Ferguson Smith: The Extraordinary life of a WWII hero and spy catcher

Blogger: GemSen You may have heard of the name Ferguson Smith? And not only because there have been a couple of obituaries in the media about him recently — sadly, he passed away last month, at the age of 98 — but because his extraordinary life story still lives on. Ferguson Smith you see, had an amazing career… Not content with just being a decorated WWII Bomber Command Flight Lieutenant, Smith also spent 36 years in the Special Branch and brought down some of the worst of Britain’s Soviet spies.

Smith was one of the UK’s most successful spy catchers as an officer, and later Head of special branch at Scotland Yard. He was also once a bodyguard to the Duke of Windsor, the former King, on his infrequent visits to the UK after his abdication. Born in 1914 in Aberdeen, Smith joined the police and moved to the Special branch in 1936. He then joined the RAF in 1941 and was posted to 101 Squadron, flying Lancasters that were equipped with radar-jamming equipment. The special antennae were used to scramble German messages to their night fighters hunting the bombers. The Squadron suffered more casualties than any other in Bomber Command because this was a dangerous role as the aerial made the aircraft a favourite target of the Luftwaffe. Do you have any war heroes in your family? Did any of them serve in Bomber Command? Not a job for the faint of heart RAF Bomber Command successfully destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany’s industries notably in the Ruhr valley and many German cities including Cologne and Dresden in 1945. This was to disrupt industrial production of weapons, to weaken morale and to force the Germans onto the defensive — which was a crucial component in the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Flying in a British bomber during World War Two was not a job for the faint of heart, and it was one of the most dangerous jobs imaginable.  RAF aircrews responsible for this vital task faced some of the most terrifying combat conditions of WW2 yet had an average age of just 22, with the youngest scarcely 18. Around 55,000 aircrew died in raids over Europe between 1939 and 1945 — the highest loss rate of any major branch of the British armed forces. Courageous Smith survived 30 missions and was awarded a medal for rescuing two fellow airmen from fighters, during the Battle of Berlin in January 1944 — despite being injured himself. His plane was badly damaged by a night fighter over the German capital and suffering serious wounds to his chest, back and leg, he heroically freed two gunners trapped in their turrets. Rather amazingly and despite the damage, injuries and carnage, Smith successfully guided the plane to its bombing targets and skilfully steered the defenceless aircraft home to an emergency landing. He and the pilot were awarded immediate DFCs. Smith's citation said that: "his courage, fortitude and determination were worthy of the highest praise." After recuperating from his injuries he returned to combat for another year and was awarded a bar to his DFC. This true war hero still had much more to give though and during the 1950s and 60s Smith turned his hand to rooting out Soviet agents who were stealing the nation's nuclear secrets during the 1950s and 60s. One of his biggest high profile successes was uncovering George Blake — a double agent who worked for the British Secret Intelligence Service — who gave away British secrets and information about agents to the KGB. Other achievements included helping to break the Portland Spy Ring, which was selling British nuclear sub secrets to the USSR, as well as capturing naval attache John Vassall and Klaus Fuchs, the German physicist who exchanged details of Britain and America’s atomic weapons programme to Moscow. He also spied on fascist leader Oswald Mosley and the explorer Laurens van der Post. When he retired from the police in 1972  he was made a Commander of the Royal Victoria Order and then lived quietly with his wife, Margaret, and their children. Ferguson Smith died on September 15th, 2013. Espionage expert, Neil Root, told the Daily Mirror that the British public owe a debt of gratitude to Smith, who would have had to be 'brutal' to achieve his aims. “There was a real fear of Communist spies in the 50s and 60s. At the time espionage and counter espionage were about face-to-face contact, it was all meeting in dirty macs on park benches. It was much more psychological, you had to be able to read people. “The things you see in James Bond now, that was the kind of stuff happening then. It was much more brutal, people were killed much more quickly.” Looking for more interesting wartime stories? Why not delve into our ‘historic documents’ library and read some of the interesting war diaries that we get sent – there’s nothing quite like reading a personal account of war, as history unfolds itself through the eyes of somebody who was actually there. Forces War Records are fortunate to receive such amazing real life war stories involving lashings of courage, and now you can read some of them – completely free of charge. Search the Forces War Records site and let us help you start, or continue your genealogy quest… Source: Daily Mail & Independent & Daily Mirror

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