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

At 14:55 on 26 June, five Tomahawks of 5 SAAF Squadron and a mixed formation of six Tomahawks and Kittyhawks of 4 SAAF Squadron escorted bombers south-west of Mersa Matruh. Five Bf 109s were encountered by 5 SAAF Squadron, Lieutenant Edward William Popham being shot down, 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 109s from 5./JG 27, which claimed four P-40s south-west of Mersa Matruh. The claimants being Leutnant Kurt Jenisch, 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, who claimed a P-40 south-west of Mersa Matruh at 14:35, Feldwebel Siegfried Fricke, who claimed a P-40 south-west of Mersa Matruh at 14:35 and Oberfeldwebel Emil Clade, who claimed a P-40 at an 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.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  18/09/40 14:50-17:15 ˝ 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
  1941                
  22/01/41   ˝ Ca.133 (b) Shared destroyed on the ground Hurricane I ’272’ Argodat airfield 1 SAAF Squadron
  22/01/41   ˝ 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
  1942                
2 11/03/42   1 Ju 88 Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN448 'GL-H' 75m N Gambut 5 SAAF Squadron
3 27/03/42   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN448 'GL-H' 15m SW El Adem 5 SAAF Squadron
  29/03/42   1 Bf 109F Damaged Tomahawk IIb AN448 'GL-H' Gazala 5 SAAF Squadron
4 04/06/42   1 Ju 87 Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN452 'GL-M' 15m SW El Adem 4 SAAF Squadron
5 13/06/42   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Tomahawk IIb AN525 'GL-H' Gazala-Tmimi 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 has not been possible to verify with Italian records.

Sources:
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
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
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 15 November 2014