“He has attacked aerodromes near Berlin, has run amok among German flying schools in supposedly safe areas, and has “floored” transport aircraft probably carrying high military personages.“
Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld) May 22nd, 1944, Page 3.
CHARLES “CHARLIE” CURNOW SCHERF DSO, DFC & BAR
Charlie was one of Australia’s top 10 air aces in World War Two, with 13.5 aircraft shot down (some reports, including his service records indicate 14.5 but I have not been able to ascertain what the 14th victory was) plus 9 destroyed on the ground and 7 damaged (with this tally he was ranked the 9th Australian overall for aerial victories). This was achieved in 1943-1944 during 38 missions over Europe in which he covered an amazing 80,467 operational kilometres (50,000 miles) and never received even a scratch!
Charles Scherf (May 17th, 1917 – July 13th, 1949) was also the first cousin of my Great Grandfather and someone who my Grandfather would tell me about when I was younger. Although my Grandfather never got a chance to meet him, he was a hero to him and later a hero to me (while Charlie was belting about over Europe in 1944 my Grandfather was around 17 years old and in the Royal Australian Air Force Air Training Corps, passing his Proficiency Certificate with Distinction and probably hoping to follow in his footsteps – the war ended before he ever got a chance to progress any further though). Both men were a major influence in my own interest in aviation and this is my ANZAC day tribute to Charlie.
Charlie grew up on a farm (“Big Ben”) at Emmaville near Glenn Innes, New South Wales in Australia and prior to World War Two he enlisted in the Citizens Military Force (a predecessor of the Australian Army Reserve) in 1934 and served for 3 years in the 12th Light Horse Regiment where he reached the rank of Corporal, then got married on August 23rd, 1939 to Florence Hope O’Hara (later to have 4 children – 3 daughters and 1 son) and worked on the family farm. He was by all accounts a very likeable and good-natured man.
On September 12th, 1941 he joined the Royal Australian Air Force (service number: 413671). Once his training was completed (with an above average rating) in July 1942 he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and left for Britain by ship in September 1942. Where upon arrival he underwent advanced training and was promoted to Flying Officer.
Although an Australian, in August 1943 Charlie joined Royal Canadian Air Force 418 Squadron which was based in Britain, and commenced flying operations over France, Germany and the Baltic Sea against German forces. He had become friends with a Canadian observer during training and ended up the only Australian in the all Canadian squadron. In December 1943 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and by March 1944 he was an acting Squadron Leader.
The aircraft Charlie flew in 418 Squadron was the 2 seat de Havilland Mosquito FB.VI fighter bomber. The “Mossie” was made almost entirely of wood (“The Wooden Wonder” – basically intended to overcome a shortage of metal), powered by 2 Rolls Royce Merlin engines it was very fast (top speed 380 mph / 612 km/h), had a long range and was heavily armed (4 x 20mm Hispano cannons and 4 x .303 Browning machine guns mounted in the nose, a bomb bay for 2 x 250-lb /113 kg, plus either bombs or rockets under the wings). A very formidable aircraft and one of the best built in World War Two.
The primary mission of 418 squadron was day/night intruder missions over Europe (interestingly given the night operations, the aircraft were not fitted with radar to detect targets, for the first few months they did not get many aerial victories, a switch to daylight operations soon changed this though). These intruder missions would have been low to the ground (to avoid radar and early detection) and at high speed. The main purpose of the mission was to target airbases behind enemy lines, shooting up anything that go in their way be it enemy aircraft in the air, on the ground or in some cases floating on water. They would also have targeted enemy shipping, trains and the like. It must have been one hell of a rush and at times terrifying I am sure!
According to Squadron Leader A.P. Heathcote of the Air Historical Branch in the “History of No. 418 Squadron” it was the top fighter squadron in the RCAF. They were referred to as the “finest in the World“.
In 37 months 418 Squadron destroyed 178 enemy aircraft (73 on the ground), 9 probables, damaged a further 103 aircraft and destroyed 83 V-1 Flying Bombs. On the ground they destroyed 200 vehicles (damaged at least 400 more), 16 locomotive engines (23 more were probably destroyed and 36 more were damaged), 52 railway cars (cargo and passenger) were destroyed or damaged (another 50 trains at least were also hit with lesser damage). On the water 3 barges/trawlers were sunk and 20 others damaged. On top of this the squadron destroyed a bridge, damaged 10 factories and took out hundreds of searchlights, defensive positions and other targets.
All of this was achieved by 418 Squadron with the loss of only 59 aircraft (a ratio of 3:1 in their favour). Sadly 94 squadron aircrew were killed and 27 were recorded as “fate unknown” (an additional 14 were captured). 62 decorations were awarded to 418 squadron aircrews for valour.
MISSIONS AND THE “LAST TRIP”
Charlie was involved in a number of “secret missions” including an interesting one where three aircrews from 418 Squadron were temporarily allocated to the famous Avro Lancaster 617 Squadron – “The Dambusters” to act as an escort on a raid on the Dortmund Ems Canal (a major German industrial waterway) on September 15th, 1943. The plan was for 8 Lancaster’s to fly at low altitude and each drop a massive 12,000 pound high-capacity “Tallboy” bomb to breach the canal walls and have the water drain out to cripple the movement of shipping and cargo along the waterway (including valuable iron ore from Sweden). The Mosquitos were there to protect the bombers from fighter aircraft and to take out searchlights and anti-aircraft guns.
Unfortunately the canal was shrouded in fog, the bombers took some time to find their target which was highly defended by anti-aircraft guns (much more than on the famous “Dambusters” raids in May 1943), while they were flying above they became easy targets and 5 of the 8 bombers were shot down. The mission was a total disaster and heavy bombers were not used in this low level way again (the canal was eventually breached in 1944 by Lancaster’s again using the “Tallboy” bombs).
In February 1944 Charlie came upon something over Dole, France that he dubbed “one of the funniest sights I’ve ever seen“. He and his wingman were confronted with an unusual “monstrosity” of an aircraft, the Heinkel He 111Z Zwilling of the German Luftwaffe which was two Heinkel He 111 bombers joined together at the wing, with an additional engine added to be a glider tug. The He 111Z was towing two Gotha Go 242 transport gliders. His wingman noted that the He 111Z had a large number of gun positions. He and his wingman shot down all the aircraft. This contributed to his tally as a one and a half aerial victory.
The following photo is actual gun camera footage from his aircraft of the destruction of the He 111Z in February 1944. This mission marked the “official” end of his operational tour of 30 missions (with 5.5 aerial victories) and he was transferred to Air Defence Headquarters to be controller of intruder operations in March 1944, but he had a restless spirit and when “off duty” he would still fly missions with 418 Squadron.
“Last Trip” Scherf
Interestingly most of Charlie’s aerial victories were scored when he was on “holidays” from his new desk job (8 aerial victories)! This earned him the new nickname “Last Trip“.
On one such “holiday” mission over the Baltic coast on May 16th, 1944 he shot down 5 Luftwaffe aircraft (this incident was widely reported in newspapers in Australia, Canada and the United States). On that day he downed 1 Heinkel He 111 bomber, 1 Heinkel He 177 Grief bomber which he attacked head on resulting in it exploding in the air, 1 Junkers Ju 88 bomber, 1 Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber and 1 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter which apparently first fired a rocket at him, luckily missing (the Fw 190 was one of Germany’s most formidable fighters, heavily armed it was known as the “Butcher Bird” by Allied aircrews)! 4 of these aircraft were shot down in just 5 minutes! Plus he destroyed 2 other aircraft on the ground/water – a Heinkel HE 111 bomber and a Dornier Do 18 flying boat. All 7 of these aircraft were encountered in just 15 minutes in what was the most furious combat action of his flying career!
During this mission his aircraft suffered a minor hit from a 20mm anti-aircraft gun and then on the way back he hit a flock of birds that did some damage to his Mosquito putting numerous holes in the wing, but otherwise he and his navigator were unhurt! This was his last combat mission…what a way to finish his combat career!
An Exceptional Pilot
Charlie was the first to organise long-range Mosquito raids in daylight and was recognized as one of the most decorated pilots. When he left 418 Squadron the Commanding Officer wrote in Charlie’s log book: “An exceptional pilot with outstanding fighting qualities, A. Barker W/Cdr, 418 Sqdn R.C.A.F.” He also destroyed more German aircraft in a single mission than any other intruder pilot. Quite a tour of duty!
The following German Luftwaffe aircraft were destroyed by Charlie in air to air combat between November 1943 and May 1944: 1 Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor reconnaissance/patrol bomber (first victory), 1 Unknown night fighter (Charlie didn’t even have to fire a shot, he harassed this enemy pilot so much that he lost control and crashed into the ground in Belgium!), 3 Junkers Ju 88 bombers, 1 Gotha Go 242 glider, 0.5 Heinkel He 111Z Zwilling glider tug, 1 Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engined heavy fighter, 1 Focke-Wulf Fw 58 liaison aircraft, 1 Junkers Ju 86P bomber, 1 Heinkel He 111 bomber, 1 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter, 1 Heinkel He 177 Grief bomber and 1 Junkers Ju-87 Stuka dive bomber (13.5 in total).
AIRCRAFT DAMAGED OR DESTROYED ON THE SURFACE
The following Luftwaffe aircraft were damaged or destroyed by Charlie between November 1943 and May 1944 on the ground or on the water in the case of the flying boats and float planes: 1 Bloehm & Voss Bv 222 flying boat, 7 Heinkel He 111 bombers, 2 Junkers Ju 52 transports, 1 Fiesler Fi 156 Storch liaison/observation aircraft, 2 Heinkel He 115 float planes, 1 Dornier Do 217 bomber and 1 Dornier Do 118 flying boat (15 in total, I have not been able to ascertain what the 16th aircraft was but it was possibly a Focke-Wulf Fw 190).
His flight based heroics between 1943 and 1944 resulted in Charlie being awarded some of the highest medals possible within Commonwealth nations:
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) awarded for “an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy” during his night-time operations between late 1943 and early 1944 (including the Dortmund Ems Canal raid and the destruction of 4 aircraft at night). This award was mentioned in the London Gazette on April 4th 1944 for his night-time flight exploits.
“his example of courage and determination has been worthy of great praise“.
A DFC Bar was added one month later (basically a second award) for shooting down multiple aircraft and destroying/damaging other aircraft on the ground during 2 missions in February and March 1944 (this included the destruction of the He 111Z and 2 other aircraft destroyed and 3 damaged in April 1944). This award was mentioned in the London Gazette on May 12th 1944.
“has continued to display the highest qualities of gallantry and skill“.
Distinguished Service Order (DSO) awarded for “meritorious or distinguished service” where he destroyed 6 aircraft in the air and damaged 3 on the ground over 2 missions in May 1944 (this included his bag of 5 in one mission). This award was mentioned in the London Gazette on June 27th, 1944.
“His successes are a splendid tribute to his great skill, enterprise and fearlessness. This officer has set an example of the highest order“.
By wars end Charlie had been presented with 7 medals. They are pictured in order below: Distinguished Service Order; Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar; 1939-45 Star; Air Crew Europe Star; Defence Medal 1939-45; War Medal 1939-45; Australia Service Medal 1939-45. All of the medals, his logbook, a piece of airframe from his damaged Mosquito, photographs, letters and other documents including a scrapbook were sold in 2008 by Noble Numismatics in Sydney, Australia for $45,000 (how I would have loved to have seen all of these items)!
IN THE AUSTRALIAN NEWS
Even though interdictor pilots were probably not put in the spotlight as much as traditional fighter pilots who engaged in dogfights with other fighter aircraft (such as Australia’s highest Ace in World War Two Clive “Killer” Caldwell), Charlie’s exploits and awards were also widely reported back at home, featuring in many newspapers around Australia in 1944 (in addition to newspaper reports in the Britain, Canada and the United States). My favourite was a comic strip “He Hunted Huns In A Wooden Wonder” printed in The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria) on July 8th, 1944. The following images were sourced from the My Heritage – Scherf Website.
Charlie’s 5 aerial victories in one day in May 1944 was also a popular story appearing in numerous newspapers in 1944. The following images are from the Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, QLD) Monday 22nd May 1944 Pg.3, The Mercury (Hobart, TAS) Monday June 5th 1944 Pg.3 and the Army News (Darwin, NT) Thursday 21st September 1944 Pg.3.
The Australian Womans Weekly ran an article on April 21st, 1945 that had a nice and fitting touch “Britain will never forget them…” which featured Charlie along with other Australian pilots who served in Europe.
THE RETURN HOME
Charlie’s last flight in Britain was in a Supermarine Spitfire on July 8th, 1944 (he recorded in his log book “Last flight in a great country“). Returning to Australia in late 1944 he continued to serve with the Royal Australian Air Force in a number of roles including Chief Flying Instructor on the Mosquito at Number 5 Operational Training Unit based at RAAF Williamtown (NSW). I gather this didn’t impress him too much as he recorded in his log book on October 15th, 1944 “At 5 O.T.U. Australia “Worst Luck”.”
He also conducted test flying at RAAF Richmond and on April 11th, 1945 at his own request (to pursue a civilian career) he transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve. I have heard a number of times from family and people who were there at the time, of Charlie flying over his hometown of Emmaville and nearby Glenn Innes in 1945 at tree top height (and possibly lower if the flying under a bridge story is true) to show the locals how he did things back in Europe! This must have amused him highly as it gave the townspeople quite a shock! This may have been somewhat responsible for the entry in his service record, dated October 19th, 1944: “To be seriously reprimanded (by general court martial)“. This was not the way to treat a hero! Sensibly given his service record and wealth of senior contacts who knew better, nothing ever came of this.
On February 16th, 1946, Charlie was physically presented at Government House in Sydney with his DFC, DFC bar and DSO which he was awarded in 1944. The awards were presented by the Governor-General of Australia, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (a military man he served in this post from 1945 to 1947). On July 1st, 1947 Charlie was discharged from the Reserve unit and ended his Air Force career.
Rest In Peace
Charles Scherf DSO, DFC served his country with gallantry and came through the war physically unscathed (with some close calls I am sure), but reportedly suffered from Post Traumatic Stress over the people he knew who had died in the fight, and those Germans that he had killed (he said “the Germans he had killed seemed to march across his bed in the darkness“). This lead to him drinking heavily and driving his car at high-speed (the “slower pace” of civilian life must not have been easy for him to adjust to).
Sadly Charlie died on July 13th, 1949 at the young age of 32 from injuries sustained in a serious high-speed car accident near Emmaville. It is amazing that he could be involved in so many dangerous missions over Europe and never be injured, yet on the ground he was as fallible as we all are.
He was buried in the local Emmaville cemetery. His funeral was marked by the patrol of 2 RAAF CAC Mustang fighters circling overhead for 15 minutes and as the mourners gathered at the grave, the pilots flew over them with wings dipped. Just as the funeral ceremony was ending an RAAF de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito circled overhead and as the casket was being lowered the pilot dipped the wing in salute as it flew over the grave. A fitting tribute to a national hero from the plane that he flew so courageously.
R.I.P. Charles Curnow Scherf (RAAF photo)
A Mosquito Returns to the Skies
After a seven year reconstruction and restoration by Avspecs Ltd. in Auckland, New Zealand a de Havilland Mosquito FB Mk.26 fighter-bomber (KA114), “The Wooden Wonder” took to the skies once again in 2012 appearing at a number of flying events around Auckland (the first flight was September 27th, 2012). I was lucky enough to see her fly in New Zealand in January 2013 (the only one that was flight capable at the time). I am sure it would put a smile on Charlie’s face to know a “Mossie” is back in the skies where she belongs.
National Air Force Museum of Canada, Bill Nurse – Researcher
Sky Of Glory A French Website – which also sourced information from – ACES HIGH – Christopher Shores and Clive Williams. Grub Street Editions (1994)