This is the article I wrote before sending an e-mail to Tommy Smith’s son.
I did not know this article was about his dad… Now I know all about Eugène Gagnon thanks to Peter.
I can’t learn more about Eugène Gagnon’s operations over Germany, but I think this is close enough…
This is the story of a Mosquito pilot from the same squadron.
A MOSQUITO pilot with 23 Squadron from 1944 onwards, Tommy Smith flew many intruder missions as a flight lieutenant in the night skies over Germany, strafing lorries, trains and barges, and prowling near enemy airfields to shoot down German bombers or nightfighters as they returned from their sorties.
Marvellous though the Mosquito was, as the world’s first truly multirole combat aircraft, these missions were replete with peril by virtue of their sheer audacity, and eventually Smith’s luck ran out.
Shot down by flak early in 1945 while attacking enemy fighters at low level as they took off from their airfield near Berlin, he was terribly burnt, and made a PoW.
Blinded in one eye, partially blinded in the other and suffering facial disfigurement, he was liberated by the advancing Americans and repatriated in March 1945.
Smith: flew intruder sorties in the night skies over Germany
Back in England he became a patient of the celebrated plastic surgeon, Sir Archibald McIndoe, who over many patient years rebuilt his face and, miraculously, restored his sight through one of the first successful cornea grafts to be carried out in the UK. Smith was thereafter able to fashion a highly successful career as an engineering consultant.
Born in 1920, Tom Anderson Smith was training to become an accountant when war cut short his studies and he joined the RAF.
After gaining his wings in 1941 he joined No 96 (nightfighter) Squadron, flying Defiants, until the vastly superior Beaufighter replaced them in the following year.
Head injuries, sustained during his first tour of operations, led to a non-operational medical categorisation, and for a while he served as a president of RAF courts of inquiry — “prang bashers”, as they were known.
But he thirsted to get back on operations and eventually persuaded an air vice-marshal neurologist to reclassify him A1.
In 1944 he joined 23 Squadron, based at Little Snoring, Norfolk, and was soon roaming with his comrades over Europe at night, aiming to wreak havoc on German lines of communication. Barges on the Elbe-Weser Canal and trains carrying ammunition and troops were targets of early strafing missions.
On a low-level attack on a fighter field near Berlin on the night of January 16-17, 1945, Smith destroyed two Me109s as they were taking off and was pursuing a third which was trying to elude him as it taxied, when he found himself flying between two flak towers at 200 ft. His aircraft was hit and one engine set on fire. He told his navigator to bale out, but he had difficulty opening the hatch so Smith told him to abort the bale-out, as they were by then too low. Not hearing him, the navigator went ahead and was killed when his parachute failed to open. Smith crash-landed in a snow-covered field, but was badly burnt as he struggled to extricate himself from his blazing aircraft.
Eventually succeeding in crawling from the inferno, he discovered that he had lost the sight in one eye, and could barely see out of the other.
After hospital treatment, he was sent to Dulag Luft-Oberursel, near Frankfurt, a transit camp which also served as an interrogation centre. His injuries did not save Smith from undergoing his share of the rigours of questioniong. But he revealed nothing about his Mosquito’s onboard radar, which luckily had been destroyed by the flames that had consumed the aircraft.
A few weeks later the camp was severely damaged by Allied bombing and Smith was transferred to a convent hospital. There he was liberated by the US 3rd Army in March 1945.
Back in England, after demob he was sent to the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, where, over the years, he endured many operations to rebuild his face.
In addition to having his sight restored, he was married to Joy, one of McIndoe’s theatre sisters.
Sighted once more, Smith was able to resume his prewar career. He qualified as a chartered accountant, and then went to the University of Glasgow, where he took a degree in engineering. He became a management consultant with Urwick, Orr and Diebold, for whom he travelled the world supervising such engineering projects as railways in Jamaica and construction in Turkey, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Guyana. He also undertook assignments for the World Bank.
In retirement he enjoyed offshore cruising and flying in light aircraft as a passenger — though on those occasions when he took the controls himself, he showed that his wartime skills were undiminished.
He is survived by his wife Joy, and by two daughters and three sons.
Tommy Smith, wartime Mosquito pilot and McIndoe guinea-pig, was born on March 23, 1920. He died on May 14, 2006, aged 86.