Fighter pilot's exploits honoured

Battle in the skies: The wartime exploits of veteran pilot Harry Kerr have been remembered at the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay. Pictures: John Veage
Battle in the skies: The wartime exploits of veteran pilot Harry Kerr have been remembered at the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay. Pictures: John Veage
Praise: World War II veteran Harry Kerr of Cronulla (left) with Cook MP Scott Morrison.

Praise: World War II veteran Harry Kerr of Cronulla (left) with Cook MP Scott Morrison.

THE wartime record of World War II veteran Harry Kerr of Cronulla has been praised by Cook MP Scott Morrison at the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay.

Mr Kerr, who turns 92 on October 1, is the last surviving Kittyhawk pilot from the famous RAAF 76 Squadron.

As Flight Lieutenant Harry Kerr he participated in the Battle of Milne Bay which ran from August 25 to September 7, 1942 and was a turning point for the Allied forces in forcing back the tide of the Japanese advance.

Mr Morrison praised the efforts of the veterans in a speech given at the dawn service held at the Battle of Milne Bay Memorial, Alotau, Papua New Guinea on Sunday, August 26.

Milne Bay, on the south-eastern tip of Papua, was a strategic Allied airbase in 1942 and was seen as a key stepping stone for the Japanese in their advance towards Port Moresby — until the Australians were able to turn the tide.

The death toll was 167 Australians and 14 Americans, but it was the first significant land victory for the Allied forces in the Pacific.

Mr Kerr joined the RAAF in May, 1941, trained at Wagga Wagga and joined the 76th Squadron in March 1942.

He flew his first Kittyhawk at Townsville and arrived at Milne Bay on July 24, 1942.

He flew his first operation on July 26 on an anti-submarine patrol, and on August 11 engaged his first Japanese Zero in his fighter, named Mandrake.

Flying at 13,000 feet, the Zero attacked from above and missed. Mr Kerr did a vertical escape dive, pulling out at treetop level very fast.

His motor stopped but he was able to execute a half-turn to reduce speed and finally landed wheels down, rolling right to the end of the runway so other Allied planes could land safely.

After the battle Mr Kerr was posted to Mildura where he met his future, Patsy, who was in the Women's Airforce.

He went on to serve in 78 Squadron in the south-west Pacific area.

Eight of his fellow veterans of 76 Squadron who fought with him in the battle made it to the commemoration service, but Mr Kerr could not go.

Instead, Mr Morrison presented Mr Kerr with photos of the service including some of his wartime mates.

"We remember their sacrifice and give thanks for the lasting peace it has purchased for all of us," Mr Morrison said.

"Harry fought bravely, and went home to live a full life."

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