Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Flying Officer Gerald Douglas Francis Herrtage, RAF no. 42309

Gerald Herrtage was born in 1917 and was from Sussex.

In May when 94 Squadron was in the process of being re-equipped with Hurricanes, Wing Commander ’Freddie’ Wightman was ordered to collect five Gladiators from a Maintenance Unit and together with four other pilots proceed to Habbaniya to take part in the Iraqi revolt.
On 7 May Wightman was ready with his detachment to fly down to Habbaniya. The aircraft, two Mk Is and three Mk IIs, arrived at Habbaniya next day, The pilots involved were Wing Commander W. T. F. Wightman, Flight Lieutenant Sir R. A. MacRobert, Flying Officer Herrtage, Sergeant E. L. Smith and Sergeant W. H. Dunwoodie.

On 12 May a small Luftwaffe unit started to arrive in Iraq in support of the Iraqi revolt. The contingent consisted of 14 Bf 110C from 4/ZG76 and ZG26 (two aircraft) and seven He 111H-s of 4/KG4 together with transports (Ju53/3ms and Ju90s) and support personnel.

In the morning on 16 May 1941 Hauptmann Schwanhäuser led three He 111s of 4/KG4 off to raid Habbaniya. At 09.35 after a 90-minute flight they approached the base at 6,000 feet, Schwanhäuser leading in two of the bombers to attack at once, while Oberleutnant Graubner swung away to the left in order to bomb some parked aircraft. As his bombs were falling away, he saw below a plume of dust – a fighter taking off. This was a Gladiator, which was being scrambled by Flying Officer Herrtage. The three He 111s made a second pass over the hangars, the two leading aircraft not having dropped their bombs, even though the attack had already caused more damage than had all previous Iraqi raids together!
With the fighter in the air, however, the bombers turned for home, but Herrtage was able to cut across the turn, and thereby come within range, even though still climbing. Graubner reported:

“The fighter slowly climbed towards us. Soon it hung behind us, and we heard the clattering of machine gun fire – one could not tell whether it was our own, or the enemy fire hitting us. Fw Prinz and I suddenly saw many hits appearing in both wings, accompanied by a murderous roaring noise. I heard from behind, “Shot down!”, and could not believe it when the voice of Ofw Thomas, the flight engineer, reported: “Now it is breaking up – now it has crashed!” The well-aimed return fire from Ofw Thomas and the radio operator, Uffz Guretzki, had succeeded! The first incontestable victory of our Gruppe!”
Observers on the ground reported that Herrtage’s Gladiator (L7616) had in fact been caught in the crossfire from all three bombers, and had crashed to the ground outside the airfield perimeter. It seems that Herrtage tried to bale out but his parachute got tangled up and did not open fully. He was killed instantly but he had however hit one of the bombers, and it was believed that this had crash-landed half a mile or so further from the camp. This was not so in fact, as Graubner’s continued narrative explains:
“Our right engine began to shake and lose oil, and the temperature rose. The Kette still had to make a reconnaissance, so I broke off and set course for Mosul. We were at 2,000 metres and after ten minutes the damaged engine stopped. We could not now maintain height and began to sink at two metres a second, so we threw everything possible overboard, except for the guns and a little ammunition in case of a force-landing. We continued eastwards, at least to reach the Tigris valley. Slowly we dropped further, only desert beneath us. We tried to restart the “sick” engine, but it was no use and we had to turn the fuel off again. Still no sight of the Tigris; there must have been a strong headwind. “Everyone strap in!” – still ten metres above the ground. I lifted it over a ditch, there was a huge bump, and then we saw nothing but dust.”
This was the only attack flown by the He 111Hs of KG4.

At the time of his death Herrtage was credited with 1 biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 16/05/41 1 He 111 (a) Destroyed Gladiator L7616 Habbaniya area 94 Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed.
(a) He 111H of 4/KG4 flown by Oberleutnant Graubner shot down. The aircraft made a forced landing and the crew survived.

Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Gloster Gladiator - Alex Crawford, 2002 Mushroom Model Publications, Redbourn, ISBN 83-916327-0-9
Gloster Gladiator Aces - Andrew Thomas, 2002 Osprey Publishing, London, ISBN 1-84176-289-X
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Last modified 26 May 2002