Wing Commander Thomas Bernard Fitzgerald DFC.
New Zealander – Pilot 103 Squadron – Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot – Test Pilot – Fighter Ace.
Tom Fitzgerald, born in Temuka on 11 July 1919, was educated at Timaru Boys’ High School, after which he went into farming. In April 1937 Fitzgerald was accepted for a commission in the RNZAF and following flying training at Wigram sailed for the United Kingdom in April 1938 on transfer to the RAF.
In June 1938 Fitzgerald was posted to 103 Squadron, then using Hawker Hinds, the last of the RAF’s biplane light bombers. At the end of the year they were replaced by Fairy Battles, a new short-range light bomber with a crew of three.
On 2 September 1939, the day before war was declared, the Squadron flew to France as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force. The Germans launched their blitzkrieg against France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940 and the Battle squadrons, 103 amongst them, were called upon to give support to the Army to try and stem the enemy advance.
On the 12th Fitzgerald led a section of three aircraft to attack bridges and roads near Sedan. Attacked by faster Bf 110’s, the three Battles dived low over a wood and shook them off. Selecting their own targets, the pilots flew along the River Meuse in line astern and bombed an enemy pontoon bridge while their gunners machine-gunned German troops. As a result of these attacks a German armoured corps was held up for some hours and the Squadron received a message of thanks from French Headquarters. Fitzgerald was subsequently awarded the DFC for his part in the action.
In another engagement on 14 May 1940 Fitzgerald shot down two Bf 109’s which had attacked his Battle. Wounded in the shoulder and left hand when a cannon shell blew the throttle control from his grasp, Fitzgerald managed to make a forced-landing amongst French troops without injury to his crew. He returned to England in a hospital ship.
In early August, with the Battle of Britain well advanced, Fitzgerald was posted to Fighter Command, one of twenty pilots from Bomber Command who volunteered in response to a request for trained pilots. He joined 141 Squadron in Scotland on 10 August to fly Defiants on night-fighter operations.
Fitzgerald took ’B’ Flight south to Biggin Hill on 12 September to take part in the night defense of London. In April 1941 he joined 23 Squadron, equipped with Douglas Havocs and flew night intruder sorties against enemy airfields in Europe. In mid-July, with his second tour of operations completed, Fitzgerald converted to single-seat fighters and during his third tour flew Hurricanes with 607 Squadron and Spitfires with 41 Squadron in varied operations over the Continent.
In late February 1942 Fitzgerald, by now holding the rank of Squadron Leader, went to Hawker Aircraft at Langley as a test pilot.
In February 1943 Fitzgerald returned to New Zealand and was given command of 14 (Fighter) Squadron RNZAF. In April he led it to Santo, in the New Hebrides, for the defence of the Islands. On his return to New Zealand in June 1943, he attended a Staff College course at Palmerston North and returned to Britain in mid-November.
Fitzgerald returned to operations in July 1944 as Wing Leader at Coltishall, to lead Spitfire and Mustang Squadrons on long range bomber-escorts and attacks on VI and V2 sites.
With five operational tours completed and six enemy aircraft destroyed, Fitzgerald was posted to administrative duties in January 1945. He subsequently transferred back into the RNZAF, which he left in December 1947 and resumed his farming career.