15/16.01.1942 No. 51 Squadron Whitley V Z9424 MH-R Sgt. Eric John Richards
Operation: Emden, Germany
Date: 15/16th January 1942 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 51 Squadron
Type: Whitley MkV
Base: RAF Dishforth
Location: Between Achtkarspelen and Rottevalle Holland
Pilot: Sgt. Eric John Richards 1162205 RAFVR Age ? Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. H. Conway ‘Ned’ Needham 1193496 RAF PoW No: 114 Camp: Stalag Hohen Fels
Obs: Fl/Sgt. Sydney Clarence Camp R/71752 RCAF Age 23. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Gerald Sinclair Booth 1105939 RAFVR PoW No: 90110 Camp: Stalag Luft Heydekrug (1)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. W.P. Muirhead 988131 RAFVR PoW No: 115 Camp: Stalag Hohen Fels
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Reginald James White 624058 RAF Age 19. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
The aircraft was shot down over the Netherlands by the German night-fighter Uffz. Kurt Zipperlein, 4./NJG1 and crashed down at 03:30hrs. in Rottevalle.
http://www.glynschool.orgIn April 2018 we were contacted by Alex Summers -Head of history at Glyn School in Ewell, Epson, England. He has a copy of the letter written by Sgt. Booth to the parents of Sgt. Eric John Richards.
If you have any further information on this loss it would be gratefully received and passed onto the school. The letter:
Left: as described (courtesy Alex Summers)
“We arrived at the target (Emden) and made 3 runs over the target without any ‘incidents’. For the first time that day I felt at ease and turning our nose for home my thoughts began to dwell on the eggs and bacon waiting for me. These thoughts were rudely shattered by a terrific rattle along the fuselage, which I thought was flack hitting the fuselage. (we had a similar experience on the previous trip over Brest when only Eric’s skill got us out of a tight corner. The Gerries had us coned in a box barrage and gave us a rather warm time for a few minutes.)
Within ten seconds of the first burst we were hit again and this time the machine started bucking wildly. I ‘plugged in’ to Eric just in time to hear him say “OK fellows - bale out”. I told the 2nd W/Op and we immediately grabbed our chutes and made for the escape hatch. The plane started to dive and on the way forward I looked through the ‘Astro-dome’ - the machine was just a mass of flames and diving out of control. I sat down by Eric’s side - he was struggling desperately with the controls but I’m afraid they were shot away with the first burst.
I’ll never forget those last few seconds as we dived to destruction. Needham, the second pilot had the exit open and I could see his legs reflected in the glow of the flames. Camp, the navigator, was kneeling at my feet struggling with his chute. It was impossible to get out and I realised that death was a matter of seconds.
I patted Eric’s arm - he stuck to the controls fighting to the last - and said “Cheerio Eric - this is it”!
The machine started spinning and I got a crash on the head which knocked me unconscious and the next thing I knew was that I was turning over and over in the air - it was very cold, which undoubtedly saved my life by reviving me in time and pulled my chute open.”
“Bits of wreckage were dropping all around me and below I could see a wing spinning in flames. I didn’t see any of the crew on the ground until I was captured the next day and then we pieced the whole series of incidents together. We were hit by fighters - White the rear gunner stuck in his turret firing his guns the whole time.
I am convinced he shot one of them down because there was still part of a flaming machine above me whilst our machine was well below me. Also I definitely saw 3 parachutes. 2 below me which must have been Needham and Muirhead and above me which was no doubt was the German Pilot. The high wind separated us however and I couldn’t find out who they were.”
(1) Sgt. Gerald Sinclair Booth - Understood to have died in 1975.
Sgt. Eric John Richards. Smallingerland Protestant Churchyard (Rottevalle). Row 5. Grave 24. Of St. Phillips Avenue, Worcester Park, England. No further details, are you able to contribute information?
Fl/Sgt. Sydney Clarence Camp. Smallingerland Protestant Churchyard (Rottevalle). Row 5. Grave 23. Son of Sydney and Clara Adelaide Camp, of 242 Pine Street, Collingwood, Ontario, Canada.
Sgt. Reginald James White. Smallingerland Protestant Churchyard (Rottevalle). Row 5. Grave 25. From Wishford, Wiltshire, England. No further details, are you able to contribute information?
Researched by Michel Beckers for Aircrew Remembered - September 2015. With thanks to Anneke Moerenhout for grave photographs, Lois M. Brown for photo and letter regarding Fl/Sgt. Sydney Camp. Also to Alex Summers - Head of history at Glyn School in Ewell, Epson, England. Bernard and Audrey Richards for letter details (Bernard is the younger brother of Sgt. Eric John Richards) For further details our thanks to sources quoted.