Staff-Sergeant Frank Alan Richards
Unit : No.19 Flight, "F" Squadron, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment
Awards : Distinguished Flying Medal
Alan Richards worked as a commercial artist before the war, and enlisted in the Royal Corps of Signals on the 10th October 1939, serving in France with the British Expeditionary Force before being evacuated from Dunkirk. Although the Royal Signals were keen to retain Richards, he volunteered for and was officially transferred to the Glider Pilot Regiment on the 18th September 1942. He began flight training at R.A.F. Booker in July 1943, and by 1944 was a qualified First Pilot with the rank of Staff-Sergeant, and was posted to No.19 Flight "B" Squadron.
On Sunday 17th September 1944, he took-off from R.A.F. Manston for Arnhem, in a Horsa glider, chalk number 339, with Staff-Sergeant George Frederick Voller. They were carrying a Jeep, a 6-pounder gun and three men of the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, and made a successful landing on LZ-Z. On the night of the 25/26th September, Richards withdrew across the Rhine with the remnants of the 1st Airborne Division; Voller was wounded and taken prisoner. Probably due to the horrors of the battle, Richards never spoke much about his experiences at Arnhem.
Back in the U.K., the Glider Pilot Regiment was re-organised, and on the 26th October No.19 Flight was transferred to "F" Squadron. On the 24th March 1945, he flew a Horsa to LZ-O, to the north of Hamminkeln, carrying a Jeep, anti-tank gun and men of the 2nd Battalion The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He did not have an auspicious start to Operation Varsity, however, as the Halifax towing his glider soon developed a technical problem and had to return to base. Richards took-off again 45 minutes later, with the pilot of the replacement Halifax trying to make up for lost time to catch up their proper place in the formation.
On crossing the Rhine, the gliders came under heavy anti-aircraft fire and it became apparent that the landing zones were still obscured by the smoke from the 2nd Army's bombardment. For his actions during what followed, Staff-Sergeant Richards was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. His citation reads:
On 24th March, 1945, Staff Sergeant Richards was the first pilot of a Horsa glider taking part in the airborne assault across the Rhine, North of Wessel. On approaching the landing zone after a flight of 3 hours, it was difficult to pick out landmarks due to the enemy smoke screen. In spite of considerable enemy anti-aircraft fire, Staff Sergeant Richards pressed on to land in his allotted area. During this time, the glider was severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire, wounding himself his second pilot and one passenger. The glider became uncontrollable in a steep dive, but by Staff Sergeant Richards' coolness and skill, he was able to make a landing in the correct part of the area chosen for his load. In spite of his wounds, Staff Sergeant Richards supervised the unloading of the glider and therefore by his skill in the air and conduct on the ground, ensured the full effectiveness of the load carried in his glider.
With his passengers, Jeep and anti-tank gun on their way to carry out their pre-arranged task, of attacking a flak position, Richards made his way to the First Aid Post and from there to the glider pilot rendezvous area. Whilst waiting here, the sound of German tanks could be heard nearby, and after everyone took cover they watched in awe as a formation of RAF Tempests descended and proceeded to knock them out. Richards was evacuated to a British hospital in the outskirts of Brussels, before being flown back to Down Ampney in a Dakota.
Demobilised on the 1st April 1946, Richards took up his paint brush once again and his work followed a distinct wartime theme. His illustrations were used in Claude Smith's book, History of the Glider Pilot Regiment.
My thanks to Bob Hilton for his help with this account.
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