Flt Sgt C W Roberts
Lancaster serial number: ED887/G
Call sign: AJ-A
First wave. Fourth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing small breach. Aircraft shot down on return flight.
Charles Walpole Roberts was born on 19 January 1921 in Northrepps, a village near Cromer in Norfolk. He was the only son of Charles Augustus and Dorcas Roberts. Their marriage broke down when he was very young, and his father moved to Devon. Roberts was brought up by his mother and grandmother, educated at the village school before entering the nearby Paston School, famous as the alma mater of Lord Nelson.
Roberts enrolled in the RAF in 1940, and was selected for training as a pilot. He was sent out to Rhodesia for training at an Elementary Flying Training School. Like many would-be pilots, he ended up qualifying as a navigator.
He then crewed up with Lawrence Nichols and John Beesley in 10 Operational Training Unit at RAF Abingdon in July 1942. The crew was skippered by Graham Bower. On 10 and 13 September, Roberts flew on two operations with Bower, trips to Düsseldorf and Bremen. The crew moved on to 1660 Conversion Unit later that year. Although the crew took part in a raid on Berlin on 16 January 1943, after Bower’s departure, Roberts was replaced as navigator by an instructor, Flt Lt V. Blair. Melvin Young joined the Conversion Unit later, in early March, and took over the old Bower crew there.
The full crew were then transferred to 57 Squadron at Scampton on 13 March. On 25 March, they were all reposted to the new 617 Squadron.
Roberts was one of the most inexperienced navigators to fly on the Dams Raid, but he acquitted himself well on the flight to the Möhne Dam, as the trio of Young, Maltby and Shannon maintained formation throughout the trip. Roberts was engaged to Irene Mountney, a WAAF who worked at Scampton packing parachutes.
AJ-A was shot down at the last moment of danger shortly after they had passed over the Dutch coast. On 19 May, Charles Roberts’s body was the first of those of the crew of AJ-A to be washed ashore, and he was buried two days later in Bergen General Cemetery.
More about Roberts online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
KIA 17 May 1943.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Arthur Thorning, The Dambuster who Cracked the Dam, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassel 2002
Further information about Charles Roberts 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.