The weather was appalling. The crews studied a model of the prison for two hours, and took off at 11am from Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, with snow falling. Smith led the first six aircraft from 487 squadron and, just after midday, attacked the surrounding walls from a height of 10ft. Three minutes later, six Mosquitoes, of 464 squadron, attacked the prison buildings through the smoke and debris of the preceding attack. Two Mosquitoes and a Typhoon were lost, but 258 prisoners escaped, including Louis Vivant.
Smith was born at Invercargill, Southland, New Zealand. He was educated at Seddon memorial technical college, Auckland, and on leaving school became an apprentice coach-painter. In late 1938, he applied for a short service commission in the Royal New Zealand Air Force and was accepted in January 1939. In July 1939, he was sent to England to complete his training.
Smith was posted to 151 squadron flying Hurricane fighters in July 1940, and was soon involved in the Battle of Britain. On August 15, he shot down two Messerschmidt Bf-109E fighters and damaged a third. Other victories followed in August and October. In November, 151 squadron, flying Hurricanes and Defiant fighters, was re-deployed on night operations against the Luftwaffe’s night blitz on British cities. Smith was promoted to the rank of flight commander, and in March 1941 was awarded a DFC. In July, flying a Defiant, he destroyed a Dornier Do-217 bomber and damaged a Junkers Ju88 off Cromer.
Smith was appointed commanding officer of 151 squadron in February 1942 and acting wing commander in April, when 151 squadron began converting to the potent Mosquito-II night-fighter. On the night of June 24/25, he shot down two German bombers and damaged a third off Yarmouth. He was awarded a bar to his DFC in July, having scored eight aerial kills and four damaged. Having spent more than 2 years flying operationally with 151 squadron, he was rested from operations in March 1943.
Later that year, Smith was posted to No 2 (Bomber) Group HQ at the request of its air officer commanding, the famous Air Vice-Marshal Sir Basil Embry. In February 1944, he was appointed commanding officer of 487 squadron, RNZAF, operating Mosquito-VIs. Six Mosquito squadrons, specialising in low-level precision bombing – often against individual buildings – operated with No 2 Group, 2nd Tactical Air Force. Three squadrons – 487, 21 (British), and 464 (Australian) – formed 140 Wing, commanded by the redoubtable Wing Commander “Pick” Pickard. Then came Operation Jericho.
The following August, Smith led 487 squadron in low-level precision raids on barracks at Poitiers and, some weeks later, on an SS headquarters at Vincey, near Metz. He was subsequently mentioned in dispatches. In October, he was again rested from operations, and served at 13 Officer Training Unit until the end of the war, when he was granted a permanent commission. His later duties included commanding 56 squadron, flying Meteor jets, and staff appointments at HQ Fighter Command and HQ Signals Command.
He retired from the RAF as a group captain in 1966, and took up farming in south Devon. His wife Joan, whom he married in 1942 when she was a WAAF officer, died in 1994. They had two daughters, one of whom died in a car accident, and a son, who is now deputy supreme allied commander, Europe, General Sir Rupert Smith. (Credit: John Bullen, The Guardian, 22 March 2000)