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Wing Commander Henry Ramsbottom-Isherwood

1905 - 1950

The Order of Lenin medal was awarded to Wing Cdr Henry Ramsbottom-Isherwood, who led RAF 151 Fighter Wing in north Russia during 1941 and 1942.

Henry Ramsbottom-Isherwood

Wing Cdr Isherwood and his team were the only four Allied recipients of the USSR's senior order in the war.

The Wing's mission was to train Russian pilots and ground crew in the flying and maintenance of British Hurricanes. Most of the aircraft went on to fight in the Defence of Leningrad.

The Hurricanes, flown by both British and Russian pilots, engaged the Luftwaffe's Me 109s and JU 88s above Murmansk.

In January 1941 Isherwood was posted to Fighter Command and was given command of a sector in No. 9 Group and later served as a controller at the group headquarters. In August 1941 Isherwood was selected to command No. 151 Wing, which was being formed for a mission codenamed Operation Benedict, which was planned in the immediate aftermath of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

The aim of Operation Benedict was to take two squadrons of Hawker Hurricane fighters to defend the naval port of Murmansk in northern Russia and to train the Soviet Air Force to operate the aircraft which would be the first of more than two thousand to be supplied.

Arriving on the first Arctic convoy at the beginning of September 1941, the wing established itself at an airfield at Vaenga (renamed Severomorsk in 1951).

Besides training the Soviet pilots and groundcrew, the wing claimed 15 enemy aircraft destroyed plus four 'probables' and seven damaged, for the loss of a single Hurricane in combat.

Portrait of Wing Commander Ramsbottom-Isherwood

Portrait held in Australian War Memorial

None of the Soviet bombers that they escorted was lost. At the end of October, when the wing had handed their last aircraft to the Soviets, they were ordered by the Air Ministry in London to travel south by rail through the Soviet Union for further service in the Middle East theatre.

Isherwood compiled a lengthy signal stating that the journey was likely to take three months, that no rations or winter clothing were available and that there was a considerable danger of being overrun by the advancing Germans. The order was rescinded and the wing was evacuated by sea.

He was awarded the DFC for his service during the operation as well as the Order of Lenin.

Returning to Britain, Isherwood took command of a series of air bases. He was intended to command No. 153 Wing, a much larger fighter force which was due to be sent to Russia in late 1942, but the plan, codenamed Operation Jupiter, was abandoned, perhaps because of the heavy losses to the Arctic convoys. In 1944, he took command of No. 342 Wing in Burma.

Returning from southeast Asia in 1947, Isherwood became Commanding Officer of RAF West Malling. On 24 April 1950, he took a Gloster Meteor IV jet fighter for a test flight, but ran into a severe snow storm and crashed near Tonbridge and was killed. Much of the Meteor's wreckage was recovered in 2003.

A military funeral was held on 29 April 1950 at St Felix church in Felixstowe.

Ramsbottom-Isherwood medals

In 2009, Isherwood's medals were put up for auction at Sotheby's by his only daughter. They were bought by an anonymous Russian bidder for £46,000. The sale aroused considerable interest in New Zealand where his nephew conducted an unsuccessful campaign to acquire the medals. A television documentary about Isherwood called Operation Hurricane was made by Prime TV in New Zealand in 2012.

'Ish' Isherwood was born in New Zealand in 1905 and served in the New Zealand Rifles before travelling to Britain to join the RAF.

Unique set of medals: Order of Lenin far right

SY 2017-07-15

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• Last Modified: 16 July 2017, 13:18 •