Flt Lt R D Trevor-Roper DFM
Lancaster serial number: ED932/G
Call sign: AJ-G
First wave: First aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine exploded short of the dam.
With more than fifty operations, Richard Trevor-Roper was probably the most experienced air gunner to take part in the Dams Raid, and was the squadron’s Gunnery Leader. He was also the acknowledged leader of the squadron’s hellraisers, bringing to Scampton a reputation earned in many earlier RAF messes.
Richard Dacre Trevor-Roper was born in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight on 19 May 1915, the son of Charles and Gertrude Trevor-Roper. After leaving Wellington College he spent two years in the Royal Artillery. At the outset of war he joined the RAF, and trained as a wireless operator/gunner.
He was posted to 50 Squadron in October 1940, then flying Hampdens at RAF Lindholme. Most of his operations were flown in the squadron commander Wg Cdr ‘Gus’ Walker’s aircraft and he was recommended for a DFM in October 1941. The citation noted his outstanding service as a wireless operator, and that he had been responsible for the safe return of his crew when severe weather had been encountered. He was also an ‘excellent Gunnery Leader’ who had dowsed a number of searchlights on two occasions, and was an ‘outstanding inspiration to his and all other aircrews’.
Trevor-Roper was commissioned in October 1941 and then spent some time instructing in training units. He went back to 50 Squadron in November 1942, and had flown on another twelve operations, mainly with Sqn Ldr Birch as pilot, before he was brought into 617 Squadron. Gibson obviously recognised Trevor-Roper as a soulmate, describing him in Enemy Coast Ahead as one of the ‘real squadron characters’, although noticing, in a thoughtful moment, that he was quiet on the flight out to the dams, perhaps because his wife was about to have their first baby. He had married Patricia Edwards in 1942 and their son Charles was born on 15 June 1943.
Trevor-Roper was in fact just one of the four aircrew who flew on the raid knowing that their wives were pregnant. Trevor-Roper and David Maltby would live to see their children being born. Lewis Burpee and Charles Brennan would not.
After the raid, for which he received the DFC, Trevor-Roper came into his own, leading the pack in the drunken escapades which followed, principally the excursion to London in June for the investiture at Buckingham Palace and the subsequent dinner at the Hungaria restaurant. Card schools were established, hipflasks produced and trousers removed, not always voluntarily. The squadron adjutant, Harry Humphries, was a particular target, and various escapades are reported in Humphries’s book, Living with Heroes. (The same stories appear again, in a more sanitised version, in Paul Brickhill’s The Dam Busters.)
Eventually 617 Squadron went back on operations, but Trevor-Roper didn’t join the core of the Gibson crew which transferred to the new CO, George Holden. In March 1944, after another period in a training unit, he was posted to 97 Squadron based at Bourn, and joined a very experienced crew captained by Flt Lt Rowlands.
His luck ran out on Bomber Command’s worst night of the whole war, on 30/31 March 1944, when ninety-five bombers were lost from a total of 795 which set out to attack Nuremberg. His aircraft was shot down near Ahorn, by the German nightfighter pilot Major Martin Drewes who claimed five ‘kills’ that night, and all on board died.
Richard Trevor-Roper is buried in Durnbach War Cemetery.
More about Trevor Roper online:
Isle of Wight war memorial (includes death notice from The Times)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission listing
Decoration awarded for Operation Chastise: DFC
KIA 31 March 1944
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 Richard Trevor-Roper 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.
How did Trevor-Roper go from being an officer in the Royal Artillery in 1935-37 to joining up as a ranker in the RAF in 1939? Was he cashiered or have to resign his commission for some reason?
If you are interested I have a photo of his grave in Durnbach War Cemetery in Bavaria. I lived in Munich for 13 years.
Did Richard Trevor-Roper train with 16 OTU at Upper Heyford ?
I’ve always wondered if he was related to the eminent historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (who was ennobled as Lord Dacre, so they had that name in common). But I can’t find anything on-line to confirm it. They were about the same age, so maybe cousins in some degree?
John: Yes, they were related. Both were great grandsons of Charles Blayney Trevor-Roper, so they were second cousins. You can check both lines on http://www.thepeerage.com/p7421.htm#i74207
Hope this helps. Charles Foster