REMEMBERING: Air Commodore Robert Carter

Air Commodore Robert Carter, who has died aged 102, joined the RAF in 1927 as an aircraft apprentice, flew biplane bombers on the North West Frontier of India and, before retiring, converted to the Canberra jet bomber.

During distinguished wartime service as a pilot, Carter commanded two squadrons of heavy bombers and later a Lancaster base. After flying night operations against targets in Germany with the Wellington-equipped No 150 Squadron, he took command in June 1941. A few weeks earlier Bomber Command had begun training its sights on France’s Biscay ports, which harboured the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
On July 24 a daylight attack by 150 aircraft was planned to strike Brest, with Carter leading his squadron as part of a force of 79 Wellingtons. The weather was fine but no fighter escort was available, and Carter’s force came under heavy and sustained attack from enemy fighters. Then, over the target, they faced a very heavy barrage of anti-aircraft fire. Gneisenau was hit and damaged, and the dock areas suffered extensive damage; but the bomber force paid a heavy price, with almost 12 per cent losses. Carter was awarded a DSO.
Born into a naval family in Portsmouth on September 15 1910, Robert Alfred Copsey Carter was brought up by his aunt and uncle after his parents left for Uganda. He was educated at Portsmouth Grammar School and, inspired by the Sopwith biplanes flying from the nearby airfield at Gosport, joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice in August 1927.
He excelled at Halton, gaining a scholarship to the RAF College Cranwell, where he trained as a pilot and became the inter-service hurdling champion.
After a brief spell flying Siskin biplane fighters, in 1933 Carter left for India, where he joined No 27 Squadron flying the Wapiti biplane during operations against the Mohmands, a Pashtun tribe on the North West Frontier; he dropped leaflets to warn warring factions to cease activities or face the bombing of their villages. Operations in support of ground forces intensified until the rebels submitted in October 1935.
It was RAF policy for young officers to transfer to another squadron after two years, and Carter moved to Risalpur, where he joined No 11 Squadron, continuing to patrol the troublesome frontier. An inveterate traveller, Carter used his leave periods to trek in the Hindu Kush and Himalayas. On occasions he travelled overland to Calcutta, where he boarded ships to destinations in China and Japan. Carter returned to Britain in March 1936 and took command of an anti-aircraft cooperation unit. His aircraft included Tiger Moths converted to be pilotless aircraft (known as “Queen Bees”) flown by remote control and used for target training. On one memorable occasion early in 1939, in the presence of German military officers, he was instructed to crash one of the pilotless aircraft into the sea to impress upon the visitors the prowess of the Royal Navy gunners. (In reality, they had failed to hit the target.) Throughout the Second World War, Carter served in Bomber Command. After completing his tour with No 150 Squadron, he was at the headquarters of No 1 (Bomber) Group before returning to operations in September 1942 to command No 103 Squadron, which was exchanging its Halifax bombers for the Lancaster at its exposed airfield in the Lincolnshire Wolds. Bomber squadron commanders were not required to fly on operations regularly, but Carter set an example to his crews by flying frequently, attacking heavily-defended targets at Aachen, Essen, Mannheim and Hamburg. In March 1943, Bomber Command launched a concentrated offensive against industrial centres of the Ruhr. Carter led his squadron on the first raid, on Essen — an attack described by one of his pilots as “the most devastating of my tour”. At the end of April, he was promoted to group captain and awarded a DFC, his citation describing him as “an ideal leader and an inspiration to all”. He was appointed station commander of RAF Waltham (Grimsby), home to two Lancaster squadrons and, despite his senior position, continued to fly on operations, often with a new crew. For the final year of the European war, Carter served at HQ Bomber Command before joining its Tiger Force, training for the war against Japan. In the event, the conflict in the Far East ended before the Force deployed. In 1947 Carter attended the United States Armed Forces Staff College before serving in Washington. There he met his future wife, Sally (Mimi) Peters, who had served with the American Red Cross driving a truck and delivering doughnuts to troops on the front line in Europe. After meeting Carter she sent a telegram to her mother: “Ain’t love grand, at last it’s happened with a wonderful British RAF officer.” Carter served with the RNZAF for three years as the Director of Organisation in Wellington before taking command in February 1953 of the bomber base at Upwood in Huntingdonshire. He flew the Lincoln before converting to the Canberra jet bomber. After serving as senior air staff officer at HQ Transport Command and then in the Air Ministry, he was appointed the air officer administration at the RAF’s headquarters in Germany. He was appointed CB in 1956 and was twice mentioned in despatches. Carter retired in 1964 and settled in Wiltshire, where he and his wife converted a tumbledown cottage; he put his DIY skills to further good use by burying two halves of a Nissen hut to provide a swimming pool for his children. He also worked as the administrator of a large farm. When his wife became disabled, Carter took over her care and the running of their house, where he was still living as he celebrated his 100th birthday . Robert Carter’s wife died in 2007, and he is survived by their two sons and one daughter. Air Commodore Robert Carter, born September 15 1910, died November 10 2012 SOURCE: TELEGRAPH
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