Wing Commander William John Smith DFC

Wing Commander Smith - Copy

Wing Commander W J Smith.
The squadrons last war-time commander and most controversial.


Name: William John Smith
Service Number: 39134 RAFO
Retired: 14.02.1958
Died: 2004
Awards:  Distinguished Flying Cross (LG13.11.1945)
Citation: None
Acting Pilot Officer: 07.09.1936
Pilot Officer: 13.07.1937
Flying Officer: 14.04.1939
Flight Lieutenant: 03.09.1940
Squadron Leader: 04.07.1944
Acting Wing Commander: 21.10.1944 (via ORB)
Movements / Postings  (Known)
1936 (September) No.2 FTS Digby (No.31 Course)
22.05.1937 No.52 Squadron, RAF Abington – Hawker Hinds – Fairey Battles (still with squadron March 1938)
Missing Period
No.3 Lancaster Finishing School (No.3 LFS) RAF Feltwell July 1944. No.44 Course
No.115 Squadron (August no dates given) “B” Flight Commander, RAF Witchford
No.218 Squadron 21.10.1944, RAF Chedburgh

No.115 Squadron
Aircraft Avro Lancaster Mk.I & III
Base RAF Witchford
Date Serial Code Target Comments
04.08.1944 PB127 KO-T Bec’De Amers Duty Carried Out
08.08.1944 PB127 KO-T Foret Le Lucheux Duty Carried Out
09.08.1944 HK599 KO-K Port D’Englos Duty Carried Out
11.08.1944 PB127 KO-T Lens (M/yards) Duty Carried Out
14.08.1944 PB131 KO-W Hamel Duty Carried Out
15.08.1944 PB131 KO-W St.Trond Duty Carried Out
18.08.1944 HK540 KO-Q Bremen Duty Carried Out
31.08.1944 NF960 KO-R Point Remy Duty Carried Out
06.09.1944 NF960 KO-R Le Harve Duty Carried Out
08.09.1944 NF960 KO-R Le Harve Duty Carried Out
11.09.1944 NF960 KO-R Kamen Duty Carried Out
28.09.1944 NF960 KO-R Calais Duty Carried Out
05.10.1944 NF960 KO-R Saarbrucken Duty Carried Out
06.10.1944 NF960 KO-R Dortmund Duty Carried Out
14.10.1944 PD276 KO-X Duisburg Duty Carried Out
No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron
Aircraft Avro Lancaster Mk.I & III
Base RAF Chedburgh
30.10.1944 ME843 HA-R Wessling Duty Carried Out
05.01.1945 PB296 HA-B Ludwigshaven Duty Carried Out
28.01.1945 PB256 HA-J Gremburg (M/Yards) Duty Carried Out
03.02.1945 PD232 HA-K Dortmund Duty Carried Out
13.02.1945 NF450 HA-B Dresden Duty Carried Out
02.03.1945 SR269 XH-R Cologne Duty Carried Out
14.03.1945 RA532 XH-L Detteln Duty Carried Out
18.04.1945 ME545 HA-L Heligoland “A” Duty Carried Out


There cannot be a commanding officer of No.218 Squadron that can evoke more feelings than Wing Commander William Smith DFC.

I am sure that the verdict is still out on Wing Commander Smith or ”The Vicar” as he was known amongst the members who served under him from October 1944 until VE Day. However what is known about William John Smith, is many of today’s surviving veterans have conflicting memories.  Miles Tripp makes his feelings known for him within the pages of his book “The Eight Passenger”.

Allen Clifford in his book “One of Butches Boys” recalls that,

The squadrons new C/O, was known as the Vicar since he took to addressing us at briefing from a specially constructed pulpit-like podium” ?

Ron Warburton records in his book “Ron’s War” a meeting with W/Cdr Smith.

“My squadron is the best in Bomber Command, and our standards are very high. Were chosen frequently to lead attacks on Germany by day and night” 

These are just a few of the many anecdotes and stories I hear about W/Cdr Smith. Squadron Leader Martindale in a letter stated that “Wing Commander Smith was a capable and very fine officer and commander”. Other comments however are less printable!.

I have tried over the past few months to find out more about this former commanding officer. I have been informed (but not confirmed) he served in the Army in India during the 1930’s before joining the RAF.   William Smith joined the RAF in  1936 and initially trained at No.2 FTS at RAF Digby. On completion of No.31 Course he was posted to No.52 Squadron in May 1936. The squadron based at RAF Abington was equipped with the Hawker Hind. He was still with the squadron in March 1938, however from this point on his movements are conjecture. It is believed that he was sent to Canada as an instructor, however I have not been able to confirm this. It is not until July 1944 that the now Squadron Leader W Smith appears on the radar. He is recorded within the pages of No.3 Lancaster Finishing School ORB.  He and his crew are recorded as being posted to No.115 Squadron on July 31st 1944 on completion of No.44 Course.  Squadron Leader Smith was posted to 115 as “B” Flight Commander and carried out his first operation on August 4th 1944 against the oil storage facility at Bec-d’Ambes. Over the next few months a further 14 operations were flown, 6 of which were night op’s. 

At the beginning of October 1944 No.115 Squadron was reduced from a 3 flight squadron to a 2 flight squadron. The hiving off of the third flight effectively created a new squadron, No.195. This reduction of flights and creation of a new squadron would have a knock on effect with 218 squadron.  Firstly No.218 would lose their respected and experienced “B” Flight commander, Squadron Leader Phil Brentnall to No.195. Phil was posted to assume duties as “A” Flight commander while back on No.115 Squadron Leader Smith was posted to No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron to assume command on the departure of Wing Commander Fenwick-Wilson AFC. Wing Commander W Smith assumed command of 218 Squadron on Saturday October 21st 1944. He had a hard task ahead, his predecessor Canadian W/Cdr Royd Fenwick-Wilson AFC was extremely popular and respected.   So what happened to William John Smith, if anything between 115 Squadron and 218 Squadron? The only change I can see was pressure of command.

Within weeks of taking command W/Cdr Smith was taken ill and sent to RAF Hospital Ely, he departed on December 5th and returned on December 22nd an absence of 17 days. I am sure that the pressure heaped upon him was at times overwhelming from 31 Base, 3 Group and Bomber Command HQ. Was it this pressure that moulded his style of command, or was it his time instructing with Training Command in Canada? How can there be so many contrasting opinions about one man. Lastly I have been told that the “Vicar” only flew on daylights operations  well this is not completely true, of the 22 operations flown 8 were night operations, just over a 1/3rd of his operational tally. Wing Commander Smith was awarded the DFC in November 1945, he remained in the R.A.F until he retired in 1958, Wing Commander Smith DFC passed away March 2004 in Wokingham.

Below is copy of the DFC recommendation for Wing Commander Smith. This document records a very capable and determined commanding officer, the comments made by Group Captain Brotherhood confirm this.