The Dam Busters on TV

This blog’s favourite film The Dam Busters is being shown again on UK TV this evening (Channel 5 Action) so if you are checking this blog to see the names of the men who took part in the Dams Raid on 16/17 May 1943, click on here for the full list. (Or buy my book for further information!)

May your days be happy and bright

Poster by James Fitton from the IWM Collection (PST 2814).

Clicking around the interwebnet in search of a seasonal image I came across this lovely wartime anti-waste poster whose message is just as pertinent today. Even though it is right for us to want to celebrate the festive season, in these straitened times we shouldn’t overconsume our precious resources. So, with that in mind, I’d like to wish all Dambusters Blog readers a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. See you on the other side!

More about James Fitton on his Wikipedia page.

Johnny Johnson funeral service and memorial arrangements

The funeral service for Sqn Ldr G L (Johnny) Johnson MBE DFM took place yesterday, Monday 19 December, in Holy Trinity Church, Westbury-on-Trym. It was a private family service. Later this week, Johnny will be buried next to his late wife Gwyn in Torquay, where they had lived together for many years.

Wg Cdr Neill Atkins, station commander of RAF Scampton, lays a wreath outside the Second World War hangar at the station on Monday 19 December. [Pic: RAF]

The RAF marked the day of his funeral by laying wreathes at two separate locations, RAF Scampton, the airfield from which the Dams Raid took place in May 1943, and the Bomber Command memorial in Green Park, London, which commemorates the 55,000 men who lost their lives serving with the command between 1939 and 1945.

Air Vice Marshal Simon Edwards, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Strategy), lays a wreath at the Bomber Command Memorial in London on Monday 19 December. [Pic: RAF]

A date for a public memorial service will be announced in the New Year.

Report from Forces.net

‘Johnny’ Johnson, 1921-2022

Johnson GL

Pic: Johnson family

I am sorry to have to report that the last Dambuster, George Leonard (‘Johnny’) Johnson died yesterday, 7 December 2022, at the age of 101. As Sgt G L Johnson he flew on the RAF’s most famous Second World War bombing operation, the attack by 617 Squadron on the dams of the Ruhr and Weser valleys. He was the bomb aimer in the seven-man crew of a Lancaster aircraft, piloted by Flt Lt Joe McCarthy.

George Leonard Johnson was born on 25 November 1921 in Hameringham, Lincolnshire, the sixth and last child of Charles and Ellen Johnson. Although his first name was George and he was known as Len or Leonard to his family, when he joined the RAF he was nicknamed ‘Johnny’, and this is the name by which he was mostly known for the rest of his life. His father was a farm foreman, living in a tied cottage, and the family grew up in very poor conditions. His mother died when Johnny was three, and his family life was then very disrupted, due to his father’s abusive nature. His older sister Lena was living away from home, in service as a maid and it wasn’t until she moved home that the situation improved and he went to a local primary school in Winthorpe.

At the age of 11 he was sent as a boarder to the Lord Wandsworth Agricultural College in Long Sutton, Hampshire. At the time, this was run by a charity catering for the children of agricultural families who had lost one or both parents. He did reasonably well at school and passed the School Certificate as well as playing cricket and football to a good standard, and winning several athletics events. When he left school in December 1939, he started work as a park keeper in Basingstoke.

Johnson volunteered to join the RAF in June 1940, applying to become a navigator. He was, however, selected for pilot training and eventually joined up in November 1940. He was posted to various training establishments but there was some compensation for all the moving around – at one in Torquay, he met Gwyn Morgan, the woman who would later become his wife.

In June 1941, Johnson was eventually sent for pilot training in Florida. More than one-third of those selected for pilot training were eventually ‘washed out’, which was what happened to him. As he always doubted he had the necessary skills he was not surprised, and he opted for air gunner training instead, arriving back in the UK in January 1942.

In July 1942, Johnson was posted to 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa. He was designated as a spare gunner, without a regular crew, and so he flew with various skippers if one of their own gunners went sick. His first operation was on 27 August 1942, flying with Sqn Ldr Elmer Coton on a trip to Gdynia in Poland. However, an engine failure en route led to an early return, so the first time he saw action was the following day, on an operation to Nuremberg.

Johnson flew on a few more operations but then the opportunity came up to train as a specialist bomb aimer, and he completed the course in late November 1942. Within a month, a vacancy for a bomb aimer came up in Flt Lt Joe McCarthy’s crew. McCarthy was one of the several thousand Americans who had joined the Canadian air force before Pearl Harbour, and had gained a reputation as an excellent pilot. There were three Canadians in his crew of seven and at first Johnson wasn’t keen on flying as part of a British minority with an American captain, but a conversation with McCarthy changed his mind, and he was introduced to his future crewmates. What united them, he wrote later, was the fact that they all had inbuilt confidence in McCarthy.

Johnson’s first trip with McCarthy was an operation to attack Munich on 21 December 1942. It was packed with incident. In appalling weather, they were attacked by fighters and on the return trip lost all power in one engine and suffered problems in another. They were forced to land at Bottesford.

Johnson soon gained the confidence of his crewmates and flew on eighteen more operations with McCarthy in the spring of 1943, which brought him to the end of a full tour of thirty operations with 97 Squadron. Knowing that he would then be entitled to some leave followed by six months working in a non-combat training role, he and Gwyn arranged their wedding for 3 April 1943. However, the ceremony was nearly called off when the whole crew were transferred to 617 Squadron at RAF Scampton, under the command of Wg Cdr Guy Gisbon, for a new secret mission and all leave was cancelled.

Determined that Johnson would keep the date, McCarthy assembled his entire crew and marched all six of them into Gibson’s office. Johnson described what happened next in his 2015 autobiography.

“‘The thing is, sir,’ [McCarthy] said, very forcibly, ‘we’ve all just finished our tour and we are all entitled to a week’s leave. My bomb aimer is due to be married on the third of April and let me tell you he is going to get married on the third of April!’
There was a short pause while the others, no doubt, wished they were anywhere else except standing in the office of Wg Cdr Guy Gibson DSO, DFC and Bar, who had a fearsome reputation as a strict disciplinarian and had been known by the crews of 106 Squadron as ‘The Arch-Bastard’.
He looked us up and down and said, ‘Very well. You can have four days. Dismissed.’
Thank you Joe! I left for Torquay immediately, before our new CO could change his mind.”

In fact, McCarthy and his crew didn’t know that several other crews had been told by their previous COs that they could take leave before their new posting, and therefore would not arrive at Scampton for several more days. Although he didn’t say so, Gibson was probably relieved not to have all his new men arriving at once. He would have known at this stage that he didn’t yet have enough aircraft for his new squadron to train on, so a crew going on leave for four days was hardly going to upset the schedule too much.

Johnny returned from his wedding and honeymoon to start the training. At first all they knew was that they would be flying at very low level – below 100 feet – and would need to be able to drop their spinning ‘mine’ with great accuracy. They didn’t know that the weapon had been designed by the scientist Barnes Wallis to ‘bounce’ on the waters of a lake where its momentum would carry it up to a target, where it would sink below the water level and then explode. The target was the German dams in the powerhouse of the Ruhr valley, but they didn’t find this out until the day of the raid, Sunday 16 May 1943.

In his training for the Dams Raid Johnson practised dropping the mine as his aircraft flew straight towards the target at low level. However, on the Sunday afternoon, McCarthy, Johnson and their colleagues were told that they would be one of the five crews detailed to attack the Sorpe dam, an earth embankment-type dam with a concrete core. This meant they had to fly along the dam wall and drop their mine at its centre. It would roll down the wall on the water side and explode when it reached the correct depth.

McCarthy’s Lancaster was supposed to lead off the wave which was detailed to attack the Sorpe Dam but when a technical problem was discovered on their favoured aircraft they had to transfer to the spare. They realised when they got to the Sorpe Dam that they were the only crew of the five which had got that far. Having to line up a completely different approach, over land and along the dam wall, took them a while to get correct but eventually, on the tenth try, McCarthy managed to make a near-perfect run, getting down to about 30ft, and Johnson released the weapon. However, the dam failed to breach, and the crew had to make their lonely way home.

Although AJ-T had failed to breach the dam, Johnson, McCarthy and navigator Don MacLean were all decorated for their part in the raid. Johnson received the DFM and travelled up to Buckingham Palace for the investiture. At that point in his life he was a non-drinker, so he didn’t participate in the festivities that followed. Johnson was commissioned in November 1943 and went on to fly with McCarthy on eighteen more operations with 617 Squadron, up until April 1944. At that point, knowing that Gwyn Johnson was shortly to have their first child, McCarthy insisted that he stand down.

Reluctantly, Johnson agreed and was sent back to Scampton as a bombing instructor and served out the rest of the war in various training jobs. After the war, he was told that if he qualified as a navigator, he would get a permanent commission. He accepted this offer, and stayed in the RAF until 1962, retiring with the rank of Squadron Leader.

Now in his forties, Johnson was without a job. So he retrained again, this time as a teacher. He worked first of all in primary schools and then later in adult education, including a period teaching psychiatric patients at Rampton Hospital.

When he retired, he and Gwyn moved to Torquay, the town where Gwyn had been brought up. Although she came from a Labour-supporting Welsh mining family, she was a keen Conservative, a strong admirer of Margaret Thatcher. ‘The lady’s not for turning’ became Gwyn’s own catchphrase, used to settle any minor family disputes. The pair had been active in local Conservative Party politics for a while, but after the move to Torquay Johnson was elected as a councillor, and became chair of the constituency party, amongst other things having to deal with the wayward activities of Rupert Allason, the local MP.  Allason was a Maastricht rebel and a plotter against the Prime Minister John Major, who Johnson admired. Johnson also took part in reunions and other activities relating both to 617 Squadron and the wider world of Bomber Command, and the pair were very happy with frequent visits from their growing numbers of grandchildren.

Gwyn Johnson died in August 2005 and for a while Johnson withdrew from public life. But then he started accepting invitations from the media for interviews and documentary appearances, and as the number of those who had served in Bomber Command during wartime inevitably dwindled he became one of the most familiar veterans. Even in his late nineties he was a compelling speaker and a willing interviewee. Any public appearance would result in a steady stream of people wanting to shake his hand and have a selfie taken.

He had always worked hard for charity, particularly campaigning for improved resources for mental health, and this was recognised on three separate occasions at the time of the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid in 2018: a visit to Buckingham Palace to be invested with an MBE by the Queen, an honorary doctorate at the University of Lincoln (back in his home county) and a flight over the Derwent Dam in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster.

As a centenarian and ‘the last Dambuster’, Johnson occupied an important place in what sometimes seems an insatiable public interest in the Dams Raid. But, as his son Morgan points out in the last chapter of Johnson’s autobiography:

“[H]e is the first to recognise that all this attention is not purely about him personally, but is directed at what he represents. The Dambusters became a wartime legend that captured the public imagination and, as the last British survivor of that night, he represents all of them and what they achieved. There are many, many other stories of individual and collective achievements during World War II. Stories of extraordinary courage, of battles won in impossible situations, of acts of heroism against overwhelming odds. But the Dambusters remain high on the list of public affection. And that is what he will be remembered for, by the public at large.”

Like many of the generation which came of age during the war years, Johnny Johnson always said that he was simply doing his job. The fact that by doing this job he was risking his life, defending liberty against those who sought to bring tyranny to these shores, is immaterial. The qualities by which he lived his life were those of honesty, discipline, respect and loyalty.

Johnny Johnson is survived by his son Morgan, his two daughters Susan and Jenny, and his grandchildren.

Sqn Ldr George Leonard (‘Johnny’) Johnson MBE DFM, born 25 November 1921, died 7 December 2022.

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Portrait of a legend by a legend

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Pic: BBC

It was Johnny Johnson’s 101st birthday last week, and many happy returns to him. And what better way for a man of such maturity, a legend in his own right, to mark his big day than by posing for his portrait to be painted by another legend, cricketer turned artist Jack Russell.

The BBC local news covered the story. See here.

Thanks to Graeme Stevenson for the tip.

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New photo shows Trevor-Roper in 50 Squadron

TR 50 Sqn 20220816_13000650 960px

Pic: Trevor-Roper family 

The family of Flt Lt Richard Trevor-Roper DFM, who was the rear gunner in Guy Gibson’s crew on the Dams Raid, have kindly sent me a photograph taken when he was flying in the crew of Sqn Ldr Peter Birch in 50 Squadron in the winter and early spring of 1942-43. After doing some research, and consulting with colleagues, I believe that the seven men in the picture are (from left to right):

1. Flt Sgt S Allen (wireless operator)
2. Flg Off E C Wood (bomb aimer)
3. Flt Lt W T Gray (navigator)
4. Sqn Ldr P C Birch (pilot)
5. Flt Lt R D Trevor-Roper (mid-upper gunner)
6. Sgt J M Hartman (rear gunner)
7. Flt Sgt A Branch (flight engineer)

Trevor-Roper’s first operation with Birch was on 22 November 1942, a trip to Turin, and the last was on 22 March 1943, a trip to St Nazaire. He was transferred to Scampton to join 617 Squadron shortly afterwards. The aircraft is probably ED482, painted with Peter Birch’s favourite nose art, which he liked to call ‘Sammy the Moke’.

A similar photo, which includes several ground crew, was posted on the Rootschat genealogy forum in 2009. I’m not including a link to that post because I think some of the information is wrong (although I believe the dog is called Nipper!) But of course, it’s perfectly possible that some of my identifications are still incorrect, in which case I’d welcome more information. Please get in touch either by leaving a comment below or by sending an email to charlesjfoster [AT] gmail.com

Dambuster Crash Sites: revised driver’s guide

best mohne dam photo 2022

Revised version September 2022
Text and pictures by Malcolm Peel

On the evening of 16th May 1943, 133 aircrew in 19 Lancasters took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to attack the German dams east of the Ruhr. Eight aircraft and 53 men did not return. Three men survived their crashes and became Prisoners of War.

The following guide to these sites was initially compiled in August 2018 and has been revised in September 2022. They serve as as an update to the excellent book written by Chris Ward and Andreas Wachtel, Dambuster Crash Sites, published in 2007 by Pen & Sword. Reference to this book is highly recommended for its historical content and descriptions of the discovery of the sites.

However, due to the ravages of time over the years, the construction or demolition of buildings, the changes in road layouts and other key landmarks, some of the Tour Guides in the book have become awkward to follow. Also, the book was published before the era of sat nav and Google Maps. For ease of navigation, the co-ordinates for all the sites (or the nearest vehicular access point) are given below, as well as some for key points on some routes.

If you are travelling from the UK, it is suggested that you travel to the dams first, joining the Corridor at the Möhne. To simplify its compilation, the following guide has been presented in that order as this route can also avoid using the very busy motorway network through the Ruhr around Essen, Duisburg and Dortmund.

Many users of this Guide will have a mobile navigation device of some description and therefore may only be using the co-ordinates given to each location. This might mean that you may be approaching the memorial from a different direction, which renders the detailed routes irrelevant.

However, if you are using them, they have been described from either the nearest town/city or from a major location, i.e. road junctions, castle, dam, etc., as one never knows when your sat nav is going to let one down! Plus, it’s always good to have some indication that you are on the right road so, sometimes, landmarks are identified along the way.

Of the many books written about the raid, one of the best is James Holland’s Dambusters: The Race To Smash The Dams, Transworld Publishers 2012, which explains in a very readable format the reasons for the raid, the development of the bouncing bomb, the formation of 617 Squadron and the raid itself. There are also some excellent maps, diagrams and a complete Timeline of Operation Chastise.

Mention must also be made of Charles Foster’s very informative work, The Complete Dambusters: The 133 Men Who Flew on the Dams Raid, History Press 2018, which gives the story of each of the airmen who took part in the raid. A photo of each man is included as well as much information on the raid itself.

The Crash Corridor

crash corridor map

Ward/Watchel describe in great detail how and why each aircraft crashed.

Hopgood at Soest was the only one to be shot down while attacking a dam – all the others were the victims of flak or a crash on the flight either to or from the dams. The only two not in the Corridor are shown with a cross on the above map – Byers in the sea off Texel, north of Den Helder and Burpee who crashed on the air base at Gilze-Rijen, between Breda and Tilburg.

The Dams
The co-ordinates for the three main dams are as follows:
Eder
51.184559
9.060715

Sorpe
51.353044
7.964041

Möhne
51.491659
8.061964

The Cemeteries
The casualties are buried in five cemeteries in Germany and Holland.

cemetery map 1 2022212 900px

Rheinberg War Cemetery:
Hopgood and crew

Reichswald Forest War Cemetery:
Maudslay and crew
Astell and crew
Barlow and crew
Ottley and crew

Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery:
Burpee and crew

Bergen General Cemetery:
Young and crew

The grave of James McDowell, Byers’ rear gunner, is in Harlingen General Cemetery (see below) – the bodies of the rest of Byers’ crew were never recovered and they are remembered on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede. There is now a memorial to them in Harlingen General Cemetery.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website gives full details of all those killed and includes maps and co-ordinates for the cemeteries.

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Flt Lt J.V. Hopgood DFC & Bar
ED925 AJ-M
Near Soest, NW of Möhnesee
Co-ordinates:
51.535276
7.996486

The most logical route to this site is from the dam. Turn right out of the car park and proceed towards Möhnesee, passing the Hotel Haus Delecke on your right.

At the roundabout, turn left onto the 229 and after about 2.0 miles, left onto the 516 towards Ense … it’s one of those weird junctions that takes you under the 516, turns left then right.

After 3.5 miles, turn right onto the L745 An Der Lanner towards Volbringen.

After passing through the village, you will come to a crossroads with a stone tower on the right … go straight on.

In less than a mile, look for some low, dark green farm buildings on the left and just before a bridge under the motorway, turn right onto the track on the right (above co-ordinates refer). This track is initially tarmac but that soon becomes stony.

The track drops down with a wood coming up your left but before the road rises again, look left … about 100 yards across some open ground, you will see a tall yellow pole and just beyond and to the right, the wooden post with a brass plaque adjacent to a wooden bench.

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It is strongly advised that you do NOT attempt to cross the open ground to the memorial by car as the ground is very uneven and probably water-logged in bad weather.

Park on the right and walk up the rise – at the top, a further track on the left will take you down to the memorial.

P1030997

This is the closest accessible point to the crash site which is probably in the field off to the right where the motorway runs now.

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Plt Off W Ottley DFC
ED910 AJ-C
North of Hamm
Co-ordinates (nearest vehicular access):
51.724373
7.792254

This is one where you’ll need hiking boots or wellies!

Take the B63 north out of Hamm towards Munster, crossing over the river Lippe, and after about 1.5 miles, look out for the KAUFLAND superstore on your left.

Straight on at the next roundabout … the one with the pink elephant wearing headphones (I kid you not!)

Through the traffic lights with MANSFELDERSTR and the SENIORENZENTRUM ST JOSEPH on your right.

After about one mile, a small signpost for GEINEGGE comes up on your left … which is both a street name and a village … and on your right is a red-brick house.

SLOW DOWN.

On the right and immediately after the house is a field with an electricity pylon.

P1040199

The track to the crash site is at the far end of this field just before a line of trees and runs at right-angles to the main road.

It is suggested that you reverse into this track but do NOT attempt to drive further unless you have a 4X4 or similar vehicle.

Walk down the track passing the pylon on your right … it has a black and yellow sign carrying the number 1614. If it doesn’t, you are in the wrong field!

Carry on to the corner of the wood in front of you.

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The track bends left and right around the corner of the wood – amongst the trunks of two trees on the left, there are the remains of a wooden structure of some description.

Follow the line of the wood on your right for about 200 yards and the wooden cross is on your right in front of the crater created when the Upkeep exploded on impact.

Depending on the season, the ground leading up to the memorial could be very overgrown so great care should be taken.

The original memorial was situated in the crater which frequently becomes water-logged and the cross became rotten.

P1040183

The bronze plaque (now barely legible) which was attached to the first cross is now fixed to the rear.

In the Spring of 2022, the area around the memorial was cleared by a local community group and consideration is being given to relocate it to a more accessible site. However, negotiations are still in the early stages and nothing is likely to occur for some time.

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Flt Lt W Astell DFC
ED864 AJ-B
North of Raesfeld
Co-ordinates (memorial site):
51.808419
6.868116

From the Castle in Raesfeld, turn right at the roundabout and follow the road through the town. Following the B70, turn left at the roundabout north towards Borken with the Ford dealer, Autohaus Jacobs, on the left.

P1040202

Across a second roundabout and after about 1.5 miles, straight on at the lights. About 100 yards further on, look for SIEPENWEG, a narrow tarmac road on the right.

P1040203

After 200 yards, fork left – following Siepenweg.
After about ½ mile, fork right onto HESSEBREE.
Straight on at a crossroads and over a small bridge with a 9-ton weight limit.

P1040058

1.8 miles later, turn right onto HUNGERWEG and the memorial is on your left.

If you stand with your back to the memorial, at 2 o’clock, you will see an electricity pylon – it is conceivable that the 1943 version of this finally brought down the Lancaster which crashed in the field behind the memorial.

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Flt Lt R N G Barlow DFC RAAF
ED927 AJ-E
Haldern, near Rees
Co-ordinates (blue RAF sign):
51.792133
6.440214
Co-ordinates (larger parking area):
51.796722
6.448845
Co-ordinates (memorial site):
51.79662
6.442784

Major road/rail construction work is taking place near the railway station in Haldern, and it is reported that the work will continue into 2024.

Although not the shortest route, but certainly the easiest, is to take the A3 autobahn, leaving at Junction 4 and joining the 67 southbound towards REES.

In about 1.5 miles, turn left onto L549 HALDERNER STR and then after about one mile, take the narrow tarmac road to your left … an Air Force blue signpost with the RAF roundel is pointing your way! (Co-ordinates above)

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About 500 yards along this road, you see a cycle path on the left with a barrier blocking vehicular access – this marks the start of the field in which Barlow’s Lancaster crashed.

P1040211

The memorial is near the wind turbine to the right of the trees in the photo but for now, carry straight on to another turbine. The area in front of the turbine is/was partially fenced off but parking is still possible.

The plane crashed somewhere between the base of this turbine and the small, stagnant pond in the little field on the other side of the wire fence.

Walk or drive back to the cycle path – parking is possible – JUST!
Go down the path until you reach a rectangular field with the above turbine at 3 o’clock.
Either walk diagonally across or around the field to the memorial at the foot of a tree in the corner.

P1040208

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Sqn Ldr H E Maudslay DFC
ED937 AJ-Z
North east of Emmerich
Co-ordinates (memorial site):
51.8565
6.276442

From the A3 motorway, take Exit 3 A220 south towards Emmerich and Kleve.

The above co-ordinates may now instruct you to turn left at the KUSTER OIL filling station on the left – this route will still take you to the memorial but over some narrow tracks and blind corners/junctions. You are advised to carry on and …

… at traffic lights, with another KUSTER OIL/SPIEL STATION at 2 o’clock, turn left onto L16 WESELER STR

After about a mile, look out for the big orange OBI superstore and turn left at the roundabout.

Drive past the INTEROVO Egg Group and just before the CONVENT warehouse, turn left onto BUDBERGER STR

Fork left onto FLASSERTWEG and follow this road until you come to a left-and-right bend in the road with a red and white barrier ahead.

150 ATTEND 617 SQUADRON DAMBUSTER MEMORIAL UNVEILING IN GERMANY
The Lancaster crashed somewhere in the field behind the memorial.

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Plt Off L J Burpee DFM RCAF
ED865 AJ-S
On the former Luftwaffe night fighter station at Gilze-Rijen
Co-ordinates (entrance to airbase):
51.577043
4.926065

This memorial was dedicated in early 2018 and is situated on an active airbase operated by the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

P1040150

There are, as one can imagine, very tight security implications in gaining access to the base and the best way to arrange a tour is to contact Ton Van Den Hoof at the museum, giving at least two months’ notice of an intended visit. Email traditiekamer.gilzerijen@mindef.nl. It is also recommended that you email Sander van der Hall, a local supporter of the project: sandervanderhall@home.nl

However, be advised that entry permission may be withdrawn or postponed (perhaps at very short notice) should an emergency situation arise.

A tour will also include a visit to the museum which, although concentrating on the very interesting history of the airbase, has an excellent section containing Dambusters memorabilia.

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Sqn Ldr H M “Dinghy” Young DFC & Bar
ED887 AJ-A
In the sea off Castricum-aan-Zee, Strand
Co-ordinates (nearest vehicular access):
52.5574
4.610735

Castricum-aan-Zee is on the coast approx. 25 miles north west of Amsterdam.

Take the A9 north from Haarlem and at Junction 10, turn left onto N203.

After approx. 3.5 miles, turn left onto N513 SEEWEG

This road only goes to the Strand, a very popular beach with two huge car parks.

P1040157 (2)

This was taken on a Friday afternoon in June 2018 and the other car park was almost full. GO EARLY OR OFF-SEASON. Parking charges apply but there’s no alternative unless you have a Disabled Badge.

Walk past the cafes; the memorial is on the left at the start of the slope down towards the beach.

P1040158

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Plt Off V W Byers RCAF
ED934 AJ-K
In the sea, off Texel/Vlieland
Co-ordinates (nearest vehicular access)
53.177619
5.424722

The memorial is in Harlingen General Cemetery is located in the north of the town on BEGRAAFPLAATLAAN and parking is possible nearby on MIDLUMERLAAN.

P1060590 900px

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On entering the cemetery and after approx. 50m, turn left and follow the path to the CWGC graves – the memorial to the whole crew is just beyond, adjacent to the boundary.

Only one body was recovered, that of JAMES McDOWELL, the rear gunner. He was presumably thrown clear and the strong current took his body north. It was found floating in the Vliestrom Channel on 22 June 1943. It was brought ashore and he is buried in Plot E Row 4 Grave 11. The remaining bodies were never found and they are officially listed as ‘missing, presumed dead’.

As previously mentioned, the above guides were compiled in July 2018 and updated in September 2022 and while every care has been taken to provide accurate information, responsibility cannot be accepted for changes in buildings or other structures, road layouts and signage, natural and other landmarks, or any other factors used to describe routes.

AJ-N crew photographed 40 years on

Paint+merge+two+pix+obrien+fam-960w crew only

Left to right: Harry O’Brien, Fred Sutherland, Bob Kellow, Sydney Hobday, Ray Grayston and Edward “Johnnie” Johnson. [Pic: O’Brien family].

Melvin Chambers has kindly allowed me to share these pictures which he was sent recently. The first was taken in May 1983 in the course of the 40th anniversary commemorations of the Dams Raid. It shows the crew of AJ-N, piloted by Les Knight, which dropped the weapon which breached the Eder Dam. Sadly, Les was killed on 16 September 1943 on the Dortmund Ems canal operation, when his aircraft crashed having struck trees flying at 100 feet in fog. He managed to bring it up to an altitude from which his crew could escape by parachute, which they all did. They never forgot the skill and bravery Les showed that night, saving their lives while sacrificing himself.

The crew members stayed in touch with the Knight family back in Australia, and when Les’s mother Nellie Knight heard that the O’Briens had had their first child she sent them Les’s own christening robe, which is shown below.

Paint+merge+two+pix+obrien+fam-960w robe only

More information from Melvin’s fine tribute site, Remembering Les Knight DSO.

Allsebrook crew killed on Dortmund-Ems canal raid commemorated in Germany

Bergeshovede

Joerg Echelmayer of the Riesenbeck Historical Society and Chris Ward standing by the plaque depicting the Allsebrook crew at the Bergeshovede quayside. [Pic: Andreas Wachtel]

This summer has seen significant additions to the memorialisation of 617 Squadron crews on the continent of Europe. One is to the crew of Flt Lt Ralph Allsebrook DSO DFC and his crew, who were killed on the disastrous attack on the Dortmund-Ems canal in September 1943. Eight crews took part in this operation, and five failed to return with a total loss of 33 lives.

Allsebrook and his crew were the first new crew to join 617 Squadron after the Dams Raid, arriving at Scampton on 20 May 1943. On the night of the Dortmund-Ems operation, four months later, they were in Lancaster EE130, and carried an extra gunner.

On 17 June a memorial to Allsebrook and his crew was 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. The speakers included the local Bürgermeister, David Ostholthoff, representatives of the Riesenbeck Historical Society and the Ikarus Missing Research Group, researcher Josef Brink from Hoestel and researcher Chris Ward from the UK.

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).

Harlingen ceremony honours AJ-K crew at McDowell graveside

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Pic: Wim Govaerts

In a small Dutch graveyard last Thursday morning, a trumpeter played the Last Post and the small group gathered there – Dutch, Belgian, German, New Zealanders and British – stood in silence. As the notes faded into the warm summer air the happy voices of children in a nearby playground rang out. We remained still for two minutes, marking the loss of seven British and Canadian aircrew in the 1940s war against fascism, and around us echoed the joyous innocent sound of a generation who we thought until recently would grow up in a continent unmarked by war.

Ms Ina Sjerps, the Burgemeester (Mayor) of Harlingen, the pretty Dutch coastal town in whose graveyard a 32 year old Canadian flight sergeant and father of two, James McDowell, had been buried 79 years previously, had just delivered a remarkable speech. While writing it, she must have been thinking along similar lines. She said:

In preparing for today’s event, I studied the pictures of these young men. As a mother of two men of about the same age, I found it heartbreaking to see their young, optimistic faces. How hard it must have been for their mothers, to say goodbye to them, not knowing whether, when or how they would see their sons again. And then, learning about their fate. Six of them, never to be found again. Only one of them, James McDowell, found, and buried in a foreign country, in our town.
Their lives were not lost in vain, as they helped end the Second World War and start a long period of peace and prosperity in Europe. But as we experience today, to our great regret, this period did not last long enough. Once again, there is a war going on in Europe. A war we never expected and were unable to prevent.
Too often, the lives of men and women are sacrificed for the delusional and criminal ambitions of autocrats and dictators, supported by their indoctrinated nations. The dreams and aspirations of generations shattered for the egos of leaders.

Ms Sjerps’s speech was followed by words from Flg Off Brad Duesbury, assistant defence attaché at the British Embassy. It too was an inspiring contribution. A Flying Officer aged 23 himself, he remarked that he was the same age and rank as many of the 133 men who flew on the Dams Raid.

The event had been organised by Jan and Marielle van Dalen of the 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation to dedicate a memorial to the six members of the Dams Raid crew of Lancaster AJ-K whose bodies were never found after their aircraft was shot down and crashed into the Waddensee, some 35 miles from Harlingen, on 16 May 1943. A new memorial plaque commemorating all seven men is now placed on a marble plinth a few yards from McDowell’s grave.

The crew was Vernon Byers, pilot; Alastair Taylor, flight engineer; James Warner, navigator; John Wilkinson, wireless operator; Neville Whitaker, bomb aimer; Charles Jarvie, front gunner; James McDowell, rear gunner. A number of members of the Taylor family were in attendance and unveiled the memorial. Also present were community representatives from Antrobus in Cheshire, John Wilkinson’s home village.

Besides Jan and Macy there had gathered others who have become good friends of this blog over the years. These included Wim Govaerts, the Belgian photographer whose work has graced this pages on many occasions, Sander van der Hall, organiser of the AJ-S memorial at Gilze Rijen airfield, Melvin Chambers, organiser of the Les Knight memorial in Den Ham, and Volker Schürmann, of the Heimatverein Haldern in Germany, who has demonstrated his country’s determination to build new structures and move on from the tired shibboleths which still obsess too many British people. These new pan-European alliances are more and more important in the troubled times we now find ourselves.

Once again our Dutch friends, who know to their cost what it means to stand firm against an oppressive regime, have demonstrated why they are the best allies we have. Long may our mutual respect endure.

You can read Burgemeester Sjerps’s speech in full here.
Below is a YouTube video shot by local reporter CZV.

More photos by Wim Govaerts:

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Burgemeester Ina Sjerps addresses the gathering. [Pic: Wim Govaerts]

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Flg Off Brad Duesbury, RAF. [Pic: Wim Govaerts]

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L-R, Trumpeter Gerard Dijkstra, Marielle van Dalen, Jan van Dalen. [Pic: Wim Govaerts]

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Two fighter aircraft from the Royal Netherlands Air Force fly over in tribute. [Pic: Wim Govaerts]

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Andrew Anderson, nephew of Sgt Alastair Taylor. [Pic: Wim Govaerts]

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Memorial unveiled by Alastair Taylor and Wendy Taylor, nephew and niece of Sgt Alastair Taylor. [Pic: Wim Govaerts]

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Piper Niels van Telius. [Pic: Wim Govaerts]

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The Taylor family at the memorial. [Pic: Wim Govaerts]

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Grave of Flt Sgt James McDowell, decorated on the 79th anniversary of his burial in Harlingen cemetery. [Pic: Wim Govaerts]

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The plaque. [Pic: Wim Govaerts]