Duncan, Colin “Col” Ronald

Colin was born on the 4th August 1919 in St. Kilda in Victoria. He was working as a carpenter when he enlisted on the 29th March 1941. He received his training overseas and saw action at a number of fighter squadrons before returning to Australia with 452 Squadron. Col received his commission in 1943. 

On the 30th June 1943, Spitfires from 452 Squadron were involved in aerial combat with over 40 Japanese aircraft. Squadron Leader MacDonald claimed a “Betty” bomber and Flying Officer Clive Percival Lloyd claimed a Zero. Both were forced to bale out from their aircraft due to combat damage. Pilot Officer Paul Dominic Tully (404998) claimed a probable Zero. Flight Sergeant C.R. Duncan (401778) was also forced to bale out and then spent five days in the bush before he was rescued. The photos is of Col when he was a Flight Sergeant with 452 Squadron at Millingimbi on the 20th November 1943. Courtesy AWM. Duncan Colin Pic 1

The group photo was taken at Strauss, Norther Territory in April 1943. Left to right: 
Back row: 404491 Flying Officer J. P. Adams of Queensland; 402675 Flying Officer Williams; 403070 Flight Sergeant McDowell of NSW; Wing Commander Clive R. “Killer” Caldwell, DFC and Bar, of New South Wales; Flying Officer P.A. Goldsmith, DFC, DFM; 403013 Flight Lieutenant E.S. Hall of New South Wales; Sergeant Colin Duncan
Front row: 403614 Sergeant F. White of New South Wales; 404613 Flying Officer J.G. Gould of Queensland and 404998 Flight Sergeant Paul Tully of Queensland. 

457 Squadron 1944

In issue No.57 of the Spitfire News magazine (The Spitfire Association magazine), Col  gave us “Fiery Exit”, a graphic account of his escape from his burning aircraft and ultimate rescue, following an enemy interception in the North West Area (Northern Territory). Here are some excerpts from his thrilling story:

“I started my dive to attack the bomber on the left-hand end of the formation, attacking from seven o’clock in a 35 degree dive. The ‘Betty’ was a long, cigar-shaped, aircraft, having a tail-gunner armed with a 20mm cannon, and two blister gunners, one each side of the fuselage, towards the tail.  The ‘Betty’ was holding its line-abreast position, with both engines running. As far as I could see, it was undamaged.

I aimed at the centre-line of the fuselage; just on the blister gunner position anticipating the deflection would take the rear gunner. Using both cannon and machine guns together, I moved my aiming point steadily along the centre line of the fuselage, all armament operating with no stoppages. Because of the long nose of the Spitfire and my angle of dive, the ‘Betty’ was disappearing under my nose but I was able to keep the bomb aimers position in sight over my spinner, I kept firing until very close then broke away over the top of the ‘Betty’s’ port mainplane.

Though I could not see the result, the attack was good and I was certain I had a ‘destroyed’.  My engine sounded awful and, although it was still running, black smoke was issuing from my cowling. I was not aware of being hit by return fire although the gunners of both the adjacent bombers would have had a clear shot. I had normal flying control, but there was no time to look back to see how the bomber had fared or if the Zeros were following, but I jinked about just in case and to make a difficult target.

The engine and cockpit were now intensely hot –  It was time to get out so I pressed the air/sea rescue button ‘D’ and called ‘Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Duncan calling, bailing out’.

The MKV Spitfire had a solid black rubber ball, about the size of a golf ball, to jettison the canopy but, to my complete horror, when I tugged it, it came away in my hand, leaving two useless little wires hanging down but leaving the canopy firmly in place.  I threw the ball down in the cockpit and tried to release the canopy by using the normal pulling lugs. It would not budge. At anything above 150mph it becomes impossible to jettison the hood manually – I was diving at around 300mph. I realised then I had a battle on my hands – a red hot engine, a stuck canopy and the possibility of one or more Zeros following me.

I turned off the petrol, pulled the nose up and with my left foot hooked in the ‘G’ pedal – so I could steer by pushing or pulling – I got my right boot up on the Instrument panel to try to get more leverage.  Still the canopy would not budge. Grabbing the pinch bar from the trap door, I tried to lever the canopy back but there was nothing to get a purchase on. I hit out at the rear of the canopy, but lost my grip on the bar, which fell down behind the seat armour plating – impossible to retrieve. My aircraft was on fire and it was getting more than worrying.

Eventually I was able to free myself. I am unsure of the height when I bailed out, but think it was about 24,000 feet. I tumbled slowly, over and over, revelling in the icy air, away from the fury of the fire at last. I had to do a delayed drop to get to a lower altitude for breathable air but also to fall as far as possible below the combat area. I wasn’t that keen to be shot at!

Although I knew it took 1½ minutes to ‘free fall’ to the ground from 19,000 feet, I had both hands on the ripcord handle, and tried to judge a one minute delay.  It must have been much less as I opened the parachute at about 15,000 feet according to Ross Richardson, another 452 Squadron pilot who followed me all the way down. (Col was discharged from the RAAF on the 29th August 1945.) The photo is of Col on the left and Harry Utber on the right.

After the war, Col and his father and brother ran a successful building company in Melbourne. He was a great sportsman, sailing catamarans competitively and playing first grade cricket for his home state. He lived in  Dromana in Victoria and died on 21st September, 1992 aged 73yrs.  He died peacefully after battling cancer for several months and will be missed by his many friends in the Spitfire Association.

Edited by Bruce Read and Paul Carter
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association