Help for Heroes ride to follow Dams Raid route

On the night of 16/17 May 2012 the 69th anniversary of the Dams Raid will be marked by a fundraising motorcycle ride for the Help for Heroes charity. The four riders will follow as closely as possible the route flown by 617 Squadron Lancaster AJ- J on the raid, from RAF Scampton to the Möhne Dam. They will then return to the UK via the John Frost Bridge, so famously held by the Paras at Arnhem, the ‘Bridge too Far’, arriving back in Scampton before midnight the same day.

The riders plan to lay a wreath at the Möhne Dam at 0019 on 17 May, the exact time and day of the bombing run of  the Lancaster piloted by David Maltby. As this blog has a personal connection to David Maltby and his crew, we are happy to support their efforts.

The riders are a group of four, led by Simon Dufton. If you would like to support this cause, you can go to the donations page set up by Simon and his colleagues.

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Les Knight’s mother at his grave – new picture

A Dutch correspondent, Hans Dekker, who lives in Den Ham, has kindly sent me some exciting rare photographs concerning Flt Lt Les Knight, the pilot of AJ-N on the Dams Raid, who was killed in a later operation on 16 September 1943.
I have told the story of his final flight before, notably in a 2010 obituary of Ray Grayston, his flight engineer, but it bears repeating.
Four months after the Dams Raid eight crews from 617 Squadron were sent out with another new weapon, a 12,000lb ‘thin case’ bomb, to attack the Dortmund Ems canal. It was a terrible night, and heavy fog blanketed the target. Four crews had been shot down when Knight, flying at about 100ft in fog hit some trees, and badly damaged both his port engines.
His tailplane and starboard engine were also damaged, and Knight was left with no option but to jettison his bomb and get his crew to bale out. He held the aircraft steady while they left and when the last man, Grayston, had gone he must have tried to bale out himself. However as soon as he took pressure off the control stick and rudder the aircraft flicked on its back and plunged to the ground. Knight did not get to the hatch in time.
All seven of the rest of the crew (they were carrying three gunners) landed safely. Five evaded capture, while two became PoWs. There is no doubt that they all owed their lives to their young pilot, something that they never forgot.
Knight’s crash occurred just outside the village of Den Ham, and he is buried in the village’s general cemetery.
The grave was first marked with a simple wooden cross, which was replaced after the war with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission gravestone.

His mother, Mrs Nellie Knight, visited the grave in about 1954.

Some other members of the Knight family may be in this picture. I would welcome any further information.

Other members of his crew have visited Les’s grave on a number of occasions. Here is Bob Kellow, the wireless operator, probably taken in the 1980s.

Finally, here is the full crew, pictured at Scampton in July 1943, as one of the series of publicity photographs taken by official RAF photographers of members of 617 Squadron.

IWM CH11049

Left to right: Harold Hobday (navigator), Edward Johnson (bomb aimer), Fred Sutherland (front gunner), Les Knight (pilot), Bob Kellow (wireless operator),  Ray Grayston (flight engineer), Harry O’Brien (rear gunner).

Blink and you’ll miss it

My good friend Dom Howard kindly recorded Stephen Fry’s very brief reference to the Dambusters remake on The One Show on BBC1 last night.

Receiving an award for “Most Consistent Attempt to Remake a Film” the great man revealed that he will be flying out to New Zealand “next Monday” for talks with Peter Jackson on “restarting” the remake. Rest assured, gentle readers, that they will be taking nothing away from the original, “one of the greatest British films ever made… Peter is still passionate about it, and so am I”.

(And, if this is your first time reading this blog, please don’t waste your time writing in about the dog’s name. It won’t be published. See this post for the reason why.)

The wrong Dambusters

Patrick Bishop is a great author, and his books Bomber Boys and Fighter Boys are invaluable sources of reference for anyone wanting to find out more about life in the wartime RAF. But someone has taken their eyes off the ball in creating the artwork for the jacket of his latest work, Target Tirpitz.

In the breathless prose loved by publishers’ blurb writers (confession: my first ever job!) HarperCollins tell us:

The Tirpitz, Hitler’s greatest weapon, was reputed to be unsinkable and the battleship inflamed an Allied obsession: to destroy her at any cost.
More than thirty daring operations were launched against the 52,000 ton monster. Royal Navy midget submarines carried out an attack of extraordinary skill and courage against her when she lay deep in a Norwegian fjord in an operation that won VCs for two participants.
No permanent damage was done and the Fleet Air Arm was forced to launch full scale attacks through the summer of 1944 to try and finish her off. But still the Tirpitz remained a significant threat to Allied operations.
It was not until November 1944 that a brilliant operation by RAF Lancaster Bombers, under the command of one of Britain’s greatest but least-known war heroes finally killed off Hitler’s last battleship.

The writer is referring to the raid carried out by 617 and 9 Squadrons, who dropped Barnes Wallis-designed Tallboy bombs which blew the final massive holes in the Tirpitz’s hull. The 617 Squadron contingent was under the command of Group Capt Willie Tait, and a picture of him and a crew which was not his own, taken after the raid, appears in a recent Sunday Telegraph review. However, these are not the five airmen who appear on the cover. Instead, the designer has chosen to use figures from one of the most famous pictures of the war, the photograph taken of Guy Gibson and his crew as they set off on the Dams Raid, 18 months before the Tirpitz was sunk.

(Imperial War Museum, CH18005)

From the left, the figures are Richard Trevor-Roper (rear gunner), John Pulford (flight engineer), George Deering (front gunner), ‘Spam’ Spafford (bomb aimer) and Bob Hutchison (wireless operator). Guy Gibson, on the ladder, and ‘Terry’ Taerum, the navigator, have been cropped out of Harper Collins colour-tinted version.

All five men were of course Dambusters, so they fall into the category mentioned in the book’s subtitle, ‘X-craft, agents and Dambusters’. But it’s a disservice to the real men who were on the raid, and a bit of an insult to the five portrayed on the cover, who couldn’t have been there for one simple reason – they were all dead.

UPDATE: Alex Bateman has kindly pointed out another bit of artistic licence on this cover. The Lancaster shown in the background is in fact Guy Gibson’s usual aircraft from 106 Squadron, known colloquially as ‘Admiral Prune’.