Home' Air Force News : February 3rd 2011 Contents TRANSITION SUPPORT
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February 3, 2011
ANOTHER airman listed as missing
in action in Air Force records has been
discovered in France.
The remains of FLTLT Henry
Lacy Smith, a Spitfire pilot with
453SQN RAAF, and his aircraft were
found late last year in the waters of
the Orne Estuary in Normandy.
Following the D-Day invasion on
June 6, 1944, 453SQN deployed to
France from Britain on June 11 to
support the ground forces.
That evening, FLTLT Smith was
section leader of two other Spitfires
patrolling near Quistrehain when
his aircraft was struck by flak and
His last radio message was: "I'm
going to put this thing down in a
His aircraft struck the canal and
skidded for a short period on the sur-
face of the water before nosing down
and turning over.
The other flight aircraft circled the
spot but saw neither signs of FLTLT
Smith nor the aircraft.
On November 6 last year, some
locals recovered the Spitfire from the
estuary after other locals reported
parts of an aircraft showing above the
water at low tide.
They spent days digging out mud
from around the Spitfire before it was
raised to the surface.
After the wreckage was towed
ashore, human remains were found in
The locals had collected an
amount of circumstantial evidence
and believed the remains were those
of FLTLT Smith.
The Australian Embassy in Paris
was informed and it arranged for the
remains to be collected and stored
by the Commonwealth War Grave
Commission in France, pending pos-
itive identification of the pilot.
Along with the human remains
were found a number of artefacts,
including a plaque with the engine
serial number still attached to the
From this, the archive reports col-
lected by the locals, the reports of the
other two pilots, the location of the
wreckage and a wartime casualty report
linking the aircraft tail number, engine
serial number and pilot details, Air
Force Headquarters concluded that the
remains were of FLTLT Smith.
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
and Defence Science and Personnel
Warren Snowdon announced the dis-
covery on December 17. "I am very
pleased that the remains of this pilot
have been accounted for and can
now be laid to rest. Finding FLTLT
Smith after more than 66 years is
an outstanding result for all con-
cerned and particularly the family,"
Mr Snowdon said.
One of the locals who assisted
with the recovery said: "We would
like to see the bones of Henry Lacy
Smith the hero buried with full mili-
tary honours here in France. We feel
as French people that we owe this to
"He died for us."
Air Force has contacted surviv-
ing relatives and arrangements are
under way for the reinterment of
FLTLT Smith's remains in April at
the Ranville war graves cemetery in
Meanwhile, it was decided to
resubmerge the aircraft in order to
preserve it. The salvage team were
surprised at its condition. The wood-
en propeller was well preserved and
instruments in the cockpit were still
Since the RAAF's inception in
March 1921, 1100 aircraft and 884
airmen are posted as missing.
On December 1, 453SQN joined
452SQN when they stood up as the
new military battlefield airspace
squadrons. The reformation ceremony
will be held at RAAF Base Williamtown
on February 16 and will be reported in
a future edition.
FROM A WATERY GRAVE:
Above, a crane lifts the upside
down wreckage of FLTLT Smith's
Spitfire clear of the water.
Photo: Philip Toscano
PRESERVED: The cockpit of the
now upright Spitfire. Thanks to the
estuarine mud, many components,
including the throttle, control
column and instruments are in
extraordinarily good condition.
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