2020, News, Richard Kellett

One of our Aircraft – Robin Holmes book

Yet again, my past returns and weaves in and out of my present, even into a future. It’s Richard again, who keeps popping up unexpectedly.  Little did I know then how this would echo on,  within our private conversations over Guinness in pubs around Bexhill where he’d come to retire and ultimately to die in.

Last year, on the anniversary of the film The Great Escape, I returned to his story of Stalagluft III, found the facebook group, a woman who had written a book mentioning Richard in it, talking of the long march after the camp was liberated. Then Jack came on the scene, with his mysterious desire to celebrate a failed WW2 battle of Heligoland, which I now see was a tribute to those who died including Jacks Uncle.

Jack’s roped us in further now, and elongated the Wellington story, into the Loch Ness Wellington story. The last remaining fighting Wellington out of 11, 461 produced, crash landed in to Loch Ness December 31st 1940, 80 years ago this year. A natural anniversary. In the 1980’s, with advancing Sonar technology and a series of serendipitous events it was found, raised and restored at Brooklands. The person behind the raising, Robin Holmes, involved Richard, and shortly after Richard died 1991 published a book, ‘One of our Aircraft’ which I am reading now. I knew Richard during this time, he must have mentioned it to me, but I did not take much heed, in my 30’s distracted by the life around. Of course I wish he was alive now to listen to.

One great element out of Jack’s project for me has been to meet Tim Harris. Tims father Paul Harris, was Richard’s 2nd in command on the Heligoland raid.  Paul Harris wrote the forward to Robins book, and in the first paragraph I read:

We survived simply because Wing Commander (as he was then) Richard Kellett’s leading was immaculate.

Robin begins the book by going  into the early battles of WW2, Heligoland and Wilmhenshaven, in some detail as a Wellington background. The early balls up. Or as Robin calls it  ‘It is a story of the Stone Age of Strategic Bombing very much sepia tinted.’

The very beginning of the RAF was 1918 when Sir Hugh Trenchard advocated what became the guiding philosophy of the RAF:  ‘offense is the best form of defense’. This was one of 4 cornerstones the other 3 being: The bomber would always get through. Bomber formations would be self defense. Attacks on precision targets would be made in daylight.

Famously as late as 1934 we began ramping up RAF. Vickers Armstrong at Weybridge came up with geodetic design concept  of Barnes Wallace, in 1938. Two Vickers Wellesley’s won the long distance record for Britain (that was Richard!). 1938 the first Wellingtons entered squadron service Mildenhall. By 1939, Lord Trenchard saw fruits of his labour.

R for Robert
1939 Rolled off production line at Weybridge, tested, tweaked, and landed at 149 Squadron Mildenhall 20 November just in time to go to war.

Out of a total of 11,461 produced, R for Robert is the only Wellington Bomber that fought in WW2, to survive in tact. All the others were shot down, ditched in the sea, crashed on training, or melted down into saucepans.

Why Heliogoland?
The Industrial heartland of the Rhur was the objective, but being denied access over France, the only way in was over Heligoland and Wilhelmshaven.

Kellett’s wasn’t the first reconnaisance. Harris led the first, taking off from Mildenhall, 4th September 1939. He had the same instructions as Richard told me about: under no circumstances were bombs to be dropped on land where civilian casualties could result. The German command was also instructed same at the time. ‘The Fuhrer won’t have a single civilian killed’ (Paul Harris description p 43)

Bunny Austin, Cheese Lemon, Wimberley and Lewis. All these familiar names are mentioned in Robin’s book.

In his report, Richard Kellett said: ‘The enemy pressed on their attacks in a splendid manner’, striking a curiously gallant note in describing an ill-matched slaughter.

Crew of R for Robert collected 3 medals. Paul Harris, Sandy Innses DFC, Jimmy Mullineau DFM p 85 All crew described.



1970, after Professor Tucker from Birmingham university, using high frequency sound waves, reported seeing large underwater moving objects, the Academy of Applied Science arrived with latest high definition side scan sonar. Findings were many, including the now famous ‘flipper’.
1976 Martin Klein arrived with his new Klein scanner – after success Drumnadrochit (near by)
1977 to publicise these events, together with photographs taken by Robert Rines (Academy of Applied Science) in 1975, a public lecture organised with World Wildlife Fund (Peter Scott) ‘In search of Nessie’ . Robin Holmes and Robin Dunbar from Herriot Watt university attended this (due to shared interest in techniques for locating objects on sea bed). Distributed at the lecture were copies of Marty Klein’s ‘Sonar Serendipity’ paper. What caught their attention was a possible siting of Catalina Aircraft lying in 34 meters of water near Urquart castle.

Herriot Watt University, which had relatively recently been granted a charter (1966), developed the Underwater Technology Group, (finding gap in university market) in department of Engineering. Here they were carried out research into methods of of visually surveying the sea bed. They developed the ROV (Remotely operated vehicle) with 4 versions called  Angus 1 2 3 and 4.They also invested in an underwater camera.

This was a perfect project for them and was led by Robin Holmes.  1978 Thanks to Scottish Marine Biological Association research vessel, Seol Mara, and George Reid (who had assisted Marty Klein with his survey), Robin Holmes and his team found the so called Catalina, not at 30 by 70 meters down. As Robin Holmes describes:

By a thousand to one chance we landed right on top of the aircraft… the port wing became visible. The construction was in the form of a lattice of metal formers… We had found the Wellington Bomber.’

1978-80 Royal Navy Diving Group had been using Loch Ness Wellington as one of their working up sites. 1979 they confirmed the Wellington.

1981 The Sea Pup thanks to UMEL and Oceanics Ltd, a new ROV. The survey revealed that the old warrior had been extensively vandalized.

Details of first salvage attempt were published 1981 edition of Flypast. As a result, public donations financed the survey July 1981. Robin met up with Paul Harris, and promised him he would re-unit the two, pilot and plane.

Needed to raise £50,000. Formed the unofficial Loch Ness Wellington Association. National Heritage Memorial Fund offered 20,000 provided it was made into a charity. July 1984 LNW Association Ltd formed. Paul Harris and Richard Kellett joined Exec committee, Herriot Watt acted as accountant.
K.D Marine  (expressed interest in project),
Norman Boorer, chairman of VAFA (Spud) invited to design suitable lifting frame.
At Brooklands, Morag Barton, agreed for Brooklands to take R for Robert.

Oceaneering International Services in Aberdeen, said yes with their ADS system. Chris Jenkins, Tony Pritchard, Alfie Lyden.

British Aerospace contributed by printing a brochure The Story of Another Loch Ness Monster.

The salvage was schedulled 9th September 1985. with an anticipated 5 days work.121 Drumsmittal Primary school led by Mr Benzie were invited to be involved.

September 17th  – The wimpy had broken free from the suction of the mud and was heading for the surface.
Then the lifting frame smashed and broken up rose to surface.
Out of time and money.
Oceaneering came to rescue. More finance was found to cover costs.

21st September she rose.

Paul Harris, in a wheel chair visited Brooklands museum and was finally re-united with his old Wimpy. One year later, Richard Kellett, from Bexhill, conducted around the remains of the aircraft.





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