Crew: Riches

Wilfred Riches
the pilot

This crew flew on Black Thursday in Lancaster JA857-OF-G, G-GEORGE. This was a top crew who went on to 635 Squadron in March 1944, and flew with them until July when Riches and two others were killed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CREW
Pilot: F/L Wilfred Cyril Riches
Killed 6th July 1944
Flight Engineer: Sgt G Winter
Thought to have survived the war, not on fatal flight of 6-7-44
Navigator: P/O Henry Wager Dixon Watts
Killed 6th July 1944
Bomb Aimer: F/S EH Pack
Survived 6th July crash, evader, survived the war
W/Op: F/S J Wrigley
Survived the war, not on fatal flight of 6-7-44
Mid-Upper Gunner: Sgt Robert William Lowe
Killed 6th July 1944
Rear Gunner: F/O LW Booth
Survived the war, not on fatal flight of 6-7-44

Like many 97 Squadron crews, this one had more than one extremely close brush with death. An incident on the Berlin operation  of 3rd/4th September 1943  was nearly fatal to the whole  crew on their 8th operation. In the event the majority of the crew survived but unfortunately there occurred one of those very rare deaths of a crew member onboard the aircraft (with the rest of the crew returning home with the body on board).
The 97 Squadron ORB notes:
3.9.43        Runways at Bourn now serviceable – all detachments returned this morning to base from Oakington, Graveley and Gransden.  Twenty aircraft detailed for operations against Berlin.  All aircraft took off and 18 aircraft attacked the target.  Weather was cloudy en route – target area was only clear gap.  Early aircraft could see red TIs in good cluster and some fires already taking hold.  The attack is considered well concentrated and fires were seen by crews homeward bound from 200 miles away.  Defences were moderate and quickly died away and then many searchlights were operating in conjunction with fighters.  Two aircraft returned early, one with oxygen supply u/s and another due to rear gunner’s oxygen supply failing, rendering him unconscious.  After jettisoning bombs, a TI exploded, causing fire in bomb bay which was eventually put out and the aircraft landed safely.  Sgt Nordhoff, the rear gunner of F/O Riches crew, was killed by cannon fire from an enemy fighter when over the target.  Rear turret and hydraulic system were rendered u/s through damage caused by the fighter.  All aircraft returned safely to base. Sgt Nordhoff’s body is resting at Oakington and will be conveyed by rail to Liverpool for private funeral.

Left, Christopher Nordhoff, who was only twenty years old when he was killed

The remaining crew, with a new rear gunner, then had another very frightening experience about seven weeks later:

The 97 Squadron ORB notes of the 23/24 November 1943 operation to Berlin:
“… Many fighter flares and fighter activity. F/S PENNY and crew failed to return. All other a/c returned safely to base encountering bad weather and gales. Minor damage was sustained by some aircraft – F/L Riches had two engines shot up over the target, but the aircraft was brought back to base safely on the two remaining engines, the third cutting while still on the runway.”

The citation for Riches’ immediate DFC reads:
RICHES, Wilfrid Cyril A/FL 121448 RAFVR LG 7.1.44
Flight Lieutenant Riches has completed many operational missions against the enemy’s most important objectives. He is a most reliable captain of aircraft. One night in November 1943 he was detailed for a leading role in the attack on Berlin. During the approach to the target, the bomber was repeatedly hit by anti-aircraft fire which caused the port inner engine to catch alight. Nevertheless, Flight Lieutenant Riches continued to his objective and completed an accurate attack. During the return flight, after flying for almost two hours on three engines, the bomber’s starboard outer engine failed. Owing to his great skill this officer succeeded in reaching base where he made a safe landing. Flight Lieutenant Riches has displayed courage and resolution of the highest order. (Bar to DFC)

The story is expanded on in Bombers over Berlin by Alan Cooper, though the date is given slightly incorrectly.

“For Flight Lieutenant Wilfred Riches and his crew from 97 Squadron, this raid on Berlin became a nightmare. It was his 23rd operation, and four of these 23 had already been on Berlin. On this night he was detailed for a leading role within the Pathfinder Force. On the approach to the target his aircraft was repeatedly hit by flak with the result that the port inner engine caught fire and had to be feathered. Despite this, Riches persisted in pressing on with his attack and continued to drop his bombs and markers accurately … On the return flight, after flying for three engines for about two hours, and when about to cross the Dutch coast, the starboard outer engine failed. At this time Riches was at 14,000 feet but despite this he managed to get back across the North Sea to his base and make a safe landing. He was immediately recommended for the DFC. On a previous occasion his aircraft was attacked by an enemy fighter and the damage inflicted was severe and his rear gunner killed, but Riches avoided further attacks and made it home to base”.

Wilfred Riches, second from right front row
with a group of fellow pilots, date and location unknown

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