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Sydney Philip Smith
Born (1896-05-10)10 May 1896
Died 6 April 1918(1918-04-06) (aged 21)
Place of birth Aldershot, Hampshire, England
Place of death Villiers Bretonneux
Memorial Arras Flying Services Memorial, Pas de Calais, France
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Flying Corps
Rank Captain
Unit No. 6 Squadron RFC, No. 46 Squadron RFC
Awards Distinguished Service Order, French Croix de Guerre

Captain Sydney Philip Smith was a World War I flying ace credited with five aerial victories.[1]

Sydney Philip Smith was born at Aldershot in May 1895. Educated at King's College School, Wimbledon, he joined the OTC and was reportedly a crack shot, captaining his school rifle team at the annual schools competition at Bisley.[2] He enlisted at the outbreak of war in the Public Schools Battalion, before being commissioned as a Temporary 2nd Lieutenant of the Royal Army Service Corps in December 1914. After initial service with the Army Service Corps, Smith served with the Wessex Division (Training) and going to France in March 1915. He was posted to the Royal Flying Corps in early 1916. He qualified as a pilot on 24 May 1916. He then in June served as a pilot flying the Royal Aircraft Factory BE 2d in 6 Squadron. By December he was a Captain and flight Commander.

He wrote home to his father in October 1916; ‘A letter by way of a change this time. Things have been happening with a vengeance since I returned. I daresay you heard from the aunts about some of ‘em: my observer getting a “Blighty” in the leg; fellows being blown to pieces by bombs, etc., etc. Well the day after I brought down Captain Duff wounded, I went up in the same machine on a “Shoot” with another observer, and got it in the neck properly from “Archie”: my propeller was smashed, petrol tank punctured [emptied itself all over my observer’s feet in about 2 seconds!], both main spars of the two top planes split right through, engine cowl pierced and about 27 holes in other parts of the machine. This was all from 2 practically simultaneous bursts dead over the machine, and they sounded like the crack of doom! However, we managed to struggle painfully back to the aerodrome, feeling jolly lucky that there was enough propeller left to drag us back and also that the spare petrol tank was intact [machine is still in the process of rebuilding!!] ...’

Despite piloting a grossly obsolescent two-seater reconnaissance plane, Smith -and his observer 2AM Backhouse- scored his first victory on 17 March 1917, destroying a German Albatros D.II fighter over Becelaere. On 1 May 1917, piloting RE-8 4196 with Observer Lt. Hayman, Smith was attacked by five Albatros scouts, and wounded in the right heel during the engagement. This was referred to in a letter sent to his father from 2/Lt. Waight, R.F.C., in May 1917;[3]

‘He was attacked by five hostile machines, all firing as hard as they could go. Unfortunately, Phillip could not reply as both his and the Observer’s gun jammed, and were therefore helpless. Phillip did the only thing possible under the circumstances and endeavoured to out manoeuvre his opponents, which he did with wonderful skill. An unlucky shot hit Phillip in the right heel, which must have been very painful when he used the rudder controls. However he kept going until his engine was hit in the carburettor and engine bearers, which, of course, forced him to land. In spite of his wound he made a perfect landing. He was taken to the dressing station ... He is known by many officers outside the Flying Corps for the many brave deeds he has performed at various times, which he considers very ordinary things. He was, without a doubt, a very brave man, and that means a very great deal in the Flying Corps ... He has been recommended four times for a decoration and all in this Squadron are intensely annoyed as he has not got it up to the present ...’

Recovered from his wound, Smith transferred to No. 46 Squadron flying the Sopwith Camel scout in March 1918. He shared a pair of claims on 16 March 1918, being aided by George Thomson. After another claim on 24 March, he shared his final victory, an Albatros C, on 2 April with Lt.Donald MacLaren, 2/Lt Roy McConnell and Lt. Alexander Vlasto.

‘Whilst on C.O.P. at 5,000 feet over Courcelles, Captain Smith fired 50 rounds at 200 yards range at E.A. who was flying West at 1000 feet above him. E.A. turned East and dived. Captain Smith and the other pilots got on his tail and dived down on him firing about 750 rounds at a range varying from 50 to 100 yards. E.A. then dived vertically as if hit and Captain Smith overshot him, the other pilots, with the exception of Lieutenant McClaren, pulled out. He fired another 100 rounds at 50 yards range and the E.A. went down out of control and crashed S. of Courcelles’

His commanding Officer at No. 46 Squadron, Major RHS Mealing, described Smith as " wonderfully brave, perhaps too brave". Twice he had returned with his Camel badly damaged by ground fire; D6407 on 27 March and D6489 on 30 March.

On 6 April 1918, in Camel D6491, he led a ground attack mission with Lts RK MacConnell, JR Cole, and VM Yeates. They attacked troops and transports near La Motte, dropping 16 25 lb Cooper bombs and firing some 450 rounds of ammunition. However, Smith did not return and was last seen by MacConnell at 15.30 hours over La Motte.

Smith fell to the guns of a JG 1 Fokker Dr. I flown by Manfred von Richthofen.[4] The Red Baron's combat report read, "...The English plane which I attacked started to burn after only a few shots from my guns. Then it crashed, burning near the little wood northeast of Villers Bretonneux, where it continued burning on the ground."[5]

Captain Sydney Philip Smith has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Flying Services Memorial.

After the war Smith's father, determined to find his son's grave, travelled to France with former Camel pilot Donald Gold, who had witnessed the shooting down of Smith's Camel. Although they were successful in locating and mapping the crash position and found several pieces of the Camel's wreckage, he was unable to discover his sons's grave.[6]

Smith was later featured in 46 Squadron comrade Victor Yeates' wartime classic novel "Winged Victory" as the character 'Beal'.

Sources of informationEdit

  1. Retrieved 9 February 2010.
  2. Franks, Giblin, McCrery; "Under the Guns Of the Red Baron"; Grub Street,(2007), page 194
  4. Above the Trenches: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915–1920. pp. 343–344. 
  5. Retrieved 9 February 2010.
  6. Franks, Giblin, McCrery; "Under the Guns Of the Red Baron"; Grub Street,(2007), page 194


Above the Trenches: a Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915–1920. Christopher F. Shores, Norman L. R. Franks, Russell Guest. Grub Street, 1990. ISBN 0-948817-19-4, ISBN 978-0-948817-19-9.

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