Flying Officer Walter Mailey, DFM
Air war Europe 1939-1945: Fighter Command
Attacked with section astern and fired a long burst into one ME 109 which crashed on landing approx 5 miles (8 km) west of Littlestone. I climbed back to 10,000 feet (3000 metres) and intercepted 5 ME 109s escorting a Me 110 across Dover… I attacked the rear 109 and had to fire a long burst into it as three 109s dived at me… I emptied all my ammunition into this 109 and the oil tanks burst…
[Combat Report, Flight Lieutenant Paterson Clarence Hughes, 234 Squadron, RAF, 6 September 1940]
Flight Lieutenant Paterson ‘Pat’ Hughes from Sydney, New South Wales, was killed in action on 7 September 1940, when a German bomber he was attacking blew up in front of him. Hughes, a member of 234 Squadron, RAF, was awarded a posthumous DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross). He was one of the 24 Australians who lost their lives during the Battle of Britain.
The first RAAF squadron formed in England under the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) was a fighter squadron, No 452 Squadron, equipped with Spitfires. On 8 April 1941, 452 Squadron RAAF, RAF Fighter Command, began forming at RAF Station Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire, England. There the Australians received instruction from a RAF veteran of the battle of Britain, Flight Lieutenant Bernard ‘Paddy’ Finucane. In late July 1941, the squadron moved to Kenley airfield, just outside London where they gained a reputation as one of the most successful in Fighter Command.
In four months in 1941, No 452 Squadron claimed more than 60 German planes during sweeps over France and the English Channel.
In June 1941, 456 and 457 Squadrons were formed in England. 457 Squadron was used as an operational training unit as well as flying patrols and convoy escort missions.
In 1942, both 452 and 457 Squadrons brought their Spitfires to Australia to assist in the defence of Darwin – 457 left England in June and 452 left later in the year. 457 Squadron was effectively replaced by 453 Squadron in June 1942, its Spitfires flying fighter sweeps and bomber escorts. 453 Squadron was based at Prem, near Edinburgh, Scotland, and operated from airfields around Britain. After the D-Day landings in June 1944 the squadron was deployed to Europe to support the advancing Allied ground forces but by September 1944, they were back in England mounting attacks against the V-1 and V-2 missile launching sites in Holland. 453 Squadron was part of the Allied occupation forces and the first Commonwealth squadron to be based in Berlin after the German surrender of May 1945 before being disbanded in January 1946.
Formed in the same month as 457 Squadron, 456 Squadron was equipped with Defiant night fighters, soon replaced with Beaufighters. In December 1942, they were re-equipped with Mosquitoes and began offensive missions or ‘Rangers’ over occupied Europe. Their usual targets were rail and road transport and from the middle of 1943, they hunted the long-range German Ju88 fighters which were attacking Coastal Command aircraft. After the Normandy landings in 1944, the Squadron flew numerous successful operations over France and also achieved success shooting down the V1 rockets. 456 Squadron disbanded in June 1945.
Two other RAAF fighter squadrons fought in the Middle East: 450 and 451 Squadrons. No 450 Squadron, nicknamed the ‘Desert Harassers’, was formed in Australia in 1941. They served with 3 Squadron RAAF in the same wing of the Desert Air Force. 451 Squadron operated two aircraft inside Tobruk towards the end of the siege as well as later in Sardinia, Corsica and Italy after the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943. They also participated in the invasion of France and later on, together with 453 Squadron, fought with the invading forces into Germany.
[Oil on hardwood, 50.6 x 60.8 cm AWM ART26274]
‘the guinea pigs’
The blind and the utterly maimed – what of them? Their mental state could not remain in the same dazed condition after their bodies began to heal. Where did they get the courage to go on?
[From CAA, 'Richard Hilary' in Richard Hilary, The Last Enemy, London, 1943 p. 201]
Some RAAF fighter pilots suffered disfigurement and loss of limbs as a result of combat or air accidents. The aviation fuel which powered the powerful aircraft engines in Hurricanes and Spitfires was highly inflammable. If the aircraft was hit by enemy fire it was very likely to ignite the fuel tank spreading flames through the aircraft. Survivors were often shockingly burned.
Plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe became famous for his pioneering burns work at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex, England. He worked tirelessly to repair not only his patients’ severely burned skin but also to improve their spirits. Many of the men needed to spend months in hospital with up to 30 operations for their skin grafts. It was a huge struggle to rehabilitate themselves but McIndoe’s ‘boys’ formed the ‘Guinea Pig Club’ in recognition of the experimental nature of his techniques and his concern and care for them. McIndoe also involved the local East Grinstead community in his patients’ recovery persuading families to accept some of his recuperating patients as guests in their homes.
Members of the ‘Guinea Pig Club’ have continued to meet, years after the end of World War II.