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Flying Officer Henry Peter Dixon

607 and 145 Squadrons (Service No 90283) An RAF ‘Ace’ and Casualty at Dunkirk

“Where the bloody hell were you lot”? a sentence hurled accusingly by a returning soldier towards a RAF pilot who had also been rescued from the beaches, in one of the last scenes from the latest blockbuster film Dunkirk, produced by Christopher Nolan in 2017.

Of course, this is just an entertaining film and not a documentary, as anyone who has read the actual history of Dunkirk will know, the RAF were certainly there, fighting and dying in aerial combat thousands of feet above the beaches. One of those heroic pilots killed at Dunkirk in June 1940 was Flying Officer Henry Peter Dixon, flying Hurricane P2952 from 145 Squadron based at RAF Tangmere, West Sussex.

Here is his life and death history:-

Born on the 12th February 1915 at Darlington, and Christened Henry (but better known as Peter), he was the second son born to John Reginald and Elsie Margaret (née Gunion) Dixon, all living at a house called Quarriston, in Heighington, Darlington, County Durham, just a mile from the Stockton and Darlington Railway line.

Peter was first educated at a boarding school run by nuns at Sandrock Hall located on The Ridge, in Hastings Sussex, from September 1923 until July 1928, then gaining a place at Marlborough College, Wiltshire from September 1928 until July 1933.

Peter then graduated to Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge in October 1933 during which time he was accommodated in Cloister Court and then 3 Malcolm Street,Cambridge. During his spare time he joined the University Air Squadron, and obtained his Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate on the 12th June 1936 (13970), with his licence issued on the 30th June (No: 9884)

Peter passed his First, Second and Third Examinations in Engineering Studies, qualifying for an Ordinary B.A. on the 20th June 1936.

On leaving university Peter joined the Cleveland Bridge Company at Darlington, as an engineer (his father was the Managing Director at the time.

Above: The Westland Wapitis

He kept up his flying by joining No 607 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force ( B Flight) and was commissioned a Pilot Officer on the 20th December 1936 (shown in LG 9.2.37). He was given £40 to purchase a full uniform from the firm of ‘Allkit’ although he had to purchase a greatcoat privately. 607 was a day bomber unit at that time, flying Westland Wapitis, and training on the Avro 504N, based at RAF Usworth, County Durham.

Flight Lieutenant William Henry Turner was an experienced flying instructor from the Central Flying School (CFS) who joined the Auxiliary 607 Squadron in July 1937. His flying logbook records that on the 24th July he took trainee pilot Peter Dixon on a routine training flight in a Hawker Hart K6482.

From August 1937 until March 1939 Peter spent time in Calcutta, with the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company, working on the foundations of the New Howrah Bridge.

Above: 607 Squadron 1938 - Peter Dixon is shown on the far right - back row.

607 Squadron later re-equipped with Hawker Demons and was changed from a bomber squadron into that of a fighter squadron, and by December 1938 it had received Gloster Gladiator aircraft.

By the 12th August 1939, Pilot Officer Dixon had rejoined the squadron and flew with them from Usworth via the East Coast and Turnhouse to the home of the Glasgow Auxiliaries at Abbotsinch, in order to carry out their annual fortnight’s training.

On the 13th August five members of ‘A’ flight, Peter Dixon, Joe Kyall, Will Gore, Francis Blackadder, Dick Glover along with Jim Bazin from ‘B’ Flight set out to climb the 974 metre high Ben Lomond, situated in the Grampian Mountains, rather than attend the church service. On their descent, plunging themselves into the icy Loch, followed up by stopping at the Buchanan Arms at Dryman for ‘refreshments’.

Left: Buchanan Arms Dryman

On the 24th August the AAF and the WAAF, together with the RAFVR were embodied into the RAF and 607 Squadron were ordered to return to RAF Usworth post-haste, due to the political situation. On their arrival they were met by the sight of manned machine gun-posts and personnel dressed in anti-gas regalia 607 would soon be in the action as a Fighter Squadron within 13 Group, defending Sunderland, and the northeast of England. At the outbreak of WW2 the RAF went to war with just under 200,000personnel, of whom 12,600 were officers 3,000 of those from the AAF, who could muster together 20 flying and 44 balloon squadrons.

Around 22:00hrs on the 3rd September 1939, three officer pilots from Red Section of ‘A’ Flight, Francis Blackadder, Will Gore and Peter Dixon were the first to fly their Gladiator’s in a South patrol line, searching the darkness for a reported sighting of the enemy, giving up after 40 minutes, having completed the first patrol of the war for 607.

On Monday October 16th after refuelling at RAF Drem, the entire squadron was called to readiness as distant heavy firing could be heard coming from the area around the Firth of Fourth . At 14:45 hours all four sections took off towards the firing, Dixon was part of yellow section with Gore and Blackadder. On their arrival the section saw HMS Mohawk under attack from Ju 88’s of 1/KG 30 of the Luftwaffe, and dived down to assist, but found themselves only to be fired upon by the eager gunners of the destroyer.

Spitfires of 602 and 603 Squadrons also attacked and managed to shoot down two of the enemy bombers, the rest making a hasty retreat at sea level.

Dixon Gore - ? - Pumphrey - Parrott - Blackadder - Smith

On October 25th Red Section consisting of Gore, Blackadder and Dixon sighted an unknown aircraft whilst on patrol and gave chase, hoping for a ‘kill’ only to find it to be an American Lockhead Hudson with British markings.

By November the French High Command were pressing for more English fighters to be based in France, which triggered the Gladiator’s of both 607 and 617 joining the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) under the control of 61 Wing. Orders were given to fly down south to Croydon Airport.

Taking off from Croydon at 11:30 hrs on the 15th November, some forty five aircraft eventually landed in the water logged landing ground at Merville around 1pm, where the officers were billeted in the town, whilst the airmen were billeted in a grain silo.

On the 6th December the B Flight Commander, John Sample, together with a number of other officers and airmen went to Seclin in order to be inspected by HM The King, along with Lord Gort.

After the inspection, Red section of ‘A’ Flight consisting of Gore, Blackadder and Dixon were ordered up to patrol base, to protect HM The King but no enemy aircraft were seen, and they returned at dusk to find the landing ground lit up by 4 gallon petrol cans, due to bad visibility caused by low lying fog. Due to the bad muddy conditions at Merville, a decision was made on the 11th December to move the squadron to Vitry -en-Artois.

The squadron soon settled into life in France during the harsh winter, even though at times during the day it would mean sitting around their Nissan type huts waiting for a ‘scramble’.

Regular dawn patrols would start with the engine oil being heated by the ground crew, and replaced from the previous nights draining, into the now frozen engines of the aircraft that had stood in the open all night. On their days off the officers gained light relief by dining with other French units, along with plenty of wine drunk, whilst being entertained by leading variety stars from Paris.

On one occasion Dixon and Peter Parrot actually took the journey to Paris in order to see Maurice Chevalier and Josephine Baker at the Lido nightclub.

Francis Blackadder would recall in a letter to me in 1993:-

“At Merville and again at Vitry, Peter was the ‘A’ flight mess secretary and comfort-maker-in chief as well as the Flight Chef.

He would procure all sorts of pots, pans, cups and saucers and goodies from neighbouring towns, storing them carefully in our Nissen hut.

During those cold winter days he would solemnly lay the fire and get it going into a roaring fire for us all”.

607 Squadron March 1940 in Vitry en Artois - Peter Dixon standing in front of window

On the 5th January 1940, Peter was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer, (shown in the London Gazette of 11.6.40 with effect 5.1.40), and went out with other officers to celebrate at one of the finest fish restaurants L’Huitriere in Lille, Peter unfortunately stumbling into a Major General, knocking him over, where upon a hasty retreat was made, after a lot of saluting

On the 13th January Dixon was flying in red section with Pumphrey and Blackadder when they spotted a Luftwaffe Do 215 reconnaissance aircraft at a high altitude, with two French Curtiss aircraft chasing it.

Blackadder saw the Do 215 eventually crash near Calais Marc Airfield, and the next day with Dixon, Pumphrey and others from 607 they went to the crash site, and were surprised to see how small it was with no armaments on board.

The weather then deteriorated, making it impossible to fly, and it wasn’t until 4th February that patrols could continue. Dixon took part in flying patrols on the 7th 10th, and 11th February.

On the 24th February Honorary Air Commodore Leslie Runciman, the former Commanding Officer of 607 made a flying visit, staying overnight, and was duly entertained in the Officers Mess.

Honorary Air Commodore Leslie Runciman visits 607 in France 24th February 1940! Peter Dixon shown 2nd left outside the Nissan Hut.

It was during this period that 607 Squadron became part of the 61st Fighter Wing, in 14 Group, giving it a new credibility.

Pilot Officer Peter Parrot joined the squadron on the 29th February, the only pilot who had flown a Hurricane during his training, and who now had to take a backward step in having to fly the Gladiator.

It was around this time that Peter Dixon used to meet up with his brother John, a Major in the Royal Artillery, part of the BEF in France. On one occasion Peter took John up in his Gladiator for a mock diving attack on his AA gun position at Arras. They were lucky the troops were fore-warned

On the 11th April the squadron received orders to move to Abbeville, and within days 10 new Hurricane aircraft arrived, with more following, 607 was now officially a Hurricane Squadron. Peter Parrot’s previous experience with the aircraft meant he was soon instructing others on how to fly it.

On the 14th March 1940 the Daily Sketch newspaper made a big splash on the pilots of the Auxiliary Air Force in France under the heading:-

Sky ‘Larks’ Made Them Airmen

Amateurs Who Trained In Their Spare Time Now Fly In France

Whitty, Parrott, Forester, Smith, Kayll, Dixon, ?

From the 22nd April most of the pilots in the squadron were able to take some leave having completed their training on the new fighter. There was a surprise waiting for the squadron on their return:-

At dawn on Friday the 10th May 1940, German forces were sweeping into Belgium and France under Fall Gelb (Operation Yellow): Blitzkrieg had begun.

607 Pilots briefing before a morning sortie with Peter Dixon.

The first 607 Squadron knew about it was at 04:15 with the wailing of the alert alarms, with heavy gunfire from the airfields pom-pom’s followed by low flying Luftwaffe Me 109’s strafing the airfield. Shortly after this initial attack the squadron were in hot pursuit of the enemy.

By 05:15 on the 10th, F/O. Plinston in company with F/O. Gore and P/O. Dixon of A Flight (Yellow Section) were ordered off, and were soon engaged with 3 Ju 88’s over Douai. Plinston’s combat report:-

We took off on sight of one aircraft. Climbed and chased e/a which went into Belgium. Broke off when another a/c attacked. Observed AA fire bursts at 3 a/c flying south, then east. Attacked. No visible results except that rear gunners did not fire after first 2/3 bursts. E/A flew straight into sun.

My a/c suffered a few bullet strikes.

Gores report:

"When attacked, e/a turned into sun and remained so. Defensive fire from dustbin put out of action in third attack. E/a dropped what appeared to be a string of black balls.

Action broken off with e/a pouring oil from both engines.

1 He 111 claimed destroyed". (*possibly from 2/KG27 - all crew baling out)

There is no existing combat report from Dixon for his part in the combat.

Just two hours later, having snatched a quick breakfast, Peter Dixon was back up in the air flying Hurricane P2574 AF-F along with P/O. Parrott and F/O. Gore. They landed at 08:05 reporting no contact with the enemy.

At 15:10 Peter Dixon was back in the air with Red Section, on his third sortie of the day, this time flying Hurricane P3448 AF-H, along with P/O. Trevor Jay, and P/O. Tony Dini. Whilst patrolling over Ath-Leuze area they met with four He 111’s.

Peter Dixon recorded the events for his combat report:-

“I was flying Red 3 on patrol when four He111’s were sighted being attacked by three Hurricanes. One dropped back with starboard engine revving slowly. I attacked which stopped it’s port engine. The aircraft then released bomb loads in fields and was seen gliding down for ground with both motors stopped, resumed patrol”

Dixon was awarded a 1/3 share in the destruction of a He 111.

P/O Dini combat report:-

“I was Red 2 when I carried out an attack with Red 3 on He 111, which gave out great quantities of oil and smoke from both engines, which covered my windscreen and I had to return to base. When last seen e/a was diving for the ground (Nr Lille)”

Dini was awarded a 1/3 share in the destruction of He 111

P/O Jay Combat Report:-

“Red Section sighted enemy and executed No 3 attack during which we split up.

I delivered two attacks on the second.The undercarriage of the enemy aircraft dropped, the port engine blew up and black smoke came out.

I followed the enemy down and it crashed near a village”.

Jay was awarded a 1/3 share in the destruction of He 111.

Once again that day Dixon was on patrol, between 18:30-19:15 when he was leading Yellow Section in Hurricane P2573 - AF-A, along with P/O Peter Parrott (on his 5th sortie) and P/O Jay when they encountered 27 He111’s flying at 10,000 feet.

Dixon’s Combat Report gives this information:-

"I sighted AA fire and headed towards it, and saw enemy bombers, we attacked individually owing to scattered enemy formation. We attacked five aircraft, my own aircraft was hit in the oil tank”

Dixon was awarded one He111 destroyed and one damaged.

P/O. Parrott ( Hurricane P2356-AF-C ) claimed one destroyed and one damaged.

P/O. Jay (Hurricane P 2571-AF-G) claimed two He111 destroyed.

Peter Dixon’s day started on the 11th May fairly casually at 06:20 hours, when he led five Hurricanes on a patrol for 35 minutes, after which they were re-called for breakfast.

This would turn out to be an exciting day to remember for Peter Dixon.

Nothing happened until 1 pm, when Red Section consisting of F/O. Blackadder, P/O. Dini and P/O. Dixon (flying P 2573 AF-A) were scrambled with Blue Section (F/O. Bazin and F/O. Thompson) after a single He 111 was sighted at 4,000 feet, 20 miles NNE of Brussels. The combat reports of those involved gives a good insight on the action that was to follow:-

P/O. Dini Red Section:-

"Five of our aircraft pursued enemy aircraft in NNE direction from Brian-le-Contre. E/A went into clouds, when emerging I attacked from above and behind, starboard engine exploded. Rear gunner fired short burst at the beginning of the attack, E/A went down out of control and crashed - other Hurricanes attacked E/A unnecessarily".

F/O Bazin Blue 1:-

"Two aircraft of blue section were patrolling with red section, when I attacked the E/A after one aircraft of red section. The starboard engine of the E/A stopped after the attack (following further attacks by other aircraft). Blue 2 (Thompson) attacked later with a quarter attack. Flames seen coming from port wing root. E/A crashed and burst into flames".

F/O Thompson Blue 2:-

"After one aircraft of red section and Blue 1 attacked, I carried out two attacks from astern and quarter. E/A appeared to be in difficulties before I attacked. As I broke away, E/A was seen to be on fire and exploded on crashing".

F/O Blackadder Red 1:-

"I was leading a flight near Brussels. After a while a single aircraft was observed flying south-east some way off. We gave chase, and found it to be a Heinkel, and after quite a battle shot him down in flames (the bomber fell on to a house that had been evacuated). We circled around and I was just setting off back for the patrol line when Peter Dixon, who had been flying on my right as Red 2, called me up and talked of some more bandits. I did not receive the message clearly, but on looking round saw one machine setting off further east, so I followed. Soon I saw what he had seen, namely a score of black specs.

We joined up and climbed up after them, and before we got near they had been joined by another large formation of E/A. Luckily, two of the Heinkels dropped slightly behind, so Peter and I each took one.

That was the last I saw of him (Dixon). I had seen a formation of single seaters ( Me109’s) approaching and, imagining they were ours and having finished my ammunition, I pulled up towards them only to see the rude black crosses, so I hotly fled and eventually force- landed in a field (due to lack of fuel)".

One of the He 111s from No 9 Kampfgeschwader 1 shot down by 607 Squadron on the 10th May 1940

**The He 111 was from Lehrgeschwader 1 (1/LG1) and crashed at Wezembeek-Oppem, 10km east of Brussels at 18:45 Hrs. Fw. G. Frohlich and Obergefr W. Rautmann killed, Obergefr R. Petermann captured wounded, Uffz. K. Furstenberg captured unhurt, aircraft a write-off.

F/O. Bazin, F/O. Thompson, P/O. Dini, F/O. Blackadder and P/O. Dixon were each credited with a fifth share in the destruction of a He 111.

Blackadder was also credited with a probable He 111 and Dixon a damage only to a He 111 also from 1/LG1.

Luckily, Francis Blackadder was able to find some petrol pretty quickly, but as soon as he took off several Me 109’ s appeared behind him. He was forced into making a low escape along the Meuse and managed to return to base safely.

Meanwhile, Peter Dixon continued chasing his victim in and out of the clouds, until he shot the rear gunner and was able to see black smoke and oil coming from the crippled engines. By this time his ammunition was expended and with his fuel running low he flew west looking for a place to land. Through a gap in the clouds he saw a town below and dropped down to see if he could make out a name on the railway station.

He was greeted by a hail of AA fire (from what turned out to be Aachen) and climbed as quickly as he could.

With his petrol just about run out, Peter saw a shell cratered aerodrome near Tirlemont and managed to land between the craters, taxying to the far side where he saw a main road. A convoy of Belgian troops were passing but refused to stop for him, despite his frantic waving. Finally a young Belgian officer came up to him demanding to know who he was, Peter told him he was English and pointed to the downed Hurricane. The officer then took Peter to his commanding officer, a Colonel, who refused to believe he was English as his French was so good.

Peter Dixon and Joe Kayll, who wears the 607 Squadron badge on his overalls

Luckily, Peter had on him a letter received recently from his mother which convinced the Colonel. With his identity established, Peter and four Belgian soldiers went off to search for fuel. En route their transport was forced off the road into the ditch more than once because of the Luftwaffe machine-gunning the roads, which by now, were full of retreating transport and troops.

Eventually Peter relocated the bombed airfield at Tirlemont, only to find the Luftwaffe had destroyed the Hurricane, which had been left sitting in the open field.

Peter, in an attempt to get to Brussels, began to travel with the refugees, but quickly realised that he was getting nowhere fast. He was then able to gain a lift in a car part of the way to Brussels, in what turned out to be a ‘hair raising’ drive by an impatient Belgian Army Major, who kept blasting away at the car horn, in order to scatter the refugees. Peter then transferred to a passing truck loaded with Belgian airman on their way to Louvain. From here, Peters luck held, as he again transferred to another car, this time driven by a RAF Wing Commander.

Peter seemed to have a talent for meeting up with the right people. The Wing Commander was a liaison officer at the Belgium Army HQ in Brussels, who had accommodation in a large Chateau formally owned by the Duc de Guise and on permanent loan to the RAF. He arranged for Peter Dixon to have one of the bedrooms, which turned out to be luxurious, compared to what he was used to in the squadron Nissan hut: all the walls in the Chateau were covered in tapestries for a start.

The next day the Wing Commander asked Peter to address the officers in French at the Belgium HQ. This was to publicly commend the RAF’s many achievements, in order to boost morale. He was told he had just missed seeing the King of Belgium, and was introduced to Sir Roger Keyes who in turn introduced him to the British Ambassador, Sir Launcelot Oliphant, who later arranged for Peter to be returned to Vitry by car, after a sumptuous dinner

By now of course, Peter was ‘missing’ from his squadron for over 24 hours, and the usual Air Ministry telegram and follow up letter was despatched to his parents in the UK.

Peter Dixon rejoined 607 on Whit Sunday the 12th May, and was back on patrol in Hurricane P2536 AF-R the next day between 1840 and 2105 hrs, with Sq/Ldr. Smith and F/O. Forster, a patrol that was recorded as ‘uneventful’.

On the 14th May between 07:25-08:05 Peter Dixon flew to Douai in Hurricane P2571 AF-G.

Between 11:25-12:55, Dixon led a patrol which was uneventful.

On the 15th May, P/O. Dixon was on an uneventful patrol between 06:25-07:05 in Hurricane P2536 AF-R with F/O. Plinston. After a quick breakfast Dixon was back up in the air between 07:30-08:15 in the same Hurricane on another uneventful patrol with F/O. Blackadder and P/O. Stewart.

Between 11:10 and 12:00hrs P/O. Dixon was on another uneventful patrol this time in Hurricane P2574 AF-F with F/O. Blackadder, P/O. Stewart, and P/O. Dini.

Between 15:40-17:30hrs Peter Dixon flew Hurricane P2536 AF-R to Villeneauve with P/O Dini and F/O Russell: on their return to Vitrey via Rheims they encountered a Staffel of He111’s from 9KG51. Dixon claimed two of them as destroyed, whilst Russell was shot down and injured.

On the 16th May between 15:00 and 15:55 Dixon was on patrol in Hurricane P2536 AF-R with F/O. Weatherill, P/O Stewart, P/O Parrott and F/O Pumphrey when they encountered five Do 17’s. A concerted attack was made, and although all the pilots reported seeing pieces flying off the bombers, the action was inconclusive. The Hurricanes, after using up all their ammunition were forced to break off the attack, Dixon suffering damage to his aircraft, with a bullet just missing his foot.

He also ran out of oxygen at 17,000 feet, and found himself ‘gasping for air’. Peter was forced to land at high speed on his return, due to damage to the aircraft’s wing flaps.

He later admitted:-

If I had done this in peacetime, I would have radioed for a fire engine and ambulance to be in readiness”

Between 04:25 and 06:00 on the 17th May P/O Dixon flew Hurricane P2536 AF-R, escorting 53 Squadron Blenheim’s on a recce east of Brussels, with F/O Blackadder and F/O Weatherill.

This was to be Peters last sortie with 607 Squadron.

Between 10th May to the 17th he had flown 15 sorties, claiming 3 enemy aircraft shot down and destroyed, with another two (shared) destroyed, and two damaged.

The squadron Operational Record Book states that 72 enemy aircraft (including probables and damaged) were shot down during this period.

The squadron probably ceased to be a strong fighting unit after the 14th May, (with 4 Hurricanes shot down and 3 pilots KIA, on top of earlier losses).

On the evening of 18/19th May the squadron was ordered to Norrent-Fontes, and from there to Boulogne on the 20th, thence on the SS Biarritz to Dover.

Defeat was beginning to look inevitable now, with hordes of hungry refugees clogging the roads through France, the RAF ground crews were giving them any spare food they had, and in-between there was always the incessant ground strafing by the Luftwaffe, along with the many combats in the air.

Allied aircraft that were badly damaged were cannibalised for spares, adding to the mount- ing pressure of ground crews to keep all available aircraft air worthy.

Although there was a shortage of pilots, rather bizarrely there was still a rota kept up, allowing some pilots to take leave in the UK.

Peter Parrott (shown right) takes up the story:

“After 15 sorties during six days, I was given the day off on the 17th, only to be awoken at 07:30 by Peter Dixon throwing pebbles at the window of the local inn where I was billeted. When I poked my head out, Peter told me we were going on leave to the UK and that an ATA Ensign aircraft was on the ground, but the pilot wouldn’t wait long I thought he was pulling my leg and said something like , ‘Don’t be daft the real war is just starting, we can’t go on leave now.’

Dixon convinced Peter Parrott that it was correct information as the two of them, being the last two arrivals on the squadron, had not had any leave for months. (plus the fact that the two of them, by now, were completely exhausted)

As they climbed aboard the stripped out Ensign they were joined by fellow squadron member Tony Forster and F/O Humpherson. They landed at Hendon later that Friday morning and were met by the Station Adjutant, who knew nothing about them, but after consulting with someone at the Air Ministry gave them passes for 10 days leave.

Their 10 day leave didn’t last long. On the following Sunday, Parrott and Dixon each received telegrams whilst at their homes, instructing them to report immediately to RAF Tangmere in West Sussex to join 145 Squadron, Dixon with ‘A’ Flight, Parrott with ‘B’ Flight.

Fighter Command Spitfires and Hurricanes were ordered at this time to cover the Channel ports of Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk from dawn to dusk, with many engagements taking place between the Luftwaffe and RAF.

On the 22nd May both Parrott and Dixon were part of a patrol flying their Hurricanes on a sweep round the Lille/Arras area during the late afternoon, both wishing they could land and pick up their abandoned belongings which included their flying logbooks.

At 18:30 Dixon was on a second patrol of 10 aircraft around the St Omer district when a number of Me 109’s from JG/ 21-26-27 and 51 suddenly appeared, in company with 30 Ju 87’s from StG 77, leading to many combats.

Peter Dixon claimed a Me 109 E (from 2/JG51) and an unidentified Ju 87, unfortunately both of them were not confirmed ‘kills’ by the Intelligence Officer, who may of thought Dixon was rather new to this air combat, and not able to despatch two aircraft. All aircraft landed safely back at RAF Manston with claims by the pilots of 6 Ju 87’s destroyed and 2 seriously damaged.

On this day Fighter Command flew 198 sorties.

Dixon was up again in Hurricane N2710, on the 23rd May in a patrol from 13:00-16:00 over St Omer once more, this time with no contacts. The next day, Dixon spent practising attacks and formations around base, (as if Dixon needed to?)

The 25th was a 3 hour patrol for Dixon around Dunkirk, Lille and Courtrai areas, again with no contact with the enemy.

By now the troops of the BEF in France were making for the harbour at Dunkirk, hoping to get off the beaches by the ‘little ships’, and back to the UK.

Although this was the start of Operation Dynamo, Peter Dixon was given two days leave, returning on the 28th, and taking part in two patrols over the Dunkirk/Boulogne areas.

In all, 8 aircraft from 145 Squadron joined up with 9 aircraft from 601 Squadron, but no contact was made with the Luftwaffe.

Peter Dixon’s next patrol was on the 30th May between 1200 and 1430 in Hurricane N2602, when 145 Squadron met up with 601 and 17 Squadrons over Hawkinge for a patrol over Dunkirk, no contacts were made with the enemy.

Saturday June 1st started with a dawn mist and low cloud when a patrol was commenced at 05:40 by 145 Squadron, Dixon along with 9 other aircraft, were ordered to patrol the area around Dunkirk, but did not see any enemy aircraft, and landed back at Hawkinge. Meanwhile in the Channel the Luftwaffe were having a field day. Formations of Stuka’s launched attacks on shipping and met with success, sinking three destroyers, HMS Basilisk, HMS Keith and Skipjack, along with damaging HMS Ivanhoe.

As a result of these attacks a second patrol of 9 aircraft took off around 11:00, and again 145 Squadron were ordered to fly in the Dunkirk area, by now the weather had improved to a fine sunny day as they climbed above the clouds.

P/O Peter Dixon acted as a ‘weaver’ on this occasion,that is behind and above the squadron, protecting the rear from a sudden enemy attack.

The squadron soon encountered about 75 Me 110’s and Me109’s, which they immediately dived down to attack.

Flight Lieutenant Dutton shot down 1 Me 110 and 2 Me 109’s, Flight Lieutenant Boyd shot down one of each, whilst Pilot Officers Yule, Newling and Weir each accounted for one Me 110.

7 aircraft of 145 Squadron returned to Tangmere by 1315 hours, Peter Dixon was not amongst those.

The troops caught on the beaches and those waiting in line on The Mole (a man made breakwater/jetty), watched these combats in earnest, cheering on the RAF, who they thought had deserted them.

Left: The Mole Dunkirk June 1940

Amongst the troops watching the action from the beach was Major John Dixon, his attention being drawn to an aerial combat overhead. It ended with an aircraft on fire falling, with the pilot dangling underneath a flaming parachute, who eventually landed in the sea. The airman was rescued pretty quickly by one of the small boats and taken to the dressing station on The Mole.

Major Dixon thought no more about it, just one more casualty in this retreat, and ordered his troops to make for The Mole where he could see HMS Icarus, a destroyer, moored alongside.

Unbeknown to Major Dixon he walked right past the dressing station on The Mole, where the wounded pilot on the end of the burning parachute had been taken, it was his brother Peter.

Only on his return to the UK later that day did he find out his brother was listed as ‘missing in action.’ as by now, his mother and father had received the dreaded telegram:

By the end of the next day, German troops were rapidly advancing towards the beaches where 98,671 men had already been rescued by the ‘little ships’ and a further 239,555 British and French troops had been plucked from the jaws of defeat. The Senior Naval Officer at Dunkirk was finally able to send a signal to Vice Admiral Ramsay at Dover,

‘BEF Evacuated’.

The German Army swarmed into the outer suburbs of Dunkirk by the 3rd June, where 20-30,000 French troops were still waiting for evacuation, but had to surrender finally on the 4th.

There is some conjecture on how exactly Peter Dixon was shot down, with his eventual death. He was an experienced pilot, having first flown in 1936, and an excellent fighter pilot by June 1940, with many sorties and aerial combats behind him.

He claimed a total of 3 enemy aircraft destroyed, with a further 2 shared destroyed, 2 possibles, and 2 damaged in all, whilst fighting over France, (with a further two ‘not confirmed’ whilst with 145 Squadron).

There was a rumour going around at the time between the various squadrons that the Luftwaffe had captured several Hurricanes, and were flying at the rear of patrols, picking off likely targets.

This rumour is backed up somewhat by the intelligence report in the body of 145 Squadron Operational Record Book for the 1st June 1940:-

‘Pilot Officer HP Dixon failed to return. During the above encounter both Flight Lieutenant Dutton and Pilot Officer ANC Weir were attacked by Hurricane aircraft’

The other account of his demise was that after being rescued from the sea and taken to the dressing station on The Mole, he was loaded on board a destroyer or hospital ship for transportation back home on the 3rd June. The ship was then bombed, and Dixon and others were killed in the attack, his body being left on the stretcher on The Mole.

(Peter Parrott gave this account to me in March 1993).

Peter Dixon is now buried in the town cemetery at Dunkirk, Grave 16, Plot 2, Row 13, with a Commonwealth War Graves Headstone inscribed:

Killed Over Dunkirk Helping The British Evacuation

*A letter found in the Air Ministry archives, which was written at the end of October 1941 by Wing Commander Burges (of P4 Casualty Branch RAF) to Air Vice Marshal Douglas Coyler DFC (Director of Personal Services Air Ministry) reveals the subject of missing airman, and how difficult it was to find details.

It referred in particular to Pilot Officer Henry Peter Dixon who had been reported ‘missing’ on the 1st June 1940, and details of his demise were still not located eight months later. The search was finally abandoned by the Air Ministry, and it was not until July 1942 after a major re-organisation of the Casualty Branch that a witness to his death was found and his grave located in Dunkirk ( ‘Missing Believed Killed’ book by Stuart Hadaway). The true full facts would take another 74 years to come out.

In December 2012 the British Government decided finally to release the Air Ministry Casualty Files, for public viewing at the National Archives. The file relating to Peter Dixon is numbered in AIR 81/ 727 (P 352618/40) opened on July 24th 2014. Tucked away in the file is a flurry of correspondence throughout the war between the Air Ministry and others, with Peter’s father John Dixon, desperately trying to find out what exactly had happened to Peter over Dunkirk on the 1st June 1940.

One important witness was Flying Officer Michael Keith Carswell (shown left), a New Zealand pilot from 43 Squadron (also stationed at RAF Tangmere) who was flying at the same time as Peter, who was also shot down in flames over Dunkirk. He landed by parachute very near to the front line and was taken by French soldiers to a near by dressing station in the town around 5pm. It was here that he last saw Peter being taken from the dressing station and put into an ambulance. Carswell being a ‘walking wounded’ case, was swiftly placed aboard a destroyer, which made it back to England. By mid December 1940 John Dixon had met up with F/O Carswell in London after he was discharged from hospital, who gave him further details. It appeared that Peter had suffered severe burns to his face, hands, and feet. After being recovered from the water, Peter was taken to the Cafe Jonval. (a temporary clearing station) and then placed into an ambulance and on to The Mole.

On the 26th November 1940 Lieutenant Colonel P.E.D.Pank RAMC wrote a letter to the Air Ministry stating that he was in charge of No 12 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) located at Chateau Chapeau Rouge at Rosendael, some 3 miles from Dunkirk Town.

He couldn’t remember individual cases, but was sure that no hospital ship or destroyer was sunk at the Mole on the 1st June.

He was also aware that a Brigadier on the Mole had given orders that only walking wounded were to be evacuated, those on stretchers would be taken to No 12 CCS. So it was that Peter Dixon was taken from the Mole by ambulance and on to No 12 CCS at Rosendael.

This was eventually confirmed by a Major PH Newman RAMC on the 11th March 1941, who was a doctor at Rosendael, and now a POW at Oflag IX and who had written home (via the Senior British Officer at the camp),”While jumping from his plane, his parachute caught fire and he died from his burns at Rosendael CCS on the 3rd June 1940. He was most cheerful and not in great pain, he passed into a coma a few hours before his death, he was a grand chap. You will judge how much to tell his relations.”

Major Newman later escaped from the prison camp and made it back to the UK where he confirmed to John Dixon that Peter had been buried at Rosendael.

John Dixon was officially informed of all these facts by the Air Ministry on the 4th July 1942.

On the 11th November 1948, John Dixon received a final letter from the Air Ministry stating that Peter Dixon had been re-interned from grave 66 at Rosendael Chateau Coquel Mili- tary Cemetery to the Commonwealth War Grave at Dunkirk.

I wrote to Wing Commander Anthony Forster DFC in July 1993, requesting any anecdotes on Peter Dixon. He wrote back:-

‘Peter Dixon was a very good friend of mine in the squadron. I heard about Peter being killed in action shortly after it happened. He was very brave and he is still the prototype who comes into my mind when I see a small man showing far more courage than some of the bigger guys. He would give his life cheerfully’.

Wing Commander Peter Parrot DFC* AFC wrote to me in March 1993:-

‘On the 1st June I had been given the day off to go to London to get a new uniform, on my return to Tangmere in the evening I was told that Peter was ‘missing’. A day or two later we heard that he ‘belly landed’ on the beach at Dunkirk, badly wounded. Later still we heard that he was seen on a stretcher being loaded aboard a destroyer, then the final blow the destroyer was sunk.

In the short time we had known each other we became close friends, and had he survived, I am sure we would still be close. He was a most likeable person, with a good sense of humour, kind, generous, and truly a gentleman’

Squadron Leader James Vick also wrote to me in March 1993:-

‘Peter Dixon was an old friend of ours, he had in fact dined with me and my wife near Tangmere the night before he was killed. There was a rumour going about that he was in fact shot down by a Spitfire, wounded and taken on board an ambulance ship, which a lit- tle while later was sunk with the loss of all the patients, but I don’t know if this was true. He was an outstanding chap, and a good pilot, had he survived he would have done very well. He was a little man in statue, but a giant in real life’

Squadron Leader Will Whitty DFC USA DFC wrote in May 1993:-

'Peter was in ‘A’ Flight whilst I was in ‘B’, so we didn’t see much of each other. I knew that Peter was seen on The Mole at Dunkirk, but we did not know whether he had been put on a boat or just left on The Mole'.

Flight Lieutenant Harry Welford wrote to me in July 1993:-

'I was always under the impression that Peter had been evacuated in one of ‘The Little Ships’ which was then sunk in the Channel with all hands lost'.

Pre-war Peter always used to invite people back to his house for parties (before my time) his mother Elsie was an accomplished artist and had painted a portrait of Peter in uniform which hung over the staircase.

Had not Peter Dixon been given leave on the 17th May, and stayed with 607 Squadron until their return to the UK on the 31st May, there is every likelihood that he would have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, presented in a silk lined leatherette box for his gallant services in France, as many of his former colleagues in 607 were.

As it is, his parents were sent in the post, a simple brown cardboard box, containing just three campaign medals, the 1939/45 Star, the Aircrew Europe Star, and the War Medal along with the standard Air Ministry Condolence Slip. Probate was granted to his father John Dixon on 2nd September 1941 the effects amounting to £1072 11s1d (about £5000 in today’s value).

© Simon Muggleton July 2018 - submitted to Aircrew Remembered October 2019.

With grateful thanks to:-

The late Major John Dixon RA, the late W/C Peter Parrott DFC and Bar AFC, the late W/C Anthony Forster DFC, the late S/L Joe Kayll DSO OBE DFC, the late S/L James Vick, the late Flt/Lt Harry Welford, the late S/L Will Whitty DFC USA DFC, the late Francis Blackadder OBE DSO (For the use of his wartime diaries shared with the Dixon family)24, the late Robert Dixon author ‘607 Squadron A Shade of Blue’ / ‘Diary of a Hurricane Pilot’ Nicholas Rogers Archivist Cambridge University. Peter Cornwall Author ‘The Battle of France Then and Now’. Brian Cull Author ‘Twelve Days in May’. Norman Franks Author ‘The Air Battle of Dunkirk’. Susan Dransfield RAF Disclosures Unit. Clive Williams /Christopher Shores Authors ‘Aces High’ and ‘Those Other Eagles’ Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Imperial War Museum Photographic Unit. Gordon Leith Archivist RAF Museum Hendon. National Archives Kew. 607 Squadron Association

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