Maynard H. Smith, nicknamed Snuffy Smith, was a US Army Air Forces Staff Sergeant and gunner aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber assigned to the 423d Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bomb Group in World War II, who received the Medal of Honor for his conduct during a bombing mission over France on May 1, 1943.
It was during his first mission, on May 1, 1943 that Staff Sergeant Smith, who was assigned to the ball gun turret, helped save the lives of six of his wounded comrades, put out a blazing fire, and drove off wave after wave of German fighters.
The target of the mission was the U-Boat pens at Saint-Nazaire in Loire-Atlantique, France, on the Bay of Biscay. Saint Nazaire was heavily defended by antiaircraft guns and was nicknamed "flak city" by the airmen.
Several of the bombers failed to rendezvous as intended, and others had mechanical problems and had to turn back. The middle portion of the bombing mission went well, with no German fighters engaging the mission until after they had released their bomb loads. The bombers managed to drop their payload on target with little resistance from the Germans in occupied France. As the fighters came up, the bombing group managed to elude them by flying into a large cloud bank.
Smith manning a machine gun [Via United States Air Force - United States Air Force via www.flickr.com]
Due to a navigational error, after being in the cloud bank, the navigator in the lead plane believed he was approaching the southern coast of Britain. In fact, the aircraft were approaching the heavily fortified German-occupied city of Brest, France and the southern coast of theBreton Peninsula. The pilot began to descend to 2,000 feet and was almost immediately overtaken by several German fighters and thickanti-aircraft fire.
Staff Sergeant Smith's bomber was hit, rupturing the fuel tanks and igniting a massive fire in the center of the fuselage. The damage to the aircraft was severe, knocking out communications and compromising the fuselage's integrity. Smith's ball turret lost power and he scrambled out to assist the other crew members. Three crew members bailed out, while Smith tended to two others who were seriously wounded.
In between helping his wounded comrades, Smith also manned the .50 caliber machine guns and fought the raging fire. The heat from the fire was so intense that it had begun to melt the metal in the fuselage, threatening to break the plane in half.
For nearly 90 minutes, Smith alternated between shooting at the attacking fighters, tending to his wounded crew members and fighting the fire. To starve the fire of fuel, he threw burning debris and exploding ammunition through the large holes that had been melted in the fuselage. After the fire extinguishers were exhausted, he finally managed to put the fire out, in part by urinating on it.
Staff Sergeant Smith's bomber reached England and landed at the first available airfield, where it broke in half as it touched down. Smith's bomber had been hit with over 3,500 bullets and shrapnel.
While the three crew members that bailed out were never recovered and presumed lost at sea, Smith's efforts on that day undoubtedly saved the lives of six others aboard his aircraft.
Smith was assigned to KP duty the week that he was awarded the Medal of Honor as punishment for arriving late to a briefing. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson placed the Medal around Smith's neck during a formation.
He enlisted in the US Army Air Forces in 1942. After completing basic training he volunteered for aerial gunnery school. Staff Sergeant Smith quickly gained a reputation as a stubborn and obnoxious airman who did not get along well with the other airmen stationed there, hence his nickname "Snuffy Smith", possibly from the popular comic strip of the era.
Staff Sergeant Maynard Smith of the 306th Bombardment Group, is presented with the Medal of Honor by Secretary of War Henry L Stimson in front of a B-17 Flying Fortress at Thurleigh Airfield, USAAF Station 111, England [Via United States Army Air Forces - www.americanairmuseum.com This is photograph FRE 4379 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums]