Gp Capt Frank Carey

Courageous fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain and the Far East

Frank Carey was an exceptional fighter pilot, credited with 25 kills, including 14 German aircraft in four days over the Pas de Calais in May 1940. His tally against the Japanese, where he was often outnumbered five to one, is recorded as seven, but with the Allied armies in retreat and records lost, many who fought alongside him felt he had destroyed considerably more, taking his final score to over 30.

Frank Reginald Carey, fighter pilot: born London 7 May 1912; DFM 1940; DFC and Bar 1940; Bar 1942; AFC 1945; Air Adviser, British High Commission, Australia 1958-62; CBE 1960; married first Kathleen Steele (one daughter, and one daughter deceased; marriage dissolved), second 1947 Kate Jones (died 1991), third 1993 Marigold Crew-Read; died Bognor Regis, West Sussex 6 December 2004.

Frank Carey was an exceptional fighter pilot, credited with 25 kills, including 14 German aircraft in four days over the Pas de Calais in May 1940. His tally against the Japanese, where he was often outnumbered five to one, is recorded as seven, but with the Allied armies in retreat and records lost, many who fought alongside him felt he had destroyed considerably more, taking his final score to over 30.

Carey was born in Brixton, south London, in 1912 and educated at Belvedere School in Haywards Heath in Sussex. At the age of 15 he joined the RAF as a Halton apprentice and qualified as a metal rigger in 1930. Three years later he became a fitter and in 1935 undertook training as a pilot and joined 43 Squadron at Tangmere as a sergeant pilot. He was commissioned in 1940 and went straight to France with 3 Squadron as the Blitzkrieg swept across northern Europe. On 10 May he went into action. He was to recall the next four days:

The Hun aircraft were all over the place - you just took off and there they were. There were lashings of them, absolutely asking for it. They had very few fighters about at that time. Over those four days I must have had 20 engagements. I shot down about 14 aircraft. I didn't get out of my clothes because we had nowhere to sleep except the floor.

Later that month, in his eagerness to see a Dornier 17 end its days, he was hit by its rear gunner and his leg was badly injured. He somehow managed to land his Hurricane and was carried off in a 1914 Crossley ambulance to hospital at Dieppe, where he played rummy with the Duke of Norfolk, who apologised to him for being there with nothing more than gout.

With the enemy fast advancing, Carey and the Duke were put on a hospital train, which was bombed. The two of them did what they could do for the wounded and then, with others, pushed the burning part of the train a mile along the track. Carey recovered from his wounds in a plush hotel near Nantes and in June got a message that a Bristol Bombay transport plane had been abandoned on a local airfield. With half a dozen others they flew it back to Hendon with Carey acting as the rear gunner. In his absence in France his family had been informed that he had been listed "missing believed killed".

He arrived back for the Battle of Britain. During this period he flew 100 sorties, sometimes six a day lasting up to an hour and a half each. He recalled the ludicrous situation of taking on several squadrons of German fighters and bombers stretching from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg. On one attack he set his sights on a Ju88:

I got behind it, pressed the button, and to my utter amazement bits flew off and the damage was astonishing. Then I saw fire over my head from an Me109 that was trying to hit me but was shooting high, so we were both knocking the hell out of this old Ju88! Really I shouldn't claim that one, I should have given it to the 109.

On another occasion his squadron attacked a flight of Heinkel IIIs over the North Sea. After hitting one, Carey could see the Heinkel crew fighting a fire in the fuselage and indicated to them that he would not continue the attack, but he would escort them back to Wick.

Being only a few feet away it became all too easy to become sympathetically associated with the crew's frantic efforts to control the fire. I was suddenly converted from an anxious desire to destroy them, to an even greater anxiety that they survived.

He was hoping that they would make it when a Hurricane from another squadron swept in and without a thought for the situation poured a long burst into the Heinkel. Carey was outraged. "I felt a sense of personal loss as I stared at the wreckage in the water."

Heavy fighting in mid-August brought Carey four confirmed and four probable victories in a period of six days, but on the 18th, he was hit himself and "stitched right across the cockpit". He called Tangmere, who told him they were being bombed and that he should try elsewhere. He spotted a field in Pulborough. "I got cocky and stupidly put the wheels down and just as I settled the plane down I said to myself, 'God, Carey, you're a wonderful pilot!' " With that he hit a trench that had been covered with grass by the local home defence and flipped over. He came to looking up into the blue skies and found two women slitting his trousers looking for bullet holes. He returned to his squadron a month later.

In his determination and hunger for action, he proved to be one of Britain's most courageous and brilliant pilots. He was able to pass on his skills to younger pilots when he was posted to No 52 Operational Training Unit as an instructor. In August 1941 Carey was given command of 135 Squadron, which, in November, sailed for the Middle East, but was diverted to the Far East after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

At Rangoon, 135 Squadron was soon in action against Japanese raiders over the city. As at Dunkirk two years earlier, the British forces were in retreat and up against vastly superior numbers. Flying from improvised airfields often cut out that day, the pilots had to contend with highly manoeuvrable Japanese aircraft.

In February 1942 Carey was appointed Wing Commander Flying of 267 Wing. His approach to his air crew in the extremely difficult months that followed galvanised them to strike hard against the ever advancing Japanese. He led devastating raids protecting the retreating Allied army beneath him.

In October, with the advances being made against the Japanese down the Arakan border, Carey was refuelling at Chittagong. As he sat in his cockpit he was attacked by 27 aircraft. He recalled:

I immediately started my engine, yelled to the ground crew to get under cover. Long before I was airborne the bullets were flying and kicking up dust around me. I got up in the air and immediately began to jink and skid to make myself an awkward target. Luck was with me and I led the Japs on my tail up the river at absolutely nought feet between the river beds.

Out of ammunition he headed for a hill and at the last moment pulled back the throttle. He was delighted to see the Japanese leader plough straight into the hill. His only comment on his return was, "I really lost a lot of weight in that sortie."

In November 1944 he took over command of 73 OTU at Fayid, Egypt. At the end of the war he was given a permanent commission and taught tactics at Central Fighter Establishment. A succession of staff appointments followed until 1958 when he became Air Adviser to the British High Commission in Australia. He retired from the RAF, after 35 years, in 1962, and joined Rolls-Royce as their aero division representative in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. His final years were spent in Bognor Regis.

Max Arthur



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