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 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.

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

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.

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4 thoughts on “Dambuster of the Day No. 15: Harold Martin

  1. Graeme Jensen April 23, 2013 / 1:22 am

    Good morning Charles.

    Greetings from Newcastle, Australia.

    I know you are busy but I hope you have time to read this.

    Firstly I must compliment you on your exhaustive effoets in compiling sucg a detailed public record of the brave men who participated in the dams raid.
    My interest in the Dambusters is not related to any family participation, although my father was a fighter pilot with the RAAF in New Guinea in WW2, but originates and has continued from my being taken to see the movie at a local theatre by my father and grandfather, I think in 1956. I still have vivid memories of a huge model Lancaster perched on top of the street wning of the theatre. I was hoping to source a photo but no luck.

    Unlike in the UK there seems to be little interest in the 70th Anniversary of the raid in Australia despite the Australian contribution.

    I am however trying to get the Newcastle press interested in running a story on Jack Leggo from P-Popsie and Robert Kellow from N-Nuts.

    In my reasearch I discovered that Leggo transferred to flying duties in September 1943 and flew 12 missions with 12 squadron RAAF in Sunderland.

    In his service record archives I found the following remarks by Mick Martin which I assume were made in connection with the proposed transfer to flying duties. In case the reproduction is not good it reads as follows:

    ” This officer has an exemplary character, loyalty, conscientiouness, and devotion to duty have been unwavering over a period two years to my knowledge. No higher standard could be asked for.

    H M Martin (Sgd) S Ldr.”
    3/10/43

    Futher remarks of one H.L Patch read:

    ” A really first class officer and navigator. Will make a good Captain of aircraft as a pilot.”

    H L Patch (Sgd)
    13.10.1943

    I hope this is of interest and assistance to you.

    I havn’t attached a copy of the archive record as there doesn’t appear to be that capability on your Blog but will do so if you give me your email address.

    Best regards
    Graeme Jensen

  2. reece webster October 13, 2014 / 12:34 pm

    I wa looking up on (micky ) martin as that is what the family knew him by. I am truely honoured to have such a brave man part of my family, I never knew about him till I had a conversation with my grandad so I decided to look it up and with this information I have read I have fount out alot about him so I would like to say a big thankyou on behalf of me and my family. Many thanks

  3. George Clark February 16, 2015 / 2:37 pm

    My Great Uncle was his Flight Engineer at 50 SQN, RAF Skellingthorpe. I would like to hear from any of Micky’s family. Regards, George

  4. Len Okell October 28, 2015 / 4:35 am

    Greeting from the Blue Mountains New South Wales

    2 things ! 1 Martins plane had its right side wing shot up during the attack, right side fuel tanks was hit, luckily they were almost empty along with Flap damage..

    2 the bomb had a pistol fuse which was designed to go at a certain depth, i doubt the bomb would of been armed anyway while they were loading it, that’s not to say it didn’t scare the crap out of them. Also when Martin was in charge of the R A F in Germany, he politely sent Barnes Wallis a challenge to try and do the raid again, some friendly Australian Banter.

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