HERRING, Wilfred Stanley, Sergeant (564688) – No. 44 Squadron – Distinguished Flying Medal – awarded as per London Gazette dated 27 August 1940. No citation, Info from Spink catalogue of 25 July 2013. The recommendation, dated 27.8.1940, stares:

‘This pilot has consistently set a high standard of courage in pressing home his attacks against the enemy. He has completed 217 hours operational flying. Several of the flights were carried out under adverse weather conditions and necessitated sea crossings of over 800-miles’.

Covering remarks by Air Officer Commanding – Air Vice Marshal Arthur [“Bomber”] Harris: ‘This N.C.O. pilot has just been sent back to an O.T.U. for a rest after a long period of excellent work as a captain of aircraft. He has done consistently well on operations – many of a very hazardous nature’.

HERRING, Wilfred Stanley, Flying Officer (44709) – No. 207 Squadron – Distinguished Service Order – awarded as per London Gazette of 7 October 1941.

‘One night in September, 1941, this officer was the captain of an aircraft which participated in an attack on Berlin. Whilst over the city, the aircraft was repeatedly hit by shell-fire from an intense and accurate barrage and, when Flying Officer Herring succeeded in evading the defences, the aircraft had sustained severe damage. The port engine had failed and, owing to lack of hydraulic power to the gun turrets, the aircraft was almost defenceless. Nevertheless, Flying Officer Herring decided to attempt to fly the aircraft back to this country by the shortest route which entailed passing over the enemy’s most heavily defended areas. Overcoming many difficulties, he succeeded in reaching this country and in landing safely at an aerodrome with practically no fuel left in the tanks. Throughout, this officer displayed outstanding determination. On numerous occasions, Flying Officer Herring has carried out attacks on the most heavily defended targets, involving deep penetration into enemy territory, and has at all times displayed the greatest ability and devotion to duty.’

The recommendation, dated 17.9.1941, states:

“Flying Officer Herring has now completed over 320 hours operational flying as the captain of Hampden and Manchester aircraft and he has always shown the utmost determination to carry through whatever operation he has been allotted. On numerous occasions, this officer has been detailed to attack the most heavily defended targets involving deep penetration into enemy territory, and in every instance, he has completed his mission with a cool efficiency that has been a model to other aircrews.

“His resolute behaviour was particularly noticeable on the night of September 7th, when he was the captain of a Manchester which took part in a raid on Berlin. Whilst over the City the aeroplane was the target for intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire and repeated hits were received. Severe damage was sustained, including the seizure of the port engine owing to a punctured radiator. Flying Officer Herring feathered the port air screw, dived out of the defences, sustaining more damage, and decided to attempt to fly the damaged aircraft to England. This decision was taken with the full knowledge that the flight would necessarily have to be made during a full moon by the shortest route which would entail passing through the thickest part of the enemy searchlight belt and fighter areas. At this time, he was also aware that, following the failure of the port engine, there was no hydraulic power to the gun turrets and that the aeroplane was almost defenceless.

“The return flight was made successfully at about 5,000 feet. The aircraft encountered cloud at the most critical part of the flight and in consequence of severe icing conditions was forced to fly below cloud across the main enemy searchlight area.

“On arrival back in England, a successful landing was made at an aerodrome with practically no fuel left in the tanks. The decision to make a return flight in the face of all the known and unknown hazards shows that this officer possesses the finest type of courage and determination and the manner in which the flight was executed demonstrates his skill and efficiency as a pilot and captain of a heavy bomber.

“The modest demeanour ability and devotion to duty of this officer has done an immense amount towards raising the confidence of flying crews in the capabilities of Manchester aircraft.”

Also recommended for the Air Force Cross (Periodical Awards 1.8.1942 - 31.1.1943), Acting Squadron Leader Wilfred Stanley Herring, D.S.O., D.F.M. (44709) 1654 Conversion Unit, ‘This officer now commands “A” flight of this unit. He has himself flown on a great many occasions, both by day and night, in order to expedite the training of crews. He is not only a first- class instructor but has administered his flight with efficiency and tact showing fine powers of leadership’.

Squadron Leader Wilfred Stanley “Kipper” Herring, D.S.O., D.F.M. (1914-1943), born Edmonton, London; enlisted Royal Air Force, as a Metal Rigger under training, R.A.F. Halton, September 1930, re-mustered as a pilot under training, July 1937, and was promoted Sergeant Pilot the following year; posted 7 Squadron, April 1939; posted for operational flying to 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron (Hampden), Waddington, September 1939, the squadron’s early operations consisted mainly of North Sea sweeps and minelaying. Herring’s first operational sortie was a Nickel Raid over Bremen, 23/24.2.1940; he also took part in some of the first raids on German industrial centres such as over the Ruhr and Munchen Gladbach, in May 1940; Max Riddell (Herring’s Rear Gunner during his ops with 207 Squadron) gives the following, ‘Kipper – I recall a slightly built dark chap with a moustache. Quietly spoken but with an air of confidence, he was very much respected probably because of his efforts when he won his D.F.M. on Hampdens. The story, as I heard it, was that he was second pilot – in the early days in Hampdens operational training consisted of an experienced pilot and W/Op air gunner taking on ops with them, a new pilot and W/Op A/G filling positions of navigator and bottom rear gunner. After half a dozen trips or so the ‘second’ became a crew and took on other ‘seconds’… Kipper as second pilot/nav. was in the lower nose of the Hampden which was one of a ‘box’ of six on a daylight. They were attacked by enemy fighters and as the Hampden had a blind spot on the beam which the guns could not traverse and the enemy fighters soon cottoned on to this, they attacked on the beam.

The formation had to wheel in an attempt to give its gunners a chanced to fire at the attackers. You will appreciate that this was a slow and cumbersome manoeuvre. Evidently, Kipper removed his single V.G.O. gun from the Navigator’s position, took it up to the Astro hatch which he opened and sat up in, which meant he was sitting from the waist up in the slipstream. He jammed the butt of the gun against the side of the hatch and holding it steady in his arms, opened fire and got one of them. The others broke off the attack. Sounds all very simple but to sit up in the slipstream and direct fire – shooting from the waist as it were – with a gun firing 500 rounds per minute, unmounted and held only by the strength of his arms, which were quite badly burned through his clothing by the heat from the barrel, was a terrific feat. He was completely unflappable!’. (Copy of letter written by Riddell to Robert Kirby, author of Avro Manchester. The Legend Behind the Lancaster, included in lot refers).



“London Pride”. – To Berlin and Back

Herring was commissioned Pilot Officer, 8.10.1940; posted to No. 16 O.T.U., October 1940; posted to 207 Squadron (Manchesters), Waddington, February 1941; sorties flown with the Squadron during his 2nd operational tour included: Kiel (3); Brest; Mannheim (2); Hamburg; Berlin (3), including 7.9.1941, ‘this is the epic story of an Avro Manchester bomber. “S for Sugar” (since unofficially renamed “London Pride”. It was told to me (perhaps I should say I dragged out the story) by the captain of the machine, as we flew in it together, he in the captain’s seat, I in that of its second pilot.

But for this man’s pluck and determination, “London Pride” would have been abandoned over Berlin during a recent night raid; its crew of seven would either have been killed or in enemy hands for the duration.

It is no longer a secret that the bomb-racks of the twin-engined Manchester accommodate the heaviest bombs yet in service. Nor is it a secret that the R.A.F. is now using a blast bomb that weighs nearly two tons.

“London Pride” had jockeyed for position above its target in Central Berlin – the General Post Office. Before releasing its load, it was held for three or four minutes by a cone of about 50 searchlights. In the officer’s own words: “We were being peppered with flak and had already been hit four times.

“Then, just as we hit the G.P.O. and were watching the colossal red flame expanding and contracting like a concertina, Up it came! It was like the kick of a million mules. “One shell tore through the radiator of my port engine… and away went the coolant.

“Four other direct hits in quick succession carried away my rear and dorsal gun turrets, shot away the hydraulic system and put the undercarriage out of action. Although we didn’t know it at the time, the rubber dinghy was also blown away.

“My port fuel tank was holed three times, but sealed up again. We had more than 30 flak holes in wings and fuselage. One airscrew was completely severed.”

The machine was then 600 miles from home. What does an air pilot in this plight think of? I have often wondered. Here is this officer’s answer. “As the engine went my first thought was Prisoners of War and many tons of lovely aircraft for the Nazi scrap-heap!”

Miraculously, none of the crew was injured. The captain gave them the choice of abandoning aircraft or trying to limp back to base on one engine and one wheel. “We’re staying with you, Skipper!’ they chorused. Great lads! I could have hugged them all,” said the pilot with a grin.

All the way home, everything movable was torn from the bomber and thrown overboard. Stationary fittings were broken up with an axe. The strain on the starboard engine had to be reduced to a minimum. Guns, instruments, ammunition tanks, even the crews’ rations, were jettisoned. And the short cut to England lay over vast areas of flak and searchlights.

When hit, the Manchester dropped rapidly from 17,000 to 5,000 feet; at this height, the pilot managed to stagger most of the way across the North Sea.

The crossing was made at little more than the plane’s normal landing speed. Every gallon of petrol was priceless.

The homeward flight, normally a matter of little more than two hours, took five hours. By freak luck, there was no interception by enemy night fighters.

Day was breaking as the gallant band crossed the East Coast. They had no radio to help them. A belly-glide was not to be attempted; for the Manchester aircrews are the world’s biggest and have a diameter of 16 feet.

Many miles from the home aerodrome, the impossible was attempted. Fuel tanks were now dry: there was less than 20 gallons in the pipes enough for only a few yards.

Using air-bottles to lower the starboard wheel, and holding off the giant plane almost to the last drop of petrol… [Herring} at last brought it to rest on an even keel. His squadron Engineer Officer, who drove over that morning to inspect the damage, summarized the performance for me in one word: “Impossible”.

But today “London Pride” is prouder than ever. As good as new, it took an active part in the recent night mass attack on Cologne. And that was her skipper’s 62nd operational flight over enemy territory’ (Newspaper cutting included with lot refers); Herring also flew on sorties to Dusseldorf; Hanover; Lennon; Essen and Frankfurt; Flying Officer, 8.10.1941; posted to 44 Squadron, November 1941; served with 455 Squadron (R.A.A.F.) and No. 44 Conversion Unit, February-May 1942; Advanced Acting Squadron Leader, 8.2.1942; served with No. 1654 Conversion Unit, Swinderby, June 1942 April 1943, before transferring to No. 104 O.T.U., Nutts Corner; attached 511 Squadron (Liberators), Transport Command, June 1943; the Squadron was employed mainly on the Lyneham – Gibraltar – Cairo West run, transporting a mixture of freight and VIP passengers; it would appear that Herring was specifically seconded for the Sikorski flight.

The Sikorski Air Crash

General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Premier of the Polish Government in exile and Commander-in-Chief of the Free Polish Forces from 1939 was the only Polish leader who had sufficient stature and skill to secure the confidence of his people and to achieve the close relations with Churchill and Stalin necessary to maintain a united and effective Polish government with a substantial influence in Allied planning.

The Polish leader, after a tour of the Middle East which included his review of the Polish troops in that theatre, was advised to relax for a few days, and on 29th June was invited to the excavations of Luxor and Aswan; however, the invitation was not taken up as a telegram from Churchill the following day was interpreted as a recall to London.

General Sikorski had previously asked through the Polish Consul that the R.A.F. pilot (Flight Lieutenant E.M. Prchal) that had flown him out from England be allowed to fly him back as he was greatly impressed with his skill and experience. His request was granted – Prchal and his crew (Squadron Leader W.S. Herring, D.S.O., D.F.M., W/O L. Zalsberg, D.F.M.; Sergeant F.S. Kelly and Flight Sergeants Gerrie, D.F.M., and Hunter) had arrived in Cairo on the 28th June.

Herring was new to the crew, ‘he had been with me as a second pilot since leaving England on this trip and he had not flown with me before. On the two take-offs on this trip, at Lyneham and Cairo, one carried out at night and one by day in fog, he had carried out the drill quite normally’ (Extract from Prchal’s questioning during the Court of Inquiry held into the crash, refers).

Herring and crew were in place for the final act of the tragedy as the Squadron Record Book shows:

1.7.1943 ‘Liberator AL 523; departed from Cairo West to Gibraltar 0406 hrs – General Sikorski, his staff and daughter on board (12) passengers, - arrived 1437 hrs’.

4.7.1943 ‘Liberator AL 523: Took off from Gibraltar and crashed into the sea, the crew (except F/L Prchal) and the passengers including General Sikorski were killed.’

The Liberator had taken off at 2307 hrs, and as Prchal had pushed the control forward at 130 mph to gather speed to 165 mph, he tried to pull the column back but it locked. The aircraft hit the sea and sank withing minutes, in five fathoms of water. Prchal, who suffered a fractured ankle, lacerations and shock, was the only survivor. He was picked up within six minutes of the crash. The aircraft was later raised and the cause of the accident was found to be jamming of the elevator controls shortly after take off; Herring’s was one of three bodies which were never recovered. Tragically he was never to see his second son, who was born 4 days after the crash. Squadron W/S. Leader Herring, D.S.O., D.F.M. is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. Gunner H. Hardy was W.S. Herring’s father-in-law.