Flt Lt Sydney Grimes

Grimes

I am sad to have to report the news of the death of Flt Lt Sydney Grimes on 27 May, at the age of 100.

Syd Grimes was born in Great Wakering, near Southend-on-Sea on 6 May 1922. After leaving school he joined the E K Cole (later Ekco) radio factory as a clerk. Sight of the damage done by bombing to the East End of London convinced him that he needed to be in a more offensive part of the war. At the age of 18 he enlisted in the RAF, partly since he could not swim, and he did not want to experience the potential horrors of trench warfare.

Volunteering for aircrew he trained as a wireless operator and joined his first crew, captained by Plt Off Clifford “Steve” Stephens at 14 Operational Training Unit at RAF Cottesmore. The crew passed on to 1654 Conversion Unit in February 1943 and was then posted to 106 Squadron for operations, shortly after Wg Cdr Guy Gibson had left to form 617 Squadron.

Syd’s first operation was a relatively easy trip against Kiel on 4 April 1943. Then the difficulties and hazards of operations began to emerge. Two trips over the Alps to Spezia saw landings away from base due to low fuel and on a long range operation to Stettin they experienced heavy flak which resulted in numerous holes in their aircraft. The night after an operation to Duisburg, where they reported “huge fires and hundreds of searchlights”, they were despatched to Pilsen, but almost immediately forced to return when their heavily laden Lancaster suffered a port outer engine failure shortly after take off. Yet, after this run of inopportune fortune, lady luck seemed to favour them as the Battle of the Ruhr drew to a close. A run of nearly a dozen operations to Ruhr and Rhineland targets, and a further trip to Italy before undertaking all three attacks comprising Operation Gomorrah – the intense onslaught against Hamburg – saw the completion of their first tour without major incident.

In September 1943, Syd was posted to become an instructor at 1668 Conversion Unit, Balderton – during which time he flew as wireless operator to Wg Cdr Leonard Cheshire, who was converting to the Lancaster prior to taking command of 617 Squadron. Despite Cheshire’s need for a crew Syd remained at Balderton and carried on in training positions until September 1944. He then began preparing to return for a second tour, and crewed up with New Zealander Flt Lt Bernard Gumbley.

Gumbley and his crew joined 617 Squadron at RAF Woodhall Spa on 29 September. A month’s intensive further training commenced to bring the crew to operational status and on 29 October they were ready for their first operation. It was a challenging introduction, the target being the Tirpitz, now moored at Tromso in Norway. The Squadron were unsuccessful in this attack, owing to the weather, but his second visit to Tromso on 12 November saw Tirpitz successfully despatched.

Grimes logbook Tirpitz

Pic: IBCC

Further Tallboy operations followed against the Urft Dam, E-boat pens, Politz and the Dortmund Ems Canal. In February and March 1945 operations concentrated on the Bielefeld viaduct, providing one of the major rail links to the Ruhr, finally destroyed on 14 March. With the Squadron now operating the Lancaster B I (Spec), which did not carry a wireless operator or mid-upper gunner, Syd was stood down from the crew. This twist of fate was to save his life, for a week later while attacking a railway bridge near Bremen Gumbley’s aircraft received a direct hit from flak, and all aboard were killed.

Gumbley Grimes crew

Sydney Grimes and the rest of the Bernard Gumbley crew, photographed around the time of the raid on the Tirpitz. Grimes is on the far left and Gumbley on the far right. The aircraft is DV 405 (KC-J). The rest of the crew have not been positively identified: according to the squadron Operations Record Book they are Flg Off E A Barnett, Flg Off K Gill, Flg Off J C Randon and Flt Sgt J Penswick. Further information is welcome. [Pic: Grimes family.]

Now crew-less, Syd was posted to 9 Squadron three weeks before the war ended and went on to 50 Squadron. He was finally demobbed in September 1945 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

After the war Syd trained as an accountant and re-entered the electronics industry, becoming a Financial Director. In 2014 he was awarded the Russian Naval Ushakov Medal for “courage and bravery shown during the Second World War, with the participation in the Nordic convoys.”

Like most of those who fought in the war, Syd thought that it was his “duty to make sure that subsequent generations knew what it was like”, but he was candid in saying that sometimes recalling all the details still led to him having disturbed sleep patterns, even decades later.

Syd’s death on 27 May came only three weeks after he celebrated his 100th birthday – the third of 617 Squadron’s wartime veterans to achieve this landmark.

Sydney Grimes, born 6 May 1922, died 27 May 2022.

Thanks to Robert Owen and the 617 Squadron Association for permission to use material. Hat tip also to Peter Merchant.

Interview with Sydney Grimes at the International Bomber Command Centre.

Ely Standard article about his hundredth birthday.

AJ-K crew memorial to go ahead in June at McDowell grave in Harlingen

The crew of AJ-K, shot down on the Dams Raid. L-R: Vernon Byers, Alastair Taylor, James Warner, John Wilkinson, Neville Whitaker, Charles Jarvie, James McDowell. 

The postponed ceremony to unveil a a memorial plaque in Harlingen General Cemetery to the crew of AJ-K, shot down on the Dams Raid will now take place at 11.00 am on 23 June 2022. The memorial is being erected by 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation and will be placed near the grave of Flt Sgt James McDowell, the only man whose body was recovered, as a tribute to all seven crew members of Avro Lancaster AJ-K. Vernon Byers and his crew took off on the Dams Raid from Scampton in AJ-K at 2130 on 16 May 1943, as part of the second wave tasked with attacking the Sorpe Dam. Everything seems to have gone smoothly at first but then, as the official record says, nothing more was heard from him. However, crew members in both Les Munro’s aircraft, a minute ahead of Byers, and in Geoff Rice’s, a minute behind, appear to have witnessed Byers’s last moments. Munro’s bomb aimer Jimmy Clay saw an aircraft on his starboard side, heading towards Texel island, rather than Vlieland, the prescribed route. Rice’s crew saw an aircraft shot down by flak at 300ft ‘off Texel’ at 2257. A post-war Dutch report also stated that an aircraft was seen climbing to about 450ft, having crossed the island.

Despite the fact that he was off course, and had crossed Texel which had more anti-aircraft defences than its neighbour Vlieland, it seems that Byers was very unlucky. The German guns could not depress low enough in order to hit an approaching aircraft flying at just 100ft but because AJ-K had risen a little in height it must have been a speculative shot from behind which hit it and sent it down into the Waddenzee, 18 miles west of Harlingen. Two German units stationed on Texel were credited with the kill. This point is disputed by author Andreas Wachtel, who thinks that it was more likely that 3/Marine Flak 246 unit on the western end of Vlieland was responsible.

Byers and his crew were thus the first to be lost on the Dams Raid and died before midnight on 16 May 1943. Six bodies have never been found, but that of rear gunner Flt Sgt James McDowell must have been detached from the wreckage some time later as on 22 June 1943 it was found floating in the Waddenzee, in the Vliestrom channel, south of Terschelling near buoy No 2. He was buried the next day in Harlingen General Cemetery. McDowell’s six comrades are all listed on the Runnymede Memorial. They are the only ones of the 53 men lost on the Dams Raid who do not have their own graves and, because AJ-K went down over the sea, there is no land-based plaque to commemorate them.

The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation has a GoFundMe page to support this very worthy cause which you can find here.

Pic: 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation

AJ-C crash site cleaned up, thanks to local German history group

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Members of the Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen and Heimatverein Walstedde show the results of their work. [Pic: Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen]

Here is a heart-warming story to mark last weekend’s 79th anniversary of the Dams Raid.

For many years the memorial erected in the 1970s at the spot near Hamm where Lancaster ED910 AJ-C crashed in the early hours of 17 May 1943 has been in a poor state of repair. Malcolm Peel visited it for his 2018 guide for this blog, and noted that it was overgrown and did not seem to have been cared for.

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The memorial before clean-up work was started. [Pic: Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen]

The memorial commemorates the crew of AJ-C, which crashed after being struck by flak. The crew comprised Plt Off Warner (“Bill”) Ottley DFC, pilot, Sgt Ronald Marsden, flight engineer, Flg Off Jack Barrett, navigator, Sgt Jack Guterman DFM, wireless operator, Sgt Thomas Johnston, bomb aimer, Sgt Harry Strange, front gunner, and Sgt Fred Tees, rear gunner. 

There was in fact one survivor from the crash, rear gunner Fred Tees. He heard Jack Guterman say over the intercom ‘Möhne gone’. Almost immediately Ottley started a sentence: ‘We go to…,’ when ‘a hell of a commotion’ occurred to interrupt him. The aircraft was suddenly bathed in searchlights and a tremendous barrage of flak struck it, mainly from the port side. Tees then heard Ottley say, ‘I’m sorry boys, we’ve had it,’ but thereafter his memory of events became blank.

Tees’s turret was blown clear of the rest of the aircraft and he regained consciousness on the ground nearby, very badly burnt. He was soon captured and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner. Bill Ottley and the rest of the crew died instantly. They were buried by the Germans in Hamm and reburied after the war in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

Now it seems that a group of German people from the Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen and the Heimatverein Walstedde (two local history groups) have decided to clean up the site, stripping back the vegetation and creating a new level area around the cross and plaque.

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[Pic: Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen]

The original stone can now be seen clearly, with its inscription:
Bewahret den frieden
krieg ist grausam
[Keep the peace
war is cruel]

Here is a report in German on their Facebook page.

Many thanks to the groups for their work which will be much appreciated by future visitors.

Here is a newspaper report in German from the 1980s describing the initial installation.

press report hammer stadtanzeiger 1980

[Pic: Heimatverein Hamm-Heessen]

Thanks to Volker Schürmann for information for this post. Volker has also sent this picture of the memorial to the AJ-E crew at Haldern, taken last weekend. Blog readers will know that Volker was the driving force in getting this memorial installed.

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Pic: Volker Schürmann

Appeal for squadron commemorative window in Scampton church

Church window

RAF Scampton is due to close as a working RAF station on 31 December 2022.  To commemorate the station’s history a new window is planned for the local parish church in the nearby village of Scampton.

It is being crowd funded, and donations can be made here. Scampton Church are being supported by RAF Scampton, the RAF Museum, the RAF Historical Society and other leading RAF organisations to create a 617 Squadron Commemorative Window. The 617 Squadron Window Campaign was launched by Wing Commander Neill Atkins (O/C RAF Scampton) live on BBC Radio Lincolnshire. The aim is to have the window installed by the 80th anniversary of the squadron’s formation in March next year.

More about the project can be found on the church website here.

Thanks to Joe Bartrop for the tip.

At the Petwood

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Pic: Petwood Hotel

If you are in the Lincolnshire area on Sunday 15 May, the day before the 79th anniversary of the Dams Raid, you are welcome to attend a talk I will be giving at 3pm at the Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa. I will be speaking about the 133 men who flew on the RAF’s most famous Second World War bombing operation, telling some of their stories and dispelling some of the myths which have grown up in the years since. 

Petwood presentation 160522 FINAL.001

Tickets cost £5 and can be booked here.

Willie Tait and his double-navigator Tirpitz crew

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L-R: Flg Off Arthur J Ward (wireless operator), Flt Lt Jim Chapman (mid-upper gunner), Flg Off W A (“Danny”) Daniel (bomb aimer), Wrt Off Mike Vaughan (rear gunner), Wg Cdr J B (“Willie”) Tait (pilot), Flt Sgt A E (“Bill”) Gallagher (flight engineer), Flg Off Bruce Bayne (navigator) and Flg Off Harold Ellis (navigator). [Pic: IWM CH17864]

By Charles Foster and Robert Owen

Wg Cdr James Brian Tait, always known by the nickname “Willie”, succeeded Leonard Cheshire as commanding officer of 617 Squadron in July 1944. The squadron was then based at RAF Woodhall Spa. Although he was still only 27, he was one of the most experienced airmen in Bomber Command having commanded two other squadrons and a Conversion Unit and holding three separate decorations – the DSO and Bar and the DFC. (Other awards had already been recommended, a second Bar to the DSO and a Bar to the DFC.)  From the start, Tait led his new squadron from the front, first by marking targets in a Mustang or Mosquito, and then undertaking a further eight operations in his own Lancaster.

In early September Bomber Command’s attention turned again to the German battleship Tirpitz, based in Norway. A force of Lancasters carrying Tallboy bombs was drawn from both 617 and IX Squadrons, to be led by Tait, and using a base in the Soviet Union to refuel. In September and October 1944, Tait led two separate inconclusive attacks on the giant battleship before a third attempt on 12 November, Operation Catechism, was successful. The crews all landed at Lossiemouth, flying home to Woodhall Spa the following day. Some time in the period following, possibly on this day, Tait and the crew who had accompanied him are said to have posed for a picture, along with two more members of his regular crew, who hadn’t been on board for separate reasons. The aircraft is EE146 (KC-D), which Tait had piloted on the operation.

The picture shows, left to right: Flg Off Arthur J Ward (wireless operator), Flt Lt Jim Chapman (mid-upper gunner), Flg Off W A (“Danny”) Daniel (bomb aimer), Wrt Off Mike Vaughan (rear gunner), Wg Cdr J B (“Willie”) Tait (pilot), Flt Sgt A E (“Bill”) Gallagher (flight engineer), Flg Off Bruce Bayne (navigator) and Flg Off Harold Ellis (navigator).

Flg Off Arthur J Ward (160719), the wireless operator in this crew, had a namesake, Flt Sgt Arthur Ward (1578343), also a wireless operator, who flew in John Sanders’s crew (see below).

The picture does, however, throw up some questions. First, there are eight men in the group, whereas the Operations Record Book states that each aircraft carried a crew of just six. EE146 was a Mark III Lancaster built at the Avro plant at Chadderton and delivered to 617 Squadron in the summer of 1943.  Subsequently re-engined as a Mark I for Operation Paravane, its mid-upper turret had been removed to save weight (the different coloured patch can be seen over the code letters KC in the photograph) and so the operation had been undertaken with only one gunner on board. So Jim Chapman is unlikely to have been on the aircraft for the operation. (The word “unlikely” is used because it was not unknown for the spare gunner to fly on some occasions. If he was carried he would spend the flight in the astrodome, as a spotter looking for possible enemy fighters. Although there were long stretches where they would be out of range, they were a real concern on the Tirpitz ops especially on the second and third attacks which were within range of Luftwaffe fighters stationed at Bardufoss in Norway.)

Just why there are two navigators is more difficult to explain. Tait’s regular navigator was Bruce Bayne, but he was signed off as “non-effective” (which usually means sick) on 17 October. So he was replaced with Harold Ellis for both the 29 October and 12 November attacks on the Tirpitz, which turned out to be the only two operations Ellis ever flew with Tait. Bayne had flown as navigator for Tait on the first Tirpitz attack (Operation Paravane) and then with him on two more operations between that and 29 October.

It is possible that Tait, as the squadron CO as well as the captain of the aircraft, invited both Bayne and Chapman to be in the photograph as they were both regular members of his crew. A generous gesture which would be a morale-boost for his team, one might think.

The other picture is also well-known and would seem to have been taken at the same time. It shows pilot Flg Off John Sanders and his crew next to their aircraft ME562 (KC-K), and is captioned as being taken on their return from the 12 November operation.

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Pic: IWM CH17863

It shows, left to right: Flt Sgt Roy Machin (rear gunner), Flt Sgt Arthur Ward (wireless operator), Flt Sgt Tommy Nutley (flight engineer), Flg Off John Sanders (pilot), Flg Off Gordon Allen (bomb aimer) and Plt Off Jim Barron (navigator).

Again, the space on the fuselage for the missing mid-upper turret can be clearly seen. In this photograph no attempt has been made to include the other gunner from the Sanders crew.

Unlike the shot of the Tait crew, five of the six men in this picture are only wearing normal battledress, with Allen also sporting a belt and holster. Barron’s coat covers his uniform, but it is also probably just battledress. There are none of the flying jackets and suits, Mae Wests, flight bags and other paraphernalia which appear as props in the other photograph. The very youthful looking Machin has longer hair than is normally seen in shots from this period and has a cigarette in hand, as do several of the men in the Tait picture. Wartime regulations did ban the smoking of cigarettes in such close proximity to aircraft, but this was frequently flouted.

Both pictures show the different types of flying boot worn by crews. Some appear to be the “evasion” type with the laces in which the leg part could be cut off, to produce a civilian style shoe for evasion. Pilots favoured these as they had to operate foot pedals, as did the other trades who were in a warmer part of the aircraft. Others, often worn by gunners, are of the clumpier suede outer/fleece lined/front zip style, and were considerably warmer.

A final point of interest is that it can be seen how the entire centre perspex panel between the rear guns on EE146 has been removed to provide absolutely clear and direct vision for the gunner wedged into his turret. The potential sub-zero temperatures which the gunner would then experience made the sheepskin lined leather flying jacket an absolute must.

*******************

A final note of caution. We believe that this is the first ever article in almost eight decades to attempt to name the individual men who appear in this historic pair of photographs. It is possible that some names are incorrect, in which case further information would be welcomed. Please leave a comment below, or contact us by email.

Thanks to the Bayne family for help.

Allsebrook crew memorial to be unveiled in June

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Ralph Allsebrook and his crew were the first to join 617 Squadron after the Dams Raid. They were all present when the famous squadron photograph was taken at Scampton on 9 July 1943, and are shown highlighted above. [Pic: Sutherland family/Artwork: Dambusters Blog. © Copyright 2022.]

Chris Ward has been in touch to say that a memorial to Flt Lt Ralph Allsebrook DSO DFC and his crew is to be erected on the quayside of the Wet Triangle at Bergeshovede in Germany, very close to the site where they crashed after bombing the Dortmund-Ems canal on 16 September 1943. The memorial will be unveiled at 5pm on Friday 17 June 2022. The general public are invited to attend.

Allsebrook and his crew were the first new crew to join 617 Squadron after the Dams Raid, arriving at Scampton on 20 May 1943. Allsebrook was a close friend of Henry Maudslay, 617 Squadron’s B Flight Commander, who had died just three days before after bombing the Eder Dam. Allsebrook had himself clocked up 50 operations in 49 Squadron, mostly flying with the same crew who all transferred with him. On the night of the Dortmund-Ems operation, four months later, they were in Lancaster EE130, and carried an extra gunner. 

The crew list read Flt Lt RAP Allsebrook DSO DFC (pilot), Flt Sgt P Moore (flight engineer), Plt Off NA Botting (navigator), Flg Off JM Grant DFC (wireless operator), Flt Sgt RBS Lulham (bomb aimer), Sgt IG Jones (mid-upper gunner), Flt Sgt S Hitchen (rear gunner) plus Flt Sgt WE Walker (extra air gunner).

Further details can be obtained from Chris, who you can contact by email here

Goodman medals, logbook and other material to go to RAF Museum

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Benny Goodman’s medal group. [Pic: Dix Noonan Webb]

Good news in this article from the Antiques Trade Gazette.

The Goodman family and the RAF Museum have agreed that Sqn Ldr Lawrence “Benny” Goodman’s medals, logbook, flying jacket and other artefacts are to be purchased by the RAF Museum, and will go on display there in due course.

Tom Derbyshire of the Antiques Trade Gazette reports:

Squadron Leader Goodman’s son, Robert, said: “I’m very pleased that my father’s medals and artefacts will be purchased by the RAF Museum with the proceeds of the sale benefiting the Royal Air Force No 617 Squadron Association. I’m sure that he would have been thrilled that his legacy will be kept alive for the nation and shared with the world at the RAF Museum while giving back to No 617 Squadron, with which he fought so valiantly during the Second World War.”
Dr Peter Johnston, head of collections and research, the RAF Museum, said: “The museum is delighted to have acquired this wonderful piece of history which enables us to tell a unique part of the RAF story.
“‘Benny’ Goodman had a fantastic relationship with the museum and was featured in the Jewish ‘Hidden Heroes’ project that was launched in 2018. We are planning that his medals and log book will go on display in the Bomber Command Hall as part of its redevelopment in 2023.”

Good news for everyone concerned!

Thanks to Ray Hepner for the tip.

Benny Goodman’s memorial service in St Clement Danes

Goodman memorial

Sqn Ldr Lawrence “Benny” Goodman was the last British wartime 617 Squadron pilot when he died last July at the ripe old age of 100. He was honoured yesterday with a memorial service at the RAF church, St Clement Danes in Strand, London. There is a report on the services TV station, Forces.net, which you can find here, with contributions from various attendees and his son, Robert Goodman. The good news conveyed by Robert in the film is that Benny’s medals and logbook will shortly go on display at the RAF Museum in Hendon.

Goodman memorial reading

Wg Cdr Andrew Walters, chair of the 617 Squadron Association, conducting a reading during the service

Blue plaque on Marriott family house in Chinley

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Middleton House, New Smithy: the family home of the Marriott family in the Peak District. [Pic: Frank Pleszak.]

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[Pic: Frank Pleszak.]

I am much looking forward to seeing Frank Pleszak’s new biography of Jack Marriott, the flight engineer in Henry Maudslay’s crew on the Dams Raid. Before joining Maudslay, Marriott had flown on 23 operations with 50 Squadron, in Flg Off Drew Wyness’s crew, and had been awarded the DFM. At this stage of the war, it was rare for flight engineers to be awarded this honour. He flew another three operations with Maudslay before the crew were transferred to 617 Squadron in March 1943.

While researching Marriott’s story, Frank spent some time uncovering the background to how a plaque came to be erected at Middleton House in the village of New Smithy.  It had been lived in by the Marriott family.

Frank takes up the story: “It seems that after Jack’s father had died Middleton House continued to be occupied by Jack’s sister May Hawkesley. By the 1950s the house had become unsuitable and she wanted to be nearer to the centre of Chinley and its services. She arranged for a house swap with Chinley resident Graham Hadfield who once in occupation modernised the house, including removing the rear staircase and replacing it with an upstairs bathroom.  Graham eventually sold the house to the present owner Raymond Ball in 1978. Sometime after moving in Raymond was in discussion with his neighbours and the topic of the previous occupants of Middleton House and of Jack’s involvement in the Dambusters was raised. Realizing the significance of the house Raymond felt that a fitting memorial should commemorate the short life of the Dambuster that had spent his early life there. So in 2012, at his own expense, he had a local blacksmith create the plaque which he duly erected by his front door.”

9781399097468 smallFrank Pleszak’s book, The High Peak Dambuster, is to be published by Airworld in March. See here for details.