Dambuster of the Day No. 21: Thomas Simpson

LeggMartSimpHayFox AWM SUK10845

Jack Leggo, Mick Martin, Tammy Simpson, Bob Hay and Toby Foxlee in London after being decorated at Buckingham Palace, June 1943. [Pic: Australian War Memorial]

Flt Sgt T D Simpson
Rear gunner
Lancaster serial number: ED909/G
Call sign: AJ-P
First wave. Third aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine veered left after dropping and exploded at side of dam.

Thomas Drayton (‘Tammy’) Simpson was born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1917. The son of a lawyer, he began legal training before enlisting in the RAAF in 1940. On arrival in England, he was first posted to 97 Squadron at Coningsby in October 1941, and flew five operations on Manchesters. In February 1942, he was transferred to 455 Australian Squadron who were still flying the older Hampdens, where he quickly teamed up with Mick Martin.
In April 1942, Martin and his crew transferred to 50 Squadron, which meant Simpson was back on heavy bombers. Their first sortie, in a Manchester, was to Cologne on 30 May 1942, the first 1000 bomber raid, when they were the first ever all-Australian crew to fly a Manchester operationally. (The crew comprised Plt Offs Martin, Leggo and Burton, Sgts Smith, Paton, Simpson and Foxlee.)
By the end of June, they were flying Lancasters. By October Simpson had completed a tour of 37 operations, including his spell at 97 Squadron, and was posted to a training unit.
In early April 1943, he joined up with Mick Martin, Jack Leggo and Toby Foxlee again, in the new 617 Squadron, practising for the Dams Raid. He received the DFM for his role on the raid.
After the raid, Simpson carried on flying with Mick Martin on his subsequent 617 Squadron operations, 14 in all. Like Martin and Foxlee he was taken off operations after the Antheor Viaduct trip, in which Bob Hay was killed, in February 1944. He had applied for pilot training in the autumn of 1943, but in the end he was posted to an Operational Training Unit for the remainder of the war.
He returned to Tasmania after discharge from the RAAF, and was called to the Bar in 1949.
Simpson was a guest of honour at the Australian premiere of The Dam Busters in 1955 and returned to Britain several times for 617 Squadron reunions.

Adelaide Age 3-5-56

More about Simpson online:
RAAF Association Tasmania (has several Simpson artifacts on display)

Survived war. Died.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

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Dambuster of the Day No. 20: Bertie Foxlee

Foxlee AWM SUK13321

‘Toby’ Foxlee, in a photograph from the Australian War Memorial archives. The full caption reads: ‘London, England. 1944-05-31. “With the Australians in Britain”. Flying Officer (FO) B. T. Foxlee DFC DFM, RAAF, of Ashgrove, Qld, mid-upper or front gunner of a famous bomber crew, the first all-Australian crew of the first Australian Squadron to be formed in Bomber Command. FO Foxlee came to the BBC to broadcast about his experiences in the Pacific Service programme, which included the Dam busting raids of 1943.’

Plt Off B T Foxlee DFM
Front gunner
Lancaster serial number: ED909/G
Call sign: AJ-P
First wave. Third aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine veered left after dropping and exploded at side of dam.

Bertie Towner Foxlee was always known by his nickname ‘Toby’. (His unusual second name was given to him in honour of his uncle, Edgar Towner, who won the VC in the Australian 2nd Machine Gun Battalion on the Western Front in 1918.)
Foxlee was born in Queensland, Australia on 7 March 1920. He joined the RAAF in 1940 and trained in Australia and Canada as a wireless operator/air gunner. After further training on arrival in England, he was posted to 455 Australian Squadron at Swinderby, where he quickly joined up with Mick Martin. Their first operation, in a Hampden, was on 2 January 1942.
After 14 operations Martin and his crew transferred to 50 Squadron. Their first sortie, in a Manchester, was to Cologne on 30 May 1942, the first 1000 bomber raid, when they were the first ever all-Australian crew to fly a Manchester operationally. (The crew comprised Plt Offs Martin, Leggo and Burton, Sgts Smith, Paton, Simpson and Foxlee.)
By the end of June, they were flying Lancasters. Foxlee went on to complete a tour of 34 operations by 13 September, and was then transferred to a training unit. He received the DFM for his work on the first tour, and was commissioned.
In early April 1943, he joined up with Mick Martin, Jack Leggo and Tammy Simpson again, in the new 617 Squadron, practising for the Dams Raid.

Foxlee Mohne log

Page from Toby Foxlee’s logbook, showing his entry for the Dams Raid. [Pic: Simon Foxlee]

After the raid, he carried on flying with Mick Martin on all his operations. Like his pilot, Foxlee was taken off operations after the Antheor Viaduct trip, on 13 February 1944. He received the DFC in April 1944, and spent the rest of the war instructing in a training unit.
He left the RAAF in 1948, returning to Britain to join the RAF where he worked as an air traffic controller. He married his war time fiancée, and they had five children.
Foxlee finally retired from the RAF in 1957, and after farming for a while in Kent, took the whole family to live in Australia in 1962.
He came back to Britain once more in 1977, and died in Nottingham in 1985.

Survived war. Died 6 March 1985.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Chris Ward, Andy Lee, Andreas Wachtel, Dambusters: Definitive History, Red Kite 2003

Dambuster of the Day No. 19: Robert Hay

Hay colour small

Picture: Hay family

Flt Lt R C Hay DFC
Bomb aimer
Lancaster serial number: ED909/G
Call sign: AJ-P
First wave. Third aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine veered left after dropping and exploded at side of dam.

Aged 30, with a wife and daughter back in Australia, Bob Hay was slightly older than the average member of 617 Squadron aircrew. Born in Adelaide in 1913 he graduated from Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1935, where he also excelled in sports. The swimming pool is now named in his honour.
He joined the RAAF in the summer of 1940, trained in Australia and Canada and arrived in England a year later. His first posting was to the Australian 455 Squadron, where his time coincided with future colleagues Mick Martin and his crew. Like them, in April 1942 he was posted to 50 Squadron to fly on heavy bombers when 455 Squadron moved to Coastal Command.
He served a full tour of operations, flying mainly as navigator with one of the squadron’s best known pilots, Sqn Ldr Hugh Everitt, in a crew which also contained fellow Aussie and future 617 Squadron colleague, Fred ‘Spam’ Spafford.
By the time 617 Squadron was formed, Hay had been commissioned and been awarded the DFC. As an Australian he slotted easily into the crack Mick Martin crew, and his slight age advantage and extensive experience made him the obvious choice for the important role as the squadron’s Bombing Leader.
This new job meant that within days of his arrival, he flew to Manston with Gibson to watch a test drop of the new Upkeep weapon at Reculver. The first, dropped by a Wellington, was successful, but the second, dropped by a Lancaster, broke up. Flying back in a small Magister, he and Gibson had a lucky escape when its single engine failed. Gibson managed to crash land in a field full of devices designed to stop enemy gliders landing.
Hay was one of the four who were told the target on the night before the raid, along with Melvyn Young, Henry Maudslay and John Hopgood. Although the rest of the squadron didn’t know for certain when the operation would take place news that they had been summoned to a meeting in Charles Whitworth’s house led to fevered speculation on the base.
Earlier that day, Hay and most of the rest of Martin’s crew had been on board AJ-P after it had been loaded with its mine. Suddenly, with a crash, it dropped onto the ground and everyone on board and outside beat a hasty retreat in case it exploded. It didn’t, as it hadn’t been fused, but its delicate mechanism may have been damaged, as when it was finally dropped at the Möhne Dam, it veered to the left and exploded at the side.
Hay received a bar to his DFC for his role on the raid, and played his part in the celebrations that followed. He can be seen in the raucous photo taken at the Hungaria Restaurant, wedged between Tammy Simpson and Toby Foxlee, with a glass in his hand.
After the raid, Martin’s crew eventually went back on operations, although Leggo and Chambers eventually left to train as pilots. A new CO, Leonard Cheshire arrived and Hay spent a lot of time working on training his bomb aimers to use a new device, the Stabilised Automatic Bomb Sight (SABS).
Several months passed until February 1944 when, under Cheshire’s leadership, a detachment set off to bomb the Antheor Viaduct in southern France, an important rail link to Italy. 
Paul Brickhill devotes a whole chapter of The Dam Busters to what happened to Martin’s crew on this operation describing in vivid detail his bombing run and the way the aircraft rocked as it was hit by a cannon shell which exploded in the ammunition tray under the front turret.

Martin was calling the roll round his crew. The tough little Foxlee was all right. Bob Hay did not answer. Whittaker gave him a twisted grin, swearing and hunched, holding his legs. The rest were all right. He called Hay twice more but there was only silence, so he said ‘Toby, see if Bob’s all right. His intercom must be busted.’ Foxlee swung out of his turret and wormed towards the nose. He lifted his head towards Martin. ‘He’s lying on the floor. Not moving.’ (The Dam Busters, pp154-5.)

Eventually Martin managed to land his battered Lancaster in Sardinia, and Hay’s body was removed. He was buried the next day in the local cemetery. All the others in Martin’s Dams Raid crew survived the war.
The Principal of Roseworthy Agricultural College wrote after Hay’s death: ‘We were shocked with the news of the loss of Flt Lt Robert Claude Hay, DFC and bar and African Star, a much respected and loved member of the College staff and the Gold Medalist in 1935. Before his enlistment in 1940 he was assistant horticulturist at the college. Both as a member of the staff and as a student Bob Hay, with his happy, carefree disposition, more nearly symbolised the life of an agricultural college student than anyone I’ve known.’

More about Hay online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Roseworthy Agricultural College Newsletter

KIA: 13 February 1944
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Dambuster of the Day No. 18: Leonard Chambers

National Collection

The five members of the crew of AJ-P  who were awarded honours for the Dams Raid pose outside Buckingham Palace. L-R: Len Chambers, Bob Hay, Mick Martin, Tammy Simpson and Jack Leggo. [Pic: Australian War Memorial]

Flg Off L Chambers
Wireless operator
Lancaster serial number: ED909/G
Call sign: AJ-P
First wave. Third aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine veered left after dropping and exploded at side of dam.

Len Chambers was born in Karamea, New Zealand in 1919, and joined the RNZAF in September 1940. After qualifying as a Wireless Operator/Gunner, he arrived in England where he was posted to an Australian training unit, where he flew a number of operations.  He then transferred to 75 (NZ) Sqn (Wellington) where he flew a further 37 operations and became the Squadron Signals Leader.
When Mick Martin joined 617 Squadron he brought most of his old 50 Squadron crew with him, but was short of a wireless operator, so Chambers was sent  for. He was awarded a DFC for his part in the raid.
After the raid, he flew on 6 further sorties before leaving 617 Squadron at the same time as Jack Leggo, in order to qualify as a pilot. However, he did not, apparently, ever fly on any operations in this role.
He returned to New Zealand in November 1944, and left the RNZAF in 1945.
He died in 1985.
[Hat tips: Dave Homewood and Kevin Smith]

TwoNZers Chambers

Biography of Len Chambers from the programme for the New Zealand premiere of The Dam Busters, 1955. [Pic: Chambers family]

Chambers album WW11Dambusters

Collage of photos from a family album. [Pic: Chambers family]

Dams Film Preview

At the New Zealand premiere of The Dam Busters, 1955. L-R: Len Chambers, Lil Chambers, Betty Munro, Les Munro. [Pic: Chambers family]

Survived war. Died 1985.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Chris Ward, Andy Lee, Andreas Wachtel, Dambusters: Definitive History, Red Kite 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Dambuster of the Day No. 17: Jack Leggo

Leggo 17Feb43 AWM UK0026

Pic: Australian War Memorial

Flt Lt J F Leggo DFC
Navigator
Lancaster serial number: ED909/G
Call sign: AJ-P
First wave. Third aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine veered left after dropping and exploded at side of dam.

Jack Leggo was born in Sydney in 1916, and joined the RAAF shortly after the outbreak of war. Like many other Australians, he did part of his training in Canada. After arriving in England he was posted to 455 RAAF Squadron then flying Hampdens, where he crewed up with Mick Martin in the autumn of 1941. The other members of the four man crew were Tammy Simpson and Toby Foxlee. The fact that all four stayed together for more than two years illustrates the bond between them.
In April 1942, the four transferred together to 50 Squadron, a heavy bomber squadron, and retrained on Manchesters and Lancasters. They completed a tour there, and went off to various training units. Leggo received a DFC for his work on the completed tour.
When Martin was asked to join the new 617 Squadron, he brought his old team together as the core of the crew of AJ-P. Leggo was made the Squadron Navigation Officer, responsible for all the other navigators. His confidence on the operation can be seen in the steady hand with which he completed the navigation logs, a page of which can be seen below.
logsheets2-1 Leggo crop

After the raid, for which he received a bar to his DFC, he carried on flying with Martin for a while, but then he put in for retraining as a pilot. Martin supported him in this, praising him for his exemplary character, loyalty, conscientiousness, and devotion to duty. ‘No higher standard could be asked for,’ he added.
After qualifying, Jack Leggo moved to 10 Squadron in Coastal Command, and flew Sunderland flying boats for the rest of the war. Based in Plymouth, the double DFC is pictured taking the salute as he leads a victory parade on VE Day.

National Collection

Pic: Australian War Memorial

He went into the sugar industry in Queensland after the war and, after a successful career, was knighted by the Queen in 1982. He died in 1983.
Extra research: Graeme Jensen

Leggo obit

More about Leggo online:
Entry at ww2awards.com

Survived war. Died 1983.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Chris Ward, Andy Lee, Andreas Wachtel, Dambusters: Definitive History, Red Kite 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

It’s all for you, on Radio 2

Dams + Radio 2

News just in. On Friday 17 May, BBC Radio 2 is to spend an entire day devoted to the Dambusters 70th anniversary. Highlights will include:

Chris Evans broadcasting from the home of the Dambusters – RAF Scampton – and to fly in a Lancaster Bomber
• Interviews with Dambusters veterans Les Munro and George (Johnnie) Johnson, and Barnes Wallis’ daughter, Mary Stopes-Roe
• The largest live music event for the anniversary – Friday Night Is Music Night presents The Dambusters 70 Years On from Biggin Hill Airport
• The Central Band of the RAF to perform a new composition, plus the Military Wives Choir and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Plenty more details here. We will add further information as and when it comes in. We will also check how much of this will be streamed live outside the UK.

Dambuster of the Day No. 16: Ivan Whittaker

Avro boardroom photo lores

Ivan Whittaker is fifth from the right in this picture taken in the Avro Boardroom near Manchester sometime in late 1943 or early 1944. The 617 Squadron party are all members of Joe McCarthy and Mick Martin’s crews. [Pic: Ken Hickson/Peter Cunliffe]

Plt Off I Whittaker
Flight engineer
Lancaster serial number: ED909/G
Call sign: AJ-P
First wave. Third aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine veered left after dropping and exploded at side of dam.

Ivan Whittaker was born in Newcastle on Tyne on 9 September 1921, the younger of the two sons of William and Jane Whittaker. His father was a seagoing marine engineer. Whittaker attended Wallsend Grammar School and then, in 1938, he joined the RAF as an apprentice at RAF Halton. He spent the first three years of the war as ground crew. In 1942, he retrained as a flight engineer and was soon posted to 50 Squadron. There he met Mick Martin and flew with him on a number of operations. Martin gathered together most of his old crew when called into 617 Squadron, with the newly commissioned Whittaker sitting beside him in the flight engineer’s seat.
After the raid, he was promoted again and won his first DFC in September 1943, overdue recognition for a tour completed a year previously. The Martin crew carried on flying throughout the autumn and winter and on 12 February 1944 set off on an operation to attack the Antheor viaduct in Southern France. This was a disaster. Martin’s aircraft was hit by a shell which killed bomb aimer Bob Hay, wounded Whittaker and damaged the aircraft severely. Martin’s supreme skill as a pilot and Whittaker’s careful handling of the engines meant that they were able to make a dangerous landing at a tiny airport on the newly liberated island of Sardinia. For his part in this, Whittaker received a Bar to his DFC, and is thought to be the only flight engineer with the double award.
Part of the citation read: ‘Whilst over the target the aircraft was repeatedly hit and sustained much damage. Flight Lieutenant Whittaker was wounded in both legs but, in spite of this he coolly made a detailed examination of the aircraft and gave his Captain a full report of the damage sustained. He displayed great fortitude and devotion to duty and his efforts were of much assistance to his Captain who flew the damaged bomber to an airfield where a safe landing was effected.’
In March 1944, after 44 operations, he was finally transferred into a training unit.
Whittaker stayed on in the RAF after the war, eventually transferring to the Technical Branch and rising to the rank of Group Captain. He retired in 1974. He was married and had three sons. The family lived in Wendover, near the RAF Halton base, and Whittaker died in its hospital on 22 August 1979.

More about Whittaker online:
Listing at ww2awards.com

Survived war. Died 1979.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Chris Ward, Andy Lee, Andreas Wachtel, Dambusters: Definitive History, Red Kite 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.