Squadron Leader Derrick Fitzgerald 'Gerald' 'Jerry' Westenra DFC and Bar, RAF no. 89782
29 April 1918 – 17 August 1999
Flight Lieutenant Westenra, probably in April 1942 when he just had left 112 Squadron.
Derrick Fitzgerald Westenra, always known as Gerald, was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 29 April 1918, into a pioneer settler family. He was educated in Christchurch and learned to fly during a spell in Kenya where he also served in the Kenya Auxiliary Air Unit. In February 1940 he joined the RNZAF. He arrived in England with the RNZAF during the year and was commissioned in the RAF in November 1940.
He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1941, and within weeks of completing his training was posted to the Middle East. He joined 112 Squadron in time to fly Gladiators in Greece and Crete early in 1941.
On 11 March, 15 of 112 Squadrons aircraft were over the front, this time to escort 211 Squadron Blenheims on a raid in the Bousi area. An estimated 40-50 G.50bis were reported patrolling in the area and nine of these fighters from the 24o Gruppo (led by Maggiore Cesare Valente) engaged the formation, claiming a Blenheim and one Gladiator shot down. The British fighters turned on the attackers and claimed seven shot down, one probable and seven damaged without loss. The claims were made by Flight Lieutenant Joseph Fraser (one and one damaged), Flying Officer Edwin Banks (one and two damaged), Flying Officer Richard Acworth (one), Flying Officer Homer Cochrane (one), Flying Officer Ephraim Hugh Brown (one damaged), Flying Officer Henry Harrison (one), Pilot Officer Neville Bowker (one), Pilot Officer Westenra (one), Flight Lieutenant Charles Fry (one probable and one damaged), Squadron Leader Harry Brown (one damaged) and Flying Officer Denis Herbert Vincent Smith (one damaged). Bowker and Westenra where both involved in only their second engagements since joining the unit from Flying Training School.
Two G.50bis went down at once. Maggiore Valente and Sergente Luigi Spallacci both were killed, while Sergente Bruno Fava and Sergente Maggiore Ermes Lucchetta were both wounded and crash-landed their Fiats on their bellies. MC.200s of the 22o Gruppo may also have become involved, for Sergente Anselmo Andraghetti of 369a Squadriglia was lost, the cause not being ascertained.
After the combat Banks remarked that the G.50s must be armoured as they stood up to so much punishment. Fry reported that he attacked a G.50, which spun slowly twice then flattened out and turned slowly onto its back with smoke coming from it. It went into cloud and he didn't see it again. He also attacked another G.50bis of 24o Gruppo, which went over onto its back and flew inverted into cloud. Squadron Leader Brown emptied all his rounds into a G.50 without effect. No doubt the all-metal construction of these monoplane fighters helped to hold them together.
On 5 May Ju 88s were intercepted over the Heraklion sector by two 112 Squadron Gladiators flown by Pilot Officer Len Bartley and Pilot Officer Westenra. Each pilot claiming a bomber damaged.
On 13 May a number of aircraft, identified as Bf 110s, attacked Heraklion airfield in a desultory fashion, which caused little damage and a few minor casualties to army personnel. Five Gladiators got off, two flown by 1430 Flight pilots, but only Pilot Officer Westenra was able to attack, fighting with six of the intruders and getting in several good bursts, though his own fighter was badly shot about, landing with four mainspars shot through, large areas of fabric missing and numerous bullet holes.
This action, witnessed by many of the defenders on the ground, proved to be quite a tonic to morale.
On 14 May about a dozen II/ZG 26 Bf 110s appeared over Heraklion. Two Gladiators were off, Flying Officer Stan Reeves of 1430 Flight and Pilot Officer Westenra getting airborne. Westenra bounced one of the low-flying Bf 110s, that flown by Oberleutnant Sophus Baagoe, a 14-victory ‘Experte’ from 5 Staffel, the aircraft falling into the sea just offshore, the pilot and his gunner, Oberfeldwebel Daniel Becker, being killed; this aircraft was also claimed by the Bofors gunners whose accurate fire brought down a second Bf 110, ‘3U+EM’ of 4 Staffel. The latter crash-landed half a mile from the airfield with the port propeller, fin and rudder all shot away. Gefreiter Adolf Ketterer and his gunner, Gefreiter Hans Bromba, were both captured. Returning Bf 110 pilots claimed four victories; Flying Officer Reeves’ Gladiator was badly damaged and force-landed. Two more Gladiators were damaged on the ground. Several of the Bf 110s had carried bombs, whilst others were seen to jettison long-range tanks over the coastline. Little serious damage resulted from the attack.
On 18 May 1941 two Hurricanes and two Gladiators from Heraklion were airborne and after an air attack on this field they were ordered to land instead at Retimo. The remaining Hurricane and Gladiators at Heraklion were no longer flyable. On arrival at Retimo the four pilots were ordered to evacuate to Egypt, and after refuelling, all took of. Flying Officer A R Costello and Sergeant W Bain flew the two Hurricanes, Flight Lieutenant Dennant and Pilot Officer Westenra the Gladiators. All arrived safely.
The unit retired to Palestine and then moved to the Canal Zone in Egypt where it re-equipped with Tomahawks. He flew in the Western Desert where he became a flight commander late in 1941. He is reputed to have been the instigator of the painting of the famous 'Sharks' Teeth' on the squadron's aircraft.
On 25 September, ten Tomahawks of 112 Squadron carried out a shipping patrol as top cover for the RNFS, being bounced out of the sun by two fighters while on the way back to base. Pilot Officer Westenra, part of the highest-flying section, took evasive action and called a warning, which was not heard. About ten minutes later he was attacked again, the tip of his starboard wing and aileron being shot off. He managed to fly his damaged aircraft as far as the Sidi Barrani area, where he baled out when his aircraft began to smoke and the ammunition for his engine-mounted .5in guns began to explode.
No Luftwaffe claim was made this day, but 112 Squadron identified their attackers as Bf 109s, and it is possible that there was a confusion of dates in records, this being the victory of Oberleutnant Gerhard Homuth of 3./JG 27, who claimed a P-40 (victory no. 26) at 13:40 the previous day.
At mid-afternoon on 25 November, a total of 23 Tomahawks of which 13 from 112 Squadron with ten of 3 RAAF Squadron (effectively only seven), and led by Wing Commander Peter Jeffrey (Tomahawk IIb AN337), took off at 15:25 (3 RAAF Squadron at 15:12), arriving just in time (about 15:40) to catch a large enemy formation of aircraft bombing and dive bombing our troops just north of Sidi Rezegh. Reportedly the enemy formation included between 60-80 enemy aircraft and before breaking up, the enemy formation appeared to be a top cover of 20-30 fighters of which very few Bf 109s, the balance G.50s at 15,000 feet. Below this about 20 medium bombers - mostly Bf 110s and a few Ju 88s at approximately 11,000ft. Also at lower level 15 Ju 87s escorted by five unidentified fighters.
3 RAAF Squadron, being above 112 Squadron, dived to attack the Bf 110s which were breaking up formation on spotting them. It seems that 3 RAAF Squadron chased the Bf 110s towards the sea, The Ju.87s dived westwards and made for home while the enemy fighters dived down to attack 112 Squadron.
3 RAAF Squadron landed back at 17:10 and claimed eight destroyed and eight damaged while losing one Tomahawk.
Sergeant Rex Wilson (AK506) clashed with Bf 110s, shooting one down and damaging two more, and then he engaged a Bf 109, which he claimed as a damaged and finally he shot down two Fi 156 Storch aircraft that were passing nearby.
Wing Commander Peter Jeffrey claimed one Bf 110 and another damaged.
Sergeant Frank Reid (AN408) claimed a Bf 110.
Flying Officer Edward Jackson (AM406) claimed a damaged Bf 110 but returned slightly wounded.
Sergeant M. Baillie (AK378) claimed a Bf 109E.
Flying Officer Robert Gibbes (AN374) claimed two G.50bis and three more damaged.
23-year-old Flying Officer Bruce Aitken Evans (RAAF No. 713) (AK343) was shot down and killed in action.
Of this hectic combat, Robert Gibbes later recorded:
“The Wing Leader led the squadrons down after the enemy aircraft as they dived out to sea, slightly east of Tobruk. I started to follow, but noticed quite a lot of fighters above us, so I changed my mind and climbed up alone after them. Luck was with me. They proved to be mainly Italians in G.50s and Macchi 200s who were flying in line astern, in groups of five aircraft, in each formation. They had watched our wing dive down after the bombers, and this appeared to have absorbed their interest, as I seemed to be almost unobserved. On each occasion, they had almost passed by me before I was seen, and the leader, by then, was so committed to his dive, that he was not able to do much about dealing with me, and I found that I was able to get good bursts at numerous machines, without once leaving myself open.112 Squadron also landed at 17:10 and claimed two destroyed and two more as probable while losing a Tomahawk.
One team of five aircraft came down in a gentle dive, noticed me at the last moment, and the leader tried to pull round onto me. This put me into a very favourable position as I came in at them from the opposite direction on the inside of their turn, and I was able to have a crack at each of the five as they swept by, in line astern. The same thing happened three or four times and although I didn't do much noticeable damage, I did however, succeed in breaking up their formation considerably. Without doubt, I prevented a few co-ordinated attacks on the squadron below.
A G.50 came at me shooting madly. I returned his fire, crouching low behind the engine and feeling the size of a house. He made the mistake of breaking his attack too early, and turned away to starboard. I pulled off a little lead, and saw bits and pieces fly from his cockpit area. The aircraft rolled onto its back to the right and went into an uncontrolled spin, pouring black smoke. I turned my aircraft and watched it plummet down towards the sea below, and then with a jerk, realising my foolishness, I kicked on hard rudder and looked behind. I was just in time. Macchis and G 50s were coming at me from all directions. I gave the old Tommy everything, weaving my way through them, and climbed above. Suddenly, they all seemed to be so very harmless, like clueless children out on a Sunday jaunt, whose aunt had temporarily left them. My morale was terrific, and for the first time, no residue of fear remained. I saw a line of G.50s below my level and dived to attack. They were doing a gentle turn to port when I joined them, making the formation six, but only for a moment. My bullets concentrated around the tail-end aircraft and I don’t think he would have known what hit him. His aircraft shuddered, hesitated in its turn, bunted outwards, pulled up into a half loop, then fell away, obviously completely out of control leaving a spiral trail of black smoke behind it. It was probably flown by a dead pilot. I pulled around onto the next aircraft, and when I fired, it flicked onto its back and dived away, but it appeared to be under control. Maybe I didn’t damage it too much, but I certainly frightened hell out of the pilot.
The remainder of the flight broke up in all directions, and taking advantage of the superior performance of my aircraft, I climbed up above them, to avoid any tests of manoeuvrability, and to take stock of proceedings, and try to get my machine guns working again, as some had given up the ghost. I noticed a splash in the sea below, but didn’t know if it was my G.50 or not, but supposed that it was.
The fight went on and I am afraid that I was now behaving in a childish manner and I was whooping like a wild Indian on the warpath. I do not believe that I shot anything down after this, but things were moving at too fast and furious a rate to get time to observe the results of further attacks. Without doubt I hit the further odd machine as I was able to get into infallible positions. The air-space which had been full of stunting Italians, suddenly cleared like magic as seems to happen in air combat. I looked around and the only aircraft which I could see was a 109 below me. I chased after it at full throttle, climbed up into the sun and positioned myself for an attack. I then saw why the 109 was not more alert. His eyes were fastened on another prey in the form of two unsuspecting Tomahawks cruising in formation below him. He put his aircraft into a gentle dive heading south-west and behind the Tomahawks and I started my dive from the north to north-east, out of the sun, heading him off, coming in at right angles. I called a warning to the two Tommys, and on a converging course, I rapidly closed on the 109 which had now dropped slightly below them in order to stay out of sight. At last I had a complete drop on a 109.
My dreams had materialised and I had one exactly where I wanted it. At high speed, in range, fire. I pressed the trigger and my guns barked in response. By almost a sixth sense my German friend saw me at the last moment, and pulled his stick back making my fire pass below him. He then proceeded to pump-handle his joystick rapidly backwards and forwards, as if following the track of the switchback rail at Luna Park, and I didn't have a hope in hell of hitting him in my first attack. I overshot, pulled around, washing a lot of speed off, and got in an attack from the port rear quarter, which I believe hit him, but did not stop him. I fired again and again, but although he looked a bit sick in the end, he was nevertheless still flying and gradually pulled out of range. I had lost what should have been a certain kill. The Hun beat me by fast thinking and a trick which was too good for me. Full credit to him. I noted this trick and added it to my limited repertoire, and it was later to prove useful in getting out of a similar jam.”
“Put a 5 seconds burst into enemy starting at 200 yards to 500 yards as 109 F drew away after astern attack on myself when I was hit in the tail and wing root. After my attack I was attacked by another 109 and was forced to turn away, and looking back.At 16:30, Humphreys came down from a greater height and attacked the tail of a CR.42 at an altitude of 100ft above LG 122. He reported:
Saw E/A joined by another Me.110. Also saw E/A I had attacked then begin to dive steeply towards the sea ...”
“E/A seen to wobble after first attack and after second attack dived towards ground and after breaking away after attack saw E/A crash land in cloud of dust.”The Axis formation included both German and Italian aircraft and the force included 17 Ju 87s of I./StG 3, 15 of II./StG 2, 12 Bf 110s III./ZG 26 and 12 Bf 109s of I and II./JG 27. The German fighter pilots made six claims:
At 09:10 on 4 December, 16 German Ju 87s and six Italian of the 239a Squadriglia took off to bomb concentrations of about 150 motor vehicles 20 km north-east of Bir El Gobi, with the top cover of ten Bf 109Fs and close cover of ten MC.200s of the 153o Gruppo, which had taken off at 09:30, and six of the 157o Gruppo. The targets were scattered but nevertheless the bombs were well aimed and a good result was expected.
Ten Tomahawks of 112 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader Morello, with ten Tomahawks of 250 Squadron, took off at 09:30 for a wing sweep over the El Adem and Sidi Rezegh area. Flying at 10,000 feet, with 250 Squadron as top cover, ahead and below was seen a mixed force of about 30 enemy machines.
“…On sighting the enemy, the C.O. ordered one section down to attack about 15 Ju.87s flying in three batches of 4 or 5 at approx. 6,000 ft. At the same time, the C.O. and the second section attacked a mixed bag of about 10 G.50 and Macchi C.200. However, these went down to level of the 87s and top section were attacked by about 5 Me 109E and F. 3 Macchi C.202 were seen but must have been attacked by No. 250 Sqn., who had climbed above us.The claims of 112 Squadron was later somewhat updated when Flight Lieutenant Westenra claimed two G.50s, Pilot Officer Neville Bowker claimed a G.50 and a Ju 87, Pilot Officer Neville Duke claimed a MC.200, a probable Ju 87 and another damaged while a Bf 109F and a probable were claimed by Sergeant Ronald Christie and a damaged Bf 109F was claimed by Flying Officer Peter Humphreys.
A general dogfight developed in the top section as a result of which Sgt. Christie claims a Me 109F probably destroyed and F.O. Humphreys a Me 109F damaged, whilst Sgt. Ferguson was badly shot up and it was a sterling effort to bring his machine back to base. F.Lt. Westenra, P.O. Bowker and P.O. Duke chased their quarries to the West, the latter finishing off a good show by driving a C.200 to earth inside the Tobruk defences, finally landing there before returning to base.
2 G.50s destroyed by F.Lt. Westenra (AN 303)
1 G.50 and 1 Ju.87 destroyed by P.O. Bowker (AN372)
1 C.200 and 1 Ju.87 probably destroyed by P.O. Duke (AN337/F)
1 Me 109F probably destroyed by Sgt. Christie (AK354)
1 Me 109F damaged by P.O. Peter Humphreys (AK415)
1 Tomahawk (Sgt Ferguson) damaged-airframe beyond repair, engine repairable by RSU.
1 Tomahawk (P.O. Bowker) damaged, but repaired at unit and flying same day.”
“Type of attack delivered on enemy: dead astern climbing on one 109F. Enemy was attacking one of our sections in usual dive and away tactics. Heavy bursts into enemy at 100 yards. Saw shots entering the fuselage. Consider he was severely hit and as he broke away into a steep dive without further evasive action he was almost definitely destroyed. If destroyed, this aircraft should have landed at Point 420, 390, 300. I claim 1 109F probably destroyed. I also saw a Tomahawk going down in flames but do not think it was one of our Sqn.”Pilot Officer Duke wrote:
“Oh, Boy, another! Encountered the Hun Circus of Ju 87s, 109s, Macchi 200s and G.50s. Got stuck into them. Came across five Ju 87s flying in close formation and sprayed them all. One broke away and went down in a gentle dive, smoking a bit. Couldn’t watch him as some 109s appeared and I don’t like them!The information relating to 250 Squadron is rather meagre; this unit together with 112 Squadron was carrying out an escort mission for reconnaissance Hurricanes between El Adem and Tobruk. Ten Tomahawks acting as the top cover of 112 Squadron were flying at an altitude of 13,000 feet, when they spotted a formation of enemy fighters at 10:30. They were crossing them at more or less the same altitude. Bf 109s, G.50s (obviously MC.200s) and Ju 87s were recognized. They were in an open or irregular formation. Finally also MC.202s were recognized.
Pounced on a Macchi 200 and had a pretty good dog-fight. He started beetling off home and I chased him. Once he did a complete roll in front of me. My guns were all haywire and in the end only one cannon was going and I had to keep cocking that. Finally that stopped just as we came roaring over Tobruk at nought feet. The Macchi was still showing fight however, but he suddenly spun in off a steep turn and crashed. I was hoping he would land on the aerodrome as he had put up a good fight - nearly always at ground level, and once we went chasing out to sea. I was making dummy attacks on him as my guns had packed up.
I landed at Tobruk and had lunch. It had bucked the boys up no end to see the fight.”
“No 1 Sqn., SAAF, received instructions from 258 Wing RAF to carry out a wing sweep with No.274 Sqn., RAF, over our troops in area 4237, 4736 and 4533 (Purple grid map: 250.000 Egypt and Cyrenaica Sollum-Tobruk Sheet 3). The leaders of the formation of No. 1 and 274 Squadrons agreed that No. 1 should provide the top cover for the sweep. The Hurricane Mk.lls of No. 1 took off from L.G. 124 at 9.15 hrs. flying in formation, i.e. pairs in line abreast. They flew at 10.000 feet, and above No. 274 Squadron’s formation. Owing to engine (oil pressure dropping) one Hurricane returned at 9.45 hrs.274 Squadron reported having clashed with Bf 109s and MC.200s and to have claimed one MC.202 damaged (MacDonnell in BD821).
After approx. one hour ten minutes flying the leader of No. 1 (which was then flying in a northerly direction) observed about 8 E/A approaching. The E/A were to the left (about 10 O’clock) and slightly above our formation. The 8 E/A, which were in no particular formation, dived towards the rear of our formation and shot down a straggler [2nd Lieutenant Meek]. Then they appeared to break up on either side of No. 1 and climbed into the base of the clouds, at 12000 feet, where they joined other E/A. Another large group of E/A (about 16) were seen to the right and slightly above.
These aircraft did not take part in the general dogfight for several minutes, but remained milling about on their own, while No. 1 was attacked on both flanks by single aircraft. Pilots estimated between 20 and 30 E/A. Most of them were C.202s, but some pilots identified Me109Es with their square wing tips.
The leader of No. 1 turned into the 8 E/A that attacked by a climbing turn to the left. But single E/A made attacks from both sides almost at the same time as the climbing turn was begun, and the formation broke up and general dog fighting took place.
The attacks were made generally by single aircraft diving out the base of the clouds, between 12000 and 13000 feet. No enemy aircraft attempted a head-on attack.
The presence of a large group of E/A that remained for several minutes slightly above and to the right of our formation without taking part in the fight worried our pilots. This group of aircraft frequently distracted their attention from the single aircraft that were making repeated attacks from out of the clouds.
Several pilots commented on the astonishing aerobatics that the enemy pilots carried out during the dogfight. Several of them were seen to loop, stall turn, and roll off the top for no apparent reason. One C.202 was attacked when it was inverted at the top of a loop and the tail plane was shot to pieces [possibly Brambilla claimed by Lieutenant Penberthy]. Another C.202 was shot down when it was in a stall turn. It is presumed, because of the aerobatics, that the enemy aircraft were flown by Italians. If they were Italians they had learned from the Germans how to take advantage of the clouds and to pounce immediately on any stragglers in a formation.
Description of the Macchi C.202.
The Macchis encountered were painted in a dark green livery and they had a wide broad white band round the fuselage towards the tail. The wings have rounded tips and the end of wings appears to be as broad as it is at the base. The cockpit is not set well back as on the Me 109 or Tomahawk, and has not therefore a pronounced nose.
The C.202 is a highly manoeuvrable aircraft, but the general opinion of the pilots of No. 1 Sqn. who dog fought with them was that the Hurricane Mk. II could outturn them. One pilot dog fought one for several minutes, but neither aircraft fired because at no time could one of the pilots get the other in his sights. Three Hurricanes that chased a Macchi which had a start in a 5000 feet dive, failed to catch up with it. The A.I.S. of the Hurricane was 340 mph, but in the level chase at 2000 ft above the deck, the C.202 pulled away from it.
Pilots saw lines of self-explosive cannon fire, which could have been fired through the spindle of the Macchi. This aircraft carries guns its wings, but not many, as the fire seen coming from the wings was not nearly as dense as that when an 8 gun Hurricane fires. One Hurricane of No. 1 which was hit and returned to base was damaged in the starboard wing by machine gun fire. Bullets similar to our new .303 were found in the wing.
Total number of rounds fired pilots of No. 1: 7595 (armour piercing, ball and tracer).”
Six Tomahawks of 112 Squadron together with seven of 250 Squadron took off at 09:40 on 22 December to attack Magrum airport. The cover was provided by 2 SAAF Squadron (six Tomahawks) and 4 SAAF Squadron (six Tomahawks) Squadrons (10:05-11:30) led by Lieutenant Colonel Laurence Wilmot.
On arrival about 25 Axis aircraft were seen landing and taking off, the Commonwealth pilots claiming four Ju 87s, a Ju 88, a Bf 109 and an MC.202 shot down, with a Ju 52/3m and two more Ju 87s claimed as probables, plus several others damaged. Flight Lieutenant Westenra (AN303) claimed a damaged Ju 87 and a shared Ju 87 (with Pilot Officer ‘Jack’ Bartle of 112 Squadron in AN274) in this combat.
Just as the formation, all ammunition exhausted, prepared to leave the area, 16 more Ju 52/3ms were seen coming in to land, about which nothing could be done. These were loaded with barrels of fuel which allowed the evacuation of aircraft to Sirte and Arae Philenorum to commence. The only loss was a single 4 SAAF Squadron Tomahawk, the pilot of which returned later.
In January 1942, the Tomahawks in the squadron were replaced with Kittyhawks.
On 8 March 1942, ten MC.200s from the 150o Gruppo, led by the 363a Squadriglia CO Capitano Luigi Mariotti, were providing close escort for 12 German Ju 87s in an attack on Tobruk harbour at 16:30 when they were attacked by 12 Kittyhawks (six each from 450 and 3 RAAF Squadrons) led by Flight Lieutenant "Nicky" Barr of 3 RAAF Squadron. German Bf 109s were flying top cover, but for unknown reasons they did not intervene. Five pilots from the 150o Gruppo were killed; Tenente Enea Atti, Sergente Maggiore Enrico Micheli, Sergente Maggiore Leopoldo Jerai, Sergente Raffaele Badalassi and Sergente Ugo Rodorigo. Two badly damaged Macchis, one of them piloted by Tenente Ugo Drago, managed to land safely at Tmimi and Martuba.
The Australians reported that at around 17:00, six Kittyhawks each from 450 and 3 RAAF Squadron, led by Flight Lieutenant "Nicky" Barr (Kittyhawk AK903/CV-L) took off on a free lance patrol over the battle area with the aircraft from 450 RAAF Squadron acting as top cover. Taking part from 3 RAAF Squadron were Flying Officer Peter Giddy (AK876), Pilot Officer Victor Curtis (AK622), Sergeant Beard (AK623), Flying Officer H. G. Pace (AK712) and Sergeant Packer (AK898). Pilots from 450 RAAF Squadron were Flying Officer Thompson (K895), Sergeant F W Beste (W493), Sergeant Raymond Shaw (AK592/DJ-P), Sergeant James (R641), Sergeant Donald McBurnie (AK717/V) and Sergeant Raymond Dyson (AK732/DJ-A).
Enemy aircraft were sighted 15 miles south of Tobruk and contact was made. The enemy were a reportedly 15 Ju 87s in vic formation with a close escort of nine MC.200s and MC.202s in a very tight formation made up of two echelons of five and four aircraft, and two Bf 109s over Tobruk. The Italians mistook the Kittyhawks for friendly fighters and were slaughtered. Initially the 450 RAAF Squadron remained as top cover and 3 RAAF Squadron attacked. Flight Lieutenant Barr claimed his ninth kill during this action when he accounted for a MC.202 northwest of Tobruk, with another claimed as a probable and two damaged MC.200s. Flying Officer Giddy claimed a Ju 87 and a MC.200 15 miles north of Tobruk while Flying Officer Pace claimed a MC.200. Pilot Officer Curtis claimed a Ju 87 and a MC.200 north-west of Tobruk while Sergeant Beard claimed a damaged MC.202.
450 RAAF Squadron reported that the contact was made at 17:25. In the ensuing engagement Sergeant Beste and Sergeant McBurnie each claimed a MC.200 over Tobruk while Sergeant Shaw claimed a MC.202. Sergeant Dyson claimed a probable MC.200 while Flying Officer Thompson claimed a damaged MC.200. It seems that the combat was fought on a low altitude since Sergeant McBurnie lost the wingtip on his Kittyhawk after contact with the sea. Another Kittyhawk (from 450 RAF Squadron with an unknown pilot) was damaged (Cat 1) by machinegun bullets. By 18:25 all the Australian fighters had returned to base.
112 Squadron reported that Flight Lieutenant Westenra led seven Kittyhawks on a sweep from El Adem to Gazala. At this point Ops (codename 'Blackbird') vectored the formation on some enemy aircraft five miles north-east. Flight Lieutenant Westenra spotted some MC.200s and with his No. 2, Sergeant R. B. Evans, dived to attack them. Flight Lieutenant Westenra claimed to have downed one, which flew into the sea, but as he was about to attack again, 15 Ju 87s appeared out of cloud flying north-west as fast as they could go. Sergeant Evans saw them and attacked one on the extreme port side firing three bursts. The Ju 87 crashed into the sea. Flying Officer Knapik spotted two Bf 109s but because his windscreen then became oiled up he was unable to join in. In the face of lack of opposition it seems as this formation was the remnants of the one that had been mauled by 450 and 3 RAAF Squadrons. According to the Italians, all of the Ju 87s (one Ju 87 pilot from I/St.G 3 was wounded) managed to escape despite the attention of 112 Squadron.
In the wake of this devastating combat, Generale Rino Corso Fougier, Regia Aeronautica Chief of Staff, praised the 150o Gruppo pilots for their sacrifice which had allowed the Ju 87s to escape. But the Italians demanded better cooperation between their fighters and those flow by the Luftwaffe.
He was awarded a DFC in March 1942 for five victories, his tour then ending.
Image courtesy of New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum
Early in 1943 he joined 601 Squadron, equipped with Spitfire Mk.Vcs, as a Flying Officer, soon becoming a Flight Lieutenant again, and seeing action throughout the advance into Tunisia. He remained with the unit until 15 September 1943, after the invasions of Sicily and Italy, when he was posted to command 93 Squadron equipped with Spitfire Mk.IXs.
On 1 January 1944, he transferred back to the RNZAF, and in February left 93 on posting to the UK. Here in March he was given command of 65 Squadron on Mustangs, leading this unit throughout the Normandy invasion until 9 July.
He was awarded a Bar to his DFC in September, and it is presumed that he then returned to New Zealand. No details of his subsequent service are available.
Westenra ended the war with 2 biplane victories and a total of 8 and 3 shared destroyed.
After the war, he returned to New Zealand to work the family farm at Camla, one of the earliest settlements on the Canterbury Plain.
His low-level flying expertise proved invaluable on the farm, notably for feeding pellets to the sheep from a Tiger Moth biplane - in which, as he liked to demonstrate to passengers, he could soar over Mount Cook with the engine switched off, relying on upward draughts from the Tasmanian Sea.
Tall, gentle, humorous and handsome, Westenra inspired great confidence in his squadron crews - and affection in his friends. His interests included golf, croquet, sea fishing, growing kiwi fruit and avocados, and skimming the shallows of the Selwyn River in an early jet-powered boat.
His greatest passion, though, was gliding. He represented New Zealand in the world gliding championships, and in the mid-1960s came within a hair's breadth of beating the world distance gliding record. Out driving a tractor, he would keep an eye on cloud formations over the Southern Alps, ready to head southwards with his glider trailer in tow in the hope of flying to the northern tip of North Island.
He was twice married and had five children, one of whom died in infancy.
Gerald Westenra passed away at Omokoroa on 17 August 1999.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||11/03/41||1||G.50 (a)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||Boussi area, Greece||112 Squadron|
|05/05/41||1||Ju 88||Damaged||Gladiator II||Heraklion, Crete||112 Squadron|
|13/05/41||1||Bf 110 (b)||Damaged||Gladiator II||Heraklion, Crete||112 Squadron|
|2||14/05/41||1||Bf 110 (c)||Destroyed||Gladiator II||Heraklion, Crete||112 Squadron|
|25/11/41||15:40 ca||1||G.50 (d)||Probable||Tomahawk IIb||AN303||5m SW Tobruk||112 Squadron|
|3||04/12/41||09:35-10:55||1||G.50 (e)||Destroyed||Tomahawk IIb||AN303||El Adem-Sidi Rezegh||112 Squadron|
|4||04/12/41||09:35-10:55||1||G.50 (e)||Destroyed||Tomahawk IIb||AN303||El Adem-Sidi Rezegh||112 Squadron|
|22/12/41||09:45-11:30||1/2||Ju 87||Shared destroyed||Tomahawk IIb||AN303||Magrun airfield||112 Squadron|
|22/12/41||09:45-11:30||1||Ju 87||Damaged||Tomahawk IIb||AN303||Magrun airfield||112 Squadron|
|5||08/03/42||17:00-||1||MC.200 (f)||Destroyed||Kittyhawk Ia||AK762||off Tobruk||112 Squadron|
|14/01/43||1||Bf 109||Damaged||Spitfire Vc||ER280||NW Ghaddahia||601 Squadron|
|01/05/43||1||Bf 109||Probable||Spitfire Vc||EP693||Cap Bon||601 Squadron|
|04/05/43||1/2||Bf 109||Shared destroyed||Spitfire Vc||EP693||Kelibia||601 Squadron|
|6||05/05/43||1||Bf 109||Destroyed||Spitfire Vc||EP693||Cap Bon area||601 Squadron|
|17/05/44||1/3||Bf 109||Shared destroyed||Mustang III||ER280||Aalborg area||65 Squadron|
|7||17/05/44||1||Ju 88||Destroyed||Mustang III||ER280||Aalborg area||65 Squadron|
|8||08/06/44||1||Fw190||Destroyed||Mustang III||FZ120||Gace-Dreux||65 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 2 damaged.
TOTAL: 8 and 3 shared destroyed, 2 probable, 4 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with G.50bis from 24o Gruppo. 112 Squadron claimed seven shot down, one probable and seven damaged without loss. 24o Gruppo lost four aircraft (Maggiore Cesare Valente and Sergente Luigi Spallacci were killed and Sergente Bruno Fava and Sergente Maggiore Ermes Lucchetta were wounded) while claiming a Blenheim and one Gladiator shot down.
(b) Westenra's Gladiator was heavily damaged in this engagement.
(c) Bf 110 of II/ZG 26, crashed offshore in the sea; Oberleutnant Sophus Baagoe and gunner, Oberfeldwebel Daniel Becker, killed. Also fired on and claimed by Bofors gunners.
(d) In this combat the Tomahawks of 3 RAAF and 112 Squadrons claimed ten enemy aircraft, two probable and eight damaged while losing two Tomahawks. The Axis fighters claimed eight Allied fighters shot down while losing two Bf 110s.
(e) 112 and 250 Squadrons claimed 7 destroyed, 4 probables and 3 damaged while getting 2 P-40s damaged. Axis fighters claimed 3 destroyed while losing 2 MC.200s and getting 5 MC.200s damaged.
(f) Claimed in combat with fighters from the 150o Gruppo, which lost 5 fighters and got 2 damaged without claiming anything. 3 and 450 RAAF Squadrons and 112 Squadron claimed 8 fighters destroyed, 2 probables and 4 damaged without losses (1 P-40 damaged). 3 Ju 87s were also claimed as destroyed but no Ju 87s were lost.
53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Eagles Strike - James Ambrose Brown kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
National Archives of Australia
New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
Tomahawk and Kittyhawk Aces of the RAF and Commonwealth - Andrew Thomas, 2002 Osprey Publishing, London, ISBN 1-84176-083-8
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Obituary from Daily Telegraph, 25 September 1999 kindly provided by Ernie Burton.
Additional information kindly provided by Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.