Pride of Kent (Part II)

Sorry to anyone who travelled all the way to Manston in Kent for Sunday’s event – it was cancelled at short notice due to adverse weather conditions. (Of course, by Sunday afternoon, the skies were blue, and the air was full of the songs of the lark. But that’s Sod’s Law for you.) 

There was a good piece about David Maltby in Kent on Sunday, which might have whetted the appetite of anyone coming along. There are a few minor typing errors, but otherwise it tells the all too familiar wartime story of a life cut shot and a widow and infant child left behind. You can still read it in an archived online edition here (scroll through the paper to pages 24 and 25).

Pride of Kent

If you didn’t get to see the Lancaster/Spitfire/Hurricane flypast in Derbyshire last week, you have another chance to see at least one of these this coming Sunday, when the Kent Spitfire takes part in the Manston fly-in, at Manston airfield near Ramsgate in Kent. This is an area ripe with Dambuster connections, as many of the test drops were carried out at nearby Reculver. There’s lots to see and do, and one of the bookstalls is being run by Your Humble Scribe, who will be happy to add a message to any of his books sold on the day.



Flying with the Dambusters – live video!

I missed this BBC posting on Friday. This is a seven minute sequence of video (no commentary) shot inside the BBMF Lancaster as it makes its three passes over the Derwent reservoir. It’s mainly taken from inside the bomb aimer’s front blister, and gives you a real sense of what it is like to fly at a hundred feet altitude across a lake. When you consider that at the Möhne Dam, on the real raid, they were flying forty feet lower, they didn’t know the terrain and there were three anti-aircraft gun emplacements firing at them. Now you get some idea of what it was like!

Towards the end, the camera operator moves up to shoot some footage from the cockpit. It’s interesting to see how cramped it was. Tall pilots like David Maltby and Joe McCarthy must have found it a squeeze to get into a space this small. It was a lot easier for someone short, like Guy Gibson.

Dambuster survivors

Somebody has recently asked me privately how many of the original Dambusters are still alive. The answer to that is six. I am not going to name all of them here, as I think that one of them no longer does any public events. Of the five who still appear in public there are two in the UK. At the time of the dams raid, George (Johnny) Johnson was Sgt G L Johnson, the bomb aimer in the crew of AJ-T, piloted by Joe McCarthy. The crew dropped their bomb on the Sorpe Dam. 

Ray Grayston also lives in England. As Sgt R E Grayston, he was the flight engineer in Les Knight’s crew, AJ-N. They were the crew which dropped the mine which finally breached the Eder Dam.

The only pilot still surviving is Les Munro, one of two New Zealanders on the Dams Raid. Flt Lt J L Munro flew AJ-W on the raid, and was also supposed to attack the Sorpe Dam. Unfortunately, crossing the Dutch coast near Vlieland, they were hit by flak, which put the intercom and the VHF radio out of action, as well as damaging the compass and the tail turret pipes. With no way of speaking either to each other on board, or to other aircraft, they had no option but to return to Scampton with their mine still intact.

The final two Dambusters who are still active returned to their native Canada after the war. Both were gunners: Fred Sutherland and Grant MacDonald. Sgt F E Sutherland was the front gunner in Les Knight’s crew, AJ-N. Flt Sgt G S MacDonald was the rear gunner in Ken Brown’s crew, AJ-F. Like AJ-T, they attacked the Sorpe Dam, but failed to breach it. 

In my dealings with these gentlemen, I have to say that they were all models of courtesy. They have all told their stories hundreds of times and yet their patience and willingness to provide information is outstanding. We owe them all a huge debt as they keep the story of the Dams Raid alive.

Dambusters raid 65th anniversary: video coverage

Great BBC video coverage of today’s Dambusters 65th anniversary flypast at the Derwent dam in Derbyshire. The ‘City of Lincoln’ Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight can be seen overflying the dam three times. Another report showing footage recorded at Scampton and Coningsby, with the reporter inside the Lancaster while it is in its hangar. 

Nice picture on the Daily Mail website. It doesn’t look as though there are that many people in the background. Only 400 cars were allowed up the access roads to the Ladybower reservoir to avoid the traffic problems which had occurred on previous flypasts. Was this a bit on the cautious side?

Please let me know if you have any other still or video pictures, and I will post a link to them on this blog.

The bombsight used to break the Möhne Dam

John Fort\'s bombsight used to break the Möhne Dam, 17 May 1943

I’ve only had this blog up and running for about a week, but I’ve noticed that I already get many more hits on it than on the companion site devoted to my book. So with that in mind, I thought that I would draw the attention of my blog readers to the remarkable picture of an original Dambusters bombsight which recently came into my attention. This is thought to be the only original wooden bombsight still in existence, and it was used by Plt Off John Fort, the bomb aimer in David Maltby’s crew. Some time in mid 1943 it was given by David to his father (my grandfather) Ettrick Maltby. The full story is told here

There has been a certain amount of scepticism as to whether any of the 617 Squadron bomb aimers actually used the bombsight (devised by Wg Cdr Dann) on the Dams Raid (Operation Chastise). Some of them certainly preferred their own makeshift sights and used chinagraph marks and tape on their Perspex blisters. But this artifact would seem to prove that at least one bomb aimer used the type that later became famous through the 1955 film. And he was the one that dropped the bomb which finally broke the Möhne Dam!

Wartime newsreels

This has been on Youtube for several months, but there may be people who haven’t seen it.

It is a compilation of two newsreels from 1943 and one from 1955. The first two show King George VI and the Queen visiting 617 Squadron at RAF Scampton after the Dams Raid. The second shows the aircrew who were decorated for their part in the raid, outside Buckingham Palace after receiving their medals.

The postwar section shows original aircrew mingling with actors and people from the film industry at a reception to mark the premiere of the 1955 film.

Two memories

Two more pieces which have been on the interwebnet for a while, but may have escaped your notice.

BBC Radio Kent documentary about 617 Squadron’s test runs at Reculver in April and May 1943, including interviews with two people who as young boys evaded security and sneaked a view from the cliff edge.

Young local newspaper reporter Peter Hopper remembers his exclusive interview with film star Richard Todd on location in Skegness, during the filming of The Dam Busters in 1954. The interview and other articles appeared in the Skegness News. You can read his account and the original article here.

Blue birds over?

There are several people who took part in the Dams Raid still alive, so it was a bit of a shock to read on the BBC website that ‘the last of the Dambusters’ has just departed this life – and was buried in a decorated coffin which hardly seems a model of decorum. These coffins are made by a firm in Oxford who are obviously intent on turning funeral services into somewhat dubious branches of the entertainment industry. It’s run by a lady called Mrs Tomes, whose grasp of both history and geography seems a little tenuous:

‘We’ve had the last of the Dambusters, who had a plaque on the top with bouncing bombs, the white cliffs of Dover and Lancaster bombers. And we had an ice cream van man, who had ice cream cones on his. He had the van leading the parade and they all stood round the grave eating Magnums’ says Mrs Tomes.

[Memo to self: don’t tell jokes to your loved ones about how you want your funeral to be conducted. Like Peter Sellers, you could end up with a song you hate being played as your coffin is carried down the aisle.]

Harry Humphries

I know that it’s a couple of months late, but this blog didn’t exist until just now. So it’s appropriate that I should pay tribute to the late Harry Humphries, who died in February. He was the founder adjutant of 617 Squadron, and one of the people centrally involved in getting the aircraft and crews ready for the Dams Raid in under two months. When I started writing my book, he was one of the five or six survivors from the time who replied to my letter asking for help. His own book was a great resource, and I plundered it shamelessly. Then I also uncovered his moving handwritten tributes to both David Maltby and John Fort which are amongst his papers on display in Grantham Library. 

I was looking forward to sending him a copy of my book.

There were obituaries in a number of papers, including The Times and the Daily Telegraph.