D.F.M. Gazetted 27 Oct 1942: "(No.75 (N.Z.) Squadron) This N.C.O. has completed 22 major operations and in each and every case has displayed determination of a very high order. He expends every effort to find and bomb the target and to date he has been most successful, bringing back a photograph of the aiming point when many other crews have been unsuccessful in their mission. He sets a fine example to all aircrew of high devotion to duty and cool courage in the face of intense opposition."
D.F.C. Gazetted 20 Apr 1943: "(No.156 Pathfinder Squadron) This officer has carried out 46 operational flights over enemy-occupied territory. During the time he has been with this squadron, he has completed 19 operational sorties against targets in Germany, Italy and enemy-occupied territory. Flight Lieutenant Kearns has been consistent in pressing home his attacks, and has at all times displayed the highest qualities as a pilot, and it has been largely due to his sense of airmanship that his many operations have been successfully performed. By his capabilities as a pilot, and a supreme devotion to duty, he has set a very high example to the other members of the squadron."
D.S.O. Gazetted 26 Sep 1944: (617 Squadron) Throughout a long tour of operational duty, Flight Lieutenant Kearns has displayed exceptional determination and courage. Since the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross, he has completed very many sorties against heavily defended objectives in Germany. His consistent good work has resulted in much damage to the enemy and his skill and leadership have been an inspiration to all."
Richard Stansfield Derek “Terry” Kearns was born in Reefton, West Coast South Island, New Zealand in 1920 and studied engineering at Canterbury University. Joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force in Dec 1940, he underwent Pilot training at No.1 E.F.T.S Taieri and No.1 F.T.S. Wigram, gaining his 'Wings' on 26 July 1941 and arriving in England in Nov 1941, completing a course at No.1 A.F.U., R.A.F. College Cranwell.
Posted to No.11 O.T.U. Bassingbourn for conversion to Wellingtons in March 1942, Kearns formed his crew of Navigator W.J. “Hone” Barclay, Wireless Operator M.W. “Maurie” Egerton, and the two Gunners A.J. “Jack” Moller and H.E.A. “Buck” Price; his crew were to carry out two tours of operations together with Kearns and Barclay flying together for most of the war. Whilst stationed at No.23 O.T.U. Kearns flew on the first 'Thousand Bomber' raid to Cologne on 30 May 1942, quickly followed by the 'Thousand Bomber' raid on Essen on 1 June 1942.
Posted for operational flying to 75 (New Zealand) Squadron in Wellingtons on 17 June 1942, Kearns completed 25 operational sorties with the Squadron including to Bremen on 25 June 1942 when 'Attacked by Three ME 110s - Evasive Action Successful' and St. Nazaire on 28 June 1942, experiencing a 'Very Sticky Trip - 17 x 250lbs. 2 Runs on Target - Shot Down Both Times - Flak Very Accurate in Search Light Cone - Shot Up By 'E' Boats Off French Coast - Rear Gunner Slightly Wounded', and Hamburg 26 July 1942, with 'Load 9 S.B.C.s - Very Busy Trip - Bombs in Target Area - Brought to OFT By Flak and Searchlights & 7 Searchlights Destroyed and One Machine Gun Nest Silenced - Good Trip', Saarbrucken on 29 July 1942, with 'Load 1 x 1000lb, 7 x 500lb, 2 x 250lb. Bombs in Target - No Searchlights - Flak Weak - One Ju 88 Encountered - Close Call', Frankfurt, on 24 Aug 1942, with 'Load 9 S.B.C.s 9lb Incendiaries. Flak Intense - Searchlights Poor. Attacked By F.W. 190 Evaded Successfully'; Kassel, 27.8.1942, 'Attacked By Two Enemy Fighters. Evaded Successfully'.
Transferred to 156 (Pathfinder Force) Squadron in Wellingtons and Lancasters) in Sep 1942, which had only been formed a few weeks previously, Kearns flew in 31 operational sorties including to Wilhelmshaven on 19 Feb 1943, with 'Load 1 x 1000lb M.C. - 4 X 250 T.I. Bombs - 6 x 500lbs H.E.T. - Vis. Good - Hit By Flak Over Target - Returned on 3 Motors - E A/C Encountered Over A. - A. Photos. Very Interesting Trip - W/Op's Final Op.' and the St. Nazaire raid and the Pilsen raid on the Skoda Armaments Factory and 16 Apr 1943.
Once Kearns had finished his second tour, Kearns was recalled to Operational Flying with No. 5 Group in September 1943 and the newly formed 617 'Dam Buster' Squadron:
“My Navigator Flight Lieutenant Barclay and I joined No. 617 Squadron as it moved to R.A.F. Conningsby. We formed a new crew and trained to the operational requirements in Low Level Flying and Specialist attack procedures. In addition, when the Stabilised Automatic Bomb Sight (SABS) was introduced, we trained for the delivery of the 12,000lb Blast Bomb. This was replaced by the 12,000lb Tallboy and later by Grand Slam (22,000lb). Our best effort on the practice range was - I believe - never beaten. The average error of eight practice bombs dropped from 20,000ft on Wainfleet Bombing Range was 15 yards from the Aiming Point Peg.”
Due to the casualties suffered by 617 Squadron during the Dams Raid, May 1943, Kearns was one of several skippers drafted in to bolster the squadrons strength:
“It was a new squadron being formed for a special low-level operation on an unknown target - all very Hush Hush. He [Len Chambers] passed my name on to the C.O. Guy Gibson - as a recruit - but I could not get my release from instructing at Westcott/Oakley until after the Dams Raid”.
Kearns flew his first operational sortie with the squadron, now led by Leonard Cheshire, to the Antheor Viaduct on 11 Nov 1943; the first of 30 operational sorties flown with 617 Squadron, including to seven Special Duties Targets between Dec 1943 and Jan 1944 - a series of pin-point attacks against factories in France which were reluctantly working for the German war effort, where the object was ensure maximum damage with minimum loss of French lives.
Some of Kearns’ other operations included the Gnome & Rhone Aero-Engine Factory, Limoges on 9 Feb 1944, when Cheshire tried out his newly developed low-level marking system for the first time on operations; the attack on the Aircraft Factory at Albert on 2 Mar 1944; La Ricamerie on 10 Mar 1944 'to Ball Bearing Factory St. Etienne - 1 x 12,000lbs - Good Raid - Factory Destroyed - Bombed 7,500 feet'; the Aero-Engine Factory at Metz on 15 Mar 1944; the Michelin Tyre Factory of Clermont-Ferrand on 16 Mar 1944, 'Direct Hit - 1 x 12,000lb. Factory Destroyed - Landed Conningsby'; the Powder Factory at Bergerac on 18 Mar1944; Explosive Works, Angouleme on 20 Mar 1944, the 'Pouderie Nationale' Explosive Works, Angouleme, Southern France, ‘Photo A/P Factory Destroyed - Wizard Prang' and the Aero-Engine Factory at Lyon.
Converted to Mosquitos and returning to fly as one of the squadron's four Mosquito markers, Kearns flew in the operation over Juvisy Railway Sidings on 18 Apr 1944, the Railway Marshalling Yards, La Chappelle, North of Paris on 20 Apr 1944, Brunswick 22 Apr 1944 - the first time the squadron used its low-level marking method over a heavily defended German city, Munich on 24 Apr 1944 and the German Military Barracks at Mailly- Le-Camp on 3 May 1944.
Returning to Lancasters, Kearns flew with joint-pilot Bill Reid, V.C. during Operation Taxable on the night of 5 June 1944, as part of the D Day landings, 'Tactical Operation Causing a Diversion to Cover the Initial Landings on the Cherbourg Peninsular. Ht. 3000! - Believed Very Successful'. Two days later he flew in the attack led by Cheshire on the Saumur Railway Tunnel. This was the first occasion that Barnes Wallis' new 12,000lb Tallboy bombs were used and Kearns used it to very good effect, 'Bombing Very Accurate - Load 1 x 12,000lb Tallboy - Direct Hit Tunnel Mouth. Believed Very Successful Raid'. A newspaper cutting adds the following detail:
“Kearns scored a bull's eye with his 'Tallboy' - a 12,000lb earthquake bomb. He was so accurate that he obliterated the squadron commander Leonard Cheshire's marking flare, preventing other Lancaster crews from seeing their target. 'Hold on chaps,' Cheshire said. 'I'll have to mark it again'. The operation was a complete success, the tunnel was destroyed, and a German Panzer division was prevented from reaching the Allied invasion beachhead that had been established two days earlier.”
Four days later Kearns was part of the operation over the Submarine Pens at Le Havre, 'Blue Flight Formation Leader - 1 x 12,000T.B. Very Good Raid - A/B Claims Direct Hit'. The next day he attacked, with the same bomb load, the 'E' Boat Pens at Boulogne and flew two abortive sorties on a V-Weapon site at Wizernes, Pas De Calais, before carrying out his final operational sortie of the war on 25 June 1944, 'Operation to 'Siracourt' Rocket Installation - 3 Direct Hits On Installation - Flak Damage - Cat A/C. Load 1 x 12,000lb T.B.'.
Posted as Chief Flying Instructor, No. 17 O.T.U., Silverstone in Oct 1944, towards the end of the war Kearns was seconded to British Overseas Airways Corporation to fly transports on the Karachi route and on 28 May 1946 he piloted the 1st B.O.A.C. Service Out of London Airport and on 8 June 1946 he helped fly a Sunderland in ' 'V' Day Fly Past in London'.
Discharged in 1947, he returned to New Zealand to complete his studies before accepting a permanent commission in the R.A.F. in 1949 and posted to 3 (T) Squadron at the start of 1949, he spent the following two years at No. 1. I.T.S., flying a mixture of aircraft including Vampires and Meteors.
Posted for operational service in Malaya to 60 (Fighter) Squadron (Vampires), Tengah in Dec 1952; he carried out numerous 'strikes', rocket attacks and jungle reconnaissance as 'A' Flight Commander; having spent two years at Tengah he was posted back to the UK in Apr 1954, returning to Tengah in the summer, and continued to serve with the squadron over the Malayan jungle until the end of July 1955.
Having taken part in 49 'strikes' with the squadron he returned to Bomber Command, and was posted to R.A.F. Lindholm, followed by No. 231 O.C.U., Bassingbourn, where he converted to Canberras, made Squadron Leader in 1956 and posted as Flight Commander to 139 (Jamaica) Squadron (Canberras), Binbrook in Jan 1956. The squadron took part in the Suez Crisis, and flying from Nicosia, Kearns records the '1st Strike Inchas Airfield', '2nd Strike Luxor Airfield', '3rd Strike Huckster Depot', and on 5 Nov 1956: '4th Strike Port Said, Mkr. For French Para Drop'.
Posted to H.Q. Bomber Command Communications Squadron (Meteor Flight) in Apr 1959, Kearns subsequently held a number of appointments including as part of the operational control of the Thor Missile Programme. In 1963 he contracted tuberculosis and was forced to retire later that year. In civilian life he went on to work for Shell, before retiring in 1980.
Watch the video of Steve Nuwar presenting the collection