Colourised by Doug Banks
Fantastic rendition of Buck McNair’s Spitfire
Yes, another one and why not? I love Spitfire’s and I am obsessed with them! I am particularly interested in Battle of Britain and Malta Spitfire’s hence why I build so many of them. Upon seeing the camouflage scheme of AB264, a Mk.Vb Tropical Spitfire that saw action with 249 Squadron RAF I was fascinated and wanted to discover more.
Now there is a lot of speculation as to certain schemes and colours on Malta based Spitfire’s and I can find 4 different paint schemes for this one airframe. From what I can gather what I have here is my best guess based on the evidence of my research.
A little bit of History:
AB264 is noted for being a survivor of Operation Spotter which took place 76 years ago. The first Spitfires to be based outside of the UK were flown to the island of Malta in March…
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This gallery contains 9 photos.
Bruce McNair paid homage in 2013 to the Smith Brothers with a comment he had written on my blog about RCAF 403 Squadron.
My Dad and Rod went flight school together and served together overseas. They were great friends.
After my Dad passed away in 1971, I moved to Vancouver. Rod and I became good friends. We often fished together and took a few trips up into Northern B.C. to catch the elusive monster Spring Salmon. We did catch quite a few but never the 50 pounder we were after.
Rivers Inlet was still a peaceful haven in those days (’70’s). His engineering degree combined with his law degree and his photographic, analytical brain, made him an amazingly informed and capable man. His general knowledge was astoundingly deep. As a lawyer he did a huge amount of unsung pro- bono work. He was the quintessential gentleman. He often talked about Jerry.
Rod’s other brother, Don, was quite a character and the three of us often found ourselves telling fish stories over J.W. Black Label and Martinis, anchored offshore somewhere, on the goodship “Glennifer”, an old but dignified 42 footer out of the West Vancouver Yatch Club.
It was Rod who inspired me to apply to law school and become a lawyer. I have never regretted that decision.
Bruce was commenting on an article about the Smith brothers that Pat Murphy had written on my 403 Squadron blog.
The Regina born Smith brothers had a number of things in common, with just one year separating them, both enjoyed sports of all kinds, growing up in Regina meant a good deal of that sport activity would be winter sports.
Jerry, the oldest, born in 1921 and Rod the youngest, born in 1922. Both were active in school projects that were based on creative engineering as their Father was an engineer, both did well in school and both loved aviation and staying informed with events that were changing the world. With world events turning more chaotic each passing month in the mid 1930s, It was with keen interest both boys followed the rise of Nazi Germany and the advances made by the Luftwaffe.
In 1936, Rod had pictures of the new British Spitfire fighter hanging in his room and he well knew the struggle to design and build such a fine aircraft, Rod and Jerry both understood the engineering challenges it took to achieve such things and both were convinced that the Merlin powered Spitfire was the equal to any German aircraft.
Rod and Jerry read every newspaper that was available, their father would share news he had heard on the radio with both boys, they read British aviation magazines, they discussed world events with their Father and Mother and the teenagers knew that if war broke out it would be almost certain that when they completed the educational levels necessary to join the RCAF, both of them would enlist. Both craved the excitement of flying fighters and both had dreams of flying the Spitfire. When an aircraft flew over the house both boys would tear outside to get a better view.
Rod was the first to enlist at the end of September 1940, at age 18. Jerry would follow a few weeks later at age 19, at the time of enlistment both had no inkling they would fly Spitfires in the same RAF Squadron, but as fate would have it they did.
The Smith Brothers would train at different Canadian bases, both would receive their Wings and both Smith brothers would be commissioned in the RCAF. Both would be shipped to England at different times and both would be posted to Spitfire fighter Squadrons, Rod to 412 Squadron RCAF and Jerry, like many Canadians was posted to an RAF Squadron, (60% of all Canadians were posted to RAF Squadrons).
Both Rod and Jerry had their share of close aerial combats, both became experienced fighter pilots and both brothers gained considerable experience in attacking Luftwaffe aircraft. With the situation in Malta growing more dire each day the RAF started sending additional fighter pilots to shore up the tired and exhausted personnel that were in Malta, the Germans needed Malta to maintain its army in North Africa and the British were not about to give it up, at least not without a fight. Jerry was posted to Malta and in early May 1942 he boarded the USS Wasp, a huge American aircraft carrier.
Called “Operation Bowery” the mission was to deliver Spitfires to Malta to aid in the defense of this strategic little Island.
Sixty four, MK Vc Spitfires were loaded onto the American Carrier. Spitfires were being shipped to Malta by Carrier as it was impossible to safely fly from the British bases or from Gibraltar. The plan was to get as close to Malta as possible then launch the Spitfires and they would then fly to Malta and in some cases land during a bombing attack, at the time Malta was the most bombed place on the planet. The Spitfires were not equipped with arrestor hooks so landing back on the carrier in case of trouble was out of the question. On May 9th once, the USS Wasp was 580 miles West of Malta the Spitfires were launched. All got off with no problem. Jerry’s Spitfire coded X-3 serial number BR126 launched with no problem, Jerry soon realized he had fuel feed problems and it would be impossible for him to reach Malta. In spite of being told not to attempt a deck landing once airborne he decided to give it a go.
Jerry’s Spitfire coded X-3 serial number BR126 launched with no problem
After all the Spitfires were clear of the deck Jerry lined up on the carrier and made an attempt at landing. None of the pilots delivering Spitfires to Malta had any training landing on the shifting deck of an aircraft carrier, a task difficult for even the trained, experienced naval pilots.
Spitfire taking off from USS Wasp on 9 May 1942 during operation Bovery. Barely visible is the 90-gallon slipper tank under the aircraft’s belly. As the Wasp’s deck was longer than that of HMS Eagle, no provisional flaps were needed for take-off. [US Navy] Source
His first attempt failed but he successfully landed on his second attempt stopping just a few feet from running off the end of the massive American carrier, had it not been for several US sailors running up onto the deck and holding Jerry’s Spitfire back he would have gone over the deck into the Mediterranean.
To celebrate Jerry’s miracle landing the US sailors presented Jerry with set of US Navy flight wings, Jerry proudly wore the wings on his uniform along side his RCAF wings. Jerry was returned to Gibraltar by the Wasp and later boarded the HMS Eagle to attempt the Malta trip once again, this time Jerry made it. Upon arrival he was posted to 126 Squadron RAF and was flying combat operations against the Luftwaffe the next day. Jerry’s landing on the carrier deck was not considered possible and it was the only Spitfire that accomplished this amazing feat.
Rod Smith had kept in touch with Jerry in England but had no idea Jerry had been posted to Malta, Wartime communications were mostly by post with the occasional phone call and Rod had no idea that Jerry had gone to Malta or had successfully landed his disabled Spitfire on the deck of the USS Wasp.
Rod boarded HMS Eagle in early July and on the 15th he took off from the carrier about 600 miles from Malta.
Rod’s flight to Malta was uneventful and when he landed in Malta and while being driven to his quarters he was shocked and pleasantly surprised to find his brother Jerry walking the road with a parachute slung over his arm, after their cheerful greeting Rod discovered he would be assigned to the same RAF Squadron and both would team up and fly operations together, something both brothers never thought possible.
They flew many times together, both would fly a variety of serviceable Spitfires, few pilots in Malta could claim a personal Spitfire as serviceable aircraft were few and far between. Rod often flew a Mk Vb coded MK-P serial BR471. Both brothers were aggressive and confident; the brothers shared in the damage to a Junkers 88 Bomber. About one month after the Smith brothers teamed up, Jerry was seen chasing after a Luftwaffe bomber towards Sicily over the Mediterranean ocean, he did not return to the base and he was never seen again.
Click on the image
On that particular sortie Rod stayed behind to replace some flying gear and while he was on the way back to his Spitfire Jerry was dispatched to intercept some German bombers. Rod always regretted leaving his side.
Mk Vb coded MK-P serial BR471
The Squadron flew several hours of search operations and Rod flew out over the ocean after nightfall as he knew Jerry carried a flash light on his mae west. He hoped he would locate the light and direct a search and rescue boat to Jerry’s location but his search was unsuccessful and Jerry was listed as missing.
Rod survived his Malta experience and no doubt he missed his brother. In 1943 Rod was posted to 401 Squadron at Biggin Hill. In March 1944 Rod became a Flight Commander with 412 Squadron. He would participate in the D-Day landings see service in Normandy then Belgium and later promoted to Squadron Leader of 401 Squadron RCAF. In December 1944, Rod was tour expired and returned to Canada to join the Auxiliary Squadron retiring in 1946. Rod is credited with 15 aerial victories and also shared in the destruction of a Luftwaffe jet fighter. He was highly decorated and an excellent Spitfire pilot.
Wing Commander, Rod Smith survived the War and his older brother Jerry did not, this unfortunate circumstance would affect many Canadian families but few families would have brothers reunited. The Smith brother would be the exception and it would happen in October 2005.
Rod Smith was 80 years old when he died; he was facing some health concerns and told those that were closest to him that he never wanted to be a burden on anyone. Rod had remained a bachelor all his life, he took his own life in 2002, he was a successful lawyer, a yachtsman and very active in fighter pilot reunions, he started to write his memoirs after he retired but never completed them, his family turned his unfinished manuscript, journal, log books and brother Jerry’s logs and notes over to Christopher Shores, a world renowned historian who completed the book for Rod. “The Spitfire Smiths” a unique story of brothers in arms is an excellent book ands well worth the read.
In summer of 2005 a group of aviation enthusiasts from the Malta Aviation Museum and others spearheaded a movement to have a Spitfire and a Hawker Hurricane visit Malta to help bring attention to the plight of the citizens who sacrificed so much during the war and to honour the many men that died fighting to protect Malta and to keep shipping lines open. The event would be called “Merlins over Malta, the defenders return” The two famous fighters would fly to Malta this time over peaceful Europe in stages. The routes were planned, support crews were in place and both famous fighters departed England only stopping for re-fueling and for dodgy weather. The citizens of Malta were informed of the arrival time of the two fighters.
Every building along the Grand Habour in the capitol city of Valletta was crowded with Maltese citizens awaiting the arrival of two well preserved classic aircraft that had played such an emotional connection to the history of Malta, during the difficult years of World War two. Almost on queue, the two fighters roared over the harbour and the crowds went wild as wartime memories flooded back to the senior Maltese citizens and absolutely thrilled those younger generations that had only heard about the Spitfire and Hurricane from their parents.
By chance, Rod’s younger sister Wendy Noble was in Malta to honour one of Rods last wished, to have his ashes spread on the waters of the Mediterranean so he could be once again with Brother Jerry. The crew from the Spitfire flight was in the same hotel. A meeting was arranged and pilot Charles Brown after hearing the Smith brother’s story agreed to fly the ashes over the same spot that Jerry was last observed and then spread Rods ashes. The following day the Mk V Spitfire painted like so many of the Spitfires that saved Malta took off and flew west of Malta towards Sicily, once over the same area, Brown tipped the Spitfire over on one wing, slide the canopy back and poured the ashes from the cockpit into the blue Mediterranean ocean, after a lapse of 60 years Rod had his last flight in a Spitfire and the Smith brothers were once again together.
The Vancouver Island Military Museum, located in Nanaimo British Columbia on Vancouver Island is proud to display models and photographs of the Smith Brothers Spitfires, the models are placed side by side as are the picture
A note on the colour and markings of Malta Spitfires for modelers.
Over the year much has been written and speculated by historians and modelers over the actual colours of Malta Spitfires, with little evidence to support most theories so far presented, it is left up to modelers to interpret the sketchy details that were left by Squadron records and from the fading memories of Spitfire veterans that fought with the Spitfire over the tiny Island of Malta. Very few colour photographs were taken or preserved so to date nothing definitive is available for those of us that are interested in such things that was until very recently.
Brian Cauchi of Malta, a master modeler of very high regard has spent the last 20 or so years communicating with former RAF, RCAF and Luftwaffe pilots, he has assembled some of the most detailed accounts of the colour and markings ever gathered and the information he has uncovered is now available in a book he has written. His research method and his sources are impeccable and his work is considered by many to be the best publication of its type ever published.
“Malta Spitfires V’s 1942 their colours and Markings” will soon be available to the general public. The forward to the book is written by a former RCAF Malta veteran. Lt. Colonel (retired) Robert Middlemiss, DFC,CD, SSM.
Middlemiss flew with 249 Squadron RAF in Malta and he was wounded during a dog fight, he parachuted into the ocean and was rescued. His wounds were severe enough that he had to be flown back to England to recover. He was then assigned to an OTU (Operational Training Unit). to assist with the training of young pilots. 249 Squadron RAF was the highest scoring Squadron during the Malta campaign. Middlemiss was then transferred to 403 Squadron at Kenly, England under the Command of the famous Wing Commander, Jonnie Johnson.
Brian Cauchi has given me a peek at some chapters of his book and I have seen a sample of the colour profiles that feature the markings and colours of some Malta Spitfires, in my opinion this book will be the final word on the subject and answer many questions that many veteran modelers and historians have pondered these many years. I can’t wait to get my hands on the book and get started modeling more Malta Spitfires for the museum collection.
Always feel free to comment or contact me using this form.
This blog pays homage to Buck McNair and 249 Squadron.
It was created when his son Bruce McNair sent me a message on one of my many blogs on World War Two.
Bruce had shared some of the informations he had about his father’s service with the RCAF.
I decided then to create a blog especially about 249 Squadron.
A few weeks ago I received this message.
It was wrongly addressed to me. I now have permission to let you in on a story about Rod Smith’s ashes and a few more stories shared by Wendy, Rod and Jerry’s sister.
This is Wendy’s first message.
Enjoyed your article about Rod and Jerry. I knew your Mother but never had the pleasure of meeting your father. Regarding taking Rod’s ashes to Malta ~ I don’t think it was something Rod ever hoped for, as far as I know, and it all happened quite serendipitysley if there is such a word!
A Vancouver Club friend of Rod had offered his boat for a ceremony and scattering of Rod’s ashes, but by the time we were ready he and his wife were away on a cruise, and I had to return home to Toronto.
Another friend, Robin Fleming, suggested we scatter both Rod’s and our brother Don’s ashes from a boat in the Fraser River near her Steveston home where they both loved to visit. A small group of close friends and relatives attended and it was quite lovely. Robin phoned me that night to say she and her husband had gone out for a walk along the Fraser and had seen a kestrel (his boat was Kestrell III), and that they thought the boys’ ashes had gone out sea!
The intended urns, designed and custom made by a potter friend of Rod, had blown up in her kiln and she brought another pair that were too small for either set of ashes, so we kept the extra ashes in small urns for another occasion.
Otherwise the Merlins Over Malta magic would never have happened. Without my knowing about this historic event, I planned a trip with an old friend who wanted to see Malta with me because she knew I had been there with Rod. After we had booked, by another serendipitous event, I learned about a day on which a new Ta’ Kali Airport hanger was to be dedicated, but didn’t think of attending it without Rod.
I planned to scatter the remnants of Rod’s and Don’s ashes from a boat near where Jerry went down in 1942. We landed at Luqa in the middle of an airshow and gradually learned that we had arrived a day or two after the beginning of the week long Merlins Over Malta celebration. A message at the hotel from Karl Karsgaard said we would receive a phone call at ten the next morning and that’s when we were advised that the pilot of the Spitfire, Fl/Lt. Charlie Brown, would be proud to take the small urn containing Rod’s ashes and scatter them in the Mediterranean from the Spitfire.
So much to tell about the week, but my brother Donald’s ashes were spread by my friend and me in Ramla Bay on Gozo, and Rod’s were scattered near Sicily on the Spitfire’s return to The Imperial War Museum in Duxford. Charlie Brown sent me a beautiful chart showing the exact location where they were sent out over the Mediterranean from an envelope under the flaps of the aeroplane.
I had saved a few of Rod’s ashes for a little pond in the RCAF garden in Stanley Park and later walked there from his apartment, past Lost Lagoon and up past the Rose Garden where I was sure no one would mind if I snipped two red roses for Jerry and Rod! They were still floating among the ashes on the surface of the pond when I left.
Would love to hear from you. Rod would be so pleased with your account of him and his friends. I knew the Charlesworths and met Arthur Bishop several times in Toronto.
Keith: I forgot to mention I had written Frederick Galea,whom I had met with Rod when he was head of the War Museum at Fort St. Elmo, to ask his help about where in the Med I should scatter the ashes. He confessed to being very much behind what unfolded.
This text was written this week by Jacques Gagnon who is Eugene Gagnon’s nephew. It’s written in French for my readers on Souvenirs de guerre, the first blog I have created in September 2009.
I will post the original text here with the translation to follow when I have free time on my hands.
Il est presque impossible qu’Eugène Gagnon et George Beurling ne se soient pas rencontrés en 1947 alors que tous les deux pilotaient pour la même compagnie, soit Sherbrooke Airways.
Voilà la conclusion à laquelle j’en arrive après m’être livré à un petit exercice qui n’est que pure spéculation mais qui comporte quand même une certaine dose de probabilité. Laissons donc l’imaginaire vagabonder.
Tous les deux étaient des pilotes exceptionnels et tous les deux se sont tués dans des accidents d’avion, Gagnon le 21 octobre 1947 et Beurling le 20 mai 1948. Tous les deux étaient âgés de 26 ans.
collection Jacques Gagnon
Beurling, de Verdun, en banlieue de Montréal, était l’as des as des pilotes de chasse canadiens de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, avec 31 1/3 victoires aux commandes du Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire.
Gagnon, originaire des Cantons de l’Est (Weedon), s’était illustré en effectuant 33 missions nocturnes en territoire ennemi aux commandes du bimoteur de Havilland Mosquito.
Tous deux portaient le grade de Flight Lieutenant (Capitaine d’aviation) et tous deux furent abondamment médaillés. Gagnon : Étoile France-Allemagne (France and Germany Star), Étoile de 1939-1945 (1939-45 Star), Médaille canadienne du volontaire avec barrette (Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp), Croix du Service distingué dans l’Aviation (Distinguished Flying Cross). Beurling: Ordre du Service distingué (Distinguished Service Order), Croix du Service distingué (Distinguished Flying Cross), Médaille du Service distingué dans l’Aviation avec barrette (Distinguished Flying Medal and Bar).
Leurs missions étaient différentes mais leurs montures étaient considérées parmi les plus racées et leurs pilotes parmi les meilleurs. Autre distinction : Gagnon était dans l’Aviation canadienne (RCAF) et Beurling dans l’Aviation britannique (RAF), la Force canadienne l’ayant refusé, ce qu’il considérait comme une humiliation qu’il n’a jamais oubliée.
Revenons à Sherbrooke Airways. Dans la biographie de Beurling publiée en 1981 sous le titre de HERO The Buzz Beurling Story, on peut lire à la page 132, qu’il a agi comme instructeur pour cette compagnie de mai à octobre 1947.
Il parlait d’ailleurs très bien français. Gagnon pilotait pour la même société à la même époque. Elle était la propriété de l’homme d’affaires Eddy Blouin. Leur base était l’ancien aéroport militaire de Saint-François-Xavier-de-Brompton, un minuscule village en banlieue de Sherbrooke. Il n’existe plus aujourd’hui aucune trace de cette base.
aéroport de Saint-François-Xavier-de-Brompton
Comme toutes les activités aériennes des environs étaient concentrées à Saint-François, on peut facilement penser qu’à un moment ou un autre les deux héros se soient au moins croisés. La fin de la guerre était encore toute récente, les deux pilotes s’étaient illustrés et tous deux étaient passionnés par les machines volantes. Ils étaient également l’objet de nombreuses légendes. Autant de motifs pouvant les rapprocher si jamais ils s’étaient retrouvés un devant l’autre.
Poussons la réflexion un cran plus loin. George Beurling pouvait ignorer qui était Eugène Gagnon, mais ce dernier devait inévitablement connaître la vedette adulée qu’était devenu le chasseur même avant la fin des Hostilités. Et puis, Eddy Blouin devait se vanter dans son entourage d’avoir embauché le plus célèbre des pilotes canadiens. Rien de plus légitime.
Enfin, ajoutons un clin d’œil. Certaines photos permettent de croire que Gagnon, tout comme Beurling, attirait les jolies femmes.
collection Jacques Gagnon
Après Sherbrooke, Beurling s’est dirigé vers la Nouvelle-Écosse, toujours comme instructeur.
Le 21 octobre 1947, Gagnon transporte trois hommes d’affaires américains dans un Seabee tout neuf que Sherbrooke Airways avait acheté quelques mois auparavant.
L’avion amphibie connaît des problèmes de moteur et il s’écrase dans le bois à Windsor Mills, à quelques milles seulement de Saint-François. Le pilote se tue mais ses passagers survivent.
collection Jacques Gagnon
Le 20 mai 1948, Beurling teste un Norseman, un avion de brousse canadien, à l’aéroport de Urbe, près de Rome, en Italie. Il est accompagné d’un autre pilote, Leonard J. Cohen, un Juif britannique. L’avion de brousse canadien s’enflamme peu avant d’atterrir et explose. Les deux pilotes sont tués sur le coup. Leur avion, et deux autres semblables étaient destinés à l’aviation clandestine d’un nouveau pays, Israël. La thèse du sabotage a été évoquée, car Beurling était considéré comme un mercenaire au service d’Israël. Le mystère reste entier.
Pour Beurling, c’était son dixième crash. Quant à Gagnon, l’atterrissage sur le ventre de son Mosquito, au retour d’une mission en mars 1945, lui a valu sa Distinguished Flying Cross.
Avoir défié la mort pendant des centaines d’heures de vol en temps de guerre pour périr dans deux banals vols de routine aux commandes de petits avions civils. Mince consolation, les deux héros eurent droit à des funérailles grandioses. À Bromptonville, c’était le traitement militaire pour Gagnon.
collection Jacques Gagnon
À Rome, le cercueil de Beurling avait été déposé dans un élégant fourgon mortuaire remorqué par une paire de chevaux noirs. Un cortège d’un millier de personnes suivait derrière en direction du cimetière.
with a love for airplanes and stories I have never heard before like the story of Johnnie Plagis who flew alongside Buzz Beurling in Malta.
I knew Buzz of course but not Johnnie Plagis until I got a cyptic comment by the Maltese Falcon.
Buzz Beurling flew for Sherbrooke Airways after the war alongside a former Mosquito pilot with 23 Squadron.
Both met tragic deaths. Beurling in Rome, Italy on May 20, 1948.
Gagnon met his death in Windsor Mills, Quebec, Canada on October 21, 1947.
Now it’s your turn to be curious isn’t?
This cryptic comment made last week got me searching for more Maltese stories…
Doug Leggo was a very close friend of ‘Johnnie’ Plagis who was extremely upset and deeply saddened by the death of his close friend on 19 March 1942. He swore that he would shoot down 10 German aircraft to even the score, which he did.
The Maltese Falcon
I had heard a little about Doug Leggo, but never about his close friend ‘Johnnie’.
I thought the time was right for a little searching on the Internet about this pilot.
Little did I know that I would find Plagis’s name in the sad story of this young Spitfire pilot.
But you don’t have to.
HMS Indomitable was deployed on a mission which was to prove the crux of the war in the Mediterranean.
Vital supplies had to be delivered.
Malta simply could not be lost.
Not only was it a vital refuge at the heart of the dangerous Sicilian Narrows, Malta was invaluable as a base of offensive operations against Axis supply lines.
The rocky island would determine the fate of the war in the Mediterranean and beyond. If it fell, not only would Axis forces in North Africa receive their supplies largely unhindered, British supply lines to Egypt, the Middle East and India would be largely severed.
Both sides knew the importance of the island fortress.
Of course if you do, you will be impressed!