Wing Commander Eric G. Smith, Distinguished Flying Cross, United States Air Medal
One of the very fine men of the RCAF died in Navan (near Ottawa) last week. Eric G. Smith plain and simply was a gem of a Canadian, so please take a moment to read about him below. I was honoured to have met Eric in the early 1980s, when starting research for a history of the Canadair Sabre. Eric could not have been a friendlier and more encouraging fellow. He put up with my phone calls, letters and visits, helping to ensure that the book eventually would be a good one. In all the subsequent years, he and I kept in touch and had many a pleasant time together at such events as the annual BBQs of the Canadian Fighter Pilots Association, Commonwealth Aircrew Reunions, or at one thrash or another at the Gloucester Mess in Ottawa. Here is a summary of this fine gentleman’s life:
Eric’s obituary: Eric George Smith S/L (Ret’d), loving husband of 65 years to Dinah Rosaleen (Cole), passed away peacefully March 30th, 2019 at the Ottawa General Hospital in his 99th year. He was a loving father to Erin Zintel (Smith) and a kind-hearted father-in-law to Bob Zintel. Eric was a proud and loving Grandpa to Sarah and Kristen Zintel. Eric will be remembered by his many nieces and nephews. Eric was a friend to so many who remember his sense of humour, storytelling and how he always had time to have a conversation. Predeceased by his parents George and Mary Ann Smith; his brother Sidney (Thelma); sisters Inez McFadden (William), Muriel Greenidge (Herbert), and Mavis Rothwell (Norman). Born January 26th, 1921 in the town of Navan, Ontario, Eric was educated at Navan Continuation School, Vankleek Hill Collegiate and the Ottawa Normal School (Teachers College). Eric taught school in Carlsbad SS#12 when he was 19 years old. In 1940, Eric assisted the Police in apprehending John Miki who murdered police officer Harold Dent in Navan. On July 1st, 1941 Eric enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He reported to the Manning depot, Toronto on August 27th, 1941. He was then transferred to Trenton, Belleville, Portage La Prairie and Camp Borden where he received his flying wings. Eric was commissioned on July 17th, 1942. In April 1945, Eric received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). His citation reads as follows: “This officer has completed a large number of operational sorties. He is pilot of exceptional ability who has never let either adverse weather or enemy opposition deter him from completing his allotted tasks. He has inflicted considerable damage on enemy lines of communication, mechanical transportation and rolling stock. He has at all times exhibited great determination, initiative and daring and set an inspiring example by his fine fighting spirit and devotion to duty”
On April 19 the Ottawa Citizen followed up this very nice tribute to Eric written by staffer Andrew Duffy:
Even among fighter pilots, Eric Smith was a rare breed. The Navan, Ont. wing commander was one of the few Canadians to fly combat missions in the Second World War and Korean War — and receive decorations for both. “He was in an exclusive little club,” said Canadian aviation historian and author Larry Milberry.
Smith received a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for the valour he showed in flying more than 50 low-altitude night fighter missions over France, Belgium Holland and Germany during the Second World War. He received the U.S. Air Medal for “his fortitude and courage” in flying 50 combat missions in the Korean War while on secondment to the U.S. Air Force.
Smith died last month at The Ottawa Hospital from pneumonia. He was 98. “I liked everything about him,” said his widow, Dinah Smith, 87. “He could talk to anybody from the lowest rank to a general.”
Eric George Smith was born on Jan. 26, 1921 in Navan, Ont., about half an hour east of Ottawa. His father was a farmer and a veteran of the First World War. Eric often accompanied him as he delivered milk and cream by horse-drawn wagon to Ottawa. An accomplished student, Smith graduated from teacher’s college, Ottawa Normal School, and took a job at a small schoolhouse in Carlsbad Springs. The Second World War interrupted his fledgling career.
In July 1941, at the age of 20, Smith enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force, determined to be a pilot. At 5’6’’, he narrowly met the height requirement. “If he wasn’t going to be a pilot, he didn’t want to be anything else,” said his daughter, Erin Zintel. Smith had heard his father’s stories about the mud and misery of trench warfare, she said, and he wanted nothing to do with the regular army. He trained in Toronto, Trenton, Belleville and Portage La Prairie before earning his pilot’s wings at Camp Borden. After still more training, Smith became a pilot instructor at No. 2 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Station Uplands — one of 231 sites opened in Canada to train pilots, navigators, gunners and flight engineers for the war.
Smith spent more than a year instructing young pilots before preparing for his own combat duty: He was sent to England in early 1944 to learn the dangerous art of low-level flying. Posted to No. 107 Squadron RAF, Smith flew his first night sortie over occupied France on Aug. 26, 1944. It was his first experience with night fighting. Smith’s logbook — he flew 58 missions — shows that he attacked troop transports, rail yards, warehouses, ammunition dumps, boats, trains, even a V-1 flying bomb, often while under attack by German anti-aircraft units. “Every one of these trips was literally death-defying: low-level Mosquito missions at night looking for anything German that moved,” said Milberry. “A lot of Mosquitos didn’t come back because they flew into wires or trees or towers.”
On the evening of March 5, 1945, Smith was one of only two pilots to get into the air because of dense, low-lying fog. The other pilot died that night in a crash landing. In April 1945, Smith was awarded the DFC with a citation that read: “He has at all times exhibited great determination, initiative and daring, and set an inspiring example by his fine fighting spirit and devotion to duty.” After the war, Smith returned to Canada and enrolled in university. But after a year in school, he decided to return to the air and to the RCAF. In 1952, he accepted a secondment to the U.S. Air Force to fly in the Korean War. Smith flew an F-86 Sabre jet on 50 combat missions, which took him deep into enemy territory and pitted him against Russian-built MiG fighters. Then a squadron leader, he was one of 22 RCAF pilots to fly in Korea. It’s believed he was the last surviving member of that exclusive group. Smith once told an interviewer how the high-flying MiGs would attack from out of the sky. The MiGs could climb to 50,000 feet while the Sabres couldn’t get above 42,000. On one sortie, he said, a MiG dropped right onto his tail. “But he was a very poor shot I guess,” Smith said of his narrow escape.
After returning to Canada, Smith was stationed in Chatham, New Brunswick, where a late season blizzard changed his life. In March 1953, during the storm, he crashed his car into a snow bank on RCAF Station Chatham. Two women went to see if he was OK. Dinah Cole, on her way home from the midnight shift as a fighter control operator, was one of them. “He ploughed into a snowbank right in front of me,” she recalled. “I opened the car door, and I said to him, ‘Can I help you? Can I phone somebody to pull you out?’ “He took a look at me and said, ‘No, but you can keep me company until someone comes, though’ … That was smooth.” The two were married five weeks later. Cole, then 21, had to quit her job since Smith was her senior officer.
Smith went on to serve in the RAF Air Ministry in London and to command RCAF’s Squadron No. 413 at CFB Greenwood. He retired as a wing commander in August 1968 and bought a property in Kemptville so that he could return to farming. He also sold real estate. In May 2001, Smith and his wife moved back to Navan to be closer to their only daughter, Erin, and their grandchildren. Smith continued to curl — it was his favourite sport — and to collect stamps and coins well into his 90s. During his career, Smith flew more than 30 airplanes, including the CF-100 twinjet fighter. “He knew how to fly and he knew his airplanes inside out,” said Milberry. “Like any of the good ones, he could fly anything.”
Fighter Pilots and Observers Updates
Since we launched Fighter Pilots and Observers last October, our readership has been pleased overall with the book. Of course, there are bound to be a few questions and comments about factual details. WWI aerial warfare historian, Colin Owers, in Australia, makes these points: For the photo of the L.V.G. on page 39, Colin points out that the airplane shown actually is a modified postwar example: “This is a civilian L.V.G. C.VI post-Armistice. Note the extra person in the elongated cockpit.” Next … for what I call a D.F.W. on p.64, Colin notes: “I am sure that the aircraft in the bottom photo is an L.V.G. C.V.” The same goes for p.106: “This is a D.F.W. C.V.” Thank you for this, Colin. If anyone can add further regarding updates/errata, please drop me a note — email@example.com
Why Are People Arguing about Books These Days? It’s Getting a Bit Dumb, Really
There’s always some good chitchat around the circuit about books – those beloved emblems of wisdom, knowledge, art, sheer beauty and pure joy. Books have been with us for millennia. Anyone with half a brain knows that they never can be replaced, no matter how many dunderheads rant and rave against them, try to belittle publishers and authors, and boringly spew that old rot about “everything” being on the web. What a farse, eh, and talk about pitiful!
Here’s a good one from this week’s “Toronto Star” (March 27, 2019). Columnist Heather Mallick is on a bit of a book tear, pointing out how, try as she might, she can’t give her personal books away, not even to the local USED bookseller. She admits, “so I’m bagging them … and dumping them beside the blue bin”. Gads … what sort of books does she read or are they contaminated by the plague? Here at CANAV, used books are beloved, and sales have been a key part of the operation for decades. These sales help greatly in fundraising to finance the next CANAV project. Thank you, devoted readers, who can’t wait to see what’s lately been added to the CANAV used book list. Anyway, Mallick wonders if books have become “a social embarrassment to be disposed of by stealth in the dark of night”. There’s a buried suggestion here that no one with any sense would be caught with a book in the house. She mentions that, apparently, it’s now a big thing with real estate agents and house stagers to get every book out of sight when preparing a house for showing. Books just spoil everything, don’t they. Finally, Mallick drops books and wanders off to chatter about her minimalist lifestyle, the woes of Trump and China, and other far-out stuff.
There’s an revealing thing about this edition of the “Star”. After plodding through the Mallick column, I flipped a few pages only to find a “Wall Street Journal” story about Michelle Obama’s recent life’s story, Becoming, published by Penguin Random House. Sales have topped 10 million copies in 5 months – a world record for this genre through all the centuries of books. So … methinks the book is probably in OK shape for at least a little while longer. Ergo … will you strange people out there please stop bothering us about the book supposedly being “dead”, “useless”, “environmentally hazardous”, etc? I doubt that you could even get Homer Simpson to agree with your moronic campaigning.
Some More Kings of Canadian Aviation
Speaking of books … probably 98% of recorded Canadian aviation history is found on the printed page. So, if you don’t have a good library of Canadian aviation books, basically, you’re in the dark about the topic. CANAV has published almost 40 titles since 1981. On the whole, these all are about people first, i.e., the folks who designed, built, flew and maintained the planes. I’ll never live long enough to write about all those who still have not yet been covered. I still have innumerable photos of these fine citizens and every once in a while, like to show you a few on the blog. That gets a little more of the story told. Here are some old photos that recently popped up. First, seen at a CANAV book launch in 1991 are two of the most important figures in Canadian aviation history. On the right is K.M. “Ken” Molson (1916-1996), the most influential man in all of Canadian aviation, when it comes to history.
Having moved to Toronto as a boy from the “Montreal Molsons” (following family tragedies in the 1930s) Ken went on to earn his aeronautical degree at the University of Toronto. His first job was working on the Lysander line at National Steel Car at Toronto’s old Malton airport. There he remained through the CF-100 and CF-105 eras, then went to Ottawa to establish Canada’s national aeronautical collection. As the collection’s first curator, Ken set the tone that you still get when touring it more than half a century later. It all starts with the magnificent collection that Ken passionately assembled of the classic planes that “made” modern Canadian aviation back in the day – the HS-2L, Bellanca, Fairchild, Junkers, then on to the Norseman, Stinson, Beaver, Lockheed 10, DC-3, etc. Ken also laid the foundation for such other museum themes as the great aircraft of WWI. His influence is astounding.
The museum as you see it today is a glorious tribute to Ken Molson, but you’d hardy know it – the man barely (maybe not at all?) is even mentioned in the place, considering that it ought to be named in his honour. Ken also wrote several of the seminal histories of Canadian aviation, books that should be on your shelves. If you don’t have them yet, check under “K.M. Molson” at http://www.abebooks.com, where you can also order your personal copies. Ken became a true supporter of my own efforts. As the years passed, he was gradually keener to supply material I needed for various projects (it took a few years for anyone to be embraced by Ken). Here, Ken is chatting with another King of Canadian Aviation, Robert “Bob” Bradford, who succeeded Ken at the museum. A wartime RCAF pilot and to this day an active aviation artist in his 90s. Bob has an Order of Canada and is a member of Canada‘s Aviation Hall of Fame. There’s finally a move afoot to get Ken inducted in the Hall. Strange that he’s not yet a member, right. The funny thing is that he only recently was nominated and you can get in until someone starts the ball rolling.
Here’s another old snapshot that grabbed my eye lately while flipping through some files. This one dates to our 1990 book launch for The Royal Canadian Air Force at War 1939-1945. On the right is William Harold David “Wild Bill” Meaden, DFC, whose story as a Bomber Command pilot is told in the book. On the left is the great aviation artist, Ron Lowry, who painted the front cover art of this best-selling title. Centre is Robert Finlayson, who painted the back cover art (which depicts a scene from Bill’s tour – the night his crew shot down a Ju.88). All three of these fine citizens have left us. Such old pictures are intrinsically important, but sure can be melancholic at the same time.
Last Saturday (March 23) we attended Carl Mills’ funeral. Carl saved so much of our history from the trash heap, as with his magnificent history of the Banshee jet fighter in the RCN. He also did a massive amount of original work unearthing all the details about Canada’s airmen who fought in Korea. In recent years he had been working diligently on the history of 400 Squadron. Included in that task, he built several important scale dioramas (masterpieces of art) and commissioned several wonderful paintings by some of Canada’s top aviation artists. Just a few days earlier, I learned that the great Peter Mossman, the artist who painted the cover art for our first three books, also had died.
The Canadian Aviation Historical Society was founded in 1963 to preserve Canada’s aviation heritage. I attended the second ever CAHS meeting and have membership No.11. The society thrived through the decades with chapters across Canada, a magnificent quarterly journal, newsletters and annual conventions. Sad to say, but the CAHS has been up against a lot in recent years. Like many such organizations, it’s hard hit by the aging (and passing) of members, and the difficulty of pulling in new members. Not helping matters, the society was riven by unnecessary internal strife in more recent times. How dumb was that, just when CAHS people should have been extra supportive and out there beating the bushes for members, etc., instead of fomenting civil war in its own ranks. But such things happen when folks lose sight of the big picture and start beating their own irrelevant little drums.
Here’s a historic photo going back to early CAHS days (1960s) in Toronto. In front in this group of CAHS pioneers are Art Marcopoulis, John Ham, Roger Juniper, Charlie Catalano, Bruce Gowans and Doug MacRitchie. Behind are (standing) Ernie Harrison, M.L. “Mac” McIntyre, Jeff Burch, George Morley, Al Martin, Frank Ellis, Elsie Ellis, Terry Waddington, Clint Toms, Bill Wheeler, Don Long (in front Bill) and Boris Zissoff. Each of these brought a unique aviation background to the society, and each worked diligently to build the society into a world-class organization. To my knowledge only Bruce, Ernie and Bill are still with us in 2019.
Love the Beech 18? Then This Is for You!
If you scroll back a few pages you’ll see our blog item “The Enduring (Indestructible?) Beech 18”. Well, as any true fan knows, we can never get enough Beech 18 coverage, so this week I’ve put together a series of superb photos taken mainly in the 1970s by the great Toronto-based photographer, Joan Turner. Almost annually, Joan and her brother, Bill, would make a driving tour across Northern Ontario to cover the bush flying scene. Invariably, they would find a good number of Beech 18s. Of course, they could be sure of finding the usual old standards, as they clocked up the miles from Sudbury westward – to Chapleau, Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa, around Lake Superior to the Lakehead, then westward to such haunts as Ignace, Fort Frances, Nestor Falls, Sioux Lookout and Red Lake. The whole experience must have been 100% fun. Take a look at these wonderful stock Joan Turner photos.
Some 50 years later, several of the fine old Beechcrafts that Joan covered are still at work, still turning heads with their classic great looks … and still making money, right. As to the captions, you might wonder from where so much Beech 18 trivia possibly could originate. There are many important sources, as any aviation bibliophile will know – just look in the books. Yes … in those actual amazing things made out of paper, ink and glue. Try on Air Transport in Canada, for example, where you will find 100s of references to Canada’s Beech 18s (ATC presently is on sale at CANAV Books at $60 off, check right here: 2 Blog CANAV Booklist Spring_Summer 2019 Then (as mentioned in our earlier Beech 18 item) there’s the world’s top Beech 18 book, Beech 18: A Civil and Military History by Robert Parmerter. By far the single most important website is that of Australian historian, Geoff Goodall. For this goldmine, google “Beech 18 Production List”. There are so many other sources for the keen reader and fan (weenies need not apply, of course). So … strap in good and tight, here comes “The Joan Turner Beech 18 Gallery”. To see a photo full screen, just click on it.
Recently, the intrepid Pierre Gillard of Longueuil was wandering around in the great southwestern desert enjoying the natural environment and great food & hospitality to the fullest. But he also was covering (in his usual scrupulous detail) the local aviation scene. Here is just a small sample of what Pierre found to photograph this time. It’s a formerly busy water bomber base, but now more of a boneyard – Gila River airport in Arizona. You’ll be amazed at what old airplanes still can be found, so google here to see it all: http://www.pierregillard.com/blog/index.html
Civilian Canadair Sabres
Not long after the RCAF declared its classic Canadair F-86 Sabres surplus in 1968, a large flock of them was bought up by civil operators. Most migrated to California, where they became target drones, chiefly for Flight Systems based at Mojave. Many of these eventually were shot down during “SAM” (surface-to-air-missile) development trials. Others ended with museums and warbird collectors, and even found work as chase planes. Boeing operated both the Canadair Sabre and Canadair T-33 as chase and photo planes during many airliner development programs from the 747 onward. Lockheed used an ex-RCAF Sabre chase plane during the L1011 program. Show here from the CANAV Books Collection is Boeing Sabre Mk.6 N8686F (ex-RCAF 23363) accompanying 747 prototype N7470. If this was on the first flight, the date was February 9, 1969. The 747 is hanging its gear, so the Sabre is using loads of flap plus speed brakes for low-speed control. Both these super-historic airplanes now reside with the Museum of Flight in Seattle. In the second photo, L1011 N31001 is accompanied by Sabre Mk.5 N8544 (ex-RCAF 23241). This was the second L1011 to fly (first flight February 15, 1971). It later served Eastern Airlines, then a list of other global air carriers. It was scrapped in Miami around Y2K. While on some sort of a mission from Mojave on March 23, 1986, N8544 was damaged and subsequently scrapped. Several ex-RCAF Sabres still fly as warbirds in the US. If you’d like an autographed copy of CANAV’s best-selling book, The Canadair Sabre, order using PayPal via firstname.lastname@example.org The all-in price with this offer is $46.00. The Canadair Sabre often has been described (all things considered) as the best of the world’s many F-86 Sabre books. I still like what France’s prestigious “Air Fan” journal said about our book when it first appeared. To “Air Fan” The Canadair Sabre was “The aviation literary event of the year”. If you still don’t have a copy, you’ll thank yourself for ordering one today at the price of a few beers.
Some Beech 18 fans speak up … Readers have been enjoying our blog of late, and quite a few have commented. Here’s some Beech 18 input. Ian Macdonald adds a bit for CF-AIR-X, noting that some parts (a wing section included) still were sitting in the weeds at Air-Dale in 2009. If memory serves Ian correctly, the “X” in the registration possibly had to do with float or ski trials. John Gilbert writes, “Great pics of the Beech 18s, Larry. I see DTN is among them. When I worked at the Aircraft Radio Workshops (Ottawa 1959-61, Toronto 1962-66) we had several Beech 18s used for flight checking. Thanks for the memories (and for all the good books).” Clarke la Prairie adds, “Thanks Larry. That’s a fascinating read on your blog. I followed the link to order the book Whiskey Whiskey Papa. Looking forward to this read about Weldy Phipps.”
Blain Fowler was reminded of his own Beech 18 love affair: “My first airplane ride was as an Air Cadet in 1958. We flew in an Expeditor at CFB Penhold. Quite a thrill. I was hooked. I remember looking down at swathed grain fields and thinking they looked like giant finger prints. About thirty-five years ago, I bought ex RCAF Expeditor 3NM, 2344, out of a farmers field north of Edmonton. It looked similar to 2302/ZHY in your photo collection. It had been given to a composite high school by the air force and was subsequently acquired by the farmer. He had taken very good care of it, although it had not flown or been on the civil register since SOS. Both engines had been run frequently and were in beautiful shape, as was the whole machine. Everything worked, not even a burned out light bulb! Since this was just before I bought the Corsair, I never got around to getting it flying and finally sold it to another Warbird fellow. Had a bit of fun with it while I had it, loading it up with “the boys” occasionally, everyone with a headset, and taxyed it up and down the runway. Round engine fans are a bit crazy! Loved your blog.”
Paul Manson, who once commanded Canada’s air force, writes to us: “I really enjoyed your latest blog. As always, so much good reading, and superb photos, especially the material on the old Beech 18/C-45/Expeditor. Back in 1962/3, when I was a student on the Specialist Navigator course in Winnipeg (as a token pilot), I did much of my practice flying on the Expeditor as co-pilot. Just checked my log book to see that I had time in the following C-45s: 2334, 1567, 1598, 1461, 2351, 1489 and 1502. Great experience for a jet fighter pilot!”
Wayne MacLellan reports: “Thanks Larry … that brings back memories. We had three Expeditors at Portage-la-Prairie, when I was a T-33 instructor there. As I remember, they were used for senior officer flying proficiency (with a qualified pilot), x-country training (picking up lobster on the east coast, transporting curling teams, etc). When I got my pink slip from Mr. Hellyer I manged to get a Beech rating towards my civilian commercial ticket. When I got to Qantas and they spent three months teaching me how to build and fly a DC-3, my 200 hours of Beech experience came in handy.”
Bob McCaw, one of the many solid Austin Airways people from post-WWII years, mentions two things regarding the blog. First … that Austin didn’t operate the Beech 18. Second … that around the time Stan Deluce’s White River Air Service bought out Austin, White River was operating Beech E18S CF-ANA on a passenger sked between Timmins and Kapuskasing (it’s a hop, skip and a jump between these two centres). Before long, White River became the main contractor in the Ontario Government’s NorOntair, and the Twin Otter took over on all such routes. “ANA” served White River 1970-74, then flew with various operators from Laurentian Air Services of Ottawa to Skycraft of Oshawa. In 1993 it became N5847 with “One Way Ride” in Pennsylvania (let’s go flying with them eh!). Today it’s privately owned in Vacaville, California as N5867. Here’s a photo of “ANA” that I took Toronto YYZ on May 15, 1971. While in Air Niagara colours, it apparently was owned by the Port Colborne Flying Club, which in turn had it on lease to White River. It’s not always easy to figure out such a plane’s historic details. For example, in the Canadian Civil Aircraft Register 1970-74 “ANA” is listed as owned by White River.
After enjoying the blog, Ken Pickford was reminded of his boyhood days watching the planes at Edmonton Municipal Airport — “The Muni”: “Thanks, Larry. When I was growing up in Edmonton in the 1950s I remember the RCAF Expeditors coming and going. I lived within bike riding distance, so so spent a lot of time on the observation deck. One difference in those days is that you could identify most aircraft by engine sound alone. Not possible today! Then, I just had to hear 5 seconds of the engine sound as the aircraft passed my bedroom window a mile or so away on final approach (or after takeoff) and could say with about 90% accuracy whether it was a DC-3, North Star, DC-6, Expeditor, Harvard, etc. The North Star could be a little tricky as there were still a few Lancasters in use by the RCAF on a project involving mapping of the Arctic regions, also several Avro York freighters busy on the DEW Line. When I think of the Beech 18, the famous stunt flying scenes from the 1963 movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” come to mind. In the movie, the famed stunt pilot Frank Tallman piloted a Beech 18 through a billboard and a hangar. Such scenes today would be done using computer-generated imagery, but in 1963 it was the real thing.” (To see what Ken means, check out these film clips https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlC1Fboq5vI and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsu3hiP1ikQ)