Australian Spitfires in the Pacific During World War II
The Supermarine Spitfire in the Pacific is probably best known due to the shark's teeth 457 Squadron RAAF painted on their aircraft. The Spitfire came to Australia due to a mix of British geo-politics and Australian requests for help. The Spitfire was not a good Pacific War aircraft. It had short range, logistics had to travel across the world from Britain to Australia and it was fragile in comparison to the American aircraft of the same era. However, it is a beautiful aircraft aesthetically and was loved by the pilots that flew it.
Several Australian Squadrons flew the Spitfire in Australia, New Guinea and the Pacific War;
- 79 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force
- 85 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force
- 452 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force
- 457 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force
Additionally many Operation Training Units [OTUs] in Australia operated the Spitfire as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme [EATS]. Several British squadrons also flew Spitfires in Australia as well;
- 54 Squadron Royal Air Force
- 548 Squadron Royal Air Force
- 549 Squadron Royal Air Force
The Battle of Darwin went on longer than just the period where Spitfires defended the Australian North West. After the initial raids on Darwin and Broome American P40s defended Darwin and later Australian P40s until the Spitfires arrived.
- 49th Fighter Group USAAF
- 77 Squadron RAAF
452 Squadron RAAF Spitfires
452 Squadron RAAF formed in Britain in April of 1941 with Spitfire Mark.1 aircraft. The squadron was to excel in the European theatre becoming one of the top scoring allied squadrons during the period and producing aces like 'Paddy' Finucane and 'Bluey' Truscott.
The squadron flew from Kenly and Redhill before their last victory was achieved by Truscott in March of 1942. The squadron was credited with sixty aircraft destroyed despite the loss of twenty two pilots. In 1942, the Squadron, along with 457 Squadron RAAF and 54 Squadron RAF were marked to move to Australia to defend the Northern Territory from the Japanese and to show that Britain was still involved in Australian defence matters.
After staging through Melbourne and Richmond, 452 Squadron moved to Strauss outside of Darwin with Spitfire Mk Vc aircraft. Due to the dusty conditions in Australia the aircraft were tropicalized with the Volkes filter under the nose. It was thought the filter affected performance but other than a few knots of airspeed it made little difference.
The Spitfire was not rugged enough for the harsh flying conditions of Northern Australia and the Pacific. The pilots and ground-crew also had numerous technical and mechanical failures with the aircraft because of the nature of the Australian bush and the high altitude interceptions. The Australian Spitfire squadrons did not solve the jamming guns, the over revving propellers or glycol leaks during the time they were defending Darwin.
The squadron thought the Australian theatre a come down after Europe where they flew against German aircraft and had the nightlife of Britain to return to each day. Living out of a dusty tent and then flying long distances over harsh Australian scrub and the unforgiving Timor Sea is far less romantic.
Despite this, 452 Squadron saw a lot of combat over the first twelve months they were in Australia as the Japanese competed for air superiority over that period until they were defeated by the Spitfires and the constant American presence in the Solomon's which demanded Japanese time, attention, materials and aircraft.
452 Sqn in the Battle of Darwin
Darwin was bombed in February of 1942 by the Japanese 1st Carrier Air Fleet and Japanese Navy bombers flying from Indonesia. It was the first time that the Australian mainland had been bombed. The damage was quite large as Darwin was undefended by either the RAAF or anti-aircraft batteries. The only RAAF squadrons in Darwin were No.12 Squadron RAAF with the CAC Wirraway and No.2 Squadron RAAF with Lockheed Hudsons. There was also no radar coverage over the Timor Sea.
The only RAAF fighter aircraft Australia had at that time were Kittyhawks and they were currently defending Port Moresby and Milne Bay. The 49th Fighter Group USAAF stepped in during the first Japanese campaign of bombing of Darwin until 76 Squadron and 77 Squadron RAAF took over the defence of Darwin in October 1942. 1 Wing RAAF with its Spitfires arrived in February of 1943 to defend Darwin and Northern Australia.
452 Squadron was part of 1 Wing RAAF which included 457 Squadron RAAF and 54 Squadron RAF under the command of famed Australian ace Clive Caldwell from the North African Theatre. All Spitfire three squadrons had seen combat in Europe and their ranks were filled with aces and combat veterans from the British, North African and Maltese campaigns.
When 452 Squadron changed over to the Spitfire Mk.VIIIs they faced the problem of their aircraft coming with a mixture of South Asian, North African and Europe Theater markings. None of which is suitable to the Australian and Pacific Theatres. 452 Squadron did not change all their aircraft to foliage green, dark earth and sky blue; a number of their aircraft were painted in foliage green only and sky blue underneath. Foliage Green was an Australian color that got used very heavily late in the war. Its closest equivalent is the American medium green.
Before 452 Squadron moved to Morotai to join up with 79 Squadron RAAF, both 452 and 457 painted a small "Ace of Spades" emblem on their tails.
457 "Grey Nurse" Squadron RAAF Spitfires
457 Squadron RAAF formed in Britain in June of 1941. Despite the squadron being deployed to the Isle of Man there was little in the way of contact with German aircraft and the squadron was over shadowed by their sister squadron, 452 RAAF, which was racking up a large score in a short period.
When the squadron was moved Redhill it began to face the superior Focke-Wulf 190 and the Mk.V Spitfires had a difficult time against it. Combat from Redhill continued until the squadron was earmarked to head to Australia as part of 1 Wing RAAF. 457 and 452 were the only two full Australian fighter squadrons in the theater with Spitfires so it was obvious that if any Spitfire squadrons were being sent to Australia it would be those two.
Australia was in a surprisingly strong political position in 1941 and 1942. The British could not defend North Africa nor pursue an offensive there without the Australian Divisions. It was a similar case in New Guinea where the Australian army was all that stood between the Japanese and New Guinea.
Surprisingly, arm wrestling the British for fighter aircraft was one of the few mechanisms the Australian government actually used that political power and the threat of returning the Australian divisions in North Africa back to Australia. As a result Australia got its Spitfires.