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Frank Ronald Schaaf (1915–1978)

by David Wilson

This article was published:

Frank Ronald Schaaf (1915-1978), air force officer, was born on 22 July 1915 at Tenterfield, New South Wales, elder child of Frank Otto Schaaf, tram guard, and his wife Ivy Beatrice, née Hill, both born in New South Wales. Young Frank attended Clovelly Public and Sydney Technical High schools, and studied accountancy at the Metropolitan Business College. He passed the Federal Institute of Accountants' examinations and worked as a clerk with a number of Phillip Street barristers, with export firms and with a transport company. Having served in the cadets, he transferred to the Militia, became a gunner with the 18th Field Brigade, reached the rank of warrant officer, class 2, and was discharged from the army in 1936. At the district registrar's office, Chatswood, on 10 May 1937 he married May Rachel Donnelly; they were childless and divorced in March 1945.

On 21 March 1938 Schaaf had joined the Royal Australian Air Force as an aircraftman 1, clerk. He was posted to No.3 Squadron at Richmond, where he was promoted corporal in January 1940 and sergeant in July. Two months later he applied for aircrew training. Sent for flying instruction to Mascot in December and to Wagga Wagga in February 1941, he was commissioned on 3 June. He arrived in Britain in August and, after operational training, was posted in November to No.452 Squadron, R.A.A.F., based at Redhill, Surrey. The pilots in this Spitfire unit included Keith ('Bluey') Truscott and C. N. ('Bardie') Wawn.

In February 1942 Flying Officer Schaaf was sent to Egypt. There, on 6 June, he joined No.450 Squadron, an R.A.A.F. fighter-bomber unit which flew Kittyhawks. Within three weeks he claimed his first aerial victory, for damaging a Messerschmitt 109. On 22 January 1943 he shot down one Me-109, shared in shooting down another and damaged a third. During the advance to Tripoli, Libya, he held temporary command (January-February) of the squadron and led it 'with great distinction'. By the end of his period in the Western Desert he had destroyed three enemy aircraft in aerial combat and won the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Reaching Melbourne on 21 March 1943, Schaaf was employed as an instructor at No.2 Operational Training Unit, Mildura. He was promoted flight lieutenant in June. After training as a fighter controller at New Lambton, New South Wales, he served with No.104 Fighter Sector Headquarters at Port Moresby from October and with No.111 Mobile Fighter Control Unit at Aitape, New Guinea, from April 1944. He returned to Australia in August. In May 1945 he was posted to No.82 Squadron at Noemfoor, Netherlands East Indies; he commanded the unit at Labuan, Borneo, from July and was made acting squadron leader in October. He led a strike against Kuching on 8 August, which entailed a long return trip of 950 miles (1529 km) for the Kittyhawks. Three enemy aircraft were destroyed on the ground. For 'exceptional operational ability, leadership and courage' Schaaf was awarded a Bar to his D.F.C.

At the end of World War II No.82 Squadron was re-equipped with Mustang fighters in anticipation of its deployment to Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. On 18 October 1945 at Glenferrie, Melbourne, Schaaf married with Presbyterian forms Margaret Florence McKenzie, a hairdresser. In March 1946 he took his squadron to Bofu, Japan. He acted from time to time as temporary commander of No.81 (Fighter) Wing before returning to Australia in February 1947 to commence a series of instructional, test-flying and staff appointments, including postings to the Central Flying School, Point Cook, Victoria, No.78 Wing headquarters, Williamtown, New South Wales, and the Aircraft Research Unit, Laverton, Victoria. Promoted wing commander in July 1954, he served on the staff of the Australian air attaché, Washington, and on exchange with the United States Air Force in 1956-59. He was later employed at the Department of Air, Canberra, in the directorate of organization and the electronic data-processing centre. On his retirement on 10 November 1964, he was made honorary group captain.

After working for R. A. Irish & Michelmore, a firm of chartered accountants in Sydney, Schaaf moved to Canberra in 1970 and joined the Commonwealth Public Service. He died of myocardial infarction on 18 April 1978 in Canberra Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites; his wife, and their daughter and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-45 (Canb, 1957)
  • operations record book, 82, 450, 452 squadrons, RAAF, 1939-45 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

David Wilson, 'Schaaf, Frank Ronald (1915–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 July, 1915
Tenterfield, New South Wales, Australia


18 April, 1978 (aged 62)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Religious Influence

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