The Spitfire Smiths: A Unique Story of Brothers in Arms

by Christopher Shores, Grub Street, London, 2008, $30.

Canadian brothers Rod and Jerry Smith flew together at Malta in 1942. Jerry died there, and Rod—who finished the war as a squadron commander and 13-victory ace—died before completing his memoircum-analysis. Fortunately Christopher Shores finished the project. The result is a remarkable book.

Aside from the biographical aspects, Rod Smith’s text includes much of his correspondence with Wing Commander Roland Beamont, and their different perspectives on the air war make for fascinating reading. In the process, Smith discusses aircraft, engines, armament, tactics—and fear. He also analyzes John Alcorn’s dissection of Battle of Britain claims. Among the intriguing people Smith knew were John Gillespie Magee, author of the poem “High Flight,” and top Canadian ace George “Screwball” Beurling.

This might be the most comprehensive treatment of the subject ever penned; you finish the book wishing that Rod had lived long enough to complete his thoughts on each subject. For example, he stated, “Al – though fighter pilots can win air fights, only designers can win air battles.”

Throughout the text Smith retains a historian’s objectivity, evident in his evenhanded treatment of the Luftwaffe. In fact, he enjoyed the symposia he shared with German aces such as Adolf Galland, and Gunther Rall was one of his favorite correspondents. Smith also discussed writing history, advocating objectivity and allowing facts to lead to conclusions rather than arranging facts to advance an agenda. Consequently, his evaluation of the leftist Canadian documentary series The Valor and the Horror is masterfully detailed.

The Spitfire Smiths is one of a kind—a testament to the multifaceted Rod Smith and also to biographer Chris Shores.

 

Originally published in the November 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.