On right, Vivian Nicholson, while training as a navigator in Canada 1941. Pic: © Nicholson family.
One of the artifacts surviving from the Dams Raid is the navigation log of Sgt Vivian Nicholson, who was in the crew of David Maltby’s aircraft, AJ-J. It can be seen in the book, The Dambusters Raid, by John Sweetman (Cassell, 2002). A Dutch pilot called Dick Timmers, who now lives in Germany, decided to plot out the route taken by AJ-J using modern navigation software and techniques.
He has kindly agreed to make the plots available to anyone interested, and you can find them in PDF form here.
Below is an edited version of his explanation.
The nav log of Vivian Nicholson is a very meticulous piece of work done in a shaking and vibrating Lancaster in the most dangerous conditions. It took some effort and time to understand the system and its content. I ‘translated’ the log in my navigation/flight planning program from Jeppesen (a professional program used worldwide).
1. The route begins at EGXP (Scampton) via Woodhall Spa to West Raybham via a first FIX-J1 (no idea which landmark this fix represents.) further on to Southwold.
2. From Southwold via FIX-J2 (checking the drift) and FIX-J3 to FIX J-4, which is almost POSN A. POSN A is not reported in Vivian’s log and is crossed out on his route planning section on the overall sheet.
3. Also POSN B (a sandbank between the islands of Schouwen and Beveland) was not used and crossed out as well. However, this was an important waypoint/landmark at the Dutch coast. So AJ-J crossed the coast a bit off route to the north scratching Schouwen. This course deviation was not critical, because pilot, bomb aimer and flight engineer must have been able to see later on a large windmill at the coast of the peninsula of Tholen (this wind mill was according to Gibson a landmark and pinpoint). POSN C was (and still is) a railway intersection on the southern tip of Roosendaal. This position was mentioned by John Sweetman as a waypoint).
4. From Roosendaal due east to POSN D to pick up at the last third of this leg the Wilhelmina canal, which was followed until it ended in a canal (running north-south) at the village of Beek en Donk (POSN D).
5. From POSN D to Rees (POSN E). Approx. 11 miles prior arriving at Rees AJ-J pinpoints (P/P J1) at the town of Goch just behind the Dutch border. Again I have no idea what type of landmark was looked for.
6. POSN E are two sharp bends of the Rhine looking like an ‘omega’ with a small harbour on the top of the ‘omega’ at the right bank.
7. From POSN E to POSN F (landmarks are a few small lakes near Dülmen. Gibson warned for intensive flak and the coordinates were transmitted to the attacking aircraft by Group Headquarters were exactly at POSN F (according to John Sweetman).
8. From POSN F to a turning point at POSN G at Ahlen (most probably the landmark was a coal mine shaft with a slag hill, but I am not sure).
9. From POSN G to POSN H = Target X = Möhne lake.
AJ-J spent a total of 28 minutes at the Möhne Dam.
The first part of the return flight of AJ-J is somewhat confusing, because the waypoints POSN H, especially G and T in the nav log do not sequence. However the logged Distance To Run and E.T.A. indicate clearly the route which was flown. The waypoint G on the return flight was also used for the waypoint F on the outward flight. Maybe a writing error??
1. Directly from POSN H (Möhne Lake) back to POSN G (Ahlen).
2. From POSN G to POSN G (probably writing error instead of F) to the Dülmen lakes. (Why did they not circumnavigate the Dülmen lakes avoiding the reported intensive flak? Maybe the transmitted coordinates by Group Headquarters were not correct?)
3. From the turning point Dülmen to POSN T (landmark just north-north-west of Nordhorn at the Dutch border. No idea what type of landmark. Maybe a railway/road crossing or the church steeple of Nordhorn.) Checking their course Gildehaus, a very small village, was pinpointed, but again I have no knowledge of a good visible landmark at Gildehaus).
4. From POSN T to POSN L. But POSN L (Zwarte Water) was missed by appr. 4 miles to the north. Pinpointing the town of Hardenberg (type of landmark?). Also no problem for the crew as they could pinpoint a lake (Beulaker Lake) just north of their anticipated waypoint.
5. From this lake towards POSN J in the North Sea. As indicated in Vivian’s log AJ-J became a ‘workable GEE’ just before reaching POSN J as can be seen on his first FIX he made (FIX To Base 1).
6. From POSN J to Wainfleet a further FIX To Base 2 shows that AJ-J is on track, but only if Wainfleet was their aim to make landfall. Because otherwise their heading would have brought AJ-J to Coningsby.
As Dick says, the conditions in which Vivian (who was flying on his first operation!) wrote out his log were very difficult, and these probably account for the few small writing errors.
Dick has also sent me a video diary showing part of the course from the air, when he flew along it himself. He has also recently flown over the Möhne itself and concluded that the approach from the north east is technically impossible. The aircraft must therefore have flown up from south of the dam, as first described in Arthur Thorning’s The Dambuster who cracked the Dam. If you would like to see Dick’s video, please contact me, and I will pass your details onto him.
Fantastic – Would any close family members of veteran Dambusters please contact me as we wish to have you fly the route as part of an aviation and media based challenge in the summer of 2021.