From The Daily Telegraph 4 December.
Squadron Leader Geoffrey Rothwell, who has died in New Zealand aged 97, completed 71 operations as a bomber pilot and was twice awarded the DFC.
He joined the RAF on a short-service commission in the spring of 1939 and started his pilot training. In May 1940 he completed a conversion on to Wellington bombers and joined No 99 Squadron based at Newmarket. His first operation on May 19 was to attack the railway yards at Hamm.
Over the next six months he attacked some of Germany’s biggest ports and cities, including Berlin. His aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire on four occasions, one being “friendly fire” as he crossed the East Anglian coast. After 37 operations he was rested and awarded the DFC. The citation concluded: “By his persistent determination and outstanding skill this officer at all times sets an example of the highest order.”
After a year instructing bomber crews, Rothwell converted to the four-engine Stirling and returned to fly operations with No 75 (NZ) Squadron. On March 1 1943 an enemy night fighter attacked his Stirling but the two gunners forced it to break away. Almost immediately the bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire, which shattered the pilot’s cockpit canopy and 30 minutes later a Junkers 88 attacked the badly damaged Stirling. Both the gunners engaged the night fighter, which dived steeply into cloud. Rothwell had to make an emergency landing soon after crossing the Suffolk coast.
Nine more operations followed, including attacks on Berlin and Munich, before it was decided to make No 75 an all New Zealand squadron and Rothwell, by now a squadron leader, and his crew were transferred to No 218 Squadron.
Returning from Stuttgart, a night fighter attacked Rothwell’s Stirling when he received a small shrapnel wound but he returned a few days later to attack the Heinkel aircraft works at Rostock. On later sorties his aircraft was again damaged by anti-aircraft fire and when he left No 218 in July 1943 he was awarded a Bar to his DFC.
Another spell as a bomber instructor followed before he volunteered for a third operational tour and he was sent to No 138 Squadron, which operated in support of SOE and other clandestine organisations. In the lead up to D-Day he dropped agents and supplies over France followed by similar operations to the resistance movements in Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark.
On September 8 1944 Rothwell and his crew took off from RAF Tempsford in a Stirling of No 138 (Special Duties) Squadron. Their task was to drop two agents in the Alkmaar region. They were dropped successfully before Rothwell turned to the north and let down to 300 ft to begin his return journey. As they crossed the Dutch coast the Stirling hit a balloon cable, which wrenched one of the four engines away causing a fire, which quickly spread to the wing.
Too low for the crew to bail out, Rothwell crash-landed on the sand dunes of Texel Island when the aircraft broke up killing three of the crew. Rothwell was catapulted through the canopy and lay unconscious for a time. He eventually located the other survivors; all had been injured, before seeking the help of a loyal Dutch family. German forces had seen the crash and it was only a matter of time before they arrived from the mainland to take them into captivity.
Rothwell and his navigator were sent to Stalg Luft I at Barth on the Baltic coast. On May 2 1945 the Russians liberated the camp and 10 days later aircraft of the US 8th Air Force arrived to repatriate them to England.
He left the RAF in October 1950.
Full obituary with photograph.
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The life and times of the Greatest Generation, the heroes (British and Allies) of WWII.