This campaign was based on the Royal Air Force's engagement with the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica (Italian Airforce) in NW Europe over Britain, France and Germany, and lasted until 5 May 1945.
Many Australians served in RAF Squadrons and in a number of RAAF and other Dominion units. Aircrew were generally trained under the Empire Air Training Scheme. (/explore/campaigns/13)
Australian "Article XV Squadrons" all with a 400 series number, were attached to RAF Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands. Article XV Squadrons also included Canadian, New Zealand and South African Squadrons, in which Australians also served.
The greatest number of Australians served as individuals posted across the RAF force. These men were nown colloquially as "Odd Bods".
The sector operating at the greatest intensity were those flown by RAF Bomber Command and Australian aircrews flew in virtually every major operation, including the first Thousand Bomber raid, Operation Chastise (the Dambusters raid), Pathfinder Force and major operations against Hamburg Berlin and the Ruhr Valley, German's industrial heartland.
Although in numerical terms less than 2 per cent of Australia's World War II total enlistments, the 3486 men who were killed in Bomber Command accounted for almost 20 per cent of all Australian combat deaths, the other largest single group being PoW of the Japanese. The squadron with the greatest losses - 1019 men - was 460 Squadron RAAF, (/explore/units/28) which operated Vickers Wellington and then Avro Lancaster bombers from England from 1942.
In late 1943 and early 1944, during the peak of the bomber offensive against Germany, the bomber crews suffered a loss rate of nearly five per cent on each operation (a bombing raid or 'op' for short). The chance of surviving a full tour of 30 'ops' was remote.
Aircraft were often lost with all crew but on many occasions, at least some members of the crew might escape a doomed aircraft. About 1,500 RAAF aircrew 'bailed out' from their aircraft over enemy territory and spent the remainder of the war in prison camps.
The Air War comprised a number of phases, some of which were concurrent:
The "Phoney War" – pre May 1940
The Battle of France – May-June 1940. Pilot Officer Leslie Clisby DFC (/explore/people/13447), from South Australia, became an ace in this campaign before being killed in action in May 1940.
The Battle of Britain – July–October 1940. Relatively few Australians played a direct role in the Battle. One who did was Flight Lieutenant Richard Reynell (/explore/people/378906) who flew with the RAF's 43 Squadron. He was killed in action on 7th September 1940. His father had been killed in action commanding the 9th Light Horse Regiment at Hill 60 at Gallipoli in August 1915.
The Blitz - November 1940-June 1941. 456 RAAF Night Fighter Squadron (/explore/units/960) defended Britain from night bombing raids. Squadron Leader Bob Cowper DFC, (/explore/people/512078) who flew with and commanded No. 456 Squadron later in the war had 'cut his teeth' in a similar RAF unit, No. 108 Squadron, before being transfered to the Mediterranean theatre.
‘Rhubarbs’ & fighter escorts – June 1941–D Day.
Post D Day - ground attack and interdiction of enemy ground forces
Bomber Command Offensive.
Australia's 460 (/explore/units/28), 462 (/explore/units/801) (Special Duties) , 463 & 467 Squadrons (/explore/units/398) and 466 Squadron (/explore/units/743) flew as part of RAF Bomber Command. Tens of thousands of Australians flew in RAF Squadrons. Collectively they suffered the highest loss rates of any Australian grouping in WW2.
- Early on, twin engined medium bomber aircraft such as the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, Handley Page Hampden, Avro Manchester and Vickers Wellington formed the bulk of the force but they quickly became obsolete. Their losses were high and the decision was taken to switch to night operations.
- A Luftwaffe decision to bomb London at night during the Blitz in 1940 triggered a response raid on Berlin which began Britain's main offensive campaign until the D Day landings.
- Early results were disappointing mainly due to problems with navigation.
- The introduction of four engined bombers, the Short Stirling, Handley Page Halifax and the famed Avro Lancaster bomber changed things. Also added to the inventory was the very fast twin engined de Havilland Mosquito. The creation of the Pathfinder force in mid 1942, led by Australian Wing Commander Don Bennett, to mark targets for the main force, and later still the introduction of navigation aids such as "Gee" and "H2S" inreased accuracy and the damage inflicted increased exponentially. The Lancaster in particular formed the backbone of the night bomber force from 1942. It was arguably the best bomber of the war; able to carry a prodigious bomb load and faster than its American day bomber counterparts, if not as well armed and protected.
- Despite the aircraft's success, its losses were horrendous, with fully half of the Lancaster fleet of over 7000, lost in action mainly to enemy night fighters and anti aircraft fire (known as Flack).
First 'thousand bomber raid' Cologne May 1942
The Dams raid May 1943. Numbers of Australians took part in this famous raid by 617 squadron ("The Dambusters") including pilots Mickey Martin and Dave Shannon.
Pathfinders. The Pathfinder Force was consolidated in No. 8 Group of Bomber Command
The Ruhr (Germany's industrial heartland)
Support to Operation Overlord (May - September 1944) The Transportation Plan raids over France and Belgium.
D Day - paratroop and glider-borne Assaults, resupply operations
Dresden Feb 1945 - the most controversial raid of the campaign - flown at maximum range from the United Kingdom.
Relief Operations - Post war's end repatriation of prisoners and dropping of emergency food supplies in Holland, 'Operation Manna'
Transport Command Operations
Special Operations Executive - infiltration of agents into occupied Europe
Coastal Command Operations - North Atlantic.
The Battle of the Atlantic and the U Boat scourge. Australia's 10 Squadron (/explore/units/392)served throughout the War and was joined by 461 Squadron (/explore/units/392) in this role operating Short Sunderland Flying Boats.
Maritime Strike. RAAF 455 Beaufighter Squadron (/explore/units/408) played a key role attacking Nazi shipping in the North Sea and Norway.
Steve Larkins 15 May 2013