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Air Commodre Kit North-Lewis

Last Updated: 1:20am GMT 28/03/2008

Air Commodore Kit North-Lewis, who has died aged 90, led his squadrons of rocket-firing Typhoon fighters in the fierce fighting during the Normandy campaign and the advance through Holland to Germany.

Air Commodore Kit North-Lewis with his Typhoon
North-Lewis with his Typhoon: after being hit by anti-aircraft fire he crash-landed on an island, and was briefly captured

North-Lewis had taken command of No 181 Squadron in May 1944, and was heavily engaged in attacking road and rail targets in the days leading up to the Allied invasion of France a month later. He led his squadron in attacks against the coastal radar system - including the installation at St Peter Port on Guernsey - and in the first five days of June all but one of the important coastal radar sites had been put out of action.

Once the land forces were established in Normandy, the operational task of the Typhoon force was to provide close air support to the British Second Army. On June 7 North-Lewis led No 181 on three operations to attack tanks and transports. He had a very narrow escape as he flew over Carpiquet airfield when a bullet shattered the canopy of his Typhoon, missing his head by inches. For the next few days his squadron was constantly in action, and in the 10-day period after D-Day North-Lewis flew 20 close support sorties. By the middle of June his squadron was operating from a temporary airstrip near Caen.

On August 7 a major German counter-attack, spearheaded by five Panzer divisions, was identified moving against just two US infantry divisions. The Panzers had already captured three important villages and were threatening to cut off the US Third Army near Mortain as it began moving into Brittany. A shuttle service of Typhoons was established, and by the end of the day they had flown more than 300 sorties, three of them led by Lewis.

The counter-attack was defeated, and the "Day of the Typhoon" (as it became known) was adequately summed up by an intercepted signal from the Chief of Staff of the German Seventh Army: he reported that the attack had come to a standstill at 13.00 hours owing to the "employment of fighter-bombers by the enemy and the absence of our own air support".

On August 15 North-Lewis was promoted to wing commander in charge of No 124 Wing, consisting of three Typhoon squadrons. A few days later it was announced that he had been awarded a Bar to add to an earlier DFC. He then led his squadrons during the Battle of Falaise, when the Typhoons wreaked havoc amongst the escaping German forces.

During the airborne landings in Holland in September North-Lewis and his pilots supported the Guards Armoured Division as it began its dash to link up with the forces at Eindhoven. The Typhoons put down a rolling barrage on either side of the road, allowing the tanks to drive forward. His wing was the first to arrive in Holland when, three days after the capture of Eindhoven, his Typhoons landed at the nearby, badly-damaged, airfield.

The comparative calm of the autumn months was broken on December 16, when the Germans mounted a major offensive through the Ardennes. The weather was atrocious, and the enemy made significant progress. By Boxing Day the weather had improved, and No 124 Wing was ordered to deal with a dangerous German thrust towards a bridge over the Meuse. North-Lewis and his squadrons attacked a large concentration with rockets and cannons. British forces were a few hundred yards away, and had a grandstand view of the attack. The German thrust was halted, and within a few days the Battle of the Bulge was over.

On the morning of March 23 1945, as the Allies mounted an airborne assault and amphibious crossing near Wesel on the Rhine, North-Lewis led his squadrons against a strongpoint east of the town.

His Typhoon was hit by anti-aircraft fire and the engine stopped. He managed to crash-land on a small island, where he was taken prisoner; but the Germans' situation deteriorated overnight, whereupon his captors decided to surrender to him. He found an abandoned canoe and paddled to the Allied lines.

North-Lewis's AOC directed that he was not to fly again. In the previous 14 months he had flown 176 operational sorties at a time when the losses in his own Wing had been 116 pilots killed or taken prisoner. A few days later he was awarded an immediate DSO.

Christopher David North-Lewis (always known as Kit) was born on March 13 1918 into a family of Welsh colliery owners. He was educated at Marlborough, where he performed well in the Officers' Training Corps. Before the outbreak of war he was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion the Queen Victoria's Rifles.

Bored with the inactivity of Army service in England, North-Lewis answered an RAF request for Army volunteers to train as pilots. He began flying training in late 1940, then joined No 13 Squadron. On the night of March 30 1942 he was part of a small force of Blenheims sent to bomb German night-fighter airfields in support of the first Thousand Bomber raid on Cologne.

North-Lewis evaluated the American-built Tomahawk and Mustang fighters for Army co-operation work, and in late 1942 joined No 26 Squadron as a flight commander, flying the Mustang. He completed many reconnaissance sorties along the length of the north coast of France, photographing enemy defences. These operations, flown 200-300 yards offshore, provided important information for planning the invasion of Normandy. He also flew many ground attack operations against trains and transport columns in northern France. In March 1943 he was awarded a DFC.

Soon after North-Lewis had returned to England in May 1945, it was announced that the Dutch Government had awarded him the Bronze Lion (Dutch DSO) and the Dutch Flying Cross for his contribution to the liberation of the Netherlands.

North-Lewis remained in the RAF after the war, and in the early 1950s much enjoyed a tour with the Rhodesian Air Training Group. His tour at the Nato headquarters at Fontainebleau was interrupted when he was summoned to London to join the planning staffs for Operation Musketeer, the seizure of the Suez Canal. Once it had been decided to mount the operation, in late 1956, he left for the headquarters in Cyprus, where he remained until the withdrawal from Egypt in December.

In August the next year North-Lewis assumed command of No 7 Squadron, flying Valiants. After just a year he was promoted to group captain and took command of Wyton, where the RAF's strategic reconnaissance force was based with Valiants and Canberras. As an air commodore he was commanding the RAF's large airbase at Akrotiri, in Cyprus, when the Javelin squadron based there was dispatched to Zambia following the Rhodesian government's declaration of independence. During his time in Cyprus North-Lewis raised a polo team and played in Jordan against a team of King Hussein's. In February 1971, after serving on the intelligence staff at the MoD, he retired from the RAF.

North-Lewis became director of the British Printing Ink Manufacturers, where one of his tasks was to maintain relations with Natsopa, at the time one of the more militant print unions, and to help negotiate annual pay negotiations, a responsibility he found both stimulating and enjoyable. He retired after 12 years in the job.

Once described by a friend as "a man of the old school", North-Lewis could be both impatient and irascible, but was known for his modesty, honesty and integrity. Throughout his life he enjoyed sport, and was a keen golfer at Liphook, in Hampshire, where he served on the club's committee for a number of years and continued play until he was in his late eighties.

He was a strong supporter of reunions of his wartime colleagues, and was particularly touched when the French raised a memorial at Noyers-Bocage in memory of the 151 Typhoon pilots lost during the liberation of France.

Determined to make his 90th birthday, Kit North-Lewis died on March 25, a few days after reaching this milestone. He married, in 1948, Virginia Lockhart, who died in 1985. He is survived by his second wife, Susan, and by a son and a daughter of his first marriage.



This page last updated:Wednesday 09 April 2008

Table of contents detailing updates added here

Victory Fighters: The Veterans' Story - Winning the Battle for Supremacy in the Skies Over Western Europe, 1941-1945
By Stephen Darlow

Victory Fighters is largely a collection of eye-witness accounts of the struggle that raged in the skies over occupied Europe after the Battle of Britain. Reg Baker is one of the six featured pilots.

Stephen Darlow has been a major support and contributor to this website do please visit the website of this excellent Military Aviation author.




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