Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer bigraphy, stories - Recipient of the Victoria Cross

Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer : biography

7 July 1920 - 23 December 1944

Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer VC, DFC & Bar (7 July 1920 – 23 December 1944) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.


Early life

Palmer was born at Gillingham, Kent on 7 July 1920 the son of Arthur and Lilian Palmer. As a boy Palmer attended Gravesend Grammar School in Kent, where a memorial portrait and his VC citation hang to this day in the school's hall.


Palmer first flew operations in January 1941 and took part in the first 1,000-bomber raid against Cologne in 1942. He was one of the first pilots to drop a 4,000-lb. 'Cookie' bomb. In 1943 he served with 20 OTU at Lossiemouth in Scotland.

By the end of 1944 Palmer had completed 110 bombing missions, many as a member of the Pathfinder force, necessitating deep penetration of enemy territory and low-level ‘marking’ operations against heavily defended targets.

He was 24 years old, and a Royal Air Force Squadron Leader serving in 109 Squadron, during the Second World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

On 23 December 1944 over Cologne, Germany, Squadron Leader Palmer was leading a formation of Lancaster bombers on a daylight raid to bomb the Gremberg marshalling yards in Cologne. It was the task of his Lancaster PB371 to use the "Oboe" radio bombing aid and mark the target as "master bomber" for the other bombers to aim for.

Palmer flew one of 27 Lancasters and three Mosquitoes from No. 8 Group to attack the Gremberg railway yards. The raid went badly. The force was split into three formations, each led by an Oboe-equipped Lancaster with an Oboe-equipped Mosquito as reserve leader. During the outward flight, two Lancasters collided over the French coast and both their crews killed in the crash. On approaching the target, it was found that the forecast cloud cover had cleared, and because the formations would have been very vulnerable to Cologne's flak defences during the long, straight Oboe approach it was thus decided to allow the bombers to break formation and bomb visually.

Unfortunately the order to abandon the Oboe run did not reach Palmer, who continued on with his designated role, even though his aircraft was already damaged by flak. Some minutes before reaching the target two engines were set on fire, but disdaining the possibility of taking evading action and being determined to provide an accurate and easily visible aiming point for the other bombers, he managed to keep the badly damaged aircraft on a straight course, made a perfect approach and released his bombs. The Lancaster was last seen spiraling to earth in flames and only one member of his crew, the Rear Gunner, escaped.

The formation suffered a Lancaster and a Mosquito shot down by Flak and fighters, with a further Lancaster abandoned by its crew over Belgium. The losses were thus six aircraft out of the 30 dispatched.

Palmer is buried at the CWGC's Rheinberg War Cemetery in Germany.

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