James Roberts was the eldest son of a Captain of the 7th Battalion, Warwickshire Regiment.
After serving as Midshipman with the Glen and Shire Line, he joined the RAF in September 1934 as Aircraftsman 2. On completing his training for air crew duties, he was posted to 115 Squadron at Marham. After training as an Air Gunner he was posted to 12 Squadron at Andover.
On 1st September 1939 the squadron moved to France and was based at Berry au Bac. From September to December he flew on reconnaissance missions over the Maginot Line, his aircraft coming under ground and air fire.
In early 1940 he trained as a Gunnery Leader and was commissioned as an Acting Pilot Officer. He was posted to 103 Squadron, arriving with the retreating squadron on 29 May. The squadron was engaged to delay the German advance by bombing bridges and strafing troops. Losses were heavy, and on two occasions his aircraft was shot down. Following the fall of France three Fairey Battles were made flyable and the remainder of the squadron escaped to England, landing at Abingdon on 17 June only to be arrested (initially) as spies!
The Squadron was re-formed, with Roberts crewing as Air Gunner in Fairey Battles. In February 1941 they converted to Wellington 1C’s, Roberts crewing as Air Gunner with Squadron Leader Gordon Mellor. Returning from a raid on the Ruhr they overshot the runway and crash landed in the bomb dump. The aircraft was written off but fortunately the crew suffered only minor injuries.
Returning from an Operation on 31st March 1941, whilst on final approach to R.A.F. Newton, they were attacked and shot down by a JU 88. Their aeroplane was a complete write-off, but all personnel escaped with only minor injuries.
On 24 July he flew in Wellington R1588 with Squadron Leader Lane and Wing Commander Lowe as Gunnery Fire Control to the Squadron Formation, which carried out the daylight raid on the German battleships at Brest. The squadron lost one plane and claimed three ME 109’s shot down. For this action, he was awarded the D.F.C.
During 1943 he served as Group Gunner Leader to 91 OUT Group at Abingdon. Against considerable opposition, he instigated the first Air Gunner Training School at Abingdon, where air gunners completing an operational tour were trained as instructors.
In April he was posted to India to join 356 Squadron, equipped with American Liberators. In 1944 he was Mentioned in Despatches for work carried out on the development of Infra Red and Gyro Gun sight training for Air Gunners. Following the end of the War in the Far East, Roberts was promoted to Squadron Leader. He declined an Extended Service Commission, resigning from the R.A.F. in September 1946.
? Leading Arcraftman
January 17th, 1940: Pilot Officer (probation)
January 17th, 1941: Flying Officer (war sub)
January 17th, 1942: Flight Lieutenant (war sub)
1945: Squadron Leader
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