W/Cmdr Peter Dunning-White DFC Battle of Britain Pilot
16 April 1915 - 27 December 2008
Wing Commander Peter Dunning-White, who has died aged 93, was a dashing fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain; nicknamed 'Stunning Black', he was a member of the 'Millionaires' Squadron' formed in Whites club, London.
He joined No 145 Squadron at Westhampnett near Chichester in early July 1940 and was soon in action protecting the convoys sailing along the south coast, the first targets of the Luftwaffe. It was in this role that he was involved, on August 8, in some of the most intense fighting of the Battle of Britain, during what military historians call the Battle of Convoy CW 9. The convoy was off Brighton when a force of 57 German dive-bombers, and their fighter escort, was detected in mid-Channel.
No 145 was scrambled. A fierce dogfight ensued and though Dunning-White damaged one enemy fighter, the dive-bombers caused havoc among the convoy, which scattered.
Later in the day, the Luftwaffe made two further large-scale attacks against the ships. As hundreds of warplanes engaged each other, Dunning-White scrambled again at lunchtime and accounted for a Messerschmitt fighter. During the afternoon the remnants of the convoy had reassembled and a top cover of fighters was established to protect it. But at 4pm an even bigger German raid was detected. No 145 was well placed to attack and engaged the Stukas before their fighter escort could react – Dunning-White claiming one.
At the end of the day No 145, whose pilots had claimed 21 enemy aircraft, was singled out for special praise. Success came at high cost, however, with five of Dunning-White's close friends killed. A few days later the depleted squadron moved north to recuperate.
The son of a wealthy industrialist, Peter William Dunning-White was born at Hadley Wood, near Barnet, on April 16, 1915 and educated at Harrow. He gained a place at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he spent most of his time playing golf and billiards. He also learned to fly, gaining his pilot's licence and flying his own aircraft.
On leaving Cambridge in the summer of 1938 he joined No 601 (County of London) Auxiliary Squadron, known throughout the RAF as 'The Millionaires' Squadron' created in 1924 in Whites when Lord Grosvenor, who considered the aeroplane a military development of the horse, selected members of the club to serve under him. On joining the squadron, the billiard-playing Dunning-White attracted the nickname 'Stunning Black'.
Early in 1941, Dunning-White became a flight commander with No 615 Squadron and he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 in April. His own Hurricane was badly damaged and he was forced to ditch in the sea, getting picked up by an air-sea rescue launch. In June he was awarded the DFC.
After a rest, he joined No 255 Squadron in July 1942 flying Beaufighters. The squadron moved to North Africa in November when Dunning-White was made a flight commander. He returned to the United Kingdom in September 1943 to serve at Headquarters Fighter Command before moving to HQ 100 Group where he was responsible for training night fighter crews. He was released from the RAF in October 1945 but rejoined the 'Millionaires' Squadron' in May 1947 as a weekend flyer.
Dunning-White was a gentleman landowner in Scotland who enjoyed country pursuits. He was a keen shot and fisherman and for 15 years was the field master of the Dumfriesshire Foxhounds. But he found it difficult to settle after his wartime service. The Battle of Britain, and in particular the loss of his five colleagues, shot down in flames that August day in 1940, were to have a lasting and profound effect on his life. In today's parlance, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but, in keeping with many of his generation, he endeavoured to hide his illness.
Peter Dunning-White died on December 27. He married his wife Mary in 1949 and she died in 1969. Their son survives him.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.