In this picture taken on the morning after the raid, a group of tired looking officers gather outside their mess for an official photograph. Most had been drinking for a number of hours by this stage. John Fort is in the back row, sixth from the right hand side. [pic: IWM HU91948]
Plt Off J Fort
Lancaster serial number: ED906/G
Call sign: AJ-J
First wave. Fifth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing large breach. Aircraft returned safely.
John Fort was the oldest member of the crew of AJ-J. He was born in Colne, Lancashire, on 14 January 1912, one of the six sons of George and Martha Fort, and attended Colne Secondary School. He joined the RAF in 1929 as an apprentice at the No 1 School of Technical Training at RAF Halton. On qualification, he won first prize as a fitter. He then went to sea in the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious. (Between 1918 and 1937 the RAF operated the aircraft which flew on aircraft carriers, and supplied its own ground staff to service them.)
Back on dry land, he continued in groundcrew until the second year of the war, when he volunteered for aircrew training, and was selected as a specialist bomb aimer. At the end of his course he had done well enough to be offered a commission and so it was as a Pilot Officer he arrived at No.10 OTU in September 1942, at RAF St Eval at the same time as navigator Vivian Nicholson and wireless operator Antony Stone. It is likely that the trio teamed up there, along with gunner Austin Williams and pilot Flt Lt William Elder.
On 5 January 1943, the fledgling crew were transferred to RAF Swinderby, to join 1660 Conversion Unit, where William Hatton and Harold Simmonds were added. On 23 February 1943, the new crew were posted to 207 Squadron to begin operations but after Elder was killed on a ‘second dickey’ trip the crew was transferred to 97 Squadron at Coningsby, and allocated to David Maltby. The whole crew was posted together to 617 Squadron on 25 March 1943.
Fort was one of the most proficient bomb aimers in 617 Squadron, and was the A Flight Bombing Leader. Not all the bomb aimers used the wooden triangular sight devised by Wg Cdr Dann, but Fort did and his was given to David Maltby’s father Ettrick shortly after the raid. It is thought to be the only such sight still in existence. It was acquired by a collector in the 1970s and then sold by him in 2015. Fort’s accuracy paid dividends on Maltby’s run-in to the Möhne Dam, and the crew’s mine made the second larger breach which caused its final collapse.
Afterwards there was jubilation, and John Fort joined in the celebrations with much gusto. In the pictures which show the squadron personnel getting on the train to London for the investiture, he can be seen messing about on the footplate.
After the crash on 15 September 1943, in which he was killed along with all his other comrades, squadron adjutant Harry Humphries, who was a good friend, wrote a short pen portrait which is preserved in the archives at Grantham Museum.
A Lancastrian with an outlook on life difficult to beat. Good humoured, slow of speech, but quick in action. A small fairhaired chap, with broad shoulders, well able to carry their responsibilities. He had been in the Service for some years and often said it was a “piece of cake” compared with the competition & throat cutting of civilian business. A very popular member of the Squadron.
John Fort has no known grave, and he is remembered on the Runnymede memorial.
KIA 15 September 1943.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Charles Foster, Breaking the Dams, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Further information about John Fort 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.