Dambuster of the Day No. 100: Ronald Marsden

Marsden PH

Pic: Peter Humphries

Sgt R Marsden
Flight engineer

Lancaster serial number: ED910/G

Call sign: AJ-C

Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Ronald Marsden was born in Redcar, Yorkshire, in 1920, one of the five children of William and Emily Marsden. He went to school in Stockton and joined the RAF in 1935 as an apprentice at the School of Technical Training in Halton.
He then served in ground crew in a number of establishments. In 1942, a policy change meant that a new trade of flight engineers was established to fly in heavy bombers instead of second pilots, and Marsden was quick to apply for the specialist training at No 4 School of Technical Training in St Athans, Glamorgan.
He qualified as a flight engineer in September 1942, and was posted to a conversion unit to join a crew. It would seem that he met up with Bill Ottley, Thomas Johnston, Jack Guterman and Fred Tees there, as they were all posted together to 207 Squadron from 1660 Conversion Unit on 12 November 1942. Their future crewmates Harry Strange and Jack Barrett were also posted from the same conversion unit to 207 Squadron within a few days.
Marsden went on to fly with Ottley on all the 20 operations he completed in 207 Squadron, so he is unlikely to have hesitated when offered a posting to the new 617 Squadron.
Unfortunately, the crew did not complete their first operation, and six of them died when they were shot down near Hamm on 17 May 1943. Ronald Marsden and his comrades were originally buried in by the Germans in Hamm, but were reinterred after the war in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

More about Marsden online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Dambuster of the Day No. 99: Warner Ottley

Grantham Ottley lores

Pic: Lincolnshire Library Services

Plt Off W Ottley DFC
Pilot

Lancaster serial number: ED910/G

Call sign: AJ-C

Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Warner Ottley was born in Putney in 1922, the son of Warner Herbert Taylor Ottley and his wife Hilda, née Edwards. Although given his father’s first name, he was always known by the nickname of Bill. His father was a civil servant, working in the War Office, and had been awarded the French Legion d’Honneur for his work with that country during the First World War.
Ottley was educated at Hurstpierpoint College, and was still at school when the war broke out. He joined the RAF in 1941, and was selected for pilot training. He went to Canada for training, qualified as a pilot in August 1941 and returned to the UK three months later.
After further training he was sent to his first operational squadron, 50 Squadron, in June 1942, but then immediately reposted to 83 Squadron, then based at Scampton. Between 29 July and 6 August 1942 he flew on four operations as second pilot/flight engineer in 83 Squadron with Flt Sgt L T Jackson as pilot. These were to Saarbrucken, Dusseldorf, Gironde (mining) and Duisburg.
Bill Ottley was then transferred to 207 Squadron and flew on several more operations before being transferred to the squadron’s conversion flight. There he was teamed up with the bulk of the men who would make up his Dams Raid crew: Ronald Marsden, flight engineer; Thomas Johnston, bomb aimer; Jack Guterman, wireless operator; Fred Tees, air gunner; and Jack Barrett, navigator. The crew transferred back to the main squadron and undertook their first operation together on a “Gardening” (minelaying) trip to Biarritz on 23 November 1942. The mid upper gunner on this operation was Sgt Walker. On the same day, the final member of Ottley’s Dams Raid crew, Harry Strange, flew as mid upper gunner on a bombing operation to Quakenbruck with Sgt G Langdon as pilot.
Ottley went on to fly on 20 further operations with this crew between December 1942 and April 1943, although there were the occasional minor changes in personnel. Wireless operator Jack Guterman reached the end of his tour on 8 March 1943 and so the last three operations for the crew each had a different person filling this role. The crew’s final operation in 207 Squadron was on 4 April 1943, with a trip to bomb Kiel.
Ottley and his Dams Raid crew were then transferred to 617 Squadron, one of the last crews to arrive. As he didn’t at this point have a regular wireless operator, the tour-expired Guterman must have volunteered to go along with them. Ottley had been commissioned and then recommended for a DFC by this point, although the decoration wouldn’t be confirmed until after the Dams Raid, and was backdated to 16 May 1943.
The Ottley crew undertook their first training flight in the new squadron on 8 April 1943. About five weeks later, they were designated to be the first crew in Operation Chastise’s Wave Three, the mobile reserve. Their duty was to be in the air over Germany after the earlier two waves had done their work, and then be diverted by 5 Group headquarters to attack whatever targt it deemed necessary. 
Ottley led off the wave, and AJ-C was airborne at 0009 on Monday 17 May. It crossed the Dutch coast at about 0130 and proceeded on the same route taken earlier by the First Wave towards Ahlen. At 0231, Group sent the code word “Gilbert” to AJ-C, and the signal was acknowledged. This meant proceed to the Lister Dam. A minute later a change of plan occurred, and the code word “Dinghy” was sent, instructing AJ-C: “Eder destroyed, attack Sorpe”.
The second signal was not acknowledged, indicating that AJ-C had met its fate at about 0231. Ken Brown, flying AJ-F a few minutes behind, reported seeing him hit the ground at 0235. He recalled later: “Ottley, on my right, was hit and pulled up, his tanks exploded then his bomb – the whole valley was lit up in a bright orange.” Bill Townsend and Lance Howard in AJ-O also saw AJ-C’s final demise.
Sitting in AJ-C’s rear turret, Fred Tees later recalled the sequence of events:

… Tees heard the wireless operator say over the intercom “Möhne gone,” and almost immediately Ottley began “We go to…,” when “a hell of a commotion” occurred to interrupt him. The aircraft was suddenly bathed in searchlight and a tremendous barrage of flak struck it, mainky from the port side. … Distinctly he heard Ottley say, “I’m sorry boys we’ve had it,” and thereafter Tees’ memory of events became blank.
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, p.189

AJ-C hit the ground at Heessen, five miles north-east of Hamm, which suggests that it was probably hit by flak west of Hamm itself. Tees’ turret was blown clear of the rest of the aircraft and he regained consciousness on the ground, very badly burnt, and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner.
Bill Ottley and the rest of the crew died instantly. They were originally buried in by the Germans in Hamm, but were reinterred after the war in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.
Bill’s father, Warner Ottley, worked in the War Office throughout the Second World War, and received the award of a CB in the New Year’s Honours List in 1945. He died in 1980.

Thanks to Alan Wells for help with this article.

More about Ottley online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Article by Alex Bateman in Canterbury Times
Details of Warner H T Ottley’s awards

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Best for both sides as Les Munro accepts medals offer

Les_Munro_at_Bomber_Command_Memorial_(med)_big

The generous offer by Les Munro to sell his medals and memorabilia to raise funds for the Bomber Command Memorial in London has now been matched by another from the British peer and collector Lord Ashcroft, which means that the collection will stay in New Zealand.
Lord Ashcroft has offered to pay £75,000 for the collection and the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland is donating a further NZ$20,000. The collection will be displayed in the Museum.
This seems to be the best result possible. The medals and memorabilia (which include a signed menu from the post raid dinner at the Hungaria Restaurant) will now stay in New Zealand as a permanent reminder of the proud role played by the country’s aircrew in Bomber Command. And the fund to maintain the memorial gets a substantial financial boost.
Les Munro (and his family) should be congratulated for their generosity in making the collection available for posterity. Incidentally, the listing for the sale contains a very long article about Les, which can be downloaded as a PDF and is well worth reading.
Lord Ashcroft is well known for his philanthropy and his interest in military history. He is a trustee of the Imperial War Museum in London, which houses his collection of Victoria and George Crosses.

AJ-E Memorial: unveiling details finalised

Invitation english version 13032015

We are very pleased to announce that the details for the unveiling of the memorial to the Dams Raid crew of Lancaster AJ-E have now been finalised. Regular readers of this blog will know that a memorial stone and plaque are to be erected at the site in Germany where this aircraft crashed at 23.50 on Sunday 16 May 1943. The crew of seven, captained by Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC, were all killed.
The unveiling will take place at 11.00am local time on Sunday 17 May 2015, the 72nd anniversary of the Dams Raid, at Heeren-Herken, near Haldern.
The memorial has been organised by local historian Volker Schürmann and the Haldern local history society, Heimatverein Haldern. The money to pay for the memorial stone and the plaque was raised by public appeal, and many readers of this blog were generous in making contributions.
The speakers will be Volker Schürmann, Charles Foster and Rob Holliday, a member of the family of Plt Off Alan Gillespie DFM, representing the families. Wreathes will be laid by the families and a representative of the RAF.
All are welcome at the event.

“Part of our country’s glory”

RH21 Coates score1 lores

Pic: Ray Hepner Collection

This blog has a new good friend, the collector Ray Hepner, who is very kindly allowing me to show some items from his archive over the next few weeks. The first of these is a copy of the sheet music for The Dam Busters March, autographed by its composer, Eric Coates. The item shown above is the vocal version with words by Carlene Mair.
The stirring words are not often performed, perhaps because they are not widely known. They read as follows:

Proudly, with high endeavour,
We, who are young forever,
Won the freedom of the sky;
We shall never die!
We, who have made our story
Part of our country’s glory
Know our hearts will live on
While Britons fly!
Britons fly!
We know our hearts will still live on
While Britons fly!
While Britons fly!
Words by Carlene Mair, © Chappell 1954/1956

To my mind, these are rather better words than the rather dirge-like recent hymn, about which I posted last June.
Not much seems to be known about Carlene Mair, other than that she wrote a book about the history of Chappell, the music publishers, and also the words in English for Chappell’s collections of Bavarian and Welsh folk songs.  She also wrote an English translation of Charles Trenet’s La Mer, but not the words to Beyond the Sea, which uses the same tune and later became a hit for Bobby Darin. Any further information would be gratefully received.

Dambuster of the Day No. 98: David Rodger

Rodger album pics lores

Pic: Rodger family

Flg Off D Rodger
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED825/G

Call sign: AJ-T

Second wave. First aircraft to attack Sorpe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam. Returned to base.

David Rodger was born on 23 February 1918 in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada. He went to the local technical school and then worked for the Algoma Steel company. He joined the RCAF in October 1941, and trained as an air gunner before leaving for the UK. By then he had also been commissioned. In September 1942, he joined 97 Squadron at RAF Woodhall Spa and took part in one operation on a trip to Bremen in an aircraft piloted by squadron CO Wg Cdr G D Jones. He then suffered a broken kneecap in an accident, and had a spell in hospital.
In January 1943, rear gunner Sgt Ralph Muskett was forced to stand down from Joe McCarthy’s crew after prolonged bouts of air sickness, and Dave Rodger was selected in his place. He thus became the third member of the RCAF in this crew. He went on to take part in 15 operations with McCarthy in 97 Squadron before they were all transferred to 617 Squadron in March.
Before the Dams Raid, all the rear gunners had set up the turrets of their scheduled aircraft in the way that suited them. Most chose to have the Perspex windshields removed, beliveing that they had better visibility without them and each would have made further adjustments to their seats and gun positions. When the McCarthy crew had suddenly to switch from the allocated AJ-Q to the spare AJ-T, none of these refinements had been made. Fortunately, Rodger was given a few minutes extra while McCarthy himself went off in hunt of the missing compass deviation cards so he was able to remove the Perspex, with the help of ground staff.
When they reached the Sorpe Dam, Rodger’s droll wit was tested to its full by the repeated attempts by McCarthy and Johnson to get into the correct position to drop the Upkeep mine. As Johnson recalled later:

Sitting in the rear turret, Dave Rodger was getting the worst of all this. He could not see what was coming, but he could feel the aircraft diving, running level and then, without warning, pulling up sharp. Because he was furthest from the aircraft’s centre of gravity, every movement was exaggerated for the rear gunner. In a tight turn, a steep dive or a harsh climb, Dave had to put up with a G-force that  made his life very uncomfortable. It was hardly surprising after the sixth or seventh dummy run that we heard Dave’s voice grumbling from the tail: “Will somebody please get that bomb out of here!”…
On our tenth run in, both Joe and I were satisfied that we were right on track. I pushed the button and called “Bomb gone!” And from the rear turret was heard, “Thank Christ for that!” As we pulled away, Dave Rodger now had the ringside seat. He said “God Almighty,’ as the explosion threw a fountain of water up to about 1,000 feet. “Jesus, that spray has come right into the rear turret. Not only have I been knocked about all over the place by you buggers, now you’re trying to drown me!”
George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, The Last British Dambuster, pp 171-2

Rodger continued to fly with McCarthy throughout the rest of the crew’s tour. He became 617 Squadron’s Gunnery Leader on 11 September 1943, was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and received the DFC in 1944. The citation noted “his calm resolution in the face of the heaviest opposition, which has been an inspiration to his crew”.
When he was stood down from operational flying, Rodger was offered the chance to return to Canada and work as an instructor for the rest of the war. He decided to take the opportunity, and on his return he married his Canadian girlfriend Nell Barbet. Whilst in the UK he had secretly been taking dancing lessons in order to impress her.
After the war, he returned to work at Algoma Steel in his home town of Sault Ste Marie, and stayed there until retirement. He and Nell went on to have nine children. Dave Rodger took an active part in many Dambuster reunions in Canada and travelled to the UK on several occasions. Joe McCarthy and he last met up at Rodger’s 80th birthday party in 1998, shortly before McCarthy’s death later that year.
Dave Rodger died on 1 September 2004. He was cremated locally and his ashes scattered in his own garden, and at the family cabin on Lake Superior.
Thanks to Patti Rodger Kirkpatrick and the rest of the Rodger family for help with this article.

More about Rodger online:
Daily Telegraph obituary

Survived war. Died 01.09.2004

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Dave Birrell, Big Joe McCarthy, Wingleader Publishing, 2012
George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, The Last British Dambuster, Ebury Press, 2014

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Dambuster of the Day No. 97: Ronald Batson

USAAF&RAF FRE_004452

This photograph, taken in August 1943, shows six members of Joe McCarthy’s Dams Raid crew fraternising with recently arrived USAAF personnel. The printed caption on the reverse reads: “Passed By Censor No. 279211. Allied Airmen Get Together At U.S. 8th Air Force Bomber Station. Newly-arrived American airmen in the European Theatre of Operations are visited at their bomber stations by members of the R.A.F. who have had considerable experience of operational flying. In the course of friendly conversations they learn a great deal of useful knowledge. The Commander of one U.S. Bomber Station has declared that, thanks to these informal knowledge, his men are three months ahead of schedule in the field of experience. Associated Press Photo Shows:- Standing under the tail of a Martin B-26 Marauder Bomber, a group of R.A.F. and U.S.A.A.F. airmen get together at an 8th Air Force Bomber Station ‘somewhere in England’. They are (left to right): Lt. John Helton, of Clifton, Texas, Sgt. Ronald Batson, of Ferry Hill, Durham, Capt. W.M. Brier, of Anniston, Ala.; F/Sgt. Leonard Eaton, of Manchester; P/O. Don MacLean, of Toronto; Sgt. Len Johnson, of Newark; Lt. John Bull Stirling, of Annapolis; Flight Lieut. Joe McCarty, of Long Island, N.Y. (The D.S.O., D.F.C. Dambuster); Lt. Laurence McNally, of Bridgford, Conn.; Capt. Grover Wilcox, of Anahuac, Texas; and Sgt. Bill Radcliffe, New Westminster, D.C.” [All spelling and punctuation as in original.] [Pic: American Air Museum in Britain/IWM.]

Sgt R Batson
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED825/G

Call sign: AJ-T

Second wave. First aircraft to attack Sorpe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam. Returned to base.

Ronald Batson was born on 5 December 1920 in Ferryhill, Co Durham, the older son of Joseph and Elizabeth Batson. He was a grocer’s assistant before enlisting in the RAF in March 1941.
After qualifying as an air gunner, he was posted to 106 Squadron Conversion Flight in early September 1942. He quickly teamed up with Joe McCarthy whose logbook confirms that Batson and Bill Radcliffe first flew with him on the same day, 11 September 1942, in a Manchester on a training flight. Their first operation was on 5 October. Batson was the only one of McCarthy’s crew to fly on every single operation in 97 Squadron with his skipper. By late March 1943, they had amassed 31 trips.
On the Dams Raid, Batson was in the front turret of AJ-T. On the way back from the Sorpe, he spotted a goods train and asked McCarthy’s permission to attack it. The crew hadn’t realised, however, that this wasn’t an ordinary goods train but an armoured flak train, whose gunners responded with vigour. It was probably a shell from this which punctured a front tyre, and caused a problem a few hours later when landing at Scampton.
Batson went on to fly with McCarthy throughout the rest of his tour, and was recommended for a DFM in February 1944. The award was approved in June, with the citation reading:

BATSON, Ronald. 1045069 Flight Sergeant, No 617 Sqn.
Sorties 37. Flying Hours 264.30. Air Gunner.
“Flight Sergeant Batson has completed 37 operational sorties as Mid-upper gunner and has been operating continuously since October 1942. He has flown against many of the most heavily defended targets in Germany including Berlin, the Ruhr, Hamburg and Cologne and took part in the low-level attack on the Sorpe Dam. His enthusiasm and fighting spirit have invariably been of the highest order and he has proved his ability to face the heaviest opposition with complete calm and resolution. It is considered that the exemplary manner in which this NCO has executed his duties with the result that his captain has been able to place complete confidence in him merits the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.”
12 February 1944
Remarks by Station Commander – “This air gunner has been engaged in operational flying for well over a year. His enthusiasm for operations has never flagged and he has set a fine example to all other air gunners. Strongly recommended.”

By the time the McCarthy crew came off operations in July 1944, Batson had reached the rank of Warrant Officer and had completed more than 60 sorties. He was posted to a training unit for the remainder of the war.
Ronald Batson had one brother, Douglas, who also volunteered for the RAF. He was killed in a freak accident on 23 August 1944, when a USAAF B24 Liberator bomber crashed into a cafe in Freckleton, Lancashire. He is buried in Duncombe Cemetery, Ferryhill, Co Durham. How ironic that one brother flew on more than 60 operations over occupied territory and survived, while the other died while eating in a Lancashire snack bar.
After the war Ronald Batson returned to Durham, and he died there on 25 November 2006.
Thanks to Kevin Bending for help with this article.

Survived war. Died 25 November 2006.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Dave Birrell, Big Joe McCarthy, Wingleader Publishing, 2012
George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, The Last British Dambuster, Ebury Press, 2014

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.