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 Reference to this book is highly recommended for its historical content and descriptions of the discovery of the sites.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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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.

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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.