455 SQN pilot– WW2 

Born on 24 Nov 1919 at Peterborough, Colin John Ayliffe was educated at St Josephs Convent School, Peterborough, from 1925 to 1935. Prior to World War 2, was employed as a Clerk in the South Australia Railways.

Image of Colin Ayliffe as a Flight Sergeant at 455SQN taken in Norfolk on 6 July 1944.(AWM)

He enlisted in the RAAF at No 5 Recruiting Centre, Adelaide, on 6 Dec 1941 and completed initial training at No 4 Initial Training School, Victor Harbor from December 1941 to April 1942. He completed basic flying at No 1 Elementary Flying Training School, Parafield, from April to Jun 1942 obtaining 60 flying hours on DH 82 Tiger Moth aircraft.

He was then sent to Canada to complete his flying training through the Empire Air Training Scheme. Departing Australia on 29 July 1942, he attended No 3 Service Flying Training School at Calgary from September 1942 to January 1943 obtaining 144 hours on Cessna Crane training aircraft. He received his Flying Badge on 31 November 1942. He was then posted to No 3 Operational Training Unit, Patricia Bay in Canada, where he converted on to medium range twin engine aircraft obtaining 105 flying hours on Oxfords and Hampdens.

Ayliffe was then posted to complete further operational training in England prior to commencing operations. He attended No 9 Operational Training Unit at RAF Aldergrove, a long range fighter training unit that trained aircrew in coastal strike operations in England from Dec 1943 to March 1944.

Course photo from No 3 Service Flying Training School, Calgary, Canada. SGT Colin Ayliffe is in the back row, 4th from right.

He was posted to No 455 Squadron as a pilot on 25 March 1944 where he completed an operational tour from April 1944 to May 1945.  During this period, the squadron was based at RAF Langham in Norfolk and RAF Dallachy in Scotland providing easy access to the North Sea. 455 SQN and 489 SQN (RNZAF) formed what became known as the ANZAC Wing in Coastal Command. The squadron became famous for its fast low level strikes against German shipping along the Norwegian coastline particularly in steep narrow fjords that were heavily fortified. The missions were dangerous and the squadron suffered losses losing 91 personnel during the war.

Ayliffe flew 69 non-operational flying hours and 198 operational hours on Beaufighters at 455SQN. He flew 47 operational missions during his operational tour with the most being dangerous maritime strike missions against German ships. For example, on 13 June 1944, he participated in a 12 ship E-Boat (fast German patrol / torpedo boats) patrol along the Dutch coastline. He later recalled flak striking his aircraft between the fuselage and engines and upon landing found over fifty flak holes in the fuselage. On 5 December 1944, he participated in a 17 ship strike on German shipping in Orsta Fjord. After firing his cannons and seeing a fel low Beaufighter aircraft beside him explode in mid air at low level on the strike, he recovered to Scotland escorting a fellow Beaufighter that was limping home heavily damaged.  The second aircraft had to ditch off the Shetland Islands and Ayliffe, noticing the crew were able to escape to a dinghy prior to the aircraft sinking, maintained watch over the downed aircrew until air-sea rescue arrived. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 1 Feb 1945 and promoted to Flying Officer in August 1945.

RAAF 455 SQN Beaufighters engage targets in Orsta Fjord on 5 December 1944. Cannon fire from a Beaufighter raking across the water with a ship mast visible at the bottom of the photo. A Beaufighter can be seen egressing the target at the top of the image.(AWM)

Completing his operational tour when 455 SQN was disbanded in May 1945, Ayliffe became one of the longest serving Beaufighter pilots of the squadron.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for action with 455 SQN against German shipping. The Citation read “Warrant Officer Ayliffe has rendered excellent service having completed very many sorties including numerous strikes on German shipping. In these operations, he has displayed the greatest keenness to engage the enemy and has invariably pressed home his attacks with the utmost determination. On several occasions, his aircraft have been badly damaged by enemy fire but each time he has flown back to base. Warrant Officer Ayliffe has set a splendid example of devotion to duty.”

Ayliffe departed England in late October 1945 arriving in Adelaide in January 1946.  He was discharged from the RAAF on 6 February 1946 and returned to work with the South Australian Railways after the war.

John Colin Ayliffe passed away in Adelaide at the age of 102. One of the longest serving pilots of 455 SQN, he certainly lived up to the Squadron motto of ‘Strike and Strike Again’.  We believe he was the last South Australian based 455 SQN aircrew veteran.


Greg Weller
Vice President
Air Force Association (SA)