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david leigh-smith
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On This Day…May 23rd.

May 23, 2019 · in Photo Collections · · 19 · 2.2K

American Volunteer Group squadron flight leader Robert 'R. T (“for tadpole”) Smith standing next to his fighter, Kunming, China, 23 May 1942.

Smith resigned his commission as a second lieutenant in 1941 in order to join Colonel Claire Lee Chennault's American Volunteer Group (AVG) as a ‘soldier of fortune' with the Nationalist Chinese Air Force. The ‘Flying Tigers' as they soon became known, were based in Burma flying Curtiss P-40s (Hawk Model 81-A-2s) when Pearl was attacked.

‘Tadpole' saw his first enemy engagement over Rangoon just a couple of weeks after Pearl, when he shot down a Mitsubishi Ki-21 "Sally" bomber.

This was followed on Christmas Day with credit for two more ‘Sallys' and a fighter. He was soon promoted to flight leader in the Third Pursuit Squadron, the "Hell's Angels" (below).

Smith was credited with shooting down a total of 9 Japanese planes, and was twice decorated by the Chinese government. The AVG fought throughout Burma and southwest China until it was officially disbanded on July 4, 1942.

Incomplete Unryu-class carrier Ikoma, Shodoshima, Japan, 23rd of May, 1946. The Unryu class carriers were a significant step down in quality from the high water mark of the Taiho, and were part of the Imperial Navy ‘shadow fleet' - poorly armed, poorly serviced, and poorly manned.

Mk.I, GR-U, 92 Squadron, RAF. She was shot down by a Bf-110 over Dunkirk. The pilot, J.Gillies, was PoW.

And here is our own Manuel @magrus build on iModeler of this very aircraft

The HMS Kelly was lost May 23rd, 1941 off the coast of Crete, attacked by wave after wave of Ju87 Stukas.

British prisoners of war in Calais, France, May 23rd, 1940 with a Panzer I light tank in foreground.

Messerschmitt Bf 109E1 2.JG27 Black 4 Fritz Keller Krefeld Germany 23rd May, 1940.

The first production Mark IIF night fighter (R2270) fitted with positive dihedral tail fins and equipped with AI Mark IV radar; also, note the Merlin engines, in flight. This aircraft served with No. 406 Squadron RCAF. May 1942.

Reader reactions:
16  Awesome

19 responses

  1. Another fine assortment of pics & topics today David.
    The AVG Tigers is one of my favourites and that formation shot is just spectacular
    The downed Sally camouflage is also second to none...wonder is there is a colour photo of that in someone’s attic?
    BTW, the 109 is part of the early war 12 “Colonial” staffel, where each a/c was christened with a former imperial Germany colony. Judging by the photo, they dropped those names after the Sitzkrieg...

  2. Look forward every day to see what will be posted. Love these. It amazes me where you find this stuff.

  3. you did it again ...i just started the airfix p-40b and was trying last night to decide between older, smith or neales plane...they said manson tried to get at older and had to be restrained by the bailiffs ...i imagine you know the new jersey was halsey's flagship as he bumbled through the last year of the war...he left 7th fleet unprotected at leyte gulf then threw a hissy fit like a child when he got nimitz's message,the world wants to know...then steered 3rd fleet 200 miles into the eye of typhoon cobra losing 750 men, three destroyers and 75 planes...then he repeated all this almost identically less than six months later with close to the same losses...and what does king and nimitz do...give him a 5th star...he must have known where the skeletons were buried...then in his memoirs late 50's he threw kinkaid under the bus for leaving the san bernardino straits unprotected and allowing kurita to get at wide open 7th fleet

    • “he must have known where the skeletons were buried” true. I suspect we have several similar interests with a similar view of history. Thanks, as usual, for your input, Bob.

  4. Great post, David. I love the close up of the (rather impressive) "Tiger" logo on the P-40. I still think the P-40 is one of the most jolie-laide aircraft of the entire war.

  5. Wow! That's "my" SPIT!

    I've built that exact plane! I was reading and recognized the story 🙂

    Here it is:

    1 attached image. Click to enlarge.

  6. Ha, that’s hilarious - I just added an addition to the thread a short while ago - have another look!


  7. Look how tiny the Panzer I is ... simply amazing. Our old school M-113 APC’s were much bigger. My how time has changed things.

    Another excellent article David.

    Again you have made me smile. P-40’s , Sally’s,Spitfires, Stuka’s and 109’s... toss in Beaufighter and some carriers ... what’s not to like ?

  8. Are you sure of that date for the RT Smith photo? I ask because that photo is typically considered to be among the group of color photos taken by Claire Booth Luce, wife of Time/Life owner Henry Luce, who was acting as a correspondent for Life Magazine, during her visit in March 1942, when she brought along the Disney decals of the "Flying Tiger" and the publicity finally reached a crescendo with her visit and report. . Also, May 23 1942 is the height of the southeast Asian monsoon, when the AVG had essentially shut down operation.

    RT Smith also returned to SE Asia in 1844 with the 1st Air Commandos, led by Phil cochraqn and 23rd FG ace Johnny Alison. RT commanded the bombers in the group and flew the famous B-25J "Barbie III," named for his wife.

    • 1944 Tom not 1844 cackle, i remember he took some shots beside Olders plane also...the photo in question i've seen captioned as R.T. Smith in front of Olders plane [ and we all know about captions} but this one does look quite different than the other plane photo...a bit nastier condition but it could just be the shadows

      1 attached image. Click to enlarge.

  9. Hi Tom. The short answer to your question is “no”. While most of the photos I’ve shared are probably accurate in terms of dates, there will always be some where the fogs of time and war mean the date is, in truth, something of a Trojan horse.

    ‘On This Day(ish)...’ just doesn’t have the same ring...

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