NOSTALGIA: Tangmere’s high-scoring fighter pilot

Group Captain Frank Carey in front of a Vampire V at RAF G�tersloh in 1949

Group Captain Frank Carey in front of a Vampire V at RAF G�tersloh in 1949

This article, written by David Coxon, Tangmere Military Aviation Museum’s curator, is the third in a series of monthly articles on the people of RAF Tangmere. More information on the museum, including opening times and entry prices can be found at

Frank Reginald Carey entered the RAF in 1927 as a 15-year-old apprentice (a ‘Halton Brat’) and was first employed as a ground crew fitter and metal rigger with No 43 Squadron at RAF Tangmere.

In 1935 he was selected for pilot training and was posted back to Tangmere’s No 43 Squadron as a Sergeant Pilot, the squadron whose aircraft he had previously serviced. A very able pilot, Carey was selected for the squadron’s Hawker Fury aerobatic team and was still with the squadron at Tangmere when it re-equipped with the Hawker Hurricane in1939.

During the first winter of the second world war, Carey, now based with No 43 Squadron at Acklington, shared in the destruction of three He 111 bombers. Commissioned a Pilot Officer, he was posted to No 3 Squadron in France where, during the Blitzkrieg, he destroyed 11 enemy aircraft before being shot down himself by a Do 17’s rear gunner. However, Carey was able to make an emergency landing and returned to England in mid June. He was awarded a DFC and Bar to add to an earlier DFM.

Carey rejoined No 43 Squadron at Tangmere and was ‘scrambled’ at lunchtime on August 16 to engage the Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers attacking the airfield. He later described his part in the action that day as follows: “This was the first time that Tangmere itself was attacked – with considerable success too.

“We met the raid head-on over Selsey Bill. Due to our positioning, we were only able to fire on about the second wave, leaving the leaders more or less undisturbed in their bombing. However, we were very lucky that our head-on attack so demoralised the Ju 87s that they, and the successive waves behind them, broke up. Some dropped their bombs into the sea in an effort to get away.”

During the Battle of Britain, he destroyed six enemy aircraft before being shot down on August 18, 1940. Fortunately, he was able to make an emergency landing at Pulborough.

After a spell in hospital and as a flight commander with No 245 Squadron, he was posted to take command of No 135 Squadron as it sailed for Rangoon, Burma. On February 27, 1942, Carey was promoted to wing commander to lead the No 267 Wing.

However, after destroying seven Japanese aircraft he contracted malaria. He recovered, was awarded a third DFC and was then tasked with the aerial defence of Calcutta.

Early in 1943, Carey successfully formed an air fighting training unit at Orissa, south-west of Calcutta, for pilots unfamiliar with local conditions and Japanese tactics.

In November 1944, Carey 
was given command of an OTU in Egypt with the rank 
of group captain and awarded the AFC.

After the war ended, he returned to England, was granted a permanent commission and was posted to teach tactics at the Central Fighter Establishment at Tangmere. Later in his career he led a 2nd Tactical Air Force Wing in Germany and was appointed air adviser to the British High Commission in Australia.

Group Captain Frank Carey CBE, DFC and two Bars, AFC, DFM and United States Silver Star, retired from the RAF in 1962 and retired to Aldwick, Bognor Regis. He died aged 92 on December 6, 2004.




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