They could see only small parts of the legendary plane at the site, close to the D-Day landmarks of Sword Beach and Pegasus bridge.
But after staging a remarkable rescue operation they were astonished at how well preserved its fuselage and wooden propellor were. The dials on the instrument panel were still recognisable.
After the wreckage was towed ashore, the remains of Flight Lieutenant Smith were found in the cockpit. They were placed in a coffin and will be handed to the Australian Embassy in France today.
The pilot, known as Lacy to his friends, was one of the first pilots to land in France following the invasion of Europe. He was 27 when he was shot down on June 11, 1944.
The former textile worker had enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force in May 1941.
He served with the RAAF’s 453 Squadron, motto ‘Ready to Strike’, which was part of RAF Fighter Command from June 1942, and married his English wife Edna the year before his death.