FIGHTER pilot hero Eric Carter has finally picked up a Russian bravery medal - more than 70 years after putting his life on the line as part of a secret "Churchill" mission.
Now aged 94, the Chaddesley Corbett great-grandfather and former RAF Hurricane pilot received the Ushakov medal at the Russian Embassy in London.
He is one of only a handful of surviving RAF men who faced the "hell" of defending Murmansk against the daily onslaught of German bombers in 1941 as part of Force Benedict, Winston Churchill's secret mission to save Stalin.
For two years, the Russian government has wanted to honour Mr Carter - as well as hundreds of Arctic convoy veterans who kept the ice-cold cities of Murmansk and Archangel supplied during the Second World War - with the bravery accolade.
The Foreign Office at first banned British servicemen from receiving it but has now at last overturned the decision to allow the dwindling number of survivors to get it.
Mr Carter, of Kidderminster Road, has now been to the Russian Embassy in London today to collect the silver medal from Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko.
He said: "I'm very thrilled to get the medal, which follows a lot of correspondence between me and various ministers and MPs.
"It's not given out willy-nilly, so it is highly prestigious to receive this recognition from the Russians of what we did.
"I am the only surviving member of 38 pilots from 81 Squadron who served in Murmansk, although about three or four are still alive from 134 Squadron.
"We were told to hold Murmansk at all costs. It was hell on earth there - we were bombed and strafed daily by the Germans.
"But I shot down quite a number of Messerschmitt 109s in dog fights and Murmansk never did fall."
Mr Carter, who only four months ago received the Arctic Star British medal from Prime Minister David Cameron, added: "It was a beautiful, exciting day when I went to the Embassy.
"We were offered plenty of vodka - but I settled for Russian tea, with no milk, which wasn't bad."
He also features in a recently published book called Force Benedict - with a foreword by TV presenter Dermot O'Leary - about how Churchill secretly dispatched the operation to defend the only Russian port not under Nazi occupation.
Mr Carter, who spent about nine months posted in Russia as part of his seven-year stint in the RAF, said: "It was top secret because Stalin did not want his people to know he had asked Churchill for help and, if Murmansk fell, Hitler would have been able to turn all his forces on Britain.
"It was many years later before we were allowed to talk about what we'd done."
After the war, Mr Carter, whose wife of 62 years, Phyllis, died eight years ago, was a mining engineer for Associated Electrical Industries.
He said he was saddened by recent events in Ukraine that have once more cooled relations between the "west" and Russia.
"I have fears about the future as a result," he added.