Captain Francis R. Smith. DFC, MC
Francis Ryan Smith was born during 1896 in Brisbane and worked as a clerk before joining the Australian infantry. He served with distinction in the 31st Battalion and received a Military Cross in 1916 for his actions whilst under fire. Smith transferred to the Australian Flying Corps and after training was posted to 2 Sqn AFC on the 28th of February. It wasn't until the 9th of May when he scored his first victory when Smith along with Lieutenant Adam isolated a Pfalz Scout at 14,000 feet over Bapaume and then fired into it until it was destroyed. The Pfalz crashed near Marcoing.
At this period 2 sqn AFC was experimenting as a Wing and flying staggered formations with 43 Sqn RAF and 80 Sqn RAF, both equipped with Camels. 2 Sqn would supply topcover at 16,000 feet while the Camels would fly at 14,000 and 12,000 feet respectively. For the pilots of 2 Sqn flying for long periods in the thin and oxygen depleted air is strain at the best of times, and the large Wing formations were scaring off enemy aircraft so the SE5a pilots had nothing to relieve the boredom. Major Murray Jones wrote, "the enemy's aircraft, unless surprised generally dived east, thus avoiding combat."
By July, 2 Sqn was flying in a Wing with 4 Sqn AFC and the engagements with the enemy were becoming more common. On the 4th of July, Smith was caught under the rest of his flight when the lead SE5a dived on a formation of Fokker triplanes. The Fokker dived past Smith and dived after it and then whirling around firing in long bursts at the small and nimble triplane. Smith finally got behind it and fired 50 rounds at close range into the Fokker. The Fokker crashed on the main Lille road near Capinghem.
On the 16th of September two flights consisting of eleven SE5as led by Smith, now a flight commander, and Manuel fell upon a formation of fifteen Fokker biplanes and triplanes. Smith led his flight to the east of the formation and attacked the enemy aircraft from above and behind, while Manuel led his formation in from the south. Smith singled out the lead Fokker and dived towards it but the German pilot zoomed up and eluded Smith by doing a half roll. Smith zoomed and then found a Fokker below him in a disadvantagous position. Smith fired 60 rounds into the Fokker and it fell Out Of Control. Smith zeroed in upon another Fokker in the ensuing mellee and sent it down with a short ranged burst from his Vickers and Lewis machine guns.
On the 9th of November, 2 Sqn AFC along with 103 Sqn RAF in their DH9's attacked Croisette Aerodrome. The SE5.a's also attacked Enghein Railway Junction, releasing 32 bombs of which 21 were direct hits on trains. One struck an ammunition truck and it blew up. This explosion spread flames far and wide amongst the trains and sheds. The pilots then began strafing the road transport and soldiers on the roads around the rail junction. Frank Smith was hit by ground fire and was forced to land. He was 2 Sqn's final casualty.
Smith landed his SE5a successfully and evaded the German troops in the immeadiate area. He eventually obtained some civilian clothing and began the 40 mile trek back to the squadron's aerodrome. Smith witnessed first hand some of the sights the now crumbling German Army had fallen to, including watching a squad of soldiers kick their NCO to death. When Smith walked in the Squadron mess the Armistice celebrations were in full swing.
Smith was the leading ace of 2 Sqn AFC and recieved the DFC for his service with 2 sqn. The medal being gazetted on the 24th of October 1918 to add to his MC he was awarded while with the AIF.
Victory information taken from "Above The Trenches : A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915 - 1920", Christopher Shores, Norman Franks and Russell Guest, 1990. More detail of the AFC ace victories are contained in the volume.
9 May 1918 : Shared with Lieutenant J.A. Adam in SE5a D4895.
Australian Flying Corps : A Complete History of the Australian Flying Corps