Captain Arthur Henry Cobby CBE DSO DFC 2 Bars GM
No. 4 Squadron Australian Flying Corps
WWII Service – Air Commodore
Awarded The Order of the British Empire Commander (Military) –
Awarded Distinguished Service Order – 2nd November 1918
On the 16th August this Officer led an organised raid on an enemy aerodrome. At 200 feet altitude he obtained direct hits with his bombs and set on fire two hangars, he then opened fire on a machine which was standing out on the aerodrome. The machine caught fire. Afterwards he attacked with machine gun fire parties of troops and mechanics, inflicting a number of casualties. On the following day he led another important raid on an aerodrome, setting fire to two hangars and effectively bombing gun detachments, anti aircraft batteries, etc. The success of these two raids was largely due to the determined and skilful leadership of this officer.
Awarded Distinguished Flying Cross – 2nd July 1918
HIS MAJESTY THE KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Distinguished Flying Cross on the undermentioned Officer of the Royal Air Force in recognition of acts of gallantry and distinguished service
Awarded 1st Bar Distinguished Flying Cross – 21st September 1918
An officer whose success as a leader is due not only to high courage and brilliant flying but salsa to the clear judgment and presence of mind he invariably displays. His example is of great value to other pilots in his squadron. During recent operations he shot down five machines in eleven days, accounting for two in one day.
Awarded 2nd Bar Distinguished Flying Cross – 21st September 1918
One evening this officer in company with another machine attacked five Pfaltz scouts, destroying two, one fell in flames and one broke up in the air. The Officer who accompanied him brought down a third machine out of control. While engaged in this combat they were attacked from above by five triplanes. Displaying cool judgment and brilliant flying Captain Cobby evaded this attack and returned to our lines in safety, both machines being undamaged. A determined and most skilful leader who has destroyed twenty one hostile machines or balloons, accounting for three machines and two balloons in four days.
Awarded George Medal – 10th March 1944
RAAF: Lifesaving during an aircraft crash in sea
Awarded Mention In Despatches – 31st December 1918
The following is a continuation of SIR DOUGLS HAIG’S Despatch of the 8th November, 1918 submitting names deserving of special mention:-
Lieutenant (temporary Captain) A. H. COBBY, D.S.O., D.F.C.
Following by Keith ISAACS
Arthur Henry Cobby (1894-1955), airman and administrator, was born on 26 August 1894 at Prahran, Victoria, the second of four sons of Arthur Edward Stanley Cobby, tramway conductor, and his wife Alice, née Nash. Harry, as he became known, was educated at a state school and at University College, Armadale. He gained a commission with the 46th Infantry (Brighton Rifles) in 1912, while working as a clerk with the Commonwealth Bank, Melbourne. He joined the Australian Imperial Force in 1916 and was posted to the Central Flying School, Australian Flying Corps, Point Cook, and completed his initial instruction in December.
Lieutenant Cobby embarked with No.4 Squadron, A.F.C., in January 1917 and arrived in England in March. The squadron flew its Sopwith Camel fighters to France in December, and Cobby shot down his first enemy aircraft on 3 February 1918. Frederick Cutlack considered that ‘Cobby was one of the most daring spirits in the Australian air service’, and describes in detail his many encounters with enemy aircraft. Cobby shot down 29 aircraft and 13 balloons between February and September 1918, and was the leading A.F.C. ace. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in June, two Bars to the D.F.C. in July, the Distinguished Service Order in August, and was mentioned in dispatches. He was then posted to England as an instructor. Captain Cobby returned to Australia in 1919 and was discharged from the A.I.F. on 24 July. He married Hilda Maude Urban on 24 April 1920 at Caulfield, Victoria.
Cobby joined the Australian Air Force on 31 March 1921 with the rank of flying officer, and was promoted wing commander on 1 May 1933. He left the R.A.A.F. on 6 May 1935, and became a member of the Civil Aviation Board and its controller of operations in March 1936. He had contributed a chapter on the psychology of flying to Australian Airmen, by E. J. Richards (Melbourne, no date), and an article to Popular Flying (London) in February 1935. His autobiography, High Adventure (Melbourne, 1942), was based on his World War I experiences.
Wing Commander Cobby rejoined the R.A.A.F. in 1939 on the outbreak of World War II, and was promoted to group captain and air commodore. He was director of recruiting (1940), air officer commanding headquarters North-Eastern Area (1942), commandant, R.A.A.F. Staff School, in 1943, A.O.C. No.10 Operational Group (1944) and of the 1st Tactical Air Force in 1944-45. He was awarded the George Medal in March 1944; although injured, he rescued two officers when a Catalina crashed at Townsville, Queensland, on 7 December 1943. He was also appointed C.B.E. for the direction of air operations in New Guinea in 1942-43.
A crisis arose in April 1945 when eight senior officers, who considered the high losses sustained by 1st T.A.F. operations to be militarily unjustifiable, tendered their resignations to Cobby at Morotai Island. He was relieved of his command on 10 May. An inquiry under (Sir) John Barry, K.C., found that, inter alia, widespread discontent existed and that ‘the A.O.C., 1st T.A.F., failed to maintain proper control over his command’. On 28 May 1948 Cobby was presented with the United States of America Medal of Freedom with bronze palm, for meritorious wartime service.
In 1946 Cobby returned to the Department of Civil Aviation, was appointed regional director, New South Wales, in 1947-54 and next year became director of flying operations. He died suddenly of hypertensive cerebro-vascular disease on 11 November 1955 in the Heidelberg Repatriation General Hospital, survived by his wife, son and daughter. He was accorded full military honours at St Mary’s Church of England, Caulfield, and was cremated. His estate was declared for probate at £4858. Portraits by William McInnes are held at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, and by his son.
General Sir Thomas Blamey regarded Cobby as ‘one of the most loved and most gallant of our airmen …’. Cobby also possessed a delightful sense of humour, and historian Arthur Bazley recalled that ‘he was always an imp of mischief’. Air Marshal Sir Richard Williams paid tribute to him as ‘a man whose personal story is threaded through the entire history of Australian service and civil aviation’.