Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Flying Officer William Henry Dunwoodie, RAF nos. 517211 (NCO); 53099 (Officer)

In June 1940 Sergeant Dunwoodie served with 94 Squadron. This unit was at the time based at Sheik Othman, Aden and equipped with Gloster Gladiators.

In the morning on 2 July 1940 a series of special attacks were launched on the Italian airfield at Assab to destroy the fighters present there. A single Blenheim of 39 Squadron was off first, attacking the airfield at 06.45 where a Fiat CR.42 was seen taxiing. A little later an 11 Squadron Blenheim (L4924) operating from Ras Arar dive-bombed the area, where the crew reported seeing one fighter standing on its nose. The Blenheim was hit in one engine by a bullet from the ground and crash-landed on its way back to base, when still 25 miles short of Ras Arar.
At 07.50, three more 39 Squadron Blenheims attacked individually, one being chased out to sea by two CR.42s, and another of these fighters chased another all round the hills of Eritrea. The third Blenheim, which was the second of the three to arrive over the airfield, saw a CR.42 taking off and at once attacked it, reporting that the aircraft crashed on the edge of the airfield (in the light of the actual losses, it is possible that the CR.42 merely landed again under attack, having suffered some damage).
Meanwhile three Gladiators of 94 Squadron had taken off to follow the Blenheims, arriving at Assab at 08.36. Squadron Leader W. T. F. Wightman at once made two attacks on a CR.42 on the ground and it burst into flames. He then saw two more CR.42s at 1,500 feet and attacked one, shooting it down in flames. The second attacked him, but he evaded it and set course for home. Meantime Sergeant Dunwoodie had been strafing vehicles when he suddenly found that he had a CR.42 on his tail; turning into it, he fired and the engine stopped, the fighter gliding towards the ground. He fired again and it crashed, first on to one wing and then the other.
It seems that the aircraft claimed shot down by Dunwoodie and by the 39 Squadron Blenheim may both have been fairly easily repairable, as both were reported by the Italians to be only slightly damaged. The aircraft shot down by Wightman was totally destroyed however, and the pilot killed, while the aircraft, which he set alight on the ground was also a total loss. The position is not entirely clear, however, for it seems that the British claims may have been more accurate than the Italian records indicate.
The commander of 414a Squadriglia reported that over Assab two of his pilots were shot down in combat, Sergente Barengo being killed and Sergente Celleri bailing out. Since no other CR.42s were claimed over Assab by the RAF except on this date, it seems probable that Celleri’s aircraft was also brought down on this occasion. The pilot was three times strafed on the ground by a Gladiator after baling out, and had to run like mad for cover. As a result he collapsed with heat stroke and spent two months in hospital.

During the latter part of March 1941 3 SAAF Squadron was beginning to run short of Hurricanes as no replacements had been received. To alleviate this problem it was decided to equip the Squadron with Gladiators as a stopgap. Twelve ex-94 Squadron Gladiators were handed over to the South Africans by the end of March, the last being handed over on 29 March.
The 94 Squadron now ceased operations pending the re-equipment with Hurricanes.

On 5 April the unit left East Africa for Ismailia, Egypt for re-equipment.

In May when 94 Squadron was in the process of being re-equipped with Hurricanes, Wing Commander ’Freddie’ Wightman was ordered to collect five Gladiators from a Maintenance Unit and together with four other pilots proceed to Habbaniya to take part in the Iraqi revolt.
On 7 May Wightman was ready with his detachment to fly down to Habbaniya. The aircraft, two Mk Is and three Mk IIs, arrived at Habbaniya next day, The pilots involved were Wing Commander Wightman, Flight Lieutenant Sir R. A. MacRobert, Flying Officer Gerald Herrtage, Sergeant E. L. Smith and Sergeant Dunwoodie.

At 07:55 on 17 May two Gladiators flown by 94 Squadrons Sergeant Leslie Smith (K7899) and Sergeant Dunwoodie (N5857) flew a reconnaissance over Rashid, where they saw two Bf 110Cs of 4./ZG 76 (Sonderkommando Junck) taking off. Diving on these, each pilot made a quarter attack on one, both German fighters being claimed shot down in flames. Dunwoodie reported:

“At approximately 0755 hrs on 17 May 1941 we arrived over Rashid aerodrome, and after completing a half circuit of the airfield, I noticed two twin-engined machines in front of one of the hangars. One of these machines commenced to take off immediately, and both Sgt Smith and myself dived towards the aerodrome, only to see the second machine take off as well before we were in position to attack. As soon as the aircraft left the ground, they did a steep climbing turn, and by then I observed Sgt Smith in engagement with one of them. I immediately engaged the second and a dogfight ensued. By this time I had identified the enemy as Me110s.
After a few minutes combat, in which I was able to get in a few short bursts with my guns, I observed one Me110 flash past my port wing in a dive with masses of smoke pouring from both engines and Sgt Smith hot on its tail. A few seconds later I was able to get in an excellent astern attack on the other aircraft, putting a burst right up the fuselage. Almost immediately there was a terrific flash and the Me110 became a mass of flame and disintegrated in the air. I then observed the one that Sgt Smith had shot down blazing furiously on the ground. The one that I had shot down was scattered over a wide area in pieces, all of which were ablaze. Both machines crashed within a half-mile of each other, approximately one mile south east of Rashid aerodrome.”
It seems that in fact two Bf 110s were lost. One was shot down in flames and in the following crash Unteroffizier Johann Fischer (reported as killed on 26 May) and Feldwebel August Offermann (reported as killed on 16 May) were killed; both are buried in Baghdad. The other Bf110 made an emergency landing and the crew most possibly survived.

94 Squadron left Iraq on the last day of May 1941.

In June 1941 he was one of a number of pilots who formed ‘X’ Flight at Amman to operate Gladiators against the Vichy French during the invasion of Syria.

After the invasion of Syria, he returned to 94 Squadron to operate over the Western Desert.

He was awarded a DFM, which was gazetted on 30 July 1941.

At 14:15 on 13 December Squadron Leader T. B. Beresford of 94 Squadron (10 Hurricanes IIc) and Squadron Leader D. R. Walker of 260 Squadron (12 Hurricanes) led their squadrons to escort Blenheims raiding the Martuba road, and east of Tmimi they met three Bf 109s. Flight Sergeant Dunwoodie (BE233) of 94 Squadron claimed a damaged at 15:10 one while Lieutenant D. Gibson (BD706) claimed a destroyed at 15:15. Squadron Leader Walker was wounded, but returned to base. The 260 Squadron also mentioned an attack against a Ju 88 but no damage was done.

After that his tour of operation had ended in December 1941 was he commissioned.

On 10 August 1943, he was promoted to Warrant Officer.

On 10 February 1944, he was promoted to Flying Officer (gazetted on 29 February 1944).

On 10 August 1945, he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant (gazetted on 25 September 1945).

Dunwoodie ended the war with 2 biplane victories, these being claimed while flying Gloster Gladiators.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 02/07/40   1 CR.42 (a) Destroyed Gladiator N2279 Assab 94 Squadron
2 17/05/41 07:55 1 Bf 110 (b) Destroyed Gladiator N5857 Rashid 94 Squadron
  13/12/41 15:10 1 Bf 109 Damaged Hurricane BE233 Tmimi-Martuba 94 Squadron

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed.
TOTAL: 2 destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with CR.42s from 414a Squadriglia. 94 and 39 Squadrons claimed three CR.42s shot down while 414a Squadriglia lost two in combat with Sergente Barengo being killed and Sergente Celleri bailing out.
(b) Claimed in combat Bf 110Cs from 4./ZG 76 (Sonderkommando Junck). Two Bf 110s were lost and the crew of one of them were killed; Unteroffizier Johann Fischer (reported as killed on 26 May) and Feldwebel August Offermann (reported as killed on 16 May).

A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Gloster Gladiator - Alex Crawford, 2002 Mushroom Model Publications, Redbourn, ISBN 83-916327-0-9
Gloster Gladiator Aces - Andrew Thomas, 2002 Osprey Publishing, London, ISBN 1-84176-289-X
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
The London Gazette
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Additional information kindly provided by Chris Goss and Marcel Hogenhuis.

Last modified 19 June 2016