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About 5 years ago, my French friend and colleague located a crashed WW2 aircraft in the mud and silt of the river Orne in Normandy.

After spotting something sticking out of the mud in the Orne estuary near Caen at low tide he decided to investigate. He could see only small parts of the legendary Spitfire plane at the site, close to the D-Day landmarks of Sword Beach and Pegasus bridge, however it was enough to start an incredible recovery project.

My colleague has vast experience in Archaeology and recovery, however had never recovered an aircraft from the mud and silt of a river before. Recovery planning started, and target research uncovered a tragic WW2 story, which was later published in the Daily Mail.

The main recovery problem was that the team could only dig the site at low tide. They overcame this problem with a brilliant idea, which not only worked, but was gentle on the relic airframe, preserving history.

For anybody interested, I will post about this incredible find, it is a remarkable story.

The picture below shows the location site marked at high tide. I have a picture journal of the entire recovery.

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Research revealed that the aircraft was flown by Flight Lieutenant Henry Lacy Smith, who was shot down by the Germans five days after D-Day on a mission supporting the Allied invasion in Normandy. Extracts of the Daily Mail article are included.

His last radio message to comrades was: ‘I’m going to put this thing down in a field.’

But the Australian’s plane then nose-dived into the sea and he was designated ‘missing believed killed’.

The former textile worker had enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force in May 1941.

He served with the RAAF’s 453 Squadron, motto ‘Ready to Strike’, which was part of RAF Fighter Command from June 1942, and married his English wife Edna the year before his death.

He was 27 when he was shot down on June 11, 1944...

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Great post Dave and very sad to read about the death of this brave pilot.

Hi

It is a sad story. I did write about this on the other forum.

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

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As mentioned, the main initial operational problem was only being able to dig the site when there was a low tide. Time was short, and the team found that they could only dig so far before their efforts were washed away by the high tide.

The solution was simple and brilliant. They dug and managed to feed ropes under the Spitfire buried deep in the mud. These ropes they attached to 4 large floatation tanks, which rose with the high tide, gently lifting the aircraft from its watery grave.

Once clear of the mud and silt, the team were able to pull the aircraft to the bank side, and lift it via a crane onto a trailer, for transportation.

The pictures below show the floatation tanks lifting the aircraft to the surface, and the Spitfire being lifted from the river by crane.

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Another great story you have brought us, and I am sadden that the Australian pilot didn't make it.       Was the engine the only part of the Spitfire that was recovered? 

 

Thanks,

 

Lou

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Another great story you have brought us, and I am sadden that the Australian pilot didn't make it.       Was the engine the only part of the Spitfire that was recovered? 

 

Thanks,

 

Lou

Hi

Thank you for your comments. There is more to come of this story.

The fuselage was incredibly preserved considering it had been submerged in water for 70 odd years. The mud and silt of the river Orne acted as a preserving agent, and kept the wreck in good condition.

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Flight Lieutenant Smith was leading three Spitfires patrolling the beach area five days after the Normandy invasion began when he crashed.

Fellow pilots said German anti-aircraft fire ‘came up in front of the aircraft from a wood’ and his Spitfire was hit by flak ‘in the belly’.

Their report said: ‘He continued to glide in a westerly direction towards Ouistreham. His aircraft finally struck water and skidded for a short period and then nosed into the water, finally turning over comparatively slowly on its back.’ No one saw the cockpit hood open, suggesting that he never managed to escape.

After the wreckage was towed ashore, the remains of Flight Lieutenant Smith were found in the cockpit. They were placed in a coffin and were handed over to the Australian Embassy in France.

My colleague was quoted as saying: ‘We would like to see the bones of Henry Lacy Smith the hero, buried with full military honours. We feel as French people that we owe this to his family. He died for us.’

At their own expence, they funded the cost of transportation of Lacy's remains, along with the Spitfire wreck to be shipped back to Lacy's homeland in Australia for a funeral with full military honours...

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After staging the remarkable recovery operation, the team were astonished at how well preserved its fuselage and propellor were. The dials on the instrument panel were still recognisable.

As mentioned earlier, the recovery was fully documented and later published in the Daily Mail.

It is an incredible story...

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Official letters of condolence from his Squadron Leader, Donald Hamilton Smith, were sent to his widow in Bournemouth and to his father Richard in New South Wales. The Squadron Leader wrote: ‘The loss of Lacy has deprived the squadron of a pilot whose skill, courage and cheerfulness were an example to all of us and for these qualities we shall always remember him.

‘I had learned to know him as one whose sense of duty and spirit of endeavour were of the highest order and an inspiration to all his fellow pilots.’

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Here are a few close up pictures of the cockpit dials...

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Great story of tragic history.  timothy

Agree Tim.

Great thread.

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Lacy Smith was given a burial ceremony with full military honours in his native Australia.

While in Normandy recently, I was given a copy of Lacy's biography along with a newspaper article of the ceremony and 2 pieces of the Spitfire which he flew.

He was reported as radioing his last message of 'I'm going to put this thing down in a field' before crashing into the Orne.

One of the pieces I was given is an element of the radio set from the Spitfire.

Incredible history, which I have prepared to display in my 'Bunker - Den'. These are pictures of the pieces.

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This is a world first for ANY forum relating to this story...

The pictures that are to follow are official artefact photos from the RAAF Museum - Point Cook Victoria Australia.

These have NOT been released as yet to my knowledge anywhere in the world...

They are only to be used for educational and historical research purposes. Credit RAAF Museum Cook Point.

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To start, this collection of photos show engine ID plates from Lacy's Spitfire.

Full item description will be edited later.

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The next set of pictures really hit home the reality of war.

The remains of one of Lacy's flying boots. It's fitting that the personal items of Lacy managed to make it home to his native Australia.

A full listing of all items later.

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