John Kinnear, probably photographed in 1942, with his Flight Engineer’s wings.
[Pic: Kinnear family]
Sgt J Kinnear
Lancaster serial number: ED864/G
Call sign: AJ-B
First wave. Crashed on outward flight.
John Kinnear was typical of many of the flight engineers who took part in the Dams Raid, in that he had converted from ground crew in the the period after mid-1941, when the RAF dropped its earlier policy of putting two pilots on heavy bomber crews. He was known to his family as Jack, but in the RAF, this was inevitably changed to Jock.
He was born on 6 November 1921 in Newport, Fife, a small village on Tayside, the son of William and Helen Kinnear. His father had once been the chauffeur to the Dundee MP and publisher Sir John Leng, and the family had lived on the Leng estate. He was a mechanically-minded young man who had worked as a garage hand before joining the RAF in 1939, at the age of 16.
After more than three years’ work on ground crew, Kinnear volunteered for training as a flight engineer and was sent to No. 4 School of Technical Training at RAF St Athan. He qualified from there in the late summer of 1942. He was then posted to a conversion unit, and teamed up with Floyd Wile, Albert Garshowitz, Richard Bolitho and Don Hopkinson, who had arrived at the unit with pilot Max Stephenson. Frank Garbas was also added to the crew at this time.
When they were ready for operational flying, the whole crew was posted to 9 Squadron. However, before they could fly together Max Stephenson was sent on an operation with another crew as second pilot to gain experience. Unfortunately his aircraft was shot down, and he was killed. The full crew was then posted to 57 Squadron at Scampton.
Sadly, Stephenson was killed on an operation with another crew and the crew were then assigned to experienced pilot Bill Astell. After a number of operations in February and March, they were told that they were to be posted to a new squadron, to be formed at the same station, Scampton. This, of course, would soon be known as 617 Squadron.
Bill Astell and his crew were kept busy in the training period before the raid, but there were the occasional leave periods. On what turned out to be their last short break, Kinnear and his colleagues, Floyd Wile, Albert Garshowitz and Don Hopkinson went to stay with the family of rear gunner Richard Bolitho, at Kimberley near Nottingham.
Their luck would run out shortly after midnight on the raid, when they hit a pylon and crashed near Marbeck. The explosion was so fierce that it wasn’t until the next day that the wreckage was approached by the Germans. Along with his comrades, John Kinnear was buried first in the City Cemetery in Borken. They were all reinterred after the war, and lie together in the Reichswald Forest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
More about Kinnear online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High, 2013
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Further information about John Kinnear 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.