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66 Squadron, RFC & RAF, 1916 to 1919


Carpenter, Peter DSO MC* MiD**

Introduction

Peter Carpenter was one of the top scoring pilots of 66 Squadron, and also one of the most decorated. He was the patrol leader the day Lt Alan Jerrard won his V.C., the highest award made to any pilot in the squadron. This award was granted on the basis of Peter Carpenter and Harold Ross Eycott-Martin combat report. There has been much written about this action which quite simply does not appear to match up with Austrian accounts or losses that day. It is easy to sit in judgement eight five years after the event, but it must be borne in mind the conditions of combat that day. Here were three young men involved if a fight for their lives. I wonder how difficult it must have been in the heat of battle to accurately report on the action, the adrenaline must have been flowing, the loss of Jerrard, combat damage must have all contributed to the errors in the combat reports.

Early Life

Peter Carpenter was born to Peter S. and Jane Carpenter on 6 December 1891. Peter senior owned the 28 ft. “Sarah” plying his trade as a ship’s pilot in the Bristol Channel and the Western Approaches. One of nine children along with his brothers and sisters he attended the National School at Grange Town Cardiff, where he almost certainly learnt to play Rugby Union, a game he was to play at a local level in Cardiff and Stockport. He left school at the age of 14, and is thought to have worked in Cardiff for a small printing firm. He joined Spillers & Baker Co of Cardiff working in their offices as a clerk at the age of 17; Peter must have been a bright and ambitious lad, when he was about 19 years old he was sent to the company’s office in Stockport where he was employed as a representative.

Carpenter in his army daysIn 1915 Peter enlisted in the Public Schools Royal Fusiliers, initially he was posted to the 24 Training Battalion as an instructor; possibly as he was a good Rugby player, he was a useful addition to the Battalion team. His next posting was to the 19 Battalion and with this Battalion he went to France entering on 14 November 1915 with the rank of Sergeant, once again he was selected for the Battalion Rugby team. Whilst playing for the team he broke his leg and was returned to Home Establishment. During this period he is thought to have become interested in the Royal Flying Corps and applied for a transfer.

His AIR 76 record does not mention his training and posting to 45 squadron from which he was posted to 66 Squadron on 27 February 1918. His logbook can fill in some of this missing information. He attended 5 Reserve Squadron based at Castle Bromwich where he first took to the air in a Maurice Farman S.11 on 21 March 1917 for a ten minute flight. After five hours duel he went solo on 7 April in Maurice Farman Shorthorn s/n A2515. After accumulating a further 7 hours and 40 minutes he was sent to 34 Reserve Squadron at Ternhill for advanced training. Peter experienced his first crash on 11 June when the engine of his Avroe 504A s/n 541 failed; luckily he was uninjured and continued with his training. After 70 hours flying of which over 60 hours was solo flying he was posted to B Squadron of the Central Flying School at Upavon. Here he flew Avroe 504’s, Sopwith Pups and later the Sopwith Camel. After 84 hours of flying he was posted to 45 Squadron at St. Marie Cappel in France.

By the time Peter arrived at 45 Squadron on the 14 September 1917 the squadron had finished converting from Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter to the Camel, the last two machines arrived on 1 September, the same day the last three 1 1/2 Strutters departed. On the 15 September Peter had a familiarisation flight along the lines near Armentiers. He undertook his first combat patrol in B2328 on the 19 September, which was cut short after 1 hour 25 minutes due to a faulty magneto. The next day he encountered the Fliegertruppe for the first time when on the second of three patrols that day the flight engaged 16 Albatross Scouts and a C Type. Peter whilst flying at about 2000 ft was engaged by four Albatross enemy Scouts East of Ypres. He attacked one of the Scouts firing about 30 rounds, it fell over out of control, the other three then attacked him and a fight ensued, Peter returned fire and managed to dive into some nearby clouds making his escape. For this engagement Peter was credited with a DDOC the first of seven credits he was to gain with 45 squadron. His last flight in France was on 16 November 1917.

45 Squadron along with 28 and 66 Squadrons were withdrawn for the line in France and sent to Italy. Capt. Norman MacMillan carries a full account of 45 squadron's move in his book "Offensive Patrol". Briefly, 45 was withdrawn from the strength of 11 Wing in France and moved from St Marie Cappel to Fienvillers on 16 November 1917. The Camels were delivered to 2 Aircraft Depot at Candas for packing. Two trains were requisitioned for the move, aircraft and transport were loaded and carriages were provided for the Officers, horse trucks for the enlisted men. Preparations were ready for the move when the battle of Cambrai began on 20 November 1917. With the rush to bring reinforcements and supplies up to the front, there were no locomotives available for the move to Italy.

Italy

The officers were sent to Berck sur Mer for a short gunnery course and then onto Candas until two locomotives could be found. The first train left for Italy on 12 December via the Rhone and Riviera taking some six days. Upon arrival in Padua the aircraft, transport and supplies were unloaded and dispatched to San Pelagio aerodrome. After erection and re rigging the Camels Peter made a 10 minute test flight in B5182 on 26 December 1917. The next day the Camels moved from San Pelagio to Fossalunga a short 40 minute flight. Whilst at Fossalunga Peter was a spectator when the Germans attacked the Italians in the now quite famous Boxing Day retaliation against Istrana airfield, watching from nearby Fossalunga. (A more detailed account of the action can be found in Cross & Cockade International Vol 26 issue 1 1995 by Gregori Alegi). Peter’s first Offensive Patrol was on 30 December when the British Forces supported a French attack on the Grappa. Later the same day whilst on patrol he had his first taste of combat on the Italian front when they engaged five enemy aircraft with no result. The first combat success for Peter in Italy came seven days later on the 10th. The Eastern Offensive Patrol again led by Matthew Frew observed an enemy patrol flying 500 ft above them going in the direction of Ceggia. Frew turned the patrol to get the sun on their backs and flew towards the enemy aircraft. One of the Albatros D.V. scouts continued to fly straight on, apparently having not noticed the Camels. Peter and Matthew Frew attacked, Peter fired several bursts into the aircraft at close range, whereupon it fell into a spin with pieces falling off the aircraft and crashed at Staffolo, the other two aircraft one of which was painted red continued to climb away declining combat. On the 29 January Peter went on leave in Cardiff via London, arriving on the 1 February. He returned to Italy on the 20 February and the next day was given command of B flight.

When Peter joined 66 Squadron on 27 February 1918 as a flight commander 66 Squadron was under the command of Major John T. P. Whittaker. Whittaker had been appointed following the death of Major (William) Robert Gregory M.C. on the 23 January. The squadron was based at Treviso and under the command of 14 Wing. Carpenter was in action straight away, leading his first patrol the same day, claiming a crashed Albatros D.111 West of Oderzo, the first of 14 successful combats whilst serving with the Squadron. On the 11 March Peter led his flight consisting of Alan Jerrard and Gordon Apps on patrol, they engaged six Berg Scouts, Peter engaged the leader and shot him down in flames. He noted in his diary that the aircraft had a red nose during the engagement, Apps sent one aircraft down into a deep ravine but was not seen to crash and not claimed, but Peter got into a spot of trouble when another of the enemy got into a shooting position on his tail and it was fortunate that Jerrard who had disengaged from another combat was able to shoot the enemy off Peter’s tail. This aircraft was seen to crash near Valstagna.

Jerrard's VC Action

Peter is best known for the fight that took place on 30 March 1918, which he led and resulted in Lt. Alan Jerrard’s award of the Victoria Cross. On 30 March 1918, Peter in Camel B7387 led his patrol consisting of Lt. Alan Jerrard in B5648 and Lt Harold R. Eycott-Martin in B7283 detailed a 12 Western Offensive Patrol. So that you can draw your own judgment about the engagement, I have reproduced the Combat Reports as available at the National Archives/Public Records Office.

Handwritten CR p1Handwritten CR p2As we now know this action has attracted much speculation over the years. It would appear that the Austrians did not suffer the casualties that were claimed in the combat report. In his book "Offensive Patrol", Capt Norman MacMillan devotes a whole chapter to the event. He also asks why Peter Carpenter did not sign the combat report. The reason is that he had submitted a hand written signed report to Whittaker/Topham and further investigations of 66 Squadron Combat reports of this time indicate that none of the participants signed their reports; they were signed by either Whittaker or Topham in Whittaker’s absence. A look at the two reports suggest that Peter’s report was indeed changed by either the squadron Recording Officer William Topham or by Whittaker himself. I am slightly confused as to when Peter Carpenter's report was written.

Combat Report p1Combat Report p2As it has been signed and dated at the bottom 1 April 1918, and signed off by Peter Carpenter Royal Air Force, but at the top is dated 30 March 1918. I am therefore not sure when this was written; either on the day of the combat or two days later. Interestingly the combat reports are all dated the day of the action and not dated when they were written or signed.

The Rest of the War

A few days later the Austrians request that Jerrard's clothes should be sent over the lines. This took place on 11 April when Peter led R G Reid and Charles M. Maud to Godega and dropped the parcel of clothes, then onto Arcade where they engaged a L.V.G C type Peter attacked the L.V.G., firing about 400 rounds, the aircraft started to smoke from the side near the observer's seat. Peter pulled out of the attack but then attacked again as the aircraft flattened out, he got onto the tail but then suffered a gun jam. Maud then engaged the E.A. which disappeared through the mist at 500 ft North of Cimadolmo, this was credited to Peter as a DDOC. A further drop to Jerrard was made on Straddatta aerodrome on 16 April. His next successful combat occurred on the 17 April, when Peter led Charles Maude and “Robin” Reid on a morning patrol. At 13500 ft near Borgo, when they came across a solitary Albatross DV, slightly below them at 13000 ft. Unobserved they manoeuvred behind the unsuspecting machine which Peter fired on. The Albatross went down into the valley crashing on the side of a mountain at Agnedo. Maud and Reid followed the aircraft down to 5000 ft. On 1 May Peter again led Charles Maude and John S Lennox on an Offensive Patrol over to the mountains but owing to bad weather they patrolled the river Piave front, near Susegana they observed an Albatross D111 returning from the British lines. Peter led the attack firing at the enemy aircraft, Charles then took up the attack continuing to fire as the aircraft descended eventually crashing and breaking in two at map ref. 38.J.5767. This was Maude’s first of nine victories. Maud was also credited with a C type the next day when patrolling with Peter, John and “Robin”. Reid was to get his name in the squadron record book on the next day when again under Peter’s watchful eye he shot down a L.V.G. C type at Cardovado. Reid suffered considerable battle damage to his aircraft (B6273) in the fight and one wonders if he would have returned to the aerodrome at low level firing at troops and transport if he had realised the condition of his Camel.

On the 8 May Peter went on leave to England (Home Establishment). He arrived in Stockport on the 18, but he received a telegram the next day recalling him to Italy, where he arrived back at 66 on the 25 May at 5 p.m. On the last day of May Peter led John Lennox and new boy Thomas Henry Timmis, who had arrived at San Pietro in Gu on the 27th. On an early morning patrol over the eastern area near Feltre they observed three Albatross DV’s a little higher that them at 14000 ft, unable to climb to meet the enemy. They turned into the sun and when the Albatri descended, Peter was able to lead the attack. The E.A. were driven down in spins but flattened out at 11000 ft, and then a general dogfight took place. John Lennox took a stalling shot and went down in an outside spin, followed by one of the Albatri, Peter followed them down firing several bursts into the E.A., whilst being attacked from behind by another member of the E.A. patrol, holding his position on the E.A. to his front which went down out of control and crashed. Lennox managed to fire a burst whilst recovering into the aircraft attacking Peter, meanwhile Timmis had his first taste of combat being hit but managed to evade any further combat damage.

June would be a very successful month for Peter, scoring victories on the ninth, tenth, and two on the fifteenth, he also led patrols where Maude and Eycott-Martin would add to their scores. Major John T P Whittaker commenced his leave on 17 July and Peter took command in his absence (until 7 August). He notes in his diary that his name has been put forward for consideration to command a squadron. Peter's final three confirmed victories occurred on the 14 of July (Albatros D111), 31 August (Albatross DV) and finally on 25 October (Albatros D111). After another period of leave, some of which was spent in London he returned to 66 on the 29 September via Paris.

Once again when Whittaker went on leave on the 5 October Peter took command of 66 and there were occasions when Whittaker was seconded to 14 Wing H.Q to stand in for Joubert de la Ferté that Peter as senior flight commander would take command. Whilst combat situations in the air had slowed down the Austrians were harried continually by the two Camel squadron’s 28 and 66. 45 Squadron having returned to France in September. Patrols were undertaken to strafe and bomb targets of opportunity, transport, bodies of troops, railway targets such as stations and sidings. For these operations the Camel’s were armed with up to four 20 lb Cooper bombs.


Peter finished the war having flown on 190 combat patrols and nine bombing raids. He led 139 patrols and his total war flying came to 422 hours 30 minutes.

Peace

Following the capitulation of the Austrian forces and declaration of the ceasefire on 4 November the RAF adopted a more relaxed flying regime. There were a few air tests to fly and also some air fighting and gunnery flights but during early November Peter became ill developing pneumonia, this led to him being hospitalised in 62 General Hospital on 9 December, although he was well enough to attend the Fancy Dress Ball at Portofino on 23 December with Whittaker and Timmis.

On 1 January 1919 he returned to 66 for duty and on 6th returned to England and Home Establishment. Despite this he cannot have been totally fit, he was admitted to Swanage Hospital on 21 March and on 4 April he attended a Medical Board at Hampstead Hospital. Peter was discharged from the service on 3 May 1919. He was offered his old job back with the Spillers & Bakers Company and he may have returned to this employment. But soon after he and his brother Stanley and friend Arthur Tuck formed the Loyal Shipping Company circa 1920/21 with offices in the Cardiff Coal Exchange Building.

Peter in the Home GuardIn April 1926 Peter married Gwynneth May Thomas, they had two children. Unfortunately the business became a victim of the crash in the late 1920's and Peter found employment with the Metropolitain Life Company of New York as their London General Manager. The company was eventually taken over by Legal & General with whom he contiuned as Group Pensions Supervisor until his retirement. He then became a Pensions and Insurance Consultant working from his home in Golders Green. In 1940 during WW2 Peter was a member of the 13 Company, 20 Battery Middlesex Home Guard his local Home Guard unit (see left with AE Bowker). Peter Carpenter died on 21 March 1971.

Awards and Citations

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has destroyed nine enemy machines, and driven three down out of control. He has led forty-six offensive patrols. On one occasion twelve enemy aircraft were attacked, and on another he led two other machines against nineteen of the enemy, destroying six of them. He has at all times shown a magnificent example."

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Within a period of the last three months he has brought down six enemy machines, four of which were observed to crash to the ground, the remaining two being shot down completely out of control. The offensive tactics pursed by this daring and skilful officer have produced most successful results."

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led an offensive patrol against seven of the enemy; three were destroyed. Again he led a patrol of three machines against six of the enemy; two of them were destroyed and one driven down out of control. Later, with two other pilots he engaged twelve hostile machines, of which three were destroyed and one driven down out of control. He shot down several machines himself. (M.C. gazetted 4th March 1918.)"

 

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