Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 September 1943 were dark, dark days in the history of the new 617 Squadron. It was almost exactly four months since its first operation, the raid on the German dams which had made those who took part famous.
The squadron was then held back from other operations, apart from a short series of three raids against Italian targets, while RAF top brass decided what to do with it. Then, in late August, a new ‘light case’ 12,000lb bomb became available and 617 Squadron was detailed to use it to attack the Dortmund Ems canal on a low level raid.
It was not a success. On the first night, the raid was aborted due to poor weather conditions over the target and David Maltby’s Lancaster came down in the North Sea – an accident that may have been caused by a collision with a Mosquito from 139 Squadron ‘that shouldn’t have been there‘. All eight on board were killed, and only Maltby’s body was recovered. The following night a further 33 aircrew lost their lives when four further Lancasters crashed or were brought down. Over the two nights, 13 of those lost were from the crews who had survived the Dams Raid. The rest were men who had missed the first raid through sickness or who had arrived on the squadron as replacements. In terms of casualties, it would be 617 Squadron’s second worst day of the war, after the Dams Raid itself.
I will be writing more about the Dortmund Ems canal raids next week, but today I would like to give you advance warning of three events which will take place in Kent about the time of this sad 65th anniversary.
1. Friday 12 September, 6.30pm
I will be doing a talk at Waterstone’s bookshop, St Margaret Street, Canterbury on David Maltby and his crew. David had many connections with Kent, and I will be showing many photograph, a number of which were not included in my book.
2. Sunday 14 September, 11.30am
The annual event to commemorate David Maltby and his crew takes place on the anniversary of their last flight, at David Maltby’s grave in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent. This is organised by the East Kent branch of the Aircrew Association. Members of the Maltby and Hatfeild families also attend each year. Visitors are welcome.
3. Sunday 14 September, all day
A fly-in is being held at Manston Airport, Kent, at which there will be a number of aerial and static displays, other attractions and bookstalls, including one run by your Humble Scribe. If you are in the area, please come and say hello. This event was postponed from the Spring Bank Holiday weekend because of the downpour that took place that day. Let’s hope for better weather this time!