Robert Hitchens

0/3/1909 - 12/5/1943

Record updated 21-Jan-09

Lt. Cmmdr Robert Hitchens, DSO and Bar, DSC and Two Bars, was universally known as Hitch. A fearless and dynamic leader as well as a keen sportsman, he won the Rudge Whitworth Cup at Le Mans in 1937. He was killed in action on the night of May 12th 1943.

Robert Hitchens
Born in March 1909, Robert grew up in Cornwall. He entered Magdalen Colledge, Oxford, to read law in 1926. A keen sportsman, he started rowing and within six months was in the Magdalan second eight. The following year he made the first eight.

Robert proposed to Catherine Enys, who had met the previous year, in 1929 and they were marrried in 1931. Robert had taken a great deal of the responsibilty for running the family affairs after his fathers death in 1930, and for a number of years Robert and Catherine continued to live in one of the family properties in Cornwall, while he continued to study for the Law Society's exams. However after his mothers death in 1933, Robert inherited half of his father's estate and a property. The following year he joined a firm of solicitors in Falmouth as a junior partner and for the next five years lived very happily with Catherine.

He continued to row and also sail, taking up ocean racing and competing in the Fastnet race on three occasions. He aslo had a passion for fast cars. He aquired a 1.4 litre Aston Martin tourer and a Riley with which he used to competed in hill climbs in the West Country.

Then late in 1936 he purhased a 2 litre Aston Martin Speed Model G6/702/UR LM23, one of six built for the Ulster TT and le Mans that year. However the race was cancelled due to the general strike in France. With works assistance he entered the car for Le Mans the following year with Mort Morris-Goodhall as his co-driver. They finished in 11th place and won the Rudge Whitworth Cup. This was awarded to the car with the best aggregate finish over two concequive years, however as the 1936 event had been cancelled the organisers decided that any cars entered for that race would be eligable for the cup in 1937. Following a race of considerable attrition, Mort and Robert needed only to finish to win the Rudge Cup, however a few hours before the end of the race the Aston dropped a valve and Robert pulled over out on the track. Mort ran to find him and persuaded him to limp the car back to the pits where they waited until just before 4.00PM before crossing the line to take the Cup.

He raced the car there again in 1938 with Mort. Valve trouble hit again, this time at 4 in the morning. The car was back in the race three hours later but further trouble soon after put them into retirment.

At Le Mans in 1939, again with Morris-Goodhall, everything was going well until midnight when once again valve trouble struck. Robert was determined to finish to be eligable for the Rudge Cup the following year, so continued on three cylinders to finish a creditable 12th.

With the outbreak of war Robert, who was a member of the Royal Naval Volutary Reserve, was called up on 27th October 1939 and took his first posting on HMS Halcycon, a minesweeper, in the December.

He won his first DSC serving in vulnerable minesweepers during the Dunkirk 'Dynamo' operation. On Friday the 31st May he twice went ashore to help organise the evacuation.

In late 1940 he joined Coastal Forces serving in the very fast MGBs, soon earning his own command in MGB 64 and shortly after that, the command of his own Flotilla. He was the first to capture an EBoat and his successful leadership led to many more successes and his reputation as a fearless and dynamic leader. His wartime exploits are well documented in a book by his son, Anthony Hitchens, from Robert's war time diaries and called Gunboat Command.

Hitch was the most highly decorated RNVR officer of the war with two DSOs, three DSCs, three Mentions in Despatches and was recommended for a posthumous VC, an award that many felt was more than justified.