Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada
Flt Sgt J W Fraser
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.
John Fraser was born in British Columbia, Canada on 22 September 1922 and joined the RCAF soon after the war started. After qualifying as a bomb aimer he arrived in England in April 1942, and shortly after was posted to 50 Squadron. There he flew a full tour of 30 operations, mostly with Canadian pilot Norman Schofield, whose crew also included two more people who would become Dambusters – fellow Canadian navigator Ken Earnshaw, and gunner Brian Jagger.
By mid April 1943, Fraser and Earnshaw were both scheduled to go to a training unit for the normal inter-tour rest period. However a call came from the new 617 Squadron being set up at Scampton. Pilot John Hopgood needed an experienced navigator and bomb aimer. His first navigator had fallen ill and his bomb aimer had not come up to scratch. Earnshaw and Fraser were recommended, and arrived at Scampton at the end of April, some time after training for the Dams Raid had begun. However, as Fraser had already arranged his wedding for 29 April, he was given special permission to have a day off.
On the Dams Raid itself, Hopgood’s aircraft AJ-M was hit by flak well before they reached the Möhne Dam. One engine was damaged, Hopgood himself was wounded, and in the front turret, George Gregory was almost certainly dead.
Hopgood persisted. And with flight engineer Charles Brennan holding a handkerchief over his head wound he made a run towards the dam, fighting to maintain position. But the aircraft was hit again, and another engine rendered useless.
Fraser was in the bomb aimer’s position, right at the front of the aircraft, with a dead gunner above his head. Even though he knew it was too late, he released the mine and it bounced over the dam, blowing up the power station on the other side. But his Lancaster was doomed.
After the war he wrote: ‘We flew on and the pilot gave the order to abandon the aircraft within about 25 seconds after we passed over the dam. I knelt facing forward over the escape hatch and I saw that the trees looked awful close. I thought there was only one thing to do and that was to pull the rip cord and let the pilot chute go out first and then let it pull the chute out and me after it, and that’s what I did.’
He landed almost a mile away from where the aircraft crashed, and managed to elude his opponents for 10 days as he walked 200 miles towards Holland, surviving on turnips and potatoes from farmers’ fields. Eventually, he was caught, only 30 miles from the Dutch border, and after interrogation by the Germans, where he was forced to give some details of the mission, he was sent to a prisoner of war camp.
Released at the end of the war, he saw his wife Doris again for the first time since the day after their wedding in May 1945. They made their home in Canada. Fraser never forgot the sacrifice made by John Hopgood which saved the lives of two of his crew. The names of all of his children were chosen as a tribute to Hopgood and 617 Squadron. His first son has the given names John Hopgood; his daughter was called Shere, after Hopgood’s home village; and his second son was called Guy, after the squadron CO.
Fraser worked in the forestry service and died in 1962, ironically in a flying accident.
Survived war. Died June 1962.
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.