USS Wasp – May 9, 1942

Did Richard Harmer watched Jerry Smith land his Spitfire on the Wasp 77 years ago?

Collection Rod Smith via Wendy Noble

We are going to find out later.

This next article was written by Pat Murphy six years ago. It was about two brothers who both flew Spitfires. I knew a lot about Spitfires, but nothing about the Smith brothers, even less about Richard Harmer.

Article by Pat Murphy (Images added by me)

The Regina born Smith brothers had a number of things in common, with just one year separating them, both enjoyed sports of all kinds, growing up in Regina meant a good deal of that sport activity would be winter sports.

Jerry Smith RCAF

Rod Smith

Jerry, the oldest, born in 1921 and Rod the youngest, born in 1922. Both were active in school projects that were based on creative engineering as their Father was an engineer, both did well in school and both loved aviation and staying informed with events that were changing the world. With world events turning more chaotic each passing month in the mid 1930s, It was with keen interest both boys followed the rise of Nazi Germany and the advances made by the Luftwaffe.

Rod Smith RCAF

Jerry Smith

In 1936, Rod had pictures of the new British Spitfire fighter hanging in his room and he well knew the struggle to design and build such a fine aircraft, Rod and Jerry both understood the engineering challenges it took to achieve such things and both were convinced that the Merlin powered Spitfire was the equal to any German aircraft.


Spitfire prototype

Rod and Jerry read every newspaper that was available, their father would share news he had heard on the radio with both boys, they read British aviation magazines, they discussed world events with their Father and Mother and the teenagers knew that if war broke out it would be almost certain that when they completed the educational levels necessary to join the RCAF, both of them would enlist. Both craved the excitement of flying fighters and both had dreams of flying the Spitfire. When an aircraft flew over the house both boys would tear outside to get a better view.

Rod was the first to enlist at the end of September 1940, at age 18. Jerry would follow a few weeks later at age 19, at the time of enlistment both had no inkling they would fly Spitfires in the same RAF Squadron, but as fate would have it they did.

The Smith Brothers would train at different Canadian bases, both would receive their Wings and both Smith brothers would be commissioned in the RCAF. Both would be shipped to England at different times and both would be posted to Spitfire fighter Squadrons, Rod to 412 Squadron RCAF and Jerry, like many Canadians was posted to an RAF Squadron, (60% of all Canadians were posted to RAF Squadrons).

Both Rod and Jerry had their share of close aerial combats, both became experienced fighter pilots and both brothers gained considerable experience in attacking Luftwaffe aircraft. With the situation in Malta growing more dire each day the RAF started sending additional fighter pilots to shore up the tired and exhausted personnel that were in Malta, the Germans needed Malta to maintain its army in North Africa and the British were not about to give it up, at least not without a fight.

Spitfires taking off from the USS Wasp on April 20, 1942, during Operation Calendar.
Photo: The Air Battle for Malta, James Douglas-Hamilton

Jerry was posted to Malta and in early May 1942 he boarded the USS Wasp, a huge American aircraft carrier.

USS Wasp


Called “Operation Bowery” the mission was to deliver Spitfires to Malta to aid in the defense of this strategic little Island.

Malta Spitfire on Wasp

Sixty four, MK Vc Spitfires were loaded onto the American Carrier. Spitfires were being shipped to Malta by Carrier as it was impossible to safely fly from the British bases or from Gibraltar. The plan was to get as close to Malta as possible then launch the Spitfires and they would then fly to Malta and in some cases land during a bombing attack, at the time Malta was the most bombed place on the planet. The Spitfires were not equipped with arrestor hooks so landing back on the carrier in case of trouble was out of the question.

On May 9th once, the USS Wasp was 580 miles West of Malta the Spitfires were launched. All got off with no problem. Jerry’s Spitfire coded X-3 serial number BR126 launched with no problem, Jerry soon realized he had fuel feed problems and it would be impossible for him to reach Malta. In spite of being told not to attempt a deck landing once airborne he decided to give it a go after he got the authorization to do so by the ship’s captain.

Smith Brothers

Jerry’s Spitfire coded X-3 serial number BR126 launched with no problem

After all the Spitfires were clear of the deck Jerry lined up on the carrier and made an attempt at landing. None of the pilots delivering Spitfires to Malta had any training landing on the shifting deck of an aircraft carrier, a task difficult for even the trained, experienced naval pilots.

Spitfire taking off from USS Wasp on 9 May 1942 during operation Bowery. Barely visible is the 90-gallon slipper tank under the aircraft’s belly. As the Wasp’s deck was longer than that of HMS Eagle, no provisional flaps were needed for take-off. [US Navy] Source

Collection the Smith family via Wendy Noble

His first attempt failed but he successfully landed on his second attempt stopping just a few feet from running off the end of the massive American carrier, had it not been for several US sailors running up onto the deck and holding Jerry’s Spitfire back he would have gone over the deck into the Mediterranean.

To celebrate Jerry’s miracle landing the US sailors presented Jerry with set of US Navy flight wings, Jerry proudly wore the wings on his uniform along side his RCAF wings.

Collection the Smith family via Wendy Noble

Jerry was returned to Gibraltar by the Wasp and later boarded the HMS Eagle to attempt the Malta trip once again, this time Jerry made it. Upon arrival he was posted to 126 Squadron RAF and was flying combat operations against the Luftwaffe the next day. Jerry’s landing on the carrier deck was not considered possible and it was the only Spitfire that accomplished this amazing feat.

Rod Smith had kept in touch with Jerry in England but had no idea Jerry had been posted to Malta, Wartime communications were mostly by post with the occasional phone call and Rod had no idea that Jerry had gone to Malta or had successfully landed his disabled Spitfire on the deck of the USS Wasp.

Rod boarded HMS Eagle in early July and on the 15th he took off from the carrier about 600 miles from Malta.

HMS Eagle


Rod’s flight to Malta was uneventful and when he landed in Malta and while being driven to his quarters he was shocked and pleasantly surprised to find his brother Jerry walking the road with a parachute slung over his arm, after their cheerful greeting Rod discovered he would be assigned to the same RAF Squadron and both would team up and fly operations together, something both brothers never thought possible.

They flew many times together, both would fly a variety of serviceable Spitfires, few pilots in Malta could claim a personal Spitfire as serviceable aircraft were few and far between. Rod often flew a Mk Vb coded MK-P serial BR471. Both brothers were aggressive and confident; the brothers shared in the damage to a Junkers 88 Bomber. About one month after the Smith brothers teamed up, Jerry was seen chasing after a Luftwaffe bomber towards Sicily over the Mediterranean ocean, he did not return to the base and he was never seen again.

On that particular sortie Rod stayed behind to replace some flying gear and while he was on the way back to his Spitfire Jerry was dispatched to intercept some German bombers. Rod always regretted leaving his side.

Malta Spitfire4

Mk Vb coded MK-P serial BR471 (Pat Murphy)

The Squadron flew several hours of search operations and Rod flew out over the ocean after nightfall as he knew Jerry carried a flash light on his mae west. He hoped he would locate the light and direct a search and rescue boat to Jerry’s location but his search was unsuccessful and Jerry was listed as missing.

Rod survived his Malta experience and no doubt he missed his brother. In 1943 Rod was posted to 401 Squadron at Biggin Hill. In March 1944 Rod became a Flight Commander with 412 Squadron. He would participate in the D-Day landings see service in Normandy then Belgium and later promoted to Squadron Leader of 401 Squadron RCAF. In December 1944, Rod was tour expired and returned to Canada to join the Auxiliary Squadron retiring in 1946. Rod is credited with 15 aerial victories and also shared in the destruction of a Luftwaffe jet fighter. He was highly decorated and an excellent Spitfire pilot.

Wing Commander, Rod Smith survived the War and his older brother Jerry did not, this unfortunate circumstance would affect many Canadian families but few families would have brothers reunited. The Smith brother would be the exception and it would happen in October 2005.

Rod Smith was 80 years old when he died; he was facing some health concerns and told those that were closest to him that he never wanted to be a burden on anyone. Rod had remained a bachelor all his life, he took his own life in 2002, he was a successful lawyer, a yachtsman and very active in fighter pilot reunions, he started to write his memoirs after he retired but never completed them, his family turned his unfinished manuscript, journal, log books and brother Jerry’s logs and notes over to Christopher Shores, a world renowned historian who completed the book for Rod. “The Spitfire Smiths” a unique story of brothers in arms is an excellent book ands well worth the read.

In summer of 2005 a group of aviation enthusiasts from the Malta Aviation Museum and others spearheaded a movement to have a Spitfire and a Hawker Hurricane visit Malta to help bring attention to the plight of the citizens who sacrificed so much during the war and to honour the many men that died fighting to protect Malta and to keep shipping lines open. The event would be called Merlins over Malta, the defenders return The two famous fighters would fly to Malta this time over peaceful Europe in stages. The routes were planned, support crews were in place and both famous fighters departed England only stopping for re-fueling and for dodgy weather. The citizens of Malta were informed of the arrival time of the two fighters.

Every building along the Grand Habour in the capitol city of Valletta was crowded with Maltese citizens awaiting the arrival of two well preserved classic aircraft that had played such an emotional connection to the history of Malta, during the difficult years of World War two. Almost on queue, the two fighters roared over the harbour and the crowds went wild as wartime memories flooded back to the senior Maltese citizens and absolutely thrilled those younger generations that had only heard about the Spitfire and Hurricane from their parents.

By chance, Rod’s younger sister Wendy Noble was in Malta to honour one of Rods last wished, to have his ashes spread on the waters of the Mediterranean so he could be once again with Brother Jerry. The crew from the Spitfire flight was in the same hotel. A meeting was arranged and pilot Charles Brown after hearing the Smith brother’s story agreed to fly the ashes over the same spot that Jerry was last observed and then spread Rods ashes. The following day the Mk V Spitfire painted like so many of the Spitfires that saved Malta took off and flew west of Malta towards Sicily, once over the same area, Brown tipped the Spitfire over on one wing, slide the canopy back and poured the ashes from the cockpit into the blue Mediterranean ocean, after a lapse of 60 years Rod had his last flight in a Spitfire and the Smith brothers were once again together.

The Vancouver Island Military Museum, located in Nanaimo British Columbia on Vancouver Island is proud to display models and photographs of the Smith Brothers Spitfires, the models are placed side by side as are the picture


Collection Pat Murphy

A note on the colour and markings of Malta Spitfires for modelers.

Over the year much has been written and speculated by historians and modelers over the actual colours of Malta Spitfires, with little evidence to support most theories so far presented, it is left up to modelers to interpret the sketchy details that were left by Squadron records and from the fading memories of Spitfire veterans that fought with the Spitfire over the tiny Island of Malta. Very few colour photographs were taken or preserved so to date nothing definitive is available for those of us that are interested in such things that was until very recently.

Brian Cauchi of Malta, a master modeler of very high regard has spent the last 20 or so years communicating with former RAF, RCAF and Luftwaffe pilots, he has assembled some of the most detailed accounts of the colour and markings ever gathered and the information he has uncovered is now available in a book he has written. His research method and his sources are impeccable and his work is considered by many to be the best publication of its type ever published.

Malta Spitfire Book2

“Malta Spitfires V’s 1942 their colours and Markings” will soon be available to the general public. The forward to the book is written by a former RCAF Malta veteran. Lt. Colonel (retired) Robert Middlemiss, DFC,CD, SSM.

Middlemiss flew with 249 Squadron RAF in Malta and he was wounded during a dog fight, he parachuted into the ocean and was rescued. His wounds were severe enough that he had to be flown back to England to recover. He was then assigned to an OTU (Operational Training Unit). to assist with the training of young pilots. 249 Squadron RAF was the highest scoring Squadron during the Malta campaign. Middlemiss was then transferred to 403 Squadron at Kenly, England under the Command of the famous Wing Commander, Jonnie Johnson.

Brian Cauchi has given me a peek at some chapters of his book and I have seen a sample of the colour profiles that feature the markings and colours of some Malta Spitfires, in my opinion this book will be the final word on the subject and answer many questions that many veteran modelers and historians have pondered these many years. I can’t wait to get my hands on the book and get started modeling more Malta Spitfires for the museum collection.

Pat Murphy

Nanaimo B.C.


Remembering Richard Emerson Harmer

My special interest with USS Wasp CV-7? Richard Harmer was a Lieutenant Junior Grade on USS Wasp from December 1941 to August 1942*.

Dec 41 to Aug 42* – LTJG (Lieutenant (junior grade), VF-5 USS Wasp

Aug 42 to Oct 42 – LT, (Lieutenant)VF-5 (XO) USS Saratoga

Oct 42 to Mar 43 – LT, Project AFFIRM NAS Quonset Point

Mar 43 to Dec 43 – LT, VF(N)-75 (XO) NAS Quonset Point

Dec 43 to Feb 44 – LCDR (Lieutenant commander), VF(N)-101 (CO) NAS Barbers Point

Feb 44 to Sep 44 – LCDR, VF(N)-101 (CO) USS Enterprise

Sep 44 to Sep 45 – LCDR, NAS Vero Beach (Chf TrngO – VF(N))

Chick Harmer retired a Captain in 1961

(Cited from:

Note * Richard Harmer was on the Saratoga in June 1942. August 1942 is thus erroneous.

More here:


Wasp slipped out of Grassy Bay on 3 December 1941 and rendezvoused with Wilson (DD-408). While the destroyer operated as plane guard, Wasp’s air group flew day and night refresher training missions. In addition, the two ships conducted gunnery drills before returning to Grassy Bay two days later.

Wasp lay at anchor on 7 December 1941, observing “holiday routine,” it being a Sunday. In the Pacific, the Japanese broke the Sunday morning peace in a devastating surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and nearby naval and military installations on Oahu. Their daring attack plunged the United States into World War II in both oceans. On 11 December, Germany and Italy followed Japan into war against the United States.

Meanwhile, U.S. naval authorities felt considerable anxiety that the Vichy French warships in the Caribbean and West Indies were prepared to make a breakout and attempt to get back to France. Accordingly, Wasp, light cruiser Brooklyn (CL-40), and two destroyers, Sterett (DD-407) and Wilson, departed Grassy Bay and headed for Martinique. Faulty intelligence gave American planners in Washington the impression that the Vichy French armed merchant cruiser Barfleur had gotten underway for sea. The French were accordingly warned that the auxiliary cruiser would be sunk or captured unless she returned to port and resumed her internment. As it turned out, Barfleur had not departed after all, but had remained in harbor. The tense situation at Martinique eventually dissipated, and the crisis abated.

With tensions in the West Indies lessened considerably, Wasp departed Grassy Bay and headed for Hampton Roads three days before Christmas of 1941, in company with the aircraft escort vessel Long Island (AVG-1), and escorted by Stack (DD-406) and Sterett. Two days later, the carrier moored at the Norfolk Navy Yard to commence an overhaul that would last into 1942.

After departing Norfolk on 14 January 1942, Wasp headed north and touched at Argentia, Newfoundland, and Casco Bay, Maine, while operating in those northern climes. On 16 March, as part of Task Group (TG) 22.6, she headed back toward Norfolk. During the morning watch the next day, visibility lessened considerably, however, and, at 0550, Wasp’s bow plunged into Stack’s starboard side, punching a hole and completely flooding the destroyer’s number one fire room. Stack was detached and proceeded to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where her damage was repaired.

Wasp, meanwhile, made port at Norfolk on the 21st without further incident. Shifting back to Casco Bay three days later, she sailed for the British Isles on 26 March 1942, with Task Force (TF) 39 under the command of Rear Adm. John W. Wilcox, Jr., in Washington (BB-56). That force was to reinforce the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy. While en route, however, Rear Adm. Wilcox was swept overboard from the battleship and drowned. Although hampered by poor visibility conditions, Wasp planes took part in the search. Wilcox’ body was spotted an hour later, face down in the raging seas, but it was not recovered.

Rear Adm. Robert C. Giffen, who flew his flag in Wichita, assumed command of TF-39. The U.S. ships were met by a force based around the light cruiser HMS Edinburgh on 3 April. Those ships escorted them to Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.

While the majority of TF 39 joined the British Home Fleet, being renumbered to TF 99 in the process, to cover convoys routed to North Russia, Wasp departed Scapa Flow on 9 April 1942, bound for the Clyde estuary and Greenock, Scotland. On the following day, the carrier steamed up the Clyde, past the John Brown Clydebank shipbuilding facilities. There, workers paused long enough from their labors to accord Wasp a tumultuous reception as she passed. Wasp’s impending mission was an important one, one upon which the fate of the island bastion of Malta hung. That key isle was then being pounded daily by German and Italian planes. The British, faced with the loss of air superiority over the island, requested the use of a carrier to transport planes that could wrest air superiority from the Axis aircraft. Wasp drew ferry duty once again.

Having landed her torpedo planes and dive bombers, Wasp loaded 47 Supermarine Spitfire Mk. V fighter planes at the King George V Dock, Glasgow, on 13 April, before she departed the Clyde estuary on the 14th. Her screen consisted of Force “W” of the Home Fleet — a group that included the battlecruiser HMS Renown and antiaircraft cruisers HMS Cairo and HMS Charbydis. Madison (DD-425) and Lang (DD-399) also served in Wasp’s screen.

Wasp and her consorts passed through the Straits of Gibraltar under cover of the pre-dawn darkness on 19 April 1942, avoiding the possibility of being discovered by Spanish or Axis agents. At 0400 on 20 April, Wasp spotted 11 Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighters on her deck and quickly launched them to form a combat air partol (CAP) over Force “W”. Meanwhile, the Spitfires were warming up their engines in the hangar deck spaces below. With the Wildcats patrolling overhead, the Spitfires were brought up singly on the after elevator, spotted for launch, and then given the go-ahead to take off. One by one, they roared down the deck and over the forward rounddown, until each Spitfire was aloft and winging toward Malta.

When the launch was complete, Wasp retired toward England, having safely delivered her charges. Unfortunately, those Spitfires, which flew in to augment the dwindling numbers of Gloster Gladiator and Hawker Hurricane fighters, were tracked by efficient Axis intelligence and their arrival pinpointed. The unfortunate Spitfires were decimated by heavy German air raids which caught many planes on the ground.

As a result, it looked as if the acute situation required a second ferry run to Malta. Accordingly, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, fearing that Malta would be “pounded to bits,” asked President Roosevelt to allow Wasp to have “another good sting.” Roosevelt responded in the affirmative. Rising to the occasion, Wasp loaded another contingent of Spitfire Vs and sailed for the Mediterranean on 3 May. Again, especially vigilant for submarines, Wasp proceeded unmolested. This time, the British aircraft carrier HMS Eagle accompanied Wasp; and she, too, carried a contingent ofSpitfires bound for Malta.

The two Allied flattops reached their launching points early on Saturday, 9 May 1942, with Wasp steaming in column ahead of Eagle at a distance of 1,000 yards. At 0630, Wasp commenced launching planes, 11 F4F-4s of VF-71 to serve as CAP over the task force. The first Spitfire roared down the deck at 0638, and 22 of the Spitfires took off with no difficulties. The twenty-third, however, piloted by Sergeant R. D. Sherrington, RCAF, lost power soon after takeoff and plunged into the sea. Both pilot and plane were lost.

Misfortune again seemed to dog the mission when Pilot Officer (PO) Jerrold A. Smith discovered his long-range tank to be defective. Wasp – which had launched the last British aircraft at 0738 – bent on full speed and recovered Smith’s Spitfire Vc, X-3 (BR-126) at 0743. The Spitfire came to a stop just 15 feet from the forward edge of the flight deck, making what one Wasp sailor observed to be a “one wire” landing. “The pilot landed with considerable skill,” Commodore C. S. Daniel, Royal Navy, Commodore Commanding Force “W” later reported, “and immediately asked permission to fit a new tank, take off and proceed independently, but this was not allowed.” Wasp launched Smith the following day [10 May] to fly to Gibraltar; he ultimately reached embattled Malta in X-3 on 18 May, flying in from Eagle.

With Operation Bowery having been completed – Wasp having launched 47 Spitfires and Eagle 17 – Wasp set sail for the British Isles while a German radio station broadcast the startling news that the U.S. carrier had been sunk! Most in the Allied camp knew better, however, and, on 11 May 1942, Prime Minister Churchill sent a witty message to the captain and ship’s company of Wasp:”Many thanks to you all for the timely help. Who said a Wasp couldn’t sting twice?”