[Watercolour with pen and ink and charcoal, 24.5 x 32.3 cm AWM ART21997]
[AWM SUK 13318]
Air War Europe 1939-1945
[Photolithograph, 100.5x 73.2 cm AWM ARTV04297]
… your whole time in operations you lived day by day.
[Walter Mailey,DFM, 3 Squadron RAAF]
When war broke out in Europe in 1939, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircrews were among the first Australians to head overseas to Britain's aid. Between 1939 and 1945, they flew in both Australian and British squadrons with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Coastal, Bomber and Fighter Commands.
The first RAAF aircrew in Britain was a RAAF party who were already there to take delivery of new Sunderland flying boats. They remained there when war broke out, becoming No 10 Squadron RAAF, the only Australians attached to the RAF. However, by the end of 1940, the first Australians trained under a new Empire training scheme started to arrive in Britain.
Australia, with the other British Dominions had adopted the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) to provide trained aircrews to fight with the RAF. Australian recruits received elementary training at air bases around Australia and many of them were then sent overseas for advanced training. Before the scheme ended in mid-1944, more than 10,000 Australians had received advanced training in Canada and 674 had been sent to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before joining the RAF in Britain. So that the RAAF identity would not be lost in the EATS, provision was made under the agreement for the formation of complete Dominion Squadrons within the plan. Squadrons which were predominantly Australian aircrew were designated as RAAF squadrons and 17 of these were eventually formed: 12 in Britain and 5 in the Middle East. Many Australians also served in RAF squadrons as did British and other Dominion personnel in RAAF squadrons.
The 27,899 aircrew, who had qualified under the Empire Air Training Scheme, supplied approximately 9 per cent of all aircrew who fought for the RAF in the Mediterranean and European theatres in the air war against Italy and Germany. They flew in operations over German and Italian cities; they sank enemy ships and submarines; shot down many enemy aircraft; and RAAF bombers dropped many tons of bombs.
Australians served mainly as aircrew - pilots, engineers, navigators, wireless operators, observers and air gunners. Some also went as ground crew and carried out the maintenance and administrative tasks on the ground necessary to keep aircraft flying. By the war's end, Australian airmen had flown Gladiator biplane fighters in Libya; Hampden torpedo-bombers from north Russia; Baltimore bombers over the islands of the Aegean, Dakota transports over Poland, Sunderland flying boats far out over the Atlantic, Spitfires over France, Tomahawk fighters over Syria, Lancaster bombers over Germany, Stirling bombers over Italy, Beaufighters in the fjords of Norway, Mustang fighter-bombers over Italy – the list goes on and on.
Between 1940 and 1943, Australian airmen participated in the air war against the Germans and Italians in North Africa and the Middle East, in the defence of Malta in 1942, in the Allied drive through Sicily and Italy between 1943 and 1945, and in the skies over the UK, Europe and Britain's sea lanes from 1939 until 1945.
The most costly missions were with RAF Bomber Command and Australian aircrews flew in virtually every major operation. Although their numbers amounted to less than 2 per cent of Australia's World War II enlistments, the 3486 men who were killed in Bomber Command accounted for almost 20 per cent of all Australian combat deaths. The squadron with the greatest losses - 1019 men - was 460 Squadron RAAF, which operated Vickers Wellington and then Avro Lancaster bombers from England.
'the angry sky'
In late 1943 and early 1944, during the peak of the bomber offensive against Germany, the bomber crews suffered a loss rate of nearly five per cent on each operation (bombing raid or 'op' for short): there was little chance of surviving an operational tour of 30 'ops'. Approximately 1,500 RAAF aircrew parachuted from their aircraft over enemy territory and spent the remainder of the war in prison camps.
[Courtesy of Australia Post]
'...In the face of overwhelming odds...'
His devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds is unsurpassed in the annals of the Royal Air Force.
[From Victoria Cross citation, Flight Sergeant Rawdon Hume Middleton]
Flight Sergeant Rawdon Middleton, 149 Squadron RAF, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his courage. During a raid on Turin, Italy, on the night of 28-29 November 1942 a shell burst in the cockpit of his Stirling bomber. Although he was badly wounded, Middleton managed to fly the damaged aircraft back to England so his crew could bail out. He then flew out to sea and crashed the bomber to avoid hitting any houses. His body was washed up near Dover two months later. He was buried in the churchyard of St Johns, Beck Row, Mildenhall, Suffolk with full military honours. His Victoria Cross is in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.