You can’t get much more Australian than Clive Robertson “Killer” Caldwell. Flying ace, ruthless killer, bootlegger, mutineer, successful businessman, national hero.
Clive Robertson Caldwell, DSO, DFC & Bar was the leading Australian air ace of World War II. Caldwell flew Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks and Kittyhawks in the North African Campaign and Supermarine Spitfires in the South West Pacific Theatre. He was the highest-scoring P-40 pilot from any air force and the highest-scoring Allied pilot in North Africa. Caldwell also commanded a Royal Air Force (RAF) squadron and two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) wings.
‘He was Australia’s highest-scoring ace of World War II. The “Top Gun from Down Under.” Credited with 28.5 kills (over a span of 300 sorties). Became an ace in a day. Fought in the Middle East, North Africa, and the South Pacific. Shot down Germans, Italians, and Japanese. Earned his nickname “Killer” in 1941, because he had no compunction about machine-gunning German pilots who’d bailed out of their stricken aircraft and were parachuting down to the ground. As he himself said:
“There was no bloodlust or anything about it like that. It was just a matter of not wanting them back to have another go at us. I never shot any who landed where they could be taken prisoner.”
‘(For what it’s worth, shooting parachuting enemy pilots was fairly common among both German and Allied forces during WWII. Caldwell witnessed a close friend of his get shot by a German pilot in North Africa while descending to the ground on a parachute, and this may have hardened him to the grim realities of total war.)’
‘After serving with distinction in several different theaters of the Second World War, Caldwell was court-martialed in January of 1946 for allegedly smuggling liquor to US troops in the Dutch East Indies. He was demoted, and left the service in February of 1946. He was also apparently involved in a mutiny shortly before the war’s end, after he and several other officers resigned in protest at RAAF squadrons being assigned to strategically worthless missions. (He was cleared of all charges.)
‘After the war, he joined a cloth import/export firm in Sydney, and later became a managing director. He died in 1994, being mourned by many Australians as a national hero.
‘I don’t think you could get much more Australian than that. Flying ace, ruthless killer, bootlegger, mutineer, successful businessman, national hero.’
‘He’s certainly always been one of the World War II aviators I admired the most.
‘Godspeed, Killer Caldwell.’
Photo: Marked with his initals, Wing Commander Clive ‘Killer’ Caldwell, poses beside his Spitfire at Strauss Airstrip in Australia’s Northern Territory. (AWM NWA0309) via HistoryNet