Keith 'Bluey' Truscott

Date of birth: 17 May 1916
Place of birth: Melbourne, VIC
Date of death: 28 March 1943
Place of death: Exmouth Gulf, WA

Bluey Truscott became one of Australia’s best-known flying aces of the Second World War. Born on 17 May 1916 at Prahran, Melbourne, he proved to be both a good student and keen sportsman, playing Australian Rules for Melbourne’s premiership team in 1939.

Already famous as a footballer, Truscott enlisted in the RAAF on 21 July 1940 amidst considerable publicity. Despite his sporting reputation, Truscott was not a natural pilot and almost failed his course. His position as something of a public figure afforded Truscott a chance to continue flying and he eventually earned his wings despite becoming known for his poor landings.

He was sent to Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme, was commissioned in February 1941, and then ordered to England, where he joined No. 452 Squadron as a foundation member on 5 May. Flying a Spitfire, he scored his first victory in August. Thereafter, his score began a gradual rise. After three months of war flying, he had destroyed at least 11 German aircraft, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and made a flight commander. In January 1942 he was made acting squadron leader before being posted back to Australia in March. Late that month he was awarded a bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross. At that point he was the most well-known pilot in the RAAF.

In Australia, Truscott joined No. 76 Squadron in Bankstown. The squadron, flying Kittyhawks, had previously served in Papua. The squadron, including Truscott, redeployed there in July 1942. Before leaving Australia, Truscott played a last game for the Melbourne football club; lacking match fitness, he was unable to keep up with the play and found himself exhausted. He had received a rousing public welcome and kicked a goal, much to the fans’ delight, but when he was asked whether he would play again, he replied that it was no longer for him. It was, he said, “too dangerous.”

Based at Milne Bay, No. 76 Squadron arrived shortly before the Japanese landings. By August Truscott was in command, the previous leader having been killed in action. Truscott evacuated his aircraft to Port Moresby amidst uncertainty about whether the airfields at Milne Bay could be held. Truscott and his squadron served throughout the Milne Bay battle in constant rain, heavy mist, and low clouds. The mountainous terrain, slippery runways, and heavy anti-aircraft fire added to the danger but Truscott survived and continued to command the squadron when it was transferred to Darwin.

His tally rose to 16 enemy aircraft destroyed along with three probables and three damaged. In February 1943 the squadron moved to a quieter posting in Western Australia. Truscott was on a training flight over the Exmouth Gulf on 28 March when he made a mock attack on a low-flying Catalina. Misjudging his height over the glassy water, Truscott crashed into the sea and was killed.