Not a dry eye

The RAF did us proud last night. Many of you will have watched the sunset ceremony from RAF Scampton televised live on BBC2. As I was there and have been travelling since, I have yet to see the recording but I can tell you that it was a very emotional event. The undoubted highlight was the landing of the BBMF Lancaster, and the few moments as it taxied from the runway right up to the band, who were playing the last few chords of The Dam Busters march. It was perfectly timed, and well worth several rounds of applause.
I’m told that the BBC covered this very well in glorious widescreen TV definition, but to get the real life experience of what it felt like being there, watch this video shot by my sister Sarah on her iPad, now posted on Youtube. This is what it was like on the ground.
(Well done, girl!)

http://youtu.be/8qawDkirUtA

On the road to Scampton

If you are not, like me, lucky enough to have a ticket for the Dambusters 70th anniversary Sunset Ceremony taking place at RAF Scampton at 7pm tonight, then you can watch it live on BBC2 in a special programme being introduced by Dan Snow.
The Lancaster flypast at the Derwent Dam took place earlier today in what looks to have been very pleasant wether conditions. Let’s hope it continues for another few hours!
For an excellent background piece on the raid on the BBC website by Greig Watson, click here and an interactive map of the routes, click here

Let us not forget all those lost this day, 70 years ago

At a commemoration at the Eder Dam tomorrow morning, these words from the present Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron, Wg Cdr David Arthurton, will be read out:

70 years ago today, pilots from No. 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force launched an audacious and daring long range attack against the Eder, Mohne and Sorpe dams. A mission that will forever be etched into the history of the Squadron. But heroism and sacrifice is not the prerogative of the military, and there will have been many such acts that night; most unseen and unrewarded.
So even as we, their successors in No. 617 Squadron, join together today to remember our comrades who flew that mission, we join together with you also to remember all those who were affected by the operation that night – regardless of nationality.
Many years have now passed since that night, and today our two countries have never been so closely linked as they are now. So, while it is important to remember the past, and the sacrifice of all those who lost their lives that day, it is even more important to celebrate our present and future together as close friends and allies.

Whatever event we attend today, or if we see or hear the broadcasts or read the press, we should reflect on these words. Let us hope that we never again see the kind of conflict where swaths of people from many different countries are lost, and mourned for generations by those left behind. Those of us who knew these people should make sure that this lesson is never forgotten.

Dambuster of the Day No. 33: John Fort

IWM HU91948

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
Bomb aimer

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.

More about Fort online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Breaking the Dams website

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.

The Dams Raid in infographic form

RAF infographic

There’s an interesting ‘infographic’ on the RAF’s series of pages about the Dams Raid (Operation Chastise). Very simple presentation, but that’s what good information design is about. I’ve reproduced it in thumbnail form above, but it would make a useful wallchart if it could be printed at a large size. Something for the shops at Hendon and Cosford, perhaps?
Incidentally, the RAF’s own summary of the raid is an excellent article, with plenty of detail.
And, even more fun for Twitter-fiends everywhere, the signals sent to and from the 19 Lancasters on Operation Chastise are being re-created as a Twitter feed in real time on the night of 16 May. However, you will have to stay up most of the night if you want to follow these, as the last aircraft landed at Scampton at 0615 the next morning,

Dambuster of the Day No. 32: Antony Stone

Stone lo res

[Pic: Alan Kinge]

Sgt A J B Stone
Wireless operator

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.

Antony Joseph Bazeley Stone was born in Winchester, Hampshire, on 5 December 1920, the younger son of a family of two boys who were the children of Joseph and Dorothy Stone. Born in Russia, from where he emigrated in the 1890s, Joseph Stone was a barber and had a shop in the centre of the city. Stone trained as a chef after leaving school, and had worked at several well known London restaurants before volunteering for the RAF in 1940.

He was selected for wireless operator training, and qualified also as an air gunner. He arrived at 10 OTU at St Eval at the same time as navigator Vivian Nicholson and bomb aimer John Fort, and 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.

On the raid, Stone was responsible for starting up the motor which revolved the mine backwards, and checking that it had reached the correct speed of 500rpm before the aircraft started its bombing run.

Four months after the raid, on 14 September 1943, Stone took off from RAF Coningsby on 617 Squadron’s first major operation since the Dams Raid. When their aircraft suffered its final crash it sank with the bodies of all the crew except the pilot, so he has no known grave.

When the news reached his family in Winchester, his mother Dorothy was so shocked she was determined to find out more, and set off by train to Coningsby. She was shown into adjutant Harry Humphries’ office in a state of shock, asking him repeatedly: ‘Did he suffer? Did he suffer?’ She then disarmed Humphries by saying that she was glad that there were brave men like him carrying on the fight. As he noted in his autobiography, sadly, the only battles he fought were against official letters and forms.

Antony Stone left a letter for his parents, only to be opened on the event of his death. A fragment of it survives in a typescript version in the possession of the Maltby family:

I will have ended happily, so have no fears of how I ended as I have the finest crowd of fellows with me, and if Skipper goes I will be glad to go with him. He has so much more to lose and more responsibilities than I and you can rest assured and know that I’ve taken hundreds with me who lived as you do and never even gloried in the war as I did and I still experience that same thrill every time I fly.

His father kept his photograph in his shop until the day he retired, and it is still recalled by generations of boys and men who had their hair cut by him.

Antony Stone is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

More about Stone online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Breaking the Dams website

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 Antony Stone 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.

Dambusters 70th anniversary events (update 12 May)

Dams Raid 70th anniversary
Below is a list of most of the events planned for the 70th anniversary of the Dams Raid.
Please note that there is an event planned on Friday 17 May at the Eder Dam in Germany, and any British people staying in the area at the time are especially asked to attend this. (See below.)
It’s unlikely now that I will update this complete list again before 16 May, but you will be able to see any new individual events added to the blog by clicking on this category link Dambusters 70th anniversary .

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

Thursday 16 May
Derwent Reservoir/Chatsworth House both in Derbyshire
1.15pm approximately
BBMF Lancaster flypast
Please note that there will be severe traffic restrictions in the area around the Derwent Dam. No tickets are being issued, parking is severely limited, and the roads will be closed if they become overly busy. See here for full details. The Lancaster flyover will be followed by modern day Tornadoes from 617 Squadron.
The aircraft, which are expected to comprise the Lancaster, a Spitfire and a Hurricane (although this is not specified), will then fly on to Chatsworth at 1.20pm where, the RAF is keen to tell you, there is plenty of parking (costing £3 per vehicle) and opportunity to take pictures.
This may well be the better option unless you are willing to spend a lot of time either hiking cross country to the dam or waiting in very long traffic queues.
The Lancaster will also overfly the nearby town of Chapel-en-le-Frith to honour pilot Bill Astell, killed on the raid. Further details. 

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

Thursday 16 May
Barry War Museum
Barry Island, Vale of Glamorgan
7.00pm
Opening of exhibition of letters, photos and other articles that belong to the family of Sgt Gordon Yeo, front gunner in AJ-A on the Dams Raid. Further details.

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
Eder Dam (34549 Edertal – Hemfurth, Germany)
10.30am
Commemorative event and service
Local dignitaries and religious leaders will read messages and lay wreaths commemorating all those killed in that Dams Raid. A message from the current CO of 617 Squadron will be read. Any British people staying in the area over the period of the raid are particularly asked to attend to pay their respects. Further details from the Dambusters museum website or Facebook page.

Friday 17 May
Lincoln Cathedral
afternoon
All tickets for this event have been allocated but the BBMF Lancaster is expected to fly over the Cathedral. 

Sunday 19 May
Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire
Morning
Service and unveiling of 617 Squadron post World War 2 memorial

Sunday 19 May
Brooklands Museum, Weybridge, Surrey
Dambusters Celebration
Bomber Command Veterans will be the special guests at Brooklands. Talks and exhibitions about Barnes Wallis. Further details.

Sunday 19 May
Derwent Reservoir (again!)
A six mile ‘Honour Walk’ around Derwent Reservoir.
12 noon.
Walk organised by Royal British Legion, starting and finishing at Fairholmes Visitor Centre. £5 per head or you can raise money with sponsorship. Further details.

Sunday 19 May
The Dambusters Project
Woodland Suite, Petwood Hotel, Woodhall Spa
7.00pm
Ticketed event. Further details.

Dambuster of the Day No. 31: Vivian Nicholson

Nicholson CNV00001

Vivian Nicholson, on right, while training in the USA in about December 1941. [Pic: Nicholson family]

Sgt V Nicholson
Navigator
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.

Vivian Nicholson was born on 15 February 1923 in Newcastle on Tyne, the oldest of the eight sons of Arthur and Elizabeth Nicholson, who lived in Sherburn, Co Durham. He worked as an apprentice in the family joinery business but when the war started he volunteered to join the RAF.

He was sent to Canada on the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Canada, with its wide open spaces and safe distance from the main theatres of conflict in Europe, was ideal for aircrew training, and over 150,000 people from Britain, the Commonwealth countries and the USA, were sent there during the war. He started his training in Canada but then went on to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the USA for part of his course. Even though the USA was not yet in the war, it was already providing training facilities for the Allies.

On arrival home, he was sent to 10 OTU at RAF St Eval, Cornwall, in September 1942. He arrived there at the same time as bomb aimer John Fort and wireless operator Antony Stone, and 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 unfortunately two days later Elder was killed on a ‘second dickey’ trip. A month later the pilot-less crew was transferred to 97 Squadron at Coningsby, where they were allocated to David Maltby. The whole crew was posted together to 617 Squadron on 25 March 1943.

logsheets-3 Nicholson lo res

A navigator used a log sheet for each operation in order to record routes taken, changes in bearing, times of fixes etc. All these calculations were, of course, made by hand. Vivian Nicholson was on his first active operation on the Dams Raid, and we are lucky in that his log sheet has been preserved for posterity. Its accuracy has been commended by navigational experts in the years since. There was also space for the navigator to make his own notes during the raid, and he recorded comments such as ‘Bomb dropped.Wizard.’ immediately after the mine was released.

the_dambusters_at_the_a_v_roe_dinner_hungaria_restaurant_2585287

Nicholson received the DFM for his part in the raid and took an active part in the celebrations at Buckingham Palace and in the Hungaria Restaurant on 22 June 1943. He can be seen in the famous restaurant photograph, sitting behind John Fort and David Maltby, with the arm of Jack Leggo, his Navigation Leader, draped over his shoulders. We can be sure that Leggo was proud of the textbook way his young protegé had carried out his first operation.

Four months later, on 14 September 1943, Nicholson took off from RAF Coningsby on 617 Squadron’s first major operation since the Dams Raid. When their aircraft suffered its final crash it sank with the bodies of all the crew except the pilot, so he has no known grave.

After their fatal crash into the North Sea on 15 September 1943, Nicholson’s mother Elizabeth wrote to David Maltby’s father:

We knew from our son they were a proud and happy crew, and we have at least four different photos of your gallant son, his bomb aimer and our boy together with others taken while in London June 22/23rd.
It is indeed a terrible and deep wound for us when we look at them so young, happy and beautiful.
We also knew, as from what my boy told others, that, they knew the daily risks they had to run, but were prepared to face them as it was for a good cause, which surely makes us feel all the more proud of them, although our loss is at times unbearable.

Vivian Nicholson is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

More about Nicholson online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Breaking the Dams website

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 Vivian Nicholson 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.

Right says Fred

Sutherland screengrab

Canada’s national broadcaster CBC has put up some great new pages on its website about the Dams Raid. It features an interview with Fred Sutherland, looking fit and well in his home in Alberta, and giving his insights into the attacks on both the Möhne and Eder Dams. The news piece about Fred is here, but the more interesting stuff is here, with several more clips from the interview, some historical pieces of audio and much more well-researched information. Make sure you go through all the clips. You’ll be glad you did.