Dambuster of the Day No. 9: Charles Brennan

brennan b3085

Charles Brennan’s logbook and wedding photo are in the RAF Museum in Hendon. He married his wife, Freda Pemberton, in 1940. [Pic: RAF Museum]

Sgt C Brennan
Flight engineer
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.

Canadian Charles Brennan had been John Hopgood’s regular flight engineer in the latter part of his tour of operations on 106 Squadron, and the pair obviously got on well together.  So when Hopgood was putting together a new crew at 617 Squadron he brought Brennan in.
Brennan was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in February 1916. He moved to England in 1928 and joined the RAF at the outset of the war. After training he worked as ground crew. When the opportunity came for skilled ground crew to qualify as flight engineers for the heavy bombers, he took the chance, like many other enthusiastic young men who were keen to fly. His course at No 4 School of Technical Training at RAF St Athan finished in the early summer of 1942, and he joined 106 Squadron in June. He joined Hopgood’s crew, and flew with him for the first time on 14 August. The following day was his first operation, with a trip to Dusseldorf. He carried on with this crew until Hopgood’s tour ended, in October 1942.
By then, Brennan had flown on 16 operations but instead of being assigned to another crew, he was posted to 1660 Conversion Unit as a trainer. He flew on many training flights between 25 November 1942 and 26 March 1943 , usually with Flt Lt R J Churcher DFC as his pilot.
When Hopgood was called up by Gibson, he must have contacted Brennan and asked him to rejoin him. As Brennan was only halfway through a tour, he probably thought it a good opportunity to finish it with a pilot he knew and trusted.
One can only wonder as to what conversation passed between Brennan and Hopgood when the young pilot was injured on the fateful journey to the dams. He would have needed all his flight engineering skill to help the pilot keep the aircraft aloft, as one of the engines was damaged and running on reduced revs. Tony Burcher recalls that he was a ‘calm chap’, so also having to hold a handkerchief over Hopgood’s head wound may not have completely fazed him.
When they were hit again, as they attacked the Möhne Dam, the pair must have realised that they would never get off the flight deck themselves, and that all they could do was to give as many of their colleagues as possible the chance to escape. They were both remarkable men.
Hopgood, Brennan, Earnshaw, Minchin and Gregory are buried together in Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany.

More about Brennan online:
Canadian Virtual War Memorial entry
Second World War Book of Remembrance
Logbook details
Commonwealth War Graves Commission listing

KIA 17 May 1943
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.

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Dambuster of the Day No. 8: John Hopgood

Hopgood

Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada

Flt Lt J V Hopgood DFC and Bar
Pilot
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 Vere Hopgood was born in Hurst, Berkshire on 29 August 1921, the son of Harold and Grace Hopgood. Harold Hopgood was a solicitor, and had two sons with his first wife Beatrice who died, leaving him a widower. Harold and Grace had three children of whom John was the second, and the only boy. He was educated at Marlborough College, and would have gone on to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, but the war intervened.
He joined the RAF in 1940, and qualified as a pilot in February 1941, and was then commissioned. He spent his first tour of operations flying with 50 Squadron and was then posted to a training unit. In February 1942, he went back onto operations with 106 Squadron, based at Coningsby, which was flying the unreliable two engined Avro Manchesters. In April, a new Squadron CO, Guy Gibson arrived. He described his first impression of Hopgood in Enemy Coast Ahead:

‘He was a fair-haired chap about medium height, rather good-looking, except for one prominent tooth. The boys seemed to be always taking him off about this, but he took it very good-naturedly. He was a serious fellow at heart, though, even though he spent most of his time with the boys. As soon as I saw him I thought, “What an ideal squadron type. I like that chap.”’

The squadron was moving over to Lancasters, and Hopgood was one of the first to retrain on this much more powerful aircraft. He was one of the pilots who then had to pass on their new skills to Gibson, something he evidently did with quiet authority, another trait admired by the Squadron CO.
In October 1942, after flying 32 operations, he was awarded the DFC, and commended for his ‘magnificent dash and courage when pressing home his attacks whatever the opposition’. This was followed just four months later by a Bar to the DFC for completing a number more successful operations since the first award.
There are many myths about how the pilots and crews were chosen for the fledgling 617 Squadron. By no means were they all personally known or recruited by Gibson. However John Hopgood and David Shannon, former 106 Squadron colleagues, were both definitely encouraged to join him. Hopgood brought two members of his regular crew, flight engineer Charles Brennan and rear gunner Tony Burcher. However, his bomb aimer wasn’t deemed suitable and his navigator fell ill, so two Canadians from 50 Squadron, John Fraser and Ken Earnshaw, were recruited in their stead.
Although Hopgood wasn’t one of the flight commanders, Gibson wanted him by his side, and so he was made deputy leader of the attack on the Möhne Dam. As such, he was one of the four who were briefed about the target the night before the raid. Hopgood suggested an important change to the already planned route, pointing out that it went near Hüls, which had heavy defences not marked on the map.
On the raid itself, Gibson, Hopgood and Mick Martin were the first trio from Wave One to take off. From Tony Burcher’s account it would seem that Hopgood’s AJ-M was hit by flak some 20 minutes before the dam was reached. Hopgood himself received a head wound, and in the front turret below him, Gregory had probably been killed, as he wasn’t answering his intercom. Burcher recalls Hopgood saying: ‘Right, well what do you think? Should we go on? I intend to go on because we have only got a few minutes left. We’ve come this far.There’s no good taking this thing back with us. The aircraft is completely manageable. I can handle it OK. Any objections?’ And on he pressed, with Brennan beside him holding a handkerchief on his head to stem the bleeding.
They got to the dam. Gibson attacked first, unsuccessfully. He was lucky. The dam’s gunners were uncertain of the direction from which he would come, so didn’t start firing until he was very close and did not damage him.
But, ten minutes later, when Hopgood approached, they were ready. His already damaged Lancaster was hit again. An engine caught fire, he strugged to keep the aircraft level, and the mine was released too late, bouncing over the dam and into the power station below, where it exploded.
Now Hopgood tried desperately to gain height, in an effort to give his crew a chance to bale out. He gained about 500 feet and somehow, Fraser, Minchin and Burcher escaped, but Minchin, badly injured, didn’t survive the parachute drop. Fraser and Burcher did, but both were captured and taken prisoner.
Neither ever forgot the heroic gesture by Hopgood which saved their lives. Fraser went back to Canada after the war and gave his son the forenames John Hopgood. His daughter was named Shere, after the Surrey village where Hopgood grew up.
Hopgood, Brennan, Earnshaw, Minchin and Gregory are buried together in Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany.

More about Hopgood online:
Bomber Command Museum of Canada
Tribute to AJ-M site (includes details of crash site)
Online obituary
Commonwealth War Graves Commission listing

KIA 17 May 1943
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.

Dambuster of the Day No. 7: Richard Trevor-Roper

R D Trevor-Roper small

Flt Lt R D Trevor-Roper DFM
Rear gunner
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 50 operations, Richard Trevor-Roper was probably the most experienced air gunner to take part in the Dams Raid, and was the Gunnery Leader. He was also the acknowledged leader of the squadron’s hellraisers, bringing to Scampton a reputation honed in many an earlier squadron mess.
Trevor-Roper was born on the Isle of Wight on 19 May 1915. 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.
In 1941, he had one complete tour in 50 Squadron, received a DFM, and was also commissioned. After an inter-tour break at a training unit, he went back to 50 Squadron and had almost completed another tour, flying mainly with Sqn Ldr Birch, when 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 produce their first baby.
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 and the dinner at the Hungaria restaurant that followed. Cards were played, hipflasks were produced, and trousers removed, not always voluntarily. The squadron adjutant, Harry Humphries, was a particular target, and various escapades are reported in his book, Living with Heroes. (The same stories appear again, in a more sanitised version, in Paul Brickhill’s The Dam Busters.)

Grog Certificate small

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. Instead, he went to 97 Squadron, based at Bourn, joining 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 95 bombers were lost from a total of 795 which set out to attack Nuremberg.
He 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.

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.

Dambuster of the Day No. 6: George Deering

Canadians damsraid15a

The fifteen RCAF Aircrew who returned from the Dams Raid. Back Row: Oancia, Sutherland, O’Brien, Brown, Weeks, Thrasher, Deering, Radcliffe, MacLean, McCarthy, McDonald
Front Row: Pigeon, Taerum, Walker, Gowrie, Rodger. [Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada]

Plt Off G A Deering
Front gunner
Lancaster serial number: ED932/G
Call sign: AJ-G
First wave: First aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine exploded short of the dam.

Of Irish descent, George Andrew Deering was born in Kirkintilloch, Scotland, on 23 July 1919. His family emigrated to Canada when he was a boy, and he went to school in Toronto. He joined the RCAF in July 1940 and after training in Canada arrived in England in April 1941 as a Wireless Operator/Gunner.
Deering spent about a year in 103 Squadron, at RAF Elsham Wolds, which at the time was flying Halifaxes, and completed a full tour of operations. He was then sent to an Operational Training Unit, and was commissioned in February 1943, although this information didn’t seem to reach 617 Squadron until after the Dams Raid.
How he was allocated to Gibson’s crew is a bit of a mystery. With some 35 operations, he was far from the novice described in Enemy Coast Ahead: ‘In the front turret was Jim [sic] Deering from Toronto, Canada, and he was on his first [sic] bombing raid. He was pretty green, but one of our crack gunners had suddenly gone ill and there was nobody else for me to take.’
Later in the book, Gibson calls him ‘Joe’ and in the dedication he is referred to as ‘Tony’. Giving a member of your own crew three different first names may well be a record, even for this book which is littered with editorial errors. Also, Deering was posted into 617 Squadron on 29 March, so was hardly a last minute replacement.
For his part in the raid, Deering was awarded a DFC, recognition at last that he was an officer by the time of the raid. Along with Taerum, Hutchison and Spafford he transferred to George Holden’s crew, and died with all of them when they were shot down on the Dortmund Ems Canal operation on 16 September 1943.

More about Deering online:
Air Force Association of Canada listing
Commonwealth War Graves Commission listing

Decoration awarded for Operation Chastise: DFC
KIA 16 September 1943
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.

Dambuster 70th anniversary events (update 12 April)

Dams Raid 70th anniversary

Below is a list of the events so far planned for the 70th anniversary of the Dams Raid. Please note that some are still subject to confirmation, especially the flyover at the Derwent Reservoir on Thursday 16 May. We have been informed that this may still be happening, but that no final decision has yet been made.
This list will be updated again before 16 May, and you will be able to see the latest version by clicking on this category link Dambusters 70th anniversary .

Sunday 12 May
RAF Museum Cosford
2.00pm
Concert

Monday 13 May-Friday 17 May
RAF Museum London
10.00am-6.00pm daily
Exhibition

Thursday 16 May
Derwent Reservoir, Derbyshire
Time to be confirmed.
BBMF Lancaster flypast
(A decision on whether this is going ahead will be taken shortly.)

Thursday 16 May
RAF Museum Cosford
5.00pm
Special talk: ‘Operation Chastise – 70 years on, the successful failure’

Thursday 16 May
Outside broadcast from RAF Scampton
7.00-8.00pm
Live broadcast of Sunset Ceremony from RAF Scampton on BBC2.
RAF College Cranwell Band and The Queen’s Colour Squadron including the 617 Sqn Standard.
Flypast and landings by BBMF Lancaster and Spitfires, plus Tornadoes flown by today’s 617 Squadron.
Invited guests only at Scampton. Please do not ask for tickets!

Friday 17 May
Lincoln Cathedral
afternoon
Dam Busters commemoration service (Ticket only: apply by post!)

Sunday 19 May
Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire
Time to be confirmed
Service and unveiling of 617 Squadron post World War 2 memorial

Sunday 19 May
Herne Bay, Kent
Full town commemoration
Details to be confirmed

In addition to these events, we are aware of a number of people who plan to travel to the Ruhr valley area of Germany in order to mark the anniversary. These include the Dambusters 2013 Charity Motorcycle Ride, with more than 70 riders travelling to raise money for Help for Heroes, and a group driving a 1967 Austin Healey (picture to come!).

We are also trying to compile a list of any events planned in Germany. Please get in touch if you have anything you would like to publicise.

Dambuster of the Day No. 5: Frederick Spafford

IWM TR1127

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
Bomb aimer
Lancaster serial number: ED932/G
Call sign: AJ-G
First wave: First aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine exploded short of the dam.

Frederick Spafford was always known by the nickname ‘Spam’ in his RAF days, reflecting the wartime popularity, or not, of the well known luncheon meat. He was born as Frederick 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, 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. According to Alex Bateman (No 617 ‘Dambuster’ Squadron, Osprey, 2009, p.12) Gibson started flying in 617 Squadron with a different bomb aimer, but he wasn’t satisfactory. Spafford was then sent for, possibly recommended by his ex-50 Squadron colleague Harlo Taerum, already flying with Gibson. He 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 50 yards 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.’ (Australian Dictionary of Biography).

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.

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.

Dambuster of the Day No. 4: Robert Hutchison

IWM CH18005

Gibson and his crew take off on the Dams Raid. Hutchison has his foot on the lowest step of the ladder. [Pic: IWM CH18005]

Flt Lt R E G Hutchison
Wireless operator
Lancaster serial number: ED932/G
Call sign: AJ-G
First wave: First aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine exploded short of the dam.

Flt Lt Robert Hutchison was the only person who had regularly been in Guy Gibson’s crew in his previous squadron to join the CO at 617 Squadron. Gibson’s crew chopped and changed a lot during his time in charge at 106 Squadron, suggesting that a few people found him a hard taskmaster. However in August 1942, Hutchison became his wireless operator and stayed in the crew for about 16 operations until his own tour finished, in February 1943, for which he received a DFC. A couple of weeks later, Gibson too completed his tour and was expecting to go on leave. He was then asked to set up the new squadron, and shortly afterwards must have asked Hutchison to come with him.
In Enemy Coast Ahead, Gibson describes him as ‘one of those grand little Englishmen who have the guts of a horse’, and says that they had been on 40 operations together – a gross exaggeration. However, there is no doubt that Hutchison had been one of the small circle of brother officers in 106 Squadron who Gibson got on well with, and this personal friendship may be what led him to accept the offer of ‘one more’ operation in a new squadron.
Another colleague of Hutchison’s at 106 Squadron had been adjutant Harry Humphries, and their friendship continued when Humphries too was hastily summoned to the new squadron by Gibson, who had found the adjutant originally assigned not to his taste.
Robert Hutchison was born in Liverpool and went to school at the famous Liverpool Institute. Later old boys would include both Paul McCartney and George Harrison. He joined the RAF soon after the war broke out, and had arrived at 106 Squadron in Coningsby in December 1941, shortly before Gibson arrived.
As the senior wireless operator in 617 Squadron, Hutchison was the Signals Leader, responsible for co-ordinating the training of all his colleagues. Individual booths were set up in the crew room so that they could practise their drills.
After the Dams Raid, for which he received a bar to his DFC, Hutchison kicked his heels for a while. As a non-drinker, perhaps he found the round of parties a little too much, and he didn’t go to London on the special train for the investiture.
Hutchison could have gone off operations at any time, as he was well past the number required by then, but he was one of the four members of the Gibson crew who flew with new CO, George Holden, on the night he was shot down, on the Dortmund Ems canal raid. Like them, he is buried in Reichswald Forest Cemetery.

More about Hutchison online:
Liverpool Institute Old Boys
Commonwealth War Graves Commission listing

Decoration awarded for Operation Chastise: Bar to DFC
KIA 16 September 1943
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.