Pic: Australian War Memorial
Flt Lt H B Martin DFC
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 New South Wales, Australia in 1918. Arriving in Britain in 1939, his intention to study medicine was overtaken by the outbreak of war, so he joined the RAF. He qualified as a pilot in June 1941, and served first in 455 RAAF Squadron, flying Hampdens, and bringing together an all-Australian crew of Jack Leggo, Tammy Simpson and Toby Foxlee which flew 13 operations together.
In April 1942, 455 Squadron were transferred to Coastal Command, but Martin and his crew 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.
By October 1942, Martin had completed his tour, with 36 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, p.165.)
By the time 617 Squadron was formed, Martin was just coming to the end of a spell in a training unit. Gibson had met him at an investiture, where they had discussed low flying methods, so he was an almost automatic choice for the project.
Martin was able to bring back together a crew mainly based on old 50 Squadron comrades, with a New Zealander from 75 Squadron, Len Chambers, as wireless operator. They flew together in AJ-P, as the third crew in the first wave, in a trio with Gibson and Hopgood.
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 with its balancing as it veered off to the left and exploded some 20 yards short. It may have been affected by being dropped on the ground as it was being loaded into AJ-P earlier in the day – an event which had caused a sudden evacuation of the area by the ground staff and armourers.
Later, as both Young and Maltby attacked, Martin joined Gibson in these diversionary tactics, putting himself at further risk. Luckily, he successfully avoided being damaged and 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, often using the new 12,000lb Tallboy bomb. 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 him to force land his crippled aircraft in Sardinia. This was Martin’s 49th (and last) heavy bomber operation. However he flew another 34 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.
He died in London in 1988.
Survived war. Died 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.