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Air Marshal Sir Richard Bolt CBE, CB, KBE,  DFC, AFC

Born in Auckland N.Z. July 16th 1923

Died: July 27th 2014

Air Marshal Sir Richard Bolt was a bomber pilot who went on to become Chief of New Zealand’s Defence Staff

Air Marshal Sir Richard Bolt, who has died aged 91, piloted Lancaster bombers during the Second World War before rising to become Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Defence Staff in his native New Zealand.


Bolt arrived in England in 1943 to complete his training as a bomber pilot. 

On the first of a number of operations over Germany with No 51 Squadron, his Halifax suffered more than 50 shrapnel hits. 

He then volunteered for the Pathfinder Force, converting to the Lancaster and joining No 35 Squadron to attack targets deep into Germany. 

By the end of the war he had completed 37 operations.

In April 1945 Bolt flew during Operation Manna, dropping food parcels to the starving Dutch population — “For once,” he observed, “we were not killing anyone.” He also flew one of three Lancasters on a night-time low-level sortie dropping medical supplies into a PoW camp north of Berlin, then joined Operation Exodus bringing PoWs back to Britain. 

At the end of the war he was awarded a DFC.

The son of George Bolt, one of New Zealand’s greatest air pioneers, Richard Bruce Bolt was born in Auckland on July 16 1923 and educated at Nelson College. 

He joined the RNZAF aged 18 and completed his basic flying training at Wigram before sailing to Britain.

Post-war, Bolt returned to New Zealand and joined No 2 Squadron ferrying Mosquito aircraft from Britain to his homeland. 

He held a series of staff appointments until 1953, when he became a flight commander on a transport squadron supporting operations during the Malayan Emergency. 

Two years later he was given command of No 40 Squadron, flying the Hastings on routes in the Far East and Pacific .

By July 1955 he was back in Britain, commanding the RAF’s No 24 (Commonwealth) Squadron, also equipped with the Hastings. 

The post alternated between RAF and Commonwealth squadron commanders, and Bolt was the first New Zealander to fill the appointment. 

Two years later he returned home as the Transport Wing Training Officer, and in 1959 he was awarded an AFC

He went on to fill important staff jobs, including Air Adviser to the New Zealand High Commission in Canberra, before completing the Imperial Defence College Course in London.

Clearly destined for higher things, Bolt was given command of the RNZAF’s Operations Group, which included strike aircraft as well as maritime patrol, transport and helicopter squadrons. 

In 1972 he was the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Support) and two years later became head of the RNZAF as the Chief of Air Staff. 

This was followed by promotion to air marshal and Chief of Defence Staff. At the time inter-service relations were not good, but Bolt’s experience, confidence and communication skills enabled him to steer a Defence White Paper that brought an increase in the overall defence budget.

Bolt retired in 1980, but retained a close interest in the RNZAF

Never afraid to be outspoken, he was deeply concerned about successive defence cuts and, in 1985, he was joined by 17 other retired service chiefs who warned the then Labour government about the declining capability of the country’s defence forces. In response, the Prime Minister, David Lange, branded them “geriatric generals”.

In 2001 the government introduced swingeing cuts to the RNZAF, which included scrapping its combat air capability and disbanding its strike squadrons. 

Bolt again protested forcefully, and was not surprised when the government accused him and other defence chiefs of trying to “refight the Second World War”.

Bolt returned to London in 2012 to attend the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial by the Queen.

He was appointed CBE in 1973, CB in 1977 and KBE in 1979.

Sir Richard Bolt was twice married. He is survived by his second wife and by a son and daughter of his first marriage.


Bolt arrived in England in 1943 to complete his training as a bomber pilot. 

On the first of a number of operations over Germany with No 51 Squadron, his Halifax suffered more than 50 shrapnel hits. 

He then volunteered for the Pathfinder Force, converting to the Lancaster and joining No 35 Squadron to attack targets deep into Germany. 

By the end of the war he had completed 37 operations.

In April 1945 Bolt flew during Operation Manna, dropping food parcels to the starving Dutch population — “For once,” he observed, “we were not killing anyone.” He also flew one of three Lancasters on a night-time low-level sortie dropping medical supplies into a PoW camp north of Berlin, then joined Operation Exodus bringing PoWs back to Britain. 

At the end of the war he was awarded a DFC.

The son of George Bolt, one of New Zealand’s greatest air pioneers, Richard Bruce Bolt was born in Auckland on July 16 1923 and educated at Nelson College. 

He joined the RNZAF aged 18 and completed his basic flying training at Wigram before sailing to Britain.

Post-war, Bolt returned to New Zealand and joined No 2 Squadron ferrying Mosquito aircraft from Britain to his homeland. 

He held a series of staff appointments until 1953, when he became a flight commander on a transport squadron supporting operations during the Malayan Emergency. 

Two years later he was given command of No 40 Squadron, flying the Hastings on routes in the Far East and Pacific .

By July 1955 he was back in Britain, commanding the RAF’s No 24 (Commonwealth) Squadron, also equipped with the Hastings. 

The post alternated between RAF and Commonwealth squadron commanders, and Bolt was the first New Zealander to fill the appointment. 

Two years later he returned home as the Transport Wing Training Officer, and in 1959 he was awarded an AFC

He went on to fill important staff jobs, including Air Adviser to the New Zealand High Commission in Canberra, before completing the Imperial Defence College Course in London.

Clearly destined for higher things, Bolt was given command of the RNZAF’s Operations Group, which included strike aircraft as well as maritime patrol, transport and helicopter squadrons. 

In 1972 he was the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Support) and two years later became head of the RNZAF as the Chief of Air Staff. 

This was followed by promotion to air marshal and Chief of Defence Staff. At the time inter-service relations were not good, but Bolt’s experience, confidence and communication skills enabled him to steer a Defence White Paper that brought an increase in the overall defence budget.

Bolt retired in 1980, but retained a close interest in the RNZAF

Never afraid to be outspoken, he was deeply concerned about successive defence cuts and, in 1985, he was joined by 17 other retired service chiefs who warned the then Labour government about the declining capability of the country’s defence forces. In response, the Prime Minister, David Lange, branded them “geriatric generals”.

In 2001 the government introduced swingeing cuts to the RNZAF, which included scrapping its combat air capability and disbanding its strike squadrons. 

Bolt again protested forcefully, and was not surprised when the government accused him and other defence chiefs of trying to “refight the Second World War”.

Bolt returned to London in 2012 to attend the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial by the Queen.

He was appointed CBE in 1973, CB in 1977 and KBE in 1979.

Sir Richard Bolt was twice married. He is survived by his second wife and by a son and daughter of his first marriage.

Bolt arrived in England in 1943 to complete his training as a bomber pilot. 

On the first of a number of operations over Germany with No 51 Squadron, his Halifax suffered more than 50 shrapnel hits. 

He then volunteered for the Pathfinder Force, converting to the Lancaster and joining No 35 Squadron to attack targets deep into Germany. 

By the end of the war he had completed 37 operations.

In April 1945 Bolt flew during Operation Manna, dropping food parcels to the starving Dutch population — “For once,” he observed, “we were not killing anyone.” He also flew one of three Lancasters on a night-time low-level sortie dropping medical supplies into a PoW camp north of Berlin, then joined Operation Exodus bringing PoWs back to Britain. 

At the end of the war he was awarded a DFC.

The son of George Bolt, one of New Zealand’s greatest air pioneers, Richard Bruce Bolt was born in Auckland on July 16 1923 and educated at Nelson College. 

He joined the RNZAF aged 18 and completed his basic flying training at Wigram before sailing to Britain.

Post-war, Bolt returned to New Zealand and joined No 2 Squadron ferrying Mosquito aircraft from Britain to his homeland. 

He held a series of staff appointments until 1953, when he became a flight commander on a transport squadron supporting operations during the Malayan Emergency. 

Two years later he was given command of No 40 Squadron, flying the Hastings on routes in the Far East and Pacific .

By July 1955 he was back in Britain, commanding the RAF’s No 24 (Commonwealth) Squadron, also equipped with the Hastings. 

The post alternated between RAF and Commonwealth squadron commanders, and Bolt was the first New Zealander to fill the appointment. 

Two years later he returned home as the Transport Wing Training Officer, and in 1959 he was awarded an AFC

He went on to fill important staff jobs, including Air Adviser to the New Zealand High Commission in Canberra, before completing the Imperial Defence College Course in London.

Clearly destined for higher things, Bolt was given command of the RNZAF’s Operations Group, which included strike aircraft as well as maritime patrol, transport and helicopter squadrons. 

In 1972 he was the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Support) and two years later became head of the RNZAF as the Chief of Air Staff. 

This was followed by promotion to air marshal and Chief of Defence Staff. At the time inter-service relations were not good, but Bolt’s experience, confidence and communication skills enabled him to steer a Defence White Paper that brought an increase in the overall defence budget.

Bolt retired in 1980, but retained a close interest in the RNZAF

Never afraid to be outspoken, he was deeply concerned about successive defence cuts and, in 1985, he was joined by 17 other retired service chiefs who warned the then Labour government about the declining capability of the country’s defence forces. In response, the Prime Minister, David Lange, branded them “geriatric generals”.

In 2001 the government introduced swingeing cuts to the RNZAF, which included scrapping its combat air capability and disbanding its strike squadrons. 

Bolt again protested forcefully, and was not surprised when the government accused him and other defence chiefs of trying to “refight the Second World War”.

Bolt returned to London in 2012 to attend the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial by the Queen.

He was appointed CBE in 1973, CB in 1977 and KBE in 1979.

Sir Richard Bolt was twice married. He is survived by his second wife and by a son and daughter of his first marriage.




Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard of the Spixworthonian Language School.

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 • Last Modified: 19 September 2014, 14:54