Caldwell, Clive Robertson, DSO, DFC and Bar

Clive was born in Sydney on the 28th July 1910 and died on the 5th August 1994.

Before the war, he worked for the Bank of NSW for a time, but he always wanted to fly, so he joined the Royal Aero Club of Sydney. As a consequence, he could already fly when he enlisted in the RAAF on the 27th May 1940. Incredibly, at thirty years of age, he was considered to be too old for flight training, but there was no way that he was going to miss out, so he reduced his age by three years on his enlistment application and was accepted. 

In 1941, he was sent to the Middle East, where he first flew P-40 Tomahawks in 250 Squadron RAF, and later Kittyhawks as commander of 112 Squadron RAF.

The skill of his flying, and the accuracy of his shooting, soon established Caldwell as a leading “ace” in the Western Desert, even though success didn’t come immediately. It took about thirty missions before Clive scored his first victory, but after that his triumphs came with increasing frequency. Eventually he shot down more than 20½ German and Italian aircraft in the Middle East, with a total of 28½ victories in all by the end of the war. At one time in combat, his plane was badly hit and he was wounded. Despite this, he destroyed an enemy Messerschmitt and drove off another. Another day, he shot down five German Junkers Ju 87s.

In late 1942, Clive, who had proved himself the most deadly Australian pilot in the Midle East, returned to assist in the defence of Australia against the Japanese. He took command of No. 1 Fighter (Spitfire) Wing based at Darwin and by August 1943 he had added eight Japanese aircraft to his score. On the 20th May 1943, he led Spitfires to meet a large force of Japanese bombers, escorted by fighters, over the Australian coast. He destroyed two enemy aircraft and boosted his total by another six in subsequent battles. In 1944 he led 80 Fighter Wing, and in early 1945 moved to Morotai.

As the Americans took an increasing role in the air war, Australian fighter squadrons were left with less important work. Many pilots now felt they were risking their lives for little purpose. Discontent culminated in Clive and a group of officers proffering their resignations. This became known as the “Morotai Mutiny.” 

Caldwell 3The matter was handled very poorly by the Chief of the Air Staff, who was determined to take some disciplinary action. This resulted in the end of Clive’s active flying career. The episode left a bitter taste. However, Air Marshal Lord Tedder said of Clive Caldwell after his service in the Middle East. “He was a fine commander, an excellent leader and a first class shot.”

This was an accurate judgement and he was awarded the DSO, DFC (and bar) along with the Polish Cross of Valour. He was given the nickname “Killer” probably due to his emphasis on gunnery and his shooting ability. He never liked this nickname that was bestowed on him, but he was unable to shake it off. He showed enormous aggression in combat and a desire to engage the enemy wherever it might be found. On one occasion in Africa he returned to fight the enemy again despite being injured in the face, arms and legs in a damaged aircraft.

Clive was described as a fast talking, quick acting man with exuberant confidence. However in battle his chief characteristic was unyielding determination. This is revealed clearly in his combat report of an action over the Western Desert when a large German formation was engaged. “At 300 yards I opened fire with all my guns at the leader of one of the rear sections.. And hit No 2 and 3, one of which burst into flames. the other going down smoking. After losing 1000 feet I then attacked the leader. from below and behind, opening fire with all guns at close range. The enemy aircraft turned over and dived steeply with the.. starboard wing in flames.. I was able to pull up under.. the one at the rear, holding the burst until very close…” 

Clive could be outspoken and and was a critic of RAAF aircraft and battle tactics. He once wrote a devastating criticism of the Boomerang fighter, reporting that contrary to its name, it was never likely to return form any encounter with enemy aircraft.

Clive became the highest scoring fighter pilot of the RAAF, an outstanding airman and a popular national hero. He was discharged on the 5th March 1946. He didn’t continue flying after the war as he wasn’t that keen on it, although he was particularly good at it. He subsequently became a successful businessman and only spoke modestly of his heroic part in the war.

The painting (above left) is by Harold Freedman, and the photo of him standing next to his aircraft was taken at Morotai when he was a Group Captain. The sketch was printed in the Bulletin on the 23rd August 1994. It was accompanied by the following text. : “Clive Caldwell…was a remarkable and modest man. I once asked him if he could be described as a “crack pilot.” “I’m not even a very good pilot,” he said. “I’m just lucky enough to be a good shot.” He never sought publicity, did not take part in marches, hated being photographed and never gave interviews. He had a loyal band of friends, quite apart from his service comrades, who idolised him. He was blessed with a happy homelife and a magnificent wife. Many believed he deserved a Victoria Cross. Caldwell was an example of the finest type of young Australian who sprang to the colours in World War 11.” (Web Master: The name of the author is unknown.)

The Spitfire Association