The Airmen's Stories - P/O E P Wells
Group Captain (Pilot Officer during the Battle) 'Hawkeye' Wells, who has died aged 88, was one of Fighter Command's most outstanding pilots; he was credited with shooting down at least 12 enemy aircraft and probably destroying and damaging many others.
Wells began his brilliant fighting career during the Battle of Britain flying Spitfires with No 266 Squadron before transferring, in September 1940, to No 41, based at Hornchurch. He scored his first victory on October 17 when he shot down a Messerschmitt 109 fighter off the French coast. Twelve days later he probably destroyed a second and on November 2 he accounted for another Me109.
He was the first pilot to intercept an Italian Fiat CR 42 over England in November, shooting it down off Ordfordness on November 11. By the end of the year he had destroyed another enemy fighter. Wells had been a champion 12-bore shot during his schooldays in New Zealand, and his outstanding marksmanship earned him the nickname "Hawkeye".
In March 1941 he joined No 485 Squadron, the first all-New Zealand fighter squadron, scoring its first success on July 5 when he shot down a Me109 whilst escorting Stirling bombers over Lille. His successes mounted steadily, and in August he was awarded the DFC for showing "the greatest courage and determination".
Almost all Wells's victims were fighters. He destroyed one on August 19, another a month later, two more on September 21 and probably destroyed another on October 2. In November, having completed 46 sorties over enemy territory, he was awarded a Bar to his DFC.
Wells was promoted to squadron leader and took command of No 485 in November. When the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau slipped out of Brest on February 12 1942, No 485 was one of the squadrons sent to attack the enemy fighters. Wells found no fighters to engage, and instead led an attack, through intense flak, on an E-boat, leaving the vessel sinking.
Wells shot down a Focke Wulf 190 over Abbeville on April 16, another on April 24 and damaged a third the following day. In early May he was promoted to wing commander and appointed to lead the Kenley Wing. He was awarded the DSO in July for "courage and inspiring leadership".
The son of a farmer, Edward Preston Wells was born on July 26 1917 at Cambridge, New Zealand. Known to family and friends as Bill, he was educated at the local High School before taking up farming. He joined the RNZAF in April 1939 and trained to be a pilot. In June 1940 he joined many of his fellow countrymen sailing for England in the passenger ship Rangitata.
In August 1942, after two years' continuous fighting, he was rested. Having taken part in the Battle of Britain, he had carried out 133 sweeps over enemy-occupied territory, probably more than any other pilot in Fighter Command. He was sent back to New Zealand, where he was offered an important post, but rejected it, preferring to return to Europe. He travelled back in March 1943 via the United States, where he visited aircraft factories and addressed the workers.
On his return he was sent to a course at the RAF Staff College, after which he again took over the Kenley Wing, which he led until November, when he went to HQ No 11 Group, responsible for fighter training. He found some of the work tedious and would regularly abscond to shoot mallard. These ventures did not endear him to his stuffy air commodore who, on one occasion, asked for the whereabouts of his training officer. Wells was finally tracked down and summoned; the air commodore was not amused when Wells offered him a brace of duck, which was turned down.
Wells returned to operations in March 1944 as leader of the Tangmere Wing, equipped with the latest mark of Spitfire. He destroyed a Messerschmitt night fighter on the ground and led his wing on many sweeps over northern France during the build-up to D-Day. He later led the Detling and West Malling Wings before being rested in November 1944, when he went to the Central Fighter Establishment to command the Day Fighter Leaders' School.
Wells's amazing eyesight and superb shooting skills made him one of the RAF's outstanding pilots. Johnnie Johnson, the RAF's most successful fighter pilot during the Second World War, considered him the "complete Wing Leader and the finest shot and most accurate marksman in Fighter Command".
After the war Wells transferred to the RAF, serving in various appointments involved with fighter operations. In 1954 he took command of the air defence radar station at Bawdsey, on the Suffolk coast, where he was able to indulge his love of wildfowling. After serving with the Joint Planning Staff he retired from the RAF as a group captain in June 1960.
After a spell farming near Woodbridge, in 1975 Wells moved to Spain. He travelled around the world gathering species of sub-tropical fruits, many of which he grew commercially. He received many awards from the Spanish authorities for his fruit-growing and for his studies into fruit diseases.
From his boyhood in New Zealand, Wells had been deeply attached to the countryside. As well as being a fine shot, he was an expert fly-fisherman and could recognise any bird by sight or by its call. He was a modest and charming host with a great sense of humour.
"Hawkeye" Wells died on November 4. In 1943 he married Mary de Booy, who three years earlier, aged 17, had escaped in a fishing boat with her parents and sister from Nazi-occupied Holland, landing on the east coast with no belongings. The de Booy family soon became involved with the Red Cross, and the two sisters were in demand for tea dances in London held for Commonwealth members of the RAF. When an invitation was received by his squadron, Wells was detailed by his commanding officer to attend, thus meeting his future wife. She died in 2001, and a son and a daughter survive him.
With acknowledgments to the Daily Telegraph November 2005