458 Squadron of the RAAF
No. 458 Squadron
458 Royal Australian Air Force Squadron formed in Williamtown, New South Wales, Australia.
Leave for UK
39 groundcrew leave Williamtown for the U.K.
Squadron forms at airbase Station Holme-on-Spalding Moor, Yorkshire, United Kingdom. Assigned to Bomber Command with Vickers Wellington Mk. IV Aircraft. Attached to No. 1 Group Royal Air Force. The Wellington is the mainstay of Bomber Command from 1939 to 1942. Maximum range from the manufacturer: 2250 miles/hr at 15,000 feet. Crew of 6: Pilot, 2nd Pilot, Wireless Operator, Navigator, Front gunner and Rear gunner.
The Empire Air Training Scheme and similar Schemes had formed in late 1939 (war declared on Germany on
3rd Sept, 1939) and started training Air Foree personnel soon after.
Squadron examples: Flight Sergeant Mechanic/ Fitter Cecil Percy enlisted/commenced training in November 1939; Squadron Leader Gordon Orchard enlisted/ commenced training in October 1940 and Flight Lieutenant Ken Cupper enlisted/commenced training in February 1941. Commanding officer: Wing Commander Norman Mulholland DFC, an Australian who had joined the RAF in 1933.
October 20th: With 10 aircraft, the Squadron’s first bombing operation against Germany: Emden + German occupied Antwerp & Rotterdam -6 hours flying time.
Other night ops targets in October: German occupied France: Le Havre, Cherbourg, Dunkirk and German battleships at Brest.
Other night ops targets in November/December were Mannheim, Boulogne, and German battleships at Dunkirk. During December: Aachen, Calais, Koln, Ostend, Dusseldorf, Boulogne
The base had a WAAF Women’s Auxiliary Air Force contingent and there were 3 pubs at the village of Holme-on-Spalding Moor three miles away
War On Japan
The Allies declare war upon Japan following Japan’s attacks on Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.
US Delares War
The United States declares war upon Germany.
A special Christmas dinner was held in the messes.
No. 458 Squadron
January 6, 8
Holme, UK: The first nights of ops in the new year, the targets were German battleships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, in the port of Brest.
January 9, 28
Cherbourg & Boulogne
Bombing of Cherbourg (a potential launching point for Hitler to invade Britain) and Boulogne. The events of the heroic loss of Captain F/O Hickey’s crew (targeting Cherbourg) is described at: www.458raafsquadron.org/education/lest-we-forget ‘R-1785 A Ring Cycle’
In the winter RAAP personnel had the opportunity of meeting their senior RAAF Officer in Europe: Air Marshal Richard Williams who visited the base. He was one of the first four Australian military men to fly a military aircraft, a Bristol Box Kite in 1914.
Orders received for the Squadron to be posted to Middle East Command to reinforce the Suez area. At this time many RAAF men made applications to transfer back home to Australia due to the impending threat of the Japanese forces.
Flying to Egypt
First aircrew fly to Egypt via Gibraltar & Malta (besieged by the Luftwaffe). CO W/Cdr MuIholland’s aircraft shot down by enemy fighters in the Mediterranean. Only the rear gunner survived. S/Ldr “Johnno” Johnston became the Squadron’s second CO. Ferrying of 32 aircraft was a time consuming job.
Groundcrew to Middle East
Groundcrew boarding trains leave Holme-on-Spalding Moor for the Middle East (then by ship via the southern tip of Africa).
All personnel transiting between the UK & the Middle East. Aircrews made the journey a few times (from Egypt to Sudan to Nigeria to the UK).
May 23, 30
Arrive at Suez
Groundcrew arrive at Suez, Egypt (after 69 days); then move to Fayid, Egypt, the Canal Zone Air force Station, servicing B24’s
Sections of the groundcrew: Detatments to Lydda, St Jean and Aqir Palestine, with servicing of USAAF B24’s at Lydda. 458er Laorie Crowley’s name was on 6 of the first bombs dropped in Europe by the USAAF on the Ploesti oil complex in Romania, main source of fuel for the German army in North Africa.
September 1st, after 5-6 months in transit, all personnel now present in the Middle East. The Squadron reformed at Shallufa, Egypt (2 miles from the Suez Canal) with Mk. VIII Wellington aircraft (some aircrew had temporarily been assigned to 37, 70, 104, 108, 148 RAF Squadrons, in July/August)
September/October, training in low flying and torpedo dropping operations.
Battle of El Alamein
Bombing of enemy shipping targets located NW of Tobruk and north of Benghazi, in support of the Battle of El Alamein (preventing the reinforcement of German forces by sea from Europe).
November 13th & 17th: Berca detachment & torpedo strike detachment sent to Tobruk in search of the ltalian fleet.
November 29, 30
Anti-submarine patrols in the Mediterranean and mine laying in locations such as the gulf of Sirte (off Libya).
From the 4th to the 25th, Ops consisted of
anti-shipping strikes off Tripoli with torpedos and mine laying.
December 25th, at Shallufa, the Squadron had its first desert Christmas dinner; there was plenty of beer on early issue that day!
No. 458 Squadron
January 2nd/7th, the squadron at Shallufa bombed targets on German occupied Crete (Greece): Candia and Heraklion.
January 17th, a large section of Squadron went to Malta – 12 aircrews & 32 ground-staff, joining the vital ops to prevent the reinforcement of Axis armies in Tunisia.
630 hrs Flown
630 operational Squadron hours had been flown (similarly in March) mostly at night in search of enemy shipping/convoys to torpedo strike.
March 13th/2oth: convoys sighted and attacked with torpedoes – flying at 50 feet above the sea to avoid enemy fighter attack;
The Squadron section remaining at Shallufa continued bombing ops with targets on Crete (including mine laying).
On 23rd they moved to Amiriya, Egypt.
The casualty rate was high in the first 4 months of the year but some crews survived and were taken prisoner. Many operational hours during this time were also give to escorting British convoys, known by code names such as ‘Victor’, ‘Heavy’ and ‘Novel’. CO W/Cdr Johnson became tour expired. The new Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bruce McKenzie from the South African Air Force commenced.
Anzac Day was commemorated in Malta by a service at the War Memorial, Floriana.
Convoy escort ops ‘Jumbo’ and ‘Pewitt’.
May 6th/9th: From Malta, Wellingtons bombed an enemy seaplane base and railway at Marsala, Sicily and an enemy aerodrome at Gela.
May 15th: From Malta the Squadron moved to Blida, Algeria, part of Coastal Command.
May 17th: Short detachment to Oran, Algeria.
May 21st: Ftom Amiriya the Squadron moved to Protville (Tunisia) westwards via its own truck transport through war torn Egypt, El Alameln, Libya & Tunisia (arriving 2nd week of June).
The Squadron section from Malta/Blida re-joined the Squadron at Protville.
Anti-shipping patrols in the Tyrrhenian Sea and off Corsica increased intensity. In 35 days from the 18th, 174 sorties were flown with 7 enemy ships confirmed sunk; sadly by end of August there were seven aircrews lost.
Night Torpedo Attacks
The Allied invasion of Sicily (9/7 to 17/8).
Squadron torpedo attacks on enemy shipping continued. One Wellington, probably hit by flak and ditching, had 2 aircrew taken prisoner, but they escaped and returned to Allied lines. During August four to five aircraft flew ops on most nights.
ltaly surrenders on the 8th.
Bombing ops on Corsica (upon retreating Germans), U-boat hunts north of Sicily, anti-shipping ops, air-sea rescue ops.
Bombing ops on Corsica; multiple U-boat ops induding to Borizzo, Sicily (on the 8th).
Letters from home arrived regularly, a morale boost.
October 12th: Squadron moved to Bone, Algeria. U-boat hunts intensified to protect Allied shipping.
New CO W/Cdr Jack Dowling (the 22nd); 3 Squadron chaplains visited.
Anti-sub ops including Convoy escorts for ‘Taunton’ 70 ships, ‘Wasting’ 75 ships, ‘Horatius’ 52 ships.
“Top-secret” detachment to Grottaglie, Italy.
Convoy escorts continued with another U-boat sunendering after “swamp” ops used. Patrols continued on Christmas day but so did festivities with liquid cheer and sporting matches including rugby and Australian rules football at Bone, Algeria.
No. 458 Squadron
Based at Bone, Algeria, intense anti-submarine warfare continued; on the 8th (via Blida) described as the ‘biggest swamp yet’ along with 36 Squadron & 500 Squadron, lnvolving 13 Wellingtons & 16 crews led by CO W/Cdr Dowling: 36 mostly night sorties, 4 sightings, 2 attacks on U-boats.
The Squadron commenced using tbe Mark XIV Wellington, nicknamed the ‘Leigh Light’ carrying special radar gear & a retractable searchlight. Convoy escort work continued.
January 23rd: Detachment to Malta with 6 aircraft for anti-submarine ops.
Detachments to Grottaglie, ltaly (with 6 aircraft) and to Ghisonaccia, Corsica, France (this time with 17 groundcrew) for U-boat swamp ops.
On route to Corsica one aircraft ditched due to ice build-up on the wings with 6 of the 9 onboard losing their lives.
Anti-submarine and anti-shipping night patrols continued.
Natural hot springs in the mountains near Ghis provided washing facilities, a unique situation.
Convoy escorts and U-boat hunt ops continued out of Bone with some 2nd pilots returning for a second tour as crew Captain (1st pilot).
RNZAF Pilot Officer Kevin George and crew escorted a British battleship carrying PM Winston Churchill.
Out of Ghis another aircraft ditched when both engines cut out. Quite a few problems with water in fuel and tyres bursting on gravel runways during this period.
Bone ops continued despite heavy rain and poor runway conditions with bombing of shipping, U-boat hunts with depth charges and convoy escorts ‘Neighbour’, etc.
Return to Bone
Out of Ghis another aircraft ditched due to engine cut out, very icy severe weather and seas – only 2 survivors.
The Ghis detachment returned to Bone the second week of April.
The Squadron chaplain S/Ldr Bob Davies visited and stayed for Easter.
Detachment to Luqa, Malta with 8 aircrews to do anti-submarine sweeps.
Ground-staff and aircrew laid a wreath during the ceremony at the War Memorial in Valletta, Malta.
From Bone, S/Ldr Knight’s crew made successful attack and sank U-731. Returning at dusk to Luqa from a patrol, in 100% cloud, F/O McMillan’s aircraft crashed off the end of the runway. F/O Bullen, the navigator, heroically rescued the only other survivor of the crash.
May 21st, the Squadron went to Alghero, Sardinia, Italy.
D-Day landings at Normandy on the 6th.
After completing the move to Alghero, first ops on the night of the 13th with 10 aircraft on U-boat hunts.
Anti-shipping patrols continued.
Training in cooperation with Beaufighters of 272 Squadron.
Aircraft had much imporved bomb sights and very high frequency radios installed.
Operations included bombing raids on enemy shipping, land targets such as oil refinery (at Imperia, Italy), railway, mills, industry (at Vado Ligure, Italy).
RAAF statistics for 458 since October 1942: 1,765 sorties and 141,020 hours flown.
Malaria was a big health issue while at Alghero.
The 15th of August the Sqadron participated in Operation ‘Dragoon’, the second D-Day landings as the allies invaded Southern France. Squadron ops included anti-submarine, bombing raids, setting fire to oil storage at St Louis du Rhone and attacks on enemy E- and R-boats moving to interfere with allied convoys and landings. Bombing operations on ports.
September 2nd, logistics tested in a 700km journey by air/sea/land as the squadron moves to Foggia, Italy, to exert pressure on the enemy’s other flank.
September 11th, detachment to Ancona, Italy at the nearby aerodrome at Falconara.
Operations commenced on the 14th on enemy shipping but deteriorating weather rain/mud impeded flying.
On the 24th and 27th enemy shipping was bombed and hit. The second occasion assisted by rocket armed Beaufighters from 272 squadron.
New Commanding Officer, W/Cdr R. Mackay, DFC.
Operations resumed after poor weather. On the 20th adn 21st bombing of enemy shipping/E-boats along with 272 Squadron.
On the 13th there was a detachment to La Vallon, Southern France.
Night operations continued to target shipping, E-boats, barges, and several Air-Sea Rescue sorties were flown.
Winter set in
The Falconara detachment returned to Foggia. Cold and rain set in with heavy snowfalls and flying largely diminished.
Detachement to Leghorn, Italy.
On the 25th there was a hearty celebration in a northern hemisphere white Christmas which included a message of gratitude and season’s greetings from the Australian Prime Minister.
No. 458 Squadron
At Foggia, Italy, repatriation of ‘old hands’ of the Squadron began to occur on a large scale, many had served for over 3 years.
Replacements from Australia were arriving in substantial numbers, such as flight mechanics, armourers, fitters and ancillary tradesmen.
January 3rd, night operations with 4 Wellingtons and 6 Beaufighers from 272 Squadron, bombed a German 2,000-ton tanker.
January 21st, orders were received for an advance contingent to move to RAF Station, Gibraltar. The Navy requested 458 to hunt U-boars in the Bay of Biscay.
February 13th the main party arrived at Gibraltar, ‘The Rock’ by sea. Without delay there was considerable ‘training’ flying and operations alongside Spanish territorial waters in search of U-boats, such as patrols between Cape St. Vincent and Lisbon.
Operations included the important job of escoring Allied convoys in addition to targeting U-boats with depth charges. Wellingtons were fitted with the leigh Light searchlight to effectively hunt U-boats.
The Squadron marched in flights to King’s Chapel. The Commanding Officer, W/Cdr Mackay read the Act of Commemoration: “Hallowed in Christ be the memory of brave men and women who in this and past wars died for the freedom of the world. They shall yet stand before the Throne, an exceeding great array, and in the last muster there shall be found these our own well beloved…”
The great orator, Prime Minister Winston Churchill annonced by radio the consummation of victory – Germany had surrendered unconditionally. Celebrations lasted two days. A victory march was held which included aircraft flying in formation overhead. Post-war operations continued, including escorting a surrendering U-boat U541.
Disbandment on June 9th. The Squadron paraded in full strength behind its CO. Air Vice-Marshal Stevens addressed them: “Gentlemen, I have come herer to perform an undertaking which for once gives me no pleasure whatsoever. I come to take the final salute from you officers and men who form one of the best units I have had the pleasure to have under my command…” After many more words, he gave teh last command to be received, “458 Squadron, to the right, dismiss!”
Closeto 1,750 personnel served with the Squadron throughout its 4 years of operation, from July 1941 to June 1945. Forever remembered
Having served their tour of operations in the European theatre of World War II, a good number of 458ers returned to Australia to answer the call in the Pacific theatre. They were determined to serve until the war was won. Men such as F/Lt Ken Cupper and S/Ldr Gordon Orchard.