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Obituary: Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Rosier

FREDERICK ROSIER was one of the great fighter men of the Royal Air Force, whose career took him into almost every aspect of the fighter and ground attack world.

Born in Wrexham in 1915 and educated at the local Grove Park School, he took a short service commission in 1935, learnt to fly at Wittering and spent three years piloting the Hawker Fury and then the Hurricane with 43 Squadron at Tangmere.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, now on a permanent commission, he joined the newly formed 229 Squadron at Digby, flying Blenheim fighters and later Hurricanes on North Sea patrols, and on 23 May 1940, soon after joining a squadron detachment to fight in the Battle of France, he destroyed two Me 110s before being shot down near Arras, receiving facial burns and ending up in hospital. Three months later he was back with 229 at Northolt in time to fly in the final weeks of the Battle of Britain and in October to take command.

Then in 1941 Rosier's squadron was loaded aboard HMS Furious, duly flew off the carrier in the Mediterranean (they had never done this before), landed in Malta, avoided being hijacked for the island's defence, and arrived in the Western Desert in time to help support the Army's operations to relieve Tobruk and capture Banghazi. A few weeks later he was promoted to command one of Sir Arthur Coningham's new fighter wings; the other was in the hands of "Bing" Cross and they made a good team.

Cross, describing their activities in his 1993 book Straight and Level, mentions how Rosier nearly wrote himself off near Tobruk. This incident was picked out in the citation for the DSO he now received: lending a hand to one of the wings during an air battle, he spotted a pilot who had been forced down in enemy territory, landed in an attempt to rescue him, was unable to take off again because of the enemy forces nearby, and - with the other pilot - got back to base three days later after several times narrowly escaping capture. Overall he was recognised as an outstanding fighter pilot whose courage and leadership had been inspiring throughout. Then he spent a year as second-in-command of the newly formed 221 Group, where he helped direct all the fighter operations up to and including the Battle of El Alamein.

In early 1943 Rosier was home again and after spells in operational training and in command at Northolt he moved to 84 Group, one of the composite groups formed within the 2nd Tactical Air Force to support the Normandy invasion. Comprising 29 squadrons, mainly of Spitfires, Typhoons and Mustangs, the group was associated mainly with the First Canadian Army during the 1944/5 campaigns and Rosier - now a Group Captain - worked in the Group Control Centre, moving forward regularly as the armies advanced, and remained with the group in Germany until 1946 as part of the occupation forces.

There followed the Staff College course and a year commanding the fighter station at Horsham St Faith before he was off to the United States to attend the Armed Forces College in Virginia and undertake an exchange posting with the USAF - again on air defence duties. Home again in 1951 the career emphasis on the fighter role continued with tours at the Central Fighter Establishment and then at Headquarters Fighter Command as Group Captain Plans in the final days before the Sandys Defence Review sounded the death knell for its traditional structure. In 1957, however, the broadening of his career was begun when he attended the Imperial Defence College; in 1958 he moved for the first time to the Air Ministry, becoming Director of Plans; and from there he took over as Chairman of the Joint Planning Staff in the new Ministry of Defence under Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

In August 1961 came his first high-level appointment when as an Air Vice- Marshal he took over in Aden as Air Officer Commanding Air Forces Middle East. With an air force ranging from Shackleton bombers, Beverley and Argosy transports to Hunters, Twin Pioneers and helicopters he worked closely with the other Services to protect British interests as far afield as Kenya and the Gulf and was fortunate to be there at a relatively quiet period in the troubled history of the area. Famine relief in Kenya and regular operations to control dissidents in the Aden Protectorates were his main operational concerns, and much work was done to improve the infrastructure in Aden itself.

Rosier next went to Transport Command as SASO, where transport support for the British forces operating in the Far East against Indonesia was a major preoccupation, and in 1966 he returned to the familiar ground of Fighter Command, this time as its last Commander-in-Chief before its absorption into Strike Command in 1968. His remaining time in the Service was spent in the international sphere, first in Ankara as the United Kingdom Permanent Military Deputy to the Central Treaty Organisation and finally for three years as Deputy Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Central Europe.

On retirement in 1973 Rosier became Military Adviser to the British Aircraft Corporation and his involvement with its Saudi Arabian contract led to his spending over three years there as Director-in-Charge before departing in 1980. Thereafter, remembering the wonderful fighting spirit of the Polish pilots during the war, he became chairman of their Benevolent Fund and in the 1990s led the appeal for the rebuilding of the Polish Memorial at Northolt; the work was finished in 1996 and he was subsequently appointed to the Polish Order of Merit. This apart, he devoted much of his time to "do-it-yourself", a talent inherited from his father, and largely rebuilt a house he and his wife had bought near Llangollen.

If Freddie Rosier was never really a "political" animal, he was certainly one of the RAF's most respected and admired leaders. We shall remember him as a modest, kindly, humorous man, possessed of the common touch, a man who above all inspired trust among all who knew him.

Frederick Ernest Rosier, air force officer: born Wrexham 13 October 1915; DSO 1942; OBE 1943, CBE 1955; ADC to the Queen 1956-58, Air ADC 1972-73; Director of Joint Plans, Air Ministry 1958; Chairman, Joint Planning Staff 1959-61; CB 1961, KCB 1966, GCB 1972; AOC Air Forces Middle East 1961- 63; Senior Air Staff Officer, HQ Transport Command 1964-66; UK Member, Permanent Military Deputies Group, Central Treaty Organisation, Ankara 1968-70; Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces Central Europe 1970- 73; married 1939 Hettie Blackwell (three sons, one daughter); died Wrexham 10 September 1998.