Portrait of Group Captain Clive Caldwell, DSO, DFC & Bar, Polish Cross of Valour.
Clive Robertson Caldwell was born in Lewisham, Sydney on the 28th of July, 1911. Pre war he trained for his civil pilot's licence whilst a member of the Royal Aero Club. He joined the RAAF at the beginning of the war in 1939 and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1940. As he was destined to become an instructor after completing his training, he resigned and re-applied as an air-crew trainee. His commission was reinstated in January 1941, and he was sent to the Middle East where he took up flying duties in Tomahawks with 250 Squadron RAF. Following a short period of operations in Syria and Cyprus, Caldwell and the squadron were relocated to the Western Desert. It was in this theatre that he achieved great success during intensive operations.
By mid-1941, Caldwell had flown about 40 operational sorties, but had only one confirmed kill - a Bf 109. He was perplexed by the fact that he had trouble scoring hits on enemy aircraft. Whilst returning to base one day, he noted his squadron's aircraft casting shadows on the desert below. He fired a burst of his guns and noted the fall of shot relative to his shadow. He realised this method allowed for the assessment of required deflection to hit moving targets. Further experimentation lead him to acquire the knowledge to assess deflection needed for a range of speeds. Within a couple of weeks he had attained four further kills and a half share. Caldwell's method of "shadow shooting" became a standard method of gunnery practice in the Middle East.
On 29 August 1941 Clive Caldwell was attacked by two Bf 109s North-West of Sidi Barrani. One of his attackers was the Bf 109 E-7 "black 8" of 2./JG 27 piloted by one of Germany's top aces, Leutnant Werner Schroer who was credited with 114 Allied planes in only 197 combat missions. Caldwell's P-40 "Tomahawk" of 250 Squadron was riddled with more than 100 rounds of 7.9 mm slugs, plus five 20 mm cannon strikes which punctured a tyre and rendered the flaps inoperative. In the first attack Caldwell suffered bullet wounds to the back, left shoulder, and leg. In the next pass one shot slammed through the canopy, causing splinters which wounded him with perspex in the face and shrapnel in the neck. Two cannon shells also punched their way through the rear fuselage just behind him and the starboard wing was badly damaged. Despite damage to both himself and the aircraft, Caldwell, feeling, as he remembers, "quite hostile" turned on his attackers and sent down one of the Bf 109s in flames. The pilot of the second Messerschmitt, the renowned Leutnant Schroer, shocked by this turn of events, evidently made off in some haste. Caldwell's engine had caught fire, however he managed to extinguish the flames with a violent slip. He then nursed his flying wreck back to base at Sidi Haneish.
Caldwell's most successful day was the 5th of December 1941 when he shot down five Ju 87s in a single engagement during operation "Crusader". Here is the combat report of that action:
"I received radio warning that a large enemy formation was approaching from the North-West. No. 250 Squadron went into line astern behind me and as No. 112 Squadron engaged the escorting enemy fighters we attacked the JUs from the rear quarter. At 300 yards I opened fire with all my guns at the leader of one of the rear sections of three, allowing too little deflection, and hit No. 2 and No. 3, one of which burst into flames immediately, the other going down smoking and went into flames after losing about 1000 feet. I then attacked the leader of the rear section...from below and behind, opening fire with all guns at very close range. The enemy aircraft turned over and dived steeply...opened fire [at another Ju 87] again at close range, the enemy caught fire...and crashed in flames. I was able to pull up under the belly of one of the rear, holding the burst until very close range. The enemy...caught fire and dived into the ground."
Due to his aggressiveness, exceptional combat skills, and determination to strafe ground targets, Caldwell soon acquired the nickname "Killer" which he apparently was not particularly proud of. The name however stuck and was commonly used in referring to Caldwell. In opinion of Wing Commander R.H. "Bobby" Gibbes (he battled in 3 Sqdn RAAF in North Africa and in the SW Pacific under Caldwell's command): "Clive Caldwell was given the name "Killer" (a name which was not of his choosing or liking) due to his habit of shooting up any enemy vehicle which he saw below when returning from a sortie. Invariably he landed back at his base with almost no ammunition left."
Caldwell was promoted to flight commander in November 1941 and received the DFC and Bar simultaneously on December 26 by which time he had 17 victories. He was promoted to Squadron Leader in January 1942 and took command of 112 Squadron RAF flying Kittyhawks. It was due to his leadership, confidence and daring, his work with a contingent of Polish pilots attached to 112 Squadron, and continued success with this squadron that he received the Polish Cross of Valour (Krzyz Walecznych).
In contrast with the great successes of Skalski's Circus , Polish pilots' endeavours with 112 Squadron weren't as fruitful. A group of 12 Polish ferry-transport pilots volunteered for RAF service on 29 August 1941 and after training they joined "Shark" squadron in February 1942. On 14 February, 1942 the patrolling 112 Sqn RAF and 3 Sqn RAAF encountered a formation of 32 enemy aircraft and Sec.Ltn. Dula downed an MC 200. In combat with 6 Bf 109 fighters from I/JG 27 on 21 February 1942 three "Kittyhawks" of 112 Sqn were downed, two of them piloted by Polish pilots: Sgt. Derma and Ltn. Jander. On 13 March 1942 pilots P/O Bartle (English) and Sgt. Rozanski (Polish) left a formation of 12 "Sharks" in the Tobruk area and they were caught by surprise and attacked by Oberfeldtwebel Otto Schulz (4./JG 27, MIA on 17 June 1942, 42 victories). Both were downed, but Rozanski luckily escaped his crashed, burning aircraft. On the following day Sgt. Urbanczyk together with S/L Caldwell got one Bf 109. On 15 March 1942 112 Squadron was moved from the front line to Sidi Haneish for replacements. Polish pilots didn't return to duty in this unit from 16 April 1942.
Whilst with 112 Squadron, the Australian government asked that he be released to return to Australia to command a Wing in the defence of Australia. This Wing was to consist of 3 Squadrons of "Spitfires", and Caldwell spent some time with the Kenley Wing before returning home to acquaint himself with the new aircraft. The Japanese were threatening Northern Australia, and several Australian towns were regularly being bombed. Caldwell left the Middle East with nineteen individual and three shared confirmed enemy kills, six probables, and fifteen damaged.
On his departure from the Middle East, the Marshall of the RAF Lord Tedder wrote of Caldwell: 'An excellent leader - and a first class shot.'
On taking up his command of No. 1 Fighter Wing based in Darwin, Caldwell again showed his outstanding fighting abilities and claimed a further eight Japanese aircraft by August 1943. Caldwell's tally was twenty-eight and a half by the time he left the Wing in August and for this feat he received a DSO to add to his DFC and Bar and Polish Cross of Valour.
The following table details Caldwell's tally of kills:
|1||26/6/41||Bf 109 (a)||Destroyed||Capuzzo|
|2||30/6/41||Bf 110 (b)||Destroyed (shared)||off Tobruk|
|3||30/6/41||Ju 87 (c)||Destroyed||off Tobruk|
|4||30/6/41||Ju 87||Destroyed||off Tobruk|
|6||16/8/41||G.50||Destroyed (shared)||Convoy patrol|
|7||29/8/41||Bf 109F||Destroyed||Sidi Barrani|
|11||23/11/41||Bf 109 (d)||Destroyed||Baheira|
|12||5/12/41||Ju 87||Destroyed||S El Adem|
|13||5/12/41||Ju 87||Destroyed||S El Adem|
|14||5/12/41||Ju 87||Destroyed||S El Adem|
|15||5/12/41||Ju 87||Destroyed||S El Adem|
|16||5/12/41||Ju 87||Destroyed||S El Adem|
|18||20/12/41||Bf 109||Destroyed||S Barce|
|24/12/41||Bf 109 (e)||Damaged|
|19||21/2/42||Bf 109 (f)||Destroyed||Derna-Gazala|
|21||14/3/42||C.202||Destroyed (shared)||NW Tobruk|
|22||23/4/42||Bf 109||Destroyed||Bir Hacheim|
|23||2/3/43||Zeke (A6M)||Destroyed||50 km WNW Pt Charles|
|24||2/3/43||Kate (B5N)||Destroyed||50 km WNW Pt Charles|
|25||2/5/43||Zeke (A6M)||Destroyed||65 to 95 km NW Darwin|
|26||2/5/43||Zeke (A6M)||Destroyed||65 to 95 km NW Darwin|
|27||20/6/43||Zeke (A6M)||Destroyed||SW Darwin|
|28||30/6/43||Zeke (A6M)||Destroyed||65 km W Batchelor|
|29||30/6/43||Betty (G4M)||Destroyed||65 km W Batchelor|
|30||20/8/43||Dinah (Ki-46) (g)||Destroyed||30 km W Cape Fourcroy|
Caldwell returned to operations in April 1944 (after a period commanding an OTU) commanding 80 Wing out of Darwin and Morotai. By this time opposition in the air from the Japanese had waned, and the role of the RAAF in the South-West Pacific had been relegated to a supporting role. 80 Wing was confined to strafing and bombing ground targets which Caldwell and his pilots found wasteful and frustrating. These targets were isolated from the main Japanese forces and the pilots resented being risked in tasks whose results were making no contribution towards winning the war. In April 1945, Caldwell and seven other officers tended their resignations in protest (the so-called Morotai mutiny) against the RAAF's role in the latter stages of the war. This action lead to a command crisis in the RAAF where three senior officers including Air Commodore Cobby (WW1 ace) were relieved of their duties. Caldwell finished the war attached to HQ, 1st TAF, RAAF, based in Melbourne. He resigned from the RAAF in 1946 and was a successful businessman until his death on 5th of August, 1994.
Nice colour photo of "Kittyhawks" from 112 Squadron RAF, commanded by Caldwell.