Dambuster obituaries

I have been scouring the interwebnet for online material about the aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid for a project I will be unveiling shortly, but in the meantime, I thought I would share the fruits of part of my research. So far, I have come across these online postwar obituaries:

Ken Brown
George Chalmers
Edward (Johnnie) Johnson
David Rodger
Danny Walker

Thanks to a helpful library subscription, I have also come across four other earlier obituaries which are not generally available in online sources, but can be turned up in newspaper archives. These are of:

Basil Feneron
Harold (Mick) Martin
David Shannon
Paul Brickhill

(I know the last of these did not take part in the Dams Raid himself, but I thought his obituary might be of interest.) I have posted these four obituaries on my other website, and you can see them here.

If you can add any further online or offline material to these links then I would be glad to hear from you.

Bomb aimers remembered

As a child, I was always told that my uncle, David Maltby, had dropped the bomb that caused the breach of the Möhne Dam. This impression is certainly given in the Gibson and Brickhill books and in the 1955 film. In his book, Enemy Coast Ahead, Gibson quotes Melvin Young as saying, ‘I think I’ve done it, I’ve broken it’, after he had dropped the fourth mine. Gibson’s then told him he hadn’t, but that it might go after the next attack. And so it proved. Maltby’s mine was dropped in exactly the right place, and caused the main breach.

Nowadays football statistics record both the goal scorer and the player who ‘assists’ by providing a cross, knock back or deflection. In this case, I don’t think it really matters whether history records the breach as Maltby assisted by Young, or Young assisted by Maltby.

Melvin Young’s aircraft was shot down over Holland on the return flight, and the whole crew were killed, so we don’t know what he would have said afterwards. To David Maltby’s credit, he never claimed the breaking of the dam as entirely his work – the answer he gave to the debriefing questionnaire, minutes after he landed, states quite clearly that, during his approach, he saw that Young’s mine had made a small breach, and made a split second decision to turn slightly to port. Whether Young’s small breach on its own would have resulted in a complete collapse of the dam is something that will never be known. The dam was obviously immensely strong and it may well have needed two explosions to break it. What is quite clear is that only two mines out of the five which were dropped at the Möhne were delivered correctly, and, between them, they broke the dam. Barnes Wallis’s calculations were proven to be good.

The two bomb aimers responsible for these pinpoint drops were John Fort in David Maltby’s aircraft and Vincent MacCausland in Young’s. On the 65th anniversary of the raid, and of her brother’s death a few hours later, MacCausland’s sister, Estelle Sewell, has given an interview to the MacCausland home town newspaper on Prince Edward Island, on the east coast of Canada. She still remembers when the news arrived that he was missing:

“I was out in the yard raking and one of the store people drove in and he had news that Vincent was missing,” she says emotionally of the arrival of that dreaded telegram. “And we didn’t hear anything again for about six months. At the end of six months we were told that he was missing and believed killed.”

The family would later learn that the bodies of MacCausland and four of the AJ-A crew had washed ashore in late May 1943. They were buried in a cemetery in Bergen, Holland, not far from where the plane crashed.

“He had no regrets at all (about signing up for the war effort),” Sewell says of her brother, who died in the line of duty 65 years ago today.

“He was such an organized person. When he made his decision to do something, he’d follow through and that’s the way he lived.”

Vincent MacCausland and Melvin Young died that night. John Fort and David Maltby lived, but their luck would run out too, just under four months later, on a wet and windy September night over the North Sea. It’s a sobering thought when you realise that of the 133 airmen who flew on the Dams Raid only 49 survived to the end of the war.

Dams Raid Lancaster crash site on TV

This is not the crash site of one of the eight Lancasters lost on Operation Chastise (those have all been excavated years ago) but is where Lancaster AJ-T (ED825/G) crashed on the night of 10 December 1943 near Doullens in France. It was still being used by 617 Squadron, and that night was being flown by a crew captained by Flt Lt Gordon Weeden. All seven of the crew were killed.

AJ-T had been designated the ‘spare’ aircraft for Operation Chastise, and was hurriedly pressed into service when Flt Lt Joe McCarthy found a fault in his favourite AJ-Q (Q for Queenie). There is a lot of detail about McCarthy’s habit of calling all his aircraft Queenie, and his predilection for ‘nose art’ here.

Channel Five is screening a documentary about the search for AJ-T next Tuesday, 17 June at 2000 BST. More than ten years after its launch, Channel Five is still not available to everyone in the UK, so I’m sure in due course that the film will be made available on DVD.

The documentary features one of Britain’s last ‘active’ Dambusters, George (Johnny) Johnson, who, of course, was the bomb aimer in McCarthy’s crew, and therefore dropped a bomb from the aircraft on the Sorpe Dam during the Dams Raid. The latter part of the film shows his trip back to the Dams, and his memories of that night.

Here’s what Channel Five say about the film:

Revealed (Documentary)

Last of The Dambusters.

Historical documentary focusing on the famous Second World War Dambusters raid. George Johnson – a bomb aimer in one of the raid’s Lancasters and one of only two British Dambusters alive today – sets off on a final mission to rediscover his past. He finds and digs up his old Dambuster bomber, before travelling back to the giant German dams that he once attacked.

History Channel documentary clips

These clips are from a History Channel documentary that would appear to have been made in 2003 for the 60th anniversary of the raid. I don’t think that it is available on DVD anywhere (please correct me if I’m wrong) so it’s good to have a substantial amount of it available online. The story of Les Knight’s last few moments always chokes me up. He saved seven other mens’ lives on the night of 16 September 1943, keeping a severely damaged aircraft aloft over the Dortmund Ems Canal while they baled out. How he didn’t get a posthumous VC for this beggars belief. 

Two Peter Jacksons – there are only two Peter Jacksons…

Dambuster aficionados know full well that the scheduled remake of the 1955 film is in the (we hope safe) hands of Mr Peter Jackson, with the multi-talented Mr Stephen Fry providing the words. (Can he improve on the beautifully understated script of R C Sherriff?) But football fans know that there is another Peter Jackson closely associated with events in the so-called Bomber County. This is the bearded one’s namesake, the manager of Lincoln City FC, the mighty Imps, who have just finished a middling season by coming 15th in League Two (what in the old days we used to call the Fourth Division). And, it turns out, this Mr Jackson has recently returned to his post after a skirmish with throat cancer. We wish him well and hope the fans greet him with a blast of their favourite tune (you know – the Eric Coates one) on the first game of next season.

Calling all Hattons!

The Wakefield Express recently ran a piece about my book, but didn’t use some of the material I had given them about the family of the late Sgt William Hatton, flight engineer in aircraft AJ-J on the Dams Raid. For the book, I tracked down relatives of all the other members of this crew, but the Hatton trail went cold. So I am repeating what I know here, in the hope that one day someone will Google the name, find this link and get in touch…

William Hatton was born on 24 March 1920 and went to Holy Trinity and Thornes House schools in the town. He was one of four children, two boys and two girls. His parents were called George and Florence Hatton. His brother was called George Hatton and his two sisters were called Ethel (born 1924) and Irene (born 1926). Ethel married Arthur Castle in June 1944, and they had a son, William David Anthony Castle, born in 1946. Irene married Donald Tait in February 1950. If anyone has any leads on this family, then please contact me.

Great new publication

At a time when so much stuff about the Dams Raid is simply the recycling of old material (and often inaccurate old material at that) it’s great to be able to say that this new publication,  Breaching the German Dams from the RAF Museum comes up with real new information. As it is written by two genuine experts, Richard Morris and Robert Owen, you would expect nothing less. For the bargain price of six quid you get 80 A4 pages containing a number of articles: inter alia, family memories of Barnes Wallis, Roald Dahl and the film script that never was, how the crews were trained, how the Lancasters were modified, how Gibson was selected as the operation leader (including the daring suggestion that he might have been the only available candidate!), possible uses of Upkeep later in the war, and the final Operation Guzzle (you’ll have to read it to find out what that was all about). Order it now from the RAF Museum!