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 Simpson was born in Hobart, Tasmania on 23 November 1917, the middle of the three children of Thomas Simpson and his wife. His father was a lawyer, and Simpson himself 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 (Australia) Squadron who were still flying the older Hampdens, where he quickly teamed up with Mick Martin. It was Martin that gave him the nickname ‘Tammy’.

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 Thousand Bomber raid, when they became 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 resumed his law studies. He was called to the Bar in 1949, and worked as a lawyer thereafter. He married Esme Reid after the war and they had four children.
Simpson died in Hobart on 2 April 1998.

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, Cassel 2002

Further information about Thomas Simpson and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

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, the son of Herbert and Olive Foxlee. 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 (Australia) Squadron at Swinderby, where he quickly joined up with Mick Martin and Jack Leggo. 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 Thelma Madge Peacock in 1948 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 on 6 March 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

Further information about Toby Foxlee and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

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 rest of Mick Martin’s crew. Born in Renmark, South Australia on 4 November 1913, Robert Claude Hay was the son of John and Margaret Hay. He attended Renmark High School and graduated from Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1935, where he also excelled in sports. The college 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 455 (Australia) 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’ Stafford.

By the time 617 Squadron was formed, Hay had been commissioned and been awarded the DFC. As an Australian from 50 Squadron he slotted easily into the crack 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 crashland 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 Melvin 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. Intelligence officer Fay Gillon was also inside the aircraft, being given a tour. Suddenly, with a crash, the mine dropped onto the ground and everyone on board and outside beat a hasty retreat in case it exploded. The weapon hadn’t been fused, so it did not explode 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 Tom 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, on a small airfield run by the Americans. Hay’s body was removed from the aircraft and he was buried the next day in a cemetery in Cagliari. He was the only one of Martin’s Dams Raid crew who did not survive the war. Martin was himself quite shaken by the episode, and did not fly again on operations with 617 Squadron. A few months later, however, he had recovered his poise and was back in a Mosquito squadron.

After Hay’s death, the Principal of Roseworthy Agricultural College wrote:

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.

Hay had married Honoria (Edna) Thomson in 1938. They had one daughter.

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.

Further information about Bob Hay and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

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, Tom 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 on 18 February 1919. He joined the RNZAF in September 1940. After qualifying as a wireless operator/air gunner, he arrived in England where he was posted to a training unit and then 460 Squadron, an RAAF squadron. He flew on twenty operations there, before being transferred to 75 (NZ) Squadron, where he flew a further thirty-seven 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 brought in. He was awarded a DFC for his part in the raid.
After the raid, he flew on six 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. After the war, he worked as a carpenter and builder. He died in his native Karamea on 1 March 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.

Further information about Len Chambers and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

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 Frederick Leggo was born in Sydney on 21 April 1916, the son of Frederick Henry Leggo and Leah Druce. He was brought up in Newcastle, New South Wales and went to Newcastle High School. He then worked as a bank clerk before joining the RAAF shortly after the outbreak of war.

Like many other Australians, he did part of his training in Canada. After qualifying as a navigator he arrived in England and was posted to 455 (Australia) Squadron, where he crewed up with Mick Martin in the autumn of 1941. Toby Foxlee and Tom Simpson joined Martin and Leggo in the crew over the next few months, and the fact that all four stayed together for almost two years illustrates the bond between them. In April 1942, 455 Squadron moved to Coastal Command but the four Australians transferred together to 50 Squadron, a heavy bomber squadron, and retrained on Manchesters and Lancasters. They completed a tour there, and then went off separately 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. Leggo qualified as a pilot and moved to 10 Squadron in Coastal Command, where he flew Sunderland flying boats for the rest of the war. Based in Plymouth, the double DFC is pictured below taking the salute as he leads a victory parade on VE Day.

National Collection

Pic: Australian War Memorial

He returned to Australia after the war and went into the sugar industry in Queensland. He married Mary Best in 1947 and they had three children. After a successful business career he was knighted by the Queen in 1982. He died in Brisbane on 14 November 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.

Further information about Jack Leggo and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

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 the No 1 School of Technical Training 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. When he was called into 617 Squadron, Martin gathered together most of his old crew 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 in 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 forty-four operations, he was finally transferred into a training unit, where he served to the end of the war. He stayed on in the RAF after the war, eventually transferring to the Technical Branch and rising to the rank of Group Captain, finally retiring in 1974.

Whittaker was married with three sons. The family lived in Wendover, near the Halton base where he had first joined the RAF before the war, and he 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.

Further information about Ivan Whittaker and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

Dambuster of the Day No. 15: Harold Martin

Martin AWM UK0235

Pic: Australian War Memorial

Flt Lt H B Martin DFC
Pilot
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.

Harold Brownlow Martin was universally known throughout his long RAF career by his nickname ‘Mick’. He was born in the Sydney suburb of Edgecliff, Australia on 27 February 1918, the son of Dr Joseph Martin and his wife Colina. He went to Randwick High School, Sydney Grammar School and Lyndfield College. Before the war, Martin seemed destined for the medical profession like his father. In 1939 he had accepted a place at a medical school in Edinburgh, but shortly after he arrived in Britain his intentions were overtaken by the outbreak of war. He first joined the Australian army, but then in 1940, he transferred to the RAF, and began pilot training. He qualified as a pilot in June 1941, and his first operational posting came in October, when he was sent to 455 (Australia) Squadron, an RAAF outfit flying Hampdens. Two of his regular crew came to include fellow Australians Jack Leggo as navigator and Toby Foxlee as wireless operator/gunner.

On 18 February 1942, another Australian gunner, Tom Simpson, arrived on the squadron and was immediately assimilated into the crew. They flew on a trip to Cologne that night, thereby becoming the first all-Australian crew to fly on operations over Germany. When Simpson reported for duty to the gunnery section the following day, the officer in charge said that he would get him crewed up. Simpson replied:

‘I am crewed up. I flew last night.’ He looked at me in quite blank amazement and said ‘Well, who did you fly with? I wasn’t told anything about it.’
I said: ‘I flew with a Pilot Officer who told me his name was Martin … a Sergeant Foxlee told me that I was in his crew.’ The Flight Lieutenant then said ‘Well, there’s not much hope for you if that’s the case because Martin is as mad as a grasshopper; he likes flying his own style.’(Tom Simpson, Lower than Low, Libra Books, 1995, p40.

The crew went on a further dozen operations together until, in April 1942, 455 Squadron were transferred to Coastal Command. Martin, Leggo, Foxlee and Simpson then moved to 50 Squadron in order to continue their tour in Bomber Command. 50 Squadron was flying Manchesters at the time, but was in the process of moving over to the more powerful Lancasters. Three more Australians (Plt Off Burton, Sgt Paton and Sgt Smith) joined the Martin crew on their first 50 Squadron sortie, the Thousand Bomber raid which attacked Cologne on 30 May 1942. They thereby became the first ever all-Australian crew to fly a Manchester operationally.

By October 1942, Martin had completed his tour, with thirty-six operations, and was awarded the DFC. He had acquired a reputation both as a low flying specialist but also as someone who prepared meticulously for an operation, personally polishing the Perspex on his cockpit canopy, since a smear could easily obscure an approaching fighter. He demanded the same high standards from those who flew with him. According to Max Hastings, he and his crew ‘achieved an almost telepathic mutual understanding and instinct for danger.’ (Bomber Command, 1979, p165.)

It must have been at the investiture ceremony for this DFC that Martin first met Guy Gibson. It is recorded that it was there that they had a conversation about low flying methods. A few months later, Martin was just coming to the end of a spell as an instructor in 1654 Conversion Unit at Wigsley. Gibson recalled the earlier conversation and was quick to recruit him for the new project.

Martin set about bringing back together a crew mainly based on old 50 Squadron comrades, with a New Zealander from 75 Squadron, Len Chambers, as wireless operator. He also seems to have been instrumental in bringing in other men to the new squadron, often other comrades from 50 Squadron.

On the Dams Raid, Martin lined up to attack the Möhne Dam just minutes after disaster had overtaken Hopgood. Gibson joined his attack, flying slightly ahead on his starboard side. This tactic seemed to distract the dam’s gunners and Martin was able to drop his mine correctly. However, something must have gone wrong as the mine veered off to the left and exploded some 20 yards short. Later, as both Young and Maltby attacked, Martin joined Gibson in diversionary tactics, putting himself at further risk. Luckily, although one of his fuel tanks was damaged it had already been emptied, and he was able to fly back to Scampton when the Möhne was breached.

After the Dams Raid, Martin was a key figure in many of the celebrations and at the investiture in London, where he received the DSO. The Australian press and broadcasters were very keen to have pictures of their boys shown back at home, and with his distinctive moustache Martin was often recognised.

In September 1943, Martin was acting CO of 617 Squadron in the unhappy circumstances following the catastrophic attack on the Dortmund Ems canal when six pilots and most of their crews were lost in two days. Strangely, this was the only period during the war when he took command of a squadron.

Later, when Leonard Cheshire arrived, Martin participated in attacks on targets in France, Italy and Germany. In February 1944, during an abortive attack on the Antheor Viaduct in the French Riviera, Martin’s Lancaster was hit by ground fire, killing the bomb aimer Bob Hay, and causing Martin to force land his crippled aircraft in Sardinia. This was Martin’s forty-ninth (and last) heavy bomber operation. However he flew another thirty-four operations in Mosquitos in 515 Squadron.

Martin stayed on in the RAF after the war, and had a distinguished career. He broke the speed record for flying from England to Cape Town in a Mosquito, and then went on to a succession of staff jobs including being an ADC to the Queen, C-in-C RAF Germany and the Air Member for Personnel. He was knighted and rose to the rank of Air Marshal before retiring in 1974. Martin was described by Ralph Cochrane as being the greatest pilot the RAF produced during the war. (Paul Brickhill, The Dam Busters, Evans 1951, p163.) There would be few who would dispute this view.

Martin married his wife Wendy Lawrence in 1944, and they had two daughters. He died in London on 3 November 1988 after complications following a road accident. He is buried in Gunnersbury Cemetery in London.

More about Martin online:
Entry on Wikipedia
Entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Survived war. Died 3 November 1988.
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.

Further information about Mick Martin and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

Dambuster of the Day No. 14: Anthony Burcher

Tony Burcher

Plt Off A F Burcher DFM
Rear gunner
Lancaster serial number: ED925/G
Call sign: AJ-M
First wave. Second aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Aircraft hit by flak. Mine dropped late and bounced over dam. Aircraft crashed on far side of dam

Anthony Fisher Burcher was born in Vaucluse in Sydney, Australia on 15 March 1922, the fifth of the twelve children of Harvey and Estelle Burcher. He worked as a wool sorter before volunteering for the RAAF. He arrived in England in September 1941 and after further training was posted to 106 Squadron. His first operation was the Thousand Bomber raid on 1 June 1942 when he attacked Essen in the crew of Wrt Off Peter Merrals. He went on to join Sgt James Cassels’s crew where he completed a full tour in November.

Burcher was a complicated character and although he was at one point put onto a ‘dry’ stint by his CO Guy Gibson for scrapping in the mess, Gibson obviously respected his gunnery skills as he was then transferred to the Gunnery Leaders Course at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire, with a commission. He also received the DFM for his tour of operations, with the citation particularly noting his part in a skirmish on a trip to Saarbrucken when five enemy fighters were attacked and driven off.

After completing the Gunnery Leaders Course, Burcher was sent to 1654 Conversion Unit at Wigsley as an instructor. One of the pilots there was Mick Martin and according to Burcher’s account when Gibson telephoned Martin to ask him to join the new squadron he was told to bring Burcher along as well. As he knew Hopgood from 106 Squadron, he was placed in his crew.

On the Dams Raid itself, Burcher, in the rear turret, could only hear what was going on in the front of the aircraft via the intercom. It would seem that when AJ-M was hit by flak some twenty minutes before the dam was reached, Burcher received superficial wounds to the leg and stomach.

When Hopgood gave the order to bale out after the aircraft was hit again on the final attack, the wounded John Minchin managed to drag himself towards the rear escape hatch, with one leg almost severed. Burcher pushed his colleague out of the hatch first, pulling his parachute ripcord as he did so, and then followed him. Sadly, Minchin did not survive the drop, but Burcher did and he and John Fraser, who had escaped from the front of the aircraft, were captured separately and taken prisoner.

On release from PoW camp in 1945, Burcher married Joan Barnes, a WAAF who had also served in 106 Squadron. They moved to Australia where Burcher continued service with the RAAF, and they had two daughters. At some point in the late 1940s his conduct became unsatisfactory and he suffered a number of health problems. His superiors speculated that some of this behaviour might have been caused by the effects of his wartime experiences. He was transferred to RAAF Overseas Headquarters in London in 1950, and was eventually discharged there in 1952, at the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He was repatriated to Australia at his own expense later that year.

He eventually returned to the UK and worked in various businesses. In 1961 he was found guilty of being involved in a criminal fraud case, and was given a prison sentence. He then returned to Australia, and died in Hobart, Tasmania, on 9 August 1995.

More about Burcher online:
Burcher’s account of AJ-M’s final flight (scroll down)

Survived war. Died 9 August 1995.
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.

Further information about Tony Burcher and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

Dambuster of the Day No. 13: George Gregory

Gregory photo

Plt Off G H F G Gregory DFM
Front gunner
Lancaster serial number: ED925/G
Call sign: AJ-M
First wave. Second aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Aircraft hit by flak. Mine dropped late and bounced over dam. Aircraft crashed on far side of dam.

George Henry Ford Goodwin Gregory was born in Govan, Glasgow on 24 June 1917, one of the seven children of Edwin and Agnes Gregory. He worked as a printer before joining the RAF at the outset of the war. He had completed a full tour of operations as a gunner in 44 Squadron by the autumn of 1942, and received the DFM. He then moved on to a training unit and was commissioned. He went back onto operations in March 1943, and was posted to 617 Squadron where he joined John Hopgood’s crew.

Gregory was married, but his wife Margaret had remained in Scotland. In the run up to the Dams Raid he was living at RAF Scampton, and sharing quarters with squadron adjutant Harry Humphries.In his memoirs, Humphries recalled the night before the raid:

Old Greg was a tough proposition, tall, handsome and like most Scots, very independent. If he liked you, all well and good, If he disliked you, well at least you knew… [His] wife had been in Lincoln a few days previously and I really think he needed her in his strung up state. He did not know what he wanted to do. First he wanted to go out in his car and find a drink, then he wanted to play snooker, and then he would talk about bed… I said ‘Come on old lad, let’s go for a walk around the mess. It’s getting damned hot in here.’ … Just as we were leaving the anteroom John Hopgood, Gregory’s pilot, spotted us and aimed an almost playful kick at his rear gunner’s backside, which I am sure would have crippled him if it had landed. When I eventually separated them, with Greg, needless to say, on top by sheer brute force, Hopgood or ‘Hoppy’ as we knew him, dragged himself painfully to his feet. ‘Just as I said,’ he complained loudly, ‘air gunners are all bloody brawn and no brains.’

They then walked back to their quarters, and had a cup of tea with their batman in his kitchen.

Greg was the first to move. ‘I think I will go to bed,’ he said, ‘may be working tomorrow.’ With that he had gone and little did I know that for Greg it was probably his last cup of tea in that kitchen. In fact it was his last night on earth. (Harry Humphries, Living with Heroes, 2003, pp. 1-3)

From Tony Burcher’s account, we now know that it is likely that Gregory was severely wounded some twenty minutes before Hopgood’s aircraft reached the Möhne Dam, as he wasn’t answering his intercom. In the same flak attack Hopgood, Minchin and Brennan himself were also wounded. However they pressed on, the mine was dropped, and moments afterwards Hopgood told the crew to bale out. According to John Fraser’s post-war debriefing after his release from PoW camp, it would seem that Gregory attempted to get back to the rest area to retrieve his parachute but never escaped.

Hopgood, Brennan, Earnshaw, Minchin and Gregory are buried together in Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany.

More about Gregory online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission listing

KIA 17 May 1943
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.

Further information about George Gregory and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.