Clive Caldwell was born in Lewisham, region Sydney on 28 July 1911. He began his flying career in 1938 when he joined the Aero Club of New South Wales. Nevertheless, by the time the Second World War began he had logged only 11 hours of solo flying. He was 29 years old when he joined the Empire Air Training Scheme, completing the entire course in Australia and graduating as a pilot in January 1941.
Caldwell was sent to the Middle East and posted to No. 250 Squadron, RAF. The squadron flew P-40 Tomahawks and after a short period flew operations in Syria and Cyprus, the squadron was relocated to North Africa. It was in this theatre that Caldwell achieved great success during intensive operations. On 26 June, 1941 Caldwell scored his first victory, against a Messerschmitt BF 109. After that his score mounted rapidly and he became known for practicing gunnery against the shadow of his own aircraft over the desert. This became a method allowed for the assessment of required deflection to hit moving targets. On 29 August 1941 Clive Caldwell was attacked by two Bf 109s North-West of Sidi Barrani and got wounded. Despite damage to both himself and the aircraft, Caldwell turned on his attackers and sent down one of the Bf 109s in flames. The pilot of the second Messerschmitt made off in some haste. Caldwell's engine had caught fire, however he managed to extinguish the flames with a violent slip and nursed his flying wreck back to base at Sidi Haneish. Caldwell's most successful day was 5 December, 1941 when he shot down five Junkers Ju-87s (Stuka) in a single engagement during operation "Crusader".
When his score had reached 17 enemy aircraft, he was promoted to Squadron Leader in January 1942 and transferred to take command of No. 112 Squadron, RAF. By the time he joined them, the squadron was equipped with the already famous ‘sharkmouth’ P-40 Kittyhawks fighters. It was due to his leadership, confidence and daring, his work with many Polish pilots attached to No. 112 Squadron, and continued success with this squadron that he received the Polish Cross of Valour.
With Japan having entered the war, experienced airmen were needed at home. The Australian government asked that he be released to return to Australia to command a Wing in the defence of Australia. Caldwell left the Middle East with nineteen individual and three shared confirmed enemy kills, six probables, and fifteen damaged. Before returning home he spent some time with the Kenley Wing in England to gain experience on Spitfires. On 26 November, 1942, Caldwell was made Wing Leader of No. 1 Fighter Wing. This Wing was to consist of 3 Squadrons of Spitfires and known as the "Churchill Wing" which comprised of No. 452, No. 457 RAAF and No. 54 Squadron RAF. No. 1 Fighter Wing arrived in Darwin on 15 January, 1943 and the unit was equipped with Spitfire Vc Trop. code named "Capstan". The wing flew operations over northern Australia and was involved in the defence of Darwin. On 2 March, 1943 he claimed his first Japanese victory while leading a flight of 6 Spitfires on patrol. Just beyond landfall, he spotted 6 Kate dive-bombers escorted by 12 Zero fighters preparing to attack allied shipping in the Arafura Sea just north of Darwin. The 5 Spitfires followed their leader and attacked and repelled the intruders, but not before Caldwell destroyed 1 Zero fighter and 1 Kate dive-bomber. In August, having raised his tally with eight Japanese aircraft to 28.5, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and was posted to No. 2 Operational Training Unit as Chief Flying Instructor.
In May 1944 Caldwell returned to an operational posting, being appointed Wing Leader of No. 80 Fighter Wing. This unit included No. 79, No. 452 and No. 457 Squadrons which were equipped with the Spitfire Mk VIII and was based in Morotai but was employed in a ground-attack rather than a fighter role. For Caldwell and other fighter pilots, this meant the chance to increase his score had passed. By the end of 1944, having been left out of the main battle, RAAF pilots in the Pacific were aggrieved at having to fly dangerous — but in their eyes — unimportant operations against heavily defended ground targets. With nothing having been done to meet the pilots’ concerns, Caldwell and other senior officers resigned in protest, the so-called Morotai mutiny. This action lead to a command crisis in the RAAF. An investigation resulted in two senior officers being relieved of their appointments. Caldwell and the other officers that had resigned were cleared and each was reinstated. Caldwell finished the war attached to HQ, 1st TAF, RAAF, based in Melbourne. He resigned from the RAAF on 1946.
After the war Caldwell went into business. His effectiveness as a fighter pilot had earned him the nickname "Killer". Though the name stuck, it brought him no pleasure. Caldwell was the highest scoring RAAF pilot of the Second World War. He died on 5 August 1994 and was cremated.
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