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 (K.3) to destroy the fighters present there. The first wave consisted of three Blenheims from 11 and 39 Squadron flown by Flying Officer Lawrence (L4924) of 11 Squadron and Pilot Officer Lewis (L4910) and Squadron Leader Bowman (L8402) of 39 Squadron. Pilot Officer Lewis suffered engine trouble and was forced to return to base. Squadron Leader Bowman arrived on the target at 06:45 and took the Italians completely by surprise, probably taking advantage of one of the problems afflicting the defenders of Assab: the poor visibility of the area, often covered by a thick haze that made it difficult to spot enemy aircraft from a distance. Bowman believed he had hit an ammunition dump and a CR.42 that was taxiing down the runway to take off; on his return he landed at Ras Ara airfield to report the disposition of the Italian fighters to the Gladiators from 94 Squadron, which had arrived there in the meantime.
The second Blenheim, piloted by Flying Officer Lawrence of 11 Squadron, arrived at 07:15 and dive-bombed a bomb depot, which was believed to have been hit. The pilot reported seeing a CR.42 standing on alert in the middle of the runway and then being met by a large calibre machine gun fire from the ground. According to 39 Squadron documents, however, the bomber was chased over the sea by two Italian fighters who allegedly hit the right engine causing it to seize. The Blenheim, however, made a landing without landing gear on the runway at Ras Ara. The crew, unharmed, was brought back to Sheik Othman by Squadron Leader Bowman.
The second wave of three Blenheims, all from 39 Squadron and flown by Flight Lieutenant Stevens (L8612), Sergeant Thornton (L8387) and Sergeant Crehan (L8543), attacked the airfield and ammunition depots at 07:50. Fiat fighters were already in the air from the previous action and tried to intercept them without success; one of the bombers escaped out to open sea and another was pursued in vain through the surrounding hills. Both return without having claimed or sustained damage.
The three Gladiators (in fact Sea Gladiators but most probably de-navalised) from 94 Squadron took off at 07:55. The commander, Squadron Leader W. T. F. Wightman (N2283) made two ground attacks as soon as he arrived at K.3, strafing a CR.42 which caught fire. He then spotted two CR.42s in flight at 460 meters and attacked one of them, shooting it down in flames. The other CR.42 tried to engage him in combat, but Wightman, taking advantage of his Gloster's superior manoeuvrability, positioned himself on his tail and forced him to flee. Sergeant Dunwoodie (N2279) machine-gunned some targets on the ground, apparently in concrete, so he changed targets and hit some vehicles and several buildings on the edge of the field. Suddenly, he realises that he was pursued by a CR.42 but, after dodging its initial attacks, he too managed to turn table and hit it. The CR.42 was seen gliding with its engine switched off and making a forced landing on the runway, crashing into the wings. The third Gladiator, (N2285) piloted by Flight Lieutenant Reid, attacked an aircraft on the runway with no apparent success, but then managed to set fire to two fuel depots. In the meantime, Wightman also targeted two aircraft on the ground which looked to him like Ro.37s, but without apparent result and, after machine-gunning an anti-aircraft artillery position, he withdrew with his men, landing at 09:35 at Ras Ara.
According to Bulletin No. 23, the 414a Squadriglia, which had scrambled four fighters, suffered the loss of two CR.42s: one in overhaul burned to the ground, the other shot down with the death of the pilot, 24-year-old Sergente Luigi Barengo from Trino Vercellese, plus two others damaged in combat. The Bulletin also admited the destruction of an ammunition cache (as claimed by the Blenheims of the first wave), the burning of off-centre fuel drums (as claimed by Flight Lieutenant Reid) and the wounding of a driver of a moving motor vehicle, this one allegedly shot at by Sergeant Dunwoodie.
Corrado Ricci, reporting post-war information from the former commander of the 414a Squadriglia, Generale Lucertini, states that a second CR.42 was shot down in combat, with Sergente Forsco Cellesi parachuting. As there is no record of this from the British side, it is possible that the pilot forced to land was Cellesi himself and perhaps Lucertini's recollection was not sufficiently accurate decades later. In any case, there is no Italian documentation to provide further details. According to the same testimony, Cellesi, whether landed or shot down, was machine-gunned on the ground by a Gladiator and forced to run for a long time on the red-hot ground to save himself, resulting in heat stroke and subsequent hospitalisation for a couple of months.
Sergente Barengo was awarded a posthumous Medaglia d’argento al valor militare.

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 07:55- 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, which didn’t claim anything but lost 1 destroyed in combat (pilot KIA) and 1 destroyed on the ground plus 2 damaged in combat. 94 Squadron claimed 2 CR.42s in combat and 1 one the ground without losses.
(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.
I Cavalieri Erranti - Ludovico Slongo, Stefan Lazzaro, Eugenio Eusebi, Michele Palermo and Danilo Ventura, 2023, ISBN 978-88-87952-37-7
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 13 February 2024