Air Vice-mar­shal Ted Hawkins

Pi­lot who flew Catalina fly­ing-boats on a top-se­cret re­con­nais­sance op­er­a­tion over the high Arc­tic

The Daily Telegraph - - Obituaries -

AIR VICE-MAR­SHAL TED HAWKINS, who has died aged 97, was twice awarded the DFC for mar­itime pa­trol and anti-sub­ma­rine op­er­a­tions dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Af­ter a win­ter of fly­ing Catalina fly­ing-boats on At­lantic pa­trols and anti-u-boat sor­ties with No 240 Squadron, Hawkins was tasked to carry out a top-se­cret re­con­nais­sance to ob­tain in­for­ma­tion about the sea ice be­tween Jan Mayen Is­land and Spits­ber­gen Is­land in the high Arc­tic. He was also to re­port on the state of ice con­di­tions in the fjords of West Spits­ber­gen and to de­ter­mine if en­emy forces were on the is­land.

Two pas­sen­gers ac­com­pa­nied him and his crew when the air­craft left the Shet­land Is­lands on April 4 1942. One was the Nor­we­gian Cap­tain Ei­nar Sver­drup, who knew the area well, and the sec­ond was Lieu­tenant Com­man­der Alexan­der Glen, an ex­pe­ri­enced Arc­tic explorer who would later land on the is­land to con­duct clan­des­tine op­er­a­tions.

Fly­ing through se­vere weather en route, they were greeted by bril­liant sun­shine when they reached the edge of the ice to com­plete their re­con­nais­sance be­fore head­ing for Spits­ber­gen. They saw no ev­i­dence of the en­emy and were able to con­firm that sea con­di­tions were suit­able for fly­ing-boat op­er­a­tions. On re­turn to the Shet­lands af­ter a flight of 2,000 miles the crew had been air­borne for more than 24 hours. Hawkins and his nav­i­ga­tor were both awarded the DFC. The ci­ta­tion con­cluded: “These of­fi­cers showed great pow­ers of en­durance and their out­stand­ing per­for­mance is wor­thy of the high­est praise.”

The son of a mas­ter mariner in both sail and steam, Des­mond Ernest Hawkins, al­ways known as Ted, was born on De­cem­ber 12 1919 at Loughton in Es­sex and was ed­u­cated at Ban­croft’s School.

Leav­ing school in 1937, he started work as an in­sur­ance clerk, but re­signed af­ter three weeks. Walk­ing home, he chanced to meet an MP who was also the colonel of the Third Bat­tal­ion of the Lon­don Ir­ish Ri­fles of the Ter­ri­to­rial Army. Invit­ing him to join as a ri­fle­man, the colonel re­cruited him to un­der­take an un­der­cover in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing mis­sion in Ger­many, Aus­tria and Cze­choslo­vakia dur­ing the win­ter months of 1937-38. The mis­sion was to in­fil­trate the Hitler Youth Move­ment, which could be achieved quite openly by join­ing the Bri­tish Youth Hos­tel or­gan­i­sa­tion, which was af­fil­i­ated to the Wan­der­shaft of the Hitler Move­ment. The whole jour­ney was to be car­ried out on foot.

Af­ter for­mal brief­ings, Hawkins was taken to Aachen to be­gin his “long walk” of al­most 2,000 miles to Aus­tria, Cze­choslo­vakia and on to Ber­lin, us­ing Ger­man youth hos­tels and frater­nising with the Hitler Youth or­gan­i­sa­tion along the way.

His ad­ven­tures in­cluded sketch­ing Krupps ar­ma­ment works by moon­light, at­tend­ing a mass rally in Cologne ad­dressed by Hitler him­self, be­ing ques­tioned by the sus­pi­cious Gestapo (who failed to find the draw­ings in the lin­ing of his ruck­sack) and be­ing en­ter­tained and de­briefed by Bri­tish am­bas­sadors in Inns­bruck and Ber­lin. He was then taken by car to Ham­burg to join a Bri­tish cargo ship ar­riv­ing in Lon­don to be de­briefed at the end of Jan­uary 1938.

Two months later he joined the RAF on a short-ser­vice com­mis­sion and trained as a pi­lot be­fore be­ing as­signed to No 1 Anti-air­craft Co-op­er­a­tion Unit fly­ing a va­ri­ety of air­craft act­ing as tar­gets for anti-air­craft units. Af­ter at­tend­ing a spe­cial­ist re­con­nais­sance course, he con­verted to fly­ing-boats be­fore join­ing No 240 Squadron based in North­ern Ire­land in Septem­ber 1941.

Af­ter the Arc­tic sor­tie the squadron was or­dered to fly to Madras to open up a new base. Four air­craft, in­clud­ing Hawkins’s, were de­tained at Gi­bral­tar in June 1942 to carry out an­ti­sub­ma­rine pa­trols in sup­port of the con­voys sail­ing to Malta.

On June 6 he spot­ted a sur­faced U-boat near the Balearic Is­lands and he dived to at­tack. Avoid­ing heavy anti-air­craft fire he dropped four depth charges. The sub­ma­rine sub­merged leav­ing a large pool of oil on the sea. It soon resur­faced and was ob­served set­tling by the stern. Its crew be­gan to ar­rive on deck as oth­ers jumped into the sea. Shortly af­ter, the Ital­ian U-boat Zaf­firo sank. Hawkins de­cided to land to pick up sur­vivors and leave life­sav­ing equipment but the heavy swell dam­aged the Catalina’s hull and he was forced to aban­don his res­cue at­tempt and re­turn to Gi­bral­tar. For this at­tack he was awarded a Bar to his DFC.

Hav­ing re­turned the patched air­craft to the UK for re­pair, Hawkins and his crew were sent to as­sist the scat­tered Ar­changel con­voy PQ 17, go­ing on to alight at Mur­mansk. From there they joined the hunt for sur­vivors and for the Tir­pitz and its es­corts – a task he re­garded as near sui­ci­dal in an air­craft as slow as the Catalina.

A month later, he set off to re-join his squadron in Madras. From Au­gust 1942 to Oc­to­ber 1944 he flew on con­voy es­cort du­ties, anti-sub­ma­rine pa­trols and spe­cial duty op­er­a­tions in­clud­ing drop­ping agents along the coasts of Burma and Malaya. He was men­tioned in dis­patches.

Af­ter a spell on the air staff in Cey­lon, he took com­mand of No 230 Squadron in Sin­ga­pore, fly­ing the Sun­der­land on re­lief op­er­a­tions to iso­lated gar­risons in New Guinea and to repa­tri­ate sick Pows and Dutch in­ternees from Malaya and Java to hos­pi­tals in In­dia.

In April 1946 he re­turned to Eng­land to com­mand the fly­ing-boat base in Pem­brokeshire be­fore tak­ing charge of the Mar­itime Air­craft Ex­per­i­men­tal Es­tab­lish­ment at Felixs­towe. He was later in charge of ad­min­is­tra­tion at RAF Kin­loss in Mo­rayshire, one of the RAF’S largest mar­itime air­bases.

He left for Malta in Jan­uary 1955 to com­mand No 38 Squadron equipped with Shack­le­tons. For his ser­vices dur­ing the Suez cri­sis he was again men­tioned in dis­patches.

Af­ter at­tend­ing the Joint Ser­vices Staff Col­lege and a tour on the plans staff in the Air Min­istry, Hawkins re­turned to the mar­itime world as the se­nior air staff of­fi­cer at No 19 (Mar­itime) Group in Ply­mouth. In 1964 he took com­mand of RAF Ten­gah, the RAF’S largest op­er­a­tional base in the Far East – the sta­tion com­ple­ment was some 15,000 peo­ple. His Strike Wing of Can­berra, Hunter and Javelin squadrons were heav­ily in­volved dur­ing the In­done­sian Con­fronta­tion cam­paign. At the end of his tour he was ap­pointed CBE.

On pro­mo­tion to air com­modore in 1968 he com­manded the RAF’S large air trans­port base, col­lect­ing the RAF’S last Her­cules C-130K air­craft from the Lock­heed fac­tory in the USA.

As an air vice-mar­shal he was the se­nior air staff of­fi­cer at HQ RAF Strike Com­mand at a time when a new gen­er­a­tion of com­bat air­craft were be­ing in­tro­duced into ser­vice. He was ap­pointed CB in June 1971.

Hawkins spent the last three years of his ser­vice be­fore re­tir­ing in 1974 as the Direc­tor Gen­eral of Per­son­nel Ser­vices (RAF) in the MOD. He then joined the Ser­vices Kinema Cor­po­ra­tion as the deputy man­ag­ing direc­tor.

He re­tired to Lyming­ton in 1981 where he con­tin­ued his life­long pur­suit of sail­ing. He was a com­mit­tee mem­ber, cap­tain of cruis­ing, Vice Com­modore and fi­nally a Trus­tee of the Royal Lyming­ton Yacht Club.

A qui­etly con­fi­dent but ap­proach­able man, Hawkins was liked and re­spected by his sub­or­di­nates, to whom he showed great loy­alty. One of his squadron com­man­ders at Ten­gah com­mented: “Most of those serv­ing un­der him at that time ad­mit that it was one of their hap­pi­est tours.”

In 1947 Ted Hawkins mar­ried Joan Hol­ford, an ex WAAF of­fi­cer who had been wid­owed in 1942. She died in 2015; their son also pre­de­ceased him and a step­son sur­vives him.

AVM Ted Hawkins, born De­cem­ber 12 1919, died Oc­to­ber 22 2017

Hawkins: be­fore the war, he was re­cruited for in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing in Ger­many, in­clud­ing frater­nising with the Hitler Youth

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