Gibson hands out the prizes

gibson ball lores

Guy Gibson striding out purposefully. The gentleman in the bowler hat is Sir Albert Ball. [Pic: 49 Sqn Association]

After the Dams Raid, many 617 Squadron personnel, and particularly its Commanding Officer, were prevailed on to attend various functions. This photo was taken on one such occasion, a visit to Nottingham on Saturday 10 July 1943 to present the ‘Albert Ball VC’ Memorial Sword to the best ATC cadet plus other prizes of merit. Sir Albert Ball had presented the Sword of Honour to the ATC in memory of his late son, the First World War RFC pilot who won the VC after his fatal last flight in 1917, when he was shot down, possibly by the younger brother of the Red Baron, Lothar von Richthofen. Guy Gibson also presented an Efficiency Cup to an ATC Officer.  The location is Trent Lane ATC HQ.

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Dambuster of the Day No. 71: Leslie Munro

Munro + King George VI IWMLes Munro meets the King, Scampton, 27 May 1943 [Pic: IWM]

Flt Lt J L Munro

Lancaster serial number: ED921/G

Call sign: AJ-W

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged by flak on outward flight. Returned to base with mine intact.

John Leslie Munro was born in Gisborne on the North Island of New Zealand on 5 April 1919, the oldest of three children. His family had a sheep station a few miles outside town. It emerged in about 1999 that his mother had another son, born in 1912, in an earlier relationship but had given him up for adoption.
Munro was educated in local schools, but left at 14 to work in farming. When the war came he waited until 1940, when he was 21, to volunteer for the RNZAF. He wanted to be a pilot. but he was told that his educational qualifications were ‘insufficient for pilot training’ and that he would have to be a gunner. Not to be put off, he spent the next 12 months studying at home, doing a maths course before reapplying. This time he was successful and he was enlisted into the RNZAF in July 1941.
After initial training in New Zealand Munro was sent to Canada to complete bomber training and qualified as a pilot in February 1942, receiving a commission at the same time. After arriving in England, and the usual delays that followed, he was sent for further training.
The core of the crew who would fly with Munro throughout most of his career began to be assembled at their Operational Training Unit, when navigator Jock Rumbles and wireless operator Percy Pigeon first teamed up with him. While still at the OTU, in September 1942, they undertook two operations. The second of these, when they were scheduled to attack Bremen, nearly ended in disaster, when their Wellington’s engines lost power shortly after take off and they crashlanded in a nearby field.
Munro moved onto heavy bomber training at the end of September 1942, along with Rumbles and Pigeon, and they were joined by flight engineer Frank Appleby and gunner Bill Howarth. All five joined 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa in December 1942, to begin operational flying. Their first operation on 8 January 1943 was minelaying, followed on 13 January by an attack on Essen.
Some 17 further operations would follow in the next ten weeks, but in that time the crew flew with no fewer than eight different bomb aimers, including a Sub Lt Bill Lett RN, seconded for a period to the RAF. Then, towards the end of March a new opportunity presented itself. In a 2010 interview, Munro recalled:

A letter from 5 Group went up on the noticeboard. I quite distinctly remember this, and I called my crew together and said “Look, there’s been a call for volunteers to form a new squadron”. (Interview with James Holland 2010,)

Most of the crew decided that they would go to the new squadron, but they were still without a regular bomb aimer, and the rear gunner chose not to accompany them. So they were joined by bomb aimer Jimmy Clay and rear gunner Harvey Weeks, who had both almost completed their operational tours with another 97 Squadron crew piloted by the Canadian, Marcel Cuelenaere.
Two other 97 Squadron crews, captained by David Maltby and Joe McCarthy, had also been selected for the new squadron. Guy Gibson had telephoned McCarthy, whom he had met while McCarthy was training, and asked him to join the new squadron, but it seems that he did not previously know either Maltby and Munro. Munro is fairly sure that they were all transported from Woodhall Spa to Scampton on a crew bus, probably on Thursday 25 March 1943, and that there was a large gathering in the Officers Mess that evening.
With hardly any time to settle in, the crews were put to intensive low level flying training, flying on borrowed Lancasters while the special ones for the Dams Raid were being assembled. Munro’s training went smoothly enough, although he and his crew had a near miss when flying low over the North Sea they suddenly saw a naval convoy ahead and had to climb steeply to avoid it.
As the detailed plans for the raid were being put together, both Les Munro and Joe McCarthy were originally placed in the first wave, the nine crews tasked with attacking the Mohne and Eder Dams. However, about five days before the actual operation, Gibson and the other planners decided to beef up the second wave, who would attack the Sorpe Dam, and placed Munro and McCarthy there instead. This wave, with further to travel, were in fact scheduled to leave Scampton before the first wave and so Munro’s AJ-W was the second aircraft to take off on Operation Chastise, at 2129 on 16 May 1943.
All went well for the first 85 minutes, and on reaching the Dutch coast near Vlieland the mine was fused. But then the aircraft was hit by flak. Munro and front gunner Bill Howarth  say that this was fired from a land battery, but bomb aimer Jimmy Clay recorded that it was a flak ship which spotted them. Whichever it was, it did severe damage. The intercom was put out of action, the master unit for the compass was destroyed and the tail turret pipes damaged.
Munro kept on flying for a while but sent flight engineer Frank Appleby down to the nose to check with Clay. He passed him a note: “Intercom U/S – should we go on?” Clay remembered his reply: ‘I wrote: “We’ll be a menace to the rest.” Had it been a high-level operation there would have been time to make up some sort of signals between Bomb Aimer, Flight Engineer and Pilot which may have worked. But on a quick-moving low-level operation like this and with other aircaft in close proximity Les could neither give nor receive flying instructions from the navigator nor bombing instructions from the bomb aimer’ and the rear gunner, Harvey Weeks, was completely isolated.
Wireless operator Percy Pigeon was sent to check up on Weeks, but in doing so saw the gaping hole in the fuselage, with a host of broken wiring. He told Munro it would be impossible to fix this while airborne. So, reluctantly, Munro altered course and turned for home. When he got to Scampton he was unable to radio the control tower to tell them that he would be landing, so he went straight in. Unknown to him, another early return, Geoff Rice, was circling a severely damaged AJ-H above the runway getting his crew into crash positions. An embarrassing and dangerous incident was narrowly avoided.
Munro landed at 0036, the first crew to return from the operation. Some time later that morning, during the impromptu party that was going on in the Officers Mess, Gibson came up to him:

“Well, what happened, Les?” he asked him. Munro told him he had been hit by flak.
“Oh, you were too high,” Gibson replied.
Munro was about to protest and give his side of the story, but Gibson had already turned and walked away. It rankled with Munro, who felt that he had not been given a fair hearing. Nor did he feel that he could raise the matter again; it was the last time either of them ever mentioned it. [James Holland, Dam Busters: The race to smash the German Dams, Bantam 2012, p.358]

Even though his role in the Dams Raid had come to a premature end, Munro still participated in the events that followed. He was presented to both the King and Queen during the royal visit on 27 May. Gp Capt Leonard Slee, the officer who was accompanying the Queen, didn’t seem to know his name, so the forthright Munro stepped in, not aware he was breaking some sort of protocol. “My name’s Munro,” he told her. Then, a few weeks later he was at the famous Hungaria Restaurant party in London given by Avro, and still has a menu card signed by by most of the other diners. Earlier in the month, he had already been decorated with a DFC, awarded for his 21 operations in 97 Squadron.
617 Squadron went back on operations in July 1943, and Munro’s was one of the crews which took part in a raid on Italian power stations from where they flew on to Blida in North Africa. They flew a little too low and a flak hit resulted in a burst tyre and a flesh wound to bomb aimer Jimmy Clay’s nose.
These summer operations were probably not too dangerous, but the next one certainly was. This was the catastrophic raid on the Dortmund Ems Canal, which resulted in the loss of six crews out of the nine who participated on the two nights. Munro was not selected for this operation, which was extremely fortunate. However, he was back on duty straight afterwards in another abortive attack, this time on the Antheor Viaduct.
Another short gap followed, but then between November 1943 and July 1944 he undertook almost 30 more operations. He became Flight Commander of the Squadron’s B Flight and was temporarily CO of the whole squadron for some of February 1944 while Leonard Cheshire was on leave. In April 1944 he was awarded the DSO.
A month after D-Day, Munro was taken off operations, along with Cheshire, David Shannon and Joe McCarthy. AVM Ralph Cochrane, the CO of 5 Group, decided that all four were on ‘borrowed time’ and should cease immediately.
Munro spent the rest of the war in a training flight, and was finally demobilised in February 1946. He returned to New Zealand, and the business of running a sheep farm. He was active in politics for a while and became Mayor of Waitomo District, where there is now a street named after him.
Several years ago Les Munro told me that he was planning to ‘cut back’ on his involvement with Dambusters projects as he had other work to do. Despite this, he took a full part in the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Dams Raid, and has consented to many interviews and media appearances. He is an inspiration to many, and long may that continue.

More about Munro online:
Interview with James Holland, 2010 (unedited and with many transcription errors)

Survived war.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
James Holland, Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the German Dams 1943, Bantam 2012

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.

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BBC Dambusters site wins special journalism award


Congratulations to Greig Watson, pictured above right, from the BBC East Midlands newsteam, who has won a special award in the 2014 Online Media Awards for the team’s project to build a complete pictureboard of all 133 aircrew who took part in the Dams Raids. The judges praised the East Midlands website, which won the Best Regional News award, for being well organised and timely with a good range of features, and singled out the Dambusters story for special mention, recognising the historical importance of the work.
The Dambusters Blog is very proud to have been associated with this project, and once again we would like to thank all the relatives and others who provided pictures for this site, and thereby have built a permanent online Dambusters memorial. As  James Lynn from BBC Online News England said:  “As well as being a fantastic piece of journalism, it also feels like a fitting tribute to those who took part in the raids, and a genuine historical resource.”


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“Though swirling floods are raging”

Last Saturday, I went to a reunion at my old school, St Edward’s in Oxford. It was a very pleasant occasion, helped along by the warm June weather traditional at such events. However, I was somewhat surprised during the chapel service when the chaplain announced that the tune to the next hymn might be a familiar one. The organ then sounded with a well known refrain, while I leafed hurriedly through the hymnal to the relevant page, and found this:

The words are new to me, perhaps, as I’m not a regular churchgoer, but they have apparently been around for some time. In fact they were written by the Rev Richard Bewes, sometime Rector of All Souls, Langham Place, and are based on Psalm 46.
I spent five years at St Edward’s in the 1960s, and spent many hours in services in this chapel, which is lined with hundreds of individual hand-painted plaques commemorating boys who died in the Great War. I whiled away endless dull sermons reading their details – a Lieutenant in the Staffordshires, a Captain in the Ox and Bucks, a Private in the 1st Canadian Battalion – without really contemplating what the stories behind these names might reveal. And I would also flick through the hymnal, noting the great names – Wesley, Vaughan Williams, Milton, Alexander – whose fine music was thundered out each week by 500 adolescent voices. “Lift up your hearts”, “Jerusalem the Golden”, “Guide me O thou great Jehovah”. Even today, as I type out the titles, the words and tunes still ring through my brain. Will “God our strength and refuge” ever be added to the list? I’m not certain it will. It is such a famous piece of orchestral music in its own right that I have to say I wonder if it really needs a vocal line. Does Beethoven’s 5th? Or the Blue Danube?
The awful toll from the First World War meant that there was no room in the nave of St Edward’s chapel for individual plaques for those who fell two decades later in its successor conflict. So it is in a side ‘Memorial Chapel’ that we find the only reference to one of the school’s most famous Second World War casualties. Their names are listed undifferentiated by service or rank, so G P Gibson appears here between R George and H T Gilbert.
After this war, the school’s particular contribution to the RAF was noted with a special memorial window, depicting a flier:
A series of portraits were later commissioned, noting also the service of several RAF war heroes such as Arthur Banks, Adrian Warburton and Douglas Bader (who of course survived the war, and in my time was frequently to be seen making his jerky way around the school as one of its Governors). I am not sure that the Gibson portrait is an exact likeness, but the subject’s maroon VC ribbon makes it recognisable as him, since he received the only one ever awarded to a St Edward’s old boy:
St Edward’s has one further connection to the Dams Raid. Between 1899 and 1901, my grandfather Ettrick Maltby was a pupil at the school. He went on to own and run a prep school outside Hastings called Hydneye House. Many Hydneye boys went on to St Edward’s to complete their education but, curiously, they did not include Ettrick’s only son, David Maltby, who went instead to Marlborough.
However, in 1943, Ettrick was delighted to read that his own Alma Mater had produced 617 Squadron’s commanding officer, and wrote to his old friend, its Warden [Headmaster] Henry Kendall.
maltbycardfront lores
maltbycardreverse lores
Pic: St Edward’s School archive
Floreat St Edward’s, indeed. It can’t have been that unusual that two young men with connections to the same institution would end up serving together in the same Second World War RAF squadron. For example, John Hopgood, another Marlborough old boy, was also a pilot on the Dams Raid and had been a close friend of Gibson’s in 106 Squadron. The fact that both Guy Gibson and David Maltby took part in the RAF’s most famous bombing operation, and are together immortalised in a famous photograph taken in July 1943 doesn’t, as I’m sure they would both have said, make them any different from the 55,000 of their colleagues from Bomber Command who paid the ultimate sacrifice. May they all rest in peace.
IWM TR1122


Filed under David Maltby, Guy Gibson, St Edward's School

Tune in tonight…

What The Dambusters Did Next
…to the UK’s Channel 5 at 9pm, to watch a documentary presented by John Nichol called “What the Dambusters did next”. 77 men returned from the Dams Raid and all continued to serve in 617 Squadron or other parts of Bomber Command for the remainder of the war. Such were the dangers they faced, that a staggering 31 more would die in active service before peace arrived.
This film, directed by Matthew Wortman, looks at what the squadron did between June 1943 and May 1945 when they took on some of the war’s toughest targets, such as the Antheor and Belfield viaducts and the Tirpitz, and became the first squadron to drop the giant new bombs devised by Barnes Wallis.
Several of the squadron’s wartime veterans took part in this documentary, and there are also contributions from German combatants, and modern day historians amongst whom, I might modestly add, is myself.
It should be available online afterwards, and I will post a link later.


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First to take off

Shortly before half past nine in the evening, on this day 71 years ago, Lancaster ED927, call sign AJ-E and piloted by the Australian Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC, took off from the grass runway at RAF Scampton. It was the first of the nineteen Lancasters to set off on what would be come known as the Dams Raid.
Flying with Barlow were his crew, Leslie Whillis, Philip Burgess, Charlie Williams, Alan Gillespie, Harvey Glinz and Jack Liddell. As they were under orders to maintain radio silence, nothing more was heard from them but it emerged later that they had crashed into a electricity pylon on some farmland near Haldern, at about 2350 on 16 May 1943, killing all on board. Haldern is a community in the district of Cleves, in the lower Rhine area, not far from the Dutch border.
This site is currently not marked by any permanent memorial so if you would like to mark the anniversary of the Dams Raid, please think about making a donation to the proposed memorial stone and bronze plaque. This is being organised by Volker Schürmann, a local historian. He is looking to raise €750 (about £620) to cover the cost. We are therefore looking for 150 donations of €5. We are now more than halfway to reaching this target.
You can donate to the appeal via Paypal here: Make a Donation Button
We should not forget that the same night 1341 people died as a result of the successful breach of the Möhne and Eder Dams, as well as another 46 aircrew.
We remember them all today.


Filed under Memorials, Norman Barlow

Dambuster of the Day No. 70: Jack Liddell

Sgt J R G Liddell
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED927/G

Call sign: AJ-E

Second wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Jack Robert George Liddell was the youngest man to take part in the Dams Raid. He was born on 22 June 1924 in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, the son of Robert and Winifred Liddell. His father died when Jack was a young boy and his mother remarried, so he had one sister and two further half-sisters. He was educated at Weston’s Walliscote Road School, and then took up work in the butchery trade. One day in May 1941, his sister, Sheila Fenwick, recalls him dressing in a suit, saying he was going to Bristol for the day. When he returned, he told his family that he had volunteered for the RAF. She was not surprised as, like so many other young men of his age, he was ‘flying mad’. He must have lied about his age, since he was still only 16.
Liddell was selected for air gunner training, which he completed in May 1942. In September, he was posted to 61 Squadron as the rear gunner in a crew captained by Flt Sgt John Cockshott. This crew completed a full tour of 30 operations together, and as a gesture of thanks to their pilot, they bought him a silver tankard. They weren’t able to get it engraved, but they gave him specific instructions to do this at the end of the war and the wording that should be used.
Cockshott rose to the rank of Squadron Leader and in July 1944 he started a second tour, with 617 Squadron. He was the pilot who dropped the second ever Grand Slam, and was involved in the attacks on the Tirpitz and other big targets. He received a bar to his DFC for this second tour. He moved to the USA after the war, and died in 2010. According to his daughter, the tankard was one of his most prized possessions.

Cockshott IMG-20130509-00046
[Pic: Jackie Von Urff]
After completing his tour with Cockshott, Liddell was posted to a training flight as an instructor, but within a week he was called back to fly in the crew being put together by Norman Barlow, which would transfer to 617 Squadron. He was, of course, a much more experienced gunner than his crewmate, Harvey Glinz, but it was the officer Glinz who was chosen to be the A Flight gunnery leader.
Jack Liddell had still not reached his nineteenth birthday when he climbed into the rear turret of AJ-E in the early evening of 16 May 1943. On a night when many young aircrew died, he has the dubious distinction of being the youngest of all. Like his comrades, he was first buried by the Germans in Dusseldorf Cemetery, but now lies in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Reichswald Forest.

Footnote: All the crew of AJ-E came from 61 Squadron, but only Leslie Whillis and Alan Gillespie had previously flown with Norman Barlow. The rest had mainly flown with three other 61 Squadron pilots, Ian Woodward, William Dierkes and John Cockshott. All of these would survive the war, and if their crews had stayed with them their chances of survival would have been higher. Such was the sad lottery by which so many casualties were chosen.

More about Liddell online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Entry at Aircrew Remembered website

KIA 16.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.

Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Eric Fry, An Airman Far Away, Kangaroo Press 1993

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.

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