Five of Gibson’s Dams Raid crew, photographed at Scampton in July 1943. Left to right: Guy Gibson, Fred ‘Spam’ Spafford, Robert Hutchison, George Deering, Harlo ‘Terry’ Taerum. Note the three shades of uniform colour: Gibson and Hutchison in RAF blue, Deering and Taerum in a darker RCAF shade, and the deepest of all, the RAAF outfit worn by Spafford. [Pic: IWM TR1127]
Plt Off F M Spafford DFM
Lancaster serial number: ED932/G
Call sign: AJ-G
First wave: First aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine exploded short of the dam.
Frederick Michael Spafford was always known by the nickname ‘Spam’ in his RAF days, reflecting the wartime ubiquity of the well-known luncheon meat. He was born as Frederick Michael Burke in Adelaide, South Australia, on 16 June 1918. After his parents died, he was adopted by his maternal grandfather and changed his surname to Spafford.
He joined the RAAF in September 1940 and, after training under the Empire Air Training Scheme, arrived in England in August 1941. After further training, he became a specialist bomb aimer and joined 50 Squadron in May 1942, first flying on Manchesters and then Lancasters.
He flew on most of his operations with pilot Hugh Everitt, one of 50 Squadron’s most respected and decorated flyers. Spafford was decorated with a DFM in October 1942 for his skill and ‘praiseworthy example’.
He was commissioned in January 1943, and he finished his tour in March. Along with his 50 Squadron colleague, Harlo Taerum, Spafford was then recruited for Gibson’s crew. Both may have been recommended by Mick Martin. Spafford obviously hit it off with his new captain, who described him in Enemy Coast Ahead as ‘a grand guy and many were the parties we had together; in his bombing he held the squadron record.’
On the Dams Raid itself, Gibson attacked first and although his mine was dropped correctly and skipped several times, it sank and exploded some 50yds short of the target. On his safe return, Spafford was awarded the DFC, and was interviewed by the press and on the radio, describing ‘the secrecy and hazards of No 617’s training for low-level flying, the elaborate briefings, and the attack which was carried out in bright moonlight against enemy fire.’
When Gibson left, Spafford transferred to new CO George Holden’s crew, although like Taerum and Hutchison he was technically ‘tour expired’. He was killed when Holden was shot down on the raid on the Dortmund Ems canal, on 16 September 1943, and is buried in Reichswald Forest cemetery.
More about Spafford online:
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Commonwealth War Graves Commission listing
Decoration awarded for Operation Chastise: DFC
KIA 16 September 1943
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
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 Fred Spafford 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.