Friday the 13th dawned fine in Northern France in April 1917 but it was to prove an inauspicious date for Mosman ace, Captain Lancelot Lytton Richardson.
HEROIC CAREER ENDED.
Captain L. L. Richardson, M.C., has been killed in France. He was the youngest son of the late Mr. William Richardson, Bogolong, Grenfell, and Mrs. E. G. Richardson, Bereen, Barraba. He volunteered on the outbreak of the war at the age of l8, just after leaving the North Shore Church of England Grammar School, where he was captain of the football team, stroke of the eight, and captain of boxing. He was sergeant in the 6th Light Horse at Gallipoli, and was invalided to Malta, thence to England. He transferred into the Royal Flying Corps, and went to the Western front. Here, after downing several German machines, he was severely wounded in both arms and thigh. After recovering in England he returned to France, having been gazetted captain. Shortly afterwards he gained the Military Cross, for which he had once previously been recommended, only to meet his death a few days later while raiding the German lines and communications during the battle of Arras2.
Lancelot Lytton Richardson was born to grazier William Richardson and his wife Elizabeth Greedy Richardson (née Parkman) in Grenfell3, NSW, on 18 October 1895. He was the youngest of 5 children.
He lost his father when just a child, one month before his fifth birthday4. William Richardson had been in the process of selling up their station Bogolong5. The Richardson family was to make their home at Bereen near Barraba in the New England region of northern NSW.
L. L. Richardson attended Mosman Church of England Preparatory School6 in Shadforth Street before starting at Sydney Church of England Grammar School in 1909. He would have been well-known to pupils and teachers at Shore. On leaving to enlist in 1914, his honours included:
Prefect; Lieutenant in Cadet Corps; 1st XV. 1911-12-13-14
Honour Cap 1913; Captain 1913-1914; 1st Crew 1913-1914;
Mile and Half Mile Championship 19137
As Trooper, Richardson joined the 6th Light Horse Regiment (6LHR), Australian Imperial Force, on 24 September at Victoria Barracks, Sydney8. He was almost 19.
His decision to join the 6th Light Horse was probably influenced by his older brother Rupert Noel Richardson (born 8 February 1890) who had joined the regiment in 1908. Like his youngest brother, Rupert had attended Shore (1903-1907) and played in the 1st XV9. Rupert was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 6LHR, AIF, at Liverpool on 27 October and the brothers embarked HMAT Suevic together on 19 December 1914 for the Suez Canal and Egypt.
Lt Rupert Richardson appears – reclining, bottom right – in this photograph of 6LHR officers in Cairo in March 191510. Photos of the Richardson brothers have proven hard to find, although Lancelot Lytton’s effects sent home upon his death included a leather hold-all that contained among other items ’10 Photos’12. These may still be in the possession of his family.
From Egypt the brothers embarked in May on HMT Lutzow for the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in the Dardanelles. The now-dismounted 6th Light Horse Regiment landed at Anzac on the 20th under shrapnel and sniper fire to reinforce the beleaguered infantry of the 1st Australian Division. They were to defend a sector on the far right of the ANZAC line.
Trooper Richardson must soon have demonstrated his worth to the regiment, as he was promoted Corporal on 12 June then Sergeant on 9 August. His brother Rupert was made Captain on 26 June.
Both brothers went off sick to Mudros in July, Corporal L. L. Richardson (‘Pyrexia & Debility’) on 21 July and Captain R. N. Richardson (‘bronchitis’) on 23 July. They recuperated at 1 Australian Stationary Hospital, the older brother returning to Anzac on 3 August, the younger on 7 August. It was their last time out of the firing line together.
At 9pm on Tuesday 16 September, a Turkish 75mm shell struck the parapet at Ryries Post. Captain Rupert Richardson was hit (‘shrapnel wound head’) and died soon after at 1 Australian Casualty Clearing Station. He was buried on the Wednesday at Shell Green. 2nd Lieutenant Alexander Frank Buskin and three other ranks shared his fate, killed by the same shell13.
Sergeant Lancelot Lytton Richardson had by then left Anzac, evacuated from the peninsula on 26 August suffering dysentery and jaundice. The Ionian took him to Malta. After six weeks or so in hospital, he embarked for England on the Gascon, spending a week on arrival at 3 London General Hospital, Wandsworth.
Perhaps it was seeing the Royal Naval Air Service machines over Gallipoli or just a desire to escape the trenches that impelled Sgt Richardson to fly. He took a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) on 28 December 1915 and was despatched to a military flying school at the home of British aviation, Brooklands.
After a month’s training, on 30 January 1916, 2/Lt Richardson attained his Royal Aero Club aviator certificate (number 2363)14.
His Australian service record does not give much detail of his military career after this date, and his British service record has not been digitised15, but a note in the AIF dossier dated 23 March 1916 records ‘the present address of 2nd Lieut L L Richardson’ as 11th Reserve Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, Northolt, Harrow. Reserve squadrons were training units and Lancelot Lytton would have been learning to fly.
Lancelot Lytton joined his squadron in Nord-Pas-de-Calais at Auchel (Lozinghem) Aerodrome, about 15 minutes flying time from the front. In preparation for the battle of the Somme, the squadron’s strength was being increased, to 18 machines, 20 pilots and 18 observers18. Photo reconnaissance, bombing raids and aggressive patrols across the front lines were their tasks; their machine, the FE2b.
Designed by the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, England, the FE2b was an attempt to wrest aerial supremacy from the Fokker monoplane19. The “Fee” was a two-seater biplane known as a ‘pusher’ because the propellor was located behind the engine and pilot. The machine’s configuration was inspired by aircraft designed and built in France by the Farman brothers, so FE stood for ‘Farman Experimental’. Although remembered affectionately by those who flew them, the FE2b was already in 1916 something of a throw-back20 compared to its opponents’ more manoeuverable fighters equipped with the new interruptor gear that allowed forward-firing machine guns.
The pusher configuration gave the observer – who was also machine-gunner and bomb dropper – great sight lines but at some risk!
The observer, in the front cockpit, had to operate two Lewis guns; one, forward-facing, he could crouch to fire, but the second one was for rearward-firing, and was mounted upon a tall pillar so that he had to stand when working it. There was no parachute of course, and he could not use a safety-belt. His only seat was a petrol tin! He suffered the onrushing airspeed, and in combat he had to instantly react to frequent sudden manoeuvres initiated by his pilot. All this while the low–placed cockpit coaming left him totally exposed above the knees. Yet, for many months, while flown aggressively by such RFC Squadrons as Nos. 6, 20, 22, 23, and 25, the FE and its crews inflicted tremendous damage on foes who were far better equipped21.
The Vintage Aviator team in New Zealand has built a fully-flying reconstruction of the legendary FE2b which gives us some of idea of what it was like to see and hear this machine in flight22.
2/Lt L. L. Richardson’s first victory, with Observer Lt Martyn Tulloch Vaughan-Lewes, and shared with two other fighters, was a Fokker E.III sent out of control over German lines near Don on 17 June 191623.
2 Lt L. L. Richardson and 2 AM L. S. Court, F.E.2b., of 25 Sqn, while flying over Douvrin at 7 a.m., saw a number of hostile machines flying low over Billy [Billy-Berclau]. The F.E. dropped to 8,000 feet and waited. At 7.25 a Fokker came up through the clouds about 400 yards in front. The F.E. side-slipped and dived to the enemy, who opened fire about 80 yards above him. The hostile machine dived and turned and the F.E. followed, firing half a drum at 60 yards range. The German then dived, side-slipped and landed safely near Annoeullin. 2 Lt Richardson then climbed to 9,000 feet at 7.50, where he attacked an Albatros and a Fokker, both of which dived without firing a shot.
On July 1, the battle of the Somme began and 25 Squadron was tasked with night bombing of strategic targets26. The following day, with Observer Vaughan-Lewes, Richardson claimed his third victory, an Albatros C-type forced to land near Haubourdin at 7.30pm27.
Enemy machines and ground fire were far from the only hazards for airmen. Flying with Vaughan-Lewes on 15 July, their FE2b (4283) developed a fuel fault and pilot and observer crash landed at Bailleul. Both were injured, Vaughan-Lewes fatally28.
Of particular interest to Australians, on 19 July, 25 Squadron was tasked with close air support29 for an attack known now as Fromelles. The air services had little if any impact on the outcome of the battle.
Richardson’s injuries at Bailleul can only have been slight, because he was back in the air on 20 July to claim his fourth and fifth aerial victories, and the status ‘ace’. East of Lens, at 6.30pm, Richardson and Court with Lt H.B. Davey and Capt H.C. Morley destroyed one Fokker Eindecker and sent another down out of control.
Lancelot Lytton was wounded in this action (both arms and thigh30) and he appears in the weekly Flight magazine’s Roll of Honour for 3 August 1916.
The citation for his Military Cross, gazetted in May 1917, may refer to this encounter:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He attacked a formation of five hostile scouts, and brought two of them down. On another occasion, although himself wounded, he destroyed two hostile machines, and drove down, damaged, at least two others.”
Lancelot Lytton Richardson would be out of action for 7 months.
As Richardson returned to England, on the other side of the line Leutnant der Reserve Hans Klein was earning his right to combat in the skies32.
Born in Stettin in the Kingdom of Prussia (now part of Poland), Klein was five years older than Richardson but his military career had followed a similar arc.
At the outbreak of war he volunteered for the army and saw action with the infantry, receiving the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class and a commission as an officer in March 1915. A year later, in March 1916, Klein transferred to the flying corps, a few months after Richardson joined the RFC.
In November 1916 he was posted to a fighter squadron, Royal Prussian Jagdstaffel 4, a ‘hunting group’ of the German air force. Jasta 4 was one of the units that made up the famed Flying Circus. Their aerodrome from 24 February 1917 was east of Arras at Douai.
While Klein was moving with Jasta 4 to Douai, Lancelot Lytton – now Captain Richardson33 – returned to 25 Squadron at Auchel (Lozinghem). Three ‘flights’ make up a squadron and Captain Richardson was given command of one flight.
He soon added to his personal tally.
On 15 February with Observer Lt W.G. Meggitt he sent an armed two-seater out of control at Avion south of Lens34.
On 17 March with Observer 2/Lt D.C. Wollen he destroyed in flames an Albatros D.II fighter between Oppy and Beaumont35. It was his seventh and last recorded aerial victory.
Three weeks later the British High Command launched the battle of Arras. On Monday 9 April 1917 the Allies assaulted a broad front from Vimy in the northwest to Bullecourt in the southeast. Fighter pilots, including those of No. 25 Squadron, were to dominate the airspace above Arras to allow artillery spotters and photo reconnaissance flights to do their vital work. But Allied aircraft were inferior to the Germans’ and they had to contend with the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, and his Flying Circus. It is said the average flying life of an RFC pilot in Arras in ‘Bloody April’ was 18 hours36.
After several days of poor weather, the 13th of April dawned fine and patrols were up from 7am. On the ground significant gains were being made by British and Commonwealth infantry and the Canadians had taken Vimy Ridge the day before. But Allied pilots were taking a battering. By 9am the Red Baron and his Circus had downed six RE8s of 59 Squadron, one falling to Hans Klein of Jasta 4 whose kill fell south-west of Biache. It was Klein’s sixth victory, a total achieved in less than 10 days.
The German fighters went back to Douai to refuel and rearm. “The ‘sharks’ had tasted blood”38 and they were soon airborne again. Von Richthofen downed another machine at 12.45 and there were deadly scraps throughout the afternoon that reflected the bitter fighting below. But their day wasn’t done.
At 6.40pm, nine 25 Squadron FEs took off on a bomb raid against Henin-Lietard. Taking the air, the Jasta pilots were too late to stop the attack, and the air battle began while the FEs were still dropping their bombs. The clash came over Henin at 1930, the FE crews claiming no fewer than four Albatros DIIIs destroyed as the running fight ensued. Klein of Jasta 4 also showed up again so the two units were obviously flying together, attacking the FEs at the front of the stream that were now heading for home.
The first FE to go down went under the guns of Klein, A6372 falling near Vimy, having almost made it… Klein’s victim was Captain L. L. Richardson, an Australian who had achieved seven victories with his gunners since mid-1916 and was about to receive the MC. He and his observer were both killed39.
Two other 25 Squadron FEs were shot down in this fight, one falling to Manfred von Richthofen over Hénin.
2/Lt D. C. Wollen was Captain Richardson’s observer and gunner on this raid40.
They were to be buried side-by-side, probably by troops of the 1st Canadian Division, at Bois-Carre British Cemetery, Thélus. Richardson was 21.
Hans Klein survived the war. He claimed 22 aerial victories and received the Pour le Mérite (the famous ‘Blue Max’) and the Knight’s Cross to the Hohenzollern House Order. Klein joined the Luftwaffe in 1935 as a Major, retiring in 1943 as a Major-General. He died in 194441.
Lancelot Lytton and Rupert Noel Richardson are both named on the Sydney Church of England Grammar School WW1 Roll of Honour at the school’s Memorial playing fields at Northbridge.
L. L. Richardson’s name is also remembered on the Barraba and District War Memorial and the Mosman Church of England Preparatory School Honor Roll.
On 4 April 1918 at Admiralty House, the Military Cross won by Captain Lancelot Lytton Richardson was received at the hands of the Governor General by his brother W. L. P. Richardson42.
L.L. RICHARDSON – Doing our bit, Mosman 1914-1918
If you have further information, please add to the project site: http://mosman1914-1918.net/people/1316.html/
2 1917 ‘HEROIC CAREER ENDED.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 28 June, p. 8, viewed 25 June, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15757360
3 Richardson’s AIF attestation paper lists his birthplace as “Young” but most other records, including the Australia Birth Index 1788-1922 and Richardson’s aviator certificate, state “Grenfell”.
4 1900 ‘Shocking Suicide of Mr. Wm. Richardson, late of Bogolong.’, The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser (NSW : 1876 – 1948), 15 September, p. 2, viewed 29 June, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11280429
5 1900 ‘Suicide of a Pastoralist.’, Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), 12 September, p. 3, viewed 29 June, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63870012
8 NAA: B2455, RICHARDSON LANCELOT LYNTON
10 AWM A02361
11 Royal Aero Club aviator certificates generally included a photograph of the pilot; Richardson’s has a handwritten note “Missing when Received”.
12 NAA: B2455, RICHARDSON LANCELOT LYNTON
14 Ancestry.com. Great Britain, Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificates, 1910-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.
Original data: Royal Aero Club. Royal Aero Club index cards and photographs are in the care of the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London, England.
15 Captain Lancelot Lytton RICHARDSON General List, The National Archives, UK
16 SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 7 JUNE, 1916
17 Above the trenches, 320
19 THE F.E.2B., The ’14 -’18 Journal, Australian Society of WWI Aero Historians, Summer 1964
20 NIGHT BOMBING WITH THE F..E..2b, Mike Armstrong, The ’14 -’18 Journal, Australian Society of WWI Aero Historians, 2010
21 NIGHT BOMBING WITH THE F..E..2b, Mike Armstrong
23 Above the trenches, 320
24 Above the trenches, 320
25 Royal Flying Corps : 1915-1916, 167
27 Above the trenches, 320
28 The Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b/d, 119. Flight magazine records that he died on July 22nd from injuries received on July 15th.
30 1917 ‘HEROIC CAREER ENDED.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 28 June, p. 8, viewed 25 June, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15757360
31 Supplement to the London Gazette, 11 May 1917 (30064/4592)
33 THE LONDON GAZETTE, 6 FEBRUARY, 1917
34 The Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b/d, 144
35 The Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b/d, 120
36 Nicholls, 36
37 Arras battle lines source: @Arras95 (http://ww1centenary.oucs.ox.ac.uk/?p=253) by Kate Lindsay licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/)
38 Bloody April – black September, 41
39 Bloody April – black September, 42
40 The Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b/d, 170
41 Above the lines, 144-145
42 1918 ‘HEROES HONOURED.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 5 April, p. 6, viewed 27 June, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15783264
Great Britain. Royal Flying Corps & Cole, Christopher, (ed.) 1969, Royal Flying Corps : 1915-1916, Kimber, London
Franks, Norman L. R. (Norman Leslie Robert) & Bailey, Frank W & Guest, Russell 1993, Above the lines : the aces and fighter units of the German Air Service, Naval Air Service and Flanders Marine Corps 1914-1918, Grub Street, London
Franks, Norman L. R. (Norman Leslie Robert) & Bailey, Frank W & Guest, Russell 1994, Bloody April – black September, Grub Street, London
Newton, Dennis 1996, Australian air aces : Australian fighter pilots in combat, Aerospace Publications, Fyshwick, A.C.T
Nicholls, Jonathan 1990, Cheerful sacrifice : the Battle of Arras, 1917, Cooper, London
Royal Air Force Museum (Great Britain) & Cross & Cockade International 2009, The Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b/d : & variants in RFC, RAF, RNAS & AFC service, Royal Air Force Museum in collaboration with Cross & Cockade International, London
Shores, Christopher F & Franks, Norman L. R. (Norman Leslie Robert), 1940- & Guest, Russell 1990, Above the trenches : a complete record of the fighter aces and units of the British Empire air forces, 1915-1920, Grub Street, London
A note of thanks to the Australian Society of World War One Aero Historians. Their database Australian Airmen of the Great War 1914-1918 provided an excellent starting point, and additional references to Richardson were kindly made available by the President, Gareth Morgan.