No. 450 Squadron RAAF

No. 450 Squadron RAAF
No. 450 Squadron
P03372.011 kittybomber.jpg
North Africa, c. 1943. A Curtiss (P-40) Kittyhawk fighter-bomber belonging to 450 Squadron, loaded with six 250 lb (110 kg) bombs.
Active 16 February 1941 – 20 August 1945
Country Australia Australia
Branch Ensign of the Royal Australian Air Force.svg Royal Australian Air Force
Role Fighter squadron
Part of Desert Air Force
Nickname "The Desert Harassers" [1]
Motto Harass [1][2]
Battle honours
Commanding Officers Bruce McRae Shepherd (1941), Gordon Henry Steege (1941 – May 1942), Alan Douglas Ferguson (May 1942 – October 1942), John Edwin Ashley Williams (October 1942 – November 1942), M. H. C. Barber (November 1942 – March 1943), John Phillip Bartle (March 1943 – November 1943), Sydney George Welshman (November 1943 – December 1943), Kenneth Royce Sands (December 1943 – April 1944), Ray Trevor Hudson (April 1944 – June 1944), John Dennis Gleeson (June 1944 – October 1944), Jack Carlisle Doyle (October 1944 – August 1945)
Squadron badge heraldry A jaguar's head couped, pierced by a rapier in hand.[1][2]
Squadron codes DJ (Dec 1941 – Apr 1942)[3]
OK (Dec 1941 – Aug 1945)[4][5]
Aircraft flown
Fighter Hawker Hurricane
Curtiss Kittyhawk
North American Mustang

No. 450 Squadron (450 Sqn) was a unit of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) during World War II. It was the second RAAF Article XV squadron formed for service with the British military, under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. During its existence, 450 Sqn included personnel from several different British Commonwealth countries and/or air forces. The squadron's motto, "Harass", and its nickname, "The Desert Harassers", were derived from a comment by the Nazi propaganda broadcaster "Lord Haw Haw", who described the unit as "Australian mercenaries whose harassing tactics were easily beaten off by the Luftwaffe."[6]



The squadron officially came into existence at RAAF Williamtown, near Newcastle, NSW, on 16 February 1941, four days after No. 451 Squadron. Both units were intended to be so-called "infiltration" squadrons, which would consist initially only of ground crew and would receive a nucleus of experienced pilots after arriving in their designated theatre of operations.[7]

Middle East and North Africa

450 Sqn arrived in Egypt in May 1941. At RAF Abu Sueir, it was combined with the pilots and Hawker Hurricanes of No. 260 Squadron RAF, to form an operational squadron. The combined unit operated from RAF Aqir and at RAF Haifa, both of which were in Palestine, during the Syria-Lebanon Campaign. Its first operation was on 29 June 1941, when the Hurricanes attacked the Vichy French airfield at Baalbek.

In August 1941, 450 Sqn personnel were separated from 260 Sqn, when the latter received its own ground crew. 450 Sqn moved to Rayak airfield, Lebanon, where it was allocated Hawker Hurricanes and Miles Magister trainers. However, the squadron still lacked pilots and the aircraft were re-allocated two weeks later. In October, the squadron moved to Burg El Arab, Egypt and began operating as an advanced repair, salvage and service unit, taking part in the North African Campaign.

By December, the squadron was receiving pilots and on 18 December 1941, it began taking delivery of Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk fighters. 450 Sqn commenced operations from RAF Gambut on 20 February 1942, with an uneventful patrol. Two days later Sgt R. Shaw became the first pilot from the squadron to claim an aerial victory, after he was scrambled and intercepted a Junkers Ju 88 bomber, at an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,100 m), south east of Gazala.[7] The squadron then remained active for most of the war, generally alongside No. 3 Squadron RAAF and No. 112 Squadron RAF in No. 239 Wing, Desert Air Force (DAF; later known as the First Tactical Air Force).

The squadron's main roles—escorting daylight raids by Douglas Boston bombers, and ground attack missions in support of the Eighth Army—were hazardous and resulted in relatively heavy losses. Nevertheless, between February 1942 and May 1943, 450 Sqn pilots claimed 49 German and Italian aircraft destroyed in air combat, for the loss of 28 Kittyhawks.[8]

From 26 May, all Kittyhawk units operated primarily as fighter-bomber units.[9]

Kittyhawks from No. 450 Squadron, in North Africa during August 1942.

Along with the rest of the DAF, 450 Sqn played a significant role in the decisive Second Battle of El Alamein, during October and November 1942, attacking enemy airfields in the RAF El Daba area. By this time the DAF Kittyhawks were using two or three US-supplied 500 lb (230 kg) bombs, rather than the two to six 250 lb (110 kg) bombs previously carried, increasing the impact of their raids.[7] However, one of the unit's aces, Squadron Leader John "Willy" Williams, who had five victories, was shot down and taken prisoner on 31 October 1942, three days after he had been appointed Commanding Officer.[10]

During this period DAF squadrons moved many times, depending on the rapidly changing front lines of the Allied and Axis armies. Ground crews "leapfrogged" ahead, to prepare for the aircraft. 450 Sqn moved six times during two weeks in November.[7] The DAF squadrons found themselves using captured or hastily-constructed airfields, and several personnel were killed or wounded, by land mines.[11] Booby traps presented similar problems.

In late 1942 and early 1943, 450 Sqn took part in the Tunisian Campaign, which included air operations as far west as Algeria, during Operation Pugilist. At this time, with Axis operations in Africa winding down, the squadron encountered far fewer enemy fighters and more transport aircraft (especially Junkers Ju 52s) and ships, evacuating troops to Sicily.


450 Sqn and the other DAF fighter squadrons played a significant ground attack role in the Allied invasion of Sicily, during July–August 1943. Using RAF Luqa, Malta as a staging post, they operated in a light interdiction role, carrying two 250 lb (110 kg) bombs, to attack Axis road vehicles.

Following the Allied victory in Sicily, 450 Sqn and 3 Sqn were based on the island, at Agnone, near Augusta. On the night of 11 August, the airfield was attacked by Ju 88 bombers, dropping incendiary, anti-personnel and high explosive bombs, for more than an hour.[12] Because the personnel camp had been placed some distance from the operations facilities, only one person was wounded. However, 18 RAAF Kittyhawks were destroyed, including 11 belonging to 450 Sqn. Despite this, the two RAAF squadrons mounted 22 sorties the following day.

During the subsequent campaign on the Italian mainland, which commenced on 17 September 1943, the squadron continued its close air support role. In December, the squadron moved to Cutella, near Termoli, on the central Adriatic coast of Italy. There it encountered problems with severe winter weather restricting operations. In addition, Cutella airfield was located close to the beach; heavy rains caused a storm surge on 1 January 1944, and the airfield became covered with seawater, which damaged some aircraft.[13]

Meanwhile, Willy Williams and another prisoner of war from 450 Sqn, Flight Lieutenant Reginald (Reg) Kierath, were among the Allied POWs at Stalag Luft III, in eastern Germany. In March 1944, both took part in "The Great Escape" and were among 50 POWs murdered by the Gestapo, after being recaptured.[14] Williams, who was 27 years old and from Sydney, was officially an RAF officer, as he had joined the British service under a Short Service Commission, in 1938.[14][15] Kierath, who was 29 and from Narromine, New South Wales, was an RAAF officer.[16]

On 29 April 1944, several USAAF P-47 Thunderbolt pilots mistook Cutella for an Axis airfield and strafed it.[17] 450 Sqn suffered no fatalities or aircraft destroyed, but the pilot of a float plane belonging to an air sea rescue unit was killed, some ground personnel were wounded, a Kittyhawk belong to 3 Sqn was destroyed and several others were damaged. 450 Squadron later operated at a variety of airfields in central and northern Italy, operating under the "Cab Rank" system, whereby patrolling fighter-bombers would attack as requested by army air liaison officers. 450 Sqn also took part in the major offensive against the Gothic Line, in August–September 1944. From November, the squadron's targets included German forces in Yugoslavia.

On 21 March 1945, the squadron took part in Operation Bowler, a major air raid on Venice harbour. The attack resulted in the sinking of two merchant ships, the destruction of five warehouses and other harbour infrastructure. In mid-1945, the squadron became the second RAAF unit, after 3 Sqn, to receive North American Mustangs, albeit too late to see action during the war. 450 Sqn was disbanded on 20 August 1945 at Lavariano few miles South of Udine in North Eastern Italy.

During the war, the squadron had 63 personnel killed in action, of whom 49 were Australian.

Aircraft operated

data from[18][19][20]
From To Aircraft Version
May 1941 December 1941 Hawker Hurricane Mk.I
December 1941 September 1942 Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.I
1942 September 1942 Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.Ia
September 1942 October 1943 Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.III
October 1943 August 1945 Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.IV
May 1945 August 1945 North American Mustang Mk.III

Squadron bases

Bases and airfields used by no. 450 Squadron RAAF, data from[18][20][21]
From To Base Remark
16 February 1941 9 April 1941 RAAF Williamtown, New South Wales
9 April 1941 12 May 1941 en route to Middle East
12 May 1941 23 June 1941 RAF Abu Sueir, Egypt
23 June 1941 29 June 1941 RAF Aqir, Palestine
29 June 1941 11 July 1941 RAF Amman, Jordan
11 July 1941 18 July 1941 Damascus, Syria
18 July 1941 4 August 1941 RAF Haifa, Palestine
4 August 1941 19 August 1941 RAF El Bassa, Palestine
19 August 1941 25 October 1941 Rayak airfield, Lebanon
25 October 1941 12 December 1941 RAF Burg El Arab, Egypt
12 December 1941 30 January 1942 LG.207/LG 'Y' (Qassassin), Egypt
30 January 1942 16 February 1942 LG.12 (Sidi Haneish North), Egypt
16 February 1942 22 February 1942 LG.139/Gambut Main, Libya Det. at RAF El Adem, Libya
22 February 1942 9 March 1942 LG.142\143/Gambut Satellite, Libya
9 March 1942 16 April 1942 LG.139/Gambut Main, Libya
16 April 1942 17 June 1942 LG.142\143/Gambut Satellite, Libya
17 June 1942 18 June 1942 Lg.148/Sidi Azeiz Airfield, Libya
18 June 1942 24 June 1942 LG.75, Egypt
24 June 1942 27 June 1942 LG.102, Egypt
27 June 1942 30 June 1942 LG.106, Egypt
30 June 1942 2 October 1942 LG.91, Egypt
2 October 1942 14 October 1942 LG.224/Cairo West, Egypt
14 October 1942 6 November 1942 LG.175, Egypt
6 November 1942 9 November 1942 LG.106, Egypt
9 November 1942 11 November 1942 LG.101, Egypt
11 November 1942 14 November 1942 LG.76, Egypt
14 November 1942 15 November 1942 LG.139/Gambut 1, Libya
15 November 1942 19 November 1942 Gazala Airfield, Libya
19 November 1942 8 December 1942 Martuba Airfield, Libya Det. at Antelat Airfield, Libya
8 December 1942 18 December 1942 Belandah Airfield, Libya
18 December 1942 1 January 1943 Marble Arch Airfield, Libya
1 January 1943 9 January 1943 Alem el Chel Airfield, Libya
9 January 1943 18 January 1943 Hamraiet 3 Airfield, Libya
18 January 1943 24 January 1943 Sedadah Airfield, Libya
24 January 1943 14 February 1943 RAF Castel Benito, Libya
14 February 1943 8 March 1943 El Assa Airfield, Libya Det. at Ben Gardane Airfield, Tunisia
8 March 1943 21 March 1943 Nefatia Airfield, Tunisia
21 March 1943 6 April 1943 Medenine Airfield, Tunisia
6 April 1943 14 April 1943 El Hamma Airfield, Tunisia
14 April 1943 18 April 1943 El Djem Airfield, Tunisia
18 April 1943 18 May 1943 Alem East Airfield, Tunisia
18 May 1943 13 July 1943 Zuwara Airfield, Libya
13 July 1943 18 July 1943 RAF Luqa, Malta
18 July 1943 2 August 1943 Pachino Airfield, Sicily, Italy
2 August 1943 16 September 1943 Agnone Airfield, Sicily, Italy
16 September 1943 23 September 1943 Grottaglie Airfield, Italy
23 September 1943 3 October 1943 Bari Airfield, Italy
3 October 1943 27 October 1943 Foggia Main Airfield, Italy
27 October 1943 28 December 1943 Mileni Airfield, Italy
28 December 1943 22 May 1944 Cutella Airfield, Italy
22 May 1944 12 June 1944 San Angelo Airfield, Italy
12 June 1944 23 June 1944 Guidonia Airfield, Italy
23 June 1944 9 July 1944 Falerium Airfield, Italy
9 July 1944 28 August 1944 Creti Airfield, Italy
28 August 1944 11 September 1944 Iesi Airfield, Italy
11 September 1944 20 September 1944 Foiano Airfield, Italy
20 September 1944 17 November 1944 Iesi Airfield, Italy
17 November 1944 25 February 1945 Fano Airfield, Italy
25 February 1945 19 May 1945 Cervia Airfield, Italy
19 May 1945 20 August 1945 Lavariano, Italy

Commanding officers

Officers commanding no. 450 Squadron RAAF, data from[6][18]
From To Name
25 March 1941 31 May 1941 Flight Lieutenant Bruce McRae Shepherd
31 May 1941 23 April 1942 Squadron Leader Gordon Henry Steege, DFC
23 April 1942 28 October 1942 Squadron Leader Alan Douglas Ferguson
28 October 1942 2 November 1942 Squadron Leader John Edwin Ashley Williams, DFC
2 November 1942 14 March 1943 Squadron Leader M. H. C. Barber, DFC
14 March 1943 31 October 1943 Squadron Leader John Phillip Bartle
31 October 1943 1 December 1943 (KIA) Squadron Leader Sydney George Welshman, DFM
6 December 1943 7 April 1944 Squadron Leader Kenneth Royce Sands
7 April 1944 14 June 1944 Squadron Leader Ray Trevor Hudson, DFC
14 June 1944 26 October 1944 Squadron Leader John Dennis Gleeson
26 October 1944 20 August 1945 Squadron Leader Jack Carlisle Doyle, DFC & Bar

See also




  • Bowyer, Michael J.F. and John D.R. Rawlings. Squadron Codes, 1937–56. Cambridge, UK: Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1979. ISBN 0-85059-364-6.
  • Brown, Russell. Desert Warriors: Australian P-40 Pilots at War in the Middle East and North Africa, 1941–1943. Maryborough, Australia: Banner Books, 1983. ISBN 1-875-59322-5.
  • Flintham, Vic and Andrew Thomas. Combat Codes: A full explanation and listing of British, Commonwealth and Allied air force unit codes since 1938. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 2003. ISBN 1-84037-281-8.
  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth 1918–1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1988. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Herington, John. Second World War: Volume III – Air War Against Germany and Italy, 1939–1943. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1963.
  • Herington, John. Second World War: Volume IV – Air Power Over Europe, 1944–1945. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1963.
  • Jefford, Wing Commander C.G., MBE, BA, RAF(Retd.). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 1988 (second edition 2001). ISBN 1-85310-053-6.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald & Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 1969 (2nd edition 1976, reprinted 1978). ISBN 0-354-01028-X.
  • Wilson, David. Brotherhood of Airmen: The Men and Women of the RAAF in Action. Crows Nest NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2005. ISBN 1-741-14333-0.

External links

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