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Castle Archdale, Northern Ireland Coastal Command

Robert "Bob" Alexander Smith Flight Sergeant (W.Op./Air Gnr.) 226 Squadron R.A.F.

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Photo of Robert "Bob" Alexander Smith
     May 31, 1924 - November 4, 1944
 
 
 
This page is dedicated to a cousin of mine who was killed in action during World War 2.
 
His full name was Robert Alexander Smith, as he was known to his family, however he was also known as "Bob"  to his wartime comrades.
 
I will use the nick name "Bob" in this article with the hopes that others who served with Robert will recognise him and will share with me more about this great man. 
 
Bob was a radio operator and air gunner and he served with 226 squadron.
 

Details of death:

KIA Nov 4 1944
#226 Squadron


Bombing a bridge at Venio Holland, hit by flak Starboard Engine at 10,000 feet. Pilot made a belly landing at Volkel Holland.

Narrative:

At Volkel, Typhoon pilots of 245 squadron waiting to enter the runway for takeoff, were horrified to see 2 crew attempt to bale out of a crippled Mitchell (FW 163) shortly before it touched down, both fell in the undershoot area and were killed instantly. the Mitchell which had been hit by flak while attacking the road and bridge area at Venlo ( a particularily stubborn target) crash landed, the pilot and navigator survived.

Crew:  226 Sqn Mitchell FW 163 Y

Sgt H.J. Lorkin "Harry"
Sgt N. Semple "Norman"
F/S T.V. Flint (K) "Thomas"
F/S R.A. Smith (K) "Robert"

 

 

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Photo of 212 Queen Street East, Hespeler, Ontario, Canada
 
 
Bob was born on May 31, 1924, the eldest son of Ernest Austin Smith,  1901-1983 and Florence Alexandra Smith (Picken) 1902-1978 at 212 Queen Street East in Hespeler, Ontario, Canada. 
 
Bob's father's family came from the county of Surrey, in the south-east end of England, his father was born there making Bob the first Smith in his line to be born in Canada.
 
 
 

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Robert just before he joined the air force

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Peter Austin-Smith, his older sister Joyce and Robert , taken at 97 Borden Ave  Kitchener, likely around 1936

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Photo of Ernie and Florence Smith, Bob's mother and father.

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Another photo of Bob's parents, in this photo is his younger brother Frank Smith ( 1926-2001 )

 
 
 
 
 
During World War 2, Bob joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in August of 1942.
 
After almost 2 years of training in various locations in Ontario, Bob left Canada on May 25 , 1944 from Halifax, to arrive in the U.K. on June 2, 1944.
 
Bob trained in the U.K. with 13 O.T.U. from July 18, 1944 until being sent to join 226 Squadron R.A.F. on August 8, 1944.

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Bob's service record

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The above 2 photos are of Bob's flight log entries.
 
 
 
 
The following is a bit about 226 Squadron and their activities during Bob's time with the squadron:
 
 
 

No. 226 Squadron began the war as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force, making it one of the first squadrons to be sent to France. The Fairey Battle suffered very heavy loses during the Battle of France. No.226 Squadron was forced to retreat west, and had to be evacuated from Brest in mid-June, reforming at RAF Sydenham in North Ireland.

In the spring of 1941 the squadron moved to East Anglia, and began a series of attacks on German occupied ports and shipping, swapping its Blenheims for Bostons in November 1941 and for Mitchells in May 1943.

In 1944 the squadron became part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, operating in support of the Normandy invasions. As the Allies advanced towards Germany, the squadron moved to France, operating in support of the advancing armies to the end of the war.

Aircraft
October 1937-May 1941: Fairey Battle I
February-November 1941: Bristol Blenheim IV
November 1941-May 1943: Boston III and IIIA
May 1943-September 1945: North American Mitchell II
January-September 1945: North American Mitchell III

Location
16 April 1937-2 September 1939: Harwell
2 September 1939-16 May 1940: Reims/ Champagne
16 May-15 June 1940: Faux-Villecerf
15-16 June 1940: Artins
18-27 June 1940: Thirsk
27 June 1940-26 May 1941: Sydenham
26 May-9 December 1941: Wattisham
9 December 1941-13 February 1944: Swanton Morley
13 February-17 October 1944: Hartfordbridge
17 October 1944-22 April 1945: B.50 Vitry-en-Artois
22 April-20 September 1945: B.77 Gilze-Rijen

Squadron Codes: 226, MQ

Duty
26 September 1939: Bomber squadron with No.1 Group, 72 Wing, Advanced Air Striking Force

Code Letters:

  • During the 1938 Munich crisis No. 226 was allotted the code letters "KP". In WW2 the sqdn's. a/c were coded "MQ".

First Operational Mission in WWII:

  • 9th September 1939 : 3 Battles reconnoitred Thionville area.

First Bombing Mission in WWII:

  • 10th May 1940 : 4 Battles despatched to dive-bomb German troops advancing through Luxembourg. 2 bombed target and 2 FTR.

Last Operational Mission in WWII:

  • 2nd May 1945 : 12 Mitchells bombed marshalling yards at Itzehoe.

 

Bob served with this squadron both at Hartfordbridge and also at Vitry-en-Artois, with the latter to be his final posting.

 

Bob flew in a B-25 Mitchell bomber as both a wireless operator and an air gunner, although he did not fly long, he did fly several life risking missions, having to avoid both possible enemies in the sky as well as the barrage of deadly flak that would surround the aircraft on missions being fired at them from the ground below.

 

Bob flew on missions with Mr. Harry Lorkin, R.A.F. who was the 1st pilot, Mr. Norman Semple, R.A.F.  the navigator, and Thomas Fint R.C.A.F. , an air gunner from Canada who was killed with Bob on November 4 , 1944.

I have had the good fortune of being able to be in contact with Harry Lorkin and he was able to provide to me some information about Bob, the following are his words:

 

BOB SMITH

 

Bob joined our crew when we were posted to 226 Squadron.  We all took to him immediately: Bob was a very easy guy to like. He joined us because although we had a full crew of four at the Operational Training Unit in Canada, one of our Canadian air gunners, being a married man, was excused from overseas duty.

 

Our becoming involved in 226 Squadron was the result of a typical wartime muddle.  In Canada we had been trained for Coastal Command. After graduating we were sent to Summerside in Prince Edward Island where our Navigator – Norman Semple – took an advanced navigation course and I became a ‘Pilot/Navigator’.  From there to Debert in Nova Scotia where we learned to fly for hours over open water in Lockheed Hudsons; some of the later exercises were officially real anti-submarine patrols.

 

Meantime other groups like us were dicing around elsewhere in Nova Scotia flying Venturas in close formation at low level, being trained for Tactical Air Force (TAF).  They finished up in Transport Command, and we forgot all about navigation over the ocean and were taught to fly Michells (B25s) in close formation.

 

No time was lost in getting us into an operational squadron because the fight to liberate Europe was well under way.  Our task in 2nd Tactical Air Force was to use ‘pattern bombing’ – six aircraft in close formation all dropping our bombs simultaneously.  Our targets were those which were intended to have immediate tactical benefit just ahead of the front line. Troop Concentrations were a favourite as – unfortunately – were bridges.

 

Bridges were notoriously difficult to destroy. We certainly damaged them but they were such vital supply links that they were repaired virtually overnight. The road/rail bridge across the river Maas at Venlo was our worst nightmare. Bridges were very heavily defended by 88 millimetre anti-aircraft guns (Flak) which could fire more than 15 rounds per minute. Although Germany was not so advanced as us with radar, their optical gun-laying was superb.

 

By this time, the squadron had moved from its British base at Hartford Bridge to an airfield at Vitry-en-Artois in northern France.  The airfield had little in the way of facilities; our billets were roughly-made wooden huts. However our crew was by now a really close-nit unit happy in its own company; Bob was a significant factor in our ‘bonding’.

 

He was a very easy guy to like but certainly not a 'joker'. If I were to sum him up in one word it would be "gentle".

 

Our squadron, by the time we joined it, never had any close encounters with enemy aircraft.  The Germans seemed content to leave it to their anti-aircraft guns which were only too effective.  By that time the German Luftwaffe was a shadow of its former self and they seemed to be devoting all their remaining strength against the heavy bombers - Lancasters and Fortresses.
There were occasions when fighters were put up against our attacks but happily for us they were always directed against other formations.
Lack of fighter opposition was a blessing because our type of attack was always very vulnerable to enemy fighters.  We flew in tight formations of six aircraft, three in one "V" and three more close in behind them.  This produced a 'carpet' of bomb-bursts.  The leading aircraft had one gunner who was the 'master gunner' and his task in the event of an attack was to direct all the formation;s guns by radio so that - in theory - the incoming enemy would be met by a mass of bullets.
So, Bob and Tom spent all their time over enemy territory searching the sky for signs of opposition.

 

Venlo became a target for the first time on September 28th when we attacked it twice on the same day.  On the second raid our aircraft’s hydraulic system was put out of action so that we had to use emergency methods for lowering the undercarriage and operating the brakes on landing.

 

Then on the fateful day – November 4th – we went to Venlo in the morning but brought our bombs back because heavy cloud obscured the target. This did not prevent encountering some uncomfortably accurate radar-directed anti-aircraft fire. We were briefed to return to Venlo in the afternoon when the cloud would have dispersed.

 

Over the target the cloud had indeed cleared away so that we had a good view of the target and the ground gunners has a good view of us. Just as we were leaving the target area, having dropped our bombs, we received a large piece of flak in the oil-cooler which caused us to lose all the oil in our starboard engine in just a few seconds.  The oil, as well as lubricating the engine also operated the change of pitch of the airscrew.

 

Normally when an engine is damaged the pilot ‘feathers’ the propeller, that is he turns the blades at right angles so that the movement through the air does not cause them to ‘windmill’.  But with no oil in the system the blades of the airscrew turned itself into the ‘fully fine’ position which meant it ‘windmilled’ very fast indeed.  With no oil for lubrication, the engine started tearing itself to pieces becoming white hot in the process. The noise it produced as almost unbearable.

 

At this stage I warned the crew to ‘stand by to jump’.  This would mean that they should vacate the turrets, clip on their parachutes and jettison the lower door then await further instructions.  A problem with the Mitchell was that there was no real physical contact between the air gunners at the rear and the pilot.  There was a very narrow gap between the top of the bomb bay and the fuselage but we could not even see each other.  Thus it was essential that we all kept plugged in to the inter-com until the last minute.  The navigator/bomb-aimer was rather better off having a tunnel over the nose-wheel compartment to move between his position in the nose and his seat alongside the pilot.

 

Sadly, for some unaccountable reason, Bob and his colleague removed their helmets and so could not hear a voice from the ground telling us what course to steer to reach an airfield.  Norman shouted “I can see it” and a few seconds later he pointed and said “There it is”.  In those few seconds he had left his position in the nose compartment, negotiated the tunnel and sat himself next to me.

 

The airfield was quite close so that we had to descend very steeply because we were going to get only one chance of landing.  The increase in speed caused by the steep descent caused the damaged engine noise to become even worse.  In the rear compartment, with the floor hatch open and no ear protection from helmets, the noise must have been unbelievable.

 

I selected ‘under-carriage down’ but only one leg emerged, so the hydraulics had also been damaged.  Fortunately the only leg to lower was on the side of the good engine.  Not that it made any difference, everything collapsed as soon as we touched the runway and the aircraft slid along on its belly causing such an array of sparking metal that I thought we would catch fire.  In the event every thing went blissfully silent and I pushed Norman out through the roof escape hatch and followed him hastily. 

 

We stood there for a moment bathed in a feeling of sheer elation and the desire to find the owner of that saving voice to thank him.  We walked to the rear intending to help the two lads out and our elation turned to puzzlement.  Where were they? Two helmets there and parachutes gone.

 

Before we had a chance to speculate I was approached by a senior officer who seemed more concerned with the fact that we had dropped a wreck on to his runway when a group of fighters were waiting to take off.  Meantime Norman was led away by another person.  Little did I realise then that he was being taken to identify two bodies which had landed on the end of the runway; they had jumped too late for their ‘chutes to open.

 

No one knows what prompted them to jump when we were so near to the ground.  Perhaps the terrible noise prevented any logical thought.  I have often agonised over whether I, as the pilot, should have been more insistent about parachute drill but at that age we were invulnerable, any problems would happen to the other guys.

 

The wartime air force had no time for sentiment.  We had to wait a couple of days at that base which we learnt was Volkel, a former Luftwaffe airfield.  On returning to Vitry, the C.O. made it plain that he would contact their families.  We were sent on an two-day ‘errand’ to the UK and by the 11th November we were operating again with two new gunners and by the 19th we were back over Venlo when the flak was so accurate that our formation leader’s aircraft suffered a direct hit and exploded.

 

I suppose that was the way in wartime.  Rather like the way an unseated rider is urged to get back on a horse as soon as possible.  No time was allowed for grieving. 

 

My sadness was compounded by the fact that Bob had confided in me that he and an English girl had fallen deeply in love but I had no way of telling her what had happened.

Bob never mentioned the girl's name. It was something he mentioned after we had been moved from the UK to the airfield in France.  He seemed to be worried as to how things would eventually work out but gave no details and did not want to talk about it afterwards.

 

I have never forgotten Bob, and as you see the memory is still vivid. Yes Bob was a very easy guy to like.

 

 

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The above are scanned copies of Mr. Harry Lorkin's flight log for the day of November 4, 1944.

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From left to right are Sgt Flint, Sgt Lorkin,Sgt Burnham ( he was excused from overseas duty and my cousin Robert replaced him) and Sgt Semple. This photo was taken as the group was finishing at the coastal command OTU in Debert NS. This was just a short while before they went to the U.K. and were switched to Mitchells.
 
Sgt Flint is buried next to Robert at Groesbeek.

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This is the Volkel airfiled where Mr. Lorkin was forced to make the emergency belly landing.

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After crash landing the aircraft, Mr. Semple was asked to identify the 2 bodies found at the end of the runway at Volkel. The 2 bodies were that of my cousin Bob and Thomas Flint.
 
They were both buried at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, I have asked Mr. Lorkin if there was any service or anything at all for my cousin and his reply was that he had asked the C.O. about any services for the 2, and was met with the reply " That's been taken care of".
 
I myself have never heard of any service , nor is there any record of any service for either my cousin or Thomas Flint as far as I am aware.
 
I have been lucky enough however, to twice have visitors to Groesbeek place something for me at Bob's grave, I hope to also visit and pay my respects one day.
 
 
 

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The above is a diagram of Robert's original burial site.

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In June of 2009, Mr. Philip Reinders made a trip to Groesbeek Cemetery and while there was kind enough to lay flowers and light a candle for Robert.
 

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In March of 2010, Mr.

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Mr. Martin also arranged for a bagpipe player and  R.C.A.F. Group Captain Johns to honor the fallen Canadain soldier he was there to see as well as my cousin.
The grave on the right of my cousin is that of Thomas Flint who was the other gunner who jumped from the aircraft with Robert. I did not realize that Mr. Flint was buried next to Robert when Mr. Martin made this trip. I am hoping that the next time I am able to find someody that is going there to also place some flowers and a cross on Mr. Flint's grave.
 
 

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Rob Martin and Group Captain Johns standing in front of Robert's grave at Groesbeek.

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Wreath placed in honor of Robert on November 11, 2010 at the Hespeler, Ontario cenetaph by the Royal Canadian Legion , branch 227.

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Robert is commemorated on Page 447 of the Second World War Book of Remembrance.
 
The seven Books of Remembrance housed in the Peace Tower of the Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa are illuminated manuscript volumes recording the names of members of the Canadian Forces and Canadian Merchant Navy killed on active service in wartime, and in other conflicts.

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Special thanks to:
 
 James Stewart     N.Ireland 
Joe O'Loughlin     N.Ireland
    Breege Mc Cusker  N.Ireland 
John Newall         Canada
                               Richard Lebek  Canada ( crew member U-672)
Norman Lebek   Canada
 Roland Berr      Germany
                                Harry Lorkin   U.K. (RAF 226 Squadron)          
     John Rogers          UK            
                                    N.Jack Logan       Canada   (RCAF 422 Squadron)
              Les and Maureen Ingram  Scotland
   Bill Barber            Canada    
  Robert Walsh        N.Ireland  
                         Capt. Jerry Mason USN (ret.)  Canada         
             Blake Wimperis      Canada              
                                   Robert Quirk     Canada                                          
                                    Norm Muffitt          Canada                                      
                         Lt/Col S. Beaton     Canada  (Camp Borden)
       Stephanie Pinder     USA            
    Alec (Johnny) Johnston    N.Z.
                 Stephen Kerr           N.Ireland             
                                   Reg Firby               Canada (RCAF 423 Squadron)
         Maurice Duffill         Australia     
                   John Hartshorn              UK                     
                                  Don Macfie      Canada ( RCAF 422/423 Squadron)
                               Frank Cauley   Canada  ( RCAF 422 Squadron)
                                Harold O'Brien  Canada  ( RCAF 423 Squadron)
                                   James Newall          UK        ( RAF 423 Squadron)
      Ian Meadows                    UK
                     Bill Baker                 Canada               
John Taylor      Canada
            Gordon Burke              Canada
          Carol Whittle                    U.K.

Last Update on Dec 07 , 2010