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.

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