Dambuster - Sergeant Richard Bolitho 1211045

Richard Bolitho was born in 1920, in Portrush, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. The only child of William and Jane Bolitho. William was born in Perran-ar-worthal, Cornwall in 1880 and served his apprenticeship as a seedsman. William worked as a commercial traveller in seeds. His work took him to Northern Ireland where he met and married Jane Cuthbertson, the daughter of estates manager Robert Cuthbertson. William and Jane stayed at 'Braehead' in Portrush after thier marriage and it is here that Richard was born and brought up during his early life. When Janes' father died in 1927, the family moved to England and bought a hotel on Castle Boulevard in Kimberley. It was decided that Richard, now 7 or 8 years old should live with his aunt Emily Bolitho at her home in James Street, Kimberley. Emily owned a fruit and vegetable shop just around the corner on Main street. During his time in Kimberley, Richard attended the Church Hill School.

Enlisting with the RAF Volunteer Reserve

Richard joined the RAF in 1940 and on March 25th 1943 he was posted to the newly formed and highly secretive, 617 squadron at Scampton in Linclonshire. 617 squadron had been formed with one aim in mind, to breach the dams of the Ruhr valley and thus wipe out much of Germanys' arms manufacturing capability. The dams were to be destroyed using Barnes Wallis' bouncing bomb, codename 'Upkeep'. In order for Upkeep to do its job properly, it had to be dropped with great precision, from a height of just 60 feet at a distance from the dam of 400 - 450 yards. Also, in order to avoid detection the Lancaster bombers, which had no fighter escort, had to fly from their base to the dams at very low altitude. Because of the dangerous and highly skilled nature of this mission the crews of 617 squadron were hand picked from the best bomber command crews available no matter which squadron they were already flying with.

During March, April and May the crews of 617 squadron trained intensively, flying at very low altitude, dropping bombs with a degree of accuracy never previously required and doing so over water at night! Despite this unusual training they were not told of the targets until the night before the raid. Only Wing Commander Guy Gibson and very few others knew what they were.

Several of 'B for baker's crew, two of the Canadians, Pilot Officer Floyd Alwin Wile and Warrant officer Albert Garshowitz, the Scot, Sergeant John Kinnear and Richard spent their last leave before the raid together in Kimberley.

Operation Chastise

On the night of the 16th of May 1943, B for Baker took off at 21:59. She was a part of A-flight, which were to be the first nine Lancasters to attack the dams. Two more flights B and C, each made up of five Lancasters, would follow along behind in case the dams had not been breached. In total 19 bombers headed for the Ruhr valley.

Unfortunately B for baker never completed her mission, she crashed en-route near Marbeck. All the crew died, when a Lancaster is hit at such low level the crew have very little chance of surviving. The official squadron record of the sortie shows that B for baker had strayed off course and was brought down by flak. However eyewitnesses later said that she had hit a pylon or electrical cables and crashed in flames. It was also reported that the Lancaster exploded on impact, she still had the bomb on-board so this seems quite plausible.What is clear however, is that for the crew any chance of surviving the crash was slight.

On the morning of 17 May 1943, 8 of the 19 Lancasters had failed to return.
56 aircrew were missing ( 53 were dead, 3 had survived crashes).

A-Flight - 617 Squadron - ED-864 - AJ-B -  B for baker
PositionName and rankAge
PilotFlight Lieutenant W. Astell, DFC23
NavigatorPilot Officer F.A. WileRCAF24
Flight EngineerSergeant J. Kinnear21
Bomb AimerFlying Officer D. Hopkinson22
Wireless OperatorWarrant officer A.A. GarshowitzRCAF20
Front GunnerFlight Sergeant F.A. GarbasRCAF20
Rear GunnerSergeant R. Bolitho23
This page is dedicated to the 53 men of 617 squadron who lost their lives during 'Operation Chastise' - the dams raid

Richard and his fellow crew-men were buried at Borken City Cemetery. After the war they were re-interred at the Riechswald Forest Cemetery in Kleve, Germany.

Return to Antrim

After the war, in 1946, Richards parents William and Jane returned to Portrush, where they lived out their days. William died at the age of 73 years on 9th May 1953. Jane died on 13th November 1964 at the age of 89. Richard was an only child, therefore with the death of his parents this branch of the Bolitho family came to an end. However the memory of a brave young man lives on.