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No. 450 Squadron
Active 1941–1945
Country Australia
Branch Royal Australian Air Force
Part of Desert Air Force
Nickname "The Desert Harassers"
Motto "Harass"
Battle honours Syria 1941, South-East Europe 1942-1945, Egypt & Libya 1940-1943, El Alamein, El Hamma, North Africa 1942-1943, Sicily 1943, Italy 1943-1945, Gustav Line, Gothic Line
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)
John Edwin Ashley Williams
Aircraft squadron codes "DJ" (1941); "OK" (1942-45)
Aircraft flown
Fighter Hawker Hurricane; Curtiss P-40 (Kittyhawk); P-51 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."[1]

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



The squadron officially came into existence at RAAF Williamtown, near Sydney, 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.[2]


Middle East & North Africa

450 Sqn arrived in Egypt in May 1941. At Abu Sueir, it was combined with the pilots and Hawker Hurricanes of 260 Squadron, Royal Air Force (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, where it was allocated 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.

North Africa, c. 1943. A 450 Sqn Kittyhawk, loaded with six 250 lb (113 kg) bombs. (Photographer: William Hadfield.)

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 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.[2] 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.[3]

From 26 May, all Kittyhawk units operated primarily as fighter-bomber units.[4] 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 El Daba area. By this time the DAF Kittyhawks were using two or three US-supplied 500 lb (227 kg) bombs, rather than the two to six 250 lb (113 kg) bombs previously carried, increasing the impact of their raids.[2] However, one of the unit's aces, Squadron Leader John "Willy" Williams, who had five victories, was shot down and taken prisoner on October 31, 1942, three days after he had been appointed Commanding Officer.[5]

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.[2] The DAF squadrons found themselves using captured or hastily-constructed airfields, and several personnel were killed or wounded, by land mines.[6] 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 Malta as a staging post, they operated in a light interdiction role, carrying two 250 lb (113 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 August 11, the airfield was attacked by Ju 88 bombers, dropping incendiary, anti-personnel and high explosive bombs, for more than an hour.[7] 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.[8]

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 beinfg recaptured.[9] 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.[9][10] Kierath, who was 29 and from Narromine, New South Wales, was an RAAF officer.[11]

On April 29, 1944, several USAAF P-47 Thunderbolt pilots mistook Cutella for an Axis airfield and strafed it.[12] 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 P-51 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.


  1. ^ Australian War Memorial, "450 Squadron RAAF"
  2. ^ a b c d The 450 Squadron RAAF Association Incorporated, "450 Squadron Royal Australian Airforce"
  3. ^ Brown: 259.
  4. ^ Brown: 257–8.
  5. ^ Australian War Memorial, 2008, "40652 Squadron Leader John Edwin Ashley Williams, DFC". Retrieved on February 6, 2008.
  6. ^ RAAF Museum, "No 450 Squadron"
  7. ^ David Wilson, 2005, Brotherhood of Airmen: The Men and Women of the RAAF in Action, Crows Nest NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin (ISBN 1-741-14333-0): 100-101
  8. ^ John Herington, 1963, Second World War Volume IV – Air Power Over Europe, 1944–1945: 70.
  9. ^ a b David Edlington, "The great crime: Aussies among murder victims" (Air Force News, vol. 46, no. 5 April 8, 2004). Retrieved on February 6, 2008.
  10. ^ London Gazette: no. 34501, p. 2458, 12 April 1938. Retrieved on 2008-02-08.
  11. ^, 2008, "KIERATH, REGINALD VICTOR". Retrieved on February 6, 2008.
  12. ^ George Duncan, 2008, "More Lesser-Known Facts of World War II". Retrieved on February 15, 2008.

See also


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