27/28.04.1944 No. 166 Squadron Lancaster I ME720 AS-X P/O. Robert R. Ridley
Date: 27/28th April 1944 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 166 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Kirmington, Lincolnshire
Location: Hitzkirch-Hamikon, Switzerland
Pilot: P/O. Robert Burns Ridley J/85631 RCAF Age 21. Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. John James Eaton 1608502 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Nav: F/O. Albert C. Piggott RCAF Interned
Air/Bmr: F/O. Roy E. A. Phillips Interned
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Leslie Cotton 1575755 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Ross Lewis Clark 1603824 RAFVRAge 21. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Allan Mackay Weir 1567144 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Any relatives of this crew who would like to be in contact with Michael Clark and others please done hesitate to contact us - all emails will be forwarded as requested.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 21.35 hrs from RAF Kirmington, Lincolnshire to join 322 Lancaster's and 1 Mosquito to attack the Friedrichshafen.
This was decided after the Air Ministry had pressed Bomber Command into such a raid as although the town was small, it contained German Tank Gearbox and engine factories. Bomber Command, after serious consideration, agreed as although the target was deep inside Germany it was also on the limit of the Luftwaffe night-fighter range. The bombers reached the target without interception and started the bomb runs - then the night-fighters arrived and with devastating effect with a good moonlight they shot down 18 Lancaster's.
It is thought 'probable' that this ME720 Lancaster from 166 Squadron was shot down by the Night-Fighter ace Oblt. Josef Kraft (1) from 4./NJG5. He intercepted them at 5.300 mts. 20 km. West of Friedrichshafen at 02.24 hrs.
The raid itself was huge success, 1,234 tons of bombs were dropped - several factories were destroyed with German officials stating after the war that this had been the most damaging raid on tank production of the war.
Right: Top L-R: Sgt. Ross Clark, Sgt. Leslie Cotton - Middle: P/O. Robert Ridley, Sgt. John Eaton - Front: F/O. Albert Piggott, F/O. Roy Phillips, Sgt. Allan Weir (courtesy Michael Clark)
The crew of ME720 had already done a total of 67 hours together and had been on the Nuremburg raid March 30/31st 1944 when no less than 95 bombers were lost - the largest for the whole war. 166 Squadron lost 4 Lancaster's and 19 crew members killed and a further 12 being made P.O.W's.
Above left: Sgt. Allan Weir. (courtesy Edward Paxton) Centre: Sgt. Ross Clark (courtesy Mike Woodcocke via Mike Clark) Right: P/O. Robert Ridley (courtesy Linda Tapp, his niece)
An eye witness recalled the event of ME720 loss:
"Otto Hochstrasser leaving the Cheese-makers Reunion at the local village hall in the tiny village of Hamikon , during the meeting they had heard bombing way to the north but as usual had paid little attention to it. For some reason Hochstrassser had looked over his shoulder and could make out some sort of drama being played out in the night sky, then all of a sudden he could hear loud machine guns and cannon lighting up the night sky. It all ended with a tremendous detonation. The blinding flash lit the the village up in an orange aura, then heavy debris hurtled in an arc over head. Otto Looked and he could see his barn alight, he ran to his house to check his family were OK. Thankfully they were."
Lancaster ME720, photo taken the following morning. (courtesy Michael Clark)
The pilot P/O. Ridley jumped or was thrown out - his chute, failed to open. Rear Gunner Sgt. Weir jumped from the stricken aircraft but his chute also failed to deploy as they were by then too low - his body was found the following day in a tree in the nearby village of Altwis. Sgt. Eaton, Sgt. Leslie Cotton and Sgt. Clark had remained and were found inside the aircraft. F/O. Piggott and F/O. Phillips did make a successful exit from the aircraft and survived to become internees of the Swiss guards. Later escaping to reach home territory.
The cousin of Sgt. Ross Lewis Clark, Michael Clark remembers when he was very young:
"When I was about ten years old I asked my mums Uncle who was R.L. Clark? I was then told off!, for not knowing, then told his name was Roger! When in later years I found out the truth I started researching. I had to find out the truth and I basically dedicated my life to finding out about Ross, I had 18 pages of accounts of details of the crash scene, a further year to have it all translated and saw the personal affects found after the crash - Ross would take his Policemen's hat with him on Operations! (Ross was a former policeman in Portsmouth prior to joining the R.A.F. in 1942."
Further correspondence from Michael Clark:
"It was during 2004 I contacted a chap in Switzerland, who lives in Gelterkinden, Mr. Patrick Amman. I wrote to him asking about a few photos of Hamikon? A fortnight later a load of photos turned up, with the village asking me to come to Hamikon - I didn't know what to say? I agreed and headed out. I met the Mayor of Hamikon, Conrad Stiener, the RAF were also there. I had a guided tour of the area, then a chapel service where the Pastor spoke in German and English, at the time I didn't know it but the Chapel was built in memory to my cousins crash to remember the crew who flew their burning Lancaster away from the Village before it exploded, at the end of the service I presented a plaque and a book on the Village to remember F/O. R.B. Ridley and his crew. The book was the 166 Squadron history. So today - there is a plaque up on the wall to my Cousin and crew. It was my way to say Sorry for not knowing my family History."
In 2013 a further ceremony was held at the church, with wreath laying and a large turnout of the local community. During this service thanks were given to Aircrew Remembered for bringing relatives together.
Left: Hptm. Josef Kraft (archives)
(1) Hptm. Josef Kraft survived the war with a total of 53 night-fighter kills.
Albert Piggott and Roy E. A. Phillips taken during the eighties (courtesy Michael Clark)
The chapel as described in the article (courtesy Michael Clark)
Funeral for the crews of this Lancaster and also for the crew of 101 Squadron Lancaster LL750 (W/O. Noble M.i.D, 6 crew members killed - 2 interned)
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P/O. Robert Burns Ridley. Vevey (St. Martin's) Cemetery Grave 112. Son of Arthur Pierre Ridley and Annie Florence Ridley, of Port Credit, Ontario, Canada.
Sgt. John James Eaton. Vevey (St. Martin's) Cemetery Grave 114. N.o.K details currently not available - are you able to assist completion of these and any other information?
Sgt. Leslie Cotton. Vevey (St. Martin's) Cemetery Grave 115. Son of Joseph and Mary Cotton; husband of Kathleen May Cotton, of Staple Hill, Gloucestershire, England.
Sgt Ross Lewis Clark. Vevey (St. Martin's) Cemetery Grave 116. Son of George Herbert and Florence Annie Clark, of Fareham, Hampshire, England.
Sgt. Allan Mackay Weir. Vevey (St. Martin's) Cemetery Grave 113. Son of William and Anne Weir, of Thornliebank, Glasgow, Scotland.
Researched with information supplied by Michael Clark - cousin of mid upper air gunner, Sgt Ross Lewis Clark, also to Linda Tapp, niece of the pilot P/O. Ridley. With thanks to the following, Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vol's. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Tom Kracker - 'Kracker Luftwaffe Archives'
. Commonwealth War Graves Commission.