Gerald Howarth Gannan

Gerald Gannan Wireless Air Gunner RAAF 1941

Enlistment And Posting

Bristol Blenheim Bomber similar to those that Gerald trained in whilst at 70 OTU and 14 Sqn RAF.

Gerald heard the “Call of the Bugle” and enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 1 March 1941. From Enlistment he was sent to the Initial Training School at RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) Somers where he learned how to work as Air Crew and act like an Airman. From there he was posted to Number 2 Basic Air Gunners Course.  Both courses were duly passed and Gerald was promoted to Temporary Sergeant on 17 October 1941. He was now ready to be posted to anywhere in the world.

His readiness for any posting in the world took him to the Middle East and eventually to 14 Squadron RAF (Royal Air Force) for flying duties as a Wireless /Air Gunner or WAG. This Occurred on 27 June 1942 and was to last until 28 Sept 1943.

It would appear that Gerald was teamed up with Neil O’Connor and John Buckland in B Flight 70 O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit) from April 1942. These men were friends until Gerald died in 1994. A long friendship forged in war.

14 Squadron RAF

They were trained in Blenheim Bombers in Kenya, before being transferred to 14 Squadron RAF in the beginning of June 1942. Here they carried out those mundane tasks of ferrying people from point A to point B, a few test flights and one operational flight. This flight involved bombing a motor convoy between Fuku and Matruh.  Matruh is some 600k West of Cairo.  Fuku did not rate a mention on modern maps, or perhaps it was obliterated by political correctness.

It appears that their last flight in a Blenheim was on 7 August 1942. From then until November it seems they were training to fly and learn to operate in a new aircraft, the Martin Marauder B26A. Gerald once told me “the Yanks didn’t like the Marauder as it was too fast to land and take off.” The Marauder was an American Aircraft and its Australian Crew thought it was pretty good. The first month of training was taken up with flying the Marauder, firing its guns and dropping bombs.

 

No Fuel

B26A Martin Marauder, similar to those that Gerald flew in. This one has dropped bombs on a coastal target in Nth Africa.

The first operational flight by O’Connor, Buckland and Gannan, in a Marauder, was on 19 December 1942. This flight was to lay mines in Tunis harbour. On the way they were attacked by an enemy fighter, but with some twisting and turning manoeuvres near sea level, they lost the fighter and continued onto the target.  On the bombing run, the pilot, Neil O’Connor took the B26 as close to the sea as it was safe to do.  Sgt John Buckland opened the bomb bay doors and on came the navigation lights which were seen by the enemy who, obligingly, opened fire on the aircraft. The mines were dropped on target and the pilot pulled upwards and noticed that he needed more fuel. Sgt Buckland was given the necessary orders and did so. He reported 200 gallons transferred to each main tank. The tanks showed no increase in fuel. So the second pilot was despatched to see what was wrong. He reported that the mines and the fuel tanks were gone. An electrical fault had caused John to drop the lot!

 

 

 

Now they could not get back to base at Benghazi because that was over 5 hours flying time and they only had enough fuel for one hour. The pilot, Neil, had a word with the Navigator, Gerald, and as Malta was the nearest place they could go, a course was set for Malta. Gerald sent an SOS to Malta and was advised it was OK to land, but there was an air raid in progress.

Malta

Somewhere down there was the landing field.

 

Gerald told the story like this: "We arrived over Malta and we could see all this flack and shadows of aircraft in front of us. We stooged around and watched. We were lucky, no one saw us, but time ran out and we had to land. I kept a nervous look out hoping we would land unnoticed. Suddenly we were down and came to a shuddering halt. It was a very short and quick landing. Apparently the Number 2 pilot saw something that Neil could not. The number 2 yelled "Put the brakes on" or words to that effect. Neil managed to stop the aircraft and as the dust cleared he saw just in front of them was a huge rock wall." A couple of things to note, the runway at Valetta was a bit too short for a Marauder, and the runway was built into the side of a mountain. In this aircraft the number 2 pilot had no brake pedals with which to assist Neil to stop the aircraft.

 

Back to Base at Benghazi

The Crew of that Flight: Sgt Carl Long Sgt Gerry Gannan Sgt John Buckland Sgt Neil O'Connor

The next day the Marauder was refuelled and its crew took it back to base. This was just one of Geralds 38 operational flights.

Back at Benghazi the crew was greeted with some enthusiasm as there was no message received to tell the squadron where they were or why they were late back.  Without this information and all other aircraft accounted for, the aircraft and crew were posted as Missing.

A Couple of interesting Incidents

 

First: Gerry used to tell a story about water being scarce at their base near Benghazi. Due to that shortage water was supplemented by a bottle of beer, each, at lunch time. This was to keep the mens "fluids" up. It appears the mens spirits were also raised. It was strange, Gerry said, to watch the men get up from lunch and suddenly start playing football and other strenuous games in the hot desert sun. Apparently, under the influence of water supplement, men do some very strange things.

Second: One time the Squadron had some time off to go into town for some sightseeing and relaxation. The town, I believe, was Cairo.

Full of Bars, Clubs and other places where the water supplement was available and even in some cases, entertainment. Also there were many English soldiers and airmen in attendance.

On this day Gerry and his mates found a suitable bar complete with entertainment (Belly Dancers) and Englishmen. As the day wore on and the water supplement began to take effect the club got a bit rowdy. One of the Belly Dancers came into the crowd and as she swayed among the tables an Australian Airman dropped an ice cube into her knickers. The resulting kerfuffle caused the Englishmen to take umbrage with these uncouth Colonial Australians and a fight began. Fists and bodies going everywhere, Gerry was short enough to be under most of the activity, saw his opportunity and ducked in to a toilet and climbed out a high window to the safety of the street. It is not known what happened to the Belly Dancer, but many of the combatants suffered superficial wounds like Black Eyes and Bloody Noses.

North Wales

I am having a spot of bother trying to find the designation of AFU. This was a training unit of some sort. While posted to this unit, 9 (0) AFU, Gerald completed many navigational training flights.

These exercises were for the training of Pilots, Navigators and Radio Operators. They had the form of: Take Off, fly to point A then point B etc., arrive at destination and receive orders and directions for return to base. Others were Take Off, fly to Beacon A and get further instructions. These instructions could take the aircraft all over Wales and England.

Gerald told me that on a few occasion’s at a briefing , they were told to take off at, say 1900 hours, and fly to Beacon A. As they left the briefing, the pilots were handed a sealed envelope and were not to open it until they arrived at Beacon A. These envelopes held orders detailing what happens next. These flights took an aircraft to a designated place in either France or Germany where they were to pick up or drop off a package or passenger. These flights were generally at night. The Navigators used no maps, just instructions from the sealed envelopes. There were only code names and numbers indicating Height, Direction, Speed and instructions for where to land. Interesting, but scary stuff.

According to Gerry these trips carried some very shady looking passengers whose choice of dress consisted of a Trench coat, Hat, dark glasses and a brief case. The scary part of the trip was not knowing where you were going. However, back at Base you could work out where you had been by comparing your notes or memory with available maps of the day.

 

The last entry in Geralds Flight log was:

Marriage

During all this activity there was time to go into the local town and visit the local pubs and dances. At one of these pubs Gerald met a young woman of the Land Army. This woman, at the time of the meeting, had a black eye, swollen lip and a missing tooth. She had fallen of the back of a tractor. She was, according to Gerald, the most beautiful young woman he had ever seen. Her name was Alma and I think she must have been pretty swish way back then. Gerald and Alma got married on 20 May 1944 at St Helens Church in Caernarvon in North Wales. Between Geralds flying duties and Almas’ Land Army work they found time to produce a son, Paul, who arrived on 7 May 1945 at a hospital in Bangor. Alma and Gerald were living at Dinas Farm in Carnarvon at the time.

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Tom Lawrence | Reply 11.01.2019 04.49

Paul,

Tom Lawrence here again. Been a wee while -did you ever manage to find anything about your father and his time at 70 O.T.U?

Paul Gannan | Reply 21.01.2017 17.54

G'day Tom. I will see what I can find for you and let you know. My name is Paul and am Geralds eldest son.

Tom Lawrence 25.06.2017 05.47

Paul. Thank you, and sorry for the slow response. In March we 'reburied' 4 airmen who disappeared in 1942 (ex 72 OTU) and am working on another crew who are MIA

Tom Lawrence | Reply 20.01.2017 20.20

...I am very interested in Gerald's time with 70 O.T.U. Do you have any further information about his time in Nakuru? I am working on Blenheims in Kenya. Tom

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Latest comments

11.01 | 04:49

Paul,

Tom Lawrence here again. Been a wee while -did you ever manage to find anything about your father and his time at 70 O.T.U?

...
08.08 | 19:29

my dad's name is Thomas Christopher Gannan and he was born in 1970. Sorry i dont know the exact date, as i am in foster care.

...
25.06 | 05:47

Paul. Thank you, and sorry for the slow response. In March we 'reburied' 4 airmen who disappeared in 1942 (ex 72 OTU) and am working on another crew who are MIA

...
21.01 | 17:54

G'day Tom. I will see what I can find for you and let you know. My name is Paul and am Geralds eldest son.

...
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