- 23rd April 1942
- 35 Sqn – RAF Linton–on-Ouse / RAF Kinloss
- P/O RAF – Navigator
- Halifax ll W1048TL-S
- Target: Tirpitz, Foettenfjord, Norway
On 23 April, 11 Halifaxes from the Squadron flew from Linton to RAF Kinloss, which was to be the advance base for the operation to attack the 52,000 ton German battleship Tirpitz which was active in attacking convoys in the North Atlantic, and was berthed in a Norwegian fjord near Foettenfjord. At 2030hrs, Hewitt took off as number seven out of the eleven aircraft. That was the last contact with the aircraft.
They reached the target area, which was obscured in a smoke screen, at 0030hrs. The plane dived to about 200ft to release her mines. The area, described as ‘a corridor to hell’ heaved with ‘Ack Ack’ from shore batteries, heavy fire from the Tirpitz guns, tracer in all directions, plus the carnage wreaked by 31 Halifaxes and 12 Lancasters. After releasing her mines W1048 was hit by intense flak, resulting in fires in the starboard outer engine and fuel tanks, which rapidly spread to the wing structure.
The pilot, Don MacIntyre, assessed the situation; realising that they could not reach Sweden he worked with Hewitt to search for a level landing ground. MacIntyre made a skilful landing – undercarriage up – on the frozen surface of Lake Hoklingen in central Norway. The aircraft slithered to a stop, the crew escaped and only one member, Sgt Stevens, had sustained injuries, having broken his ankle during the landing. The dinghy was inflated and Stevens was dragged ashore. The fire was so intense in W1048 that the ice melted and the aircraft sank into 92 feet of water. The Squadron had lost nine aircraft in the attack yet had caused little damage to the Tirpitz!
Under fire the crew headed for a forested area. After three hours of walking, and assisting Stevens, they stopped to assess the situation. They shared out the emergency rations and decided to head for Sweden. Hewitt, as Navigator, plotted a cross-country route avoiding the roads. However, the group were compromised when they were spotted by a youth, who then ran off; so they split into two groups and moved off immediately.
Don MacIntyre, Hewitt, and Dave Perry, the Wireless Op, set off for Sweden through forest and mountains areas, via friendly farms who assisted with food. Jens Jenssen had a farm at Erstasen and he fed and gave the men a bed for the night before leading them for part of their journey the next evening. Finally, through harsh terrain, deep snow and freezing conditions the group reached the Swedish border at Mestuga on 30th April ‘42. Once in Sweden they knocked at a house and asked the resident to call the police, who then interned them as Allied evaders. Ian was repatriated back to England on 15th June ‘42.
The three other crew members had also headed for the border. However, Stevens’ injury slowed their progress in the hostile terrain and, on reaching a farm, he requested that the occupants should turn him in to the local police, so that his companions could continue unhindered. The outcome was that Stevens was sent to a POW camp but through his sacrifice the other two crew members reached Sweden and then onwards to England.
On the 30th June 1973, Halifax W1048 TL-S, was raised from Lake Hoklingen. In 1983, the aircraft was put on permanent display in the Bomber Command Museum at Hendon. At the opening of the display Ian and the crew of W1048TL-S were presented to HM The Queen Mother. Ian Hewitt DFC & bar died on the 30th June 2015.