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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McCormack, David William (1917–1944)

by John McCarthy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

David William McCormack (1917-1944), by unknown photographer

David William McCormack (1917-1944), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, SUK12273

David William McCormack (1917-1944), air force officer, was born on 27 November 1917 at Footscray, Melbourne, third child of David McCormack, a Victorian-born fitter, and his wife Maria Josephine, née Kennedy, who came from Ireland. Educated at St Coleman's School, Fitzroy, and Christian Brothers' College, East Melbourne, young David worked as a clerk, as a salesman, and as an electrical mechanic with the State Electricity Commission of Victoria. On 21 July 1940 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force under the Empire Air Training Scheme. He was 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, with brown eyes and dark hair that reflected his Irish descent.

Selected as a trainee pilot, McCormack attended No.4 Elementary Flying Training School, Mascot, Sydney (August-October 1940), and No.1 Service Flying Training School, Camp Borden, Canada (November 1940-February 1941). He was commissioned in February 1941. Arriving in Britain in the following month, he completed the course at No.55 Operational Training Unit. On 26 May he was posted to No.615 Squadron, Royal Air Force, which was then equipped with the Hurricane IIa; in November he was promoted flight lieutenant. Fighter Command was on the offensive in 1941. McCormack took part in hazardous, low-level attacks in Belgium and northern France, and against enemy shipping in the North Sea. In February 1942 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross: the citation noted his 'determination in the face of enemy fire' and the 'inspiring' example he set for others.

In March McCormack embarked with his squadron for India and the war against Japan. Based in Bengal, the unit adapted rapidly to new conditions of air fighting. By November McCormack was in action in the Arakan region of Burma, carrying out long-distance sorties over inhospitable terrain. For his bravery he was awarded a Bar to his D.F.C. (June 1943) and mentioned in dispatches (1945). Having been detached to training duties in April 1943, he took command of No.615 Squadron in February 1944 and was promoted squadron leader on 1 July.

The unit had converted to Spitfires which it used mainly in a ground-attack role during the second battle of the Arakan (from February 1944) and the Japanese siege of Imphal, Manipur (March-June). On 29 May McCormack clearly demonstrated his skill as a pilot. In an engagement with enemy fighters his Spitfire's engine developed a glycol leak. With his windscreen obscured by oil and his engine barely functioning, he navigated over mountains and made a forced landing on a waterlogged airstrip.

On 10 August 1944 McCormack led sixteen Spitfires on a flight from Palel, Imphal, to the squadron's new base at Biagachi, near Calcutta. En route they encountered the most violent type of monsoonal storm; his aircraft was one of eight that crashed, and he was killed; his body was recovered and buried in Calcutta (Bhowanipore) war cemetery. Members of No.615 Squadron took up a subscription for a remembrance window in St Augustine's Catholic Church, Yarraville, Melbourne. McCormack had been the epitome of the aggressive World War II pilot of single-seat fighter and ground-attack aircraft.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (Canb, 1957)
  • Age (Melbourne), 26 June 1945
  • PR 88/083 and AWM 65 (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

John McCarthy, 'McCormack, David William (1917–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

David William McCormack (1917-1944), by unknown photographer

David William McCormack (1917-1944), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, SUK12273