Dambuster of the Day No. 30: William Hatton

Hatton

Sgt W Hatton
Flight engineer
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.

William Hatton was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, on 24 March 1920, the oldest boy in a family of four children, two boys and two girls. Their parents were George and Florence Hatton. William Hatton went to Holy Trinity and Thornes House schools in Wakefield.

He joined the RAF at the outbreak of war, and worked in groundcrew. In May 1941, he went to RAF Speke in Liverpool where he serviced aircraft in the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit. This was a short lived scheme in which Hawker Hurricanes were sent to sea on special merchant ships, which were equipped with catapults for launching them. The plan was to enable the Hurricanes to be launched far out at sea to help protect the Atlantic convoys. The only drawback was that they had no way of landing, so the pilot had to bale out of the Hurricane and let the aircraft fall into the sea.

When the opportunity arose for experienced groundcrew to become flight engineers on heavy bombers, Hatton applied and was sent to the only flight engineer training facility, No.4 School of Technical Training at RAF St Athan.

After qualifying as a flight engineer in late 1942, Hatton was posted to RAF Swinderby, to join 1660 Conversion Unit on 5 January 1943. There he crewed up with Vivian Nicholson, Antony Stone, John Fort and Harold Simmonds, who had moved into the last phase of training with their pilot Flt Lt William Elder. 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, returning to operations after his inter-tour break. The whole crew was transferred to 617 Squadron on 25 March 1943.

After the raid, all the aircrew were sent on leave. Such was the excitement that a number of local papers covered the story, with Hatton’s arrival back in his home town given the headline ‘A Wakefield Hero’ in the Wakefield Express. The paper sent a photographer to his family house and took the photograph seen above in the street outside.

Four months later, on 14 September 1943, Hatton 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. William Hatton is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

More about Hatton online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Entry at 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 William Hatton 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.

Dambuster of the Day No. 29: David Maltby

IWM CH9929

David Maltby is presented to the King, Scampton, 27 May 1943. Note how his pocket bulges with smoking equipment. [Pic: IWM CH9929]

Flt Lt D J H Maltby DFC
Pilot
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.

David John Hatfeild Maltby was born on 10 May 1920 in Baldslow near Hastings, Sussex. His parents, Ettrick and Aileen Maltby had three children: Audrey, born in June 1915; David; and Jean, my mother, born in December 1924. He went to Marlborough College, leaving in 1936. In 1938, he decided that he wanted to train as a mining engineer, and went to work at Treeton colliery in South Yorkshire, boarding with a local family in the neighbouring village of Aughton.

When the war started he tried to sign up for the RAF on 6 September 1939. At the same time so did tens of thousands of other young men. Most of them were told to go away and wait, and that they would be invited for assessment as soon as possible. Maltby was accepted for aircrew training in March 1940 and finally got his call up papers in June of that year.

He qualified as a pilot on 18 January 1941 and in June was posted to RAF Coningsby, which was then the home of two squadrons, Nos 106 and 97. He flew his first six operations in 106 Squadron’s Hampdens, but was soon transferred to the new Avro Manchester aircraft, operated by 97 Squadron. This was the two-engined precursor of the formidable Lancaster, but it was notoriously underpowered and unreliable. However by January 1942, the new Lancasters were available (97 Squadron was only the second squadron in the whole RAF to get them) and he made his first trip as first pilot with a crew of his own. He took part in a number of famous operations, including two unsuccessful attempts to destroy the German battleship Tirpitz, which was concealed in a Norwegian fjord.

He finished his first tour of operations in June 1942, and was awarded the DFC. He then spent a few months commanding a specialist Air Bomber Training Section in 1485 Target Towing and Gunnery Flight before returning to active operations with 97 Squadron, on 17 March 1943.

Maltby was given a new crew which had been posted from 207 Squadron after their pilot had been killed on a ‘second dickey’ trip on 25 February before they could begin operations. This was made up of William Hatton, flight engineer; Vivian Nicholson, navigator; Antony Stone, wireless operator; John Fort, bomb aimer; and Austin Williams and Harold Simmonds, gunners. A few days later, on 25 March, they were all transferred to a new squadron, set up under the command of Guy Gibson, to prepare for a highly secret mission. Les Munro, Joe McCarthy and their crews were also transferred out of 97 Squadron the same day.

Maltby’s crew flew on some 23 training flights over the next six weeks, with the only hiccough being in early May when front gunner Austin Williams was deemed unsuitable – the reason why is not clear – and was replaced by a new gunner, Victor Hill, hurriedly imported from 9 Squadron.

At 2147 on 16 May 1943, a group of three Lancasters, piloted by Melvin Young, David Maltby and David Shannon took off from Scampton. Maltby’s own flight is recorded in detail, thanks to the logsheet meticulously kept by his navigator, Vivian Nicholson, which notes that they arrived at the Möhne at 0026, having taken 2 hours 32 minutes.

The first three attacks were not successful. To the onlookers circling the wood beyond the lake, the fourth, Melvin Young, seemed to have delivered his mine in textbook fashion, but still the dam wall held. Gibson told Maltby to go ahead at 0048. This time, three Lancasters flew towards the target. Gibson on David’s starboard side, Martin over to port.

Antony Stone checked the spinning mine, John Fort lay flat on his stomach in the front fuselage, waiting, with Vic Hill’s feet planted in their stirrups over his head. As they came over the spit of land, Vivian Nicholson turned on the spotlights and peered out of the starboard blister at the beams, calling, ‘Down, down’ as their lights came closer and closer. Up in the cockpit, in the left-hand seat, David Maltby adjusted the height and kept the aircraft level while, next to him, Bill Hatton watched the speed and moved the throttles. As they approached the dam wall, Maltby suddenly realised that from this close he could see a small breach had occurred in the centre and that there was crumbling along the crown. Young’s mine had been successful after all! In a last second change of plan he veered slightly to port but stayed dead level as John Fort steadied himself to press the release. The mine bounced four times and struck the wall. Over the dam they flew, now turning hard left, Harold Simmonds in the rear turret firing on the gun emplacements that were still active.

It wasn’t yet obvious whether the attack had been successful so at 0050 wireless operator Antony Stone radioed ‘Goner 78A’ back to Grantham. (‘Goner’ meant a successful attack, ‘7’ an explosion in contact with the dam, ‘8’ no apparent breach, ‘A’ the target was the Möhne.) Maltby said afterwards: ‘our load sent up water and mud to a height of a 1,000 ft. The spout of water was silhouetted against the moon. It rose with tremendous speed and then gently fell back. You could see the shock wave at the base of the jet.’

‘Bomb dropped. Wizard.’ was what Vivian noted immediately in his log. The lake began to calm down again, and Shannon was called into the attack. As he readied himself, the circling crews realised, to great excitement, that the dam had been breached, and a torrent of water was pouring through.

After the Dams Raid, for which he received the DSO, Maltby became commander of A Flight and often acted as CO in Gibson’s frequent absences on official duties. He took a full and active part in the many festivities that took place, often in conjunction with the squadron’s other party animals, such as Richard Trevor-Roper. As both of them had pregnant wives at home, perhaps this gave them a special bond. Maltby’s wife Nina (née Goodson) gave birth to their son John in July 1943 at their home in Woodhall Spa. There were in fact four aircrew who flew on the raid knowing that their wives were pregnant. Trevor-Roper and David Maltby would live to see their children being born. Charles Brennan and Lewis Burpee would not.

Party hard they might, but by September the squadron was back in training for another special mission, an attack on the Dortmund Ems canal, using a special thin case bomb three times the size of a normal 4000lb ‘cookie’. Eight aircraft were assigned – Maltby would lead the second group of four, himself, Dave Shannon, Geoff Rice and Bill Divall. Less than an hour into the flight, word was received at base that the weather conditions at the target had deteriorated. The aircraft were recalled.

Then came disaster. As it turned, Maltby’s Lancaster suddenly exploded. Shannon stayed with the wreckage, sending fixes and circling above until a rescue launch arrived. It’s not clear what caused the explosion. It may have been pilot error. Something may have gone wwrong with the bomb. Or it may have been a collision with a 139 Squadron Mosquito, returning from a raid on Berlin but out of radio contact.

The only body recovered was that of David Maltby. It was brought ashore, and he was buried the following Saturday in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent – the same church in which he and Nina had been married just sixteen months before.

More about Maltby 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 David Maltby 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.

Dambuster of the Day No. 28: Wilfred Ibbotson

Wilfred Ibbotson. [Pic: Peter Humphries]

Sgt W Ibbotson
Rear gunner
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.

Wilfred Ibbotson was born in Netherton, near Wakefield, Yorkshire on 18 September 1913, the second son of the four children of Herbert and Anne Ibbotson. His father had been a miner, but Wilfred worked on a farm after leaving school. He married Doris Bray in 1938, and they had two daughters. When war came he was called up and served as an Army motorcycle despatch rider. In 1941 he volunteered for the RAF, and trained as a gunner.

After qualifying, he was posted to 10 Operational Training Unit at RAF Abingdon, and joined a crew piloted by Sgt Ivan Morgan. His future colleagues Charles Roberts, Lawrence Nichols and John Beesley were also in this unit at the same time, but in a different crew, that of pilot Graham Bower. In September 1942, while still training, Ibbotson flew on two operations. He was then part of a detachment sent to augment Coastal Command resources at RAF St Eval and flew on six daylight anti-submarine sweeps.

In December, he moved on to 1660 Conversion Unit at Swinderby, and it would seem that it was here that he joined Young’s future crew, at that stage still skippered by Graham Bower. After Bower’s departure on sick leave, Ibbotson flew on two operations to Berlin. The first was on 16 January 1943 with Plt Off Vincent Duxbury as the pilot, and the second the following day with Plt Off Henry Southgate. (This information comes from Ibbotson’s logbook. 1660 CU’s Operations Record Book records another man as Southgate’s rear gunner.)

The Dams Raid was thus Ibbotson’s fifth operation. His body was the last of the crew of AJ-A to be washed ashore, on 30 May. Ibbotson was buried the following day alongside his comrades in Bergen General Cemetery.

More about Ibbotson online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Wakefield Express article
Sharlston war memorial

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, Cassell 2002

Thanks to Chris Bowles for help with this article.

Further information about Wilfred Ibbotson 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.

Dambuster of the Day No. 27: Gordon Yeo

Pic: Harry Humphries collection

Sgt G A Yeo
Front gunner
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.

Born in Barry Dock, Glamorgan, on 9 July 1922, Gordon Arthur Yeo was the youngest member of Melvin Young’s crew. He was the son of Arthur and Ada Yeo and had joined the RAF in 1941, wanting to be a pilot. Having been initially posted to Elementary Flying School in Canada, he eventually qualified as a gunner.
He crewed up with David Horsfall, Charles Roberts, Lawrence Nichols and Wilfred Ibbotson at 1660 Conversion Unit at RAF Swinderby, under skipper Graham Bower. When Bower went sick, most of the crew flew on an operation to Berlin on 16 January 1943, with Plt Off Vincent Duxbury as their pilot. By the time the crew moved to 57 Squadron at Scampton in mid March, Melvin Young had taken over.
On 25 March, they were posted across the base into the fledgling 617 Squadron and the young gunner would have met a few with much more experience than him. But he would also have found several more, like him, with very few operations under their belts.
Yeo wrote several letters to his parents during his time on 617 Squadron, and they give us some insight into how hard they trained, and what they did in their spare time. Melvin drove the crew into Lincoln on a day off from training to watch a parade which was part of the city’s ‘Wings for Victory’ week. This reminded the crew of their skipper’s chequered history.‘We had a good laugh at the blokes all dressed up in flying clothes and sitting in the dinghy. [Melvin Young] had a good laugh at them because he had detailed them.’ Later, he told his parents about Young’s determined efforts to ensure they were trained hard: ‘You say you want to know the name of our skipper, well here it is, S/Ldr H M Young, he is not so bad lately, I expect that is because we are getting used to him, but he is the cause more or less of us not getting leave.’
The Lancaster’s front gun turret was not used during most war time operations, but on the Dams Raid it was manned as the modification for the special mine had necessitated the removal of the mid upper turret. So Yeo would have used it to fire directly ahead of him at the Möhne’s gun emplacements as Young kept the aircraft steady in its bombing run.
AJ-A was shot down at the last moment of danger shortly after they had passed over the Dutch coast. Gordon Yeo’s body was washed ashore on 27 May 1943, along with those of Lawrence Nichols and Vincent MacCausland. They were all buried in Bergen General Cemetery.
In the months after the raid, Gordon Yeo’s mother must have written to Henry Young, Melvin Young’s father, as his reply to her dated 13 July 1943 shows. He ends his letter with the sad words: ‘With many thanks for your kind sympathy which I feel too for all those who have suffered the same loss.’

Young letter1small

Young letter2small

Two families, united in grief. Almost 1400 more people lost their lives that night, and their families would also be suffering in the same way.

 

More about Yeo 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 Gordon Yeo 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.

Telegraph story on AJ-E crash site plaque

IWM Barlow mine

Norman Barlow’s unexploded mine, photographed by the Germans soon after the raid. [Pic: IWM]

In a nice follow up to a plea first publicised on this blog, the Sunday Telegraph has reported on the plaque installed at the spot where AJ-E crashed on the night of the Dams Raid. Local historian Volker Schürmann discovered that there was no recognition of the site, near where he lives in the small town of Haldern on the Dutch-German border.
After pinpointing the exact location where Norman Barlow’s aircraft crashed, after colliding with electricity pylons shortly before midnight on 16 May 1943, he decided to erect his own temporary plaque, and has started a campaign to install a permanent memorial.
Volker told the Telegraph:

The Dambusters are not well known in Germany. Growing up in Haldern, I did not know about his crash. I don’t think many people from this area know the story. Perhaps just a few old people who lived near the crash site – but there are now many of them left now.
It is just a small field with a lake in the background and there is nothing there to tell anyone what happened there.
I’m from two generations after the war. It was a dirty time, but why not remember these people? It is good for people to know what happened. In Germany, it is difficult to celebrate or commemorate the war, but it is a little easier for those like me from the second generation after it happened.

After all the secrecy surrounding the raid, the irony was that Barlow’s mine did not explode. It was defused by one of Germany’s top explosives experts, and the secrets of its revolving mechanism quickly uncovered.

Dambuster of the Day No. 26: Vincent MacCausland

MacCausland_1

Flg Off V S MacCausland
Bomb aimer
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.

Vincent Sanford MacCausland was born in Tyne Valley, Prince Edward Island, Canada on 1 February 1913. He was the oldest of the five children of Burns and Edith MacCausland and worked as a teacher before joining the RCAF in 1940. After training as an observer and then a bomb aimer he completed a first tour in 57 Squadron in late 1941. He received a commission and then spent more than a year in a training unit as an instructor. Keen to get back to a second tour, which was well overdue, he returned to 57 Squadron in March 1943. His return roughly coincided with the arrival of the inexperienced crew skippered by Melvin Young.

When it was decided that Young’s bomb aimer was not suitable for the mission being planned. MacCausland fitted the bill for a replacement. Already at Scampton, with a tour under his belt and further experience training other bomb aimers he could be expected to slot in easily, and he was therefore drafted into Young’s crew on 14 April 1943.

In a letter home just after he had been posted into 617 Squadron he told his mother what had happened:

You are perhaps wondering what I am doing here. There is really no need to feel over anxious to know that I am back again for my second tour. I really was due back six months after Sept of 41 and had the privilege of joining a well experienced crew and on aircraft that one dreams about. To tell you the honest truth I would not have taken this on had I believed it was a doubtful move. I came up here a couple of days ago (Apr 14th) and we are on revision and conversion for the next month before going over with a few bundles for the squareheads I know that you will be feeling most anxious during those few months ahead but the time will soon pass and I know that God will be especially with us as were blessed in that first tour. I hope that we shall be writing at least two to three times per week and if you do the same, it will be much happier for us all.

Sadly, the blessings that were bestowed on him in his first tour would not follow him to his second. MacCausland delivered a perfectly placed mine as Young’s aircraft flew at the Möhne Dam, and it bounced several times, exploded at the base and caused the initial small breach.

AJ-A was shot down at the last moment of danger shortly after they had passed over the Dutch coast. Vincent MacCausland’s body was washed ashore on 27 May 1943, along with those of Lawrence Nichols and Gordon Yeo. They were all buried in Bergen General Cemetery.

MacCausland had a girlfriend in Bedford, Rene Warman, and they had a daughter, Angela, born in Bedford in January 1943. Rene Warman made contact with the MacCausland family after he was killed and travelled out to Canada after the war with her daughter to meet them. She would later marry Vincent MacCausland’s brother, Howatt. The marriage did not last, and Rene and Angela returned to England.

More about MacCausland online:
His letters in the Canadian Letters and Images Project
Flickr collection by Joel Joy
Article in the PEI Guardian, including interview with his sister
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 Vincent MacCausland 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.

David Maltby’s last flight: possible Mosquito collision

Blida lo res CNV00005

Sqn Ldr David Maltby and his Dams Raid crew, pictured in August 1943, at RAF Blida North Africa. Sadly, they were all killed over the North Sea a month later. Standing L-R: Victor Hill, Antony Stone, John Fort, David Maltby, William Hatton, Harold Simmonds. In front: Vivian Nicholson. [Pic: Grace Blackburn]

Today’s Sunday Express contains a two page feature about the last flight of Sqn Ldr David Maltby and his crew, on 14/15 September 1943, almost exactly four months after the Dams Raid. This was an attack on the Dortmund Ems canal, which was called off when weather conditions over the target were found to have deterioriated. As Maltby turned the aircraft back towards base, some sort of explosion occurred and it crashed into the sea with the loss of everyone on board.
What caused the explosion has been the subject of some speculation over many years. When researching my book, Breaking the Dams, I came across some documents in the National Archives which indicate that the crash may have occurred because of a collision with a Mosquito on another raid, out of radio contact and also returning to base. The Mosquito was from 139 Squadron, and was piloted by Flt Lt Maule Colledge. he full story is told in my book, and in abbreviated form on my other website, breakingthedams.com.

Dambuster of the Day No. 25: Lawrence Nichols

LawrenceNichols

Sgt L W Nichols
Wireless operator
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.

Lawrence William Nichols was born in Northwood, Middlesex on 17 May 1910, and therefore died early in the morning of his 33rd birthday.
Nichols was the oldest of the four children of Edward and Florence Nichols. Edward Nichols was a coal merchant. Lawrence Nichols had married his wife Georgina in 1933, and they had two children. He had worked as a haberdasher in Oxford Street and then as manager of a branch of Currys in North Harrow before volunteering for the RAF in 1940.
After qualifying as a wireless operator/air gunner he then crewed up with Charles Roberts and John Beesley in 10 Operational Training Unit at RAF Abingdon in July 1942, in a crew skippered by Graham Bower. On 13 September, Nichols went on his first operation, flying with Bower on a raid on Bremen.
The crew moved on to 1660 Conversion Unit later that year. On 16 January 1943 , after Bower’s departure, he went on his second operation, to Berlin with Vincent Duxbury as pilot. Melvin Young joined the Conversion Unit later, in early March and took over this new 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.
Nichols was a horse racing enthusiast and had plans to set up as a bookmaker after the war, with financial help from his brother Horace, who was running the family coal business. On 5 May 1943, he wrote to his other brother Gerry, who was serving in the army in India, about their plans: ‘There is no opposition at all in Northwood and I think it would do very well … after all we are very well known and should get plenty of clients.’ He went on to describe to Gerry how he and Horace had cycled over to Windsor to the Easter Monday race meeting. They both backed five winners and also got a successful tip for a race at Pontefract, where they made yet more money.
His colleague, front gunner Gordon Yeo, knew well about his betting skills. He told his parents in a letter sent shortly before the crews took off on the raid that ‘Larry (Nichols) our Wireless Operator went to Windsor races last Saturday (1st May) [sic] and won about £12, but he was born lucky.’ Maybe he was, but sadly his luck ran out when he died along with the rest of the crew when they were shot down by a gun battery at Castricum-aan-Zee.
Lawrence Nichols’s body was washed ashore on 27 May 1943, along with those of Vincent MacCausland and Gordon Yeo. They were all buried in Bergen General Cemetery.

More about Nichols online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Undated newspaper article
Entry on bombercrew.com

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 Lawrence Nichols 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.

Dambuster of the Day No. 24: Charles Roberts

Flt Sgt C W Roberts
Navigator
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.

Flyover at Derwent goes ahead, but restricted access

Dams Raid 70th anniversary

The BBMF has at last announced that there will be a Lancaster flyover at Derwent Reservoir (the Ladybower Dam) on Thursday 16 May between 1300 and 1315. However, access will be severely restricted – 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 1320 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.
More details about other Dambusters 70th anniversary events will be posted here tomorrow.