Tommy Smith’s Diaries

Yesterday Peter sent me some of his father’s diaries to read.

Tommy Smith 1

 

I have just started. 

It’s not easy to read because I stop all the time wanting to know all the names of unknown places and other kind of info I read.

Like Babbacombe… Never heard of it!

Diary excerpt…

We climbed aboard buses, and were taken up and down the long, tree-enclosed hills of Devon to Babbacombe, two or three miles North along the coast, and from the bus I saw my pal from home, who had been in the machine for a week or so; and that was the nearest I ever got to speaking with him, though we were neighbours for a fortnight.

and No. 2 I.T.W. Cambridge. What’s I.T.W?

Diary excerpt…

On arriving then at St John’s then we were issued with a white ‘peak’, a handbook, PT kit and a green-brown camouflaged cape groundsheet and handed over to some ‘veterans’ who showed us where and what and when, and generally introduced us to the routine and conditions of A squadron, No 2 ITW.

So I did what I do most of the time when I don’t know something… (well all the time) I Google it.

This is what I found on this Website

The description made by this pilot is quite similar to what I have read in just the few pages of Peter’s father’s diaries.

It’s about Reg Everson’s story. He was also a Mosquito pilot. He was also shot down like Tommy Smith. What he recalls is most interesting so I thought I would share it with you.

Reg Everson’s story

I joined the Royal Air Force on 10th March 1941 and after tests and medical was enlisted as Pilot U/T (under training) and put on the Reserve awaiting training until 5th July 1941 when I reported to Babbacombe. Here we were initiated into the ways of the R.A.F, lectures, kitting out, kit layout, inoculations and vaccination, marching at 140 paces a minute and saluting. Seven days later posted to No. 2 I.T.W. Cambridge. More marching, 160 paces a minute, Maths, navigation, Aircraft Recognition lectures, Morse Code 8 words a minute, Physical Training kept us busy until half way through the course we were suddenly promoted to Leading Aircraftmen and posted to Gourock. Here we boarded the ‘Duchess of Athlone’. No sooner had we set sail when we returned to harbour, the degaussing equipment (protection against mines) had failed. We went by train to Wilmslow and were sent on leave (our first since joining up). We had hardly arrived home before we received a telegram instructing us to return to Wilmslow. Here I learned that I had been selected for flying training in America. Back to Scotland again this time to embark on the ‘Stratheden’. We set out in convoy but after two days left the convoy and proceeded at full speed to St John’s Newfoundland.

From St John’s we went to Toronto. A short stay here while we were kitted out with grey suits as we were to travel to America as civilian ‘Aeronautical Students’. America at that time was neutral, (it was before Pearl Harbour). Some of us took time out to hitch hike to Niagara Falls before the long train journey to Georgia. It was a slow journey of about five days and at each stop we were welcomed with fruit and cookies and enquires about the ‘Old Country’, so much for our disguise as Civilians. We arrived at Darr Aero Tech Albany Georgia,( a civilian flying school taken over by the US Army Air Corps) on 2nd October some two months before Pearl Harbour.

Perhaps the first thing we noticed after gazing with awe at the Stearman Aircraft on the ‘Line’ was the names of the civilian flying instructors, Goethe, Schmidt, Burkhalter, Frize, Haut and Schellenberger, A bit of a shock to meet so many Germanic names, but in spite of their names they were third and fourth generation Americans. I was lucky enough to be assigned to the most patient and understanding of all instructors, Mr J E Nill. Nothing will ever surpass the first flight I made on 6th October, dressed for the first time in overalls, helmet and goggles. I sat in the rear seat and bumped across the grass until the aircraft suddenly stopped bumping and we had left the ground behind. Thirty-five minutes of ecstasy until we touched down. Apart from a feeling of euphoria I was left with the conviction that I would never master the art of flying this machine, how nearly right I was. I managed to fly solo after about ten hours dual instruction, but I must have driven my instructor to near distraction, I was so ‘ham-fisted’ that he was forced to put me up for a “Progress Check”, a misnomer if there ever was one since it was for lack of progress. The Flight Commander, G.W. Kimble, decided that maybe I would eventually make it and returned me to Mr Nill for further instruction. Early in the course we had our only fatality during our time at Darr. A student who had recently soloed took off and climbed, colliding with a dual aircraft ahead of him. The instructor and the pupil in the dual aircraft survived without serious injury but the solo student crashed and caught fire. This event cast its shadow over us, and we attended our first Military Funeral, which was held at St Paul’s Church in Albany.

Having seen American Football at the stadium a number of cadets conceived the idea of staging a British Rugby Football Match. Two teams of cadets met at the stadium on 7th December and impressed the local people who were particularly surprised that the players wore no helmets or protective padding although it is a very physical game. After the game the public address system brought the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The entry of America into the war brought a change in regime. From now on we wore RAF uniform, security was increased and the tempo of our training was speeded up.
On the 17th April we graduated, received our American Wings and became ‘honorary’ 2nd Lieutenants in US Army Air Corps. Most of us declined an RAF Commission as it meant staying in America and instructing future RAF Cadets. By May 1942 we were back in England and sent to Bournemouth.

During our brief stay here a ‘Hit and Run’ raid demolished a hotel near where we were staying. We found ourselves as ‘Navvies’ removing rubble and trying- to find survivors. Five days leave. On return we discovered that it was decided that due to the excellent training we received in the U.S.A. we should pass it on as flying instructors, as Sergeants since we had declined commissions in America. A month’s conversion course on to twin engine Oxford Aircraft and I went to Pilot Advanced Flying Unit at Little Rissington, Gloucestershire on 17th June 1942, and then to No 2 Flying Instructors School at Dalcross, Inverness, Scotland.

In April 1943 I managed a posting to No 15 Pilot Advanced Training Unit at Greenham Common, Berkshire as Instructor on Oxford Aircraft this was much more comfortable and more to my liking. Here we did advanced flying instruction day and night flying, instrument flying, radio and Dead Reckoning Navigation and Beam Approach System. I was assessed as Above Average Pilot on Multi-Engine Airplanes.

At last in October 1944 I was posted to No 2 Group Support Unit at Swanton Morley, Norfofkshire for Conversion Course on to Mosquito Aircraft. Here we flew Mosquito Mark 3 and Mosquito Mark 6 Fighter Bomber. We ‘crewed-up’ with a navigator, Sgt Tony Rudd (ex University Air Squadron) and I decided that we could ‘get along’ with other on the ground and in the air, so agreed to fly together for our operational tour. On the course we concentrated on low level flying by day and night, air to ground and air to air gunnery, bombing and ‘Gee Navigation’ – a form of radar. On 10th December Exercise ‘Peashooter’ an army co-operation exercise against army tanks was held. We were detailed to fly No2 to S/Ldr Tennant. The exercise involved attacking tanks at low level with .303 machine guns. Unfortunately S/Ldr Tennant flew so low that his aircraft hit a tank, burst into flames and he and his navigator were killed instantly. Observing this made us realise that flying too low can be a dangerous business! We reported the accident on the radio and the exercise was then cancelled. We had to give evidence at the enquiry and were offered the opportunity of taking a rest from flying, this we declined.

We were posted to 305 (Polish) Squadron at Epinoy, France on 7th January 1945. The airfield was snow bound and we spent the first two weeks clearing the runways so that our first flight was an air test on 23rd January.

Let me tell you something of the type of operation (mission) that we were engaged on. 305 Squadron was part of 2nd Tactical Airforce and our main task was to bomb and disrupt enemy transport. Apart from one daylight operation all the other flights were at night. – ‘

We would take off singly and fly at 4,000 ft to an area behind enemy lines. Here we would patrol for about an hour when another Mosquito would take our place. During the patrol we would search out signs of any movements on the ground. Once we spotted something we would go down lower and investigate. If the movement proved to be a train, lorries, tanks, barges we would then attack from low level with 5001b bombs, .303 machine guns or cannons. This could sometimes be a bit ‘scary’ there was always a danger of going too low. Most of our losses were due to hitting the ground or obstructions such as trees or power lines and, sometimes the object being attacked. If my navigator thought we were too low he would shout “Up!” I never argued but immediately pulled back the stick to gain height as quickly as possible.

Night operations suspended whilst squadron rehearsed for,` daylight operation ‘Clarion’ on 22nd February. We flew a formation of 18 Mosquitos (I was Number 18 the most vulnerable). As we crossed the enemy lines, at 4000ft, we were fired on from the ground. We broke formation and re-formed again as soon as possible. Patrol Stadt, River Elba River Weger Bombed Railway trucks encountered some flak but avoided any damage to our aircraft. Left area flying formation on W/O Smith who flew over German Gun Emplacement unfortunately he was hit, caught fire and crashed. We decided that it might be safer to fly at about 4,000ft this proved to be true although we did run into heavy anti-aircraft fire over Bremerhaven which we managed to evade and we got back to base in France safely.

Back to night operations again on 8th April. My aircraft was unserviceable so I flew Mosquito Letter V ‘borrowed’ from F/Sgt Earie who was on leave (he never ceases to remind me that I lost his brand new aircraft)

Details of this operation: after briefing we took off to patrol Leipzig, Berlin, Magdeburg, Braunsweig area. Owing to the distance from base and the length of time for the flight we had to carry wing tanks with extra fuel. On patrolling the Berlin Magdeburg road we saw some movement, circled round and dropped flares on what was enemy transport. We attacked with machine gun and cannon fire. Transport stopped and appeared damaged but the flares went out before we could assess the extent of the damage. Returning at economical cruising to save fuel and flying at 4,000 ft, at about 2.00 am we were attacked by a night fighter. It fired a long burst of cannon fire and I immediately took violent evasive action, however the port engine caught fire. Tony operated the fire extinguisher and I feathered the propeller. A further burst of gun fire and the starboard engine caught fire. I throttled back and operated the fire extinguisher, but as the fire did not go out, ordered Tony to bale out. He clipped on his parachute, jettisoned the door and successfully abandoned the aircraft. During this manoeuvre the aircraft was losing height rapidly. I struggled out of my seat, having some difficulty getting my left leg passed the control column, and pulling the seat pack of my parachute clear of the bucket seat, at the same time trying to keep on an even keel. With some difficulty I reached the door and dived through the opening. I pulled the rip cord as soon as I was clear of the aircraft and I hit the ground almost simultaneously. I landed in the bottom of a valley and saw my plane crash a short distance away. I was very close to a road and could hear vehicles moving along it. I kept low and attempted to crawl away but before I had moved a few yards I heard voices calling “Commen Sie heir” I ignored this and continued to crawl away. With much shouting and shining of torches, six or seven German soldiers circled my position and starting firing revolvers at me. Realising that I could not escape, I stood up and raised my hands. I was searched and cigarettes, matches, penknife and comb were taken away from me. A German officer placed me under guard and we marched until daybreak. I was then out in a barn under armed guard and later a German officer arrived on a motor bike and tried to question me. Finding me “uncooperative” he rode off. Later that afternoon one of my guards said “Your comrade kaput” Suspecting this was a trick to get me.

About 5.00 pm I was taken to Gestapo Headquarters in Gummerbach where I was interrogated but again the officer who spoke perfect English gave up and told me he had lived in Purley, England’ and worked as an insurance Agent. He chatted for a while presumably hoping in vain for an unguarded comment from me. I was then taken to a Prisoner of War Camp, Stalag 6G; where they returned my comb, with escape compass in it! I was put in a wooden hut with a number of American airmen who had also been shot down. After a few days we were aroused one morning at 2.00 am, given a mug of Ersatz coffee and marched away under armed guard. During the day we marched away in a column along roads where we attracted the attention of American Lightning fighters which attacked us from time to time obviously thinking that we were German troops on the move. Each time we were straffed we took cover in ditches beside the road; after each attack the German guards tried to check that no prisoners were missing. A few did disappear into the woods on scavenging expeditions, rejoining us Iater to the confusion of the guards. eventually they gave up trying to count us and we arrived at P.OW. Camp near Enbach. Here chaos reigned. The guards were inefficient and we didn’t help as we moved about while they tried to take a roll call. Food at this time was: Breakfast, Ersatz coffee, Lunch, soup (water that vegetables had been cooked in, but no vegetables!), Supper, black bread and margarine.

As it became increasingly clear that the advancing American troops were getting near the camp, administration of the camp was gradually taken over by the prisioners and by the time the 78th Division American Infantry arrived at 14.00 hours on 12th April, the German guards had already handed over their rifles and revolvers and we were in complete control. Fresh food arrived shortly afterwards (fried chicken and real coffee were much appreciated.

The next few days were spent in Medical Checks, ‘delousing’ and checking identities. When this was completed we were taken to Giespn by truck and then to Paris by Dakota aicraft. In Paris we were looked after by the American Authorities who supplied us with clean clothes, cigarettes and an advance of pay. We were allowed to roam free in Paris when while were being interrogated and “processed” For a few days I managed to get lost among the Americans until the RAF discovered my presence and I had to report back to my unit at Epinoy.

I reported back to Squadron on 19th April 1945, they were surprised to see me, not many ‘missing crews’ survived and returned. I had to report to Air Vice Marshall, Sir Basil Embry, and tell of my experiences. He then informed me that I had been Commissioned as Pilot Officer from 7th April (the day before we were shot down) I had resisted taking a Commission up to now preferring the less formal life in the Senior NCOs’ Mess, but pay and extra comfort of the Officer’s Mess persuaded me that the time was now right to accept the Commission.

When Tony arrived back he was able to provide some interesting details of our last flight. He was able to pinpoint the location and time of our being, shot down. A US P61 Black Widow night fighter put in a combat report claiming to have shot down a JU88 at precisely the position and time of incident. British intelligence proved that there were no enemy aircraft in that vicinity at that time. The A.O.C., Air Vice Marshall Sir Basil Embry, was not happy that one of his aircraft had been shot down by ‘friendly fire’.

I went on leave and when Tony and I both got back from leave started flying together again. On 8th July 1945 together with all the other English Crews we were posted from 305 Squadron, Tony and I went to 107 Squadron. We moved up to Gutterloh, Germany as part of the Occupation Forces and continued flying together until our last flight on 21st September 1945.

It was discovered that I had ‘Double vision’ I was then engaged on ground duties, as Technical Adjutant, until discharged on 14th June 1946.

I remained in the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve until 1962 and was awarded the ‘Air Efficienccy Award’ to go with the Polish Gold Cross of Merit (First Class) and the Polish Air Medal.

For more on Babbacombe click here.

Diary excerpt…

And feeling very cheerful, we all went off to pack our kit and sleep ready for an early start: but the Bosche came over and we were in the shelter till 12.30pm.  We saw little of Jeffy in that fortnight and our only close view was of a Junkers 88, which skimmed past, while we were on parade, after bombing Newton Abbot.  We spent a number of miserable and long nights in the shelter behind the hotel, a cold barn of a place with cold draughts, a cold concrete floor, and no seating accommodation at all.  The Commanding Officer came round each time to see we were all right, and to explain what we were expected to do to them in due course.  The first night of our arrival was the only time that bombs dropped near, however, and then they dropped three whistling bombs which came screaming down in a disturbing manner to land 200 ft away, which made me feel quite excited.

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