Monday, August 22, 2016

Australians at D-Day

On the night of 5/6 June Bomber Command conducted precision attacks on ten German coastal artillery batteries near the beaches where Allied troops were to land. Each battery was targeted by approximately 100 heavy bombers, and all four Australian heavy bomber squadrons took part in the operation. No. 460 Squadron dispatched 26 aircraft, which were evenly split between attacking the batteries at Fontenay-Crisbecq and St Martin de Varreville. No. 466 Squadron provided 13 aircraft to the raid on batteries at Merville-Franceville Maisy, 14 aircraft from No. 463 Squadron struck Pointe du Hoe and No. 467 Squadron dispatched 14 against batteries at Ouistreham. The RAAF squadrons did not suffer any losses. Many Australian aircrew posted to British units also participated in this attack, and 14.8 percent of the 1,136 Bomber Command aircraft despatched were either part of RAAF squadrons or were flown by Australians.

Australians posted to RAF units also landed paratroopers in Normandy and took part in diversionary operations. On the night of 5/6 June several Australian airmen served in heavy bombers that dropped "window" chaff in patterns that, on German radar, simulated the appearance of convoys headed for the Pas de Calais region of France. Other Australians served in aircraft that dropped dummy paratroopers and jammed German radar. One Australian pilot posted to No. 139 Squadron RAF took part in "intruder" bombing raids against targets in western Germany and the Low Countries that sought to divert German aircraft away from Normandy. Australian aircrew also served aboard the transport aircraft of No. 38 Group RAF and No. 46 Group RAF, which flew the British 6th Airborne Division from the UK to Normandy on the night of 5/6 June. About 14 percent of the transport aircraft in No. 38 Group were piloted by Australians, though the proportion of Australians in No. 46 Group was much lower. There were no completely Australian aircrews in either group.

Australian aircrew supported the fighting on 6 June. No. 453 Squadron was one of 36 Allied squadrons that provided low-altitude air defence for the invasion fleet and landing force. Many of the squadron's pilots flew several sorties during the day, though they did not encounter any German aircraft. No. 456 Squadron also formed part of the force that provided air defence for the invasion area at night. In addition, about 200 Australian pilots were spread across the dozens of RAF fighter and fighter-bomber units that supported the landings. A small number of Australian aircrew also served in RAF reconnaissance units and 2TAF's light bomber squadrons, which also saw combat over France on D-Day. The three Australian squadrons assigned to Coastal Command flew only a small number of sorties on 6 June as few German submarines or E-boats put to sea.

About 500 RAN personnel served on board RN ships involved in the operation.

While most formed part of the crew of RN warships, several Australian officers led flotillas of landing craft and others commanded individual craft. For instance, Sub-Lieutenant Dean Murray commanded a force of six RN Landing Craft Assault that landed soldiers of the British 3rd Infantry Division at Sword Beach. Hudspeth also took X20 across the channel to mark the edge of Juno Beach during the landings there; he received his third DSC for completing this mission. Some of the warships with Australian crew members that supported the landings were HMS Ajax (which had three RANVR officers on board), Ashanti, Enterprise, Eskimo, Glasgow, Mackay and Scylla. Australian members of the Merchant Navy also participated in the D-Day landings, though the number of sailors involved is not known.

Few of the Australian Army officers attached to British units landed on D-Day. Major Jo Gullett, who was the second in command of an infantry company in the 7th Battalion, Green Howards, came ashore on Gold Beach as part of the invasion force. In his memoirs, Gullett described the landing as "easily the most impressive occasion of my life". He subsequently led a company of the Royal Scots until he was wounded by German machine gun fire on 17 July. Most of the other Australian officers served in staff positions; for instance Lieutenant Colonel Bill Robertson was the chief of staff of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division when that unit arrived in Normandy and was later posted to the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division where he served in the same role. Vincent came ashore on 7 June and served with XXX Corps, 7th Armoured and 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Divisions during the campaign.

Due to the lack of a nominal roll or other records listing the Australians who took part in the D-Day landings, it is not possible to determine the exact number involved. However, it has been estimated that about 3,000 Australian military personnel and merchant seamen participated in the operation. The total number of Australians killed on 6 June was 14, of whom 12 were RAAF airmen and two were members of the RAN.

Flight Lieutenant Roberts Christian (Robert) Dunstan, DSO

Roberts Dunstan attained a degree of celebrity as a one-legged gunner who served with Bomber Command in the Second World War before going on to a political career. He was born in Bendigo, Victoria, on 5 November 1922.
Dunstan lied about his age to join the AIF when he was just 17 and was posted to the 2/8th Field Company as a reinforcement. He joined his unit in Egypt shortly before the battle for Bardia, in which he took no part. In January 1941, outside Tobruk, he was wounded in the knee by a shell splinter. At first appearing to be not especially serious, Dunstan's wound became infected and his leg was amputated.

After convalescing in Egypt, Dunstan returned to Melbourne in July 1941 and, the following February, was discharged from the AIF. Feeling frustrated at having served for such a short time, Dunstan - while studying law in Geelong - began a concerted attempt to join the RAAF as an air gunner. Exactly one year after returning to Australia he entered No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School at Port Pirie, South Australia.

Upon completion of the course he was promoted to sergeant air gunner and embarked for overseas service for a second time. After training, Dunstan was posted to 460 Squadron. His first operation was to Dusseldorf on 11 June 1943.

Dunstan's crew flew together over a five month period. He later recalled the fear and nervous tension as his tally of completed operations grew, all the while wondering whether he would survive until the requisite 30 had been completed. On one raid to Berlin he flew as rear gunner in Group Captain Hughie Edwards's Lancaster, a source of particular pride for Dunstan as Edwards was a well-known and highly respected Victoria Cross winner.

In October 1943 Dunstan was commissioned as a pilot officer with just two operations left to fly. On their penultimate operation, to Kassel, Dunstan's aircraft was hit by incendiaries from another Lancaster and then by a night fighter, but crash-landed safely back in England. His last operation, to Dusseldorf, was less fraught and took place the day before Dunstan's 21st birthday. He returned to Australia in August 1944 and received a degree of press attention as a kind of curiosity - a one-legged air gunner who completed an operational tour and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

In 1946 Dunstan published a short book about his wartime experiences, The sand and the sky. After the war he worked as a journalist and then film critic for the Melbourne Herald. In 1953 he travelled to Italy to meet the artilleryman whom he believed had fired the shell that wounded him at Tobruk, and four years later sponsored the man's son as a migrant to Australia. In 1956 Dunstan was elected to the Victorian parliament as the Liberal member for Mornington. He went on to serve as a cabinet secretary, Minister of Water Supply and, later, Minister of Public Works. He died on 11 October 1989.

England, Lincolnshire. Formal portrait of members of No. 460 Squadron RAAF, commanded by Wing Commander C. E. Martin, in front of and lined up on the wing of Lancaster Bomber 'G for George'. This aircraft carried out 90 operational missions over Germany and occupied Europe. 'G for George' is now on display at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

460 Squadron RAAF
No. 460 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, was formed at Molesworth in the United Kingdom on 15 November 1941. It was an “Article XV Squadron”, formed in accordance with agreements that implemented the Empire Air Training Scheme. The squadron became part of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command and joined the strategic bombing campaign against Germany. Equipped with Vickers Wellington bombers, it mounted its first raid, against the German city of Emden, on 12 March 1942.

In the ensuing three years the squadron was heavily committed to operations over Germany, Italy and German-occupied Europe. It operated, in succession, from airfields at Molesworth (15 November 1941 - 3 January 1942), Breighton (4 January 1942 - 14 May 1943), and Binbrook (14 May 1943 - 27 July 1945).

Although it had originally been planned to re-equip the squadron with Handley Page Halifaxes in September 1942, it began operating Avro Lancasters in the following month and joined Bomber Command’s 1 Group. The bulk of the squadron’s operations formed part of the strategic bombing offensive against Germany, although prior to, and during, the D-Day landings in June 1944, it was employed in support of Allied ground operations. The squadron flew its last raid, against Berchtesgarden, on ANZAC Day 1945.

The squadron is regarded as having been the most efficient of the Australian bomber squadrons. It maintained consistently higher serviceability rates among its aircraft, set numerous operational records within Bomber Command, flew the most bombing raids of any Australian squadron, and was credited with the greatest tonnage of bombs dropped - 24,856 tons. The Australian War Memorial’s Lancaster “G for George” was a 460 Squadron aircraft. The squadron, however, suffered heavily. It lost 181 aircraft on operations and suffered 1,018 fatal casualties (589 Australian) - the highest number of any of the Australian squadrons.

Following the end of hostilities in Europe in April 1945, the squadron participated in Operation Manna, which involved the air-dropping of food to Dutch civilians during the first week of May 1945. It was subsequently employed to transport liberated Commonwealth prisoners of war to Britain. With this role complete, 460 Squadron was selected to form part of “Tiger Force”, Bomber Command’s intended contribution to the strategic bombing of Japan, which necessitated a transfer to No. 5 Group and a move to East Kirby. The war in the Pacific ended, however, before “Tiger Force” was deployed. The squadron relinquished its aircraft in early October 1945, and disbanded on the 25th of that month.

Squadron Motto
Strike and return

Squadron Code
UV       15 November 1941-November 1943
AR       November 1943-25 October 1945