The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. T B Fitzgerald
Thomas Bernard Fitzgerald was born at Temuka, South Canterbury, New Zealand on 11th July 1919 and was educated at Timaru Boys' High School, after which he went farming with his father. He joined the RNZAF on a short service commission on 8th June 1937 and carried out his flying training at Wigram.
On 23rd April 1938 Fitzgerald sailed for the UK in the SS Tamaroa and on arrival he transferred from the RNZAF to the RAF and joined 103 Squadron at Usworth on 15th June. At the end of the year the squadron converted to Fairey Battles. It flew to France on 2nd September 1939 as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force.
On 12th May 1940 Fitzgerald was leading a section of three Battles as part of a bomber force attacking bridges and roads near Sedan. Attacked by Me110s, they went down to low level, flew along the Meuse and bombed from twenty feet while their gunners fired at German troops. In his next action two days later Fitzgerald shot down two Me109s which attacked him at 4000 feet.
Wounded in the shoulder and left hand by a cannon shell, he managed to make a forced-landing among French troops, without injury to his crew. He returned to England in a hospital ship. For these two actions, Fitzgerald was awarded the DFC (gazetted 13th June 1940).
He volunteered for Fighter Command and on 10th August was posted to 141 Squadron, operating Defiants at Turnhouse, as a Flight Commander. 141 had suffered heavily in the day fighter role and were now training for the night fighter role. On 12th September Fitzgerald led ‘B’ Flight to Biggin Hill to fly at night over London. They later operated from Gatwick before rejoining ‘A’ Flight at Gravesend to operate jointly. At the end of April 1941 Fitzgerald was posted to 23 Squadron at Ford, operating Havocs in the night-intruder role. At the end of this tour, in mid-July, Fitzgerald went to 54 OTU to converted to Hurricanes and in September he was posted to 607 Squadron at Martlesham Heath as a Flight Commander.
In November 1941 he went to 41 Squadron at Merston, part of the Tangmere Wing mounting offensive sweeps over Occupied Europe. In late February 1942, at the end of his third tour, Fitzgerald was placed on the Special Duties List and went to Hawker Aircraft at Langley as a test pilot. On 23rd August 1942 Fitzgerald was flying the original prototype Hurricane, then camoulflaged and with a three-bladed propeller, when he was fired on by a Do17. He attacked and damaged it before other fighters shot it down into the sea.
His portrait was made by Olive Snell (below).
Fitzgerald returned to New Zealand in late January 1943, being attached to the RNZAF and given command of 14 (RNZAF) Squadron, which went to Santo in the Solomon Islands in early April. No enemy aircraft had come near before he was returned to New Zealand in June to attend the Staff College at Palmerston North.
On 2nd October 1943 his attachment ceased and he returned to the UK to serve at De Havilland's as a test pilot. In June 1944 Fitzgerald spent several weeks at the Air Fighting Development Unit at Wittering flying captured Me109s and Fw190s. He returned to operations on 11th June 1944 when he was made Wing Leader at Coltishall. This Wing had 16 squadrons and Fitzgerald once flew as far as the rocket test site at Peenemunde in a Mustang.
At the end of this, his fifth tour, Fitzgerald was posted to HQ 2nd TAF in January 1945. He transferred back to the RNZAF in February 1946, returned to New Zealand in the SS Rimutaka in March 1947. He was released from the RNZAF on 15th December 1947.
Fitzgerald died in Christchurch, NZ on 12th August 2006.