Flight Lieutenant Richard William LITCHFIELD
454 RAAF Squadron
8.4.44 - 23.8.44
Service Number: 401239
Date of Birth: 20 Jan 1917
Place of Birth: Merbein, Victoria Australia
Date of Enlistment: 5 Jan 1941
Rank: Flight Lieutenant
Killed in Action: 23 Aug 1944
Buried - Florence War Cemetery, I,B,2, Italy
THE CREW: FLIGHT 701D
Flying Officer - 'Snow Howard' - Pilot (pictured) - 423741
Flight Sergeant - Sam Birtles - (Nav.) - 418049
Flight Lieutenant - Richard Litchfield - WOP/AG - 401239 - KIA - 23.8.44
Flight Sergeant - Chris Murray - WOP/AG
As copied with permission from A/C Mark Lax's book "Alamein to the Alps - 454 Squadron, RAAF 1941-1945:
There is a long held air force superstition that bad things come in threes, and so it was in August 1944. It was flak which caused the next two losses, the first in nearly two months. On 21 August, Wing Commander Mike Moore led a formation to bomb the fuel dumps at Limestre, near Florence, but the target could not be located. However, all six aircraft were holed by the accurate flak. The next day, a similar mission was organised and again, the bombs missed their target, but this time eight aircraft were holed. For the third day running, the Squadron mounted another two raids on Limestre and this time the gunners were waiting. On the second sortie, 454's luck ran out. The first box was again led by Wing Commander Moore, the second by Lieutenant Alex Dryden. While Moore's aircraft was hit in the tail and turret, he completed the sortie. But as aircraft FW701:D, flown by Flying Officer 'Snow' Howard, No. 3 in the first box, dropped his bombs, he was immediately hit. Two huge flashes from both engines were seen and the nose section had been blown completely off. Then, according to the Unit Historian, 'The aircraft rose almost vertically, with flames pouring from the port engine, then spun to earth in flames. One parachute was definitely seen to open, and other black objects come out of the aircraft, but no more parachutes were reported with certainty. Fortunately, three of the crew had escaped and become POWs including Flight Sergeant Sam Birtles and Chris Murray. The other crew member was not so fortunate, Flight Lieutenant Dick Litchfield, one of the most experienced gunners on the Squadron, had replaced Flight Sergeant Jim McGrath at the last minute while Jim was being hospitalised with a badly infected leg. Dick was killed by the flak and ensuing crash.
Keith Howard later recalled the event:
"I had just pulled the lever to close the bomb bay doors and was about to follow the CO in doing a diving turn off target when all hell broke loose. There was a loud explosion which stunned me for some time. How long, I have no idea, perhaps a few seconds or half a minute. When I came to, I found the cockpit a shambles with debris and smoke everywhere. My head was ringing from the noise of the explosion and there was excruciating pain in the region of my left foot. There was also a very high noise level and probably due to the fact that I wasn't wearing goggles, I was unable to see anything clearly. Whilst flying in formation is was usual to keep one's left hand on the two throttle levers with constant small adjustments to maintain formation position in respect to the leader. Amidst the turmoil I somehow had, on regaining consciousness, a vague recollection of finding myself holding two loose throttle leavers in my hand, realising they were useless and throwing them away. My next actions were instinctive towards self preservation or pure reaction stimulated by fear.
First, I attempted to fly the aircraft, but could not get any reaction from the controls to indicate that the aircraft was responding. The confusion was exacerbated by not being able to see where I was going to see what was happening. My action in trying to fly the aircraft had probably been due to some thought activation telling me to control the aircraft long enough for the crew to abandon the "dead duck" through the bottom escape hatches from which they could clear any aircraft protuberances...
...The Navigator, who fortunately had his parachute pack attached, was wounded in the arm, back and thigh with shrapnel, struggled out of the aircraft through the open nose and by some miracle managed to miss both propellers in falling clear. As for myself, I could not communicate with the crew and my oxygen mask and microphone had been blown off and as the fire was rapidly spreading to the cockpit I abandoned the aircraft as it rolled on its back and was thrown clear. Dick was in the upper gun turret when we were hit and the other gunner, Warrant Officer Murray was at the lower escape hatch....it was customary practice to fly over enemy territory with the lower guns mounted ready for action in a position which made it impossible to use the lower escape hatch without first jettisoning the guns which is normally quite a fairly simple matter. It appears that the aircraft went out of control immediately it was hit and Warrant Officer Murray relates that he was thrown around the inside of the fuselage considerably before the could jettison the guns an follow them out."
Dick Litchfield had little chance. He would have had to clear the turret, find his parachute, clip it on and jump clear - all while possibly being badly wounded and buffeted by wind blast through the open fuselage and under the stress of high 'g' forces pulling him down caused by the aircraft spin.