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Peter Raw

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Allegiance  Australia
Rank  Air commodore
Name  Peter Raw
Years of service  1941–78

Peter Raw
Born  5 June 1922 Carnegie, Victoria (1922-06-05)
Commands held  No. 205 Group Communication Squadron RAF (1945) No. 2 Squadron RAAF (1953–55) No. 1 Long Range Flight RAAF (1953) No. 82 Wing RAAF (1965–66) RAAF Base Butterworth (1972–76)
Battles/wars  World War II Vietnam War
Awards  Distinguished Service Order Distinguished Flying Cross Air Force Cross Cross of Valour (Poland)
Died  1988, Melbourne, Australia
Service/branch  Royal Australian Air Force

Battles and wars  World War II, Vietnam War

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Air Commodore Peter Frank Raw, DSO, DFC, AFC (5 June 1922 – 14 July 1988) was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pilot and officer. He joined the RAAF in 1941, and served as a flight instructor, bomber pilot and the commander of a communications unit during World War II. After the war he became a specialist navigator. Raw was appointed the commander of No. 2 Squadron in January 1953, but temporarily left this position for part of the year to participate in the 1953 London to Christchurch air race, in which he placed second. He returned to lead No. 2 Squadron at the end of 1953 and held this position until 1955.


Raw subsequently served in staff and diplomatic roles until 1965, when he took command of No. 82 Wing. Between May 1966 and April 1967, he served as the air support coordinator for the Australian forces in South Vietnam; his initial refusal to commit RAAF helicopters to assist the Australian Army force that was in danger of being defeated during the Battle of Long Tan in August 1966 generated lasting controversy. Raw served in various staff and training positions until 1972, when he was appointed the commander of RAAF Base Butterworth. He returned to Australia in 1976 and retired from the RAAF two years later.

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Early career

Raw was born in the Melbourne suburb of Glen Huntly on 5 June 1922 to Alfred and Eleanor Raw. He was educated at Tooronga Road State School and later attended Melbourne High School. Raw began an electrical apprenticeship at Carlton & United Breweries in 1939, and studied part-time at Melbourne Technical College.

Raw attempted to join the Royal Australian Navy as an electrical artificer in 1941, but was rejected and told to reapply in twelve months. Instead, he joined the RAAF on 15 August that year. He departed Sydney bound for Southern Rhodesia in November 1941 to be trained as a pilot under the Empire Air Training Scheme. Arriving in Southern Rhodesia in January 1942, Raw completed his training and was commissioned as an officer in December that year. He subsequently served as a flying instructor in Southern Rhodesia. In May 1944 Raw became engaged to Dorothy Maggs, whose family lived in Southern Rhodesia and South Africa.

In mid-1944, Raw was transferred to Egypt and undertook an operational conversion course that prepared him to fly Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers in combat. In July that year he was posted to No. 178 Squadron RAF, a British B-24 Liberator unit based near Foggia in southern Italy. While serving with this squadron, Raw took part in operations in the eastern Mediterranean region as well as Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia. During August 1944 the long-range bomber units controlled by No. 205 Group RAF, including No. 178 Squadron, undertook several risky operations as part of the Warsaw airlift to supply the Polish Home Army during the Warsaw Uprising. Raw participated in three of these flights. His bomber was the only aircraft to deliver its cargo to Warsaw during a mission on 16 August; Raw subsequently received the Polish Cross of Valour in February 1945 for this achievement. One of his other flights to Warsaw was conducted on 1 September, but due to bad weather Raw was unable to see the city at the time he dropped the load of supplies.

During a raid on the northern Italian city of Verona on 12 October 1944, Raw's aircraft was hit by two anti-aircraft shells that destroyed its hydraulics system and an engine, wounded the radio operator and opened 166 holes in the fuselage. Despite this damage, Raw was able to return the B-24 safely to its base. He suffered frostbite to his feet, as damage to the plane's nose caused icy winds to enter the cockpit.

In December 1944, Raw was promoted to flight lieutenant. He assumed command of No. 205 Group Communication Squadron in 1945. In February that year he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Following the end of the war, Raw returned to Australia in November 1945 and was demobilised on 17 January 1946. He married Dorothy Maggs at St Mary's Church of England in Caulfield on the 19th of the month; they had a daughter.

Raw rejoined the RAAF in May 1946, and retained his wartime rank of flight lieutenant. Between 1947 and October 1949 he was posted to Britain to undertake specialist training in navigation. On his return to Australia, Raw served as an instructor at the RAAF's School of Air Navigation, and later held training positions at No. 78 Wing and No. 2 Operational Training Unit (No. 2 OTU). During 1952 he served as the acting commanding officer of No. 2 OTU, which at the time was responsible for training pilots for combat in the Korean War with No. 77 Squadron.

Commanding officer

In January 1953 Raw, who was by now a squadron leader, was appointed the commanding officer of No. 2 Squadron. On 23 February he also became the initial commander of No. 1 Long Range Flight, which had been formed to participate in the 1953 London to Christchurch air race using two of the RAAF's new English Electric Canberra bombers. He handed this position to Wing Commander Derek Cuming in May, but remained a member of the flight. In July Raw temporarily vacated his position at No. 2 Squadron so he could focus on preparing for the air race. The Canberras piloted by Raw and Cuming departed Australia for the United Kingdom on 10 September, and the race began on 9 October. Raw's aircraft suffered damage to its nose wheel while landing to refuel at Woomera, but was able to be repaired. This accident cost Raw the lead in the race. He arrived at Christchurch at 04:32 on 10 October, finishing second behind a RAF Canberra piloted by Flight Lieutenant Roland (Monty) Burton.

Raw returned to lead No. 2 Squadron on 18 December 1953. During this month the unit became the RAAF's first jet bomber-equipped squadron when it replaced its Avro Lincoln aircraft with Canberras; in doing so the squadron was built around a nucleus of personnel who had served with No. 1 Long Range Flight. Later in December a Canberra piloted by Raw established a new speed record for a flight between New Zealand and Australia, completing the crossing between Auckland and Sydney in two hours and 49 minutes. On 31 December 1953 Raw was awarded the Air Force Cross for his role in the London to Christchurch air race; the decoration was presented to him by Queen Elizabeth II at Brisbane on 10 March 1954. A September 1954 story in The Courier-Mail described Raw as being a "shy young commander".

After completing his term as commanding officer of No. 2 Squadron on 11 July 1955, Raw was posted to the UK to undertake training at the Royal Air Force Flying College. Upon his return to Australia in January 1956, he was promoted to wing commander and posted to a planning role at RAAF Headquarters in Melbourne. From December that year he served as a liaison officer to the RAAF force supporting the British nuclear weapons tests in the Montebello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. In 1957 Raw was posted to the Joint Planning staff. During 1958 he and Dorothy divorced; Raw subsequently married Helen Dorothy Hammond on 21 June that year at St Margaret's Presbyterian Church in Balaclava. This marriage produced another daughter and a son.

In December 1960, Raw joined the directing staff of the RAAF Staff College in Canberra. In 1963 he became the first president of the amateur Canberra Astronomical Society. Later in 1963 he undertook further training at the United States Armed Forces Staff College, after which he assumed the position of assistant air attaché in the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C. In February 1965 Raw assumed command of No. 82 Wing, which controlled all of the RAAF's bomber squadrons. He was raised to acting group captain at this time, and was confirmed in this rank during January the next year.

Vietnam War and subsequent career

In May 1966, Raw was posted to South Vietnam as the air support commander for the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF). This force was composed primarily of Australian Army units, and had recently arrived in the country as part of an expansion of Australia's commitment to the Vietnam War. Although he did not have any background in air/land warfare, Raw's main responsibility in this position was to coordinate helicopter support for the task force's two infantry battalions. He was given only two weeks to prepare for the role between handing over command of No. 82 Wing and departing for South Vietnam; during this period he received briefings on the situation in the country and began to familiarise himself with the operations of the RAAF's tactical transport units. Historian Alan Stephens has written that "Group Captain Raw's background as one of the RAAF's most respected bomber leaders was inappropriate for the job of task force air commander: too often he struggled to make the timely decisions demanded by tactical air/land operations". Stephens has also stated that the RAAF's Air Board should have selected an officer with more relevant experience for the role.

In addition to his responsibilities as air support commander, Raw was also the commander of the RAAF units stationed at Vũng Tàu and the overall deputy commander of the RAAF force in South Vietnam. He regularly flew operational missions with the UH-1 Iroquois helicopter-equipped No. 9 Squadron as well as No. 35 Squadron, which operated DHC-4 Caribou tactical transports.

At the time Raw arrived in South Vietnam there were tensions between the Army and RAAF over the employment of No. 9 Squadron, with the Army perceiving that the unit was not providing enough support to 1 ATF. Raw believed that the Task Force headquarters had unrealistic expectations as the Army officers did not understand the difficulty of maintaining and operating helicopters.

Raw's role in the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966 was controversial. During the engagement, he initially refused to allow No. 9 Squadron to fly ammunition to D Company of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment after it was heavily engaged and nearly surrounded, as he believed that the heavy rain at the time made flying too dangerous. The commander of the 1st Australian Task Force, Brigadier David Jackson, was angered by this decision and argued that the risk of losing a few helicopters was unimportant compared to the possibility of having 200 infantrymen killed if the unit was overrun due to a lack of ammunition and other supplies. Raw eventually allowed the resupply flight to proceed after the most experienced of the helicopter pilots present stated that the mission needed to be flown regardless of its risk.

As a result of his actions during the Battle of Long Tan, the relationship between Raw and senior Army commanders in 1 ATF was "most difficult" throughout the remainder of his time in South Vietnam. Nevertheless, he eventually managed to educate the senior Army officers within the 1st Australian Task Force about the constraints which affected helicopter operations, leading to a better working relationship between the services. In November 1965 Raw took part in Operation Hayman, which was conducted against Viet Cong forces on Long Son Island. During this operation he flew in with the assault troops and remained on the island to direct air missions, including while under sniper fire. Raw completed his tour of duty in South Vietnam in April 1967 and returned to Australia. In November that year he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his role in the war.

The disagreement between Jackson and Raw during the Battle of Long Tan had long-term effects on the structure of the Australian Defence Force. Raw's initial refusal to commit helicopters contributed to the development of a long-lasting perception among some Army officers that the RAAF was reluctant to support their service in battle. Some members of the Army also wrongly believed that RAAF pilots had refused to conduct the supply mission, and only did so after the squadron was threatened with being withdrawn from South Vietnam and they were spoken to forcefully by Raw. Influenced by this perception, the Army subsequently advocated for the RAAF's battlefield helicopters to be transferred to its control, and this finally occurred in the late 1980s.

Upon his return to Australia, Raw was appointed Director of Operational Requirements at the Department of Air. In 1969 he headed an evaluation team tasked with selecting a heavy lift helicopter for the RAAF. The team was faced with a choice between the Boeing CH-47 Chinook and Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion, and Raw's final report recommended acquiring CH-53s. The RAAF's governing Air Board and senior Army officers rejected this recommendation, and CH-47s were purchased instead after Air Vice Marshal Charles Read also reviewed the performance of the two helicopters and concluded that the Chinook better met Australia's needs. Raw remained the Director of Operational Requirements until 1970 when he became the commandant of the RAAF Staff College. In 1972 he was promoted to air commodore and assumed command of RAAF Base Butterworth in Malaysia. Raw held this position until 1976 when he returned to Australia and became the senior training and staff officer in the headquarters of RAAF Support Command. This was his final military posting; he retired from the Air Force on 28 February 1978.

In a newspaper interview shortly before his retirement, Raw identified the 1953 London-to-Christchurch air race as being a highlight of his career. He also observed that RAAF personnel needed higher levels of professional qualifications than had been the case when he joined the Air Force, and there was a greater specialisation in particular fields. Raw further stated that there was a need to improve the defences of northern Australia on the grounds that "political situations can change overnight". On 15 July 1988 Raw died of lymphoma at Richmond in Melbourne. He was subsequently cremated. Raw's Australian Dictionary of Biography entry summarises his career by noting that he was "considered to be genial, exuberant, popular and efficient" and "proved to be the type of officer who worked best under pressure".


Peter Raw Wikipedia

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