|Born||28 Jul 1911|
|Died||5 Aug 1994|
|Country||Australia, United Kingdom|
Contributor: Morgan Bell
Of all the births in Australia's most populous city, Sydney, during 1911, Clive Robertson Caldwell's birth might have seemed the least auspicious. Yet he was destined to become Australia's top scoring ace pilot, accumulating 28.5 kills over the course of the war, earning him the nickname "Killer" among his comrades. On a list of British and Commonwealth aces during the Second World War, Caldwell's name can be found in tenth place. He is among the ranks of a little over a thousand Allied aces who fought in the Second World War, contributing to the RAF's campaign in Europe and North Africa, and the RAAF's defence of Australia against the Japanese.
Had fate not intervened with a challenge to test the mettle of the Australian nation, and an opportunity to train a champion of the skies, Clive Caldwell might have led the very mundane existence of a trainee clerk at the Bank of New South Wales, a job his father had pushed Caldwell into when he left school. Caldwell's fascination with piloting aeroplanes began in 1938, when he joined the Royal Aero Club of New South Wales, by the time Australia joined the Second World War on the mother country's side, he had only logged eleven hours solo flying time in an antiquated, First World War era Tiger Moth. At the age of 29, Caldwell signed up for the Empire Air Training Scheme, which gave young dominion pilots experience in the war in the Western theatre, a plan hoping to alleviate Britain's lack of operational pilots. Through it, Australia contributed 27,000 air crew to operations in Britain's war against Germany. Caldwell was dispatched to the Middle East, like many young Australians, eager to fight alongside Britain, upon arrival Caldwell was assigned to No. 250 Squadron RAF, flying Tomahawks. It was in this assignment that Caldwell tasted the exhilaration of his first victory over the enemy, a German Messerschmitt BF-109, after this his score steadily rose. When he had attained a tally of eighteen enemy aircraft, he was transferred to No. 112 Squadron RAF as squadron commander. This squadron piloted Kittyhawks, but later converted to a fighter/bomber role, before the conversion was complete, the Japanese were looming over Australia as an ominous threat, his own nation would need as many experienced pilots as it could obtain. By the time Caldwell left for Australia, he had 550 hours operational flying time, and twenty and a half kills.
The return to his homeland drew nigh; Caldwell had fought alongside pilots of many different nationalities during his tenure with the RAF. Many pilots from Poland were among their number. Having served with so many Polish pilots, on 2 August 1942 Caldwell was honoured with the Polish Cross of Valour. Upon return to Australia he was made Wing Leader of the No. 1 Fighter Wing, flying their Spitfires to the aid of Darwin, which was attempting an outmatched defence against a Japanese air raid. In Australia, Caldwell's talents as a fighter ace did not produce appreciation in the upper ranks of the RAAF as they had in his involvement in previous operations in the European theater. Of Caldwell, Vice Marshal Sir George Jones wrote "This officer is an Empire Air Trainee which is considered already sufficiently decorated and is to receive no more regardless of further service". After such a welcome home, in an under-resourced, as well as apathetic, RAAF, many Empire Air Training Scheme trainees were resentful of their country's treatment of their patriotic service through dangerous exploits. Caldwell was made Chief Flying Instructor of a training unit.
The conduct of the conflict in the Pacific was like a different war entirely to the one fought in Europe. It revealed a rift between the pilots risking their lives to coax their heavier than air machines into the sky to strike a blow against Japan, and the men of high rank who sat safely behind their desks in the Defence Department in Melbourne. Since the Americans had taken a larger role in the air war in the SWPA, RAAF pilots were assigned less important, more dangerous tasks. In May 1944, Caldwell returned to operational posting, when he was appointed as wing commander of No. 80 Fighter Wing, which was assigned to a ground attack rather than a fighter role. On the airfield on the island of Morotai in the Netherlands East Indies, Caldwell and two other operational RAAF officers handed in their resignations in protest, in what became known as the Morotai Mutiny, but all officers were later reinstated. Caldwell finally resigned from the RAAF on 5 March 1946.
Sources: J. Watson, Killer Caldwell: Australia’s Greatest Fighter Pilot, Australian War Memorial, J. Beaumont, Australia's War: 1939-45.
Clive Caldwell Timeline
|28 Jul 1911||Clive Caldwell was born.|
|5 Dec 1941||Australian pilot Clive Caldwell, in a Tomahawk fighter, shot down five Stuka dive bombers in Libya.|
|14 Dec 1941||German pilot Oberfeldwebel Hermann Förster was strafed by a British fighter while he was descending in a parachute. Some thought the British pilot might had been Clive Caldwell.|
|24 Dec 1941||Clive Caldwell damaged the German Bf 109 fighter piloted by Oberleutnant Erbo von Kageneck over Agedabia, Libya. Kageneck would die of the wounds sustained in this engagement in a military hospital in Naples, Italy on 12 Jan 1942.|
|5 Aug 1994||Clive Caldwell passed away.|
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George Patton, 31 May 1944