Just two Australian Flying Corps personnel were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Two Bars and 19 the Distinguished Service Order. Moreover, only 21 men of the Royal Australian Air Force received the George Medal for the 1939-45 War, thereby making Cobby's overall combination of awards quite unique.
C.B.E. London Gazette 16.6.1944. Recommendation states 'Air Commodore Cobby, D.S.O., D.F.C., G.M., has, for the past eighteen months, held the appointment of Air Officer Commanding in one of the most active areas in the R.A.A.F. For the first six months (when No.9 Operational Group was a subordinate formation to North-Eastern Area), he was responsible for administration of all R.A.A.F. units in New Guinea. To this extent he was responsible for the efficiency displayed by the R.A.A.F. at Milne Bay and Buna, and New Guinea generally. At all times he has ably commanded his area, which includes Dutch New Guinea and the units therein. Under his command, effective offensive operations have been conducted continuously against the enemy. In this regard, his able handling of the three Catalina Squadrons is worthy of particular mention. To these efforts must be added the General Reconnaissance work of his Beaufort Squadron, the successful interception and strafing strikes by his fighters, and good, steady, reliable work by all his other units. For 1943, his Area has flown most operational hours of any of the three forward formations. Air Commodore Cobby's efforts have taken the form of good leadership, personal example, keen understanding and continued encouragement'.
D.S.O. London Gazette 2.11.1918. Recommendation states 'At 5.15 p.m. on 6 August 1918, Captain A.H. Cobby, D.F.C., after flying above the clouds under very unfavourable weather conditions, dived down and found himself over Laventie, where he attacked and destroyed with bombs and machine-gun fire from 200 feet, a train moving in the direction of Armentieres. On a second flight the same evening he caused casualties amongst some transport near Estaires from an altitude of a few hundred feet, and brought down a hostile two-seater machine by Bac St. Maur. On the morning of 7 August 1918, Captain Cobby brought down an enemy Scout in flames and caused casualties amongst troops and transport on the road from a height of 250 feet. Later the same day Captain Cobby brought down another hostile machine. On 14 August 1918, at 6 p.m., Captain Cobby attacked parties of troops in Lestrem and caused casualties amongst men salving one of our crashed machines near Laventie. Several men were seen to fall and the remainder scattered for cover. One wing of the machine they were salving caught fire. On the 15 August 1918, Captain Cobby attacked Wavrin Aerodrome from a low altitude, securing a direct hit with a bomb on one of the hangars. On 16 August 1918, he led a large organised raid on Haubordin Aerodrome. He secured direct hits with all of his bombs from a height of under 200 feet, on hangars on the Aerodrome: one of these hangars immediately burst into flames and the one next to it shortly afterwards caught fire. He fired 100 rounds at a hostile machine which was standing out on the Aerodrome; this machine immediately caught fire. He fired 600 rounds of machine-gun fire into parties of mechanics and troops, causing an appreciable number of casualties. All this work was done from an altitude of between 50 and 200 feet. On 17 August 1918, he again led an organised raid on Lomme Aerodrome. He set fire to two hangars by means of his bombs, which he dropped from a height of under 200 feet. He fired 600 rounds and dropped one bomb on machine-gun detachments, anti-aircraft batteries, and on workshops, sheds, and men's quarters. The success of these two raids is largely due to the determined leading of this Officer, who brought the Squadron down to an extremely low altitude over the hostile Aerodromes and remained there for upwards of half an hour'.
D.F.C. London Gazette 3.8.1918. Recommendation states 'On 21 May 1918, Captain Cobby attacked an enemy balloon near Neuve Eglise and destroyed it. On 30 May 1918, when engaged on the same duty, he destroyed another balloon near Estaires. Directly afterwards he was attacked by three Albatros Scouts, one of which he shot down, the machine falling South of Estaires. On 1 June 1918, Captain Cobby shot down a third balloon to the North of Estaires, following it down to 2000 feet until it burst into flames. On the same day, while leading an Offensive Patrol, Captain Cobby shot down an Albatros Scout, which in falling fouled the cable of an enemy balloon; the left hand wing was torn off, the machine falling near Merville. Previous to joining this Brigade, Captain Cobby destroyed hostile machines on 21.3.1918, South of Brebieres, on 30.3.1918, South-East of Arras and on 9.4.1918, near Estaires. A bold and skilful Patrol Leader who is setting a fine example to his Squadron'.
Bar to D.F.C. London Gazette 4.8.1918. Recommendation states 'An Officer whose success as a Leader is due not only to high courage and brilliant flying but also to the clear judgement 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'.
Second Bar to D.F.C. London Gazette 21.9.1918. Recommendation states 'One evening this Officer, in company with another machine, attacked five Pflatz 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 judgement 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 21 hostile machines or balloons, accounting for three machines and two balloons in four days'.
G.M. London Gazette 10.3.1944. Recommendation states 'On 7 September 1943, Air Commodore Cobby was returning from Dutch New Guinea and upon arrival at Townsville the Catalina aircraft in which he was travelling crashed on alighting, exploding one of the two depth charges with which the aircraft was armed. The aircraft was badly shattered and 13 of the 19 occupants were either killed or drowned. Air Commodore Cobby managed to extricate himself from the wreck and although injured, he re-entered the sub-merged hull on three occasions in order to rescue members of his Staff. As a result of his strenuous efforts against the great pressure in the cabin, he was able to assist Wing Commander W.L.B. Stephens, who had a badly broken arm, and brought him to the surface. The second time he extricated Wing Commander B.P. Macfarlan and brought him to a position on top of the blister. He re-entered the cabin a third time but was unable to effect any further rescues. Owing to the fact that at least one other depth charge was unexploded, and that at any moment the wrecked aircraft might slip under the water, Air Commodore Cobby displayed outstanding courage in risking his life while effecting the rescues of these members of his Staff. His devotion to duty on this occasion is worth of the highest praise'.
American Medal of Freedom 'For meritorious service which has aided the United States in the prosecution of the War against Japan, from 28 September 1944 to 31 January 1945. While under the operational control of the Thirteenth Air Force, Air Commodore Cobby directed his planes in continuous action against enemy installations in the Celebes and Halmahera Islands, and inflicted heavy damage on enemy shipping, supply areas and radar positions. His services were distinguished by exceptionally sound judgement and farsighted planning, and his forces were so well co-ordinated with those of the Thirteenth Air Force that all available aircraft were employed with maximum effect. He greatly assisted in denying the enemy water or land movement in the Northern Celebes and the Halmaheras, and materially assisted in support of the operations in the Philippine Liberation Campaign. Air Commodore Cobby rendered a material contribution to the success of the United States Army Forces in the South-West Pacific Area'.
Mention in Despatches London Gazette 31.12.1916 and 31.5.1919.
Air Commodore Arthur Henry Cobby, C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C., G.M., the Australian Flying Corps' 'greatest Ace', was born in Melbourne on 26.8. 1894 and at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 was a clerk at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Though a 2nd Lieutenant in the Militia since June 1912, he was retained by his bank, with official exemption from the War, until 1916, when no longer able to stand the inference that he was somehow avoiding his duty at the sharp end of the conflict, he told the Governor in a last attempt to enlist, that he 'still had the options of resigning his job or jumping under a train'. He pleaded to be allowed to apply for a place in the A.F.C. into which had gone his friends F.H. McNamara, V.C., and A. Murray Jones. The Governor, suspecting that Cobby would be rejected, relented.
In December 1916 Cobby joined 30 would-be-pilots for basic training at the C.F.S. at Point Cook, Victoria. Six weeks later his course was converted into a Squadron and ordered into camp prior to embarkation overseas. Reaching the U.K. in March 1917 the Pilots and Mechanics of the embryo unit, later to become No. 4 Squadron, A.F.C., but then known as 71 Squadron, were dispersed among various English training centres, with Cobby and two other Pilots spending some time at Waddington in Lincolnshire, before being reunited on an all-Australian base at Harlaxton under the command of Major "Ossie" Watt. Gaining his 'Wings' soon afterwards, Cobby was injured at Harlaxton when forced to land inside a walled enclosure alongside the airfield. After remedying the trouble that had forced him down, Cobby assured his Instructor that he could take off in the limited space, but at the critical moment his engine died causing the undercarriage to hit a wall and the fuselage to break in two. Cobby, with parts of the machine stuck in his thigh, was carted away to hospital. A course on the difficult to fly but deadly Sopwith F.1 Camel followed at the C.F.S., Upavon, and at the end of 1917 he rejoined 71 Squadron shortly before it left for France. He had just 12 hours 30 minutes flying time to his credit.
Based at Bruay Aerodrome, between Bethune and St. Pol, Cobby realised the inadequacy of his training and was at first understandably apprehensive about crossing the lines, but nevertheless displayed the characteristic elan of the Fighter Pilot by embellishing the sides of his Camel with aluminium cut-outs of Charlie Chaplin and signs 'borrowed' from English railway carriages. In January and February poor weather and inexperience provided plenty of anxious moments. On one of his earliest patrols when flying at the rear of a four-man formation, he found himself attacked by three Albatros Scouts. The Camel next to him, distinctively bearing its Pilot's old school motto, Resurgam on the fuselage, was experiencing engine trouble and the two leading aircraft being blissfully unaware of what was going on were disappearing into the distance. Cobby 'desperately frightened and frankly not knowing what to do', attempted to zig-zag over his striken comrade, Willmott, and provide him with cover, whilst their apparently equally nervous German tormentors stood off and fired the odd burst. Finally Willmott went into a spin and Cobby, feeling there was nothing more he could do, 'split-arsed' for the safety of the Allied lines. Later, when grilled by his C.O., Cobby was honest enough to admit that at such an early stage he was not prepared to risk odds of three to one. He further wryly observed that Willmott might have had more luck if he had painted his motto on upside-down.
On 3 February, 'B' Flight's aggressive C.O., Captain A.H. O'Hara-Wood, who had drawn the first blood for the Squadron on 24 January, led Cobby and Lieutenant E.F. "Tab" Pflaum out on patrol with the express purpose of getting into a fight. At 12,000 feet a D.F.W. was sighted photographing the British lines. O'Hara-Wood dived on it whilst Cobby and Pflaum to their surprise observed two others trying to escape and pursued them. Having successfully dealt with the first D.F.W., O'Hara-Wood became enraged by the apparent desertion of Cobby and Pflaum who were not to be seen. Back at Bruay he fiercely attacked them for 'funking the fight' and talked of sending them back to England. Cobby and Pflaum protested that they too had had combats, and later when ground forces reported the same, 4 Squadron, A.F.C., celebrated its first major success. At the end of February there was another lucky escape when making a forced landing in thick fog. Just before touch down Cobby's right wing tip clipped a tree invisible in the mist, cartwheeling his machine and leaving him trapped upside-down with his head cooling rapidly in the snow. Other close shaves included having his seat shot from under him, and a gun jam which resulted in his aircraft being so shot up that it collapsed on touching down at Bruay.
Cobby was nevertheless now poised to make a name for himself as an 'extremely aggressive' and 'very cunning' Pilot. On the fateful 21.3. 1918, first day of Ludendorff's massive 'last throw' offensive, he opened his account with two confirmed victories in spite of fog so thick it made formation flying impossible. He was leading a flight of five aircraft back to Bruay when three Albatros Scouts came through the haze just below and to the left. 'They were followed', he remembered, by 'a straggling line of Pfalz and other scouts... Rocking my machine fore and aft, the usual signal to follow the leader into action, I dived into the centre of the enemy formation... and for about four minutes an all in dogfight ensued. It was Richthofen's Circus...' Over the next four weeks, as the British front collapsed in the face of the German onslaught, the Squadron operated a hectic flying schedule with Cobby and fellow Pilots averaging six sorties a day - strafing troops and airfields, attacking balloons, and claiming numbers of enemy aircraft. The nervous strain was considerable and Cobby's prinicpal trouble was that he was unable to swallow anything other than 'champagne and brandy' and 'the odd biscuit'. On 30 March the German advance on the Somme front was brought to a halt largely due to the efforts of the Australian Corps, and as if to mark the event Cobby claimed his third kill, shooting up a Pfalz DIII in a head-on attack South East of Arras. The ground situation hotted up again to the North on 9 April and next day Cobby, who now regularly led his flight, brought down an Albatros DV in the Estaires area.
On 28 April the Squadron was transferred to the 11th Wing and was moved 40 miles North to Clairmairis Aerodrome which it was to share with the British 74 "Tiger" Squadron. Two days later Captain "Ira" Jones of 74 recorded: 'The Aussies are a fine bunch of 'Diggers'... The Pilots strike me as being a full-out bunch. In particular, I liked the look of Cobby, "Bow" King and Watson - very full-out guys. If they can fight as well as they can knock back cocktails the Hun is in for a fine time...' On 14 May Cobby was promoted Flight Commander, but the Germans were now proving reluctant to fight. Accordingly Cobby and his friends resorted to dropping old boots, chamber pots and insulting messages on their aerodromes. So as to leave no doubt as to who was responsible for these visitations, every 'drop' was accompanied by red, white and blue streamers with an Australian flag attached.
On 20 May Cobby obtained recognised 'Ace' status on a strong early morning patrol, his victim this time being a Pflaz DIII destroyed at Neuve Eglise. Next day, leading another big patrol, he successfully engaged in the popular sport of 'balloon busting', and entered the 'Busters' Stakes' with the first of five 'sausages' that were to fall to his guns during the next seven weeks. 'Shooting down balloons', he later wrote, 'may seem a simple task to which little risk attended, but it was entirely the reverse. Every German balloon had all suitable artillery arranged around it and machine-gun nests were placed so that they could cover the balloon. As soon as anyone poked his nose in the direction of a balloon everything would open up, anti-aircraft, field guns, flaming onions, machine-guns, and if you wanted your quarry you had to go right in amongst it.' In the mess at Clairmarais on May 24 he was one of the party who enthusiastically celebrated the award of the first D.S.O. to the legendary "Mick" Mannock of 74.
On 30 May and 1 June Cobby claimed four more victories, bringing his total to ten. The evening of 17 June saw him lead 15 Camels out on a bombing mission against the village of Bac St. Maur, and then push off on a private hunting trip with Watson. Near Laventie they jumped an enemy 'V' formation of five machines, and, attacking from the up-sun position, Cobby shot the wings off a Pfalz DIII. 'After disposing of [my] first opponent', he reported afterwards, 'I attacked the next machine... [and] he went down out of control and apparently badly wounded. When near the ground he flattened out... zoomed a hedge and crashed in a field... I dived three times... firing 400 rounds from a height of 200 feet. I shot the Pilot's cockpit and centre section to pieces. The Pilot did not move after crashing'.
Two days later he was involved in a notable fight having returned home with E.J.E. McCloughry to clear gun jams after trying for a balloon at Estaires. He took off again at 5.30 p.m. and near Hazebrouck fell in with 74 Squadron in full cry after a Pfalz DIII which was firing at a British kite balloon. 'Cobby, who was leading the Aussies,' Jones of 74 recorded, 'had got into position East of him. When "Little Willie" saw this, he commenced turning and firing wildly everywhere. Then the greatest fun I have seen in this war began. There was this poor blighter [Uffz. Max Mertens of Jasta 7] in the middle of us, being potted at by all and sundry, while we in our eagerness to bag him were missing each other by inches... At last a Camel - it turned out to be my pal, Cobby - poured a torrent of bullets into the machine from about 30 yard's range. The Hun zoomed for the last time, turned on its back and spun down invertedly on to the trees of the Nieppe Forest... Then followed a sort of target practice. Machine after machine dived and gave it a burst before zooming steeply upwards. Cobby has been rightly credited for the kill... The body of the Hun Pilot was placed in one of our hangars for the night. He must have been blotto. He was dressed in pyjamas and a dinner jacket!'
At the end of June the Squadron was moved to Reclinghem where their rivals Murray Jones's No.2 Australian Scout Squadron was also based. The fierce competition which had always existed between the two units now naturally intensified, and with it Cobby's score continued to escalate. Following victories on the 25th and 26th and a hattrick on the 28th of June, he claimed a balloon and a Fokker Triplane on 2 July, an A.G.O.C. on the 9th, a balloon on the 14th, and a brace of Pfalz DIIIs next day. After a patrol on the 7th he dropped in on an A.I.F. sports meeting at Walian Capel, severely damaging his Camel in the process. Then 'while still in flying boots and helmet' he rode the winner of the principal horse-race. That same month he also managed two weeks leave in the U.K., where in the company of a couple of Black Watch Officers, an American Major and a fellow Australian, he got into several scrapes with the Edinburgh Police, and later had to be rescued from the top of the Scott Memorial in Princes Street by the City Fire Brigade.
Back in France Cobby added three kills to his tally in two days, and on 16 August, with the Germans on the run and the Advance to Victory under way, he led 65 machines from Nos. 2 and 4 Squadrons, A.F.C., and Nos. 88, 92, 102 Squadrons, R.A.F., on a bombing raid against the German airfield at Haubourdin. En route he shared in the destruction of a Fokker DVIII, and on arrival over the target initiated the attack by setting fire to two hangars with Cooper bombs. He then dropped to deck level and fired into the open hangars in hope of setting more aircraft alight. He was by now all but tour expired, and, on the evening of 4 September, having received orders earlier the same day to return to England as an Instructor, registered his final victory, a Fokker DVII out of control near Wattignies. By this time, his achievements as the A.F.C.'s top Pilot had been widely acknowledged with coverage in the Australian press, which dubbed him the 'Elsternwick Boy Hero', and, in the field in France, with introductions to the Second Army Commander, Lord Plumer, and King George V when visiting the front. His final score, according to modern analysis, has been conservatively calculated at 29, but of more importance to those who fought alongside him was, no doubt, 'the proud boast that not one man had been lost from a patrol he had led'.
Still in England on the first Anzac Day, 1919, Cobby was selected to lead the A.F.C.'s fly-past over central London before returning home later that year. In March 1921 he was appointed to the newly formed Permanent Air Force in which he served until transferring with the rank of Wing Commander to the Citizen Air Force Reserve in April 1936. In 1940 he was recalled to full time service as Director of Recruiting at R.A.A.F. Headquarters, Melbourne, and in August 1942 was appointed A.O.C. North Eastern Area at Townsville. Here when returning from a tour of inspection of New Guinea on 7.9.1943 the Catalina Flying Boat in which he was travelling crashed, exploding one of the depth charges with which it was armed. 13 of the 19 people on board were killed or drowned outright but Cobby managed to extricate himself from the wreck, and although injured, re-entered the submerged hull three times to rescue two men, regardless of the risk that other depth charges might explode. For this deed he duly received the George Medal.
In August 1944 he was appointed to No. 10 Group (subsequently 1st Tactical Air Force) at Noemfoor which comprised Nos. 77, 78 and 81 Fighter Wings, together with numerous ancillary units, was the most important R.A.A.F. Operational Command in the South West Pacific theatre. In view of the close association between the Australian and American Air Forces between 1942-43 it was hoped that R.A.A.F. units would be given roles in the recapture of the Philippines, but it soon became evident that the Americans wanted to Americanise the final victory in the Pacific and Cobby's efforts to enter 81 Wing into the fray were thwarted at every turn. He left 1st T.A.F. in May 1945 and retired from the Service in August 1946. Post-War he occupied the appointment of Director of Flying Operations in the Civil Aviation Department, and was serving in that capacity at the time of his sudden death on 11.11.1955. At his passing, Air-Marshal Sir Richard Williams, the Director-General of Civil Aviation, commented: 'Australia has lost one of its most distinguished airmen, a man whose personal story is threaded through the entire history of Australian service and civil aviation'.
Reference sources: High Adventure, The Autobiography of Australia's Most Famous W.W.I. Flying Ace, A.H. Cobby, D.S.O., D.F.C. & 2 Bars, 1981 edition.; Tiger Squadron, Wing Commander I.R.A. "Taffy" Jones, 1954