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Michael Herrick

Michael James Herrick was one of five brothers to serve during the Second World War. He flew with distinction during the Battle of Britain and in the Pacific before being killed on air operations over Denmark.

Herrick was born in Hastings on 5 May 1921. Educated at Wanganui Collegiate School, he gained his pilot’s licence with the Hawkes Bay Aero Club while still at school.

In March 1939 he left New Zealand to take up a two-year cadetship at the Royal Air Force (RAF) College in Cranwell. The course was shortened due to the outbreak of the war and Herrick graduated on 7 March 1940.

Posted to No. 25 Squadron at the age of 18, Herrick flew Bristol Blenheim light bombers on night patrols during the Battle of Britain. In September 1940 he scored the squadron’s first victories of the war – shooting down two Heinkel He 111 bombers within minutes of each other. Herrick destroyed another bomber nine days later, meaning he personally accounted for three of the four victories achieved by Fighter Command during night operations that month. Herrick’s achievements were recognised with the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).

By the end of 1941 Herrick was back in New Zealand on attachment with the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). After spells as an instructor at Woodbourne and Ohakea he was posted to the newly formed No. 15 Squadron RNZAF at Whenuapai in June 1942. Four months later No. 15 Squadron sailed from Wellington to Tonga, where they took over the Curtis P-40 Warhawk fighters of the United States Army Air Force's No. 68 Pursuit Squadron. By the time the squadron moved to Guadalcanal in April 1943, Herrick had assumed command, the previous CO having been killed in a flying accident. On 6 May he and another pilot shot down a Japanese floatplane – credited as the first enemy aircraft destroyed by New Zealand fighters in the Pacific.

After leading No. 15 Squadron through two operational tours and earning a Bar to his DFC, Herrick returned to the United Kingdom. He joined No. 305 Squadron – a Polish fighter-bomber unit flying night operations against airfields and V-1 Flying Bomb launch sites in occupied Europe.

On 16 June 1944, Herrick embarked on his first daylight raid and headed toward Denmark with another de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber piloted by Wing Commander J.D.R. ‘Bob’ Braham. Herrick was en route to attack the German airfield at Aalborg when his plane was intercepted and shot down by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 flown by Lieutenant Robert Spreckels. Although Herrick and his Polish navigator managed to bail out they were too low to survive the landing. In a twist of fate, Braham was shot down by Spreckels 11 days later. When the two airmen met during Braham’s interrogation Spreckels informed him that Herrick had put up a brave fight.

Herrick was awarded a posthumous United States Air Medal for his service in the Pacific. The medal was presented to his parents in Wellington in July 1944. His death was not the only tragedy suffered by the Herrick family during the war. Two other sons were killed – Flying Officer Brian Herrick was lost in November 1940 while flying a Blenheim bomber with No. 272 Squadron; Pilot Officer Dennis Herrick of No. 53 Squadron died of wounds in June 1941 after being shot down off the coast of France. Another two brothers served in the Royal Navy, while an aunt – Ruth Herrick – was founding director of the Women's Royal New Zealand Naval Service from 1942 to 1946.

By Gareth Phipps

Further information

How to cite this page

Michael Herrick, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated