Monthly Archives: May 2013

Fry finishes Dambusters script

Phone tip off

A ‘reliable source’ (as they are known in the trade) has told us that Stephen Fry has now finished the script for the remake of The Dambusters, and it is now in the hands of Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films. It is not yet clear what will happen next, as the New Zealand-based outfit is still hard at work on the post-production for Hobbit Numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and so on, and so on. (How many more of these little blighters are there?)
Casting the film should be the next step. If we hear of agencies getting calls looking for 133 young men with a mixture of accents then we will let you know.

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Dambuster of the Day No. 37: Robert Henderson

IWM MH33960 Henderson SumpterTowering above the rest of their 617 Squadron aircrew colleagues, two stalwarts of the crew of AJ-L, Len Sumpter and Bob Henderson, in the centre of the back row. Taken in July 1943. [IWM MH99360]

Sgt R Henderson
Flight engineer

Lancaster serial number: ED929/G
Call sign: AJ-L
First wave. First aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately but no breach caused. Aircraft returned safely.

Robert (‘Bob’) Henderson was a Scot, born in Ayr. He joined the RAFVR in 1937, and served in ground crew when the war started. Like many another flight engineer, he was quick to take the opportunity to fly when the new trade was introduced in 1941-2. He joined 207 Squadron in April 1942, and flew on 16 operations. He moved on to 57 Squadron at Scampton in October.
Hearing about the new squadron, and anxious to get involved Henderson and bomb aimer Len Sumpter approached David Shannon when they found that the pilot they had been crewed up with had been grounded for medical reasons.
Shannon and navigator Danny Walker had transferred into 617 Squadron from Pathfinder training, and needed people to fill all the other crew places. It may have been a scratch crew, but it quickly jelled, under its charismatic young captain.
After the raid, Shannon’s crew carried on flying together for the best part of a year. Henderson notched up a further 19 operations with Shannon and, when Shannon was taken off active flying, a further six with Flt Lt Kearns. He finished his tour in mid 1944, was commissioned and awarded the DFM. He was transferred to a training unit for the remainder of the war.
Henderson stayed on in the RAF after the war, serving at stations all over the UK and in Rhodesia, Malta and Cyprus. He died in Cyprus in 1961.

Survived war. Deceased.

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

Henderson

Bob Henderson in his 617 Squadron days. [Pic: Henderson family]

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Dambuster of the Day No. 36: David Shannon

AWM D&AShannon UK2644

David and Ann Shannon, outside Buckingham Palace, March 1945. [Pic: AWM UK2644]

Flt Lt D J Shannon DFC
Pilot

Lancaster serial number: ED929/G
Call sign: AJ-L
First wave. First aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately but no breach caused. Aircraft returned safely.

David Shannon was born on 27 May 1922 at Unley Park, South Australia. His father was a farmer and also an MP in the state parliament. Shannon worked briefly in insurance after leaving school but joined the RAAF shortly after his 18th birthday. He had toyed with the idea of joining the navy, but was put off by the longer queue at the recruiting office. He began training as a pilot in March 1941. A year later, he was in England and by July 1942 he had been posted to 106 Squadron at Coningsby.
Shannon arrived with an excellent training record – 0ne instructor thought him the best student he had ever had – but because his squadron CO, Guy Gibson, was on sick leave it took a few weeks for them to become acquainted. Many of the pilots who flew with Gibson were frightened of him but the boyish-looking Shannon was not, and the two flew together on several operations in that first month. Nominally Shannon was 2nd pilot, but on long flights they would sometimes swap seats.
By August, he was flying with a crew of his own and by February 1943 he had completed a tour of 36 operations. On one, to Turin, his load of incendiaries caught fire in the bomb bay and had to be rapidly jettisoned, resulting in the ‘largest forest fire ever seen in Italy’. He was awarded the DFC in January 1943 for ‘attacks on industrial targets in enemy territory’.
At the end of his tour, he had been posted to 83 Squadron in 8 Group to begin training as a Pathfinder. But Gibson had by then been asked to form a special new squadron and he was quick to track his old comrade down. Shannon agreed to join him, and consulted his crew, but only Danny Walker, his navigator, decided to come along.
It’s at this point in the story that Paul Brickhill brings Shannon into his narrative in the book, The Dam Busters. He tells us about the ‘baby faced’ Australian who was growing a moustache to make himself look older but who had a scorching tongue in the air when he felt like it. And he brings to the fore the romantic interlude in the intense training and drinking sessions of the next few weeks caused by Shannon falling for the ‘dark, slim’ WAAF officer, Ann Fowler. On the evening of 16 May 1943, it is she who notices, with a ‘woman’s wit’, that the aircrew are eating eggs for their evening meal, and therefore deduces that they are going on an operation, rather than yet another training flight.
Indeed they were. A few hours later that evening, at 2147, Shannon took off from Scampton bound for the Möhne Dam, flying alongside Melvin Young and David Maltby. When they arrived, he spent 30 minutes or more circling over the woods beyond the dam waiting his turn to make a bombing run. He was beginning to line up for an attack when it was realised that Maltby’s mine had caused the final breach. Elated by the sight, the three bombers which had yet to drop their mines set off for the nearby Eder Dam, accompanied by Gibson and Young.
When they arrived, they quickly realised that it was an even more difficult target than the Möhne. The lake is smaller and set in a deep valley, meaning that there is a much shorter approach which starts with a very tricky steep dive.
Shannon was the first to attack, and made three or four passes without releasing his mine. It was very difficult to get down to the right height after the dive and turn. Gibson told Maudslay to try, and he found it just as hard, so Shannon had another go. Two more dummy runs followed until, at last, he got the angle and speed right and dropped his mine.  It bounced twice, hit the dam wall and exploded sending up a huge waterspout. At the briefing afterwards his effort is reported as ‘no result was seen’  but Shannon in fact felt that he had made a small breach.
Maudslay followed but something went wrong. His mine was released too late, hit the parapet and exploded. Although his aircraft was beyond the dam by the time this occurred, it may have been damaged, since his progress home was slower than would be expected and he was shot down near Emmerich.
It was now down to Les Knight, with the last mine on board. Shannon advised him on the direction and speed and then, on the second attempt, with the radio switched off so that he could concentrate, Knight made a perfect run, the bomb bounced three times and caused a large breach in the dam.
Shannon sped back to Scampton, landing less than an hour after Maltby and Martin. The party that followed went on through the night and into the afternoon of the next day. According to Brickhill, it was then that Shannon asked Ann Fowler to marry him and she agreed – but only on the condition that he shaved off his moustache.
More parties followed, the biggest being Shannon’s 21st birthday, which was the day the King and Queen visited the station and the decorations were announced. Like all the successful officer pilots, Shannon was awarded the DSO. The King congratulated him on his coming of age, and told him he should celebrate.
A date was set for the wedding – Saturday 18 September. David Maltby was to be the best man, as the first choice, Gibson, was away in Canada. On the Monday before, Maltby and Shannon set off in a section of four aircraft bound for a raid on the Dortmund Ems canal. At about 0030 the raid was aborted because weather condidtions over the target were too poor. Somehow, turning, Maltby crashed into the sea. Perhaps he was flying too low, perhaps there was an explosion aboard, perhaps he collided with an errant Mosquito returning from a different raid. Whatever caused it, Shannon didn’t see but, hoping that there might be survivors, he stayed above the spot for three hours, sending radio fixes until an ASR launch arrived. Maltby’s body and some wreckage was all that was found. The next day the operation was attempted again and even more disasters occurred, with five pilots and four complete crews lost.
In the autumn, Leonard Cheshire took command of the squadron, and Shannon became one of the flight commanders. He took part in many operations in the next year, using Wallis’s giant Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs until in August 1944, with 69 operations under his belt, he was removed from active operations and transferred to a long range transport squadron. By then he had received a Bar to the DSO for ‘courage of high order on sumerous sorties.’
Shannon left the RAF after the war and got a job with Shell Oil. Although based in England, he travelled widely. He died in 1993, shortly before the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Dams Raid, an event which he had been actively involved in planning. Ann died three years previously and they are remembered by a pair of plaques in Clifton Hampden churchyard in Oxfordshire.

More about Shannon online:
Australian War Memorial: medals and uniform
Australian War Memorial : Fifty Australians
Obituary in The Times

Survived war. Deceased.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Paul Brickhill, The Dam Busters, Evans 1951

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German reports from Edersee commemoration

Waldeckische Landeszeitung 18_5_2013 img057 crop

The Eder Dam was the scene of one of the best attended German 70th anniversary commemorations of the Dams Raid, with guests including local civic dignitaries, survivors of the raid and RAF representatives.
Here is a link to a five minute TV report, which contains interviews with two women who remember the raid, and footage of the commemoration event.
Below you can find two reports from local newspapers, one of which, the Waldeckischke Landeszeitung,you can also read online.
[Thanks to Michael Schmidt]

Waldeckische Landeszeitung 18_5_2013 img057

Waldeckische Allgemeine 18_5_2013 img056

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Dambuster of the Day No. 35: Harold Simmonds

SimmondsCNV00003 lores

Harold Simmonds in a photograph taken in 1942, with his girlfriend, Phyllis. Nothing more is known about her, other than the fact that this picture was taken in Warrington, Cheshire. [Pic: Grace Blackburn]

Sgt H T Simmonds
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED906/G
Call sign: AJ-J
First wave. Fifth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing large breach. Aircraft returned safely.

Harold Simmonds was born on Christmas Day 1921 in Burgess Hill, Sussex. He went to London Road School and later worked in a government job. Soon after the war started, Simmonds volunteered for the RAF. He started his service in groundcrew, serving at Kemble in Gloucestershire and Mount Batten near Plymouth. However, he had always wanted to fly, and eventually he was selected for aircrew training, going to the No.2 Air Gunners School in Dalcross, near Inverness.
He then met Vivian Nicholson, John Fort and Antony Stone at 1660 Conversion Unit at Swinderby, when they were all posted there on 5 January 1943. He went with them to 1660 Conversion Unit, and on to 207 Squadron, finally ending up at 97 Squadron, where the whole crew joined up with David Maltby.
Four months after the raid, on 14 September 1943, Simmonds took off from RAF Coningsby on 617 Squadron’s first major operation since the Dams Raid. When their aircraft suffered its final crash it sank with the bodies of all the crew except the pilot, so he has no known grave.
Harold Simmonds is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

More about Simmonds online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Breaking the Dams website

KIA 15 September 1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Charles Foster, Breaking the Dams, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

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Barlow crash site

AJ-E 2983

Today I was lucky enough to be shown the site where Norman Barlow’s AJ-E crashed on the Dams Raid, just outside Haldern in the Northern Rhineland area of Germany. My guide was Volker Schurmann, shown (above right) along with your humble scribe, who has been the first person to place a plaque on the site, and who is now campaigning to get a permanent memorial built.
More about this tomorrow!

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Dambusters Blog at the Dams

Five years after starting this blog, and a lifetime after first hearing about the Dams Raid, I’m excited to report that I’m writing this tonight in a hotel overlooking the Mohnesee. It’s a quiet and peaceful sight tonight, very different from what it must have looked like seventy years ago. Tomorrow morning we will walk the Dam, pay our respects at the memorials in the villages below it, and then go on to the Eder Dam and visit its museum.

UPDATE 22 May
More pictures will follow, but here are the first three.

Mohne 2967

The Möhne Dam

Eder 2969

The Eder Dam

Neheim 2979

The memorial in Neheim

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Dambuster of the Day No. 34: Victor Hill

Hill CNV00001 lores

[Pic: Valerie Ashton]

Sgt V Hill
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED906/G
Call sign: AJ-J
First wave. Fifth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing large breach. Aircraft returned safely.

Early in May 1943, not much more than a week before the Dams Raid was due to take place, a decision was taken to replace David Maltby’s front gunner, probably for unknown disciplinary reasons. With the operation so close, an experienced gunner was needed to step into the breach, and Victor Hill was hurriedly summoned from 9 Squadron at RAF Bardney.
Unlike the rest of David Maltby’s crew, Victor Hill had plenty of operational experience. He had flown 22 operations on Lancasters between October 1942 and March 1943, and had taken part in some of the war’s most famous raids, including the daylight raid on the Schneider works at Le Creusot in France.
Victor Hill had been born in Gloucestershire in 1921. He was an only child, the son of Harry and Catherine Hill, who both worked at Berkeley Castle. He was brought up on the castle estate and went to the local school. After leaving school, he also worked at the castle, as a gardener.
Hill joined up as groundcrew, but volunteered for aircrew and trained as a gunner when the heavy bombers began to arrive and there were many more chances to fly. His first posting was to 9 Squadron in August 1942, round about the time it was posted to Waddington and converted to Lancasters from Wellingtons. He joined a crew piloted by Sgt Charles McDonald, a Canadian, and flew most of his operations with them.
In mid February 1943, most of this crew moved on to 83 Squadron, but Hill was left behind as a spare gunner and flew on his last operation in 9 Squadron on 8 March, with Sgt Doolan as the pilot.
On the Dams Raid, Hill flew in the front turret. Some sources say that as he had worked on a country estate round horses, he might have ben the one to suggest stirrups to keep the front gunner’s feet out of the way of the bomb aimer.  But as he wasn’t posted into 617 Squadron until May, that problem may have already been dealt with by then. Fellow front gunner Fred Sutherland is of the view that it was probably a bomb aimer who thought this up as they were the ones who were always complaining.
After the Dams Raid, Hill carried on flying with the rest of David Maltby’s crew until they all took off from RAF Coningsby on 617 Squadron’s first major operation since the Dams Raid. When their aircraft suffered its final crash it sank with the bodies of all the crew except the pilot, so he has no known grave.
In common with his pilot, he was also a young father, leaving a two year old daughter.
Victor Hill is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

More about Hill online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Breaking the Dams website

KIA 15 September 1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Charles Foster, Breaking the Dams, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

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All the hits and more

Well, all I can say is Wow!
I got 22,000 views on this blog yesterday, which is more in one day than I got in the first year of writing it, back in 2008.
So if you are a new reader, welcome, and I will just take a few seconds of your time to tell you a little about what you will find here.
I set up the blog in order to provide a focus for news and information about the exploits of the RAF’s 617 Squadron from its formation in March 1943 through to the end of that year – in other words the period around the Dams Raid itself and the few months that followed.
The motive was because having written a book about my uncle David Maltby, the pilot of AJ-J on the raid, and who was sadly killed four months later, I could find no space to provide updated information which might have been of interest to readers.
A blog seemed the obvious answer and, five years later, it’s still here.
So, what you will  find below is an eclectic mix of links to news stories, bits of information and other nuggets which appeal to me.

There is a complete list of everyone who took part in the Dams Raid. This is an accurate list of the 133 aircrew who took part, so please don’t write to me asking if so-and-so took part in the raid without checking it first.

There is a Dambuster of the Day feature, which will eventually build up into a series of profiles of all the Dambusters. There is a slight hiatus in this at the moment because of the many excitements of the 70th anniversary, but the series will resume next week and will be completed by the end of August 2013.

There is as much information as I can glean about the forthcoming remake of the 1955 film. (The main news is that there is no news. We are told that the project will come to fruition sometime, but we don’t know when.) Check this category to get the latest update.

Do get in touch if you want to know more, or leave a comment below. Due to pressure of time I don’t always answer comments, but I do read every one, and really welcome your feedback.
You can follow the blog on Twitter, or sign up to get an email every time a new post is published. I won’t spam you, I promise.

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The Dam Busters: an almost complete picture

BBC pictureboard

Greig Watson and his colleagues at BBC online have been slaving away for the last few weeks trying to get a complete pictureboard of all 133 aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid.
Believe it or not, a display of this type has never been published before, and they deserve huge credit just for taking on the work.
However there are a few gaps, and the Beeb is very keen to find a relative somewhere who can help find a picture of the missing aircrew. All of them are British, so there should be a good chance that together we can complete the jigsaw.
Here are the missing photos:
David Horsfall (Now found!)
John Marriott (Now found!)
Michael Fuller (Now found!)
John Kinnear (Now found!)
Alan Gillespie (Now found!)
Robert Marsden (Now found!)
Jack Barrett (Now found!)
Thomas Johnston (Now found!)
Harry Strange (Now found!)
Daniel Allatson (Now found!
Dennis Powell (Now found!)
Norman Burrows (Now found!)

If you are related to any of these men, or know of a source for a picture of them, please let me know (leave a comment below or send me a private email) , or log onto the BBC site and send them the details.

(I can claim a modest part in this work, having helped the BBC with some of the picture research.)

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