Clive Robertson Caldwell enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) the day after war was declared in 1939, and, by the end of the war, he had become known as "Killer " Caldwell, Australia's highest scoring ace. Born in 1910, he was 3 years above the maximum age for acceptance in RAAF fighter training. Displaying the initiative that would later gain him 28 1/2 victories, he simply had his birth certificate expertly altered to show that he was 26 years old. He completed flight training under the Empire Air Training Scheme in May of 1941, and joined No. 250 Squadron in Egypt. He scored his first victory over an Me-109E in June of 1941.
Two months later, he displayed the qualities of bravery, confidence, and aggressiveness that marked his entire career. While flying over the Mediterranean on 29 August 1941, Caldwell felt his P-40 Tomahawk jolt as a pair of Me-109s began firing at him. His cockpit suddenly filled with smoke, part of his instrument panel disappeared, and huge chunks were missing from the wings and trailing edges of his aircraft. Wounded in the shoulder, back, neck, and left leg, he opened the canopy to bail out. But, when the canopy opened, the windblast extinguished the fire in the cockpit and Caldwell decided to remain with the aircraft. While crossing the Egyptian coast near his home base, he observed a dogfight in progress and, instead of landing, he gradually climbed his damaged fighter for an attack on an Me-109F. Only after downing the Messerschmitt did he return to base and successfully land his aircraft despite a flat tire and no wing flaps.
Doctors removed the bullets from Caldwell and he returned to his flying duties 2 days later. In just 1 year over the desert, he was credited with 20 1/2 victories. Upon completion of his assignment in the Middle East, Caldwell was sent to England and then to Training Command in Australia. In January 1943, he became wing commander of No. 1 RAAF Fighter Wing (the "Churchill" Wing) and led Mk5C Spitfires in the historic defense of Darwin. During the months that followed, he gained eight more victories against the Japanese. Group Captain Clive "Killer" Caldwell left military service upon demobilization in 1946.
The painting shows one of Clive Caldwell's Mk5C Spitfires as it appeared during the defense of Darwin. As wing commander of No. 1 Wing, he maintained three Spitfires distinctively marked with his initials CR-C on the fuselage, and a white spinner on the prop.