A rare medal awarded by Russian dictator Joseph Stalin to a little-known New Zealand hero in World War 2 is expected to be sold for about Stg30,000 (NZ$78,000) at a Sotheby's auction next month.

Wing Commander Henry Neville Gynes Ramsbottom-Isherwood led the 151 fighter wing of the Royal Air Force fighting Germans alongside Russian pilots for four vital months in the winter of 1941 at Murmansk on the northern edge of the Soviet Union , deep inside the Arctic Circle, the Daily Mail reported in London.

His nephew, Neville Ramsbottom-Isherwood, of Lower Hutt, said he doesn't expect to be able to bid on the medal because it will attract a lot of attention from collectors. His uncle, who grew up in Blenheim, was one of only four non-Russians awarded the Order of Lenin.

"I'd love to have it, but I know I'm not going to be able to afford to bid on the Order of Lenin," he told NZPA. "It's priceless -- there were only ever four awarded to non-Russians".

He has a pair of "wings" from one of the war hero's uniforms, and a roundel off one of his planes.

Mr Ramsbottom-Isherwood said the red and gold Order of Lenin, resplendent with hammer and sickle and a platinum portrait of the Russian revolutionary leader, was one of the rarest awards won by a New Zealand serviceman.

Its presentation, to the wing commander and three of his pilots at the Soviet embassy in London in 1942, attracted a lot of publicity in New Zealand's wartime newspapers.

The wing carried out 365 sorties from Murmansk, shooting down 11 Messerschmitt fighters and three Ju88 bombers shot down.

The RAF was sent there after German forces invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, catching the Russians unawares. Stalin asked Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime leader, for Spitfires, the RAF's fastest fighter planes, but was sent an initial 40 Hurricane fighters and the men of 151 Wing, made up of two squadrons, No 81 and No 134.

The ir job was to get the Hurricanes flying, train the Russians in their use, hand them over and return to Britain.

But they also escorted Russian bombers to German bases in Finland, and shot down as many German aircraft as they could.

The New Zealander led about 550 RAF air and ground crew in temperatures that would go down to -15degC, with daylight that varied from 23 hours at the start to three at the end, amid rain, mist, snow and ice.

"The planes never had any downtime," Neville Ramsbottom-Isherwood said. "They couldn't afford to have them out of action.

His uncle -- who scored all of Marlborough's points in its first, unsuccessful Ranfurly Shield rugby challenge -- went to Britain and joined the RAF in the 1930s.

He won an Air Force Cross for hazardous duties flight-testing Spitfires, Hurricanes, Typhoons and Beaufighters and was the most experienced pilot in Wing 151, but at Murmansk was eventually stopped by the Russians from risking his life flying sorties.

Ramsbottom-Isherwood was also later also awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his Russian exploits.

He later flew in the Far East and survived the war, rising to the rank of group captain, and became commanding officer at Martlesham Heath RAF base in Suffolk.

Just before Anzac Day in 1950, he took a Meteor jet fighter, then just coming into service, for a test flight, ran into blinding snowstorms and icy conditions, and died when the aircraft crashed in Kent, near Tonbridge.

His only child, India, just 10 when her father died, is now frail and in her late 60s. She put the Order of Lenin up for sale after finding a her father's medals while moving house earlier this year.

From today NZ Herald........