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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Foskett, Russell George (1917–1944)

by P. J. Scully

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Russell George Foskett (1917-1944), airman, was born on 7 May 1917 at Roseville, Sydney, third of four children of Edward George Foskett, accountant, and his wife Dora Mabel, née Cotterill, both native-born. Educated at Hornsby Junior Technical School, Russell studied accountancy and worked as a clerk in the credit department of the Shell Co. of Australia Pty Ltd. As a young man, his consuming passions were scouting and hockey. He was a Rover and master of lone scouts. A member of the Gordon district hockey club, he also represented the State. The entire family was involved in the sport: Edward was an umpire, on Saturday nights they used the dining-table to analyse matches, and the backyard was given over to practice games.

Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 18 September 1940, Foskett embarked in December for Southern Rhodesia where he qualified as a pilot under the Empire Air Training Scheme. In June 1941 he was promoted sergeant and next month joined No.80 Squadron, Royal Air Force. The unit flew Hurricanes and operated in North Africa from October. Foskett was quick to adjust to his new role and was soon regarded as arguably 'the most prominent' of the Australians serving with R.A.F. squadrons in the Middle East. Commissioned in March 1942, he was promoted acting flight lieutenant in July and appointed a flight commander next month. Donald Jack, his commanding officer, was to observe: 'This rapid promotion exemplified the man, who was a born leader. He had everything required; enthusiasm, aggression, humour, a zest for life and boundless energy'.

On 3 November 1942, in the battle of El Alamein, Foskett 'led his squadron in an attack on a formation of Stuka dive-bombers, heavily escorted by fighters . . . seven Stukas were shot down, a further eight were probably destroyed and several others were damaged'. Foskett dispatched two enemy aircraft before his own was hit; he made a forced landing in a minefield, was rescued by the army and resumed flying duties next morning. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Leaving the squadron in March 1943, he was promoted acting squadron leader in May and given a brief rest from operations as a staff officer at No.209 Group headquarters, Haifa, Palestine. In October he was posted to command No.94 Squadron, R.A.F., a mixed Commonwealth unit which included an additional contingent of Yugoslavian pilots. Foskett flew Hurricanes and later Spitfires. Initially based at El Adem, Libya, in October 1944 he took the squadron to Kalamaki, Greece, where it harried retreating German columns.

Foskett's record as a fighter pilot and commander was outstanding. He was credited with 6½ enemy aircraft destroyed. For his work with the Yugoslavian airmen, in 1944 he was awarded the wings of the Royal Yugoslav Air Force by King Peter II and was mentioned in dispatches. On 31 October that year, while returning to base, Foskett's Spitfire developed engine trouble over the Aegean Sea between the islands of Skiathos and Skópelos. He bailed out, but was too low for his parachute to open. His body was recovered and he was buried at sea. Foskett's younger brother Bruce, a navigator in a Royal Canadian Air Force squadron, had been killed over Berlin eight months previously. Russell Foskett's name was inscribed on the Malta Memorial (for airmen with no known graves); he was appointed O.B.E. posthumously in 1945.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-1943 (Canb, 1954)
  • information from RAF Personnel Management Centre, Innsworth, Gloucester, and Air History Branch, London, and RAAF History Section, Canberra
  • private information.

Citation details

P. J. Scully, 'Foskett, Russell George (1917–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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