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- September 1998 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Named for his uncle, the famous Australian cricketer Victor Trumper, Admiral Sir Victor Smith, who has died in Canberra at the age of 85, was the first RAN officer to be made admiral and is fondly remembered as the “Father of the Fleet Air Arm”.
Victor Alfred Trumper Smith was born in Chatswood and entered the Royal Australian Naval College at Jervis Bay in 1927. On completion of his training as a junior officer he undertook an observer’s flying course in England and so started his long involvement with naval aviation.
The outbreak of World War II saw Lieutenant Smith flying in Swordfish aircraft from the Royal Navy aircraft carrier “Ark Royal”. In 1940 he commanded a flight of six Swordfish in an attack on the German battleship Scharnhorst and its escorts. Two aircrafts were lost and Smith was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the attack.
In 1941 “Ark Royal” was deployed in the Mediterranean and twice Smith and his pilot had to be rescued by a destroyer after being shot down. Later that year “Ark Royal” was torpedoed and sunk. For his outstanding service in the carrier Smith was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
He returned to Australia in February 1942 and joined HMAS Canberra and was on board when that ship was sunk in the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942. He returned to England and served in an escort carrier before joining the planning staff for the D-Day landings in Normandy.
Lieutenant Commander Smith returned to Australia in 1944 to help plan the postwar RAN. Smith was the staff officer responsible for implementing the naval aviation plan, which included the acquisition of two aircraft carriers. His association with the RAN Fleet Air Arm continued up to the time of his death.
After promotion to commander he continued to serve in naval aviation billets and was the executive officer of HMAS Sydney during the ship’s deployment in the Korean War. As a captain he commanded the frigates Quadrant and Queenborough, the naval air station at Nowra and the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne.
Promoted to Rear Admiral in 1962, Smith held a number of senior positions, including Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet and Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff.
In 1968 he was promoted to Vice-Admiral and took up his appointment as Chief of the Naval Staff. The following years were difficult ones for the RAN, which in addition to the usual challenges faced many heartaches from the conflict in Vietnam and the collision between “Melbourne” and USS Frank E. Evans.
In November 1970, Sir Victor Smith was promoted to Admiral, the first RAN officer to attain that rank, and was appointed Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the equivalent of today’s Commander of the Defence Force.
In the early 1970s the defence forces were confronted with a number of problems including the withdrawal from Vietnam, the demise of SEATO, and the reorganisation of the Department of Defence. Smith provided strong leadership in the successful resolution of these matters.
He will be remembered as a leader who cared about people, in particular his men and their families. His bravery and his dedication to duty cannot be faulted. He was loyal to his country, the service and his family. He always inspired and expected the very highest of standards.
Smith is survived by his wife Nanette, and sons Michael, Mark and Piers.
(The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday, 15th July 1998)