Night fighter ace and air combat leader, Pilot Officer Desmond Hughes entered the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of war in September 1939, after being a member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron. He completed flying training at the RAF College at Cranwell in May 1940 and fought in the Battle of Britain with 264 Squadron, equipped with the Defiant. Though the Defiant proved to be an effective bomber-destroyer, the Messerschmitt 109 outclassed it. Even so, Hughes and his gunner, Sergeant Fred Gash, shot down two Dornier 17s on 26 August and a Junkers 88 on 16 October.
During the night blitz, 264 Squadron flew night intercept missions. Despite having no radar in the Defiant , Hughes destroyed three enemy night bombers and damaged two more. In January 1942, he was posted to 125 Squadron in South Wales, eventually flying radar-equipped Beaufighters. He flew many long-range patrols in daylight south of Ireland and off Norway and achieved the squadron's first aerial victory. Assigned to 600 Squadron in January 1943, Hughes flew Beaufighters over North Africa, Malta, and Italy. During this tour, Squadron Leader Hughes shot down 10 enemy aircraft including three Ju 88s on a single patrol. He returned to Britain in December 1943 as a staff officer in 85 Group.
In July 1944, Hughes became Commander of 604 Squadron, flying the Mosquito . His squadron provided night fighter cover over the American sector during the invasion of Normandy and was the first Allied night fighter unit to operate from France. By January 1945, he accounted for 2 more enemy aircraft, bringing his total to 18 1/2 victories. After the war, he accepted a permanent commission and attended the RAF Staff College at Bracknell. In 1951, Hughes commanded the All-Weather Wing at the Central Fighter Establishment, and in 1954 returned to Bracknell for 2 years on the Directing Staff. Next he moved to the Ministry of Defence as Personal Staff Officer to the Chief of the Air Staff. Group Captain Hughes commanded RAF Geilenkirchen, Germany, in 1959, and in 1962 was Director of Air Staff Plans, Ministry of Defence where he was promoted to Air Commodore.
In 1968, as an Air Vice Marshal, he became Air Officer Commanding of 18 Group in Coastal Command. He was Commandant of the RAF College at Cranwell from 1970 until 1972, including the period the Prince of Wales earned his wings. After an assignment as Senior Air Staff Officer of the Near East Air Force in Cyprus, Air Vice Marshal Hughes retired in 1974. Since then, he has served as Honorary Air Commodore of the County of Lincoln Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and as a Deputy Lieutenant of Lincolnshire.
During the Battle of Britain, 264 Squadron's Defiants took horrible losses against single-engine fighters. Nonetheless, using disciplined tactics, Pilot Officer Desmond Hughes was able to strike back against the enemy. On 26 August 1940, Hughes was scrambled against nine Do 17s orbiting in tight formation below a group of Me-109 escort fighters. Hughes and his gunner mauled the bombers, shooting down two and dispersing the formation, while a formation of Spitfires arrived to take on the Me-109s.