Russell, George Gray

George was born on the 2nd January 1916 in Cremorne, New South Wales, and joined the RAAF in Sydney on the 22nd July 1940. George was one of the early ones to sign up and after his initial training in Australia and Canada, he ended up in England as a founding member of 457 Squadron in June 1941. The group photo is of some of the pilots of 457 Squadron and was taken in March 1942 at Redhill. George is second from the right.

457 Squadron was formed at Baginton, near Coventry, on the 16th June 1941 in accordance with Article XV of the Empire Air Training Scheme. Initially, the Squadron’s ground crew was provided by the Royal Air Force, while the majority of the pilots were Australian. An Australian ground crew was raised at Williamtown, New South Wales, however, and joined the Squadron on 30 October 1941. 457 Squadron was equipped with Supermarine Spitfires and became part of 9 Group of Fighter Command. Russell George Pic 2Russell George Pic 6

Based on the Isle of Man, first at Jurby (7 August – 2 October 1941) and then Andreas (3 October 1941 – 21 March 1942), the Squadron had a slow introduction to active operations. Declared operational on the 7th August 1941, it escorted convoys and patrolled over the seas to Britain’s west, but much of its time was devoted to training. The Squadron effectively became an operational training unit, preparing Spitfire pilots for other squadrons, particularly 452 Squadron RAAF, that were more actively engaged. 

With the imminent return of 452 Squadron to Australia, 457 Squadron was redeployed for more active service with 11 Group at Redhill, just south of London, on the 22nd March 1942. For the next two months, it conducted patrols over southeast England and the English Channel, and escorted bombing raids and conducted sweeps to engage enemy aircraft in the skies above occupied France and Belgium. It was during this time, on the 4th April 1942, that George was shot down and taken prisoner.

Referring to the copy of the Intelligence Report for the raid, the Wing from RAF Kenley had been tasked to escort 12 Douglas Bostons on a raid on St. Omer Railway Station. The leading squadron of 12 aircraft was 485 New Zealand, commanded by Squadron Leader Wells DFC as Wing Leader, and the following squadrons were 602 RAF and 457 RAAF from Redhill, a total of 36 fighters.   

The force crossed the Channel and made landfall south of Hardelot, where it experienced a fair amount of flak. Taking avoiding action, the bombers and flighters climbed steadily to 14,000 feet. The fighters were on either side and 1,000 feet above the Bostons when four squadrons of Fokker FW 190s attacked out of the sun. Many attacks by pairs of FWs were made, from above and by climbing from below and rolling over on their backs before firing. Russell George Pic 7

Dog fights continued over Cap Griz Nez and Calais areas and Sergeant Bolwell Burgess of 457 Squadron was killed and two pilots from 458 and George from 457 were posted missing. George was hit in the engine. His aircraft caught fire and he baled out at 15,000 feet over St. Omer Airfield, landing in a wood nearby. He was picked up after three hours and was taken to the local prison, where he was interrogated. He eventually was incarcerated in various PoW camps for a total of two years, ten months and three days, and was freed by British troops on the 2nd May 1945

Of interest, George was the only member of 457 Squadron to become a PoW. Following his repatriation, he was discharged on the 9th October 1945. Russell George Pic 4

Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association 

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