58 Missions then a Heavy Bomber Test Pilot - Denis Clyde-Smith

Clyde-Smith first flew Tiger Moth G-ADGG from Sywell on 10 May 1937 with his instructor, Fg Off Douglas.  He went solo on 24 May after 6 hrs 30 mins flying and transferred to Flt Lt Ramsden on 29 May for his subsequent training.  On 4 Jul 37, he flew G-ADGT for an 'RAF Test' with Flt Lt Chambers.  After 56 hrs on Tiger Moths, Denis Clyde-Smith moved to 5 Flying Training School at RAF Sealand to continue his training on the Hawker Hart.  Flying a 'CFS Check' with Sgt Upton on 23 Sep, he was authorized to wear RAF 'wings' on 19 Oct 37 before embarking on his advanced flying training on the Hawker Hart, Audax and Fury; Clyde-Smith left Sealand in mid-February 1938 graded 'Above Average' as an Audax pilot.

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dH82b Queen Bee (Clyde-Smith Collection / IBCC Archive)

Clyde-Smith's first posting was to No 1 Anti-Aircraft Co-Operation Unit, initally flying the Queen Bee, a pilotless development of the Tiger Moth, from RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire.  During April 1938, he spent a week at RAF Calshot to qualify as a Swordfish floatplane pilot, presumably to qualify him to fly the floatplane version of the Queen Bee.  On 19 May 1938, he joined Z Flt of the AACU, flying the Queen Bee from Watchet in Somerset.  By October 1938, Clyde-Smith had returned to Henlow, now flying mainly the Miles Magister and Westland Wallace before moving to Biggin Hill in early 1939 to fly the Hawker Henley target tug.  By May 1939, he was based at RAF Weston Zoyland in Somerset, flying the Henley from a location that he was to visit throughout the War.  His logbook records the outbreak of War on 3 Sep 1939, a day he flew a Henley from West Raynham in Norfolk to Weston Zoyland.

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Hawker Henley Target Tug (Clyde-Smith Collection / IBCC Archive)

During January and February 1940, Clyde-Smith was at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, converting to the Fairey Battle light bomber with 63 Sqn and 52 Sqn, the Battle training units.  His final flights in early April were cancelled, which seems something of a blessing for him when one considers the casualties suffered by the Battle squadrons during the Battle of France.  A brief period with 110 Anti Aircraft Co-Operation Wing at Manchester (Ringway), during which Flt Lt Clyde-Smith was checked out on the Percival Q6 by Fg Off Innes Westmacott and during which he delivered a Fairey Battle to France, was followed by his joining Coastal Command's 15 Group Communications Flight, where he flew VIP passengers in a Percival Proctor and qualified on the Supermarine Walrus amphibian.  

After single flights in the Gloster Gladiator and Westland Lysander, Clyde-Smith started his course to fly the Vickers Wellington bomber at Hampstead Norris during October 1940, graduating from 15 Operational Training Unit at RAF Harwell in Oxfordshire on 17 Jan 1941.

Clyde-Smith joined 115 Sqn at RAF Marham, flying his first 2 operations as second pilot to Plt Off Bois to Boulogne and Hanover on 7 & 10 February respectively.  His first target as captain was again Hanover on the night of 11 Feb 1941 as one of ten 115 Sqn aircraft.  On their return, fog precluded landing at Marham; 2 crews baled out due to lack of fuel and one crashed on the approach to Finningley.  Clyde-Smith diverted to Tangmere and landed after 7 hours' flying, returning to Marham on 14 February.  During his time on 115 Sqn, Flt Lt Clyde-Smith's targets reflected the priority of the time, the maritime targets of Brest, Lorient, Hamburg, Bremen and Kiel although Dusseldorf and Berlin were also attacked, the attacks on Hamburg on 13 March, Kiel on 7 & 8 April and Brest on 10 April being particularly successful.  That said, the overriding feature of Bomber Command's activity during this early period was its ineffectiveness, caused by difficulty in identifying targets due to weather.

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Wellington (Clyde-Smith Collection / IBCC Archive)

Promoted to Squadron Leader, Clyde-Smith was posted to 218 Sqn, also flying Wellingtons from RAF Marham, flying his first operation against Cologne on 16 May 1941.  An attack on the warships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen at Brest on 13 June was folllowed by Clyde-Smith flying the Squadron's only Wellington Mk II against Hanover on 15 Jun.  During the return journey, North West of Amsterdam, Clyde-Smith's Wellington was attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf110 night fighter.  Cannon shells from the Bf110 hit the Wellington's port fuel tank, but Clyde-Smith manoeuvred his aeroplane such that both his nose and rear gunners caused serious damage to the attacker, which disengaged and landed at Bergen airfield, near Alkmaar in the Netherlands.  The pilot of the Messerschmitt was Leopold Fellerer, who had claimed his first victim, a Hampden, on 11 February 1941.  Fellerer continued to become a night fighter ace, claiming his 41st and final kill during October 1944; post war, he served in the Austrian Air Force and was killed in a flying accident in 1968.  Sqn Ldr Denis Clyde-Smith was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions.

Clyde-Smith's remaining targets with 218 Sqn were Kiel, Cologne, Bremen and Brest, with the usual 'mixed' results, before he was posted as a Wellington instructor with 27 Operational Training Unit (OTU), initially at RAF Lichfield and, from 5 February 1942, RAF Tatenhill.  Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris had taken command of Bomber Command on 22 February 1942 and was keen to demonstrate the capability of the bomber with a series of 1000 bomber raids, an effort that would require aircraft from both Coastal Command and the training units in addition to the Bomber Command squadrons.  Thus, on 30 May 1942, Denis Clyde-Smith achieved his 1000th flying hour during an air test on the Wellington he would fly the same evening as part of the first 1000 bomber raid of the War, target Cologne. He again flew his OTU Wellington on the second '1000 force' raid, against Essen on 1 June 1942.

Posted to 9 Sqn at RAF Honington to fly the Wellington III, Clyde-Smith's first operation here was another '1000 Plan', this time against Bremen on 25 June.  Clyde-Smith brought his bombs back to Honington due to cloud over the target; the RAF lost 48 aircraft from the bombing force.  The following night, his Wellington was hit by flak during a minelaying operation off St Nazaire; Clyde-Smith attempted a single-engined approach at RAF Abingdon, during which the second engine failed, resulting in a crash-landing on the airfield.  Throughout July, Clyde-Smith's targets included Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, Duisburg and Hamburg, with the by now customary mixed results, although bombing by use of the 'navgational aid' was starting to appear in post-sortie reports.

August 1942 saw 9 Sqn transferred from 3 Group to 5 Group and Clyde-Smith detached to 1654 Conversion Unit at RAF Wigsley to fly Avro Manchesters and Lancasters before rejoining 9 Sqn at RAF Waddington.  August 1942 was a significant month for the bomber offensive, with the formation of the Pathfinder Force and the arrival of the US 8th Air Force, which made its first daylight heavy bomber raid.


Lancaster and crew (Clyde-Smith Collection / IBCC Archive)

Between 10 and 19 September, Sqn Ldr Clyde-Smith attacked Dusseldorf, Bremen, Essen and Munich, his bomb load typically a 4000lb 'cookie' together with incendiaries.  Substantial damage was caused to the first 3 targets, but Bomber Command lost 7.1 %, 4.6%, 10.1% and 6.7% of its force on each night respectively.  On 23 Sep, the target was the Dornier aircraft factory at Wismar.  9 Sqn sent 10 of the 83 aircraft on this raid and lost 2 of the 4 lost in total; Clyde-Smith bombed from extremely low level (50') due to being held by searchlights.  After attacks on Aachen and Kiel, Clyde-Smith contributed to a successful raid on Genoa on 22 October, timed to coincide with the opening of the Battle of El Alamein.  Clyde-Smith's 52nd operation was his first in daylight; an attack on Milan on 24 October 1942 which came as some surprize to the locals.  November saw 4 further raids on Genoa, one on Hamburg with Sqn Ldr Denis Clyde-Smith flying his 58th and final mission against Turin on 18 November 1942, during which his gunners sprayed gun positions from all three turrets.


Turin Raid (Clyde-Smith Collection / IBCC Archive)

Joining the Performance Testing Squadron at A&AEE Boscombe Down in December 1942, from Feb 1942 until May 1944, Clyde-Smith was tasked with ‘production testing’ heavy bombers, as a result of concerns that some aircraft were underperforming due to wartime construction methods.  Accompanied by a Senior Technical Officer (Mr C S Wills and, from mid 1943, Mr R ‘Bobby’ Marsh), he travelled to the bomber stations, according to Tim Mason’s ‘The Secret Years’, the journeys home often “at breakneck speed, at night”!!  Summer 1944 was spent testing developments of the Lancaster and Halifax.  On 11 Sep, Sqn Ldr Clyde-Smith set off for Khartoum in Halifax LW125, performing trials there until 5 November, when he set off for South Africa via Nairobi.  He left South Africa on 11 Dec, arriving at Boscombe Down on the 19th.


Halifax in Africa (Clyde-Smith Collection / IBCC Archive)

During 1945, the 4-engined aircraft test flown by Clyde-Smith were the Lancaster, Halifax, Liberator, York, Skymaster, Fortress, Lincoln and Stirling, with his final recorded flight being a Warwick on 20 August.

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