Wing Commander 'Ronny' Rotheram DFC
Wing Commander ‘Ronny’ Rotheram D.F.C.
Born: August 27 1917 in Dublin. Died: April 8th 2010. Age 92.
The Blenheim squadrons of No 2 Group had been thrown into the battle in an attempt to stem the rapid German advance. Rotheram was a member of 107 Squadron, which on May 12 1940 was ordered to attack the Maastricht bridges.
Led by its charismatic commander Basil Embry, the Squadron attacked from 6000 feet and was immediately engulfed by heavy flak. Five of 12 Blenheims were lost in the attack and Rotheram’s aircraft was hit repeatedly leaving his windscreen shattered and his observer wounded.
As he turned away from the target after dropping his bombs, Rotheram found that the controls to his port engine were severed and, as the starboard engine was damaged, he started to drop out of formation. At that moment two Me109s attacked, but he found a small patch of cloud and managed to evade them. Shortly afterwards the propeller of the port engine detached and he made a skilful forced landing which all three crew survived, although his gunner was injured.
After the crash, Rotheram and his observer were driven to an underground fort at Tildonk where they were brought before the King of the Belgians and Sir Roger Keyes, Churchill’s personal emissary to the King, and questioned about the state of the bridges. Rotheram was flown back to England. He later discovered that the main bridges were already down at the time of the attack and that traffic was instead pouring over two pontoon bridges.
Rotheram was back on operations with 107 Squadron 10 days later and by the end of the month had taken part in 11 more daylight missions, nearly all against heavy opposition. His aircraft was hit on four more occasions and losses among the Blenheim force were heavy. By the end of the month, he was operating in support of the Dunkirk evacuation when he was rescued from the attentions of Messerschmitt fighters by the timely arrival of Spitfires and Hurricanes.
Ronald Cooper Rotheram was born in Dublin on August 27 1917, the third of seven sons of Major Auston Rotheram, who had been a subaltern in the 4th Hussars with Winston Churchill in India and was a member of the Ireland team at the 1908 Olympic games. Five of the brothers served in the RAF; two lost their lives in service. The Rotherams, like many Anglo-Irish families, left Ireland in the 1920s. Ronny attended Cheltenham College and later Beaumont College, and entered the RAF College at Cranwell in 1936 where he gained his full colours for rowing.
Rotheram was posted to 107 Squadron on leaving Cranwell. In April 1940 the Squadron was engaged in the Norwegian campaign including a low-level attack against the recently occupied airfield at Stavanger. After the Battle of France, Rotheram was posted to 101 Squadron, a training and reserve unit. He returned to operations in January 1941 with 105 Squadron as a flight commander and took part in shipping strikes and bombing raids on Germany and occupied Europe.
In May 1943 Rotheram was appointed Commanding Officer of 244 Squadron, an anti-submarine squadron based at Sharjah. The squadron was equipped with the Bisley, an underpowered variant of the Blenheim which was prone to crashing due to sand getting into the engines. Many aircraft were being lost and morale was understandably poor. Rotheram arranged for regular engine changes and had the armour and heavy turrets removed, which greatly improved the aircraft’s reliability and flying qualities. Many hours flown on patrols without a sighting were finally rewarded when a sergeant and his crew sank the U-533 in the Gulf of Oman. Rotheram was appointed OBE for his time in command of 244 Squadron. In 1944 he attended the Middle East Staff College at Haifa.
Rotheram continued in the RAF after the war. He completed the Army Staff College course in 1947 and his later service included an appointment in Copenhagen with Sir Hugh Saunders’s mission to the Royal Danish Air Force and two years as Officer Commanding RAF Kai Tak, Hong Kong. He retired from the RAF in 1972 having flown 37 aircraft types, from the Avro Tutor biplane to the Vampire jet. He later worked for Associated Books at Andover.
Ronny Rotheram, who died on April 8, married, in 1946, Catherine Askelund, the daughter of a marine engineer of Norwegian descent. She died in 1971, and in 1990 he married Audrey Danny, who survives him with a son and daughter from his first marriage.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.