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Group Captain Clive Caldwell, DSO, DFC(Bar)


Australia's highest scoring WW11 ace, Clive Caldwell is credited with 28 1/2 victories. Due to his aggressiveness, exceptional combat skills, and determination to strafe ground targets, he soon become known as "Killer Caldwell". On 28th August 1939, three days before Germany invaded Poland, the RAAF possessed 82 Ansons, 54 Demons, 7 Wirraways and 21 Seagulls, together with 82 training aircraft. These aircraft were organised into the 12 squadrons available for service. The Australian Government offered six of these squadrons to Britain for service. The Royal Australian Air Force underwent a massive expansion during World War Two. By the end of the war there were 75 Australian squadrons in existance of which 15 were to fight solely in the European threatre. The Australian air effort also involved the Empire Air Training Scheme where thousands of Australians were trained for service in the RAF.

Born 1910 in Australia, Clive Robertson Caldwell joined the Royal Aero Club of NSW in 1938 to learn to fly, and soloed after only three and a half hours of instruction. By the time war broke out he had some 11 hours flying time. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force(RAAF) the day after war was declared in 1939, he was 3 years above the maximum age for acceptance in RAAF fighter training. He simply had his birth certificate expertly altered to show that he was 26 years old. He completed flight training under the Empire Air Training Scheme in May of 1941, and joined No. 250 Squadron in Egypt.

Caldwell was perplexed by the fact that he had trouble scoring hits on enemy aircraft. Whilst returning to base one day, he noted his squadron's aircraft casting shadows on the desert below. He fired a burst of his guns and noted the fall of shot relative to his shadow. He realised this method allowed for the assessment of required deflection to hit moving targets. Further experimentation lead him to acquire the knowledge to assess deflection needed for a range of speeds. Caldwell's method of "shadow shooting" became a standard method of gunnery practice in the Middle East.

Following a short period of operations in Syria and Cyprus, Caldwell and the squadron were relocated to the Western Desert. It was in this theatre that he achieved great success during intensive operations.On June 26 1941, escorting Blenheims to Gazala in Tomahawk AK419, he shot down his first victory, a Me-109E west of Caouzzo. On June 30 he shared a Bf 110 and destroyed two Ju 87s and this was followed on July 7 with his first Italian aircraft shot down, a Fiat G.50 near Gazala. On August 29 over Tobruk he was attacked and wounded by two Bf 109s but he turned on them and shot one down north west of Sidi Barrani before flying home safely.

His most successful day occurred at a "Stuka Party" on December 5 during operation "Crusader" when he shot down five Ju 87s and damaged a C.200 in one sortie while flying what had become his regular aircraft, Tomahawk A-K498, LD-C. Here is the combat report of that action: "I received radio warning that a large enemy formation was approaching from the North-West. No. 250 Squadron went into line astern behind me and as No. 112 Squadron engaged the escorting enemy fighters we attacked the JUs from the rear quarter. At 300 yards I opened fire with all my guns at the leader of one of the rear sections of three, allowing too little deflection, and hit No. 2 and No. 3, one of which burst into flames immediately, the other going down smoking and went into flames after losing about 1000 feet. I then attacked the leader of the rear section...from below and behind, opening fire with all guns at very close range. The enemy aircraft turned over and dived steeply...opened fire [at another Ju 87] again at close range, the enemy caught fire...and crashed in flames. I was able to pull up under the belly of one of the rear, holding the burst until very close range. The enemy...caught fire and dived into the ground."

Caldwell was by now a flight commander, and had been given the grim epithet of "Killer", which he apparently was not particularly proud of. In December he was awarded both a DFC and a Bar to it. His score had risen to 18 by the new year. It was the beginning of a run which would make him the highest scoring Allied pilot of the Desert war with an acknowledged 20 1/2 victories.

Nice colour photo of "Kittyhawks" from 112 Squadron RAF, commanded by Caldwell

Upon completion of his assignment in the Middle East, Caldwell was sent to England to take command of 112 Squadron RAF flying Kittyhawks. It was due to his leadership, confidence and daring, his work with a contingent of Polish pilots attached to 112 Squadron, and continued success with this squadron that he received the Polish Cross of Valour(Krzyz Walecznych).

Caldwell returned to Australia via the USA, arriving in September 1942. At 2 OTU he took part in comparative tests with new CAC Boomerang and was then posted to become wing leader of 1 Australian Spitfire Wing at Darwin. He first met the Japanese on March 2 1943 and destroyed a Mitsubishi A6M Zeke and a Nakajima B5N Kate torpedo bomber. He scored his last victory on August 20, a Ki-46 Dinah reconnaissance aircraft, to bring his score to 28 1/2 as stated in most lists. In September he was posted to 2 OTU as Chief Flying Instructor and awarded the DSO. May 1944 saw him return to operations as wing leader of 80 Fighter Wing, and the following August he was promoted to Group Captain.

In February 1945, he led 80 Wing to Morotai in the East Indies but at this stage of the war the RAAF Spitfires found little or no air-to-air combat, just ground strafing. The pilots resented being risked in tasks whose results were making no contribution towards winning the war. In April, Caldwell was spokesman for a group of leading Australian fighter pilots who sought to hand in resignations as a protest(the so-called Morotai mutiny) against the RAAFs lack of participation in operations. Caldwell's action lead to a command crisis in the RAAF where three senior officers including Air Commodore Cobby(WW1 ace) were relieved of their duties.

Caldwell finished the war attached to HQ, 1st TAF, RAAF, based in Melbourne. Caldwell left military service upon demobilization in 1946 and was a successful businessman until his death on 5th of August, 1994.