Corporal (as LAC) Colin Thomas McPherson, 6165 RAAF
Corporal Rodney Fergus Parkhill, 21232 RAAF
Flight Lieutenant William Shankland, J4431 RCAF
FLGOFF Walter Geoffrey Hall 6120 RAAF
Flight Sergeant Alan William Kempnich 413608 RAAF
[The following information is from units of the Royal Australian Air Force, A Concise
History - Volume 3 - Bomber Units]
23 May 1941 - Formed at Williamtown, NSW
11 July 1941 - Squadron disbanded
30 September 1942 - Reformed at Aqir, Palestine
18 November 1942 - Joined ‘D’ Force covered USA/Persia/Russia Lend Lease supply line
1 February 1943 - Converted to Baltimore III at Amiriya, Egypt
13 April 1943 - Moved to Gambut III, Cyrenaica
August 1943 - Moved to LG9`
November 1943 - Moved to Berka III
14 July 1944 - Joined Desert Air Force at Pescara, Italy, for close support of 8th
November 1943 - Operated out of Cesenatico, Italy
1 May 1945 - Last sortie
14 August 1945 - Squadron disbanded
454 Squadron History
Planned as one of the 17 Australian-manned squadrons for the Royal Air Force (RAF),
454 Squadron was formed on 23 May 1941 and disbanded on 11 July 1941, at Williamtown,
New South Wales. Finally, with RAAF technical personnel already in the Middle East
and newly arrived RAF ground crew, it reformed on 30 September 1942 as a light bomber
squadron at Aqir, Palestine.
In September 1942, Flight Lieutenant George Barnard led a 454 road convoy from Aqir,
heading for Teheran, Iran. However, the Russian Reinforcement Command forestalled
the use of that base, and the Squadron settled at Quiarra near Mosul.
At Quiarra the first of six Blenheim V refresher courses began, but then 454 Squadron
was moved westward in February 1943, to LG91 (Amiriya South), about 45 miles form
Alexandria, Egypt. It was attached to 201 Group RAF Middle East. The Squadron quickly
converted to Mark III Baltimores. Its first operational sortie was flown by Flying
Officer Bayly’s crew on 4 March 1943.
RAF 201 Group required 454 Squadron to provide armed day convoy escorts and independent
anti-submarine patrols for the many Allied troop and supply convoys from Egypt, and
fuel tankers for the Levant oil terminals, destined for Malta and other 8th Army
forward supply bases. Anti-submarine patrols during daylight hours were increasingly
augmented by armed independent visual reconnaissances, and shipping strikes in the
Aegean Sea. There were strong Axis garrisons and formidable air units to contend
with, in the outer defended ring (Athens-Rhodes-Crete-southern Greece and the Dodecanese
With a new squadron establishment, a move to Gambut III (Cyrenaica) near Tobruk was
completed on 13 April 1943, and a detachment located at Misurata. By 1 May 1943,
the first full complement of 16 Baltimores was available, and the first shipping
and U-boat attacks were reported. In June 1943, the first Baltimore crew, which
included Squadron Leader Bamkin, were killed in an airfield accident.
Gradually the operational commitment was stepped up, especially for armed independent
reconnaissances. July 1943 was a particularly active month. Several crews fought
their way out through defended exits from the Aegean Sea. On 18 July 1943, Flight
Lieutenant Dave Lewis’ crew destroyed one BF109 and damaged another. Royal Canadian
Air Force Flight Lieutenant Bill Shankland made an audacious low level reconnaissance
of a significant Symi Harbour build-up of small ships; and RAF Flying Officer Ray
Crouch’s 6 hours 20 minutes sortie was a Squadron record.
The Squadron’s worst operational day occurred on 23 July 1943, when eight 454 Squadron
Baltimores, led by Squadron Leader Lionel Folkard and accompanied by fighters, made
a daylight low level offensive over northern Crete. Six Baltimores and five crews
were lost. Flight Sergeant Akhurst’s crew survived after scrambling out on one motor
at low level and ‘ditching’ just off Gambut. Akhurst’s immediate award of the Distinguished
Flying Medal (DFM) was the Squadron’s first decoration.
In early August, the Squadron returned to LG91 as base with detachments at St Jean
(Palestine) and Cyprus. The number of long range reconnaissances then increased
markedly to cover the Dodecanese invasion and withdrawal (10 September 1943 to 10
In November 1943, Wing Commander J.A.G. (Jack) Coates (RAF) assumed command from
Wing Commander Campbell, and Berka III again became the base. The Squadron flew
unarmed long range photo reconnaissance missions into the western Aegean, and 75
small ship sightings were reported in December alone. Many of these small ships
were attacked by RAF Beaufighters, which flew 30 minutes behind the 454 Squadron
reconnaissance aircraft, and were alerted by coded sighting reports. On 31 December,
Flight Lieutenant Railton (RAF) evaded two prolonged attacks by pairs of Bf109s.
201 Group RAF merged with Air Headquarters Eastern Mediterranean on 21 February 1944,
and 454 Squadron came under the command of RAF Station Berks. Squadron Leader Cashmore
and Flight Lieutenant Gray, located the Livenza, a 6,000 ton motor vessel, and its
convoy escort, in Melos Harbour. The following day Beaufighters sank it, losing
three aircraft, but destroying two Bf109S. A week later Flying Officer Crouch successfully
battled his way through the Kythera Strait, having provided a diversion over Melos,
whilst Coates photographed a new Freya radar station. During February formation
practice, in boxes of six aircraft, was increased.
In April 1944, Coates handed over command to Wing Commander Mike Moore. The new
Commanding Officer continued the concentrated bombing training program, and directed
small formation operational bombing attacks on southern Greek targets – Kalamata.
Plyoe – for harassment and further experience, meanwhile maintaining the well-established
long range unarmed photo reconnaissance program, especially in the western and central
Aegean Sea, and around the western Greek coast.
The Squadron’s finest search and strike results were achieved on 1 and 2 June 1944
under Moore’s command. From first light on 1 June, after an Axis convoy had at last
left Piraeus Harbour, eight 454 Squadron Baltimores in turn shadowed three merchant
vessels, four destroyers and eight escort vessels, and their fighter escorts. Despite
many attacks, the reconnaissance crews made close low level passes at the convoy,
regularly photographing and reporting its progress. At 1700 hours, after the last
shadowing Baltimore had been lost, a strike force from Gambut led by three 454 Squadron
Baltimores attacked about 30 miles north of Candia Harbour. All but two merchant
vessels were sunk; two Bf109s were shot down.
Whilst long range reconnaissance penetrations of the upgraded, radar-controlled fighter
and flak-defended areas of the eastern, western and central Aegean, Crete, and southern
Greece had paid significant dividends, a high price had been exacted; 21 crews were
lost in 10 months. The operational result was increased enemy isolation and supply
deterioration of the garrisons.
By July 1944, 454 Squadron had been transferred to the Desert Air Force at Pescara
on the Italian Adriatic Coast, to support 8th Army.
The Squadron had a second tour Commanding Officer in Wing Commander Moore, and strong,
experienced flight commanders (Squadron Leaders Vic Cashmore and Don Beaton), well
trained pilot and navigator/bombing leader teams, and ground crews second to none
for serviceability and immediate turnaround capabilities. It was highly mobile,
efficient, and experienced in maintaining its strike capacity, whilst moving tent
accommodated personnel long distances. By mid July 1944, it began operating in Italy.
The Squadron’s task was to provide the “Tedder Bomb Carpet” (1000 yards by 300 yards)
aimed at saturating close-support targets, usually by a box of six aircraft in a
tight, very manoeuvrable formation, bombing on a leader from medium heights (10,000
feet and above). The technique, developed and tested before the Alamein battles,
became standard battlefield and tactical practice and was employed relentlessly and
with devastating effect by Desert Air Force light bomber squadrons until January
1945. The safe maximum limit for straight and level flying at 10,000 feet to evade
accurately predicted heavy anti-aircraft fire was 15 seconds.
During September at Falconara, 454 Squadron delivered a total of 328 tons of bombs. This
was accomplished in spite of 10 days of very bad weather during which no flying was
possible, and whilst the pierced steel plated single all-weather landing strip was
Aerial Photo of Our Base at Falconara note the clip together metal runways
Baltimores in the air
As in the earlier desert years of dust, sand, khamains and heat the ground crews
performed miracles in maintaining excellent serviceability and prompt turnaround
of bombed-up aircraft in the appalling mud and slush of Falconara, Italy. On three
days in September, three raids of 12 aircraft were dispatched – a record 36 sorties
each day. Improvisation to defeat glue-like mud, to repair anti-aircraft shrapnel
holes after every raid and to refuel and reload bombs, kept the armourers, fitters,
riggers, refuellers and others stretched to their limits. Though the shocking weather
of September-October could have induced low morale, the reverse was the case. Typical
‘Aussie grizzling’ cloaked quiet satisfaction with a job well done. At Falconara,
the most forward Allied airstrip in Italy at the time, weather permitting, all eyes
would watch the flak-taxi in for inspection and readiness. Shrapnel holes were counted
and patched – 186 on one occasion, and the bomb stencil kept the number of bombing
sorties up to date alongside each aircraft’s identification letter and cartoon nickname. During
this period Flight Lieutenant Don Fraser replaced Squadron Leader Beaton, who was
tour expired for the second time, as ‘B’ Flight Commander; Flight Lieutenant Phil
Strickland became ‘A’ Flight Commander; and Squadron Leader Cashmore now became squadron
Leader (Flying) with overall Squadron tactical planning and organizational duties.
In November, two important operational developments occurred – daylight formation
bombing is concert with 15 SAAF Baltimore Squadron against the Yugoslavian ports
of Pola and Fiume, and the beginning of radar controlled practice and operational
blind bombing from above 10/10 cloud.
Moore handed over command to Wing Commander A.D. (Pete) Henderson (25 November 1944
to 18 May 1945) as 454 Squadron prepared to move to Cesenatico. With the Squadron’s
new night role pending, Henderson’s recent experience was most appropriate for directing
454 Squadron in its interdiction and independent harassing, strafing, bombing and
Because of extremely bad weather in January and February 1945, the Squadron experienced
great difficulty in meeting operational demands and at the same time, in scheduling
a comprehensive conversion program for night-intruding harassment of the retreating
German Army Mistral winds, rain, and intermittent sleet and fog were prevalent. Though
454 Squadron was now located as Cesenatico, a comparative paradise after Falconara,
conversion to the new task was badly hampered by the weather. Forli was used as
a detached base for a time. Finally the Squadron was stood down operationally to
concentrate on conversion.
The experimental blind bombing, controlled by a radar station near Favenna which
vectored individual aircraft onto weather-obscured and night targets, now began
to show improvement.
Squadron strength as at 30 November 1944 was 395. Throughout its 30 months of operations
this strength remained steady.
Two months of highly successful night intruding commenced on the night of 5-6 March
1945 with Squadron Leader Phil Strickland/Flight Lieutenant Ron McCathie, flying
the Squadron’s first of 390 night intruder sorties.
Crews attacked any moving transport- road, rail, river ferry or canal barge; pontoon
bridges; supply dumps and factories; troop concentrations and fortified positions. A
special night photographic technique, developed by Flight Lieutenant Joe Wright,
provided excellent tactical information.
On both 23 and 25 March 1945 Warrant Officer Syd Holmes’ brilliant handling of his
badly damaged aircraft resulted in the immediate award of a Distinguished Flying
A maximum effort was achieved for the last great assault by the 8th Army on the Italian
Adriatic Front, with 28 sorties on the night of 9-10 April in support of a 5th Army
Corps attack on the Senio River Line. At regular intervals, individual aircraft
bombed gun positions around Masso Lombarda, just ahead of the bomb line; each making
four separate runs across the target area. But 13 April provided unexpected setbacks;
two 454 Squadron crews were lost; and two other Squadron aircraft returned to Cesenatico
very severely damaged.
German resistance finally collapsed just as eight crews flew 454 Squadron’s last
13 sorties. In the early morning of 1 May, Flight Lieutenant Geoff Bradley and Warrant
Officer Peter Matthews were briefed for the last armed night reconnaissance of Villach,
the Italian-Austrian border escape routes. However, it had to be aborted shortly
before completion because of bad weather.
"Was on Squadron strength when we arrived and had an interesting history. Originally
belonging to Rommel's Afrika Korps he was unable to keep up with them as they hurried
West after Alamein, and decided he would be better off on the other side, so he joined
Butch would occasionally become bored with life and to alleviate it he would run
up one side of someone's tent and slide down the other side. This did the tent no
good at all, and was actively discouraged by its occupants.
I can't recall ever seeing him again after we went to Italy. Maybe he again transferred
allegiance and joined 459 when they occupied our former home at Berka III. I must
ask my friend Roy Mahoney whom I see occasionally. Best Wishes, Kev O'Brien. --