Dambusters 80th Anniversary
The 16th May 2023 marks the 80th anniversary of the Dambusters Raid, also known as Operation Chastise. An attack on the major dams of western Germany using the bouncing bomb carried by the legendary Lancaster Bomber of RAF 617 Squadron. The raids attacked the dams along Germany’s industrial region, the Ruhr Valley, which aimed to destroy the very heart of enemy territory.
Read more here about the bomb that bounced and discover a full crew list of the men who flew in Operation Chastise.
The Dambusters of 617 Squadron.
Those selected to carry out the Operation Chastise were the most supreme pilots of Bomber Command who flew specially adapted 30-tonne Avro Lancaster’s which were originally designed to operate at 10,000 feet and at nearly 250mph. Something that might highlight just how astute and accurate the pilots had to be is knowing that for Operation Chastise the pilots had to fly at 60 feet – which is about the height of a medium sized tree, sometimes they flew lower than that, at speed, and during enemy fire. And for the night-time raids they were doing all that in the dark. What skill that must have taken. You really have to admire the pilots who not only had to fly very strategically, but who also had very little time to prepare for the mission – honourably and devotedly they just did it. Apparently, Wing Commander, Guy Gibson who led the mission only had 11 weeks to prepare crews for Operation Chastise. And even though they practised some low-level flying and precision bombing, crews had no idea about their target until six hours before take-off. Can you imagine that? Perhaps it was better to not have had much time to think about the massive challenge ahead? Sadly though, almost half of the 113 airmen that were a part of it never made it back. The pilots must have had a fantastic amount of bravery.
It is stated that 1,294 people on the ground in Germany were killed and many were prisoners in forced labour camps. In recent years there has been much debate about the true impact of the raids, and some believe the mission involved too much effort and loss to be called a true success. But, Squadron Leader George Leonard Johnson, MBE, DFM, better known as Johnny Johnson, who was the last surviving original member of No. 617 Squadron RAF and of Operation Chastise, disagrees: “These people really get up my nose,” he said. “They weren’t there, and they were not aware of the circumstances. It proved to Hitler and the hierarchy that what they thought was impregnable could be got to by the RAF and destroyed.” In an interview Johnny says that Barnes Wallis broke down upon the news of the losses, but that Guy Gibson who led the campaign told him that without him that significant raid could have never taken place.
The bomb that bounced.
At the core of the RAF’s Operation Chastise was the magnificent bouncing bomb, which was quite an amazing design, by Dr Wallis. The bouncing drum-shaped bomb could be dropped at a very low height with pinpoint accuracy. It could spin backwards and bounce along the surface of the water avoid torpedo nets and then attach itself to the wall of a dam. The surge of water from the broken dams aimed to destroy factories and the area’s electrical supplies and power stations.
On the night of May 16th, the Dambusters left RAF Scampton in three waves of Operation Chastise, led by Guy Gibson, one of the RAF’s best bomber pilots and attacked the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe Dams. The Möhne and Eder dams were breached successfully, however the attack on the Sorpe was less effective. The breached dams caused floodwaters to sweep through the Ruhr Valley, and the Möhne dam was swept away, and railway and road bridges vanished – the news really boosted morale in wartime Britain.
Just as there is no doubt that the day of the fighter was the ‘Battle of Britain’, Bomber Command is mainly remembered for the Dam Buster raids. However, Bomber Command did much, much more than bomb dams. For example, on the evening 3-4 March 1942 they made a raid against the Renault factory near Paris, halting production for three months, and during Operation Crossbow on 17th -18th August 1943, 596 aircraft were dispatched in the black of night to bomb German research centres building and testing V2 rockets. There were three precise targets, the living quarters of the scientists and workers, the rocket factory and the experimental station. The targets were found and bombed largely successfully (although a forced labour camp was accidentally bombed as well). It has been said that the raid set the V2 programme back by two to three months and lessened the scale of the eventual attacks. 40 aircraft were lost.
The bomber crews also played a huge part in supporting Operation Overlord. The night before the D-Day landings Bomber Command made 1,211 sorties, the greatest total yet, in support of the invading forces. In the following weeks they made on average 5,000 sorties per week, as many as had been made in total in the first 9 months of the war. They bombed German troops, guns, ammo and oil dumps, along with road and rail communications on the Front, thereby preventing German reinforcements from reaching the area (Barnes Wallis’s new Tallboy bombs were used to knock out a railway tunnel near Saumer, badly delaying the arrival of a Panzer unit). They were diverted to knock out V1 launching ramps hidden in Pas de Calais, as rocket attacks on London began, and managed to reduce the E-boat (light motor-torpedo boat) threat to the shipping off Normandy. They started doing day raids again for the first time since 1943, now with adequate fighter support. On 18th July Bomber Command was also instrumental in helping to combat the threat to Operation Goodwood from 16 Luftwaffe Field Division and the 21st Panzer Division.
During WW2 just one Fighter Command pilot was awarded a Victoria Cross in World War Two, compared with 23 Bomber Command airmen.
617 Squadron – a complete Crew List of everyone who took part in Operation Chastise
|R.A.A.F||Royal Australian Air Force|
|R.C.A.F||Royal Canadian Air Force|
|R.N.Z.A.F||Royal New Zealand Air Force|
|D.S.O.||Distinguished Service Order|
|D.F.C.||Distinguished Flying Cross|
|D.F.M.||Distinguished Flying Medal|
* – Indicates a second award (a bar) to that award.
All awards shown are those already held by the aircrew prior to take-off.
Of the 133 men who set out on Operation Chastise (the Dams Raid) from RAF Scampton in 19 specially modified Lancaster bombers 53 were killed and 3 were taken prisoner.
The First Wave – Crew List
Lancaster serial number: ED932/G
Call sign: AJ-G ‘George’
First wave: First aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine exploded short of the dam.
Pilot: 39438 Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, D.S.O.*, D.F.C*
Navigator: J/16688 Pilot Officer Harlo Torger Taerum R.C.A.F
Flight Engineer: 652403 Sergeant John Pulford
Bomb Aimer: 407380 Pilot Officer Frederick Michael Spafford, D.F.M, R.A.A.F
Wireless Operator: 120854 Flight Lieutenant Robert G. Hutchison, D.F.C.
Front Gunner: J/17245 Flight Sergeant George Andrew Deering, R.C.A.F
Rear Gunner: 47354 Flight Lieutenant Richard Dacre Trevor-Roper, D.F.M.
Lancaster serial number: ED925/G
Call sign: AJ-M ‘Mother’
First wave: Second aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Aircraft hit by flak. Mine dropped late, bounced over dam. Lancaster ED-9259 crashed on far side of dam.
Pilot: 61281 Flight Lieutenant John Vere Hopgood, D.F.C.*
Navigator: J/10891 Flying Officer Kenneth Earnshaw, R.C.A.F
Flight Engineer: 942037 Sergeant Charles Christopher Brennan
Bomb Aimer: 552209 Pilot Officer John William Fraser, D.F.C.
Wireless Operator: 1181097 Sergeant John William Minchin
Front Gunner: 141285 Pilot Officer George Henry Ford Goodwin Gregory, D.F.M.
Rear Gunner: 403182 Pilot Officer Anthony Fisher Burcher, D.F.M., R.A.A.F
Lancaster serial number: ED909/G
Call sign: AJ-P ‘Peter (Popsie)’
First wave: Third aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine veered left after dropping and exploded at side of dam.
Pilot: 68795 Flight Lieutenant Harold Brownlow Martin, D.F.C.
Navigator: 402367 Flight Lieutenant Jack Frederick Leggo, D.F.C, R.A.A.F
Flight Engineer: 51704 Pilot Officer Ivan Whittaker
Bomb Aimer: 407074 Flight Lieutenant Robert Claude Hay, D.F.C, R.A.A.F
Wireless Operator: 403758 Flying Officer Leonard Chambers, R.N.Z.A.F
Front Gunner: 404595 Pilot Officer Bertie Towner Foxlee, D.F.M, R.A.A.F
Rear Gunner: 408076 Flight Sergeant Thomas Drayton Simpson, R.A.A.F
Lancaster serial number: ED887/G
Call sign: AJ-A ‘Apple’
First wave: Fourth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing small breach. Lancaster ED-887 crashed on return flight.
Pilot: 72478 Squadron Leader Henry Melvin Young, D.F.C*
Navigator: 1269945 Flight Sergeant Charles Walpole Roberts
Flight Engineer: 568924 Sergeant David Taylor Horsfall
Bomb Aimer: J/15309 Flying Officer Vincent Sanford MacCausland, R.C.A.F
Wireless Operator: 1377941 Sergeant Lawrence William Nichols
Front Gunner: 1317656 Sergeant Gordon Arthur Yeo
Rear Gunner: 655431 Sergeant Wilfred Ibbotson
Lancaster serial number: ED906/G
Call sign: AJ-J ‘Johnny’
First wave: Fifth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately causing larger breach, followed by dam collapse. Aircraft returned safely.
Pilot: 60335 Flight Lieutenant David John Hatfeild Maltby, D.F.C.
Navigator: 1144183 Sergeant Vivian Nicholson
Flight Engineer: 1013557 Flight Sergeant William Hatton
Bomb Aimer: 49575 Pilot Officer John Fort
Wireless Operator: 1311959 Sergeant Antony Joseph Bazeley Stone
Front Gunner: 1315729 Sergeant Victor Hill
Rear Gunner: 1248156 Sergeant Harold Thomas Simmonds
Lancaster serial number: ED929/G
Call sign: AJ-L ‘Leather’
First wave: First aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately but no breach caused. Aircraft returned safely.
Pilot: 407729 Flight Lieutenant David John Shannon, D.F.C., R.A.A.F
Navigator: Can/ J. 15336 Flying Officer Daniel Revie Walker, D.F.C., R.C.A.F
Flight Engineer: 544401 Sergeant Robert Jack Henderson
Bomb Aimer: Flight Sergeant Leonard Joseph Sumpter
Wireless Operator: 101042 Flying Officer Brian Goodale, D.F.C.
Front Gunner: 171172 Sergeant Brian Jagger
Rear Gunner: 129460 Flying Officer Jack Buckley
Lancaster serial number: ED937/G
Call sign: AJ-Z ‘Zebra’
First wave: Second aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine overshot. Lancaster aircraft ED-937 damaged and shot down on return flight.
Pilot: 62275 Squadron Leader Henry Eric Maudslay, D.F.C.
Navigator: J/9763 Flying Officer Robert Alexander Urquhart, D.F.C., R.C.A.F
Flight Engineer: 1003474 Sergeant Jack Marriott, D.F.M
Bomb Aimer: 143760 Pilot Officer Michael John David Fuller
Wireless Operator: R/93558 Warrant Officer Alden Preston Cottam, R.C.A.F
Front Gunner: 120851 Flying Officer William John Tytherleigh
Rear Gunner: 1503094 Sergeant Norman Rupert Burrows
Lancaster serial number: ED864/G
Call sign: AJ-B ‘Baker’
First wave: Crashed on outward flight.
Pilot: 60283 Flight Lieutenant Bill Astell, D.F.C.
Navigator: J/16872 Pilot Officer Floyd Alvin Wile, R.C.A.F
Flight Engineer: 635123 Sergeant John Kinnear
Bomb Aimer: 127817 Flying Officer Donald Hopkinson
Wireless Operator: R/84377 Warrant Officer Class II Abram Garshowitz, R.C.A.F
Front Gunner: R/103201 Flight Sergeant Francis Anthony (Frank) Garbas, R.C.A.F
Rear Gunner: 1211045 Sergeant Richard Bolitho
Lancaster serial number: ED912/G
Call sign: AJ-N ‘Nancy (Nan)’
First wave: Third aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately causing breach.
Pilot: 401449 Pilot Officer Leslie George Knight, R.A.A.F
Navigator: 119219 Flying Officer Harold Sydney Hobday
Flight Engineer: Sergeant Raymond Ernest Grayston
Bomb Aimer: Flying Officer Edward Cuthbert Johnson
Wireless Operator: Flight Sergeant Robert George Thomas Kellow, R.A.A.F
Front Gunner: Sergeant Frederick Edwin Sutherland, R.C.A.F
Rear Gunner: Sergeant Henry Earl O’Brien
The Second Wave – Crew List
Lancaster serial number: ED927/G
Call sign: AJ-E ‘Easy’
Second wave: Crashed on outward flight.
Pilot: 401899 Flight Lieutenant Robert Norman George Barlow, D.F.C., RAAF
Navigator: 124881 Flying Officer Philip Sidney Burgess
Flight Engineer: 144619 Pilot Officer Samuel Leslie Whillis
Bomb Aimer: 144205 Pilot Officer Alan Gillespie, D.F.M
Wireless Operator: 405224 Flying Officer Charles Rowland Williams, D.F.C., R.A.A.F
Front Gunner: J/10212 Flying Officer Harvey Sterling Glinz, R.C.A.F
Rear Gunner: 1338282 Sergeant Jack Robert George Liddell
Lancaster serial number: ED921/G
Call sign: AJ-W ‘Willie’
Second wave: Aircraft ED-921 badly damaged by flak on outward flight. Returned to base with mine intact.
Pilot: NZ413942 Flight Lieutenant John Leslie Munro, R.N.Z.A.F
Navigator: 120350 Flying Officer Francis Grant Rumbles
Flight Engineer: 652494 Sergeant Frank Ernest Appleby
Bomb Aimer: 159893 Sergeant James Henry Clay
Wireless Operator: Can/J. 19053 Warrant Office Percy Edgar Pigeon, R.C.A.F
Front Gunner: 1479639 Sergeant William (Bill) Howarth
Rear Gunner: Can/ J. 19206 Flight Sergeant Harvey Alexander Weeks, R.C.A.F
Lancaster serial number: ED934/G
Call sign: AJ-K ‘King’
Second wave: Aircraft ED-934 crashed on outward flight.
Pilot: J/17474 Pilot Officer Vernon William Byers, R.C.A.F
Navigator: 128619 Flying Officer James Herbert Warner
Flight Engineer: 575430 Sergeant Alastair James Taylor
Bomb Aimer: 144777 Pilot Officer Arthur Neville Whitaker
Wireless Operator: 1025280 Sergeant John Wilkinson
Front Gunner: 1058757 Sergeant Charles McAllister Jarvie
Rear Gunner: R/101749 Flight Sergeant James McDowell, R.C.A.F
Lancaster serial number: ED936/G
Call sign: AJ-H ‘Harry’
Second wave: Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base
Pilot: 141707 Pilot Officer Geoffrey Rice
Navigator: 126044 Flying Officer Richard Macfarlane
Flight Engineer: 540655 Sergeant Edward Clarence Smith
Bomb Aimer: J/19337 Warrant Officer John William Thrasher, R.C.A.F
Wireless Operator: R/93201 Warrant Officer Chester Bruce Gowrie, R.C.A.F
Front Gunner: 1386420 Sergeant Thomas William Maynard
Rear Gunner: 1217692 Sergeant Stephen Burns
Lancaster serial number: ED825/G
Call sign: AJ-T ‘Tommy’
Second wave: First aircraft to attack Sorpe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam.
Pilot: CanJ9346 Flight Lieutenant Joseph Charles McCarthy, D.F.C., R.C.A.F
Navigator: Can/R.112723 Flight Sergeant Donald Arthur MacLean, R.C.A.F
Flight Engineer: 53561 Sergeant William Gordon Radcliffe
Bomb Aimer: 1199696 Sergeant George Leonard Johnson
Wireless Operator: 1107754 Flight Sergeant Leonard Eaton
Front Gunner: 1045069 Sergeant Ronald Batson
Rear Gunner: Can/J.10160 Flying Officer David Rodger, R.C.A.F
The Third Wave – Crew List
Lancaster serial number: ED910/G
Call sign: AJ-C ‘Charlie’
Third wave: Aircraft ED-910 crashed on outward flight.
Pilot: 141460 Pilot Officer Warner Ottley, D.F.C.
Navigator: 115775 Flying Officer Jack Kenneth Barrett, D.F.C.
Flight Engineer: 568415 Sergeant Ronald Marsden, D.F.M.
Bomb Aimer: 1060657 Flight Sergeant Thomas Barr Johnston
Wireless Operator: 1172550 Sergeant Jack Guterman, D.F.M.
Front Gunner: 1395453 Sergeant Harry John Strange
Rear Gunner: 1332270 Sergeant Frederick Tees
Lancaster serial number: ED865/G
Call sign: AJ-S ‘Suger’
Third wave: Aircraft ED-865 crashed on outward flight.
Pilot: J/17115 Pilot Officer Lewis Johnstone Burpee, D.F.M., R.C.A.F
Navigator: 1299446 Sergeant Thomas Jaye
Flight Engineer: 573474 Sergeant Guy Pegler
Bomb Aimer: R/119416 Flight Sergeant James Lamb Arthur, R.C.A.F
Wireless Operator: 142507 Pilot Officer Leonard George Weller
Front Gunner: 1600540 Sergeant William Charles Arthur Long
Rear Gunner: R/93554 Warrant Officer Joseph Gordon Brady, R.C.A.F
Lancaster serial number: ED918/G
Call sign: AJ-F ‘Freddy’
Third wave: Second aircraft to attack Sorpe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam.
Pilot: R94567 Flight Sergeant Kenneth William Brown, R.C.A.F
Navigator: 919764 Sergeant Dudley Percy Heal
Flight Engineer: 172289 Sergeant Harry Basil Feneron
Bomb Aimer: R/114949 Sergeant Stefan Oancia, R.C.A.F
Wireless Operator: 1378012 Sergeant Herbert John Hewstone
Front Gunner: 553739 Sergeant Daniel Allatson
Rear Gunner: Flight Sergeant Grant Stuart Vincent McDonald, R.C.A.F
Lancaster serial number: ED886/G
Call sign: AJ-O ‘Orange’
Third wave: Only aircraft to attack Ennepe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam.
Pilot: 656738 Flight Sergeant William Clifford Townsend
Navigator: 406248 Pilot Officer Cecil Lancelot Howard, R.A.A.F
Flight Engineer: 644741 Sergeant Dennis John Dean Powell
Bomb Aimer: 1165320 Sergeant Charles Ernest Franklin, D.F.M.
Wireless Operator: 552201 Flight Sergeant George Alexander Chalmers
Front Gunner: 1383334 Sergeant Douglas Edward Webb
Rear Gunner: 1517241 Sergeant Raymond Wilkinson
Lancaster serial number: ED924/G
Call sign: AJ-Y ‘York’
Third wave: aircraft ED-924 did not reach Sorpe Dam because of navigation problems and weather conditions. Returned with mine intact.
Pilot: 52024 Flight Sergeant Cyril Thorpe Anderson
Navigator: 1265662 Sergeant John Percival Nugent
Flight Engineer: 628327 Sergeant Robert Campbell Paterson
Bomb Aimer: 1322942 Sergeant Gilbert John Green
Wireless Operator: 1380667 Sergeant William Douglas Bickle
Front Gunner: 1576002 Sergeant Eric Ewan
Rear Gunner: 1305690 Sergeant Arthur William Buck
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