Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Flight Lieutenant Leslie Ernest Smith DFC, RAF nos. 518837 (NCO); 47123 (Officer)

Leslie Smith enlisted the RAF as an Aircrafthand at the start of 1935. He later volunteered for pilot training, becoming a Sergeant Pilot and in this rank served in 94 Squadron.

In May when 94 Squadron was in the process of being re-equipped with Hurricanes, Wing Commander ’Freddie’ Wightman was ordered to collect five Gladiators from a Maintenance Unit and together with four other pilots proceed to Habbaniya to take part in the Iraqi revolt.
On 7 May Wightman was ready with his detachment to fly down to Habbaniya. The aircraft, two Mk Is and three Mk IIs, arrived at Habbaniya next day, The pilots involved were Wing Commander Wightman, Flight Lieutenant Sir R. A. MacRobert, Flying Officer Gerald Herrtage, Sergeant Smith and Sergeant W. H. Dunwoodie.

At 07:55 on 17 May two Gladiators flown by 94 Squadrons Sergeant Smith (K7899) and Sergeant Dunwoodie (N5857) flew a reconnaissance over Rashid, where they saw two Bf 110Cs of 4./ZG 76 (Sonderkommando Junck) taking off. Diving on these, each pilot made a quarter attack on one, both German fighters being claimed shot down in flames. Dunwoodie reported:

“At approximately 0755 hrs on 17 May 1941 we arrived over Rashid aerodrome, and after completing a half circuit of the airfield, I noticed two twin-engined machines in front of one of the hangars. One of these machines commenced to take off immediately, and both Sgt Smith and myself dived towards the aerodrome, only to see the second machine take off as well before we were in position to attack. As soon as the aircraft left the ground, they did a steep climbing turn, and by then I observed Sgt Smith in engagement with one of them. I immediately engaged the second and a dogfight ensued. By this time I had identified the enemy as Me110s.
After a few minutes combat, in which I was able to get in a few short bursts with my guns, I observed one Me110 flash past my port wing in a dive with masses of smoke pouring from both engines and Sgt Smith hot on its tail. A few seconds later I was able to get in an excellent astern attack on the other aircraft, putting a burst right up the fuselage. Almost immediately there was a terrific flash and the Me110 became a mass of flame and disintegrated in the air. I then observed the one that Sgt Smith had shot down blazing furiously on the ground. The one that I had shot down was scattered over a wide area in pieces, all of which were ablaze. Both machines crashed within a half-mile of each other, approximately one mile south east of Rashid aerodrome.”
It seems that in fact two Bf 110s were lost. One was shot down in flames and in the following crash Unteroffizier Johann Fischer (reported as killed on 26 May) and Feldwebel August Offermann (reported as killed on 16 May) were killed; both are buried in Baghdad. The other Bf110 made an emergency landing and the crew most possibly survived.

On 20 May four Gladiators undertook a standing patrol over a force-landed Audax. One of the Gladiators, flown by Smith, was attacked by five Bf 110s and only just managed to escape after the aircraft had suffered some damage.
The Germans thought that they had managed to shoot the biplane down, and its destruction was credited to Leutnant Martin Drewes. This was the first victory claimed by this future night fighter ’Experte’, who was to end the war with a Knight’s Cross with Oakleaves, and 52 aerial victories.

94 Squadron left Iraq on the last day of May 1941.

Smith was commissioned in August 1941, completing his tour with 94 Squadron during October.

In August 1942 he was promoted to Flying Officer and to Flight Lieutenant a year later.

By late 1943, he was a flight commander in 609 Squadron.

On 8 August 1943 during a Rhubarb with long-range tanks fitted to his Hawker Typhoon (PR-J/JP390), he became the first Typhoon pilot to fly over German soil. On the way back he was hit by Flak when near Brussels, causing him to ditch in the sea 100 yards off the beach at Deal, Kent, from were he was able to get to shore, aided by local soldiers and coastguards.

On 16 October 1943, six Typhoons from 609 Squadron were airborne from Lympne between 15:47-17:31 on a special mission to attack a train south-east of Sens. According to the Military Intelligence, this was a train that transported Generalfeldmarshall Gerd von Rundstedt. Landfall was made west of Le Treport at 9,000ft in a dive, zero feet being reached at Neufchatel. Clear weather was obtained 60 miles inland. After turning to port south of Paris (one of the pilots sighted the Palace of Versailles), formation broke to avoid passing over Bretigny airfield, where there was intense light flak and where many twin-engined aircraft (including twin tailed types) were seen on the ground. Immediately afterwards a Ju 88 was sighted at 1,000ft, going south, Squadron Leader Patrick Thornton-Brown (Typhoon R8845), despite failure to jettison his auxiliary tanks, made three attacks on this, twice with deflection and once astern. On the last attack from 200 yards strikes were seen on port wing, pieces came off and the starboard engine caught fire. Flight Lieutenant Smith, also, attacked from 30 degrees and obtained further strikes. The Ju 88 took little evasive action and finally crashed.
At about the same time an Me 210 (or Me 410) was seen at 500ft, having apparently just taken off. Flight Lieutenant Johnny Baldwin (Typhoon JP909) attacked this head-on from below, obtaining strikes on both engines, fuselage and Perspex and setting it on fire. Squadron Leader Thornton-Brown also attacked head-on (20 degrees) seeing hits. Flight Lieutenant Smith (Typhoon JP924) attacked it from full beam, obtaining hits all over and Pilot Officer Charles Detal (Belgian) (Typhoon JP917) added some more from astern, after which the enemy aircraft plunged straight to the ground and exploded with a huge cloud of smoke and flames. Both these aircraft were camouflaged black and were evidently flying from Bretigny airfield. The Ju 88 was standard type.
Shortly before the attacks were made, Pilot Officer Detal reported other twin-engined aircraft 3,000ft above.
Squadron Leader Thornton-Brown now decided to turn back owing to the clear weather and the fact that he had finished his ammunition. Return was made by a similar route.
On crossing the Seine at Vernon, Flight Lieutenant Smith and Pilot Officer Detal each attacked and damaged a tug, while Sergeant Léon Louis Henrion (Belgian) (Typhoon JP851), though he obtained hits on a Gas Holder, did not see any other effects. Flight Lieutenant Baldwin attacked a mobile crane in a shipyard, starting a fire. He also caused considerable casualties among the workers. Many oil storage tanks were seen in the vicinity and considerable flak was experienced.
Exit was made at Pointe d'Ailly a 0ft, no flake being experienced except by one pilot who crossed more to the east. Flight Lieutenant Smith's tanks failed to jettison throughout.
Later an examination of the combat films from the Typhoons showed that an additional Ju 88 was destroyed by 609 Squadron, thereby confirming the suspicions of several pilots engaged in the operation.
On Squadron Leader Thornton-Brown's film, attacks were seen on two definite and distinctive Ju 88s, instead of one Ju 88 and one Me 210 as previously claimed. Both these aircraft were seen to crash and in addition a Me 210 was seen to crash.
On Flight Lieutenant Baldwin's film it was obvious (and confirmed by O. R. S.) that he attacked and hit a Ju 88, although he in fact claimed a Me 210.
On Flight Lieutenant Smith's film, clear photographs of a Ju 88 and later a Me 210 were obtained, confirming his claim to have attacked these aircraft.
On Pilot Officer Detal's film it is confirmed through reconstruction and by the position of the wreckage shown iin the photograph that the aircraft he attacked was a Me 210, as claimed.
Readjusted claims were therefore as follows:
One Ju 88 claimed by Squadron Leader Thornton-Brown and Flight Lieutenant Smith at 16:25.
One Ju 88 claimed by Squadron Leader Thornton-Brown and Flight Lieutenant Baldwin at 16:25.
One Me 210 claimed by Flight Lieutenant Smith and Pilot Officer Detal at 16:45.
The first Ju 88 was seen to crash by Squadron Leader Thornton-Brown, Flight Lieutenant Smith and Flight Lieutenant Baldwin. The second Ju 88 was seen to crash by Squadron Leader Thornton-Brown and Flight Lieutenant Baldwin. The Me 210 was seen to crash by Flight Lieutenant Smith, Flying Officer Lodewic Geerts and Pilot Officer Detal.
It seems that the Ju 88s were from IV./KG 6 and that at least two were lost.

He was awarded a DFC, gazetted on 24 March 1944.

Smith ended the war with 1 biplane victory, this being claimed while flying Gloster Gladiators.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 17/05/41 07:55 1 Bf 110 (a) Destroyed Gladiator K7899 Rashid 94 Squadron
  16/10/43 16:25 ½ Ju 88 (b) Shared destroyed Typhoon JP924 Brétigny 609 Squadron
  16/10/43 16:45 ½ Me 210 Shared destroyed Typhoon JP924 Brétigny 609 Squadron
  29/02/44   1/5 Ju 188 (d) Shared destroyed Typhoon   Villaroche 609 Squadron
  29/02/44   1/6 Ju 188 (d) Shared destroyed Typhoon   Villaroche 609 Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 and 4 shared destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat Bf 110Cs from 4./ZG 76 (Sonderkommando Junck). Two Bf 110s were lost and the crew of one of them were killed; Unteroffizier Johann Fischer (reported as killed on 26 May) and Feldwebel August Offermann (reported as killed on 16 May).
(b) IV./KG 6 lost at least two aircraft for the claims of three by 609 Squadron.
(c) Aircraft seen to crash.
(d) Ju 188A, 3E+AB of Stab I/KG 6; Major Fuhrhopp and crew KIA.

Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0 Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Gloster Gladiator - Alex Crawford, 2002 Mushroom Model Publications, Redbourn, ISBN 83-916327-0-9
Gloster Gladiator Aces - Andrew Thomas, 2002 Osprey Publishing, London, ISBN 1-84176-289-X
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Additional information kindly provided by Joss Le Clercq, Chris Goss, Marcel Hogenhuis and Stig Jarlevik.

Last modified 04 November 2013