SQUADRONS! No.60: The Supermarine Spitfire – The Australian squadrons in Western Europe and the Med

Having begun to expand in the 1930s, the RAAF still only had twelve permanent squadrons when war was declared. However, 10 Squadron was already in the UK to pick up its new Short Sunderlands, 3 Squadron left for the Middle East several months later and other units soon departed for the Far East. That was not enough to face the challenges imposed by the air war to come and a massive expansion was initiated. Within two years, and counting only the units earmarked to be placed under RAF authority, no less than seventeen squadrons were formed. However only four were dedicated to the day fighter role — 450 in the Middle East, 452 and 457 in the UK, and 453 in the Far East. From the start, 452 attracted attention from the media thanks of its considerable successes in 1941-1942, the Australian fighter pilots making the most claims among the nations of the Empire. This initial assignment changed dramatically with the Japanese invasion of South East Asia, however, and the disaster that followed, ending with the fall of Singapore and the threat of an invasion of Australia in the spring of 1942. While the Brewster Buffalo equipped 453 Squadron was wiped out at Singapore (see SQUADRONS! 33), 452 and 457 were urgently recalled to Australia, leaving the RAAF with no fighter presence in UK, a situation that was not acceptable from an Australian political point of view. That led to the re-formation of 453 Squadron in the UK while 452 and 457 were embarking for Australia. The unit never replaced 452 in the media, partly because it had less success and, therefore, the Australian fighter pilots in Europe rarely made headlines from then on. Furthermore, and as far as a day fighter force was concerned, the RAAF was hampered by its involvement in the South West Pacific and couldn’t increase its fighter presence in the UK despite the arrival of 451 Squadron in 1944 following its switch from the tactical reconnaissance role the previous year. Further RAAF fighter squadrons may have helped attract attention, but that never happened. Consequently, the RAAF has been under-represented in the fighter role unlike, for example, the Canadians who deployed a dozen fighter squadrons in Western Europe, and, like the Australians, participated actively in the liberation of Europe, receiving far more attention in the process. Only four Australian fighter squadrons eventually used the Spitfire while serving in Western Europe or on the Mediterranean theatres, Nos. 452, 457, 453 and 451, from the first to the last user. In all, 127 victories were claims (confirmed or probable) by these four squadrons in over 13,000 operational sorties, losing in the same time 100 aircraft and 70 pilots to all causes.

ISBN: 978-2-494471-02-3



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