Collett, Doug

Doug was born on the 25th June 1920 in South Perth in Western Australia. On the 23rd July 1940, at 20 years of age, he enlisted in the RAAF, initially training as a pay clerk, and was sent to Mt Gambier as Paymaster Sergeant in January 1941.

Keen for flight duty, he applied to transfer to air crew, which he achieved after being posted to the Middle East in August 1941, with 451 Squadron RAAF in the Western Desert, Egypt. He was one of ten to twelve pilots and fifteen to twenty technicians from South Australia. His flying duties commenced with 234 Wing in Lysander aircraft, as Field Cashier.

Following this, he completed elementary flying training in the Empire Training Scheme at Hillside, southern Rhodesia in November 1942. He proved to be an excellent trainee, winning the trophy for Best Cadet. He had operational training in Palestine on fighter recce work in Hurricanes and Spitfires.

Survival was not easy, as can be gauged by the number of casualties in Squadron 451 through enemy action. In the order of 40% of pilots, 60% of aircraft, and some ground staff were lost through bombing and strafing by German Stukas and ME 109s.

After being awarded his wings in May 1943, Doug returned to the Middle East war zone, and was posted to 208 Squadron RAF in Syria, as the only Aussie. There, he was involved on special duties on Auster, (see photo of an AusterAOP Mk 111) Harvard and Hurricane aircraft. His duties included conveying Turkish senior staff from the Syrian border to Cairo, and training Turkish pilots in Palestine at Megiddo in preparation for operation Cicero, the reoccupation of Greece through Turkey. He was then involved in exercises with HMAS Ajax in which Spitfires were used to control naval guns firing on unseen strategic targets in the Gulf of Suez. These methods were later successfully employed for the invasion in the south of France as well. Collett Douglas H. Pic 2

Somehow during all this action, Doug was able to take time off to locate his younger brother, a junior officer on a merchant ship unloading armaments at Haifa. A great reunion ensued, which resulted in sore heads the next morning.

208 Squadron was then ordered to Italy after the German spy Cicero had blown security, and Doug was involved in operations on the Adriatic Coast of Italy, including strategic fighter reconnaissance missions from beach landing strips. This was done in close support of the 8th British Army and American Armies, and included fighter support and artillery control prior to the final successful assault on Mone Cassino and the fall of Rome prior to the D Day invasion on the 6th of June.

An important part of Doug’s flying duties was the carrying of personnel, messages and spare parts in the Squadron’s Auster, a low speed, unarmed and vulnerable aircraft.

After this, the Squadron continued to harass Rommel as the Germans retreated to the north of Florence to the Futa Pass. This occured with the loss of six pilots (in seven months) through enemy action and two more through mid-air collisions and accidents.

In summary, Doug’s service included four and a half years with the RAAF and a year with 208 Squadron RAF, completing 123 sorties in Spitfires in support of the 8th British Army. His character was commented on by two of his superior officer in their assessment of him on leaving 208 Squadron:
“An above average officer, excels in sport, popular with all ranks and possesses considerable zeal and energy.” Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander J. Blauuw.
“A useful type of officer to have in a squadron.” Group Captain Milligan, Commanding Officer of 285 Wing RAF – 12th July 1944.

He returned to Australia by troop ship and was was discharged on the 3rd October 1945 at APO Adelaide. After a long post war career in wine making he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the wine industry.

The following photos are of Doug, from Austers to Spitfires and back again…amazing. Collett Douglas H. Pic 4

Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association Collett Douglas H. Pic 6