fuel was streaming out of his fuel tank, as no enemy aircraft had been encountered it was obvious to Hart that he had been hit by flack. With his Spitfire still over the English Channel 18 miles off Beachy Head. Hart elected to bail out over the channel, at an altitude of 2,000 feet he slide the canopy back on his Spitfire, unbuckled his harness and left his fuel starved Spitfire. A not so glamorous end to his first taste of combat. Hart landed in the water, unbuckled his chute and deployed his personal life raft and settled in to be rescued. A wingman flew cover over Hart until the Royal Navy rescue boat arrived. Once in the rescue boat Hart was given a belt of Navy Rum and returned to shore. Harts first combat sortie did not quite end as he had planned, on the positive side he had survived and the lessons he learned that day would serve him well for the rest of his life.
This event would automatically qualify Hart for membership in the ‘Caterpillars Club’ and the ‘Goldfish club’. Membership in the ‘Late Arrivals Club’ would come later.
Membership in the Caterpillar club was limited to those members of aircrew whose lives were saved by use of the parachute. A membership card as well as a small gold caterpillar pin was sent to each pilot that qualified.
The Goldfish club was for those who had used a life raft to save their lives. A membership card and a small cloth patch was sent to each pilot. Membership in the Late Arrivals club was for those that had to walk back to base after bailing out or crash landing, a membership card was sent to each person who qualified.
Hart was posted to 403 Squadron RCAF in September 1943 he would complete his first tour of operations with this famous Spitfire Squadron and would have his first encounter with an enemy aircraft. With Wing Commander, Johnnie Johnson at the helm there would be no shortage of opportunities to engage the enemy. Hart would later describe that ‘this was the place to be if you wanted hot action’. He described Johnson as a superb leader with a will to lash the enemy.
Hart’s first contact with an enemy aircraft would take place on December 30, 1943 while on another Ramrod sortie. This time they had been directed to escort 500 American B-24 and B-17 heavies back across France. From an altitude of 25,000 feet Hart spotted 4 Me 109s at a much lower altitude.
When he reported the sighting over the R/T he was shaken out of his complacency when the Wing Commander shouted ‘Go Get ‘Em”. Hart went into a steep dive and shot the 109 down and saw it crash, claiming his first aerial victory. 403 Squadron would claim two victories this day. After the encounter during a moment of reflection Hart realized that had he been less impetuous and with the tactical advantage the 403 Squadron fighters had, they could have shot down all 4 enemy fighters, another lesson well learned. Hart would score his second victory on January 21, 1944.
Hart was assigned to The Fighter Leaders course at Milfield when on June 5th he was recalled to the Squadron now at Tangmere to take part in the D-Day operation. On June 16 the entire Squadron moved to Normandy to operate from Advanced Tactical Airfields. Hart’s first tour would end on July 1st, 1944. During his first tour he flew 153 sorties totaling 275 hours, his victories at this time totaled 3 enemy aircraft a large number of enemy ground targets including trains and barges during the many bombing and staffing sorties 403 Squadron participated in. F/L Hart Finley would now take a 6 month break from operations.
During the rest period in the UK Hart would help with flight trials on the Griffon powered, 5 bladed Mk 21 Spitfire and would also return to Canada to complete his rest and visit family and friends. In March 1945 F/L Finley would return to operations with 403 Squadron now stationed at Petit-Brogel Belgium. Hart was excited to be back with his old Squadron, Germany was on the verge of collapse and soon ground forces crossed over the Rhine and pressed further into Germany. Hart described those days as” very heady days for young spirited fighter jocks” On April 23 Hart would claim another victory and the next day be promoted and placed in command of 443 Squadron RCAF still part of 127 Wing under the Command of W/C Stocky Edwards.
During a sortie on May 2nd after leading a strafing attack on a German airfield, Hart intercepted a JU 88 at 2,500ft, Hart fired at the enemy bomber along with other members of the Squadron; he witnessed many strikes on the bomber and saw it dive into the ground. Suddenly Hart was stunned by a large bang then saw flames, the flames started to enter the cockpit so Hart knew it was time to get out.
This time during the bailout process Hart’s foot became wedged between the side of the cockpit and the seat of the Spitfire. With a shot of adrenalin fed my desperation and a strong desire to survive Hart was able to break free as the Spitfire dove towards the ground, leaving his flight boot behind.
Hart’s parachute opened just prior to him making contact with German soil. Once on the ground he saw a horde of armed German soldiers moving in towards him, Hart ran for the nearby woods up a slight incline, rifle shots whizzed over his head but he managed to get away and hid in the trees until darkness. Hart started walking west minus his right boot. After 20 miles of walking and before dawn the next day Hart encountered a British tank. Hart was returned to 443 Squadron after a brief stay in hospital to treat some minor shrapnel and burn wounds, he now could claim membership in the Late Arrivals Club, he was returned to 443 Squadron and the next day the war was over.
Hart would remain in Germany as part of the occupation forces; he would lead the Squadron on supply missions to Denmark and show of force missions over Germany. With the end of hostilities and Germany defeated Hart would still find flying thrills this time flying captured enemy aircraft.
With the Canadian Squadrons now occupying German Luftwaffe bases and some degree of fraternization going on between former combatants, Stocky Edwards discovered a cash of undamaged enemy aircraft near a base they occupied at Soltau Germany. Edwards commandeered an apparently almost new FW 190. As 443 Squadron ground crew serviced the Wing Commanders aircraft he instructed them to get the FW 190 checked out as he wanted to fly it. 443 Squadron ground crews had spoken to the Luftwaffe crews that remained on the captured base and they assured the Canadians that the 190 was safe to fly.
Under the direction of Squadron Leader Hart Finley the 443 Squadron ground crews had painted over the iron crosses and swastikas and had attached the Wing Commanders initials JFE on the fuselage as well as British roundels. Stocky and Hart wanted badly to test the relative merits of both aircraft in a mock dog fight. Hart flew Stocky Edwards Mk XVI and Stocky flew the 190. Both would participate in a rare contest of skill and airmanship. Both Canadian and Luftwaffe ground crews cooperated in the event and all seemed to enjoy seeing these two famous Spitfire pilots chase each other over the captured Luftwaffe base. Later Stocky would chase Hart who flew the captured 190 and both agreed that the Spitfire had the advantage although the 190 had a speed advantage.
There is a terrific colour profile of this captured FW 190 in book recently released by Avia Dossier 1 “Canadian Aircraft of WWII” by Carl Vincent and with illustrations by Terry Higgins.
In a recent conversation with retired Wing Commander Stocky Edwards he described Hart Finley as an excellent leader with above average flying skills; he was a humble man and not given to boasting about what he had achieved.
During his service with the RCAF Hart logged flying time on all versions of the Mk V Spitfire, the Mk IX Mk XVI and the Mk 21. It was an honour for me met Hart in 2007 and to build the model of Squadron Leader, Hart Finley’s Spitfire KH-B serial TD 141 and place it in the display at the Vancouver Island Military Museum, he was a great man and he loved the Spitfire. He was proud of his service in 403 Squadron.
Hart attended the Y2-K Spitfire restoration project in May 2007 along with 4 men he served with. S/L Art Sager, F/O Jim O’Toole and former Wing Commander, Stocky Edwards. Hart passed away January 22, 2009.
The source of this information for my story came from Stocky Edwards and a story that Hart wrote for a collector album of RCAF personalities many years ago and during a conversation at the Y2-K Spitfire project open house in 2007 and a lunch I had with Hart and Art Sager in Victoria during the summer 0f 2007 and I would like thank Hart’s daughter, Heather who has her Dads’ log book, Heather lives in Vancouver.
Vancouver Island Military Museum
Footnote about the patch and the card…
Pierre, in case you want to use these two pictures to help illustrate the two clubs that Hart Finley was part of. A picture of the Gold Fish patch on the uniform of George Aitken a 403 Squadron pilot your familiar with, it was worn under the lapel so it was not visible. and a photo copy of a Caterpillar membership card for Fighter pilot that we have at the museum. Your readers might find these two items interesting. Most people that come through the museum have never even heard of the clubs.