Tuesday, 10 January 2012
Britain is no country for an old Second World War pilot called Eric Carter who wanted to sit in the cockpit of a spitfire
Eric Carter is 91 years old and the last surviving member of 'Force Benedict', a secret 1940 Royal Air Force mission during the Second World War, to protect Murmansk, the port in Northern Russia which was a crucial lifeline to the Soviets in their war against Germany.
Eric wanted to reacquaint himself with the interior of the iconic Spitfire fighter plane he had flown over Russia when visiting the 'Potteries Museum and Art Gallery' in Stoke-on-Trent. However, this was not to be. 'Health and Safety Regulations', meant that worried officials refused to allow him to sit at the controls because it was "too risky".
"You couldn’t make it up." said Eric. " I used to fly those things every day fighting the Germans. Now that really was a health and safety concern, let me tell you! I had to laugh to think that I couldn’t sit in a stationary Spitfire in case I got hurt. I think they had their reasons, and they were probably just trying to be extra careful. I just wish the Luftwaffe had been so caring."
'Force Benedict' was a task force sent to keep the port of Murmansk open at any cost to protect crucial supply lines to Soviet Russia following the German invasion of 1941 and remained classified for decades because Stalin did not want to admit he had asked for help from Churchill.
Eric helped carry out 365 sorties during a four-month stay in Murmansk, shooting down 11 Messerschmitts and three Junkers bombers before helping to secure the port October 1941.
Although the actions of Force Benedict are little known in Britain due to the secrecy surrounding the mission, in Russia Eric :
* is a national hero in Russia and granted an annual budget to visit the country as thanks for his heroism.
* has met numerous Russian leaders, including Boris Yeltsin.
* was one of the 'guests of honour' when the Queen made her first State Visit to the country in 1994.
* is one of the only Westerners who has been allowed onto a Russian nuclear submarine.
Eric said that he had lied about his age so he could join the War effort :
"I was young and must have been mad, but perhaps we were just a tougher generation. The average lifespan in the air was just 15 minutes, but I was determined to volunteer after hearing about the atrocities the Germans had carried out on the Russians."
A spokesman for Stoke-on-Trent City Council said:
"The Spitfire cockpit had recently been painted with paint containing radium, which is radioactive, and there is no proper seat in the Spitfire itself at the moment. I am told the people on the day thought it best he did not sit in the plane for those reasons because of his age."
This clip of a 'dogfight' between two Spitfires and two ME110s over the White Cliffs of Dover and shot from one of the German planes gives some idea of the air battles our young and brave Eric took part in over Russia :
P.S. Earlier postings about the Royal Airforce pilots in the War :