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Navy Spitfire pilot, a D-Day Remembrance

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LT Harris Hammersmith, Jr., USNR, was a U.S. Navy floatplane pilot. After a tour of duty in the PTO, he was assigned to the aviation section aboard USS Arkansas as a Kingfisher pilot. Unbeknownst to him at the time, his familiar shipboard surroundings would soon be left behind.

 

As a result of the unacceptably high losses suffered by the Navy's gunfire-support spotting aircraft at the hands of the German Luftwaffe and anti-aircraft fire during the invasions of Sicily and Salerno in 1943, the planners of Operation Neptune sought to increase their survivability with an improvement in equipment. The agreed upon solution was to re-equip a U.S. Navy scouting squadron, which would become part of the Air Spotting Pool (comprised of four Royal Navy and five R.A.F. squadrons), and to replace the slow Curtis SOC Seagull and Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes previously flown from the battleships and cruisers with 20 land-based Spitfire Mk Vb aircraft borrowed from the British. The fire support element of the Western Task Force included six capital ships from which the pilots were selected. These were the battleships Nevada, Texas and Arkansas and the cruisers Quincey, Augusta and Tuscaloosa.

 

In preparation for the Normandy landings, the newly formed Cruiser Scouting Squadron Seven, with 17 pilots and 40 enlisted men began training in February 1944. On May 28th, VCS-7 was declared operational and relocated to the Royal Naval Air Station at Lee-on-Solent. From their new home, they would provide air spotting for the fire support ships of the Western Naval Task Force which would land the U.S. First Army at Utah and Omaha Beaches on June 6th, 1944.

 

A typical gun-spotting mission was carried out by a two plane section, with the lead aircraft acting as the spotter and his wingman protecting them from enemy interception. The standard prescribed operational altitude was 6,000 feet, but the poor weather often encountered could force them to drop down to 1,500 feet or as low as 300 feet at times when German targets were well hidden. The clipped-wing Spitfires were fitted with a 35 gallon auxiliary "slipper" fuel tank which allowed flights of up to two hours duration, 45 minutes of which were on station and pilots flew two or three hops a day. From D-Day until June 26, when the naval bombardment of Cherbourg was terminated, VCS-7 Spitfires flew 191 sorties. LT Hammersmith flew 15 sorties, the second highest total in his squadron. You can find more information on VCS-7 here: http://pilotsmanyourplanes.com/Page_80.html

 

A few months after Mr. Hammersmith passed away in August 2012, one of his immediate family members placed some of his wartime aviation memoribilia on consignment. I was very fortunate to obtain a grouping consisting of his named RAF Type C flight helmet with modified A-14 oxygen mask as well as his Navy issue AN-6540L helmet and AN-6530 goggles. It was RAF practice to remove the oxygen system from the Spitfire Vbs when they were tasked for low altitude reconnaissance to save weight, therefore the pilots removed the tube from their oxygen masks (RAF Type G or in this case, A-14) and used them as a "microphone carrier". Hammersmith's A-14 has also been fitted with a USAAF T-44 microphone and cord to be compatible with the British radio sets retained in the Spitfires.

 

After 70 years of storage, the rubber on his goggle pad had suffered and his oxygen mask had lost all flexibility. For display purposes, I replaced the pad and then also put together a duplicate of his goggles and mask as you will see in the photos below.

 

Hammersmith (at left) with his Kingfisher:

 

 

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I really like your display and the history behind it...two of the classic flight helmet rigs of WWII

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Thank you phantomfixer. When I first read about this squadron as a model builder some 40 years ago, I never dreamed I would be so fortunate as to become the caretaker of a piece of their history one day. Considering the scarcity and desirability of items attributed directly to any of the thousands of men who were members of an airborne or infantry assault unit that was part of the invasion, it was humbling to have the chance to preserve relics that were more than likely worn on June 6th, 1944 by one of only 17 Navy pilots who participated in the historic events of that day and the weeks to follow.

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Very special grouping. Glad to see you clearly know the history. It's always easier to see someone post something like this when they understand the story and significance. Good to know his history has a great caretaker.

 

Thanks for sharing it with us


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I can understand your desire to own and preserve artifacts from June 6th and the invasion force. The AMC museum at Dover AFB lucked into a C47, Turf and Sport that flew on the night of June 5th/6th, dropping troopers ...

 

 

We have been tweeking the original static restoration and bringing the plane back to it s June 5th, 1944 configuration. We were fortunate to have the original crew chief visit the museum, and point out some signifigant battle damage repairs..

 

 

Recently we had one of the troopers, George Shenkle, dropped that night, visit the museum...

 

Sorry to ramble, Thank you for preserving history,, something, I think, we all try to do here on the forum...

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Excellent history and grouping. Thanks for sharing.



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Always looking for AAC & AAF flight gear. With a focus on Aleutian and ETO theaters.

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Great history. The pre-D Day briefing photo is pure art. Fantastic stuff.

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12A54,

I should have identified the people in that photo. For some reason, everywhere I've seen it published, only five of the six individuals are ever named.

 

From left to right: Wing Commander Robert J. Hardiman, R.A.F., Commanding Allied Spotter Pilots; ENS Robert J. Adams, USNR; Major Noel East, British Army Intelligence; LT Harris Hammersmith, Jr., USNR (wearing service cap); LT Alexander A. Smith, USNR and Captain John Ruscoe, Royal Artillery, Gunnery Liaison Officer.

 

 

 

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This photo was taken a few minutes earlier. Note the sequence number.

 

The VCS-7 Navy pilots are Robert J. Adams (with coffee), Harris Hammersmith (bareheaded, reading with crossed legs) and Alexander A. Smith (bareheaded, studying his map).

 

 

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