There have been a very few pilots I have researched during my time as historian of No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron that can compare with the exploits of Waldo Harry Bentley Hiles. Wally as he was known was in the same mould as Gibson, exceptionally courageous with a press on spirit that drove him to push his luck and that of his crew to the very limit.
The son of Mr Thomas Henry Hiles and Mrs Rosamund Hiles Waldo was born on September 1st 1913 in Swansea, Wales. A brief move to India would see the Hiles family leave for Calcutta on April 8th 1921 aboard the liner Sardinia, the families stay was briefed however as they were back in Wales in May 1924, Waldo was age 10.
Waldo entered Llandovery College in May 1928, he had a flare for Hockey and played at “halve” were he was described by the college rag as ‘the best halve by far’ . On leaving Llandovery College Waldo started a career as a commercial traveller. I have found very little information on Waldo’s civilian career to date. Waldo like a number of his generation was drawn to the glamour of the Royal Air Force, below is a record of his early training and movements.
R.A.F Service TRAINING 1939 – 1941
|06.09.1939||No.1 Depot Uxbridge|
|01.01.1940||No.1 Personnel Reception Centre, Uxbridge|
|20.05.1940||No.1 I.T.W Grange|
|24.06.1940||No.51 Group (Pool)|
|24.08.1940||No.2 Flying Training School|
|30.11.1940||2 S of AN|
|18.01.1941||No.16 Operational Training Unit|
On completion of his training Waldo was posted to No.49 Squadron based at RAF Fiskerton on 19.04.1941 as a qualified pilot. No.49 Squadron was part of No.5 Group and equipped with the twin engined Handley Page Hampden Mk.I which it had been flying since hostilities began back in September 1939, the squadron at the time was commanded by Wing Commander John Jefferson. Waldo did not undertake his first operation until 02.05.1941, however it was not as a pilot. It was believed to be customary on No.49 Squadron that recently posted pilots were crewed up with experienced pilots for operational experience. Given the layout of the Hampden it was not possible for the pilot to sit side by side like the Whitely and Wellington, thus Waldo’s early operations were flown as observer.
|Date||Op||Role||Target & Details|
|02.05.1941||Op.1||Obs||Hamburg, Sgt Beckett, Hampden X3136|
|04.05.1941||Op.2||Obs||Brest, Sgt Beckett, Hampden X3136|
|06.05.1941||Op.3||Obs||Hamburg, Sgt Beckett, Hampden AD805|
|08.05.1941||Op.4||Obs||Hamburg, Sgt Beckett, Hampden X3134|
|10.05.1941||Op.5||Obs||Hamburg, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD744|
|12.05.1941||Op.6||Obs||Mannheim, Sgt Pinney, Hampden X3134|
|25.05.1941||Op.7||Obs||Mining, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896|
|27.05.1941||Op.8||Obs||Mining “Bismark” , Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896|
|10.06.1941||Op.9||Obs||Brest, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896|
|12.06.1941||Op.10||Obs||Soest, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896|
|25.06.1941||Op.11||Obs||Kiel, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896|
|28.06.1941||Op.12||Obs||Mining, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896|
|30.06.1941||Op.13||Obs||Cologne, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896|
|03.07.1941||Op.14||Obs||Bremen, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896|
|05.07.1941||Op.15||Obs||Osnsabruck, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896|
|06.07.1941||Op.16||Obs||Brest, Sgt Walker Hampden AD976|
|08.07.1941||Op.17||Obs||Hamm, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896. Attacked by ME110 attacked six times lasting 20 minutes. E/A probably shot down.|
|10.07.1941||Op.18||Obs||Cologne, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896|
|12.07.1941||Op.19||Obs||Wilhemshaven, Sgt Huggett, Hampden AD896. Airborne 7hrs 55 mins|
It had been a busy few months for Waldo visiting some of the mostly hotly defended target is Germany. On 16.07.1941 Waldo was detached to No.25 Operational Training unit based at RAF Finningley for conversion to 1st pilot, by 05.08.1941 he had successfully completed the course. Now with his own crew Waldo was keen to start operations as captain, it did not take long for Waldo to show his determination and courage as a pilot.
|06.08.1941||Op.20||Pilot||Calais Docks, Hampden AD967 DNCO|
|14.08.1941||Op.21||Pilot||Brunswick, Hampden AD967|
|02.09.1941||Op.22||Pilot||Frankfurt, Hampden AE240. Problems with engine.|
|07.09.1941||Op.23||Pilot||BERLIN, Hampden AE357. Hit by Flak|
|12.09.1941||Op.24||Pilot||Frankfurt, Hampden AE132. Made three runs over target.|
|15.09.1941||Op.25||Pilot||Hamburg, Hampden AE132. Tried to identify target for 65 mins. Bombed Wilhelmshaven.|
|29.09.1941||Op.26||Pilot||Hamburg, Hampden AE132|
|01.10.1941||Op.27||Pilot||Karlsruhe, Hampden AE132. Recalled, bombed Ostend Docks|
|12.10.1941||Op.28||Pilot||Huls, Hampden AD909. Starboard engine and then caught fire 70 miles of Skegness. Returned after SOS, engine responding, but every minute appeared to lose power.|
|13.10.1941||Op.29||Pilot||Cologne, Hampden AE241. Icing condition put aircraft into a right hand spin, commenced 14,000ft to 6,000ft. On pulling out aileron control broken. Made forced landing|
Waldo did not operate again after operation No.29, it had been a very lucky escape. Perhaps the commanding officer of No.49 felt that Waldo had done enough, it had certainly been an active tour. On 02.11.1941 Waldo was posted to No. 14 Operational Training Unit based at RAF Cottesmore. Now with a few months respite from operations Waldo married his fiancée Elizabeth A Shanley in Oxfordshire around this time. (Note Recorded on W H B Hiles FORM 543 is the entry DISCHARGED as from the 30.04.1942. On Hiles A.M Form 408 the following is recorded 22.03.1942 Cottesmore “Fit for aircrew GD Branch” On 01.05.1942 Hiles is recorded as being with effect from May 1st 1942 back with No.14 O.T.U)
Movements Pre- No.218 Squadron
|01.05.1942||No.14 Operational Training Unit|
|22.07.1942||No.7 Flying Instructor School|
|No Dates||No.19 Operational Training Unit|
|Note||There is no mention or record of converting onto the Short Stirling|
|12.10.1942||No.218 (Bomber) Squadron|
Rank & Promotion up until arrival on No.218 Squadron
Waldo did not return to No.5 Group as would be expected, he was instead posted to No.3 Group and No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron based at RAF Downham Market, Norfolk on 12.10.1942. The squadron was at the time equipped with the four-engined Short Stirling Mk.I and commanded by 37-year-old Wing Commander Owen Morris a pre-war regular who had joined the RAF in 1933. Sadly I have not managed to establish where Waldo did his Stirling conversion at this time. It was during Waldo’s second tour that he started to make a name for himself on the squadron as something of a “press-on type”. He had a particular habit of attacking goods trains, which he seemed to excel at. It was not long before Waldo’s Press-on-Spirit came to the attention of senior officers. Within months of starting his second tour the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross was announced on December 15th to Flight Lieutenant Waldo Hiles,the citation read :
In November 1942 this officer captained a heavy bomber detailed to attack Stuttgart. At one point on the outward flight, Flight Lieutenant Hiles brought his aircraft down to 200ft while his gunners attacked a goods train and put it out of action. He then flew on to his objective and bombed it. During the return journey, attacks were made on targets on the ground, including four separate attacks on goods trains and in each instance, locomotives were set on fire, F/Lt Hiles also attacked an enemy aircraft on an airfield. This officer who has completed a large amount of sorties has invariably displayed outstanding skill and daring.”
In November Waldo stepped into the vacant post of “A” flight commander after the loss of Squadron Leader Peter Hickling DFM. It was a hard act to follow, Peter Hickling was an experienced bomber captain and respected by all on the squadron.
No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron
|24.10.1942||No.30||Milan||BK607 HA-X||Returned early due to SI and SO engine cutting when running on No.5 tank Engine opened balance cocks and engines came on again. Aircraft then became uncontrollable.|
|26.10.1942||No.31||Mining||R9196 HA-G||Duty carried out. Sgt G A Parkinson 2 nd pilot.|
|03.11.1942||No.33||Lingen||R9196 HA-G||10/10th cloud prevented visual identification over the town although the canal showed up well. DCO. Sgt K Becroft 2 nd pilot. (Early evening raid in daylight). Hiles takes over the crew of F/Sgt Rothschild)|
|08.11.1942||No.34||Lille||BK607 HA-X||Sortie unsuccessful DR Compass and P4 US. Return early (rank shown as Flight Lieutenant )|
|09.11.1942||No.35||Toulouse||BK607 HA-X||Dropped leaflets on Toulouse successful. Weather was good and Town was well lit up.|
|10.11.1942||No.36||Mining||BK607 HA-X||Duty Carried Out|
|16.11.1942||No.37||Mining||BK607 HA-X||Duty Carried Out. 2 nd Pilot P/O W B Cloutier.|
|20.11.1942||No.38||Turin||BK607 HA-X||Hazy over target. One very large fire seen in town. Some S/L inaccurate flak. Attack appeared to be late. 2nd Pilot P/O W B Cloutier|
|22.11.1942||No.39||Stuttgart||BK607 HA-X||Identified visually by River Necker and railway station. Many good fires seen and considered a good show. 2 nd Pilot P/O W B Cloutier|
|28.11.1942||No.40||Turin (Fiat works)||BK607 HA-X||Returned early due to engine trouble, bombs having been jettisoned. On attempting to land on 3 engines overshot crashed on drome. 2 nd Pilot P/O G Berridge. AM Form 1180 States: U/C collapsed. Pilot say’s breaks would not hold. S/O caught fire in air. Exhaust pipe from No.4 cylinder blown causing fire. Form 78. Austin Motors Built Mk.I BK607 was initially categorised E/FA but was changed to SoC 12.12.1942. (Rank shown Squadron Leader “A” Flight Commander)|
|29.11.1942||No.41||Turin (Fiat works)||R9189 HA-K||Duty carried out but severe icing experienced. 2nd Pilot Sgt R W White.|
|17.12.1942||No.42||KDF Works Fallersleben||BF413 HA-H||Flew at 300ft all the way in, good visibility pin pointed on the canal. Although the bombs were not seen to explode raid deemed successful.|
|23.01.1943||Lorient Docks||Got bogged down on the runway on takeoff. Operation cancelled.|
|27.01.1943||No.43||Mining||BF443 HA-H||Duty carried out. Group Medical Officer W/Cdr Huins accompanied S/Ldr Hiles to study medical reaction.|
|13.02.1943||No.44||Lorient Docks||BK650 HA-L||PFF very good. Opposition moderate. Bombed at 6000ft. Many fires seen. Shot up and stopped at train 10 miles east of Lorient. Very pleased with the Mk.III 2nd pilot Sgt W G Hoar.|
|14.02.1943||No.45||Cologne||BK650 HA-L||Bombed “Wanganiu” flare from 10.500ft. Flak moderate, S/L in affective. 2nd pilot Sgt W G Hoar.|
|16.02.1943||No.46||Lorient Docks||BK650 HA-L||Clear over target. Bombed at 4,500ft. Very little flak, good fires. PFF good.|
|19.02.1943||No.47||Wilhelmshaven||BK650 HA-L||Smoke and haze over target. Bombed on TI markers from 10,500ft. Encountered barraged of light flak after bombing. Petrol tanks holed and rear gunner wounded in hand. Shot at by convoy off the Frisians. 2nd pilot F/O L J Stewart|
|27.02.1943||No.48||Mining||BK650 HA-L||Duty Carried Out. Flying as passenger was P/O D J B Dunbar Int/Op’s/Officer.|
|01.03.1943||No.49||Kiel||BK650 HA-L||Lots of flak over Kiel. Bombed red and green markers from 12,000ft. Coned over target. Target burning furiously.|
|22.03.1943||No.50||St Nazaire Docks||BK650 HA-L||Recalled near French coast, brought bombs back. 2nd Pilot, W/Cdr J B Simms|
It had been an impressive 2nd tour with a number of close calls. Waldo had lead from the front and shown that even with a press-on personality he was a capable flight commander and respected by all. On March 24th Squadron Leader Waldo Harry Bentley Hiles DFC was posted to No.3 Group HQ, Exning Hall. In June it was announcement that Waldo was to receive the Distinguished Service Order, one of only four awarded to the squadron. The citation reads;
Squadron Leader Hiles has been flying on operations since May, 1941, and has completed numerous sorties since being awarded the D.F.C. He always presses home his attacks in the most determined manner, flying at low altitude regardless of enemy opposition.”
Promotion with No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron
|Act Flight Lieutenant||01.11.1942|
|Act Squadron Leader||24.03.1943|
On August 12th 1943 No.623 Squadron was formed by hiving off 7 crews and aircraft from No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron, it would like its parent squadron be based at RAF Downham Market. Initially the day to day administrational responsibility would be undertaken by No.218 Squadrons commanding officer, Wing Commander William Oldbury while operational responsibility would be the undertaken by Squadron Leader Frederick Austin No.623 Squadron “A” Flight commander. This would change on the arrival of the squadron’s first commanding officer Wing Commander John Little DFC on August 18th. On the morning of August 23rd Squadron Leader Waldo Hiles DSO DFC arrived at Downham Market. It as never been established why Waldo arrived at Downham Market that morning. Flying Officer John Overton (who went on to command both A Flight of No.623 & 218 Squadron and would receive a well earned DFC) in a letter to me indicated that he was there in an official capacity , however this cannot be confirmed. Sometime during the day it would have been confirmed that the target for the night was Berlin, it would be a maximum effort. Waldo had only attacked Berlin once before in September 1941, and on that occasion his aircraft had been hit by flak. It is very unlikely that Waldo was at Downham Market to fly operationally, if that is the case then the decision to operate that night was Waldo’s. Given Waldo’s personality it is most likely the trill of being back on his old squadron after spending months at No.3 Group HQ and the thought of attacking Berlin was simply too much and his aggressive have-a-go nature got the best of him. Obviously Waldo would have needed to obtain permission to fly from either Wing Commander Little DFC or Wing Commander Morris, one of them must have given permission. All this is conjecture as no definite proof can been found. However what is known and can be confirmed is that Waldo gathered together a scratch crew, comprising of five inexperienced 218 Squadron aircrew and Waldo’s ex rear gunner Flight Sergeant Desmond De Silva DFM an American. Desmond De Silva had at the time completed his operational tour, he was kicking his heels awaiting posting. Soon after briefing Flying Officer John Overton spoke to Waldo and tried to give him a friendly update on the current defences over Germany, Waldo’s response was not what John Overton expected, it would prove to be a precursor to a tragic night. This rebuff from Waldo was still fresh in John’s memory sixty-six years after the event.
Waldo borrowed a No.623 Squadron aircraft, Short Stirling EH925 IC-C and departed RAF Downham Market at 20:52hrs with a full incendiary load. The route to them over Cromer on the Norfolk Coast and over the North Sea, landfall was near Egmond on the Dutch Coast from where it was almost a straight route to just south of Berlin. The crew were shot down by a night fighter on the run into target crashing near Zossen south of Berlin, there were no survivors. All the crew are recorded on the panels of the Runnymede Memorial.
The loss of Squadron Leader Waldo Hiles DSO DFC was a tremendous blow to the squadron, No.3 Group and Bomber Command. Was Waldo’s own arrogance the cause of his death and that of his crew, or was it more the act of a very brave young man wanting to take the fight to the very heart of the enemy as he had done 50 time previously.
Squadron Leader Ian Ryall DFC recalls :
“ I never actually met him but arrived at 218 in his shadow, I took over his flight and , because he was not an easy character to forget, I have always felt I knew him well. He was not an easy act to follow.”
On February 20th 1945, Waldo’s wife collected the Distinguished Service Order from the King at Buckingham Palace. It must have been a mixed day of emotions for the Elizabeth.
Waldo’s crew were taken over by the squadron commander Wing Commander Don Saville DFC. They continued to operate until tour expired in June 1943. Two of the crew Harry Beckwith RCAF (Nav) and Benjamin Moroney (Wop) were awarded the DFM at Buckingham Palace in 1944.