Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Flying) : Flight Sergeant Geoffrey Charles Chapman Smith, RAAF, 156 Squadron RAF

Place Europe: Germany, Berlin
Accession Number REL/13795.001
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Award
Physical description Silver
Location Main Bld: World War 2 Gallery: Gallery 2: Air Europe
Maker Unknown
Place made United Kingdom
Date made c 1945
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Flying) (Geo VI). Impressed edge with recipient's details.

History / Summary

Born on 3 February 1919 at Marrickville, NSW, Geoffrey Charles Chapman Smith (Chapman-Smith post-war) enlisted in the RAAF on 9 October 1942. Smith trained at Parkes and Port Pirie in Australia and then travelled to the United Kingdom to train with 460 Squadron at Binbrook. He then commenced his operational service in Bomber Command with 625 Squadron at Kelston, before being posted to 156 Squadron. On 15 February 1944, his aircraft was attacked by two enemy fighters. Usually a mid-upper gunner, on this trip Smith was flying for the first time in the tail turret. He destroyed one fighter before the Lancaster was severely damaged. Despite damage to his turret and extensive injuries Smith continued to defend his aircraft and refused assistance until all the crew were safe. For his actions he was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM), and the Polish Cross of Military Merit. He was presented with the CGM by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on 12 June 1944.

The report for which Smith was recognised reads:

‘Smith flew with an all RAF crew. They did their first operational sortie, a raid on Berlin, on the night of December 2 [1943]. They did three more Berlin trips after this one from 625 [Squadron], then early in January [1944] were posted to 156 Squadron having volunteered for the Pathfinder Force. They completed two more Berlin raids with 156, the second, the attack of the night of the 15 February, was the trip which won Smith the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

Smith is a mid-upper gunner but on his last trip he was flying for the first time in the tail turret. He took this position at the suggestion of the Squadron Gunnery Leader who thought it wiser to put the other gunner who had only arrived the night before from the training unit and was entirely new to Lancasters, in the mid-upper turret.

The Lancaster took off about five in the evening. The trip out was uneventful apart from the usual flak encountered over the coast and over defended areas on the route. The crew could actually see Berlin in the distance and were preparing to run in on their bombing run when the trouble started.

Smith was searching the Port beam when out of the corner of his eye he saw what appeared to be fighter flares in the sky. “I saw three white lights first” he said, “But as I swung my guns round I saw a green light on the inside of the port light. The lights were waving up and down and as soon as I saw the green light moving too I knew it was a fighter with wing tip, nose, and identification lights on.” When Smith identified it as a fighter he gave evasive direction to his captain and swung his turret round swiftly and opened fire. The fighter was then about five to six hundred yards off. As he opened up the lights stopped waving and Smith knew the German pilot had them in his line of fire.

The Lancaster’s pilot threw the bomber into violent evasive action. As he dived to port Smith saw what seemed to be four lines of tracer and two of cannon streaming from the wings of the enemy which he could now identify as an Me 110. Before the Lancaster was hit however Smith got in approximately a hundred and fifty rounds from his turret and the enemy fighter disintegrated in the sky.

“There was a mighty flash and he blew up just a fraction of a second before we were hit” Smith said. “We were diving to port then. I told the skipper I had been hit. Then I saw four more lines of tracer coming in from dead astern. Two lines seemed to be going under us and the other two seemed to be going right through the kite. I followed the line of fire and could see the second fighter a FW 190 coming in behind.” Smith asked his pilot to dive to starboard but the pilot was already taking the action as he called him up. This manoeuvre succeeded in breaking the Focke Wulf’s attack and it broke off and disappeared from view. It was not seen again.

Meantime Smith, who had been hit by a cannon shell in the leg and machine gun bullets under the knee and in his leg, was in acute agony. He knew that his leg had been shattered by the shell and was pretty sure that he would lose part of it. His turret was rendered unserviceable and his parachute bag had been set on fire. Cannon shells had plastered the Lancaster from the tail right up the fuselage to the mid-upper turret. The turret was out of action. A shell had exploded by the left foot of the mid-upper gunner breaking his leg and tearing the muscle of his calf. The oil pipe at the bottom of the turret had been pierced and the oil was blazing. The Y Box, scanner, had been blown to bits, the rear wheel was shot off, the hydraulics were shot away, and the starboard wheel was hit. The flaps were damaged and went down and couldn’t be brought up. The cannon shell pierced one engine and the bomb doors were jammed shut.

The captain called his crew to check for casualties. There was no answer from the mid-upper turret and he sent the wireless operator back to see what had happened. The mid-upper gunner was found lying on the floor behind the bulkhead door without an oxygen mask and almost unconscious. He had got down to beat out the fire with his helmet, then had attempted to crawl forward to inform the pilot. The wireless operator jammed an oxygen tube into his mouth just in time to save him from being dangerously affected. The gunner was laid out and the wireless operator climber into the mid-upper turret to assess the damage and watch for fighters. He remained there for the rest of the trip.

The captain called up Smith and told him he was sending the crew down to get him out. But knowing that the mid-upper gunner was wounded and the turret out of action Smith refused to be moved and insisted on remaining in his turret in spite of appalling pain, from his shattered leg. All efforts to persuade him to leave failed, and he continued to manipulate his guns manually. The navigator came back and put out the flames enveloping his parachute.

Meantime the bomber continued on its homeward journey. Owing to damage to the navigational aids the aircraft strayed off course and at one time into a heavily defended area. Here the pilot threw the aircraft into such violent evasive action that the crew thought the aircraft must be out of control. “For eight minutes we were thrown about”, Smith said, “what had happened was at some time in our flight a piece of flak had come up through the pilot’s legs and hit the throttle box and another piece just missed the engineer. Two engines were out of control.”

The pilot eventually got the Lancaster clear of the flak and they straightened out and crossed the coast to the sea. Meantime Smith’s oxygen mask had frozen up and unable to get any oxygen through, he had taken it off and was breathing the outer atmosphere. Over the sea the crew chopped the bombs away then came back to get him out. The door of his turret had frozen stiff and this too had to be chopped away with the crash axe. Still fully conscious Smith tried to pull himself out by using his left leg and both hands but he was caught on the right side. When the bomb aimer ran his hand down his right leg to free it he found it twisted round the ammunition belt and controls. It was completely shattered and the whole turret was drenched in blood.

Smith’s leg was untwisted and he was carried back to under the mid-upper turret. It had taken in all about an hour to get him free. He was given morphia and laid on the floor of the fuselage. The pilot prepared for a belly landing in case the wheels were shot away. But finding that the bomb doors could not be closed he decided to come down on the rim of the undercarriage. The bomb aimer and the wireless operator lay down either side of Smith to protect him in case of a crash. The pilot made his approach and then brought his crippled bomber down in what Smith describes as one of the most beautiful landings he could ever hope to see.

The Lancaster had come in at Woodbridge and the station crash ambulance came out to meet it. The fuselage was hacked away and Smith and the wounded mid-upper were carried out on a stretcher and taken to the East Suffolk hospital. The following morning Smith’s leg was amputated. In addition to the wounds to his leg Smith had suffered so severely from frostbite that for a time it was thought that certain fingers would have to be amputated. He was affected in both hands, the side of his face, his forehead and cheek bones. From these injuries he is now well on the way to recovery.

Referring to the magnificent behaviour of his crew on this trip Smith said “I wouldn’t part with them for all the money in the world. If it wasn’t for the skipper we would never have got back”.'

Smith spent ten months convalescing before being posted to RAF Station Upwood, Cambridgeshire in December. Here he served beside his old 156 Squadron, which had relocated from Warboys to Upwood during his recuperation. Despite the loss of his leg, Smith was commissioned pilot officer in November 1944 and flying officer in May 1945 shortly before returning to Australia. He was discharged on 25 September 1945.