The Lady and the Tigers

Meet Holly Hills

Flying Officer Holly Hills
Flying Officer Holly Hills RCAF in the cockpit of a Lend-Lease Curtiss Tomahawk

This website evolved years ago from a worldwide interest in the roly-poly Brewster Buffalo, supposedly the "worst fighter of the Second World War," but beloved nevertheless. This led in time to a web page and the now-defunct Brewster Buffalo Association. Among the early recruits was a certain Holly Hills, who emailed me as follows:

"I am a member of the [American Fighter Aces Assocation] for my victories in the European and Pacific theaters in WW II. I flew the [Grumman] F4F, [Brewster] F2A-1 and F2A-2, and the [Grumman] F6F-3 and F6F-5 in the U.S. Navy; the [Curtiss] Tomahawk and the [North American] Mustang Mk 1 in the RCAF.... I went regular USN after the war and flew the series of fighters over the years, the last the F8 Crusader. My favorite prop the F8F-2, jet the F11-F1 Tiger."

It turned out that he was famous in an understated way, as befitted a flyer trained in British service. Hollis Harry Hills was born in Iowa in 1915 and moed with his family to California, where in September 1940 he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, as many Americans were doing that year. He qualified as a pilot in June 1941 and was soon commissioned, finally getting to England that August as a member of RCAF 414 Squadron. A year later, by which time he was flying a Lend-Lease Mustang, he claimed a Focke-Wulfe FW-190 over Dieppe. Returning to US service, he became a Brewster Buffalo instructor in Florida. Later, flying a Grumman Hellcat with VF-32, he scored four more air-to-air victories in the Pacific Theater, plus another probable and two planes destroyed on the ground. He retired from the Navy in 1964 to live in England and Spain, returning to the US in 1980, just before I stumbled onto the internet and became fascinated with the Brewster Buffalo.

Holly contributed the following account of his military service for the Annals of the Brewster Buffalo. I edited it slightly and added the stuff in brackets. He was later felled by a stroke, dying in October 2009 in Melbourne, Florida. -- Daniel Ford

Poland's Daughter

'I brought back everyone I took out'

I joined [the Royal Canadian Air Force] in June 1940 and was called up for enlistment in September of that year. Due to problems in the starting of the Empire Training Scheme, I did guard duty until preflight training and selection for aircrew started for me in mid-December at the Hunt Club in Toronto. I finished that and was accepted for pilot training.

I reported to #7 Elementary Flight Training School mid-January 1941. There I was trained on Fleet Finches, graduating in March. It was then on to Service Flying Training School at Dauphin, Manitoba, on Harvards [North American AT-6, called Texan in the U.S. Army]. We were the second class at the station. I received my wings and was designated a Sergeant Pilot on 22 June 1941, the day Hitler invaded Russia.

I was able to swap orders with an 18-year-old who wasn't too interested in going abroad and obtained his overseas posting. Via rail and ship I arrived in England in August. OTU followed at Old Sarum in Wiltshire on [Westland] Lysanders and [Curtiss P-40] Tomahawks. It was then on to RCAF Squadron 414 at Croydon (Greater London).

We trained and did some OPs in our Tommies, hours and hours of practice fights [against] Spits and Hurricanes from the operational squadrons at Biggin Hill, Kenley, and Redhill. There was no better way to get proficient at airfighting other than the real thing with bullets. We got Mustang Mk Is in June 1942, getting our battle experience with them at Dieppe in August of that year. I got a FW-190--that was the first enemy plane for the Mustang. I also did some train busting and photo missions in the bird.

I transferred to the U.S. Navy November 8, 1942, and returned to the States in December on the Queen Mary. I was send to Jacksonville, Florida, for indoctrination as a naval officer, having been commissioned as a Lieutenant j.g., then on to Miami for air gunnery training. We flew Brewster Buffaloes and Grumman Wildcats. After the first hop as a student, I spent three months there instructing the instructors. [With the war only a year old, probably Holly was the only pilot at Miami with combat experience. In the end, he was probably the only US Navy aviator who'd never finished Naval flying training.]

I did a one-year carrier-based tour in the Pacific Theater in VF-32 (with them I got four Zeroes), then VF-150 and VF-97 till war's end.

I am the only fighter pilot who flew in the two greatest air battles of the war: Dieppe in 1942 and the Great [Marianas] Turkey Shoot in the Pacific in 1944. The thing that I am most proud of is that in my 25 years as a military pilot, I brought back everyone I took out, wartime or peacetime.

-- Commander Hollis H. Hills, USN retired

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Sorry Saga of the Brewster Buffalo

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Posted June 2019. Websites © 1997-2019 Daniel Ford; all rights reserved.