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Old 24th May 2017, 12:09
Col Ford's Avatar
Col Ford Col Ford is offline
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Col Ford
S/Ldr RJF Mitchell DFC RAFVR

It is with great sadness that I heard of the passing of Squadron Leader Richard James Firth Mitchell, Distinguished Flying Cross, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on Wednesday 17 May 2017, suddenly and peacefully at Paraparaumu, New Zealand.

He had tried to join the Royal Air Force around the time of the Munich Crisis in 1938, but being under-age to join without his parent’s permission at the time, and not receiving it, he had instead enlisted as a Sapper (Engineer) in the Territorial Army. After the outbreak of war in September 1939, he was still too young for active service overseas and so was held back in the UK. He then spent much of the remainder of 1939 and all of 1940 laying beach-mines, building defence posts around Kentish airfields, mining bridges, and Margate pier, and many other things - preparing for the invasion that never came.

In March 1941 a notice appeared on his Army unit’s notice board asking for volunteers for aircrew duties with the RAF. He volunteered and was duly interviewed and accepted for aircrew training with the RAF. He did his Initial Training Wing at Newquay, Elementary Flight Training School (on Tiger Moths) at 1 EFTS Hatfield, then his Service Flying Training School (on Yales and Harvards) at 39 SFTS Swift Current, Saskatoon in Canada. Gaining his ‘Wings” he was also selected for an Officer’s Commission in the RAF. Returning to the UK, he did his operational training at 41 Operational Training Unit, the Army Co-operation/Tactical Reconnaissance school at Old Sarum, before being posted to No.171 Squadron at Gatwick in early October 1942. That Squadron was disbanded four weeks later and so he was posted to what was then considered one of the top fighter reconnaissance squadrons in the RAF at that time, No.268 (FR) Squadron, flying the North American Mustang Mk.I.

“Dick” as he was known to his family or “Mitch” as he was known to his wartime Air Force colleagues, served two operational tours as a low level Tactical Reconnaissance pilot. His first from November 1942 until May 1944, flying Mustang Mk.I and Mk.IA aircraft with No.268 (FR) Squadron Royal Air Force. During that time he served alongside a number of other pilots from Commonwealth nations including Australia, British Caribbean, Canada, India and New Zealand, as well as pilots from the USA and Poland.

Amongst his lesser known but no less notable achievements, was acting as a trials pilot for a number of experimental camera installations being developed for the Mustang and he in fact flew the successful series of trial flights with the vertical camera installation developed at Squadron level for the Mustang Mk.I, that was later adopted as the standard for that type with the RAF.

He then spent some months ‘on rest’ as a Flight Lieutenant with the operational/planning staff of 35 (Recce) Wing RAF. ‘On Rest’ may be an understatement as in this time he was heavily occupied in planning Wing operations for the conduct of the Normandy Invasion and subsequent move of the Wing through a number of Advanced Landing Grounds as the Allied Armies advanced across Northern France and Belgium into the Netherlands following the Normandy invasion.

He returned to operations for his second tour as a senior flight commander with No.268 (FR) Squadron at the start of October 1944 and remained with that Squadron flying operations on Mustang Mk.IA and MK.II aircraft until posted in late March 1945 to take over command of No.II (AC) Squadron on promotion to Squadron Leader where he flew Spitfire FR.XIVe and PR.XIX aircraft until April 1946.

During his first tour of operations with No.268 (FR) Squadron he was recommended for and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross – Gazetted 25 January 1944.

The citation for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to F/O RJF Mitchell stated:

Flying Officer Mitchell has always displayed great keenness for operational flying, at all times being ready to undertake any task regardless of enemy opposition or adverse weather. He has attacked enemy barracks and participated in shipping escort duties, involving deep penetration into enemy territory, and air/sea rescue work. On one occasion his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and severely damaged. Nevertheless, this officer skillfully flew his aircraft back to this country where he made a masterly crash landing. A reliable pilot, Flying Officer Mitchell's fine leadership coupled with his navigational ability have resulted in many excellent photographs being obtained.

The recommendation for the award of the DFC for F/O RJF Mitchell had been prepared by the Squadron’s Officer Commanding at the time, S/L AG Pallot, which included more details:

Total Hours Flown on Operations: On Offensive Operations: - 47.30 )
On Coastal Patrols: - 16.10 ) – 63.40
Number of Sorties: On Offensive Operations: - 26
On Coastal Patrols: - 9

Since the beginning of this year this pilot has been engaged on operational flying. He has carried out over the NORTH SEA and HOLLAND 5 Lagoons, 1 escort for Naval M.T.B.s, and an offensive sweep near KNOCKE. During 3 Lagoons photographs were taken of convoys found, one of which was attacked later by BEAUFIGHTERS acting on the information.

In FEBRUARY, 1943 he took part in an attack on an S.S. Barracks at AMERSFOORT with six other aircraft. The flight entailed flying 550 miles. Intelligence sources confirmed later that casualties inflicted were 60 killed and 100 wounded. One DO.217 aircraft is also shared with two other pilots as damaged.

In May, 1943 accompanied by only one other aircraft he carried out a reconnaissance of the heavily defended DEN HELDER harbour, when a total of 20 ships were seen. In addition a convoy of 13 ships were located on the outward flight.

On all these flights the weather was adverse either for flying or for tactical purposes.

Since the beginning of June, 1943, based at ODIHAM, 9 Populars have been carried out with a high standard of photography. On one of these sorties the top of this pilot’s tail-fin was shot away by flak, jamming the rudder. Rather than lose his photographs, F/O Mitchell flew back to BEACHY HEAD where he carried out a successful crash-landing. He has also carried out an AIR-SEA Rescue search.

During OPERATION “STARKEY” he carried out 5 Tactical Reconnaissances which involved deep penetration into enemy occupied territory flying in pairs only, involving up to 195 miles over such territory. A very high standard of photographs was obtained.

Remarks of Squadron Commander S/L AG Pallot

F/O MITCHELL has at all times shown himself ready to carry out any operation whatever the hazards or difficulties. He is a very reliable and thorough pilot whose leadership in the air, coupled with his good navigation, has resulted in good information and very good photographs being obtained without casualty to those led by him. The fine example he sets to junior pilots is obvious.

Remarks of Officer Commanding No.35 Wing G/C PL Donkin DSO

I concur with the remarks of his Squadron Commander. Since this Squadron has been with 35 Wing, Mitchell’s sorties have been consistent in the accurate and efficient way they have been carried out.


In addition to the incidents noted in his DFC citation, he had on other occasions brought his aircraft damaged by enemy anti aircraft fire and the reconnaissance photographs carried by his aircraft’s reconnaissance camera(s) safely back to base.

He flew numerous sorties in the latter half of 1943 and first half of 1944 covering suspected and known V-1 launch sites in Northern France, conducted many sorties covering the planned invasion beaches in Normandy, transportation and military targets in France and Belgium, most within range of often intense and accurate light and medium anti aircraft fire.

Not long after his return to operational flying in October 1944 he was forced to bail out of his Mustang aircraft when it developed a serious glycol coolant leak whilst over the front line and had to take to his parachute. Fortunately the breeze was in the right direction that day and carried him into the lines of Canadian Army units holding that part of the front. In baling out from his Mustang he had badly gashed his forehead on the canopy handle, which left him with a rather nasty wound on his forehead. In that instance he returned to the Squadron at their Advanced Landing Ground in a Canadian Army jeep, with his head wrapped in bandages like a turban and feeling no pain due to the copious amounts of Canadian Army medicinal rum he had been administered. He had thus also joined the Caterpillar Club.

In another instance during his second tour of operations, in the preparation for the Allied crossing of the Rhine in early 1945, he had flown a very low level reconnaissance sortie along a heavily defended section of the Rhine near Leeuwen, being shot at by heavy concentrations of enemy anti-aircraft fire, at an altitude at times below 50 feet above the river surface, such that he passed below high tension electrical wires spanning the river.

By VE-Day in May 1945 he had amassed 191 hours operational flying over 144 operational sorties. The majority of that operational flying was conducted at low level over enemy occupied territory.

In April 1946 he left No.II(AC) Squadron and was posted to the School of Air Support at Rhine Army Training Centre, Gutersloh, as an instructor. He remained there until demobbed from the RAF in January 1947.

After his RAF wartime and immediate post-War Service he emigrated from England to New Zealand, partly to seek a new life after the War, but also largely at the urging of a number of RNZAF pilots who had served with him on No.268 (FR) Squadron and 35(Recce) Wing. One of them in fact sponsored his immigration to New Zealand from the UK. He then built a new life, career and family in New Zealand, eventually retiring to Paraparaumu on the Kapiti Coast, north-west of Wellington.

He is survived by his wife of over 73 years, Sue (ex-WRAAF Bentley Priory plotter), and his two sons, five grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, which are spread across New Zealand and Australia.

“Mitch” was one of two known surviving wartime pilots from No.268 (FR) Squadron RAF, there now only being one - who he had played a significant part in being rescued in the Air-Sea Rescue search/sortie mentioned in his DFC citation.


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Colin Ford
Canberra
Australia
No.268 Squadron Royal Air Force 1940-1946
Historian by Appointment
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Old 27th May 2017, 22:07
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Re: S/Ldr RJF Mitchell DFC RAFVR

May he rest in peace...
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