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Sir Wallace 'Digger' Kyle



Air Chief Marshal

Sir Wallace 'Digger' Kyle - Biography

I was born and educated in Western Australia. My particular ambition was to join the RAF and, in early 1927, I applied for a cadetship at the RAF College Cranwell. I was interviewed by the Governor of the State who encouraged me. That interview had special significance because 48 years later I returned to West Australia as Governor myself and I like to think that the encouragement I received helped me deal sympathetically with many young men and women whom I interviewed for special appointments.

I loved every moment of my flying training at Cranwell: open cockpits; uncomplicated aircraft; minimum ground control; much emphasis on commonsense, judgement and initiative. Great friendships, which developed understanding and tolerance which helped greatly when senior rank came along. I formed a close friendship with Douglas Bader which continued throughout his life. Indirectly he taught me the value of example in leadership.

My first Squadron was No. 17 at Upavon. A fighter squadron equipped with Siskins and later Bulldogs. No radar or vectoring or gyro gun sights in those days, but we learnt the fundamentals like the need for accurate air-to-air gunnery. There followed three years in The Fleet Air Arm, flying from Carriers in Fairey IIIF’s. Next, a course at CFS where I really learnt to fly accurately. There followed five years as a flying instructor at Cranwell and, with great luck, in Australia with the RAAF. Back in England in 1938 as CFI at No. 3 FTS until July 1939, when I was posted to the Air Staff of Flying Training Command.

War came two months later and I spent the next seven months trying to get out of training and on to operations. At last I succeeded, and was posted to 139 Squadron in November 1940. Its Blenheim IV crews had performed great exploits in France, but had suffered severe losses and the Squadron needed rebuilding.

No. 139 was my first operational Squadron and my only command. Within a month of joining I became its CO. The Squadron had taken a hell of a beating in France, where a high percentage of its brave young crews were lost, and the only way to restore morale was through successful operations. This we achieved by daylight attacks on targets in the Low Countries and as Squadron Commander I flew as often as any other crew. It was not long before morale was well up again, and I think my major contribution to the Squadron was during this period.

In 1941 came the daylight anti-shipping operations and heavy losses from both flak and fighters. No doubt we diverted some of the German defence effort and we sank a few ships, but I doubted whether these operations were worth the losses, and certainly none of us enjoyed flying straight down the spout of the AA guns which were an integral part of the target.

In mid-1941 I was posted to No. 13 OTU Bicester as Chief Instructor. The instructional staff were all ex-operational and dedicated to the task of passing on their experience to young crews who needed every help they could get. In June 1942 I was posted back to 2 Group to command Horsham St. Faith where 139 had been based and which was now equipped with Mosquito Mk IV’s. This was a unique command because, although we operated within a general operational order, we were independent for detailed planning and target selection. To begin with we operated at maximum height over Western Germany by day and were a considerable nuisance value because the Luftwaffe always reacted, but unsuccessfully. The Mosquitos’ performance was too good for the 109’s of the time.

A couple of months later I handed Horsham over to the USAF and moved the Squadron and all the backup to Marham. We switched our role to low level daylight/dusk attacks on pin-point targets in France and West Germany. Accuracy was the hallmark of these tactics and this was the opportunity for the superb co-operation and co-ordination of the pilot-navigator crew exploiting the low level performance of the Mosquito. These operations were very successful. There were losses, but morale was very high.

In March 1944 I moved to Downham Market with a newly formed Lancaster Squadron and a Mosquito Squadron. We were part of the Pathfinder Force with Bomber Command now at its peak strength. However, although massive raids continued on Germany, a sizeable part of the effort was switched to transportation targets in France in preparation for the Invasion of Europe. We marked these transportation targets from very low level for accuracy, and sometimes had to cancel the first marker and re-mark. I well remember the time when the main force didn’t hear our cancellation call and let everything go while we were marking another run to re-mark. Fourteen hundred 1000 lb bombs coming down from above made it quite exciting. We were less than 1000 ft above ground.

My rank at the end of the war was Group Captain and I retired in 1968 as an Air Chief Marshal in command of Strike Command having merged Bomber and Fighter Commands. As the last C in C of Bomber Command I had the greatest admiration for the professional skill and devotion to duty of the flying crews of the V Force and the men of the Support Organisation. They were dedicated to their task and they deserve our thanks.

Seven years after retiring from the RAF I was appointed Governor of Western Australia from whence I came. It was a very great honour and a great pleasure.

Notes on Aircraft flown in Combat, 1939-45

The first aircraft I flew was the Avro 504N in 1928, and my last the Victor II ‘V’ Bomber. I first flew operationally in the Blenheim IV in 1940 and 1941. I later flew the Mosquito IV which was a wonderful machine to fly. By 1944 I had both a Lancaster and Mosquito Squadron, and have great respect for the Lancaster because of its contribution and the great crew co-operation I witnessed in this fine aircraft.

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Sir Wallace 'Digger' Kyle

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