Rank Insignia Previous Honoree ID Next Honoree ID

honoree image
First Name: Robert

Last Name: Richardson

Birthplace: Rockford, IL, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: Charlwood

Date of Birth: 05 January 1918

Date of Death: 02 January 2011

Rank: Brigadier General

Years Served:
Robert Charlwood Richardson III

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Robert Charlwood Richardson III
Brigadier General, U.S. Air Force

Robert Charlwood Richardson III was born on 5 January 1918 in Rockford, IL. He is the son of Robert Charlwood Richardson, Jr. [Honoree Record ID 310], a U.S. Army four-star general (USMA Class of 1904). In 1932, Richardson attended The Gunnery, a boarding and day Prep school for students in grades nine through twelve, located in Washington, CT. One year later, he transferred to the Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, PA; graduating in 1935.

Richardson then received a congressional appointment to attend the U.S. Military Academy and graduated in June 1939. After being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the expanding U.S. Army Air Forces, he attended pilot training schools in Tulsa, OK, and at Randolph and Kelly Fields in Texas. He graduated in June 1940 and, in July, was assigned as a Flight Instructor at Randolph Field flying the AT-6 Texan and AT-7 Navigator training aircraft. Later, he was a Flight Instructor at the Advanced Twin-Engine School at Barksdale Field, LA, flying the Martin B-10 bomber. In September 1941, he was transferred to the 52nd Fighter Group, Selfridge Field, MI, where he served as Squadron Commander and Group Operations Officer flying P-40 Warhawk fighter/ground attack aircraft.

In April 1942, Captain Richardson took command of the 1st Composite Squadron, a unit of 18 P-39D Airacobra pursuit aircraft and 5 B-25C Mitchell bombers, being organized at Key Field, MS. The squadron deployed, in August 1942, to the secret, newly-constructed Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. Their function was to patrol the sea around the island, to detect and destroy any enemy submarines and surface raiders, and to protect Allied ships in the vicinity of the island.

The Laconia Incident

It was early in the morning of 15 September 1942, when Ascension Island's British liaison notified Captain Richardson that the troopship RMS Laconia had been torpedoed. Later that morning, a transiting A-20 reported sighting and taking fire from, two German submarines. Two dispatched B-25 bombers found neither the submarines nor the Laconia. At 2200 hours that night, Richardson was asked to assist in rescue efforts by providing air cover for the enroute merchant ships, the nearby Empire Haven and the HMS Corinthian at Takoorida. The next day, a transiting B-24D was sent to investigate and found four U-boats displaying a Red Cross flag and engaged in rescue operations from the sinking of RMS Laconia. The commander of submarine U-156, Lt. Cmdr. Werner Hartenstein, had secured permission to conduct rescue operations after discovering that the ship he had just torpedoed carried 1,800 Italian prisoners and a few hundred British and Polish soldiers. U-156 was crammed above and below decks with nearly two hundred survivors, including five women, and had another 200 in tow aboard four lifeboats. The patrolling bomber, loaded with depth charges and bombs, reported that the submarine had a White Flag with a Red Cross and they had unsuccessfully challenged the submarine via radio to display its national flag. The submarine blinked, via signal light, what the bomber crew understood to say "German Sir." The bomber crew asked Ascension Island what to do next.

The German Navy had notified British authorities of the rescue operations, but the British thought it was a trick and didn't communicate the information to the U.S. forces on Ascension Island. Not knowing that this was a Red Cross-sanctioned German rescue operation, Richardson, made a tactical assessment of the potential threat that the U-boats posed to the unarmed British rescue ships enroute, as well as the possibility that the U-boats could discover and shell the airfield and its vulnerable fuel tanks, thus cutting off this critical Allied air route. Richardson then ordered the B-24 to "bomb the sub." After the (unsuccessful) attack ordered by Richardson, the U-boats, under German Navy command, were ordered to cease all rescue operations and depart the area. A majority of the survivors were later rescued by British merchant ships and by two unarmed Vichy French warships, the cruiser Gloire and the sloop Annamite, out of Dakar, Africa.

This action led Admiral Karl Doenitz, Chief of German Submarine Operations, to issue the Triton Null signal (which came to be known as the "Laconia Order") to his U-boat commanders on 17 September 1942 that stated in part, "No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk..." The U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater of Operations then used his decision to justify their unrestricted submarine warfare. After the war ended, the Laconia Order was used, unsuccessfully, against Admiral Doenitz in his war crime trial. That was due to Admiral Nimitz's testimony that, because of this incident, he too had ordered his submarine crews not to rescue anybody under similar circumstances. The Laconia Incident showed how a small tactical decision can have a strategic impact across history.

Then-Major Richardson returned from Ascension Island in March 1943 to become Project Officer and Flight Leader on the first attempt ever made to ferry P-38 Lightnings to North Africa via the South Atlantic. In April, 52 of 53 aircraft were successfully delivered - a real feat of airmanship. Next, he was assigned as Chief of the Aircraft Division, and later as Chief of the Fighter Division, Army Air Force Board, Orlando, FL. It was there that he was able to test-fly a number of the experimental aircraft, including the first U.S. jet fighter, the XP-59A Airacomet, that was undergoing testing at Muroc Army Air Field, CA (now, Edwards Air Force Base).

He was assigned, in July '44, to the Operations Division, Headquarters U.S. Strategic Air Force in Europe. He served in General Spaatz's headquarters in London and Paris through December '44. In January 1945, he was assigned to the Operations Division of Headquarters, 9th Tactical Air Command, Ninth Air Force; and in April 1945, he assumed command of the 365th Fighter Group. Upon redeployment of the 365th Fighter Group from Fitzlar, Germany, in September 1945, he remained in the Occupation Forces as Chief of the Aircraft Allocation Division, Headquarters, U.S. Air Forces in Europe. He became Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations, European Air Transport Service, in February 1946.

Then-Lieutenant Colonel Richardson was sent to Washington and assigned to the War Plans Division of the Air Staff in June 1946; thirteen months later he was transferred to the Joint War Plans Committee. Upon implementation of the 1947 Unification Act in December, the committee became the Joint Strategic Plans Group, Joint Chiefs of Staff. When the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created in 1949, a newly-promoted Colonel Richardson became the first Air Force planner on the NATO Standing Group. As one of the original NATO war planners, he prepared the European Theater war plans on how to counter a potential Cold War invasion by the Soviet land forces that outnumbered U.S. and NATO conventional forces by a factor of 10 to 1. He also worked the negotiation of an agreement for Germany's rearmament and for the establishment of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) in Paris, France.

Richardson accompanied General Lauris Norstad to Europe in February 1951 as a member of his planning staff. In July '51, he was designated as the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff representative and military observer to the European Defense Community Treaty Conference in Paris. In July 1953, he was assigned to the Plans Staff of the Air Deputy, SHAPE, when responsibility for U.S. military advice to the European Defense Community was transferred from the U.S. Ambassador, to the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. From July 1953 to July 1955, Richardson was special assistant to Air Vice Marshal Huddleston, Royal Air Force, Deputy Chief of Staff/Operations SHAPE, and later, the deputy director/policy, Headquarters SHAPE, serving primarily as the U.S. Air Force member of the Inter-Allied Planning Committee (New Approach Group) that developed the first plans and concept for an atomic defense of Europe.

Richardson returned to the U.S. in July 1955 to attend the National War College. After graduating in June 1956, he assumed command of the 83rd Fighter Wing (re-designated 4th Fighter Wing) at Seymour Johnson AFB, NC. In January 1958, he was transferred to Headquarters U.S. Air Force to become Assistant for Long Range Objectives to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs. He was promoted to Brigadier General in May 1960.

Brigadier General Richardson was transferred to the Military Assistance Division, Headquarters U.S. European Command, Paris, France, in June 1961 and, upon arrival, was reassigned by General Norstad as Director of Operations for Live Oak, the Tripartite Berlin Plans and Operations Group. When the Berlin crisis was over, Richardson was assigned as Deputy Standing Group Representative, NATO, for the period 1 January 1962 - 1 January 1964.

The next transfer for Richardson was to Headquarters Air Force Systems Command, Andrews AFB, MD. He served as Assistant to the Commander, then Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and, in August 1965, was assigned as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Science and Technology. On 31 July 1966, he reported to Field Command, Defense Atomic Support Agency, where he remained until his retirement from the Air Force on 1 August 1967.

Richardson was the author of numerous articles on tactical nuclear warfare, strategy and concepts. During the period 1960 to 1966, he authored eleven articles on those subjects.

Brigadier General Robert Charlwood Richardson III was rated a Command Pilot.

Medals, Awards and Badges

Legion of Merit
Air Medal
Army Commendation Medal
World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Command Pilot Badge

He also received the Croix de Guerre with Silver Star (France).

In Retirement

A recognized authority on nuclear and defense technology acquisition, he teamed up with Lt. General Daniel O. Graham on the Heritage Foundation "High Frontier" project formulating a future U.S. space strategy and advocating for a U.S. space-based missile defense. This became the intellectual foundation of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, aka "Star Wars."

Death and Burial

Brigadier General Robert Charlwood Richardson III died on 2 January 2011. He is buried at the United States Military Academy Post Cemetery in West Point, Orange County, NY.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Anne Waln Taylor Richardson, who died in 2009. They are survived by their three children; Newbold Richardson Smith; Colonel Robert C. Richardson IV, USAFR; Lydia R. Cardin; and six grandchildren.

Honoree ID: 3301   Created by: MHOH




Honoree Photos

honoree imagehonoree imagehonoree image

honoree imagehonoree image

honoree image