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Wilfred Arthur

Wilfred Arthur

Wilfred Stanley (Wilf) Arthur DSO, DFC (7 December 1919 – 2000) was an Australian fighter ace of World War II. He is officially credited with shooting down 10 enemy aircraft. At 24, Arthur was the youngest Group Captain in the history of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He also played a leading part in – and gave name to – the "Morotai Mutiny" of 1945. He was commonly known as "Woof", and sometimes "Wolf" or "Wulf".

Early life

Arthur was born in Sydney, the son of a stock inspector from Goondiwindi, Queensland, near the New South Wales border. His early schooling was at Yelarbon, to which he commuted on horseback. Later he attended The Scots College in Warwick.

World War II

North Africa

Arthur was 19 years old and still at The Scots College when he joined the RAAF on 4 September 1939, the day after Australia declared war on Germany. He was commissioned a Pilot Officer and served initially with No. 22 Squadron.

In 1940 Flying Officer Arthur was posted to No. 3 Squadron in North Africa. Piloting a Gloster Gladiator biplane, he scored his first victory by shooting down an Italian Fiat CR.42 north-west of Sofali on 12 December 1940. The next day he himself was shot down by a CR.42, and had to bail out.

Promoted to Flight Lieutenant, Arthur was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for destroying four enemy aircraft in a single engagement near Bir El Gubi on 30 November 1941. Flying a P-40 Tomahawk, he claimed two JU87 Stukas, one Fiat G.50 and one Macchi MC.200.

Arthur met his future wife, Lucille, in Alexandria. They married on 24 December 1941 and honeymooned in Palestine and Syria.

South-West Pacific

Posted to the Pacific, Arthur flew P-40 Kittyhawks with No. 76 Squadron in New Guinea from April 1942 to January 1943. He was then promoted Squadron Leader and made Commanding Officer of No. 75 Squadron.

Arthur was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his actions on 14 April 1943. Despite his guns having jammed, he led 34 Allied aircraft, including Kittyhawks of 75 and 77 Squadrons and P-38 Lightnings of the USAAF, to intercept 100 Japanese raiders over Milne Bay. The plane he flew, a Kittyhawk named "Polly", later went on display at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Arthur described the situation of being in combat without armament as "sort of awkward. Fortunately nobody else would know except me." He was promoted Acting Wing Commander in June and appointed Wing Leader of No. 71 Wing.

On 5 November 1943 Arthur was involved in a collision at Kiriwina Airfield with a Spitfire of No. 79 Squadron. The Spitfire pilot was killed, and Arthur received serious burns. He was repatriated to Sydney where he underwent plastic surgery at Yaralla Military Hospital (now Concord Hospital). After his recovery in April 1944, Arthur attended the RAAF Staff School for three months before taking over command of No. 2 Operational Training Unit. In August, at the age of 24, Arthur was promoted temporary Group Captain, the youngest in the RAAF. That December he became Officer Commanding No. 81 Wing of the Australian First Tactical Air Force (1TAF) in the Dutch East Indies.

In April 1945, having recently assumed command of 1TAF's No. 78 Wing, Arthur helped bring about the "Morotai Mutiny"; he had coined the term himself in an aide memoire. Arthur was one of eight senior pilots, including Australia's top-scoring ace, Group Captain Clive Caldwell, who attempted to resign their commissions in protest at the relegation of RAAF fighter squadrons to apparently worthless ground attack missions. He later said that his object was to "make as big a fuss as I possibly could with the object of getting the position corrected." An inquiry cleared the pilots, finding their motives in tendering their resignations to be sincere. Arthur remained in command of No. 78 Wing, leading it during the Battle of Tarakan in May 1945.

In addition to receiving the DFC and DSO, Arthur was twice Mentioned in Dispatches. His official final tally of victories was 10 enemy aircraft destroyed.

Later life

Arthur discharged from the RAAF on 14 February 1946, and took up residence in Darwin, Northern Territory. He worked with the Australian School of Pacific Administration, after which he travelled to Vietnam to establish dairy farms under the Colombo Plan. Returning to Australia, he was administration manager for Geopeko, the exploration unit responsible for discovering the Ranger uranium deposit at Jabiru. He died in 2000.

Notes

References

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