Little, Bruce

Bruce was born on the 24th January 1921 in North Sydney, New South Wales. He enlisted in the RAAF in Sydney on the 1st February 1941, when he was 20 years old.

Bruce embarked for England when he had completed his initial training in Australia. There he learnt to fly the Hawker Hurricane at No.52 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Debden in North Essex. From there, he eventually was posted to 457 Squadron, where he would have flown Spitfires. LITTLE Bruce Pilot Officer Pic 2

At some stage, Bruce returned to Australia at the end of his first tour, probably with 457 Squadron because he was with the Squadon when it had just returned to front line service in the Northern Territory in January 1943. Though the Squadron was based in Livingstone, Bruce was part of a small detachment on Milingimbi Iskland, and it was there that he was imvolved in an incredible accident.

The following is from the official RAAF magazine, Wings, dated the 11th May 1943:
“On the previous day of this issue, this young man (Bruce) had a very eventful first contact with Japanese fighters attempting to raid Millingimbi Island. Flying Spitfire Vc A58-81, coded ZP-S, he received damage that obliged him to hurriedly put down on Milingimbi’s east-west runway. Observing three Zeros strafing along the north-south runway, he realised his danger and immediately took off again, engaging in a fiercely twisting and turning fight with one of the enemy at extremely low altitude and scoring hits from 500 – 300 yards.

The highly manoeuvrable Zero had little trouble out-turning Bruce’s Spitfire and was soon on his tail, though failing to hit him. It all came to a spectacular end when Bruce found himself diving straight at the ground with no room for recovery, just managing to pull the nose up before impact at something like 200 mph (320 kms per hour). Both wings and the tail unit were ripped off, but miraculously the fuselage remained intact and slithered to a halt. Amazed to be still alive and unhurt, Bruce Little unstrapped, climbed out and walked back to base.

The Zero was seen heading north with a very rough-running engine and correspondingly slow airspeed, and an explosion was heard shortly afterwards. With the subsequent report of an oil slick about a mile offshore, Pilot Officer Little was credited with a ‘probable’. Tough luck for the Zero pilot, but Bruce must have considered himself very fortunate indeed!” LITTLE Bruce Pilot Officer Pic 5

ADF Serials paints an even more exciting picture: 
“Operational loss 0910 hrs on the 10th May 1943, when Milinginbi detachment of five Spitfires scrambled to intercept an enemy raid with nine enemy Zekes approaching at 9,000 feet. During the intercept, two Zekes were shot down with a probable destruction of another by pilot of BS199 (Bruce). On returning to base and landing, with damage to his trim by the e/a (enemy aircraft) previously, he discontinued his landing roll and took off again when he saw an approaching flight of three Zekes. He had a dogfight with the trailing Zeke, which lasted some 10 minutes between 100 and 300 feet above the aerodrome. During his last manoeuvre, after taking his eyes off the Zeke, he realised his aircraft was approaching the ground from 200 feet and at 160 mph (260 kph). His aircraft’s air scoop hit the ground and caused the aircraft to somersault three times, roll, losing both wings, airscrew and tail. The pilot, Pilot Officer B. Little was injured, but managed to walk back the three miles to the aerodrome”.  

Interestingly, the remains of A58-81 still exist in the hands of Bob Eastgate, who has it stored along with the remains of four other Spitfires at Point Cook, Victoria. 

This photos show Bruce, whilst still a Sergeant Pilot, climbing aboard another of the Squadron’s Spitfires, ZP-T, which was normally flow by Jack Newton. Then there is a bandaged and bruised Bruce being congratulated after the accident by George Green, an Armourer in 457 Squadron. The remaining ones are of the Spitfire after the accident, with thanks to Pacific Wrecks. LITTLE Bruce Pilot Officer Pic 3

and then he was posted to 55 Operational Base Unit (OBU) at Gorrie in the Northern Territory at some time after January 1944. In 1945, he was posted again to 457 Squadron and stayed only two weeks. That would have been in late 1945, as he was one of the pilots with the Squadron when it was disbanded in early November.

Bruce was discharged from the RAAF on the 24th December 1945.

Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association LITTLE Bruce Pilot Officer Pic 4