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Pilot Officer ( Later Squadron Leader ) Ron Hawkins MC, AFC, RAF. 103 Sqdn

103 Squadron Hawkins

 Ron Hawkins was born in 1916 in Harwich, Essex. His family moved to Ipswich in 1928 and, on leaving school, he took up an apprenticeship with a firm of chartered mechanical engineers where he qualified as a draftsman. In December 1935 the Air Ministry advertised for vacancies in the RAF Reserve as non-commissioned pilots. This attracted Ron who was an outdoor adventurous type by nature. He was already an experienced sailor of small boats in the River Orwell and around the coast. He trained part time at No 6 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School, Sywell and on the 23rd April 1936 flew solo. He returned for further training periodically until he finally became a qualified pilot in April 1937. He joined the Straight Corporation at Ipswich aerodrome in June 1937 flying calibration flights for Army anti aircraft and sound locating units and providing training for Observer Corps.

In September 1937 he was provisionally accepted for a commission in the Reserve of Air Force Officers, undertook a further period of training, and was confirmed Acting Pilot Officer in November 1937.

After a year of service/training in the RAF Ron went onto the Reserve and rejoined the Straight Corporation in September 1938. The company planned to add flight training of RAFVR pilots to its activities and he was sent on a flying instructors course which he completed in November 1938. He continued to work as an instructor until the start of the war.

Ron Hawkins was recalled for active service in October 1939 and undertook conversion to Fairey Battles with 63 Reserve Squadron at Benson. He was then transferred to 98 Sq which moved to France in April 1940.

98 Sq was based in Western France and used in a reserve and training role on behalf of the Advanced Air Striking Force, a role which was unaffected by German invasion on the 10th May.

Ron was transferred to a front line unit, 103 Squadron based at Rheges, on the 24th May 1940. He flew several operations during his short time with the unit but was shot down on the 14th June 1940 in a daylight attack on on German troop concentrations near Evreux.

The following is a verbatim transcription of Ron’s report of this flight and his subsequent capture evasion and escape completed on his eventual return to the UK.

“ P/O Hugill and I took off at 1845 hours on the 14th June 1940 from the French landing ground at Souge to attack enemy units in the large forest South West of Evreux: climbing most of the time we reached an area a few miles South of the target area at 8,000 feet at 1920 hours - to be attacked by approximately 11 ( eleven ) Me 109s. Our intercommunication was not good and I had difficulty hearing Hugill’s report as to their different directions of attack: however as the forest was in sight and only a few miles ahead I carried on and managed to release 2 bombs on some transport and whilst doing this was attacked from astern and underneath, resulting in my control column coming away from its mounting and the bottom of the cockpit taking fire - the aircraft, now out of control, continued to dive at an increasing angle. Hugill was ordered to take to his parachute and I followed after having tried unsuccessfully to get out in the approved manner owing to the air pressure but eventually managed to work my feet up over the instrument panel, over the top and slightly to one side of the windscreen and so letting the air pressure pull me out by the heels and legs. I pulled the rip-cord immediately and regretted it at once as a was given a few short bursts of fire - finding myself not heavy enough to spill the air from the canopy by pulling the shroud lines on one side, I hung limp shamming that I had been hit. Hugill was floating down several miles away and I have not seen him since, as you know he is now a prisoner of war. My aircraft and one of the 109s crashed fairly near the target - the 109 was presumably shot down by Hugill, possibly helped by the bursts of front gun that I gave them whenever they went by the nose after attacking.

 I landed in the very forest that I had set out to bomb, hid my parachute and left the forest as quickly as I could by the Western side, lay in a cornfield and watched them searching the wood for me.

 At dark I started marching South by the stars travelling cross country all that night, hiding the next day and on again the next night, hoping to regain our own lines, but had had nothing to eat or drink since lunch time on the 14th and while looking for water in a farm yard was captured by seven German soldiers at  about 0200hours on the 16th June. I was driven to a sub headquarters, given breakfast with a German Lieutenant and then taken away to a head quarters unit near Vernon ( Position since given to Intelligence ) and interrogated, giving my name, rank and number but managed to pick up the piece of paper on which the interrogator had written this information, as I left the office. From here I was taken to a former French barracks at Vernon and put with about 300 French prisoners, here the food was quite reasonable and the treatment was good. The captors allowed us to enter the French stores and to help ourselves to French kit, so I obtained haversack, water bottle, chisel, a pair of pliers and a file when no one was looking, with a view to planning an escape.

 On Tuesday the 18th we were taken by lorries to a camp West of Evreux. It consisted of a flour mill and house used for German offices and living quarters, a small field for about 2000French prisoners and an outhouse for approximately 30 French officers, 3 British Army officers, a Flight Lieutenant from a fighter squadron and myself. The whole thing was surrounded by barbed wire, machine guns and was bordered on the South by a river. I took the names and addresses of the British officers next of kin having unsuccessfully tried to persuade them to escape with me, made my escape in the early hours of the 19th by crawling along the sewage trench every time the sentries had their backs to me and swimming the river that formed part of the Southern boundary of the camp. Unfortunately I lost my trousers and money crossing the river ( having taken them off thinking it was shallow enough to wade ), so I had to put my shirt on with my legs through the arm  holes.

 I knew the rough direction of the coast line and marching by night and hiding by day, reached Trouville ( a small town and harbour on the Channel coast, 10 miles South of Havre) on the 22nd June - on this day I was given old civilian clothes and bread and sugar by a friendly farmer, having previously lived on biscuits saved from the prison, supplemented by potatoes from the fields and milk when I could find willing cows.

 Once in civilian clothes, the going was much simplified and I travelled by day, at first avoiding German soldiers and main roads, but as I got bolder, walking with or near them and answering their queries as to direction in bad French, generally saying  “La Bas” and pointing with an authoritative air down the road and hoping it was the wrong direction.

 I was disappointed at finding no suitable boats for the Channel crossing at Trouville, so I crossed the Seine with some refugees and searched the coast from Le Havre, through St. Valerie, Dieppe and up to Le Treport, but finding no suitable boats - only hundreds of the Army of Occupation, so I turned South again and reached Carteret ( on the West coast of the Cherbourg peninsular ) on the 30th June.

Carteret is the nearest point on the French coast to Jersey and some of the journey to Carteret was carried out on a stolen bicycle, as my shoes were getting worn out and my feet getting blistered; the former being remedied by packing the soles with canvas from abandoned motor cars on the road side and the latter (my feet) being made more comfortable by wrapping them up in my first aid field dressing. Food was begged or stolen as required.

 I obtained a canvas canoe and allowing 40 degrees of drift, steered a rough star course for Jersey, landed there on the 1st July and was given food and drink but told that the enemy had occupied the island that day, so returned to the mainland, which looks only 5 miles away but turns out to be 15, that night.

 On returning to France I met a farmer who gave me his hospitality and 50 francs, so I left Carteret for Vichy on the 7th July - realising that walking was too slow I stole quite a good bicycle and, having crept over the occupied/non occupied border, reached Vichy on the 11th; here I spent 48 of my 50 francs on a wire home reporting myself safe.

 Little help seemed forthcoming from the American Consul at Vichy.

  At Vichy I met 4 Army officers who were also trying to get home to England - they were more or less interned and under police supervision and, not knowing this at the time, I myself was nearly interned by going to get a meal with them at what appeared to be a temporary demobilisation centre  for the French army.

  I left Vichy hurriedly on the 13th and reached Marseilles on the 16th, hoping to contact some neutral ship captains Marseilles was a “closed dock” and it was difficult to get past the gendarmes guarding the gates leading to the wharves, however carrying a piece of bamboo, string and a fish hook a French man ( who I met at Marseilles and who also wanted to return to England ) and I managed to creep into the dock yard, drop our fishing tackle, pick up an empty packing case and walk with it up to the only neutral ship, whose Greek skipper was friendly, but did not know when he was sailing - about Xmas he thought.

 The British Consulate had officially closed but 2 members of the Consulate were working behind closed doors and gave me 346 francs - what I wanted was 1000 francs for a Spanish visa on an identity paper that the American Consul in the town had given me. The sailors home was opened in an unofficial sort of way for stranded British subjects, so I, getting fed up with sleeping out, went there on the same day that I got my 346 francs: at the home there were 30 men, at least 20 being from the British army, and 4 of that 20 were officers. I stayed at this establishment from the 22nd-25th July, trying to obtain a boat to leave Marseilles, but on the morning of the 25th the local police made a round up and took away some of the people from the Sailor’s Home for internment at Fort St Jean, so I made a hasty exit and, as the roads leading out of the town were well watched and guarded, took a train to Perpignan with the French man previously mentioned and 2 British Army officers. From Perpignan , we proceeded to the frontier town of Cerebere and, on the night of the 27th July climbed the Pyrenees into Spain. I consumed some mountain water which I afterwards learned had been a breeding place for mosquitos and, 1 day afterwards developed a fever and diarrhoea. On this day we were captured by Spanish soldiers but luckily, after being detained for a night in the village where we were caught, were taken to the Frontier Commission at Figuras, at which town there is a British Consular agent, who we managed to get word to. He obtained our temporary release from the guard room and put us up at a hotel in the town. After this it was just a matter of waiting until Sir Samuel Hoare, British Ambassador in Madrid, had arranged for our official release and removal to Gibralter, which was entered via Gerona, Barcelona and Madrid on September the 23rd.

 From Gibralter I sent a signal to the Air Ministry Intelligence Dept giving location of suitable targets and other military information written down and hidden in a bar of soap while walking through Northern France. I also wrote a very brief paper on “Hints for Prisoners Escaping from the North of France” and sent this by flying boat to the escaping expert, Flight Lieutenant Evans at the Air Ministry, hoping that this may be useful to anyone unfortunate enough to be shot down whilst bombing the Northern Ports of France.

 At Gibralter I managed to carry out a 7 hour trip in a London flying boat and a 3 hour trip in a Swordfish float plane ( Both anti submarine patrols ).

On the 7th October I left Gibralter in a Sunderland flying boat, reaching the UK on the morning of the 8th October 1940.”

  On arrival in the UK Ron was debriefed for a couple of days at the MI9(b) London Transit Camp before going on leave with instructions not to mention to anyone the identities of those who had helped him whilst on the run in France.

 He then qualified as a flying instructor at No 2 CFS Cranwell and was posted to 22 EFTS at Cambridge. On the 17th March 1941 the London Gazette announced the award of the Military Cross to Ron Hawkins for his daring and resourceful escape and evasion.

 He then returned to No 2 CFS at Cranwell, this time to teach trainee flying instructors. He was posted as Acting Squadron Leader to No 16 Polish Service Flying Training Unit at Newton in May 42. When he left Newton on the 21st January 1943, his logbook was noted by his CO that his ability as a flying instructor was “ Exceptional”. Ron was awarded the Air Force Cross for his work as a flying instructor, gazetted on the 2nd April 1943.

He was posted to No 59 Operational Training Unit at Millfield in February 1943 and then, in June 1943, to 56 Squadron Matlaske, in Norfolk, as “ Supernumerary Flying” in preparation to his taking command of the Squadron.

401 Hawkins web site (2)

Above - Sqdn Ldr Hawkins pictured at Buckingham Palace

56 Squadron were in the process of converting to Typhoons at the time. The Squadron was then transferred to Manston and he undertook many operational ground attack and escort flights.

On the 7th September 1943 he was given command of another Typhoon unit, 3 Sq, also at Manston and continued to fly Ramrod, Rhubarb and Roadstead operations on a regular basis.

Ron Hawkins was sadly killed on the 5th October 1943 flying a low level Ramrod operation to attack the Sinclair petroleum refinery at Langerbrugge about 6 miles North of Ghent in Belgium. Flying with his No 2, Sgt R W Pottinger, Ron was separated from the rest of his Squadron near the target. As they approached the objective they came under heavy fire from flak guns mounted on railway wagons. Each pilot pulled over on either side of some large chimneys and as Pottinger levelled out he saw the refinery disintegrate as the bombs released by the 2 Typhoons exploded. Pottinger then noticed Ron still turning with smoke billowing from beneath his Typhoon as he banked away. The Typhoon gradually lost height and he baled out but was too low and his parachute failed to deploy in time. The aircraft crashed about half a mile from the target.

Squadron Leader R Hawkins MC AFC RAF was buried at Ghent City Cemetery. He was a most resourceful and determined character and a courageous and outstanding airman in best traditions of the RAF.

World War 2 was a time of great personal tragedy for the Hawkins family. Ron’s brother, Lieutenant Commander F W Hawkins RN, was lost at sea when the destroyer he commanded, HMS Boadicea, was sunk off Portland in June 1944. In addition Ron’s mother, Judith, was killed in a motor accident earlier in the war.

Acknowledgements.

I am most grateful to John Hawkins, the nephew of Ron and son of Lieutenant Commander F W Hawkins for submitting a most interesting file of information regarding his late uncle together with a number of excellent photographs. In addition I am also grateful to Bruce Burton for his permission to use extracts from his most comprehensive research on Ron Hawkins.

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