Richard, or Rags as he was later nicknamed, was born on the 16th March 1915 in Adelaide, South Australia, and enlisted on the 12th October 1940. After flying training and passage to England, he was posted to 52 OTU (Operational Training Unit) and then to 457 RAAF Spitfire Squadron at Red Hill, near London, at the end of March 1942. This waa just four days after the Squadron had moved in from the Isle of Man.
On the 9th May 1942, a cool sunny day, 12 Spitfires, including Rags, took off on a “Circus” to act as top cover for some Boston bombers who were to attack a power station. He had been declared “operational” a few days before, and had done only two sweeps previously. The Squadron Adjutant, Doug “Pinnochio” Marsden, stated that having been shot up over the Channel on the way home, Rags was trying to make land, but failed, and he bailed out too late. The aircraft crashed into the sea off Deal and his body was picked up with the parachute half opened.
It is believed his Spitfire caught fire. Another pilot in the sortie was also killed on the “op.”
(Web Master: The following is courtesy of The Spitfire Site – Tribute to Sergeant William J. Smith.
(Note that a “Circus” was an operation by bombers or fighter-bombers in daytime. As well as carrying out a bombing raid, the attacks were against short-range targets with the intention of occupying enemy fighters and keeping their fighter units in the area concerned.)
On the day that Rags was killed, 457 Squadron had been flying a in support of a Circus 168 bombing mission to Hazebrouck rail yards in Belgium (not Bruges as has been stated elsewhere – Bruges was a target of Circus 170 conducted later in the afternoon on the same day, hence the confusion).
The close escort involved no less than four Spitfire squadrons protecting a mere six Bostons Mk. III. The rendezvous time was set to 1300 hrs and the high cover was provided by the Kenley Wing with No. 457 Squadron. Around 13:35, minutes after turning back towards England, the British squadrons were attacked by a group of Fw 190s (some pilot reports also indicate Bf 109s) zooming in from high altitude. Pilot reports indicate that there were about 25 of the enemy fighters. In fact, it could have been more: according to the German records, several staffeln of both JG 26 and JG 2 were engaged in combat that day.
Disaster struck on 118 Squadron from Ibsley, which was flying Target Support. They were caught unaware of the impending attack and lost six Spitfires in quick succession. Four pilots – Squadon leader Walker, Sergeants Green and Shepherd, and Flight Sergeant Rough – were lost. Another Spitfire was severely damaged and barely made its way to Manston, while a sixth ran out of fuel and crash-landed near Tangmer. The high-cover 457 Squadron was the second to bore the brunt of the German attack. They were successful in turning against the attacking Focke-Wulfs and engaging them in a dogfight.
That’s where Sergeant Smith was last seen by his Squadron peers, engaged in a dogfight with a group of German fighters at approximately 20,000 feet.
In this uneven combat, 457 Squadron lost two Spitfires: Bill Smith’s BM180 and AA851, piloted by Sergeant R.A.G. “Rags” Halliday. Both pilots were killed. Significantly, for the superiority of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 over the Spitfire during the period, the Australians could only claim one Fw 190 damaged. In fact, none of at least six RAF Spitfire squadrons engaged in the battle during the mission could report any success. In contrast, the Germans claimed nine Spitfires destroyed during the day. It is likely that BM180 fell to the guns of Oblt. Josef Haiböck of 1./JG 26, who reported a victory at 13.40 “2km north of Cassel” at 16.000 feet. (Oblt is a First Lieutenant, the equivalent of a Flying Officer in the RAF)
The photo is of some of the men in 457 Squadron. It was taken when Rags was with the squadron, but we do not know if Rags is one of them.
Richard “Rags” Halliday is buried in Aylesham Cemetary, near Canterbury in Kent. He is listed on the Roll of Honour at Port Lincoln, South Australia.
Bruce Read and David Hamilton
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association