25 July 1918 – 25 August 2000
Obituary courtesy of and published by the Telegraph.
Battle of Britain fighter pilot who won a DFC and Bar in the space of five days
GROUP CAPTAIN DENNIS “HURRICANE” DAVID, who has died aged 82, was awarded a DFC and Bar in the space of five days during the Battle of France in 1940.
David was just 21 at the time. The awards reflected his feat of destroying at least 11 enemy aircraft within a few days while covering the retreat of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). In the ensuing Battle of Britain, he increased his tally to 20, including five unconfirmed kills. He later fought the Japanese in South East Asia and planned operations against Javanese insurgents.
After qualifying in 1938 for a short service commission in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, David was posted in 1939 to No 87 Squadron, which was exchanging Gloster Gladiator biplanes for Hurricane fighters. When war broke out, 87 Squadron was sent to France, one of only four Hurricane squadrons in the air component of the BEF.
After experiencing the ennui of the “phoney war” in the winter of 1939-40, the squadron suddenly had to face overwhelming odds when Germany invaded the Low Countries and France. On May 10 1940, David wrote “war really starts” in his logbook. He flew six sorties that day, and recorded his first kill, a Dornier 17 bomber (Do 17) over the Maginot Line.
The next morning he was called to defend an Army tented hospital. “We found ourselves in a scrap with 40 Junkers 87 dive bombers,” he noted. He accounted for one of the 14 destroyed and, glimpsing a Do 17 nearby, sent it in flames to the ground. A day later he set fire to a Heinkel 111 (He 111) over Lille, followed it down and saw it crash-land. Flying low over the wreck, David saw the pilot scramble out and salute him. Then the bomber blew up, killing the pilot and smearing David’s windscreen with oil.
After 10 days of continuous fighting, David was now exhausted. He slept in a pigsty – all the accommodation that was available – and then was shot down. He crash-landed safely and was flown home, where his mother put him to bed. He slept for 36 hours. William Dennis David was born on July 25 1918 in London, but spent his early childhood at Tongwynlais, a mining village near Cardiff. The family later moved back to London and he went to Surbiton County School. After his parents separated, his mother pawned her silver to make ends meet.
He left school at 14 and joined John Lovey, a wholesale clothing and footwear business run by an uncle. As war loomed, he trained with the RAFVR, flying a Blackburn B.2 biplane trainer at the London Air Park. After the fall of France, 87 Squadron re-formed at Church Fenton, near Leeds. In July 1940, it moved to south-west England, where it was constantly in action, accounting for many enemy bombers and fighters.
David had a further taste of combat during the Battle of Britain as a flight commander with No 213 Squadron. In November he was posted to No 152 Squadron and until March 1941 flew Spitfires. At 23, he became a wing commander. In the New Year of 1943, following a brief spell commanding No 89 Squadron in the Western Desert, flying Beaufighters, he was posted to Ceylon.
He was then promoted group captain and went to the Arakan front in Burma as air adviser to 15 Indian Corps and as Senior Air Staff Officer No 224 Group. There he helped to organise the defeat of the Japanese in Burma. David was well served by his strong physique. He also had great strength of character and sense of purpose, and had almost hypnotic powers of concentration when engaged in conversation.
After the liberation of Singapore and Malaya, he was appointed Senior Air Staff Officer, Air Headquarters, Batavia, Netherlands East Indies, during operations against Javanese insurgents. Returning home in 1946, David was granted a permanent commission and reverted to the rank of squadron leader. In 1949 he was posted to command a wing of de Havilland Vampire jets at Deversoir on the Suez Canal, and in Cairo enjoyed the hospitality of King Farouk.
He then had a series of Air Ministry posts which culminated in his appointment as Air Attaché in Budapest. There David was dubbed “The Light Blue Pimpernel” for his part in helping 400 Hungarians to escape after the failure of the uprising in 1956. David had a lifelong fondness for dogs, and indulged this by purchasing a greyhound named Flash Harry. It enjoyed a measure of success and his staff at the Ministry of Defence became keen students of form in the Greyhound Express.
He retired from the RAF in 1967 and for a while ran a precision engineering business, Dove Enterprises. He later dabbled in property and other ventures and was in demand as a lecturer. He also advised on films such as the Battle of Britain (1969) and Aces High (1974). David was president of the Hurricane Society and gave his time to the RAF Benevolent Fund and Royal Air Forces Association.
In his youth, he excelled at tennis and squash. He later restored antique furniture and china and wrote a memoir, Dennis “Hurricane” David (1999). He was mentioned in despatches in 1942 and was awarded the AFC in 1943. He was appointed CBE in 1960. In 1991, he became a Freeman of the City of London.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret.
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