Squadron Leader Gerry O'Donovan DFC DSO
Born: March 24th 1921, Ferndale, Glamorgan. Died: November 20th 2012 Age 91
As the Allied armies advanced into Belgium and Holland in September 1944, the resupply organisation was stretched to the limit, and it became crucial to make use of the great inland port of Antwerp some 40 miles up the River Scheldt.
Although the port had been in Allied hands since September 4, it was of little use while German forces held the island of Walcheren, which dominated approaches from the sea.
Hitting the gun batteries had proved difficult and, with much of the land below sea-level, it was decided to destroy the massive sea walls to flood some of the batteries.
On October 3 O’Donovan was the main marker for a force of 252 Lancasters entrusted with the task.
The main bomber force was composed of eight waves of 30 aircraft each.
O’Donovan marked the target for the first wave, but the bombing was poor.
He re-marked the target, and the accuracy improved, but this did not stop him making a third run to drop fresh markers – this despite heavy opposition.
With each run accuracy improved and, after a wide orbit, O’Donovan made yet another run to drop more markers.
This time the walls were breached, and the island suffered severe flooding.
A force of No 617 Squadron Lancasters with 12,000lb Tallboy bombs was waiting as the backup force, but the main attack had been so accurate that these precious bombs were not required.
O’Donovan was awarded an immediate DSO
Gerard Wilfrid O’Donovan was born at Ferndale, Glamorgan, on March 24 1921 and educated at Port Talbot Grammar School, where he was head boy.
He joined the RAF
in June 1940 and later trained as a pilot in the United States.
In late 1943, at the height of the Battle of Berlin, he joined No 12 Squadron before transferring to the Pathfinder Force.
On the formation of No 582 Squadron he was appointed flight commander.
This heralded an almost unprecedented period of service with the Pathfinders for O’Donovan, during which he served continuously on bombing operations for more than a year.
After numerous attacks against Berlin and industrial targets in Germany, Bomber Command switched its attention to France in preparation for the D-Day landings.
O’Donovan marked many of these targets, often under fire, and his Lancaster was damaged on a number of occasions.
By August 1944 he was frequently acting as the master bomber controlling and directing the main bomber force.
The raid on Walcheren was his 45th with the Pathfinders, and he was due for a rest.
His crew dispersed, but O’Donovan volunteered to continue and, with a new crew, marked targets deep into Germany.
On February 13/14 1945 he attacked Dresden.
It was his 60th operation with No 582 and his 90th bombing sortie.
With the war drawing to a close, he was grounded and awarded a DFC
O’Donovan remained in the RAF
as a bomber pilot and flew the B29 Washington with No 138 Squadron before serving in Singapore on the staff of the Far East Air Force.
After a period at the Air Ministry he retired at his own request in 1961.
He worked in the motor trade, on the finance side, before becoming the training officer with United Dominions Trust.
In 1975 he moved to HP Information, which had been established by four of the major finance houses, dealing with hire purchase agreements.
He retired in 1986.
O’Donovan loved the Highlands of Scotland, and amassed a notable collection of rocks and minerals. He was a keen gardener with a particular interest in trees, and a garden bonfire enthusiast.
A devout Roman Catholic, he was appointed a Papal Knight of St Gregory.
Gerry O’Donovan married, in 1946, Margaret Stewart, who survives him with their two sons.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.