Peter Raw

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Peter Frank Raw
Squadron Leader Peter Raw in 1952.jpg
Squadron Leader Peter Raw in the cockpit of a Vampire aircraft during 1952
Born (1922-06-05)5 June 1922
Carnegie, Victoria
Died 14 July 1988(1988-07-14) (aged 66)
Melbourne, Victoria
Allegiance  Australia
Service/branch Royal Australian Air Force
Years of service 1941–1978[1]
Rank Air Commodore
Commands held No. 205 Group Communication Squadron RAF (1945)
No. 1 Long Range Flight RAAF (1953)
No. 2 Squadron RAAF (1953–1955)
No. 82 Wing RAAF (1965–1966)
RAAF Base Butterworth (1972–1976)
Battles/wars World War II
Vietnam War
Awards Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Force Cross
Cross of Valour (Poland)

Air Commodore Peter Frank Raw DSO, DFC, AFC (5 June 1922 – 14 July 1988) was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pilot and officer. He joined the RAAF in 1941, and served as a flight instructor, bomber pilot and the commander of a communications unit during World War II. After the war he became a specialist navigator. He was appointed the commander of No. 2 Squadron in January 1953, but temporarily left this position for part of the year to participate in the 1953 London to Christchurch air race, and placed second when the race was conducted in October. He returned to lead No. 2 Squadron at the end of 1953 and held this position until 1955.

Raw subsequently served in staff and diplomatic roles until 1965, when he took command of No. 82 Wing. Between May 1966 and April 1967, he served in the Vietnam War as the air support coordinator for the Australian forces in South Vietnam; his initial refusal to commit RAAF helicopters to support the Australian Army force ambushed during the Battle of Long Tan generated lasting controversy. Raw served in various staff and training positions until 1972, when he was appointed the commander of RAAF Base Butterworth. He returned to Australia in 1976 and retired from the RAAF two years later.

Early career[edit]

Raw was born in the Melbourne suburb of Carnegie on 5 June 1922.[1] By September 1939 he was working at Carlton & United Breweries as a first-year electrical apprentice. He attempted to join the Royal Australian Navy as an electrical artificer in 1941, but was rejected and told to reapply in twelve months time. Instead, he joined the RAAF on 15 August that year. He departed Sydney bound for Rhodesia in November 1941 to be trained as a pilot under the Empire Air Training Scheme. Arriving in Rhodesia in January 1942, Raw completed his training and was commissioned as an officer in December that year. He remained in Rhodesia throughout 1943, where he served as a flying instructor.[2]

In early 1944, Raw was transferred to Egypt and undertook an operational conversion course that prepared him to fly Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers in combat.[2][3] In July of that year he was posted to No. 178 Squadron RAF, a British B-24 Liberator unit based near Foggia in southern Italy.[2][4] While serving with this squadron, Raw took part in operations in the eastern Mediterranean region as well as Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia.[2] During August 1944 the long-range bomber units within No. 205 Group RAF, including No. 178 Squadron, undertook a number of risky operations to supply the Polish Home Army during the Warsaw Uprising.[5] Raw participated in three of these supply flights to Warsaw.[2] His bomber was the only aircraft to deliver its cargo to Warsaw during a mission on 16 August; Raw subsequently received the Polish Cross of Valour for this achievement.[6] One of his other flights to Warsaw was conducted on 1 September, but Raw was unable to see the city at the time he dropped load of supplies due to bad weather.[7]

During a raid on the northern Italian city of Verona on 12 October, Raw's aircraft was hit by two anti-aircraft shells that destroyed its hydraulics system and an engine, wounded the radio operator and opened 166 holes in the fuselage. Despite this damage, Raw was able to return the B-24 to its base and made a safe landing. He suffered frostbite to his feet, however, as damage to the plane's nose caused icy winds to enter the cockpit.[2][8]

In December 1944, Raw was promoted to the rank of flight lieutenant. He subsequently assumed command of No. 205 Group Communication Squadron RAF in 1945.[2][9] In February that year he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross as well as the Polish Cross of Valour.[2][10] The Polish medal was awarded in recognition of his supply-dropping flights to Warsaw.[3] Following the end of the war, Raw returned to Australia in November 1945 and was demobilised on 17 January 1946.[2][11] He married Dorothy Claire Maggs at St Mary’s Church of England in Caulfield on the 19th of the month, and they subsequently had a daughter.[11]

Raw rejoined the RAAF in May 1946, and retained his wartime rank of flight lieutenant. Between 1947 and October 1949 he was posted to Britain to undertake specialist training in navigation.[12] On his return to Australia Raw served as an instructor at the RAAF's School of Air Navigation, followed by training positions at No. 78 Wing and No. 2 Operational Training Unit; during 1952 he served as the acting commanding officer of the latter unit.[11][13]

Commanding officer[edit]

Black and white photograph of three men wearing military uniforms posing while standing in front of the nose of a military jet aircraft
Squadron Leader Peter Raw (centre) and the other two crew members of the Canberra bomber he flew during the 1953 London-to-Christchurch air race

In January 1953 Raw, who was by now a squadron leader, was appointed the commanding officer of No. 2 Squadron.[13] On 23 February he also became the initial commander of No. 1 Long Range Flight, which had been formed to participate in the 1953 London to Christchurch air race using two of the RAAF's new English Electric Canberra bombers. He handed this position to Wing Commander Derek Cuming in May, but remained a member of the flight.[14][15] In July Raw temporarily vacated his position at No. 2 Squadron so he could focus on preparing for the air race.[13] The Canberras piloted by Raw and Cuming departed Australia for the United Kingdom on 10 September, and the race began on 9 October.[14] Raw's aircraft suffered damage to its nose wheel while landing to refuel at Woomera, but was able to be repaired.[16] This accident cost Raw the lead in the race.[17] He arrived at Christchurch at 04:32 on 10 October, finishing second behind a RAF Canberra piloted by Flight Lieutenant Roland (Monty) Burton.[16]

Raw returned to lead No. 2 Squadron on 18 December 1953.[18] During this month the unit became the RAAF's first jet bomber-equipped squadron when it replaced its Avro Lincoln aircraft with Canberras; in doing so the squadron was built around a nucleus of personnel who had served with No. 1 Long Range Flight.[19][20] Later in December a Canberra piloted by Raw established a new speed record for a flight between New Zealand and Australia, completing the crossing between Auckland and Sydney in two hours and 49 minutes.[21] On 31 December 1953 Raw was awarded the Air Force Cross for his role in the London to Christchurch air race, and this medal was presented to him by Queen Elizabeth II at Brisbane on 10 March 1954.[22][23]

Raw completed his term as commanding officer of No. 2 Squadron on 11 July 1955 and was posted to the UK to undertake training at the Royal Air Force Flying College.[13][18] Upon his return to Australia in January 1956, he was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander and posted to a planning role at RAAF Headquarters in Melbourne. From December that year he served as a liaison officer to the RAAF force supporting the British nuclear weapons tests in the Montebello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. In 1957 Raw was posted to the Joint Planning staff.[13] During 1958 he and Dorothy divorced; Raw subsequently married Helen Dorothy Hammond on 21 June that year at St Margaret’s Presbyterian Church in Balaclava. This marriage produced another daughter and a son.[11] After completing a course at the RAAF Staff College, Raw became a member of the service's directing staff until late 1962. In 1963 he undertook further training at the United States Armed Forces Staff College, after which he assumed the position of assistant air attaché in the Australian Embassy in Washington D.C.[13] In February 1965 Raw assumed command of No. 82 Wing, which controlled all of the RAAF's bomber squadrons. He was raised to acting group captain at this time, and was confirmed in this rank during January the next year.[13]

Vietnam War and subsequent career[edit]

In May 1966 Raw was posted to South Vietnam as the air support commander for the 1st Australian Task Force, which had recently arrived in the country as part of an expansion of Australia's commitment to the Vietnam War. Although he did not have any background in air/land warfare, Raw's main responsibility in this position was to coordinate helicopter support for the task force's two infantry battalions.[13] RAAF historian Alan Stephens has written that "Group Captain Raw's background as one of the RAAF's most respected bomber leaders was inappropriate for the job of task force air commander: too often he struggled to make the timely decisions demanded by tactical air/land operations" and that the RAAF's Air Board should have selected an officer with more relevant experience for this position.[24] In addition to his role as air support commander, Raw was also the commander of the RAAF units stationed at Vũng Tàu and the overall deputy commander of the RAAF force in South Vietnam.[25] He regularly flew operational missions with the UH-1 Iroquois helicopter-equipped No. 9 Squadron as well as No. 35 Squadron, which operated DHC-4 Caribou tactical transports.[25]

A No. 9 Squadron Iroquois helicopter in South Vietnam during 1970

During the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1965, Raw initially refused to allow No. 9 Squadron to fly ammunition to the hard-pressed Australian Army unit that had been ambushed, as he believed that the heavy rain at the time made flying too dangerous. The commander of the 1st Australian Task Force, Brigadier David Jackson, was angered by this decision and argued that the risk of losing a small number of helicopters was unimportant compared to the possibility of having 200 infantryman killed if the unit was overrun due to a lack of ammunition and other supplies. Raw eventually agreed to allow the resupply flight to proceed after the most experienced of the helicopter pilots present stated that the mission needed to be flown regardless of its risk, and the ammunition delivered by the helicopters was important in preventing the Australian force from being defeated.[26] As a result of his actions during the battle, the relationship between Raw and senior Army commanders was "most difficult" throughout the remainder of his time in South Vietnam.[25][27] In November 1965 Raw took part in Operation Hayman, which was conducted against Viet Cong forces on Long Son Island. During this operation he flew in with the assault troops and remained on the island to direct air missions, including while under sniper fire.[28] Raw completed his tour of duty in South Vietnam in April 1967 and returned to Australia. In November that year he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his role in the war.[29]

The disagreement between Jackson and Raw during the Battle of Long Tan had long-term effects on the structure of the Australian Defence Force. Raw's initial refusal to commit helicopters contributed to the development of a long-lasting perception among some Army officers that the RAAF was reluctant to support their service in battle. Influenced by this perception, the Army subsequently advocated for the RAAF's battlefield helicopters to be transferred to its control, and this eventually occurred in the late 1980s.[26]

Upon his return to Australia, Raw was appointed Director of Operational Requirements at the Department of Air.[29] In 1969 he headed an evaluation team tasked with selecting a heavy lift helicopter for the RAAF. The team was faced with a choice between the Boeing CH-47 Chinook and Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion, and Raw's final report recommended acquiring CH-53s. The RAAF's governing Air Board and senior Army officers rejected this recommendation, and CH-47s were purchased instead after Air Vice Marshal Charles Read also reviewed the performance of the two helicopters and concluded that the Chinook better met Australia's needs.[30] Raw remained the Director of Operational Requirements until 1970 when he became the commandant of the RAAF Staff College. In 1972 he was promoted to the rank of air commodore and assumed command of RAAF Base Butterworth in Malaysia. Raw held this position until 1976 when he returned to Australia and became the senior training and staff officer in the headquarters of the RAAF's Support Command. This was his final military posting, as he retired from the Air Force on 28 February 1978.[29]

In a newspaper interview shortly before his retirement, Raw identified the 1953 London to Christchurch air race as being a highlight of his career. He also observed that RAAF personnel needed higher levels of professional qualifications than had been the case when he joined the Air Force, and there was a greater specialisation in particular fields. Raw further stated that there was a need to improve the defences of northern Australia on the grounds that "political situations can change overnight".[31] On 15 July 1988 Raw died of lymphoma at Richmond in Melbourne. He was subsequently cremated.[6][11]


  1. ^ a b "Raw, Peter Frank". World War 2 Nominal Roll. Department of Veterans' Affairs. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Clark (2007), p. 28
  3. ^ a b "RCA Radiogram". 3 March 1945. 
  4. ^ "178 Squadron". History RAF Formations. Royal Air Force. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  5. ^ Herington (1963), pp. 330–331
  6. ^ a b Clark (2012), p. 5
  7. ^ "Hard Going in Warsaw Mercy Flight". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860-1954) (Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 14 September 1944. p. 2. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  8. ^ "With the RAAF over Europe". Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885-1954) (Qld.: National Library of Australia). 9 January 1945. p. 4. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  9. ^ Herington (1963), p. 331
  10. ^ "Honours and Awards - Peter Frank Raw". Honours & Awards. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Clark, Chris (2012). "Raw, Peter Frank (1922–1988)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Clark (2007), pp. 28–29
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Clark (2007), p. 29
  14. ^ a b RAAF Historical Section (1953), p. 148
  15. ^ "R.A.A.F. Unit to Plan Air Race". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926-1954) (ACT: National Library of Australia). 26 February 1953. p. 4. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  16. ^ a b RAAF Historical Section (1995), p. 149
  17. ^ Stephens (1995), p. 445
  18. ^ a b RAAF Historical Section (1995), p. 13
  19. ^ RAAF Historical Section (1995), p. 11
  20. ^ "Air Race Crew Will Lead New Squadron.". The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879-1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 5 November 1953. p. 2. Retrieved 13 June 2011. 
  21. ^ "NZ-Aust flight breaks record.". The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933-1954) (Brisbane, Qld.: National Library of Australia). 24 December 1953. p. 3. Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  22. ^ "Mrs. Menzies, Airmen in Federal Honours List". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931-1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 1 January 1954. p. 3. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  23. ^ "Queen's Busy 12-Hour Day". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 11 March 1954. p. 5. Retrieved 29 May 2011. 
  24. ^ Stephens (1995), p. 292
  25. ^ a b c Clark (2007), p. 30
  26. ^ a b Stephens (1995), pp. 295–296
  27. ^ Coulthard-Clark (1995), p. 145
  28. ^ Clark (2007), pp. 30–31
  29. ^ a b c Clark (2007), p. 31
  30. ^ Stephens (1995), p. 433
  31. ^ "RAAF chief retires to home base". The Age. 21 February 1978. p. 4. 
  • Clark, Chris (2007). "Task Force Air Commander". Wartime (39). 
  • Clark, Chris (2012). The RAAF at Long Tan. Canberra: Air Power Development Centre. ISBN 9781920800727. 
  • Coulthard-Clark, Chris (1995). The RAAF in Vietnam. Australian Air Involvement in the Vietnam War 1962–1975. The Official History of Australia's Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975. Sydney: Allen and Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial. ISBN 1-86373-305-1. 
  • RAAF Historical Section (1995). Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: A Concise History. Volume 3 Bomber Units. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 0-644-42795-7. 
  • Herington, John (1963). Air Power Over Europe, 1944–1945. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 3 – Air. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. 
  • Stephens, Alan (1995). Going Solo: The Royal Australian Air Force 1946–1971. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 0-644-42803-1.