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Wing Commander Bob Foster DFC

Born at Battersea on May14th 1920. Died: July 30th 2014 Age 94.

Wing Commander Bob Foster, flew Hurricane fighters during the Battle of Britain, when he was credited with destroying and damaging a number of enemy aircraft, later in the war he destroyed at least five Japanese aircraft while flying from airfields in northern Australia.

For much of the Battle of Britain, Foster was serving with No 605 Squadron in Scotland, but in September, 605 moved to Croydon to join the main action over the south-east of England. 

It was soon heavily engaged, but it was not until September 27 that Foster achieved his first success, when he damaged a Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighter over Surrey. 

During this encounter his Hurricane was hit by return fire, and he was forced to make an emergency landing on Gatwick airfield.

On October 7 he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 near Lingfield racecourse, and on the following day he shared in the destruction of a Junkers 88 bomber. 

By the end of the month he is thought to have destroyed another Bf 109 and damaged a third.

In 1941 No 605 moved to Suffolk, from where on one occasion Foster chased a lone German Heinkel bomber well out to sea. 

His gunfire knocked pieces off the enemy aircraft, but it escaped into cloud before Foster could follow up with a second attack. 

In September 1941 he was transferred to a fighter training unit as an instructor.

Robert William Foster was born on May 14 1920 at Battersea, south-west London. 

After leaving school he worked for the joint petroleum marketing venture Shell-Mex and BP, and in March 1939 – six months before the outbreak of war – he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve to train as a pilot. 

He was called up in August to complete his training before joining No 605.

Foster’s spell as an instructor lasted six months, and in April 1942 he was posted as a flight commander to No 54 Squadron. 

Within weeks of his joining, it was sent to Australia to join two other Spitfire squadrons to form No 1 Fighter Wing of the Royal Australian Air Force. 

The Wing was ready for action by the beginning of 1943, and moved to airfields in the Darwin area to counter Japanese bombing raids mounted from captured airfields in the Dutch East Indies and Timor.

On February 26 Foster intercepted a Mitsubishi ‘Dinah’ reconnaissance aircraft (all Japanese wartime aircraft types were given ‘British’ names) and shot it down. 

It was the squadron’s first success in Australia, and the first time a Spitfire had shot down a Japanese aircraft.

Enemy bombing raids against Darwin continued, and on March 15 Foster was engaged in a fierce fight during which he downed a Mitsubishi ‘Betty’ bomber and damaged a second. 

The three squadrons of No 1 Wing were in constant action throughout the spring of 1943, but Foster had to wait until June 20 for his next success. 

This came when he was leading No 54 Squadron as his formation intercepted a raid by 18 ‘Betty’ bombers which were accompanied by a fighter escort. 

Foster attacked the leading bomber and sent it crashing into the sea. 

A Japanese Zero fighter broke towards him, and in the ensuing encounter Foster damaged the enemy aircraft.

In June, the raids on Darwin became even more intense, and on June 30 Foster claimed another ‘Betty’ destroyed as well as a ‘probable’. 

A week later he achieved his final successes when 30 bombers were reported to be heading for the city from the west. 

Foster led his formation to intercept the force, and he shot down a ‘Betty’ and damaged a second near Peron Island, west of Darwin. 

He was the third pilot to claim five successes over Australia (earning him the title of ‘ace’) and a few weeks later he was awarded a DFC.

After returning to Britain in early 1944, Foster joined the Air Information Unit with the role of escorting war correspondents. 

He arrived in Normandy soon after the Allied landings, and was one of the first RAF officers to enter Paris, joining General de Gaulle’s triumphant procession down the Champs-Elysées.

Foster spent the final months of the war at HQ Fighter Command and as the adjutant of a fighter base in Suffolk. 

In 1946 he left the RAF, but joined the Auxiliary Air Force on its re-formation in late 1947. 

He served with No 3613 Fighter Control Unit until its disbandment in March 1957, by which time he was a wing commander commanding the unit. 

He received the Air Efficiency Award.

After the war Foster had rejoined Shell-Mex and BP, where he worked as a marketing executive until his retirement in 1975.

In 2004 he was reunited with the Hurricane he had flown during the Battle of Britain. 

The aircraft, R 4118, had been rescued as a wreck in India by the printer and publisher of academic journals Peter Vacher, who brought it back to Britain in 2002 and had it restored to full flying condition. 

The aircraft now flies regularly as the only surviving Battle of Britain Hurricane and is the subject of a book by Vacher, Hurricane R 4118.

Foster was a keen supporter of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, becoming its chairman in 2009. 

He was a life vice-president of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, and a dedicated supporter of its initiative to erect ‘The Wing’, a new building at the National Memorial to ‘The Few’ at Capel-le-Ferne, on the Kent coast. 

Designed in the shape of a Spitfire wing, the museum and educational facility will tell the story of what the Battle of Britain pilots achieved in the summer of 1940. 

Foster took the controls of the mechanical digger to turn the first turf and start the work. 

In recent years he had accompanied some of the tours, organised by the Trust, of Battle of Britain sites in east Kent.

In 2009 he published an autobiography, Tally Ho!

Bob Foster is survived by his German wife, Kaethe. There were no children.


Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 10 August 2014, 08:51