No. 450 Squadron RAAF

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No. 450 Squadron RAAF
P03372.011 kittybomber.jpg
North Africa, c. 1943. A Curtiss (P-40) Kittyhawk fighter-bomber belonging to 450 Squadron, loaded with six 250 lb (110 kg) bombs
Active 7 February 1941 – 20 August 1945
Country  Australia
Branch  Royal Australian Air Force
Role Fighter squadron
Part of Desert Air Force
Nickname "The Desert Harassers"[1]
Motto Harass[1][2]
Engagements World War II
Battle honours Syria, 1941
South-East Europe, 1942–1945
Egypt & Libya, 1940–1943
El Alamein
El Hamma
North Africa, 1942–1943
Sicily, 1943
Italy, 1943–1945
Gustav Line
Gothic Line
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Gordon Steege (1941–1942)
John Williams (1942)
Insignia
Squadron badge heraldry A jaguar's head couped, pierced by a rapier in hand.[1][2]
Squadron codes DJ (Dec 1941 – Apr 1942)[3]
OK (Dec 1941 – Aug 1945)[4][5]
Aircraft flown
Fighter Hawker Hurricane
Curtiss Kittyhawk
North American Mustang

No. 450 Squadron was a unit of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) during World War II. It was the first RAAF Article XV squadron formed for service with the British military, under the Empire Air Training Scheme. During its existence, No. 450 Squadron included personnel from several different British Commonwealth countries and air forces. The squadron fought in the Syria–Lebanon Campaign, the North Africa Campaign, the Tunisian Campaign, the Allied invasion of Sicily and the Italian campaign, serving in both a fighter and fighter-bomber role. It was disbanded in August 1945 following the conclusion of hostilities.

History[edit]

The first Australian squadron raised for service with the British military under the Article XV of the Empire Air Training Scheme,[6] No. 450 Squadron was formed at RAAF Williamtown, near Newcastle, New South Wales, on 7 February 1941, a week before No. 451 Squadron.[7][8] Both units were intended to be "infiltration" squadrons,[9] which would consist initially only of ground crew and would receive a nucleus of experienced pilots after arriving in their designated theatre of operations.[10]

Middle East and North Africa[edit]

Under the command of Flight Lieutenant Bruce Shepherd,[11][12] No. 450 Squadron left Australia on 11 April, embarking on the troopship Queen Elizabeth at Sydney, and arriving in Egypt on 3 May 1941.[13][14] At RAF Abu Sueir, Squadron Leader Gordon Steege took command of the squadron before it was combined with the pilots and Hawker Hurricanes of No. 260 Squadron RAF, to form an operational squadron.[6][13] The combined unit, known as No. 260/450 (Hurricane) Squadron, then relocated to Amman in Transjordan. Its first operation was on 29 June 1941, when the Hurricanes attacked Vichy French airfields and infrastructure during the invasion of Syria.[14] No. 260/450 Squadron operated for ten days only and flew 61 sorties against airfields, 20 on offensive patrols and six on bomber-escort duties during the Syrian campaign.[15]

In August 1941, No. 450 Squadron personnel were separated from No. 260 Squadron, when the latter received its own ground crew. No. 450 Squadron moved to Rayak airfield, Lebanon, where it was allocated Hurricanes and Miles Magister trainers.[13] A batch of 20 trainee Australian, British and Canadian pilots were posted to the squadron in early October, and it began duties as an Operational Training Unit.[6][16] However, a fortnight later these pilots were posted out, and lacking trained pilots, the squadron's aircraft were re-allocated. On 20 October, the squadron moved to Burg El Arab, Egypt, and began operating as an advanced repair, salvage and service unit, taking part in the North African Campaign.[17][18]

By December 1941, the squadron was receiving pilots and on 18 December, it began taking delivery of Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk fighters.[18] Training began the following month, and No. 450 Squadron commenced operations from RAF Gambut on 19 February 1942, with an uneventful patrol near Tobruk. Three days later Sergeant R. Shaw became the first pilot from the squadron to claim an aerial victory,[6] after he was scrambled and intercepted a Junkers Ju 88 bomber, at an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,100 m), south-east of Gazala.[10] The squadron then remained active for most of the war, generally alongside No. 3 Squadron RAAF and No. 112 Squadron RAF in No. 239 Wing, Desert Air Force (DAF, later known as the First Tactical Air Force).[19]

The squadron's main roles—escorting daylight raids by Douglas Boston bombers, and ground attack missions in support of the Eighth Army—were hazardous and resulted in relatively heavy losses. Nevertheless, between February 1942 and May 1943, No. 450 Squadron pilots claimed 49 German and Italian aircraft destroyed in air combat, for the loss of 28 Kittyhawks.[20] From 26 May, all Kittyhawk units operated primarily as fighter-bomber units.[21]

Kittyhawks from No. 450 Squadron, in North Africa during August 1942

Along with the rest of the DAF, No. 450 Squadron took part in the decisive Second Battle of El Alamein, during October and November 1942, attacking enemy airfields in the RAF El Daba area. By this time the DAF Kittyhawks were using two or three US-supplied 500 lb (230 kg) bombs, rather than the two to six 250 lb (110 kg) bombs previously carried, increasing the impact of their raids.[10] The squadron suffered several losses during this time, including one of its aces, Squadron Leader John Williams, who was shot down and taken prisoner on 31 October 1942, three days after he had been appointed commanding officer.[22][23]

During this period, the DAF squadrons moved many times because of the rapidly changing front line. Ground crews "leapfrogged" ahead, to prepare for the aircraft. No. 450 Squadron moved six times during two weeks in November.[10] No. 450 squadron found itself using captured or hastily constructed airfields; one Kittyhawk was destroyed and several personnel killed or wounded by land mines.[24][25]

From late 1942, No. 450 Squadron was engaged in the Tunisian Campaign. As the Allied forces advanced, by March 1943, the squadron was operating from Medinne along the Mareth Line. That month they flew over 300 sorties. Further moves occurred, and by mid-April they were based at Karouan. Throughout April and early May, 350 sorties were flown, including attacks on Axis shipping in Cape Bon and in the Gulf of Tunis.[26] The campaign came to an end in mid-May,[27] but the squadron continued defensive patrols into June.[26] [28] As a result of its involvement in the North African fighting, the squadron received the nickname, "The Desert Harassers",[6] and adopted the motto, "Harass", which were derived from a comment by the Nazi propaganda broadcaster "Lord Haw Haw", who described the unit as "Australian mercenaries whose harassing tactics were easily beaten off by the Luftwaffe."[17]

Europe[edit]

No. 450 Squadron and the other DAF fighter squadrons played a significant ground attack role in the Allied invasion of Sicily, during July–August 1943. Using RAF Luqa, Malta, as a staging post, they operated in a light interdiction role, carrying two 250 lb (110 kg) bombs, to attack Axis road vehicles;[10] the first attack being made against Carlentini. Following the Allied victory in Sicily, on 1 August Nos. 450 and 3 Squadrons moved to Agnone, near Catania, from where they commenced close air support operations, working closely with Allied ground units.[26] On the night of 11 August, the airfield was attacked by Ju 88 bombers, dropping incendiary, anti-personnel and high explosive bombs, for more than an hour. Because the personnel camp had been placed some distance from the operations facilities, only one Australian was wounded, although casualties among other units amounted to 12 killed and 60 wounded.[29] A total 18 RAAF Kittyhawks were destroyed, including 11 belonging to No. 450 Squadron.[28][30] Despite this, the two RAAF squadrons mounted 22 sorties the following day.[31]

During the subsequent campaign on the Italian mainland, which commenced in early September 1943, the squadron continued its close air support role, operating from Grottaglie, although it also undertook anti-shipping operations, including an attack on Manfredonia on 21 September, during which its aircraft sunk to vessels.[32] The following month, No. 450 Squadron was transferred to Foggia, and then moved on to Mileni where they were briefly withdrawn from operations to convert to newer model Kittyhawk IVs, before rejoining the campaign in late November.[32] In December, the squadron moved to Cutella, near Termoli, on the central Adriatic coast of Italy. There it encountered problems with severe winter weather restricting operations. In addition, Cutella airfield was located close to the beach; heavy rains caused a storm surge on 1 January 1944, and the airfield became covered with seawater, which damaged some aircraft.[33]

Meanwhile, Williams and another prisoner of war from No. 450 Squadron, Flight Lieutenant Reginald Kierath, were among the Allied POWs at Stalag Luft III, in eastern Germany. In March 1944, both took part in "The Great Escape" and were among 50 POWs murdered by the Gestapo, after being recaptured.[34] Williams, who was 27 years old and from Sydney, was officially an RAF officer, as he had joined the British service under a Short Service Commission, in 1938.[34][35] Kierath, who was 29 and from Narromine, New South Wales, was an RAAF officer.[36]

A No. 450 Squadron aircraft at Cervia, Italy

On 29 April 1944, several USAAF P-47 Thunderbolt pilots mistook Cutella for an Axis airfield and strafed it.[37] No. 450 Squadron suffered no fatalities or aircraft destroyed, but the pilot of a float plane belonging to an air sea rescue unit was killed, some ground personnel were wounded, a Kittyhawk belong to No. 3 Squadron was destroyed and several others were damaged.[38][39]

No. 450 Squadron later operated at a variety of airfields in central and northern Italy, operating under the "Cab Rank" system, whereby patrolling fighter-bombers would attack as requested by army air liaison officers.[17] No. 450 Squadron also took part in the major offensive against the Gothic Line, in August–September 1944.[40] From November, the squadron's targets included German forces in Yugoslavia.[41] On 21 March 1945, the squadron took part in Operation Bowler, a major air raid on Venice harbour.[32] The attack resulted in the sinking of a merchant ship, a torpedo boat, and a coastal steamer, as well as the destruction of five warehouses and other harbour infrastructure.[42]

In mid-1945, the squadron became the second RAAF unit, after No. 3 Squadron, to receive North American Mustangs, albeit too late to see action during the war. No. 450 Squadron was disbanded on 20 August 1945 at Lavariano, a few miles south of Udine in north-eastern Italy.[11] During the war, the squadron lost 63 personnel killed in action, of whom 49 were Australian.[17]

Aircraft operated[edit]

Aircraft used by No. 450 Squadron RAAF, data from[43][44][45]
From To Aircraft Version
May 1941 December 1941 Hawker Hurricane Mk.I
December 1941 September 1942 Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.I
1942 September 1942 Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.Ia
September 1942 October 1943 Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.III
October 1943 August 1945 Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.IV
May 1945 August 1945 North American Mustang Mk.III

Squadron bases[edit]

Bases and airfields used by No. 450 Squadron RAAF, data from[43][45][46]
From To Base Remark
16 February 1941 9 April 1941 RAAF Williamtown, New South Wales
9 April 1941 12 May 1941 en route to Middle East
12 May 1941 23 June 1941 RAF Abu Sueir, Egypt
23 June 1941 29 June 1941 RAF Aqir, Palestine
29 June 1941 11 July 1941 RAF Amman, Jordan
11 July 1941 18 July 1941 Damascus, Syria
18 July 1941 4 August 1941 RAF Haifa, Palestine
4 August 1941 19 August 1941 RAF El Bassa, Palestine
19 August 1941 25 October 1941 Rayak airfield, Lebanon
25 October 1941 12 December 1941 RAF Burg El Arab, Egypt
12 December 1941 30 January 1942 LG.207/LG 'Y' (Qassassin), Egypt
30 January 1942 16 February 1942 LG.12 (Sidi Haneish North), Egypt
16 February 1942 22 February 1942 LG.139/Gambut Main, Libya Det. at RAF El Adem, Libya
22 February 1942 9 March 1942 LG.142\143/Gambut Satellite, Libya
9 March 1942 16 April 1942 LG.139/Gambut Main, Libya
16 April 1942 17 June 1942 LG.142\143/Gambut Satellite, Libya
17 June 1942 18 June 1942 Lg.148/Sidi Azeiz Airfield, Libya
18 June 1942 24 June 1942 LG.75, Egypt
24 June 1942 27 June 1942 LG.102, Egypt
27 June 1942 30 June 1942 LG.106, Egypt
30 June 1942 2 October 1942 LG.91, Egypt
2 October 1942 14 October 1942 LG.224/Cairo West, Egypt
14 October 1942 6 November 1942 LG.175, Egypt
6 November 1942 9 November 1942 LG.106, Egypt
9 November 1942 11 November 1942 LG.101, Egypt
11 November 1942 14 November 1942 LG.76, Egypt
14 November 1942 15 November 1942 LG.139/Gambut 1, Libya
15 November 1942 19 November 1942 Gazala Airfield, Libya
19 November 1942 8 December 1942 Martuba Airfield, Libya Det. at Antelat Airfield, Libya
8 December 1942 18 December 1942 Belandah Airfield, Libya
18 December 1942 1 January 1943 Marble Arch Airfield, Libya
1 January 1943 9 January 1943 Alem el Chel Airfield, Libya
9 January 1943 18 January 1943 Hamraiet 3 Airfield, Libya
18 January 1943 24 January 1943 Sedadah Airfield, Libya
24 January 1943 14 February 1943 RAF Castel Benito, Libya
14 February 1943 8 March 1943 El Assa Airfield, Libya Det. at Ben Gardane Airfield, Tunisia
8 March 1943 21 March 1943 Nefatia Airfield, Tunisia
21 March 1943 6 April 1943 Medenine Airfield, Tunisia
6 April 1943 14 April 1943 El Hamma Airfield, Tunisia
14 April 1943 18 April 1943 El Djem Airfield, Tunisia
18 April 1943 18 May 1943 Alem East Airfield, Tunisia
18 May 1943 13 July 1943 Zuwara Airfield, Libya
13 July 1943 18 July 1943 RAF Luqa, Malta
18 July 1943 2 August 1943 Pachino Airfield, Sicily, Italy
2 August 1943 16 September 1943 Agnone Airfield, Sicily, Italy
16 September 1943 23 September 1943 Grottaglie Airfield, Italy
23 September 1943 3 October 1943 Bari Airfield, Italy
3 October 1943 27 October 1943 Foggia Main Airfield, Italy
27 October 1943 28 December 1943 Mileni Airfield, Italy
28 December 1943 22 May 1944 Cutella Airfield, Italy
22 May 1944 12 June 1944 San Angelo Airfield, Italy
12 June 1944 23 June 1944 Guidonia Airfield, Italy
23 June 1944 9 July 1944 Falerium Airfield, Italy
9 July 1944 28 August 1944 Creti Airfield, Italy
28 August 1944 11 September 1944 Iesi Airfield, Italy
11 September 1944 20 September 1944 Foiano Airfield, Italy
20 September 1944 17 November 1944 Iesi Airfield, Italy
17 November 1944 25 February 1945 Fano Airfield, Italy
25 February 1945 19 May 1945 Cervia Airfield, Italy
19 May 1945 20 August 1945 Lavariano, Italy

Commanding officers[edit]

Officers commanding No. 450 Squadron RAAF, data from[17][43]
From To Name
25 March 1941 31 May 1941 Flight Lieutenant Bruce McRae Shepherd
31 May 1941 23 April 1942 Squadron Leader Gordon Henry Steege, DFC
23 April 1942 28 October 1942 Squadron Leader Alan Douglas Ferguson
28 October 1942 2 November 1942 Squadron Leader John Edwin Ashley Williams, DFC
2 November 1942 14 March 1943 Squadron Leader M. H. C. Barber, DFC
14 March 1943 31 October 1943 Squadron Leader John Phillip Bartle
31 October 1943 1 December 1943 (KIA) Squadron Leader Sydney George Welshman, DFM
6 December 1943 7 April 1944 Squadron Leader Kenneth Royce Sands
7 April 1944 14 June 1944 Squadron Leader Ray Trevor Hudson, DFC
14 June 1944 26 October 1944 Squadron Leader John Dennis Gleeson
26 October 1944 20 August 1945 Squadron Leader Jack Carlisle Doyle, DFC & Bar

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Rawlings 1978, p. 441.
  2. ^ a b Halley 1988, p. 473.
  3. ^ Flintham & Thomas 2003, p. 68.
  4. ^ Bowyer & Rawlings 1979, p. 80.
  5. ^ Flintham & Thomas 2003, p. 95.
  6. ^ a b c d e Eather 1995, p. 103.
  7. ^ Barnes 2000, pp. 250 & 255.
  8. ^ Eather 1995, pp. 103 & 105.
  9. ^ Herington 1954, pp. 121–121.
  10. ^ a b c d e "No. 450 Squadron, Royal Australian Airforce: The Desert Harassers". 450 Squadron RAAF Association. Retrieved 13 October 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Barnes 2000, p. 254.
  12. ^ "251025 Squadron Leader Bruce McRae Shepherd". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c Barnes 2000, p. 250.
  14. ^ a b RAAF Historical Section 1995, p. 106.
  15. ^ Herington 1954, p. 95.
  16. ^ Barnes 2000, pp. 250–251.
  17. ^ a b c d e "450 Squadron RAAF". Second World War, 1939–1945 units. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 13 October 2013. 
  18. ^ a b Barnes 2000, p. 251.
  19. ^ RAAF Historical Section 1995, pp. 107–111.
  20. ^ Brown 1983, p. 259.
  21. ^ Brown 1983, pp. 257–258.
  22. ^ "40652 Squadron Leader John Edwin Ashley Williams, DFC". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 6 February 2008. 
  23. ^ Barnes 2000, pp. 251–252.
  24. ^ Eather 1995, pp. 103–104.
  25. ^ "No 450 Squadron". RAAF Museum Point Cook. Archived from the original on 1 October 2009. Retrieved 13 October 2013. 
  26. ^ a b c Barnes 2000, p. 252.
  27. ^ Eather 1995, p. 104.
  28. ^ a b RAAF Historical Section 1995, p. 109.
  29. ^ Turner 1999, p. 88.
  30. ^ Wilson 2005, pp. 100–101.
  31. ^ Herington 1954, p. 578.
  32. ^ a b c Barnes 2000, p. 253.
  33. ^ Herington 1963, p. 70.
  34. ^ a b Edlington, David (8 April 2004). "The Great Crime: Aussies Among Murder Victims". Air Force News. Vol. 46 (No. 5). Retrieved 6 February 2008. 
  35. ^ The London Gazette: no. 34501. p. 2458. 12 April 1938. Retrieved 8 February 2008.
  36. ^ "Kierath, Reginald Victor". World War II Nominal Roll. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 6 February 2008. 
  37. ^ Duncan, George (2008). "More Lesser-Known Facts of World War II". Retrieved 15 February 2008. 
  38. ^ Franks 2003, p. 108.
  39. ^ Herington 1963, p. 111.
  40. ^ Herington 1963, pp. 346–349.
  41. ^ Herington 1963, p. 353.
  42. ^ RAAF Historical Section 1995, p. 111.
  43. ^ a b c Rawlings 1978, p. 442.
  44. ^ Halley 1988, p. 474.
  45. ^ a b Jefford 2001, p. 94.
  46. ^ Halley 1988, pp. 473–474.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Barnes, Norman (2000). The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons. St Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-130-2. 
  • Bowyer, Michael J.F.; Rawlings, John D.R. (1979). Squadron Codes, 1937–56. Cambridge, UK: Patrick Stephens. ISBN 0-85059-364-6. 
  • Brown, Russell (1983). Desert Warriors: Australian P-40 Pilots at War in the Middle East and North Africa, 1941–1943. Maryborough, Queensland: Banner Books. ISBN 1-875593-22-5. 
  • Eather, Steve (1995). Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force. Weston Creek, Australian Capital Territory: Aerospace Publications. ISBN 1-875671-15-3. 
  • Flintham, Vic; Thomas, Andrew (2003). Combat Codes: A Full Explanation and Listing of British, Commonwealth and Allied Air Force Unit Codes Since 1938. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-84037-281-8. 
  • Franks, Norman (2003). Beyond Courage: Air Sea Rescue by Walrus Squadrons in the Adriatic, Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian Seas 1942–1945. London: Grub Street. ISBN 9781904010302. 
  • Halley, James J. (1988). The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth 1918–1988. Tonbridge, UK: Air Britain (Historians). ISBN 0-85130-164-9. 
  • Herington, John (1954). Second World War: Volume III – Air War Against Germany and Italy, 1939–1943. Australia in the War of 1939–1945 (1st ed.). Canberra: Australian War Memorial. OCLC 3633363. 
  • Herington, John (1963). Second World War: Volume IV – Air Power Over Europe, 1944–1945. Australia in the War of 1939–1945 (1st ed.). Canberra: Australian War Memorial. OCLC 3633419. 
  • Jefford, C.G. (2001) [1988]. RAF Squadrons: A Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and Their Antecedents Since 1912 (2nd ed.). Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-85310-053-6. 
  • RAAF Historical Section (1995). Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: A Concise History. Volume 2: Fighter Units. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 9780644427944. 
  • Rawlings, John D.R. (1978) [1976]. Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and Their Aircraft (2nd ed.). London: Macdonald & Jane's (Publishers). ISBN 0-354-01028-X. 
  • Turner, Jim (1999). The RAAF at War: World War II, Korea, Malaya & Vietnam. East Roseville, New South Wales: Kangaroo Press. ISBN 0-86417-889-1. 
  • Wilson, David (2005). Brotherhood of Airmen: The Men and Women of the RAAF in Action. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-333-0.