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The Airmen's Stories - P/O I S Smith


Irving Stanley Smith was born on 21st May 1917 at Invercargill, New Zealand. He was educated at Whangarei High School and Sedden Memorial Technical College, Auckland.

He was apprenticed as a coach painter but in January 1939 he applied for a short service commission in the RNZAF. He began flying training at Mangere in May but was then asked if he would volunteer to train in England. He agreed and sailed for the UK in the RMS Rangitiki on 27th July.

Smith went to Jesus College, Oxford on 11th September 1939 for lectures and ground studies. He was posted to 10 EFTS Yatesbury on the 21st and moved on to 2 FTS Brize Norton on 24th March 1940.

Smith completed the course on 11th July and two days later was posted direct to 151 Squadron at North Weald.




There was another pilot there called Smith, as the newcomer had a darker complexion he was christened ‘Black’ Smith, the other ‘White’ Smith.

On 15th August he claimed two Me109s destroyed and a third damaged, on the 24th a He111 destroyed, on the 30th shared a Me109, on the 31st a Do17 destroyed and another damaged and on 2nd October a He111, which ditched just off the beach at Chapel St. Leonards, ten miles north of Skegness.

151 Squadron went over to night-fighting in November 1940 and began to convert to Defiants in December but still retained some Hurricanes. These made up 'C' Flight, which Smith commanded.

He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 7th March 1941) and destroyed a He111 at night on 10th May 1941.

'C' Flight was merged with 'B' in July and Smith took command of the combined flight, equipped solely with Defiants.

On 19th February 1942 Smith took command of 151 Squadron. At dusk the same day, on a convoy patrol, he shot down a Do217 and damaged a Ju88. The squadron began to receive Mosquitos in April 1942 and Smith, then an Acting Wing Commander, gained 151's first victories with the aircraft on 24th June, destroying a Do217, a He111 and damaging another.

He was awarded a Bar to the DFC (gazetted 16th July 1942).

Smith was posted away for staff duties at HQ Fighter Command in March 1943. He asked to return to operations and was posted to command 488 Squadron but this was over-ridden by Basil Embry, who wanted him at HQ 2 Group. Smith went there in September 1943 on staff duties concerned with Mosquito training.

In early February 1944 he was given command of 487 Squadron at Hunsdon. Soon after his arrival the squadron took part in the historic raid on Amiens prison. After much preparation and planning it took place on 18th February. Smith led the raiding force, made up of six Mosquitos each from 487, 464 and 21 Squadrons.

Much has been written on the rights and wrongs of the attack but there is no doubt about the bravery of the crews who took part in the operation, the prime purpose of which was to save life and therefore considered to be very worthwhile. From later reports it is known that 258 of the 700 prisoners escaped, including half of those awaiting execution. Casualties were heavy inside the prison, some of the escapees were recaptured and some civilians outside the walls were killed.

In early August Smith led 487 Squadron to bomb the barracks at Poitiers where German troops were assembling prior to attacking the Maquis. The raid was particularly successful. A few weeks later 487 Squadron attacked the SS HQ at Vincey, near Metz.

In October 1944 Smith was posted to 13 OTU High Ercall as Chief Instructor. He was granted a Permanent Commission in June 1945 and went on a course at RAF Staff College, Haifa in February 1946.

Smith received at Mention in Despatches in 1945 and a Commendation for Services in 1946.

Postwar he served at Air Headquarters, Malta and then in 1950 took command of 56 Squadron, operating Gloster Meteors. He later commanded RAF Church Fenton and, having been promoted to Group Captain in 1958, commanded RAF Jever in Germany. In 1961 he returned to staff duties at Signals Command.

Irving Smith was appointed OBE in 1953 and CBE in 1960.

He retired from the RAF on 2nd February 1966 as a Group Captain.

In retirement Smith farmed at Northleigh, Devon and took up yacht racing.

He died on 16th February 2000.

His son entered the Army and went on, as General Sir Rupert Smith, to command the UN Protection Force in Bosnia.


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