Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Rice DFC (1917-1981)

Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Rice DFC of the ‘Dambusters’ RAF 617 Squadron of Avro Lancasters during World War II.

flight lieutenant geoffrey rice dfc
Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Rice DFC

4th January 1917 Geoffrey was born to Frederick and Anne Rice at the Royal Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth, Hampshire. His father at the time was in the Royal Navy serving away overseas.

After the war, Frederick and Anne Rice along with their young child Geoffrey returned to Burbage in Leicestershire. They moved to a house at 26 Coventry Road, Geoffrey would spend time with his grandmother at her home in nearby Windsor Street in Burbage.

1927 Geoffrey attended Hinckley Grammar School.

He became a chorister at St. Catherine's Church in Burbage.

1931 When Geoffrey has graduated from the Hinckley Grammar School, he would start an engineering apprenticeship in the hosiery trade at Bennett Brothers at Hawley Road, Hinckley, Leicestershire.

He joined Burbage Cricket Club which his father had previously been a member, and became an accomplished cricketer.

1940 Geoffrey saw Coventry on fire from a distance after the Blitz during October and November, he found this enraged him so much that he would volunteer for the RAF.

Royal Air Force - Pilot Training

16th January 1941 Geoffrey joined the RAF and was selected for pilot training, and give service number 141707. He was sent to No.2 Cardington Recruit Centre in Bedfordshire, which was the largest recruitment training establishment in the country, and known to have had the best instructors in the RAF. He would undertake a 12 week basic training in drill, physical training, anti-gas training, education and handling aircraft. This was the same location that the Airship R101 was built and moored during 1929.

14th June 1941 He was sent to No.8 Initial Training Wing, based at Trebarwith Hotel, Newquay, Cornwall. He would be given further ground instruction and physical training.

31st July 1941 Geoffrey was sent overseas to America for air training on the 'Arnold Scheme'. He would learn how to fly in a Stearman (Boeing) PT-17 biplane.

25th August 1941 Geoffrey was sent overseas to Canada for further flying training.

2nd November 1941 He was sent to No.31 Personnel Despatch Centre at Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.

9th January 1942 Geoffrey was sent to America for more flight training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. This flight school was the first training school in America which was created by the famous Wright Brothers in 1910.

30th February 1942 Geoffrey had finished his overseas flight training, and graduated as a commissioned Pilot Officer.

11th March 1942 He was sent back to No.31 Personnel Despatch Centre at Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada for repatriation.

29th March 1942 Geoffrey returned to the United Kingdom and was sent to No.3 Personnel Reception Centre in Bournemouth, Dorset. He would have been medically checked out, issued his battle dress and flying gear, briefed on his forthcoming duties and sat in on lectures.

9th June 1942 Geoffrey was sent to No.9 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Hullavington near Chippenham, Wiltshire. He would have flown the Airspeed AS.10 Oxford II (nicknamed the 'Ox-box') which is a twin-engine aircraft used for training complete aircrews for RAF Bomber Command.

14th July 1942 Geoffrey was sent to No.19 Operational Training Unit at RAF Kinloss north-east of Inverness in Scotland. He would now be flying the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk II which was a twin-engine Medium bomber.

57 Squadron at RAF Scampton

20th February 1943 He was posted to 57 Squadron at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire as a Sergeant Pilot with the six men he had been doing his training with.

March 1943 Geoffrey and his crew had completed nine missions in the Avro Lancaster bomber, he was now in 57 Squadron's new C Flight, which was overseen by Squadron Leader Melvin Young.

modified avro lancaster of 617 squadron upkeep bouncing bomb mounted on guy gibsons lancaster
Modified Avro Lancaster Mk III of the 617 Squadron, known as B Mk III Special. (left/top) "Upkeep" bouncing bomb mounted under Wing Commander Guy Gibson's Lancaster B Mk III Special. (right/bottom)

617 Squadron 'Dambusters'

26th March 1943 The new C Flight was made up of four crews, which was captained by Melvin Young, Geoffrey Rice, Bill Astell and Sergeant Ray Lovell. It was decided to move C Flight to a new Squadron that was being formed at RAF Scampton. Geoffrey had become one of the founding members of the 617 Squadron under the command of Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the 617 Squadron would be known as the 'Dambusters'.

31st March 1943 The newly formed 617 Squadron would be in training for a secret mission by releasing Barnes Wallis's new revolutionary bouncing bomb at Eyebrook Reservoir, near Uppingham.

Operation Chastise

geoffrey rice at raf scampton in May 1943, standing left at rear, guy gibson seated
At RAF Scampton in May 1943.
The people to the left from the rear are: F/L Les Munro RNZAF (leaning forward), F/L Joe McCarthy RCAF, P/O F M "Spam" Spafford RAAF (bomb aimer Gibson's crew. KIA 16/09/1943), F/L David Shannon RAAF.
Standing to the rear, left to right: P/O Geoff Rice, F/O Richard MacFarlane RAFVR (Navigator Rice's crew. KIA 20/12/1943), F/L Richard Trevor-Roper RAFVR (Rear gunner, Gibson's crew. KIA 31/03/1944).
Seated to the right are: Guy Gibson and Ann Fowler WAAF (who later married David Shannon).

16th May 1943 Flying Officer Geoffrey Rice's modified Avro Lancaster ED936/G, Coded AJ-H for ‘Harry’ fitted with the Upkeep mine known as the 'bouncing bomb' along with 18 other Lancaster bombers that made up the 617 Squadron would take part in a secret mission to cross the North Sea at an attitude of 100 feet above water (so as not to be detected by the German radar) and then continue low level across the Netherlands and Germany to bomb the Ruhr Valley Dams, the mission was codenamed ‘Operation Chastise’.

9.31pm, the five Lancasters that made up the second wave that Geoffrey was a part of took off from RAF Scampton on route to the Sorpe Dam.

10.59pm, Geoffrey was flying low level past the narrow neck of Vlieland, an island in the northern Netherlands. He increased the altitude for a short while to check position, then decreased the altitude back to low level to turn south-east towards the Ijsselmeer. The bright moonlight shining on the sea made low level flying difficult, Flight Engineer Edward Smith was about to warn Geoffrey that the Altitude meter was reading zero when there was a huge jolt. Geoffrey had misjudged his altitude and touched a wave, the impact had ripped the bouncing bomb off the bottom of the Lancaster, as a result the water sprayed in through the bomb bay engulfing the fuselage in water. He fought at the controls to gain height quickly and the rear of the Lancaster hit the sea which forced the tail wheel up through the fuselage and into the Elsan toilet. He climbed to a safe altitude which made the water in the fuselage to drain out of the back, almost drowning the rear gunner, Flight Sergeant Stephen Burns. He flew on while the damage was being assessed, it was confirmed that the bouncing bomb had been lost.

Geoffrey had to abort the mission, he turned the Lancaster around to head back home. The Germans had anti-aircraft batteries on both Vlieland and Texel that shot at him while he was passing through the gap between the two islands on his way to the North Sea, fortunately they escaped without being hit by anti-aircraft flak.

They were approaching RAF Scampton when the undercarriage would not lower due to the hydraulic fluid in the undercarriage being depleted. Geoffrey was circling the airfield for about 20 minutes at 1,000 feet, while the crew manually lowered the undercarriage. Not sure if the flaps were working they prepared for an emergency landing, when Les Munro's Lancaster AJ-W that had lost its radio, flew under them and landed on the main runway. Geoffrey had to hold off and land a few minutes afterwards.

12:46am Geoffrey landed his Lancaster AJ-H at RAF Scampton safely. Of the other four Lancasters in the second wave, another had to abort the mission and turn back, two were shot down and one made it to the target and successfully bombed the target.

Geoffrey stayed with the 617 Squadron, which was retained as a special operations squadron. He would fly on missions that the squadron now specialised on, such as missions to Italy during July and August to destroy power stations.

20th August 1943 Geoffrey was awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

30th August 1943 Geoffrey, along with the 617 Squadron was relocated to RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

Operation Garlic

14th September 1943 Geoffrey was sent on a night mission named 'Operation Garlic', that would require eight Lancaster bombers to drop a 10,000lb 'thin case' bomb on a target along the Dortmund-Ems Canal at Greven near Münster in Germany. While the eight bombers were flying over the North Sea, they were told to abort the mission due to a report suggesting that the target was covered in fog. While turning back home, the bomber of Squadron Leader Dave Maltby was lost as it was seen to hit the sea.

15th September 1943 The same crew took off at night from RAF Coningsby on the same mission as the previous night, Flight Lieutenant Harold Martin was the pilot of the eighth crew. They were joined by six de Havilland Mosquitos (two man, multi-role combat aircraft) to escort them to the target and deal with the searchlights, anti-aircraft flak guns and the German Luftwaffe fighters.

The eight Lancasters approached the area of the target which was covered in fog, the Mosquitos patrolled the area for 90 minutes. Geoffrey spent 70 minutes searching for the target before receiving a radio call to abort the mission. He jettisoned the 10,000Ib bomb he was carrying on the return journey home, over the Wadden Sea along the Netherlands coast to save fuel.

Geoffrey's Lancaster was one of only three bombers to survive the mission and return home, the other Lancasters had been shot down.

Antheor Railway Viaduct

11th November 1943 Geoffrey was amongst 10 Lancasters carrying 12,000Ib bombs that took part on a mission to destroy the Antheor Railway Viaduct in the South of France near the French-Italian border. The Viaduct was 540 feet long and 185 feet high which crossed the mouth of a river near St. Raphael.

Some minor damage was caused to the Viaduct due to most of the bombs missing their target, the bombers would come under fire from some ships out at sea. They would take a course south to Blida, and then on to Rabat in North Africa.

lancaster at raf scampton lancaster on the way to bomb a target
Lancaster bomber at RAF Scampton. (left/top) A Lancaster on the way to bomb a target. (right/bottom)

Shot down over Liège

20th December 1943 Eight Lancasters took off on a night mission to bomb Cockerill Steel Works (an armament factory) at Liège in Belgium, with was led by Commanding Officer Leonard Cheshire. Geoffrey was part of this raid, flying Lancaster DV398, coded KC-Z.

When the bombers got to the target area at Liège, they found the target marking was not visible. CO Cheshire radioed through and ordered the other crews to abort the mission, and return home with the bombs.

Whilst flying over Merbes-le-Château in Belgium at an altitude of 14,000 feet, Geoffrey's Lancaster was hit in the bomb bay by flak. The aircraft started to loose altitude and was on fire, he gave the order to his crew to bail out, shortly afterwards the aircraft exploded and broke up. Geoffrey was protected by the armoured pilots seat and was thrown clear by the blast, his parachute was deployed and he descended towards the ground.

Geoffrey's parachute got snagged up a tree in a wood near to Binche in Belgium, he regained consciousness and found that he had cuts, bruises and a broken wrist. The rest of Geoffrey's crew were not so lucky, they did not have time to bail out and had died on the impact when the Lancaster hit the ground.

Three Belgian farm labourers found Geoffrey and took him to the Belgian resistance. The resistance would take him to a trusted doctor, who would set his wrist in plaster.

The resistance managed to keep Geoffrey undercover for five months from the German patrols, but his cover was blown when he was betrayed and captured at Antwerp and was interrogated by the German Gestapo at Auswertestelle West in Oberursel, Germany and in Wetzlar, Germany.

The members of Geoffrey's crew would later be buried at the Gosselies War Cemetery at Hainaut, Belgium.

Prisoner of war

28th April 1944 Once the German Gestapo had finished interrogating Geoffrey, they sent him to the notorious Stalag Luft III, a Prisoner-of-war camp in Sagan (now Zágan), Poland.

January 1945 The Russian Red Army were advancing and retaking Poland, the Germans were moving the captive prisoners of war to other camps. Geoffrey was amongst a large proportion of the prisoners that were forced to march through deep snow, which would result in some of them dying through the freezing temperatures and exhaustion of the long march.

February 1945 After a gruelling three week march, Geoffrey arrived at Stalag III-A which was a prisoner of war camp at Luckenwalde, 32 miles south of Berlin, Germany.

22nd April 1945 As the Russians approached Luckenwalde, the German guards fled the camp leaving the prisoners to be liberated by the Red Army.

stalag luft 3 prisoner-of-war camp stalag 3a prisoner-of-war camp
Stalag Luft III Prisoner-of-war camp. (left/top) Stalag 3A Prisoner-of-war camp. (right/bottom)

After the war

Geoffery Rice appears on this short film made by British Pathé of the Dambusters reunion on 24th anniversary of the raid on the Ruhr valley (Operation Chastise) in 1967 at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire.

28th May 1945 Geoffrey returned to England as a Flight Lieutenant.

6th August 1945 Geoffrey attended a Pilot Course (refresher), it is unknown where this was.

13th November 1945 Geoffrey was sent to No.21 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Perton near Wolverhampton, West Midlands. He would retrain on the Airspeed AS.10 Oxford II that he had previously flown during initial training during June 1942.

23rd July 1946 Geoffrey was sent to No.13 Operational Training Unit at RAF Bicester to train on the Bristol Blenheims.

15th January 1947 Geoffrey was posted to 21 Squadron based at RAF Gütersloh in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, where he flew de Havilland Mosquitos. The role of the Mosquitos was providing a courier service between RAF Blackbushe (Hampshire, England) and Nuremberg (Germany) in support of the Nuremberg Trials.

3rd July 1947 Geoffrey left the RAF.

1947 He went on to work for Shell BP, and was very active in the setting up of the 617 Squadron Association.

Geoffrey moved to Aller in Somerset where he would live for a number of years.

24th November 1981 Geoffrey Rice DFC died in Taunton, Somerset, aged 64. He was cremated at Taunton Crematorium and his ashes were buried at St. Andrew's Church in the village of Aller, Somerset.

18th September 2014 A Green Plaque was put on The Sycamores Inn along Windsor Street in Burbage as a tribute to Geoffrey, this was his Grandmother's former home where he spent time as a child. The plaque was unveiled on the 72nd anniversary of the "bouncing bomb" Dambusters raid.

medals of geoffrey rice, distinguished flying cross, 1939-1945 star, air crew europe star, war medal, defence medal the green plaque at the sycamores inn, burbage
The Medals of Geeoffrey Rice: Distinguished Flying Cross, 1939-1945 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, War Medal, Defence Medal. (left/top)
The green plaque at The Sycamores Inn, Burbage. (right/bottom)