A Dutch correspondent, Hans Dekker, who lives in Den Ham, has kindly sent me some exciting rare photographs concerning Flt Lt Les Knight, the pilot of AJ-N on the Dams Raid, who was killed in a later operation on 16 September 1943.
I have told the story of his final flight before, notably in a 2010 obituary of Ray Grayston, his flight engineer, but it bears repeating.
Four months after the Dams Raid eight crews from 617 Squadron were sent out with another new weapon, a 12,000lb ‘thin case’ bomb, to attack the Dortmund Ems canal. It was a terrible night, and heavy fog blanketed the target. Four crews had been shot down when Knight, flying at about 100ft in fog hit some trees, and badly damaged both his port engines.
His tailplane and starboard engine were also damaged, and Knight was left with no option but to jettison his bomb and get his crew to bale out. He held the aircraft steady while they left and when the last man, Grayston, had gone he must have tried to bale out himself. However as soon as he took pressure off the control stick and rudder the aircraft flicked on its back and plunged to the ground. Knight did not get to the hatch in time.
All seven of the rest of the crew (they were carrying three gunners) landed safely. Five evaded capture, while two became PoWs. There is no doubt that they all owed their lives to their young pilot, something that they never forgot.
Knight’s crash occurred just outside the village of Den Ham, and he is buried in the village’s general cemetery.
The grave was first marked with a simple wooden cross, which was replaced after the war with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission gravestone.
His mother, Mrs Nellie Knight, visited the grave in about 1954.
Some other members of the Knight family may be in this picture. I would welcome any further information.
Other members of his crew have visited Les’s grave on a number of occasions. Here is Bob Kellow, the wireless operator, probably taken in the 1980s.
Finally, here is the full crew, pictured at Scampton in July 1943, as one of the series of publicity photographs taken by official RAF photographers of members of 617 Squadron.
Left to right: Harold Hobday (navigator), Edward Johnson (bomb aimer), Fred Sutherland (front gunner), Les Knight (pilot), Bob Kellow (navigator), Ray Grayston (flight engineer), Harry O’Brien (rear gunner).