Neville Ramsbottom-Isherwood

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Henry Neville Gynes Ramsbottom-Isherwood
Nickname(s) "Ish"
Born (1905-07-13)13 July 1905
Petone, Wellington, New Zealand
Died 24 April 1950(1950-04-24) (aged 44)
Tonbridge, Kent
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Air Force
Years of service 1924–50
Rank Wing Commander
Service number 29116
Unit No. 54 Squadron RAF
No. 35 Squadron RAF
Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment
No. 9 Group RAF
Commands held No. 151 Wing RAF
RAF Church Stanton
RAF Valley
RAF Woodvale
No. 342 Wing RAF
RAF West Malling
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Force Cross
Order of Lenin (USSR)

Wing Commander Henry Neville Gynes Ramsbottom-Isherwood DFC AFC (13 July 1905 – 24 April 1950) was a New Zealand born Royal Air Force test pilot and commanding officer during the Second World War and the post-war period. He was one of only four wartime British Commonwealth recipients of the Order of Lenin, after he had led an RAF fighter wing to help defend northern Russia and introduce British aircraft to Soviet Air Force personnel. He was killed in a flying accident in 1950.

Early career

Born on 13 July 1905 at Petone near Wellington in New Zealand, he was the son of Henry Lionel Ramsbottom-Isherwood and Lilian Catherine née Kelly. He was educated at St Patrick's College and St Joseph's College, Geelong, Sydney.[1] Commissioned into the New Zealand Rifles as a Second Lieutenant in 1924, Isherwood emigrated to the United Kingdom to train as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Qualifying as a Pilot Officer in July 1930, he saw service in India and Britain before joining the staff of the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath as a test pilot in the Armament Testing Section.[1][2]

Second World War

In January 1941 Isherwood was posted to Fighter Command and was given command of a sector in No. 9 Group and later served as a controller at the group headquarters.,[1][2] In August 1941 Isherwood was selected to command No. 151 Wing, which was being formed for a mission codenamed Operation Benedict, which was planned in the immediate aftermath of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The aim of Operation Benedict was to take two squadrons of Hawker Hurricane fighters to defend the naval port of Murmansk in northern Russia and to train the Soviet Air Force to operate the aircraft which would be the first more than two thousand to be supplied.[3] Arriving on the first Arctic convoy at the beginning of September 1941, the wing established itself at an airfield at Vaenga (renamed Severomorsk in 1951). Besides training the Soviet pilots and groundcrew, the wing claimed 15 enemy aircraft destroyed plus four "probables" and seven damaged, for the loss of a single Hurricane in combat.[4] None of the Soviet bombers that they escorted were lost.[5] At the end of October, when the wing had handed their last aircraft to the Soviets, they were ordered by the Air Ministry in London to travel south by rail through the Soviet Union for further service in the Middle East theatre. Isherwood compiled a lengthy signal stating that the journey was likely to take three months, that no rations or winter clothing were available and that there was a considerable danger of being overrun by the advancing Germans. The order was rescinded and the wing was evacuated by sea.[6] He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service during the operation as well as the Order of Lenin.[7]

Returning to Britain, Isherwood took command of a series of air bases.[2] He was intended to command No. 153 Wing, a much larger fighter force which was due to be sent to Russia in late 1942, but the plan, codenamed Operation Jupiter, was abandoned, perhaps because of the heavy losses to the Arctic convoys.[8] In 1944, he took command of No. 342 Wing in Burma.[2]

Post war

Returning from southeast Asia in 1947, Isherwood became Commanding Officer of RAF West Malling. On 24 April 1950, he took a Gloster Meteor IV jet fighter for a test flight, but ran into a severe snow storm and crashed near Tonbridge and was killed.[9]

A military funeral was held on 29 April 1950 at St Felix church in Felixstowe.[10]

In 2009, Isherwood's medals were put up for auction at Sotheby's by his only daughter. They were bought by an anonymous Russian bidder for £46,000.[11] The sale aroused considerable interest in New Zealand where his nephew conducted an unsuccessful campaign to acquire the medals.[12] A television documentary about Isherwood called Operation Hurricane was made by Prime TV in New Zealand in 2012.[13]

Family life

Isherwood married Betty Ailsa Taylor in 1938 at Deben in Suffolk.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 E. J. B. "Group Captain Ramsbottom Isherwood." Times [London, England] 27 Apr. 1950: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Ramsbottom-Isherwood, Henry Neville Gynes". Stichting Informatie Wereldoorlog Twee. Retrieved 27 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Carter, Eric and Loveless, Antony (2014) Force Benedict, Hodder & Stoughton ISBN 978-1-44478514-2 (p. 69)
  4. Carter p. 213
  5. Carter p. 219
  6. Carter pp. 217-221
  7. Carter pp. 250 and 258
  8. Carter pp. 266-267
  9. Carter p. 258
  10. "Deaths." Times [London, England] 26 Apr. 1950: 1. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.
  11. Carter pp. 258-260
  12. Shepheard, Nicola (7 June 2009). "A Kiwi hero's World War II medals on sale". APN New Zealand Limited. Retrieved 27 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "WW2 Operation Hurricane: Extraordinary Story". 30 April 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links