Anzac Day | Local WWII flight sergeants remembered

THIS year will mark the 70th anniversary of the deaths of three young RAAF air gunners from Naracoorte who were flying operations out of England with RAF Bomber Command during WWII. 

The first to be killed was Phillip Kenneth Ross Gericke, who had enlisted in the RAAF on March 23, 1942. 

He was trained at Ballarat and West Sale and posted to England in March 1943 for further training. 

On July 9 1943 Phillip and his crew were posted to 15 Squadron RAF, which were flying Stirling then Lancaster bombers. 

On the night of October 3, 1943, Phil's Stirling bomber was attacked by a German night fighter near Kassel. 

In the ensuing combat the Stirling was badly damaged and Phil's gun turret was hit in several places. 

With a long and accurate burst of fire Phil hit the fighter and sent it down in flames, saving his crew. 

Again on January 14, 1944 Phil's Lancaster was attacked by a German night fighter while they were bombing Brunswick. 

Phil spotted the night fighter before it attacked and warned his pilot to take evasive action. 

As the fighter approached Phil fired a total of 1200 rounds and drove the fighter off. 

On the night of January 29, 1944, while returning from a bombing raid over Berlin, they were attacked by a night fighter over the North Sea and shot down and killed. A total of 44 bombers were lost on this raid. 

They had been shot down by Heinz Vinke who had already shot down 45 bombers during the war; he would also himself be shot down and killed by a Bomber Command air gunner on February 26, 1944. 

For his courage and ability as an Air Gunner Flight Sergeant Phillip Gericke was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. 

James John Campbell joined the RAAF on April 25 1942. He was trained at Victor Harbor and West Sale and was then posted to England for further training. 

On October 10, 1943 James and his crew were posted to 9 Squadron RAF flying Lancasters. 

They flew their first mission on October 20, 1943 to Leipzig, which lasted eight hours. 

Over the next few months James and his crew flew deep into Germany, bombing targets such as Berlin and Frankfurt. 

Raids on Berlin were dreaded by the bomber crews as this target was defended by some 600 flak guns and over 200 searchlights as well as some 200 night fighters in the general area. 

A raid to Berlin would last for 7-9 hours if everything went well. 

James and his crew had several narrow escapes, being conned by searchlight and damaged by flak on several occasions. 

On Feburary 20, 1944 James and his crew set off to bomb Stuttgart. 

At approx 04.16 hours on February 21 they were attacked by a night fighter flown by Rudolf Szaedenings and shot down and killed. 

James's Lancaster crashed 35km east of Stuttgart, they were on their 13th operation and nine bombers were lost on this raid. 

Mervyn Thomas Whittenbury enlisted in the RAAF on July 18, 1942. 

He was trained at Ballarat and West Sale and then posted to England in April 1943 for further training. 

On February 25, 1944 Mervyn and his crew were posted to the famous 460 RAAF Squadron flying Lancasters. 

Mervyn and his crew flew their first mission on March 15, 1944 to Stuttgart which lasted eight hours. 

On March 30 1944 Mervyn and his crew flew to Nuremberg. 

This raid was to be the most costly raid that RAF Bomber Command would fly. 

By the time the bombers returned 95 had been shot down with close to 700 aircrew killed or missing. 

When the bombers took off there was meant to be cloud for most of the mission but as they crossed the Belgium coast the cloud cleared and the moon was high in the sky. 

The bomber stream was now committed and at the mercy of German night fighters. 

With no cloud cover the bombers couldn't hide and the night fighters didn't need their radar. 

Mervyn and his crew managed to get through unscathed, the trip had lasted nine hours. 

Mervyn and his crew bombed Cologne on April 19, 1944 and were damaged by flak. 

On September 12 that year they took off on their 23rd mission to bomb the oil plant at Gelsenkirchen. After leaving the target they were attacked by a German night fighter flown by Karl Pfeiffer and shot down and killed.

Until the landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944 the young men of RAF Bomber Command were the only force that was able to take the fight to the heart of Germany. 

Night after night they took off, running the gauntlet of flak guns, search lights and night fighters. 

Each of the heavy bombers had a crew of seven: pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator, flight engineer and two gunners. 

These men would stay together till they completed their tour of 30 operations. 

Sadly only one in three would complete their tour. 

By the time the war had finished in Europe 56,468 British Commonwealth aircrew had been killed flying with Bomber Command. 

8500 RAAF aircrew flew with RAF Bomber Command of which 4032 were killed in action or died while training.

- For their full story and others you can hire the book The Blue Orchids from the library written by Shane Smith.

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