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Pilot Officer Duncan Alexander Bunny HEWITT (76579)

Summary of Research as At 1st October 2015.


This paper details the state of knowledge about Bunny Hewitt as of 1st
October 2015.
He was born between 14th July 1919 and 13 July 1920 to Dr. Samuel
Ross HEWITT and Mary Edna Dow HEWITT in New Brunswick, Canada.
How he got from there to the RAF I dont yet know, but I have put out
feelers with the Brunswick Genealogical Society so I am not without
hope.
As to his early career in the RAF (date of joining, initial training, OTU
etc.) nothing is yet known. Probably we will need to get sight of his
service record to find out the answers. That, of course, is easier said
than done. The Crabs have followed the practice of the other two
services and the service records for WW2 personnel remain closed to
the general public. Application can be made for a copy of a particular
record but unless the applicant is next of kin or at least a direct family
member then the chances of it being successful are not great, but, if
one can show the record is part of a genuine piece of research, not
impossible. The Crabs, being who and what they are, also charge a 30
fee. If we can think up a good cover story it is probably worth giving it
a go - they can only say no (worth thinking about this in connection with
other research ACG might want to do, e.g. Dickies wish for details of
the career of G/Cpt Grice).
Anyway, however he got there Bunny HEWITT arrived at 501 squadron
on Tuesday 21 May !940.
At the beginning of the May` 501 had been based at Tangmere. On
the 9th May the squadron received the preliminary order to move to

France. On the 10th as the German offensive kicked off that order
was moved up a notch or two and at 14:30 sixteen Hurricanes led by
the CO, Sdn Ldr M.V.M. CLUBE, took off for Bethenville - a bit less
than fifty miles South West of Sedan. Operations began that same
afternoon and P/O PICKUP shot down a Do-17. (If the squadron had
looked 100 miles to their North East they would have seen the massive
traffic jams as the Germans tried to negotiate the Ardennes, and the
application of airpower would have stopped Hitlers offensive there and
then - such are the vagaries of war).
Anyway, on the 11th the rest of squadrons pilots and ground crew were
flown from Tangmere using a mixture of civilian and RAF transports.
The move was completed by 17:15 hours, though the last transport in
crashed on landing (glad its not only me that does that from time to
time) and three squadron personnel were killed and six hospitalised.
On the brightside the squadron was involved in numerous combats and
were able to claim 2 Do-17, 2 HE-111 and 2 ME-110 for no loss.
Over the next few days the Squadron claimed a goodly number of
enemy aircraft destroyed but not without loss to themselves. Two
pilots were killed in action on the 12th May. On the 15th a Dornier was
shot down near the airfield and one of its crew, who had bailed out, was
taken prisoner by the squadron and attended to by its medical officer.
The Germans breakthrough in the Ardennes was now nearly complete
and on the 16th the Squadron was forced to move back some 75 miles
to the airfield at Anglure, some seventy five miles to the South West.
It was at Anglure that on 21st May P/O HEWITT, along with three
other new pilots, joined the squadron. According to the Squadron
Record Book he was posted from the UK, but whether this was his first
posting from OTU remains to be discovered.

On the 22nd the weather was not good and no operations were carried
out. There were however four practice flights and it is likely that
HEWITT was involved in one of them. There is a report on the
internet that he flew Hurricane number P3540 taking off at 10:10 and
landing at 10:40, though this has yet to be sourced and confirmed.
That HEWITT was now a full fledged member of the squadron cannot
be doubted. He was a member of an eleven machine patrol between on
15:15 and 16:45 the 26th May and he reported seeing three enemy
aircraft near Blengy, though they were not engaged.
At 13:35 on 27th May a large scale action took place between 13
Hurricanes from 501 and 24 Heinkel-111s escorted by 20 ME-110s.
From the Squadron Record Book, Eleven Heinkels were for certain
brought down; one ME almost certain; and possibly three other
Heinkels for no loss.
The SRB explicitly states that this was HEWITTs first combat and
that he was credited with one Heinkel and he, Saw another Heinkel
falling having fired at it.
As an aside that quote from the Record Book tends to indicate that
the system of classification of combat results was not, at least at the
time of the Battle of France, set in stone. Where one might have
expected confirmed, probable and damaged we see certainly
brought down, almost Certainly brought down and possibly with no
mention of mere damage at all.
There are no further reports of the Squadron being involved in combat
in May though the records do mention patrols which saw no enemy and
bad weather. It is unlikely therefore that that Hewitt was engaged in
any other scraps.

On the 2nd June the Squadron was moved again, this time to Le Mans.
From there it would seem they did nothing. The Squadron record book
makes no mention of flights, let alone fights. On the 16th June they
were on the move again, this time to Dinard from where they carried
out operations (unspecified) on 17th.
By this date the change in the Squadron Record keeping is very
apparent. The detailed descriptions of flights, fights and weather
that were such a feature of the first few weeks of the war have gone.
From the terseness of the entries and the total absence of mention of
operational flights one can get a real sense of the confusion, bordering
on panic, of a unit totally overwhelmed by events beyond its control.
The entry regarding the move to Dinard conveys and yet only hints at
the troubles of the times, The convoy left at 0400 and towards dusk
Thus a journey of about 140 miles took about sixteen hours (sunset in
Paris on 16th June 1940 was at 21:26 and twilight started at 10:04),
one can only imagine the chaos on the roads.
Happily, the RAF administration continued to function and there were
postings in and out of the Squadron and its CO, Sdn Ldr CLUBE, was
promoted to Wing Commander.
On the 17th June the Squadron operated from Dinard, though what
they did we do not know. However, on the 18th 501 was ordered out of
France. The main party left by road for St. Malo & the UK, whilst the
rest carried out undefined operations before heading for St. Helier on
Jersey in the afternoon (the ground party arriving by ferry at 0500 on
the 19th).
During the evacuation on the 18th all squadron records were destroyed
(save the Squadron Record Book). This is important in trying to trace
the career of P/O HEWITT. Since his first fight on the 27th May he
has not been mentioned in the SRB. His name does not appear amongst

the postings or casualties so we must assume that he was still an active


pilot but what he did during the period we do not know. If he had
submitted any flight reports of combats and victories then they would
have been destroyed - certainly none remain. That said absence of a
flight report did not mean, at least in 501 squadron, absence of
combat, as we shall see.
On the 19th June the Squadron operated from Jersey covering the
evacuation of part of the British Expeditionary Force from Cherbourg
and on the 20th all the aeroplanes flew to Tangmere arriving at 2100,
whilst the ground personnel sailed by ferry to Southampton.
The 21st June saw the whole squadron re-united at Croydon for a
period of re-fitting and rest (4 days special leave was granted). During
this time Wing Commander CLUBE left to squadron having been posted
to 10 Group HQ and his place was taken by Sqd Ldr H.A.V. HOGAN
(later Air Vice-Marshall HOGAN CB DFC). At that point in time the
Squadron had thirteen officers including the CO, the Adjutant, the
Intelligence officer and the M.O.. HEWITT was listed as one of the
officer pilots.
On 3rd July 501 Squadron was declared operational and moved from
Croydon to Middle Wallop the following day. Combat patrols started
immediately, along with local training, though no actual combats took
place until 10th June when Sgt DIXON was lost in an action of Portland
Bill (he parachuted from his aircraft but Was lost).
The 12th July is when our story ends, P/O/ Hewitt was killed in action.
On that day 501 was operating out of Warmwell Airfield near
Weymouth in Dorset and carried out numerous patrols. At about
half-past three in the afternoon HEWITT was in one of these, flying
as Blue 2 in a three aircraft patrol from Blue Flight commanded by

F/LT E. HOLDEN. It is thought that the third member of the flight


was the Squadron CO, HOGEN, though I have yet to confirm this.
HEWITT was flying Hurricane number P3084.
The flight spotted a lone Dornier 17 diving towards the sea about 1
mile off the coast at Lyme Regis. Holden led the attack and the
Dornier was seen to jettison its bombs. Holden says he opened fire at
about 400 yards distance and carried on firing until he was some 200
yards away, a burst of some 15 seconds*. The rear gunner ceased to
return fire after about 5 seconds, but the enemy aircraft was not
brought down and continued on its course at sea level. Blue 3 (HOGEN)
apparently thought he saw white smoke from its port engine but did
not engage himself as he could not catch the enemy.
What happened to HEWITT in Blue 2? According to HOLDENs flight
report, he, Struck the sea before firing.
How and why HEWITT crashed into the sea we shall never know. In his
report HOLDEN says that he attacked when the Dornier was at about
1000 feet and diving and he fired for 15 seconds. If HEWITT was
coming in to attack after HOLDEN then the target would have been at
very low level. In a diving Hurricane travelling at 200 miles an hour
plus so close to the sea a very minor error of judgement, that in any
other circumstances would be inconsequential, could very easily be
fatal.
Bunny HEWITTs body was, of course, never recovered and he is
commemorated on Panel 8 of the Runnymede Memorial to the British
and Commonwealth aircrew who were killed in WW2 and who have no
known grave, all 20,456 of them.
P/O HEWITTs operational career lasted a bare ten weeks. We know
he shot down one bomber and possibly a second, both on his first

flight. He may have had more victories but he left behind no combat
reports (though it is possible that they were destroyed in the
evacuation from France) and none are mentioned the the SRB.
Nonetheless, it would seem clear that he was a pilot who flew on many
operational sorties did all that was asked of him and so was a very
brave man.

*F/Lt HOLDENs statement that he fired a fifteen second burst may


strike many ACG pilots as amazing. That is after all a Hurricanes whole
load of ammunition unloaded in one burst and he opened fire from 400
yards! Furthermore all he got was, maybe, some white smoke from one
engine and possibly he disabled the Dorniers rear gunner. Yet
HOLDEN was a flight commander, a senior pilot, and there is no reason
to doubt his word.
Note also that Blue 3, who we think was actually the squadron CO,
didnt press his attack to the point of actually engaging, no low level tail
chase for him.
To me there are two points of interest to be drawn from this Combat
Report. Firstly, in July 1940 the RAFs gunnery and combat discipline
was not very good.
Secondly, whilst we in ACG may aspire to realism in our flights we are
never ever going to get even close. Aside from anything else most
flight sim pilots have far more combat experience than most RAF
pilots of the time. Furthermore, they have read the books and know to
get in close, not to fly in a close formation VIC etc. etc.. And, of
course, we cannot die so why not, for example, chase that lone Dornier
off of Lyme Regis.

A Note on RAF Combat Reports


The national archives claim they have a full collection of the combat
reports that were submitted during WW2, save obviously those that
were lost or destroyed because of enemy action (e.g. 501s records
that were destroyed in the retreat from France). They also claim that
all pilots or air gunner submitted such reports every time they had
encountered enemy aircraft during operational flights. At least one of
those claims is untrue.
For example, the action in which P/O HEWITT was killed involved two
other aircraft from 501 Squadron. Yet there is no trace of a combat
report from Blue 3. Only HOLDEN, the flight commander, submitted a
report. There are no other reports on that action, or indeed any action
on that day, from any member of 501.
Furthermore, if one searches the archives for combat reports from
501 squadron for 1940 one only finds 43 of them. An impossibly low
number if every pilot was to submit a report every time the
encountered enemy aircraft.
However, looking at the eight reports submitted by F/Lt HOLDEN
during 1940, in each one he makes claim of an enemy aircraft
destroyed or at least possibly destroyed and in every case he was
flying with other members of 501.
What may have been the practice in other squadrons remains to be
seen but I think that in 501 a combat report was submitted by a pilot
making a claim. Furthermore that claim was then accepted without
corroboration.