Vice-Admiral Richard Michael ‘Smee’ Smeeton, RN
24 September 1912 – 29 March 1992
Richard Smeeton was born on 24 September 1912 and attended the Royal Naval College, Dathmouth, 1926.
He qualified as a pilot in 1935.
On 20 January 1935, Sub Lieutenant Smeeton was granted a temporary commission in the RAF as a Flying Officer.
In 1936, he served with 800 Squadron aboard HMS Courageous, flying Hawker Nimrods.
In 1937, he flew Swordfish, serving with HMS Eagle on the China Station.
On 1 July 1938 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant.
When war broke out in 1939, he was back in the UK.
Luftwaffe attacks on the Fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow led to the Royal Navy forming 804 Squadron.
On 25 November 1939, four Sea Gladiators of 769 Squadron were detached to Hatston on Orkney and, on 30 November, the detachment became 804 Squadron. Richard Smeeton was posted to this unit.
The Squadron was at this time under Fighter Command’s control and remained so during the Battle of Britain period.
Lieutenant Commander John Cockburn took command of 804 Squadron on 9 December.
Germany invaded Norway and Denmark on 9 April in Operation Weserübung. The preparation of this and the execution resulted in large fleet movements including that the British Home Fleet sailed for the Norwegian coast and some contacts were made especially between the Luftwaffe and the British fleet.
Following the unwelcome but not unexpected appearance of the British Home Fleet, ten He 111s of KGr. 100 were sent out on the morning on 10 April on an armed reconnaissance east and south-east of the Orkneys and Shetlands, followed by and He 111P of 3(F)/ObdL flown by Oberleutnant Karl Heinz. Immediately after this reconnaissance screen came 35 He 111 of KG 26 to respond immediately to any target spotted. As the 3(F)/ObdL aircraft approached the Scottish coast, it was intercepted by seven Hurricanes of 43 Squadron led by Squadron Leader George Lott from Wick, Caithness, which was flying out to sea towards Ronaldsay. Five miles east of Ronaldsay Island, Oberleutnant Hein’z aircraft was spotted and the fighters attacked in line astern. Squadron Leader Lott and his two flight commanders Peter Townsend and Flight Lieutenant Caesar Hull, all getting in shots, as did the four other pilots. Oberleutnant Heinz’s aircraft was shot down into the sea and broke in half. Three men were seen swimming, but were too far from land for there to be any chance of being picked up before they succumbed to exposure.
The KGr. 100 aircraft subsequently reached the area and reported that two convoys had been seen off the Moray Firth, and heavy naval units south of the Orkneys. These reports referred to two cruiser flotillas and a French force, which were now retiring to Scapa Flow, and at once these became the prime targets. The first attack began when the KGr. 100 aircraft found shipping off Kinnaird Head, but their bombing caused little damage. Numerous interceptions by defending fighters followed, and some heavy fighting ensued. The first such engagement occurred during the afternoon when a Hurricane from 605 Squadron flown by Pilot Officer Ian Muirhead (Hurricane I L2059), also based at Wick, on convoy patrol spotted a German aircraft at 15:45 (according to some sources this claim was made 17:30). This claim was made 20-30 miles north-east of Kinnaird Head and was a Heinkel of 1./KGr. 100. Two attacks were made, but the bomber slipped away in cloud, returning with the flight engineer (Oberfeldwebel Richard Röder) dead, and a second crew-man (Unteroffizier Alfred Taupe) wounded, but with only minor damage to the aircraft.
Almost an hour later, Flying Officer ‘Pat’ Leeson from the same unit was leading Red Section out on a patrol when two He 111s were seen at 14,000 feet. The three Hurricanes climbed to attack and one of the bombers was shot down by Leeson, Pilot Officer Peter Carter (Hurricane I L2018) and Sergeant W. M. F. Moffat. Only two members of the crew were seen to bale out but in fact Oberleutnant Harald Vogel and all his crew of 4./KG 26 survived and were rescued by a Royal Navy Trawler.
The Sea Gladiators of 804 Squadron were also active in repelling these attacks. Lieutenant Donald Gibson remembered:
“In our Gladiators we had several alerts after German reconnaissance aeroplanes; there was an RAF Hurricane Squadron at Wick, which had success and our first blood was partly by courtesy of this squadron. I think we both intercepted more or less together and somehow we became involved and shot it down.”The successful pilots were Sub-Lieutenant Michael Fell (N5510), Petty Officer (A) Geoff Peacock (N5538) and Petty Officer (A) Bert Sabey (N5509) of Yellow Section who opened the scoring for 804 Squadron when they shot down one of the Heinkels, as recorded by the unit’s diarist:
“A tremendous day for HMS Sparrowhawk [RNAS Hatston], the first and we hope by no means the last. 804 began their fun at 16:05 hours when Yellow Section flew off to Copinsay. There were a great many plots on the board, the weather fine with layers of cloud varying in density up to about 10,000 feet. About 16:40hrs Yellow 3 saw a Do 17 [sic] and the Section gave chase. Sub-Lt Fell got in a burst at about 500 yards as the Do 17 disappeared into the cloud: but followed him in. Yellow 2 went in above the cloud and as he came out so did the Do 17 some 400 yards away. Peacock got in a burst before the e/a dived away back into the clouds. We were later informed that Do 17 was crying SOS with a leaking petrol tank and did not reach his base.”There were no Do 17s involved in these actions, only He 111s and it seems probable that their victim was a Heinkel from 1./KG 26 that crashed into the sea off the island of Sylt on return, in which Oberleutnant Otto Houselle, Unteroffizier Franz Gruber and one other member of the crew were drowned.
At 16:45hrs Red Section were sent to patrol between Copinsay and Burray. As soon as they got there, Red 1 saw a He 111 about ten miles east going north-east. Hot pursuit was begun and as the Section followed, Hurricanes could be seen gathering on the cloud-dodging Heinkel’s tail. After a few minutes the e/a began climbing, twisting and diving. By the time Red Section arrived and got within range No.43 Squadron had done their job. The e/a motors were idling and he dived down to 20 feet over the sea. For two or three miles he held at 20 feet with a dark oil streak trailing behind him on the sea and finally flopped port wing first. Six Hurricanes and Red Section flew around the wreck as ‘Nifty’ got the position and saw the fuselage break in half, the port wing come off and the remainder sink as three of the crew swam for it.”This was the He 111P of 3(F)/ObdL flown by Oberleutnant Karl Heinz and claimed by 43 Squadron.
“At 21:10, Red Section dived down to 11,000 feet about four miles east of Burray (an island between Kirkwall and South Ronaldsay). Unfortunately Red 2 was left behind in the dive. As soon as they flattened out a bomber crossed 200 yards ahead from port to starboard, Red 1 and Red 3 turned and pursued and loosed off nearly all ammunition, gradually closing in from 300-200 yards. The enemy fired back narrowly and finally turned and dived away to the south-east with smoke coming from his starboard motor. During this party Blue Section [Lieutenant Smeeton N2275, Petty Officer (A) W. E. J. Stockwell and Petty Officer (A) Theobald] were lurking further west and came galloping up on seeing the shooting. Plenty of e/a were coming in and so “Smee” chose a back one and stuffed himself under its tail. He and his section rattled away with such good effect that the e/a was last seen in a flat right hand spiral going down toward South Ronaldsay. Unfortunately no wreckage was found and so the very probable result could not be confirmed.”
By 21:50hrs the party was over and 11 Gladiators had returned. The 12th was Blue 3 [Petty Officer (A) Theobald] who shortly afterwards could be hearing calling “Where am I?” Nifty told him and led him back to Wick where he spent the night.”One Gladiator crashed on landing after the engagement; it may have been damaged during the fight.
"Blue leader was on patrol with his section of 3 a/c at 10,000 feet to the East of Burray. Weather was clear and good visibility with 5/10 cloud at 7,000 feet in a large bank. Blue leader was one mile off Burray when at 2120 hours, he was attracted by machine gun fire to the south and saw an E/A travelling west towards Scapa Flow at about 200 m.p.h. some 500 feet above him. The E/A appeared to be machine gunning searchlight positions from his from gun.Blue Sections victim was possibly a He 111 of 2./KG 26 (Leutnant de Res Hubert Schachtbeck), which had been very badly damaged by fighters and crash-landed at Marx and was a total loss.
There was a second aircraft in formation but as soon as Blue Leader climbed under the first E/A's tail to attack, the second E/A broke away and was not seen again.
Blue Leader closed rapidly and opened fire at from 350 to 250 yards closing to about 100 yards. This was repeated four times the attacks being delivered from either dead astern or over the port or starboard quarter. Each attack consisted of one burst of about 6 seconds. Tracer was observed to be entering the fuselage of E/A; tracer bullets were seen from both top and lower rear guns.
After Blue Leaders first attack lower gun was silenced but top gun continued to fire. Throughout the attacks E/A performed a series of violent turns necessitating deflection allowance by Blue leader. Towards the end of the fourth attack, E/A started to lose height.
Blue 2 now dived to attack and fired 1000 rounds from astern by which time E/A was in a flat right hand spiral dive. Having lost formation Blue 2 landed at Wick. Blue 3 did not get an opportunity to fire as Blue 1 and 2 were conducting their attack from astern. But he saw the starboard engine was disabled with clouds of smoke issuing from it and followed till the E/A's dive become too fast for him to follow any more.
Some slipstream was noticed when at close range and at some stage in the combat a bullet of rifle calibre passed through a spar of port main plane. In all Blue leader fired 2,600 rounds and experienced no stoppages. The R/T was not working very well either from the ground or between pilots owing to jamming interference.
No cine camera gun was carried and it was to dark to distinguish any marking or the type of plane, though it was thought to be a Heinkel IIIK.
Blue Leader landed at Hatston at 2204 hours."
“At 12:40, ten aircraft of KGr. 100 are sent out on an armed reconnaissance searching off the Shetlands and Orkneys. Between 16:17 and 16:40 east of the Orkneys in the Moray Firth two convoys are spotted consisting of 14 steamers, 10 destroyers, two cruisers and four individual steamers. The convoy and steamers are heading on a westerly heading, the warships on a northerly heading. At 17:10 off the southern tip of the Orkneys two battleships, three cruisers and six destroyers are spotted on a north-north-westerly heading. This fleet was attacked without recognizable success. Throughout the flight Spitfire [sic] and Hurricane fighters and shipborne flak harass the unit. In an air battle a Hurricane fighter was shot down.
At around 12:50, six aircraft of 1(F)/122 take off for a reconnaissance mission in the northern area of the North Sea. At 17:00, one battle-cruiser [HMS Hood?] with four cruisers as well as several destroyers are spotted on a course steering north-west off the Orkney Islands. Concerns raised that this may be the same fleet reported by KGr. 100. Aircraft have a short encounter with two Lockheed [Hudson] aircraft with no result.
At 11:00 an He 111 of 3/ObdL is sent on a reconnaissance mission to Scapa Flow. The aircraft is shot down with the loss of all crew.
Between 12:38 and 12:39 II./KG 26 take-off for operations over North Sea. On basis of information supplied the Gruppe heads towards the Orkneys. Due to bad weather attacks are limited. At 18:40 from 700 metres, coming out of cloud, a surprise attack was launched on a destroyer with two SC500 bombs. At 18:30 an attack on a cruiser was unsuccessful. The attack had to be called off due to worsening weather [cloud base had dropped from 700 to 500 metres and visibility was less than a kilometre]. Two aircraft were lost, while one other crash landed at Stavanger.
Nineteen aircraft of I./KG 26 – taking off about 18:20 – head out to attack the reported naval forces east of the Orkney Islands. Due to worsening weather and the approach of nightfall many crews did not find their target. Of thos that did some were unable to attack due to being blinded by floodlights carried by the ships. Those aircraft that did bomb could not observe their result because of the blinding effect, though a large warship was probably hit with one SC250 bomb. During the attack three floodlights and some flak was knocked out. The defence of the ships was an unknown quantity of flak and about 200 floodlights. In addition Gladiator fighters also tried to intercept the bombers. One of these was shot down.
Nineteen aircraft of KG 30 take off at 18:37 to attack naval forces in Scapa Flow. Seventeen aircraft were able to attack. Several near misses on the tidal walls and one SD500 hit on a cruiser were observed. Within the area 2 cruisers and several destroyers and steamers were also spotted. Defence of Scapa Flow was provided by floodlights and ground and ship based flak. One aircraft was lost in three attack.”
804 Squadron served on HMS Glorious during the first Norwegian Campaign of April-May 1940.
On 27 April, the Fleet Air Arm redoubled it efforts to provide air cover over Åndalsnes and air combats were frequent throughout the day. In the morning two Do215s of 1(F)/ObdL and an He 111 of 1(F)/122 undertook reconnaissance to the north, spotting the warships of Admiral Well’s force, including the carriers identified as HMS Ark Royal and HMS Eagle. HMS Glorious Sea Gladiators got their first chance against the Luftwaffe at 09:35, when three 804 Squadron aircraft and one from 802 Squadron were scrambled, catching the 1(F)/122 Heinkel ten minutes later. The intruder was low over the water some 20 miles from the fleet. Lieutenant Smeeton led the section (including Sub Lieutenant Roderick Russell Lamb of 804 Squadron) down to attack, the Heinkel making off at top speed and gradually drawing away from the biplanes, although it was seen by Lamb to touch the wave-tops three times.
The bomber had been badly damaged, and force-landed well to the north-west of Trondheim, 65% damaged, the crew claiming that they had shot down one of the Sea Gladiators.
On 1 May, during the evacuation of the first Norwegian campaign, HMS Glorious operated together with HMS Ark Royal off the Norwegian coast. During the early morning at about 07:00, two of 802 Squadron's Sea Gladiators intercepted a lone Do 17P of 1(F)./120, which had just discovered Vice-Admiral Well's force. The Dornier was left in a damaged condition but the alarm had been raised. A force of Ju 87Rs from I./StG 1 took off from their base in Norway, led by two He 115s of 2./KüFlGr. Arriving over the naval force, one group of Stukas bombed HMS Glorious but failed to achieve any hits. The other group were driven off by a section of Sea Gladiators.
At 15:00, Blue Section from 804 Squadron (Lieutenant Smeeton, Acting Sub Lieutenant R. R. Lamb and Lieutenant Taylor) engaged a He 111 at 16,000ft. Two of the pilots were able to get in a short burst each before the Heinkel escaped. 20 minutes later another Heinkel was spotted but the Sea Gladiators could not get close enough to open fire.
At 16:30, Red Section from 804 Squadron (Lieutenant R. H. P. Carver, Lieutenant C. E. F. Gibson and Sub Lieutenant Michael Fell) took off to relieve Blue Section. Not long after take-off a lone raider was seen at low altitude. This was chased off and the section climbed up to 18,000ft. Not long after they were ordered to intercept another lone aircraft, again at low altitude. A He 115 was observed low over the water and despite a long chase, in which all their ammunition was expended, the Heinkel escaped.
At this point an enemy raid was detected on radar and further sea Gladiators were scrambled from HMS Glorious to intercept. Blue Section from 802 Squadron scrambled two Sea Gladiators at 18:00 and these were followed 15 minutes later by a section from 804 Squadron. The 802 Squadron pair, led by Lieutenant J. F. Marmont, went after another lone raider, possibly a He 115, but this escaped. By this time the 804 Squadron section had become engaged with a force of six Ju 87s. Lieutenant Marmont had also joined the fray and getting in behind one of the Stukas, Marmont shot it down into the sea west of Namsos at 18:25. The crew of Oberfeldwebel Erich Stahl and Unteroffizier Friedrich Gott from 2./StG 1 were rescued by a Royal Navy destroyer.
Lieutenant Commander John Cockburn of 804 Squadron took part in the attack on the remaining Ju 87s and reported:
"At 1825 hrs, six Ju 87 dive-bombers were sighted three miles ahead on an opposite course in open "V" formation. The order was given to open fire, and the section half-rolled individually onto the tails of the aircraft, each pilot attacking one enemy. Fire was maintained in short bursts, as the enemy twisted and turned, until the final bombing dive was commenced. The attack was broken off at this point, as I imagined, quite erroneously, that the pom-pom fire would take effect below this."They returned with claims for three damaged Ju 87s. It seems that one of these was claimed by Lieutenant Commander Cockburn (Sea Gladiator N2276/H), who is known to have claimed a damaged Ju 87 west of Namsos during the day.
804 Squadron was transferred and left HMS Glorious on 9 May to allow more Skuas and some Swordfish to be taken on board. Three slightly damaged Sea Gladiators where then flown to Campbelltown but the other six landed on HMS Furious to become this carrier’s fighter complement.
Smeeton took part in the second Norwegian campaign of May 1940 on board this carrier.
In the end of May, the carriers returned to Scapa Flow on their return from Norway and here on 23 May the 804 Squadron went ashore to provide the defence of the Orkneys once more, flying in to Hatston again.
In June 1940, he took command over 800 Squadron on HMS Ark Royal, this carrier, then departing Hatston for the Mediterranean, where he was to see action against Italian aircraft whilst flying Skuas.
On 6 July torpedo bombers from HMS Ark Royal attacked Mers-El-Kebir (operation Lever) where the battle cruiser Dunkerque and the tug Estérel were damaged and the 780 ton patrol-ship Terre Neuve was sunk by a total four torpedo hits (1-1-2) in exchange for no losses, notwithstanding the air opposition of a patrol of Curtiss H75s of GC II/5. Dunkerque didn’t return to operations with the Vichy Navy.
During this operation Smeeton claimed a shared flyingboat off Oran. His observer/air gunner on this mission was Lieutenant E. S. Carver.
In support of the Mediterranean Fleet, a new battle squadron known as Force ‘H’, which was based at Gibraltar under Vice-Admiral Sir James Somerville, sortied on 8 July 1940 in an effort to create a diversion. Heavy air attacks by Sardinian-based aircraft during 9 July convinced the admiral that the risk did not justify the continuation of such a minor operation, and before the day was out turned back, losing the damaged HMS Escort to submarine torpedo attack. This brief operation brought action for the air group on HMS Ark Royal however. Having just completed their attacks on the French Fleet at Mers el Kebir, the aircrews were on top form. A shadowing Cant Z.506B floatplane of the 287a Squadriglia R.M. flown by Capitano Domenico Oliva was caught by three Skuas of 800 Squadron at 15:30 after it had been on patrol for three hours. Lieutenant Smeeton, the Commanding Officer, and his observer/gunner Lieutenant E. S. Carver, in Skua A6A led Sub Lieutenant Michael Fell/Naval Airman D. H. Lowndes (A6B) and Petty Officer (A) A. B. ‘Bert’ Sabey/Leading Airman J. Coles (A6C) in a determined attack, the stricken Cant falling into the sea. They continued to strafe it until it was totally destroyed, but during this sustained attack the observer and radio operator were mortally wounded.
On 2 August HMS Ark Royal took part in Operation ’Hurry’ when HMS Argus launched twelve Hurricanes and two Skuas for Malta. As the Fleet turned back towards Gibraltar, fighter patrol from HMS Ark Royal were in action against shadowers from Sardinia. Five Skuas from 800 Squadron flown by Lieutenant Smeeton/Lieutenant Carver, Lieutenant K. V. V. Spurway/Petty Officer (A) R. F. Hart, Sub Lieutenant Michael Fell/Naval Airman Lowndes, Sub Lieutenant B. H. Hurle-Hobbs/Leading Airman E. E. Bell and Petty Officer (A) L. E. Burston/Naval Airman R. H. Holmes, claimed one Cant Z.506B shot down whilst another was claimed by another Section of 800 Squadron., crewed by Lieutenant G. R. Callingham/Midshipman H. Morris, Midshipman R. W. Kearsley/Leading Airman L. V. Eccleshall and Petty Officer (A) W. J. Heard/Naval Airman Hills.
Italian records indicate that a Z.501 flyingboat of the 146a Squadriglia R.M. was attacked by seven fighters – obviously the five Skuas of Smeeton’s patrol – limping back to Cagliari/Elmas with one dead and three wounded aboard. A Z.506 of the 198a Squadriglia, flown by Sottotenente Sigfrido Marcaccini, was reported shot down by four more fighters, this clearly falling Callingham’s Section.
In May 1941, he left 800 Squadron.
He was then posted to the USA as assistant Naval Attaché, where he became responsible for ordering all US-built aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm until early 1943.
He was awarded an MBE on 1 January 1943.
He was despatched to Pearl Harbour to join the staff of Admiral Nimitz, C-in-C Pacific, as naval air observer.
In 1944, he moved to the staff of Admiral Sir Philip Vian, C-in-C British Pacific Fleet, as Air Plans Officer, where he remained for the rest of the war.
Smeeton ended the war with 1 shared biplane victory and a total of 4 shared victories.
In 1946 he served as Staff Flag Officer Air (Home) as Commander, Flying Training, and then as Commander (Air) aboard HMS Theseus for a cruise to Australia and New Zealand.
After a spell as Commander (Air) at Lee-on-Solent, he was Air Warfare (Material) deputy director at the Admiralty.
From 1952-54 he was Captain (Air), Mediterranean, based at Hal Far, Malta.
In 1955 he attended the Imperial Defence College, and then commanded HMS Albion, 1955-56, taking part in the Suez operation during the latter year.
After a spell as Director of Plans, Admiralty, he was promoted Rear Admiral in 1959 and became Flag officer, Aircraft Carriers, 1960-62, being created a CB on 31 December 1960.
Promoted again to Vice-Admiral, he became Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, 1962-64, and the Flag Officer, Naval Air Command.
He became a KCB in 1964.
He retired in November 1965, becoming director and chief executive of the Society of British Aircraft Constructors from 1966-1979. He was also secretary of the Defence Industrial Council from 1970-79, and in 1973 became a FRAeS. He was also a Member of the Council of the Institute of Directors, and was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey on 26 October 1976.
Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Smeeton died on 29 March 1992.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|10/04/40||21:20||1/3||He 111 (a)||Shared destroyed||Sea Gladiator||N2275||1m E Burray||804 Squadron|
|27/04/40||1/4||He 111 (b)||Shared damaged||Sea Gladiator||N2275||off Åndalsnes||804 Squadron|
|06/07/40||1||Flyingboat||Shared destroyed||Skua||L2927/A6A||off Oran||800 Squadron|
|09/07/40||15:30-||1/3||Z.506B (c)||Shared destroyed||Skua||L2927/A6A||W Mediterranean||800 Squadron|
|02/08/40||1/5||Z.506B (d)||Shared destroyed||Skua||L2927/A6A||W Mediterranean||800 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 4 shared destroyed, 1 shared damaged.
(a) Possibly a He 111 of 2./KG 26 (Leutnant de Res Hubert Schachtbeck), which had been very badly damaged by fighters and crash-landed at Marx and was a total loss.
(b) He 111 of 1(F)/122, which was 65% damaged and force-landed NW Trondheim.
(c) Cant Z.506B of the 287a Squadriglia R.M. flown by Capitano Domenico Oliva shot down; the observer and radio operator killed.
(d) Probably Z.501 of the 146a Squadriglia R.M., which returned damaged with one dead and three wounded aboard.
Fledgling Eagles - Christopher Shores with John Foreman, Christian-Jaques Ehrengardt, Heinrich Weiss and Bjørn Olsen, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-42-9
Flying Sailors at War: Volume 1 – Brian Cull with Bruce Lander and Mark Horan, 2011 Dalrymple & Verdun Publishing, Stamford, ISBN 978-1-905414-14-7
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford
Gloster Gladiator vol. 1 Development and Operational History - Alex Crawford, 2009 MMP, ISBN 978-83-89450-59-3
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Royal Navy Aces of World War 2 - Andrew Thomas, 2007 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-178-6
The London Gazette
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Additional information provided by Ludovico Slongo.