© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons
454 RAAF Light Bomber Squadron
Flying Officer Victor Cooke (Vic "The Champ) MITCHELL
RAF Desert Air Force
December 1943 to December 1944
Service Number 412604
The above crew photograph was taken by RAAF PR staff
just after a long and demanding sortie in the Aegean Sea.
[Rank shown as appropriate in early 1944]
F Sgt - VC ("The Champ") Mitchell - Pilot
F Off - JC ("Johnny") Clough, Navigator/Bomb Aimer/
F24 GR Camera Operator
F Sgt - H (Harry) Worboys, Wirelss Operator/Air Gunner (WAG)
(later in tour replaced by Tony Lindley)
F Sgt - L (Les) Holley, WAG
Vic Mitchell's crew served for a year with 454 RAAF in the RAF's Desert Air force - six months on General Reconnaissance (low level daylight long range) from Berka III, near Benghasi in Cyrenaica, and six months on daylight medium level close formation pattern bombing for the British 8th army slogging its way up the Italian Adriatic coast.
These long range sorties from Berka III were often directed at Aegean "hot spots" (Melos, Monemvasia, Santorini etc) and resulted in a collection of more than a dozen photographs in an album destined for the Australian War Memorial 454 Archives, which demonstrate the fine operational teamwork of Mitchell (Pilot) and Clough (operator of the huge F24 hand held camera, shoulder strapped and aimed usually out of the sliding side window of the navigator's "office").
RAF airmen preparing
an F24 camera for mounting in a
de Havilland Mosquito aircraft
The collection is a gem, an excellent example of how to locate, very well a camouflaged submarine, a caique (an armed schooner), an escort vessel or a destroyer. In the next six months they were operating from PSP strips laid on grass and/or soil or mud in Italy at Pescara, Falconara or Cesenatico airfield.
Mitchell's crew was regularly in the air, as part of a box of six Baltimores making "Tedder Bomb Pattern Strikes" aimed at softening up Gothic Line strong points or tactical supply centres - bridges, cross roads, harbours etc.
At Falconara the mud, taxi-way slush, wide dispersal from attacks and continuously overcast skies at bombing height created aggravated problems. Mitchell's crew flew their share of the record number of sorties flown during the 20 day month of September, when on three consecutive days 454 despatched 36 bombing sorties (six boxes of six) on each day - a Wing record. Not only was this an outstanding effort by the "shrapnel happy" aircrew, but by the dogged and relentless grind of the ground crews - fitters, riggers, refuellers, armourers, tractor and truck drivers; they were unstoppable in keeping Balts flying. Tough AA damage was very extensive, the aircraft were kept repaired and flying.
Squadron members remember clearly the man dubbed "The Champ". He sparkled. He was quick with repartee; always cheerful and apt with a wisecrack; confident and sure as a pilot; "on the ball" when the "chips were down"; and a fine team member. In formations he was usually selected alongside the leader in the first "Vic".
The photographs on this page show the crew, a Baltimore silhouetted against summery clouds, the Berka III 454 campsite and below Vic in earnest conversation with Wing Commander "Camel: Coates, 454's commanding Officer at Berka III.
Editor's Note: No Bulletin tribute was published following Vic Mitchell's death in 1993. He had expressed a strong wish for privacy during his final long illness and the funeral service. This wish was respected. Now his widow Margaret has given her approval for his contribution to 454's wartime record to be recognised.
[Above story is from the Association's 2000 Bulletin]
Victor C MITCHELL
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