Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Major John Loch ‘Gugu’ Hewitson DFC, SAAF no. 102733V

Born on 20 April 1918 in Pretoria, John Hewitson joined the SAAF in September 1939 and received his wings on 23 December 1939.

He first saw active service over East Africa with 1 SAAF Squadron in 1940, where he claimed his initial successes.

On 8 June 1940, he flew the Gloster Gauntlet for the first time when he took off at 08:20 for a 25-minutes flight with K7852.

He flew the Gladiator for the first time when he took off at 07:10 on 29 June 1940 with N5815 for a 20-minutes flight.

On 18 September, three Gladiators of 1 SAAF Squadron were patrolling in the Kassala area between 14:50 and 17:15 when two CR.42s climbed up to challenge them. The South Africans got in first, Major Schalk van Schalkwyk claiming one and Second Lieutenants John Coetzer and Hewitson (N5852) claiming a second shared; one CR.42 was seen to spin and crash while the other was chased to its airfield at Tessenei, where it was reported to have crash-landed.
Second Lieutenant Hewitson reported in his logbook a dogfight with two CR.42s over Kassala. One retired while the other apparently fell out of control. He fired 1000 rounds of ammunition during the combat.
The identity of the Italian pilots remains unknown since no account of this combat can be found in Italian records.

Hewitson was promoted to First Lieutenant on 1 October 1940.

On the 6 November, the British forces in Sudan launched an offensive to capture the Italian fort at Gallabat as well as occupy Metema, which was just across the frontier. All that the RAF could provide in way of support was six Wellesleys, two Vincents, six Gauntlets, ten Gladiators (drawn from ‘K’ Flight and 1 SAAF Squadron) and four Hawker Hardys (from the Rhodesian Air Force). The Wellesleys were first into action bombing Gallabat, with the Gladiators requested to over fly the area in large formations. Three Gladiators of ‘K’ Flight arrived over the advancing troops at low level. They were patrolling to the east of Metema when a formation of an estimated six or seven CR.42s from 412a Squadriglia led by the unit commander Capitano Antonio Raffi attacked them from out of the sun. The Gladiator pilots were taken by surprise; 24-year-old Flight Lieutenant Kenneth Howard Savage (RAF no. 37483) (L7614) was shot down and killed while Pilot Officer Kirk (K7969) was forced to take to his parachute; neither pilot saw their attacker. Pilot Officer Jack Hamlyn evaded the initial onslaught but his aircraft (L7612) was badly damaged and he force-landed, returning later on foot. These three victories were claimed by Capitano Raffi, Tenente Niso Provinciali and Sergente Pietro Morlotti.
Meanwhile, Major Schalk van Schalkwyk (N5855) of 1 SAAF Squadron had also taken off from Azzoza, but on arriving over the front was also attacked by the CR.42s. Observers on the ground at once rang the strip at ‘Heston’ to report the lone Gladiator in combat with eight opponents, and despite thick mud caused by an unexpected downpour during the night, Captain Brian Boyle at once took off, arriving just in time to see the commanding officer's Gladiator going down in flames, the pilot taking to his parachute with his clothes on fire; he did not survive. Immediately Boyle was also attacked, bullets entering the cockpit and wounding him in hands and legs; desperately he fought on until the engine of N5852 stopped, and he had to crash-land between the lines. Boyle was brought in by Indian troops and sent by ambulance to Wadi Seidna where he was hospitalised for some weeks. He was subsequently warded a DFC (1 SAAF Squadron’s first) on 7 January 1941 for his gallant action in going single-handed to van Schalkwyk’s assistance.
It seems that Captain Boyle was credited to Sottotenente Fiorindo Rosmino.
Capitano Raffi reported that four victories were claimed as a result of these engagements, but Sottotenente Rosmino’s aircraft was hit and he returned with his parachute pack riddled with bullets.
During the morning another ‘K’ Flight Gladiator was flown up to the front, and shortly after midday Flying Officer Jack Maurice Hayward (RAF no. 40111) joined four Gladiators of 1 SAAF Squadron from ‘Heston’, which took off at 13:20 in another patrol over the front. There, five Ca.133s were seen at 7,000 feet, 2,000 feet lower than the Gladiators, approaching the battle area. As the fighters prepared to attack, they were bounced from above by six CR.42s and 21-years-old Hayward’s aircraft (K7977) was seen to crash in flames, the pilot being KIA (possibly shot down at 15:30 by Tenente Mario Visintini of the 412a Squadriglia). The South Africans at once split up into pairs, Lieutenants John Coetzer and Robin Pare taking on the fighters while Lieutenants Andrew Duncan and Hewitson went after the bombers. The Caproni attacked by Duncan crashed on the Metema-Gondar road, while Hewitson’s fell out of control after he’d fired three burst and crashed; he also damaged a third bomber on the ground. The crew of one of the shot-down bombers survived, and was to return on foot several days later.
While this was going on, the two pilots fighting the CR.42s had managed to drive them off, each claiming one of the fighters shot down; no losses of CR.42s were recorded however, although either or both of those attacked may have been damaged, and force-landed.
By the end of the day, despite the loss of air superiority by the British forces, Gallabat Fort had been captured and the garrison virtually annihilated, only to be lost again the following day, under Italian ground counter-attacks supported by continuous hammering by Caproni and SIAI bombers, as in that moment the Regia Aeronautica had the main control of the air space.

A patrol at noon on 22 January spotted two Ca.133s on Agordat aerodrome, which lay on the road to Keren.
Later that day Lieutenants Hendrik Johannes Piet Burger (Hurricane ‘298’) and Hewitson (Hurricane ‘272’) strafed them there. They destroyed the Ca.133 (18-4), which had been damaged in the earlier combat and claimed damage to another (probably also from 18o Squadriglia).

On 24 January 1941, Italian raids were made on troops in northern Eritrea, and also on concentrations near Metema and Gallabat.
In the morning (take-off after 06:30), Lieutenant Hewitson (Hurricane V7655) strafed a Ca.133, which he found in a clearing 40 miles west of Agrodat.
At 11:30, Captain Gerald Le Mesurier with Lieutenants John Coetzer and E. A. Jarvis took off from Sabdaret in Gladiators, joining up with two Hurricanes (Lieutenants Hewitson and Leonard le Clues Theron) for another raid on Agordat. The Gladiators ran into two CR.42s at the enemy airfield. Captain Le Mesurier and Lieutenant Coetzer chasing one for about 24km, firing at intervals, before it finally outran them. Le Mesurier retuned and claimed it as a damaged. Lieutenant Jarvis engaged the other for about 15 minutes but failed to register any damage on it while the Fiat’s fire hit his top wing.
Italian fighters patrolling over the front seem to have claimed two victories during the day.
The South African fighters were back at 12:05

On the morning on 27 January 1941, six Hurricanes and six Gladiators of 1 SAAF Squadron, using Sabderat as an advanced landing ground for refuelling, attacked Gura airfield during the day, many aircraft being seen there. While Major Wilmot, Lieutenant Theron and a third pilot remained above as top cover, the other nine strafed, claiming hits on nine S.79s, seven S.81s and three Ca.133s.
The Gladiators taking part in the strafe were led by Captain Brian Boyle (Gladiator N5815) and the other five pilots were Lieutenants Servaas de K. Viljoen, Robin Pare, Andrew Duncan, John Coetzer and Taylor. Hurricane pilots included Major Wilmot, Captain K. W. Driver, Lieutenant Hewitson and Lieutenant Leonard le Clues Theron.
It seems that the attack was contested since Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani (attached to 412a Squadriglia) reported in his logbook that he scrambled at 12:35 and fought against a couple of Hurricanes, with no results.
After the strafe at Gura, Captain Driver and Lieutenant Hewitson continued to Adi Ugri where Driver strafed four more S.81s, claiming damaged to two of them. Hewitson meanwhile strafed other ground target.
The Italians reported that three S.79s and four S.81 were substantially damaged.

At 10:45 on 28 January, two Hurricanes, flown by Captain K. W. Driver and Lieutenant Hewitson, set off to attack Asmara airfield, but became separated. Driver strafed the target, firing on three aircraft, which he identified as S.79s; they were in fact very similar S.73 transports, and two were damaged.
Hewitson meanwhile apparently attacked Gura, claiming to have hit a S.79, a S.81 and two Ca.133s, although the Italians noted no record of such an attack.

At 14:00 on 29 January, 1 SAAF Squadron took off to attack Gura, with six Hurricanes (Major Lawrence Wilmot, Captain K. W. Driver, Lieutenants Hewitson, Andrew Duncan, Hendrik Johannes Piet Burger and Leonard le Clues Theron) flying as top cover to five Gladiators, which would strafe. As they approached the Hurricanes run into several S.79s and a large number of CR.42s, which were seen over the airfield, the bombers having just returned from a raid over the front, and the fighters having scrambled at the approach of the South African aircraft. Captain Driver at once attacked an S.79 as it was going in to land, and shot it down in flames, two members of the crew baling out. The Gladiators then arrived, led by Captain Brian Boyle. These also met the Fiats, Lieutenant H. P. Smith (Gladiator N5851) and Lieutenant E. A. Jarvis each claiming one shot down.
Capitano Antonio Raffi, commander of the 412a Squadriglia, was above with two of his pilots, Tenente Luciano Cacciavillani and Maresciallo Aroldo Soffritti (they scrambled at 15:20), and he saw the Hurricane shoot down the S.79 before he could intervene. He then spotted the Gladiators, which he believed to be six strong, and at once, a great dogfight begun, during which the South Africans saw many Fiats falling away. Driver meanwhile had seen Adi Ugri landing ground on which four S.81s were dispersed, and attacking these, he left one (claimed as a S.79) in flames.
On return to base the combat with the Fiats was fully discussed, and it was decided that five had been shot down, one each by Lieutenant Smith and Lieutenant Jarvis, the other three being impossible to allocate to individual pilots. All the SAAF aircraft returned safely, although one Gladiator (N5831) had been hit by a single bullet.
This proves how easy it was to overestimate the damage caused, and indeed the numbers involved, in a whirling dogfight. Although several CR.42s were hit and damaged, none was in fact shot down. Tenente Cacciavillani's CR.42 was badly damaged by 50 hits, and Maresciallo Soffritti's was also damaged. Capitano Raffi’s own aircraft was hit five times and he recorded that he took ten bullets in his parachute and lost the fabric in the fuselage close to the cockpit and the tail plane. It seems that Raffi’s fire hit and damaged Lieutenant Smith Gladiator, who landed unhurt. The Italians reported combat against four Hurricanes and six Gladiators and reported one Gladiator shot down. Tenente Cacciavillani fired 60 rounds of 7.7mm, and claimed a Gladiator probably destroyed (shared) (strangely enough, this claim has been cancelled by a pen line in his logbook).

At 08:15 on 30 January, Captain K. W. Driver of 1 SAAF Squadron led three other Hurricanes (Lieutenants Hewitson, Andrew Duncan and Leonard le Clues Theron) to Adi Ugri to attack three S.81, which were left from an attack the previous day. Diving down, he set one of the bombers on fire, and Lieutenant Andrew Duncan burned a second and claimed a second shared destroyed on the ground. Actually all three were already beyond repair, and were being employed as dummies to attract just such an attack.
Lieutenant Hewitson strafed a pair of S.79s at Teramni.
The Hurricanes landed again at 09:30.

At 14:30 on 1 February, Lieutenants Hewitson and John Coetzer spotted five S.79s and a pair of CR.42s, 915m below them. The two Hurricanes made one stern and two head-on passes, resulting that the Italian bombers jettisoned their bombs and turned back. The escort fighters turned to attack one Hurricane then left with the bombers.

On 11 March, Captain K. W. Driver and Lieutenant Hewitson (V7688) set fire to a lone S.79 on the ground and then strafed an unidentified small biplane at Keren aerodrome while hunting for hidden CR.42s. Captain Brian Boyle (V7711), having strafed a S.79, joined the other two in shooting up three goods train.
AA fire damaged Captain Driver's Hurricane.

On 29 March 1941 Captain 'Piggy' Boyle and Lieutenant Hewitson left 1 SAAF Squadron, together with two other pilots, who returned to the Union in a Ju 52/3m for a well-earned rest.

He served as flight commander in 5 SAAF Squadron from 25 June 1941 to 31 May 1942 in the Western Desert.

On 24 September 1941, he received a Mention in Dispatches.

On 11 March 1942, three sections of Tomahawks from 5 SAAF Squadron patrolled north of Gambut as part of an escort mission for a convoy making for Tobruk. 120km north of Gambut at 16:00, Captain Hewitson (Tomahawk IIb AN448/GL-H) shot down Ju 88A-4 WNr 142014 L1+BW from 12./LG 1. The aircraft crashed into the sea 150km north-east of Derna with the loss of Leutnant Heinz Althaus and his crew of three. 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Finlayson (AN448/GL-D) claimed a second Ju 88 as a damaged at the same time.
Half an hour later, Lieutenant Johan Human (AM401/GL-F) and Lieutenant K. C. Kemsley (AN468/GL-J) claimed a third Ju 88 as a shared damaged at the same area.

At 09:50 on 27 May, 5 SAAF Squadron’s Tomahawks intercepted ten bombers escorted by ten fighters 15 miles south-west of El Adem.
In the records of this newly arrived unit, these were initially identified as Ju 87s, then being altered to BR.20s and subsequently to Do 215s! Two of these were claimed shot down (Major John Frost in AK195/GL-W and Lieutenant Robert Morrison in AN421/GL-Z) and three damaged (Second Lieutenant Cecil Alexander Golding in AN468/GL-J, Lieutenant Kenneth Collin Morgan in AN354/GL-X and Lieutenant Louis Botha van der Spuy in AN533/GL-Y) plus a Bf 110 damaged (Lieutenant ‘Viv’ Muir in AN262/GL-C). One of the escorting Bf 109s were claimed shot down by Captain Hewitson.
It seems that they had been in combat with Bf 110s of III./ZG 26 led by Oberleutnant Alfred Wehmeyer, which had taken off at 09:10 from Derna. Over El Adem the crews reported meeting a squadron of Hurricanes (probably actually 5 SAAF Squadron Tomahawks) and formed a defensive circle. Oberleutnant Wehmeyer (at 08:52), Unteroffizier Helmut Neitzke (08:54) and Feldwebel Hans Wein (08:56) each claimed one fighter shot down (all pilots from 7./ZG 26), but Bf 110C-5 WNr 2195 3U+MR was shot down at 08:55, the crew (Unteroffizier Arno Frickmann/Unteroffizier Josef Ammersbach) becoming PoWs.
The escorting Bf 109s seems to have come from 9./JG 53, which reported combat 3km south-east of El Adem. Oberfeldwebel Werner Stumpf claimed a P-40 at 09:10 while Feldwebel Heinz Herkenhoff (or Herkendorff) claimed an unconfirmed P-40 at 09:11.
The combat seems to have been quite hard (also indicating combat with Bf 109s and Bf 110s) and five Tomahawks returned with various damages (but with all pilots safe); Cat II damages were suffered on the fighters flown by Major Frost, Lieutenant Morgan and Lieutenant van der Spuy while Lieutenant Morrison’s Tomahawk suffered Cat I damages. Finally, Lieutenant T. Finlayson crash-landed AN427/GL-D while returning when the engine cut (possible combat damage).

Between 14:40 and 16:05 on 29 May, Maggiore Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (CO 9o Gruppo) was leading eight MC.202s from the 4o Stormo on a free sweep. The visibility was much reduced because of the sand swept up by the wind. While the formation was crossing over Acroma at an altitude of 4,000m at 15:15, a patrol of about a dozen P-40s was spotted at a lower altitude; its pilots noticed the presence and tried to increase altitude by turning towards the Macchis, which launched the attack. Three enemy fighters were claimed shot down with two more as probables with seven additionally machine-gunned (with the total use of 2773 rounds of ammunition). Sergente Maggiore Teresio Martinoli (73a Squadriglia), Sergente Mario Guerci (73a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore (97a Squadriglia) claimed the destroyed while the probables were claimed by Sergente Maggiore Salvatore and Sottotenente Alvaro Querci (73a Squadriglia) while two of the machine-gunned were claimed by Sergente Maggiore Martinoli. Sottotenente Mario Massa (73a Squadriglia) in MM7824/73-5 was killed; he had only been with the unit for three months.
Nine Tomahawks IIbs from 5 SAAF Squadron (15:40-16:55) together with eleven Hurricane IIcs from 274 Squadron (15:40-17:20) were on a wing sweep over Bir Hacheim and they reported meeting a mixed force of Bf 109s and MC.202s. The 5 SAAF Squadron reported combat at 16:10 and Major John Frost (AN523/GL-R) claimed a destroyed MC.202 10 miles east of Gazala while Captain Hewitson (AN448/GL-H) claimed a damaged Bf 109 and two more MC.202s were claimed damaged by Lieutenant John Lindbergh (AN366/GL-O) and Lieutenant Peter Harold Saunders (AM495/GL-T, combat reported 16:15); the three damaged fighters were claimed near Gazala. Lieutenant John Slater (AN433/GL-B) suffered engine failure after combat (he reported being attacked three times from behind by a Bf 109) and belly-landed south of Tobruk at 16:40. Slater was safe but the Tomahawk was struck off charge.
Major Frost reported:

“16.00 10000 8 or 9 EA were seen diving out of the sun. They were 109E, F and 202. Turned to face them and a general dogfight followed. 109 staying above and doing dive attacks, while Macchis came down and fought. Good burst with little deflection at a Macchi which climbed past me. EA turned over and started burning. Was seen to crash by other pilots. .50 20, 303 40.
At 16.20, the enemy broke off and headed west.”
Lieutenant Lindberg reported:
“At 10000 feet… When I observed the EA I attempted a head on attack on one below me, but overshot. I then went into a steep turn and saw a Me.109 climbing steeply to the north from below me with a Tomahawk close behind. I approached and the 109 pulled over on its back giving the impression of being out of control. While he was at the top of the stall turn he presented a deflection target well within range, so I opened fire. I lost him as he went down, but saw an AC burst into flames as it hit the ground as few seconds later. Shortly after this I saw a Macchi 202 on the tail of a Tomahawk about 1500’ below, I dived and the Macchi pulled away from his target into a gentle climbing turn to the left. When I got within range I allowed plenty of deflection and opened fire. I saw incendiary ammo, bursting in his airscrew disc and on the port wing. At about 50 yards range I saw an AC coming up on my wing right towards me, so I broke off the attack. One Macchi damaged (.50-400, .303-1200)”
Captain Hewitson reported:
“At 10000 feet…Saw bombs bursting in sea near Gazala and when approaching to investigate 8 or 9 EA attacked out of the sun. General dogfight followed and while diving down to escape a Bf 109 I noticed another Bf 109 F on the tail of a Tomahawk at 50 ft. I came in and attacked the Bf 109 F from above astern, pulled away and delivered another attack after which the 109 pulled away and climbed to about 1500 ft. during which time I was firing from astern at about 200 yards. Black smoke was seen coming out from behind the Me.109 and it seems to stall at that height. I was then attacked by another Me.109 and the result of the first combat was not observed. One Me.109F damaged (.50-100, .303-150)”
Lieutenant Saunders reported:
“…I dived very fast on the tail of a Macchi 202 and opened fire holding it to very short range. I saw pieces coming off and pulled up over the top of him and turned but saw him diving very fast going west… One Macchi damaged (.50-100, .303-400)”
The 274 Squadron did not see any enemy aircraft, but Sergeant James Dodds, who returned early, came across four Bf 109s and claimed one damaged over Bir Hacheim at 15:40. Totally the Allied fighters claimed one destroyed and four damaged for the loss of one Tomahawk.

At 05:40 on 31 May, seven Bf 109F-4s from 4. and 6./JG 27 took off to escort Stukas (included Ju 87s from III./St.G. 3, which took off at 05:25 and landed 06:25) to attack enemy tanks 20 km south of Acroma. After the bombing and on the way back, south-west of Acroma, they clashed with five Hurricanes with eleven P-40s entering the fight shortly afterwards. Four P-40s were claimed by the Schwarm of 4./JG 27 when Oberleutnant Ferdinand Vögl one south-west of Fort Acroma at 06:15 and a second 2km north-east of Mteifel Chebir at 06:20 and at an altitude of 2,000m. The third was claimed by Feldwebel Franz Stigler south-west of Fort Acroma at 06:23 and the fourth was claimed at an altitude of 1,700m west of Fort Acroma at 06:24 by Feldwebel Alfred Heidel. However, the German fighters suffered hard and all three Bf 109F-4s from 6./JG 27 were shot down by P-40s over Bu Amud. The staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Emmerich Fluder (Bf 109F-4 trop WNr 8660 Yellow 3) was killed while Oberfeldwebel Erich Krenzke (Bf 109F-4 trop WNr 8774 Yellow 9) was taken PoW. The third was flown by Feldwebel Fritz Gromotka (Bf 109F-4 trop WNr 8548 Yellow 4) was luckier and came down on friendly territory, able to report back to Tmimi the next day.
They had clashed with eleven Tomahawks of 5 SAAF Squadron on a free sweep over Gazala-Bir Hacheim (06:25-07:50). The South African pilots had been informed of both the approach of bandits and that Stukas were bombing Acroma. Thus, at 06:55 and at an altitude of 10,000 feet, they turned their planes east. They met ten Ju 87s protected by a reported twelve Bfl09s and C.202s near Acroma. Four of these planes were close cover, four more 2,000 feet above as medium, and another four 3,000 feet further above as top cover. The latter were at 10,000 feet, the same level as the Tomahawks.
Major John Frost (Tomahawk IIb AM385/GL-W) ordered Blue Flight to attack the top cover and Red Flight the medium cover. He himself attacked the bombers with his flight of three. Frost and Lieutenant Kenneth Collin Morgan (AN354/GL-X) fired at the rear Stuka from astern; the aircraft glided away and was claimed as a shared probable victory at 06:55. Frost then warded off a Bf 109 before he and Lieutenant Charles Sommerville (AN431/GL-S) attacked a lagging Stuka and claimed as a shared damage at 07:00. Second Lieutenant John Michael Scott Martin (AM401/GL-I) banked in behind a Bf 109 at the same altitude, firing from 300 yards and then following him in a steep dive; at 200 yards, he fired two more bursts, seeing pieces falling off from the starboard wing and yellow-brown smoke coming from the wing root. Then he cleared his tail, losing sight of it being credited with a damaged at 06:55. Captain Andrew Duncan (AK523/GL-R) shot down a Bf 109 at 07:00 while Captain Hewitson attacked another without results. At 07:10 the enemy broke away. Total ammunition use were: .50-2420 and .303-8010 (Major Frost .50-400 and .303-380) (Lieutenant Morgan .50-40 and .303-160) (Lieutenant Sommerville .50-120 and .303-180) (2nd Lieutenant Martin .50-220 and .303-120).
It seems that 6./JG 27 probably was top cover, clashing with the Blue Section; Duncan and Martin claiming two of them. 4./JG 27 was probably medium or close cover. The Germans certainly suffered heavy losses, but nevertheless the Stukas did not sustain considerable damage. Therefore, it is possible that in some way the three pilots sacrificed themselves to protect the Stukas. Oberleutnant Rudolf Sinner took over as staffelkapitän of 6./JG 27.

On 1 June 1942, he was promoted to command 4 SAAF Squadron.

On 4 June, twelve Ju 87s of I. and II./StG 3 attacked to the north of Bir Hacheim (07:05-08:45) in the mornings second attack escorted by the I./JG 27 (take off 07:48). One of the Ju 87s was shot down by AA over the fortress (Ju 87D-1 WNr 2465 S7+KM; one was seen to bale out but both Leutnant Robert Hübel and Unteroffizier Fritz Müller were killed).
Seven Tomahawks each from 4 SAAF and 5 SAAF Squadrons with Kittyhawks of 2 SAAF Squadron, were ordered to patrol over Bir Hacheim where the South African pilots got in a good attack on the Stukas before the escort could interfere, claiming eight shot down.
The 5 SAAF Squadron claimed four Ju 87s when at 08:55, Lieutenant Basil Thornhill-Cook (Tomahawk IIb AK380/GL-R) claimed one shared with Lieutenant Kenneth Whyte (AN313/GL-X) north-west of Bir Hacheim while Major ‘Jack’ Frost (AM385/GL-W) claimed three over Bir Hacheim at 09:00.
Major Frost reported:

“…Stukas were seen diving. They released their bombs and carried on the dive right down to ground level. We followed the 4 Sqn. to the attack. I fired at and hit a 109 just above the Stukas without result. I then closed on a Ju.87 from the rear, gave one burst and he burst into flames and crashed. I then closed on another from the starboard quarter. He then turned towards me and I got in a burst with deflection. I then got very close to him, gave him another burst and he went down to the ground. I gave him another burst and set the AC alight. I then closed on another Stuka, gave him a good burst from astern and he went down and crash landed. Three Ju.87s destroyed.”
Major F. J. M. Meaker (AN388/GL-N), who was flying with 5 SAAF Squadron, had to force-land 16km south-east of Bir Hacheim at 09:25 when his aircraft was hit by the gunner in the Ju 87 he was attacking. He was picked up by Lieutenant C. J. C. Horne (AK415/I), and was flown back to base two-up in the Tomahawk.
Meanwhile, during the return flight, 5 SAAF Squadron flew through a heavy concentration of Flak, Lieutenant Thornhill-Cook being shot down and killed 15km south of Bir Hacheim. Lieutenant Whyte’s aircraft was shot-up although he was able to nurse it back to base.
The 4 SAAF Squadron claimed the other four when Captain Gordon Bayly (AM418/S) claimed one and one damaged over Bir Hacheim at 09:10, Major Hewitson (AN452/KJ-M) claimed one 15m south-west of El Adem at 09:15, Captain Jeffrey Morphew (AN393) claimed one over Bir Hacheim at 09:15 and Lieutenant William John Wheeler (AN428/KJ-K) claimed one south-west of Bir Hacheim at 09:15. A second damaged was claimed over Bir Hacheim at 09:15 by Lieutenant Sydney Cohen (KJ-N).
Captain Bayly reported:
“…Attacked from out of the sun and caught up with the Stukas at about 1000’ heading west. I attacked one Stuka from above and behind which was lagging and saw my shots splinter his canopy. He appeared to lose control and fell back considerably. Stuka was seen to be badly damaged. My next attack was across the formation from the north. I made a full deflection attack fired early and saw the latter shots strike the engine which emitted flames and black smoke. Then the airscrew slowed down jerkily as 1 passed over him. …the AC appeared to be losing height. I turned west again caught up with the fight got a number of bursts but saw no convincing results.”
Major Hewitson reported:
“...Caught up with the Stukas about 15 miles west of Bir Hakeim and delivered attacks on two near Stukas one of which was hit in the engine and force-landed. I was then attacked by one 109F which I avoided. He flew past me and I delivered an attack from dead astern. No results observed. At end of fight only 4 or 5 Stukas were left in the formation. On the way home two of us fought a running fight with two 109s which eventually left us as we crossed into our territory.”
Lieutenant Cohen (KJ-N) stated:
“…Pulled off with rest of section into 12+ Stukas heading north-west after releasing bombs. Got in a long burst on one aircraft from ¼ astern and then overshot him. I did a steep turn and attacked the same ac again from ¼ frontal and then saw wisps of black smoke coming from underneath the fuselage. At this stage one of my cannons jammed and I did a few beam attacks on several other Stukas without observing any direct result. 1 then had to wrath off as my ammunition supply was exhausted. I made for home in the company of three ac of 5 SAAF. We were attacked by two Me.109s and in trying to evade them I lost the other three ac. I was then attacked continuously for 10 mins by one Me.109 but was not able to return his fire although I was able to outmanoeuvre him every time he attacked. He eventually broke away…”
Lieutenant Wheeler reported:
“…Got on the tail of one Stuka and gave him about four bursts. In the final attack I saw something break off which I thought came off the tail unit. At the same time black smoke started coming from below the root of the wings…”
During this fight 4 SAAF Squadron lost four aircraft. Captain Morphew (AN393) was shot down in combat with four Bf 109s to become a PoW (he escaped in 1943). 2nd Lieutenant K. H. Lawler (AN461) was also shot down by Bf 109s to become a POW. Lieutenant J. de la H. Lane (AN460) was shot down by the rear gunner of a Ju 87 south of Tobruk; he was later picked up by a Hurricane from 274 Squadron, flown by Pilot Officer George Keefer. A fourth Tomahawk (AK509) was lost over Bir Hacheim but without details.
Four of the Ju 87s went down, including that flown by the Gruppenkommandeur Hauptmann Heinrich Eppen (I./StG 3, Ju 87R-2 WNr 6146, S7+AB, combat with P-40s 15km WNW of Bir Hacheim), who lost his life with his gunner Oberfeldwebel Adalbert Betzler. The other three were Ju 87R-2 WNr 6163, S7+NH from l./StG 3, which was lost in combat with P-40s 15km WNW of Bir Hacheim (Unteroffizier Michael safe and gunner Heinz Schellenberg WIA), Ju 87R-4/Trop WNr 6306 S7+GK of 2./StG 3, which was lost in combat with P-40s 20km NW of Bir Hacheim (Leutnant Horst Heritsch and Gefreiter Beck both WIA) and Ju 87R-4 WNr 6205 S7+JK of 2./StG 3, which was lost in combat with P-40s 20km WNW of Bir Hacheim (gunner Obergefreiter Heinz Kaufold killed but the pilot safe; aircraft 60% damaged and crash-landed at Derna South).
The Tomahaks were then attacked by three Bf 109F trops of II./JG 27, which were out on a Freie Jagd. The German pilots claimed two shot down; one each by Oberleutnant Gustav Rödel (Stab II./JG 27), 3 km south-east of Bir Hacheim at 4500m (08:15) and Oberfähnrich Willy Kientsch (Stab II./JG 27), 10 km south-west of Mteifel Chebir (08:20).
Maggiore Paolo Maddalena (MC.202 MM7805/84-2) led a formation of nine Macchis of the 10o Gruppo (three from each Squadriglie) on a free sweep over Bir Hacheim (07:45-08:50). The formation consisted of two sections; one at 3500 metres led by Maddalena himself and one as top cover at 4000 metres, led by Tenente Orlando Mandolini (CO 91a Squadriglia). At 08:05, they were over the target when they spotted about 15 P-40s 200 metres below and the Macchis dived on them, surprising them south of Bir Hacheim. The pilots of the 91a Squadriglia reportedly clashed with seven P-40s and in total the Italian pilots were credited with five destroyed and two probables. The victories were claimed by Maresciallo Luigi Bignami (84a Squadriglia, MM7928/84-9), Maresciallo Leonardo Ferrulli (91a Squadriglia) (two P-40s), Maggiore Maddalena (CO 10o Gruppo; possibly shared destroyed) and Sergente Maggiore Angelo Savini (90a Squadriglia). The two probabels were claimed by Sergente Livio Barbere (84a Squadriglia, MM7814/84-5) and Capitano Ranieri Piccolomini (CO 90a Squadriglia).
2 SAAF Squadron, led by Major Human and flying top cover to the Tomahawks, became engaged with four Bf 109s at 09:10, Lieutenant ‘Porky’de Waal (Kittyhawk Ia AL126/DB-R) claiming one shot down 6m south-east of Bir Hacheim and damaging one south-east of Bir Hacheim, with a second claimed damaged by Lieutenant ‘Dingle’ Burdon (AK392/R) 2m south-east of Bir Hacheim. Burdon was then shot down and crash-landed south-west of Bir Hacheim at 09:25; he got clear before his aircraft exploded in flames, returning safely next day.
Lieutenant de Waal reported:
“I saw a 109F to port about 1000 feet below me and climbing. I peeled off, and got up speed, and started climbing after him. I closed rapidly and gave him a short burst at about 250 yards. He heeled over and I watched him go down. I looked away for a brief while and when I looked again I saw him go straight in and burst into flames.”
Lieutenant Burdon reported:
“I saw two Kittyhawks attacked to port. I peeled off to port and as the 109 climbed up I managed to get m a full deflection shot, a burst of about three seconds, the result of which was white smoke pouring from the 109. This being confirmed (damaged) later. After my first burst another 109 climbed up to attack. We engaged head on; I pulled the tit and not one gun fired. The 109 must have realized this, so gave me all he had. My engine burst into flames. I eventually slipped down, and crash-landed, my under cart would not function. I did not bale out as I was approximately 800/1000’ and thought this too low.”
260 Squadron claimed a Bf 109 destroyed and one damaged at 09:10, the latter aircraft crash-landing (unidentified pilots).

On 13 June, twelve Ju 88s were off to attack motor transports east of El Adem (17:02-19:20). They had an escort of twelve Bf 109s of I./JG 27 (17:40-18:50). In combination with this action, five MC.202s of the 71a Squadriglia together with another eight from the 6o Gruppo were on a free sweep over the Bir Harmat-El Adem-Acroma area (17:40-19:00).
As many as four Commonwealth units scrambled to intercept them. Ten Hurricane IIcs of 213 Squadron were hunting for Italian reconnaissance planes (18:55-19:40). Additionally, there were three South African squadrons: six Kittyhawk Is of 2 SAAF Squadron (18:55-20:00), seven Tomahawk IIbs of 4 SAAF Squadron (19:00-20:25), and seven others of 5 SAAF Squadron.
Moreover, six Kittyhawks of 450 Squadron (19:04-19:20) had taken off to cover eight Kittybombers of 112 Squadron and attacked enemy aircraft in the Sidi Rezegh area (19:00-20:00). 450 Squadron sighted the enemy attacking formation (presumably thanks to the help of fighter control):

“… course WNW height 4000 observed 12 plus Ju 88 course westerly, 1000’ above, with 10 plus fighters stepped up 500’ above and higher. Our leader did a steep right hand climbing turn and attacked bombers head on from below, and with one other of the formation dived through the bomber formation. Several hits registered but no claims were made. Our ACs were then attacked by Me 109s, one AC being shot up Cat.I. …saw Kittyhawk burning on ground. Parachute open 5 miles N of El Adem. Sgt. Mc Farlane attacked by Hurricane over base.”
20-years-old Australian Sergeant William John Halliday (RAAF No. 406244, Kittyhawk AL117) and 19-years-old Sergeant Roy Stone (RAF No. 1258632, AK958) failed to return (both KIA); Pilot Officer J. C. Osborne (AL106) crash-landed and another plane was damaged (Cat.I); finally, Pilot Officer Felix Francis Joseph Edwards (RAF No. 80140; Kittyhawk I AK778) of 112 Squadron was also shot down at 19:40 (KIA).
213 Squadron was, in its turn, attacked by four Bf 109s north of El Adem without suffering any loss.
The Germans fighters claimed five victories in the El Adem area between 18:10 and 18:20 with Oberleutnant Hans Joachim Marseille of 3./JG 27 taking the lion’s share claiming his 84th to 87th victory in only five minutes. At 18:10, he claimed a P-40 5km west of El Adem, at 18:11 he claimed a P-40 3km north-west of El Adem, 18:14 he claimed a P-40 2km north-north-east of El Adem and at 18:15 he claimed a Hurricane II 3km east-north-east of El Adem. The fifth was claimed by Leutnant Hans Remmer of 1./JG 27, who claimed a Hurricane II at 18:20 north-west of El Adem.
The 450 Squadron attack appears to have been rather risky, even if it was courageous, and losses were heavy. It can be thought, taking into account a certain difference in the times, that the 112 Squadron pilots had also been victims of the Messerschmitt pilots.
It seems that the SAAF formation encountered only the Macchis of the 71a Squadriglia.
2 SAAF Squadron was attacked head on by two MC.202s at 11000 feet: both were shot down and the two pilots were seen to bale out (720 rounds). Lieutenant Vernon Lindsay (AL134/DB-H) reported:
“(19.05) 25+ EA reported 5 miles W of El Adem. (19.19, 11000) Just W of El Adem we observed bomb bursts in the Acroma area but had no time to get there as the formation was attacked ¼ head by two Macchi 202s. One turned slightly away about 75 yards ahead of me and he appeared to be firing wildly. I turned on to him and after a two second burst he appeared to be alight and poured black smoke. The pilot was then seen to bale out. 100 rounds.”
Lieutenant Robert Morton (AK926/DB-L) reported:
“… We turned S and saw two Macchi 202s approaching at our own height from ½ head on. I turned head on to the EA and gave him a 4 second burst starting at 1000 yards and closing to short range. I saw my tracers hitting the AC and shortly afterwards I saw black smoke and a parachute descending. Capt. Smith had a hand in the destruction of this AC. 400 rounds.”
Captain Eric Smith (AL223/DB-F) fired 200 rounds and the second MC.202 was shared between him and Morton.
4 SAAF reported the encounter with at least six Bf 109s and Major Hewitson (AN525/KJ-H) reported:
“(19.30, 9000’) As we approached we were vectored on the bandit snappers S of El Adem. I sighted two Me 109s flying E 2000 ft. below and the O.C. Wing ordered my squadron to attack. I went down with my No.2 and we each selected a Me 109. As I got within range the 109 climbed, but owing to my superior speed gained in the dive, I was able to keep right behind him firing all the time. The 109’s engine caught fire and stopped. I had to turn away to avoid crashing into him. The enemy AC was reported to have crashed just E of El Adem aerodrome.”
Lieutenant Jan van Nus (AN452/KJ-M), Hewitson’s No.2, damaged the second Bf 109. While diving on the two enemy aircraft, Lieutenant Graham Harford Kaufmann (AN400/KJ-V) and Lieutenant B. A. Robertshaw (AN428/KJ-K) saw a third Bf 109 at their same level flying at an angle of 45o across their noses. They both shot at him and claimed it destroyed. Lieutenant Sydney Cohen (AN397/KJ-U) reported:
“…I followed another Tomahawk which had dived down on two Me l09Fs which did not seem aware of our presence. As soon as they saw us on their tails they pulled up in a steep climbing turn to the left. I pulled my nose up and gave one a burst without seeing results; I was almost out of range. I then saw another Me 109 diving past me followed by two Tomahawks, I gave him a burst as he passed but again observed no result. …I lost my squadron…while flying along the railway line at 500’ SW of Gambut Main, I suddenly came across two MC202s at my own height, diving down on the railway line. I pulled in towards them and gave one a good burst and saw my tracers hitting him… 0.5-100tr, 500 ball, .303-500 ball, 500 AP.”
Cohen was credited with a probably destroyed MC.202 but his Tomahawk was then badly damaged and he belly-landed back at base (Cat.II).
5 SAAF Squadron didn’t record any action and just reported the presence of twelve Bf 109s.
In total, the South Africans claimed four enemy fighters shot down and two damaged.
The 71a Squadriglia’s diary reported that a formation of about ten enemy planes was intercepted and attacked in the midst of sand clouds. Five of them were machine-gunned and Capitano Ferdinando Vicentini (MM7751) and Tenente Sergio Morandi (MM7732) did not return (both were initially missing but in fact Morandi had been KIA while Vicentini had been taken PoW) while Tenente while Tenente Vittorio Bacchi-Andreoli (MM7859/71-1) was wounded but managed to land away from the airfield. However, they should have hit Cohen (130 rounds had been fired by the two returning planes).
The 6o Gruppo pilots did not participate in the clash, presumably because of the bad visibility.
This was to be the last and also the unluckiest combat of the 17o Gruppo in Libya.

Between 14:55-15:50 on 26 June, five Tomahawks (one returned early) of 5 SAAF Squadron and a mixed formation of six Tomahawks and Kittyhawks of 4 SAAF Squadron (with Major Hewitson in the first Kittyhawk assigned to 4 SAAF Squadron; AK835) escorted Bostons south-west of Mersa Matruh. Five Bf 109s were encountered by 5 SAAF Squadron, Lieutenant Edward William Popham (Tomahawk IIa AN421) being shot down and later being reported safe in hospital. 4 SAAF Squadron was jumped out of the sun by four Bf 109s, Major Hewitson being shot down and baling out over Axis territory to become a POW.
It is possible that they had run into Bf 109F-4 trops from 5./JG 27, which had four fighters flying a Freie Jagd. They encountered six Curtiss fighters and claimed four south-west of Mersa Matruh. The claimants being Leutnant Kurt Jenisch (WNr. 7417), who claimed a P-40 30 kilometres south-west of Mersa Matruh at 14:32 and a second at 14:43 at a height of 600 meters in the same area, Feldwebel Siegfried Fricke (WNr. 8466), who claimed a Hurricane south-west of Mersa Matruh at 14:35 and Oberfeldwebel Emil Clade, who claimed a P-40 at a height of 20 meters, 35 kilometres south-west of Mersa Matruh.

Hewitson was first sent to an Italian prisoner camp – PG 47.

The award of a DFC was gazetted on 16 March 1943. He was released from Stalag Luft III in May 1945 and returned to South Africa after two weeks in England.

Hewitson ended the war with 1 biplane victory and a total of 5.

He undertook a refresher course on twin-engined aircraft at 24 Air School and then in October was posted to 43 Air School, Grahamstown, as O/C, Flying.

His final posting was to Waterkloof in December, where he was demobilised that month. Returning to Pretoria University, he completed a degree in quantity surveying, married and settled in Cape Town. After a number of jobs he was appointed as a Government Quantity Surveyor, a position he held until October 1990, when he retired as Principal Quantity Surveyor.

He is believed to be living in retirement in Kenilworth, South Africa.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  18/09/40 14:50-17:15 ½ CR.42 (a) Shared destroyed Gladiator II N5852 Kassala area 1 SAAF Squadron
1 06/11/40   1 Ca.133 Destroyed Gladiator II   Metema area 1 SAAF Squadron
  06/11/40   1 Ca.133 Damaged on the ground Gladiator II   Metema area 1 SAAF Squadron
  22/01/41   ½ Ca.133 (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane I ’272’ Argodat airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  22/01/41   ½ Ca.133 (c) Shared damaged on the ground Hurricane I ’272’ Argodat airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  24/01/41   1 Ca.133 (d) Destroyed on the ground Hurricane I V7655 40m W Agordat 1 SAAF Squadron
  28/01/41 10:45- 1 S.79 (e) Damaged on the ground Hurricane I   Gura airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  28/01/41 10:45- 1 S.81 (e) Damaged on the ground Hurricane I   Gura airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  28/01/41 10:45- 1 Ca.133 (e) Damaged on the ground Hurricane I   Gura airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  28/01/41 10:45- 1 Ca.133 (e) Damaged on the ground Hurricane I   Gura airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  11/03/41   1 S.79 Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane I V7688 Keren 1 SAAF Squadron
  11/03/41   1 u/i e/a Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane I V7688 Keren 1 SAAF Squadron
2 11/03/42 16:00 1 Ju 88 (f) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN448/GL-H 75m N Gambut 5 SAAF Squadron
3 27/05/42 09:50 1 Bf 109 (g) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN448/GL-H 15m SW El Adem 5 SAAF Squadron
  29/05/42 16:10 1 Bf 109F (h) Damaged Tomahawk IIb AN448/GL-H nr Gazala 5 SAAF Squadron
4 04/06/42 09:15 1 Ju 87 (i) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN452/KJ-M 15m SW El Adem 4 SAAF Squadron
5 13/06/42 19:30 1 Bf 109 (j) Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN525/KJ-H E El Adem landing ground 4 SAAF Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 damaged on ground.
TOTAL: 5 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 damaged, 1 and 3 shared destroyed on ground, 5 and 1 shared damaged on ground.
(a) This claim has not been possible to verify with Italian records.
(b) Ca.133 (18-4) of 18 a Squadriglia.
(c) Probably from 18o Squadriglia.
(d) According to Aces High, this claim was made on 23rd January.
(e) These claims have not been possible to verify with Italian records.
(f) Ju 88A-4 WNr 142014 L1+BW of 12./LG 1 shot down with the crew KIA.
(g) Probably claimed in combat with Bf 109s from 9./JG 53, which didn’t suffer any losses.
(h) Claimed in combat with MC.202 from 4o Stormo, which claimed 3 P-40s destroyed and 2 probably destroyed while losing 1 MC.202 (pilot KIA). 5 SAAF Squadron claimed 1 MC.202 destroyed and 3 damaged while losing 1 Tomahawk IIb (pilot safe).
(i) Claimed in combat with Ju 87s from I. and II./StG 3, which lost 5 Ju 87s (one reportedly to AA). 4 SAAF and 5 SAAF Squadrons claimed 8 Ju 87s and 2 more damaged.
(j) Possibly claimed in combat with MC.202s from the 71a Squadriglia, which lost 3 MC.202s (2 pilots KIA) without claiming anything. 2 and 4 SAAF Squadrons claimed 4 MC.202s while losing suffering 1 badly damaged P-40.

Luciano Cacciavillani's personal logbook courtesy of Cacciavillani family (Luciano jr and Alberto)
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Two – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781909166127
Ali d'Africa - Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 IBN Editore, ISBN 88-7565-060-8
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Eagles over Gazala: Air Battles in North Africa May-June 1942 – Michele Palermo, IBN Editore, ISBN (10) 88-7565-168-X
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
Springbok Fighter Victory: East Africa Volume 1 1940 – 1941 – Michael Shoeman, 2002 African Aviation Series No. 11, Freeworld Publications CC, ISBN 0-958-4388-5-4
Additional info kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Michele Palermo, Tinus le Roux and Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 17 November 2021