George Unwin

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George Unwin
Squadron Leader Brian 'Sandy' Lane, CO of No. 19 Squadron (centre) confers with Flight Lieutenant Walter 'Farmer' Lawson and Flight Sergeant George 'Grumpy Unwin at Fowlmere near Duxford, September 1940. CH1366.jpg
Flight Sergeant Grumpy Unwin, right, confers with Squadron Leader "Sandy" Lane, centre, at RAF Fowlmere, September 1940
Born(1913-01-18)18 January 1913
Barnsley Yorkshire, England
Died29 June 2006(2006-06-29) (aged 93)
Dorset, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Air Force
Years of service1929–1961
RankWing Commander
Service number46298
UnitNo. 19 Squadron RAF
Commands heldNo. 84 Squadron RAF (1949–51)
Battles/warsSecond World War Malayan Emergency
AwardsDistinguished Service Order
Distinguished Flying Medal & Bar

George Cecil Unwin, DSO, DFM & Bar (18 January 1913 – 28 June 2006) was a Royal Air Force officer and flying ace of the Second World War.

Early life

Unwin was born in the town of Bolton upon Dearne, near Barnsley, Yorkshire, on 18 January 1913. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1929 as an administrative apprentice and, in 1935, was selected for pilot training.[1] Upon completion of training he was posted to No. 19 Squadron RAF as a sergeant pilot.

RAF career

Spitfire trials

No. 19 Squadron was the first unit to receive the Supermarine Spitfire in 1938, and Unwin was one of the first to fly the machine (K9792) on 16 August.[2] Unwin carried out intensive trials in the type, flying 15 different Spitfires.[2] During these trials, on 9 March 1939, Unwin deliberately crashed a Spitfire (K9797) following an engine failure to avoid a children's playground at Acton, Suffolk.

Battle of France

Unwin's first combat experience came during the final phase of the French Campaign during the Battle of Dunkirk. During a nine-day period of patrols between 26 May and 4 June Unwin claimed three kills and a probable during Operation Dynamo.[2] Unwin described his first combat as stage fright:

I could see this aircraft diving down in an arc towards me, with what looked sparks lighting up his wings – I then realised he was shooting at me, all I could was sit there in the cockpit and watch him. I was so fascinated! I was shaken from this stupor when two shells hit my aircraft behind the cockpit and I took evasive action. I survived this moment of stage fright and never hesitated again.[3]

The next day Unwin claimed his first kill, a Henschel Hs 126. The German pilot had used his slow speed and high manoeuvrability to evade the attacks of two fellow pilots, while retreating into Belgian airspace. The order was given to give up and the squadron turned away. As they did so Unwin saw the German straighten out. Feigning radio failure, Unwin dived on the Hs 126 and "pumped 240 rounds" into it before it burst into flames and crashed. On 1 June Unwin claimed a Messerschmitt Bf 110 and a second as a probable. Unwin then claimed a Heinkel He 111 as a probable.[4]

Battle of Britain

During the Battle of Britain stationed in No. 12 Group he was credited with 14 enemy aircraft shot down by the end of 1940 and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in October 1940 with a Bar award in December.[5] On 15 September Unwin claimed three Bf 109s destroyed (Luftwaffe records indicate they were Bf 109s from JG 77) . On 18 September Unwin added a Bf 110 to his score as his 11th victory.[6]

On 27 September Unwin destroyed a Bf 109- Wrk Nr 6162 of JG 52, and on 5 November scored a kill against a JG 51 Bf 109- Wrk Nr 4846. Unwin had now destroyed eight 109s.[7] On 5 November Unwin shot down his final personal victory, a Bf 110 over the English Channel. Unwin was in turn attacked by Bf 109s and Hauptmann Gerhard Schöpfel of JG 26 claimed Unwin as one of two kills he claimed in that engagement, although Unwin was not shot down.[8]

At the end of 1940 he was rested and sent as an instructor to No. 2 Central Flying School, Cranwell.

In July 1941 Unwin was commissioned and then served with 16 EFTS and 2 CIS until October 1943. In April 1944 he began flying DeHavilland Mosquito fighter-bombers with No. 613 Squadron, RAF Second Tactical Air Force until October 1944. He then served at the Central Gunnery School at RAF Catfoss, and subsequently RAF Leconfield until January 1946, when he became Chief Instructor at No 608 Squadron RAuxAF.

Service after the war

Unwin remained in the RAF after the war and transitioned to Bristol Brigand aircraft in 1948. He flew this type during the Malaya conflict in 1952 and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his efforts. He retired from the RAF in 1961 as a wing commander.

Later life

His service-wide nickname was "Grumpy"; supposedly after he complained about the noise squadron comrade Douglas Bader made repairing one of his leg prostheses late at night in late 1939. It kept Unwin awake and he let everyone know about it. Another story relates that it was due to his reaction at being left out of the squadron's operations during the Battle of Dunkirk on 26 May 1940, due to a shortage of aircraft.

In late May 2006 he was presented with a scale model of his Spitfire by Corgi Toys. George Unwin died of natural causes 28 June 2006 at the age of 93.

Honours and awards

This airman has displayed great courage in his attacks against the enemy and has destroyed ten of their aircraft. On a recent occasion, when returning from an engagement alone, he intercepted a formation of enemy bombers escorted by about thirty fighters, and destroyed two of the fighters. He has displayed skill and courage of the highest order.

This airman has shown the greatest keenness, courage and determination to engage the enemy. He is an outstanding fighter pilot and has destroyed a total of thirteen enemy aircraft and assisted in the destruction of others.


Unwin featured in an "exhibition about the men and women who lived, worked and fought for their country at RAF Duxford in Cambridgeshire from 1918 to 1961", which opened at RAF Duxford on 28 March 2013.[11]


  1. ^ Price 1997, p. 68.
  2. ^ a b c Price 1997, p. 70.
  3. ^ Price 1997, p. 70-71.
  4. ^ Price 1997, p. 71.
  5. ^ 'Aces High' Shores & Williams , page 599
  6. ^ Price 1997, p. 76.
  7. ^ Price 1997, p. 77.
  8. ^ Price 1997, p. 77-78.
  9. ^ London Gazette
  10. ^ London Gazette
  11. ^ "George 'Grumpy' Unwin: A life celebrated in Duxford exhibition". BBC. Retrieved 31 March 2013.


  • Price, Dr Alfred. Spitfire Mark I/II Aces, 1939–41. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1997. London. ISBN 978-1-85532-627-9.
  • Shores, Christopher and Clive Williams. Aces High. London: Grub Street, 1994.

External links