Dambuster of the Day No. 87: Richard Macfarlane

MacFarlane 240913

Flg Off R Macfarlane
Navigator

Lancaster serial number: ED936/G

Call sign: AJ-H

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.

Richard Macfarlane was born in Glasgow in 1921, the older of the two sons of Daniel and Jessie Macfarlane. He attended Hyndland School and the High School of Glasgow. In 1939 he enrolled at the University of Glasgow to study law, but these studies were interrupted when he joined the RAF in 1941. He was sent to Miami in the USA to train as a navigator. He was commissioned and after further training back in the UK joined 57 Squadron on 9 December 1942.
When Geoffrey Rice arrived at 57 Squadron in February 1943, the crew was established and flew on nine operations. They were then posted together over to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission. As the most senior navigator in A Flight, Macfarlane became the Flight Navigation Officer.
Shortly before the raid, Macfarlane travelled home to Glasgow, on leave to see his family. In a 2013 newspaper interview, his brother recalled that they were obviously engaged in an important project:

We gathered he was going back to do something special. But he couldn’t tell us what it was.
 On the morning after the overnight raid we were listening to the wireless and heard the dramatic news. So we were pretty certain that was where Richard had been.
 They were given leave immediately and he was back at our home in Broomhill, Glasgow, sitting round the dinner-table and confirming he had been on the Dambuster raid that previous night.
The Herald, 16 May 2013

Macfarlane flew with Rice and the rest of his crew on the handful of successful operations they completed in the period July to December 1943, but they were unlucky on 20 December when they were hit by flak 14,000 feet above Merbes-Le Chateau in Belgium. Although Rice gave the order to bale out, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded. Rice seems to have been thrown clear by the explosion, and somehow landed in a wood but the bodies of the remaining six crew members were found in the wreckage.
Richard Macfarlane and his five colleagues were buried in Gosselies Communal Cemetery, near Hainaut, Belgium.

More about Macfarlane online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Rice crew burial site, Gosselies cemetery
Wikipedia entry about his brother, Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden
Biography of Macfarlane at University of Glasgow website
Article in The Herald, 16 May 2013

KIA 20.12.1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Dambuster of the Day No. 86: Edward Smith

Smith 240913

Sgt E C Smith
Flight engineer

Lancaster serial number: ED936/G

Call sign: AJ-H

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.

Edward Clarence Smith was born in Cambridge in 1919, the middle of the three children of Clarence and Annie Smith.He joined the RAF in 1937 as ground crew, trained at the No 3 School of Technical Training at RAF Manston and served in various squadrons until 1942.
It was then that the new category of Flight Engineers was introduced, and many experienced ground crew volunteered for flying duties. Smith was selected and after training was posted to his first operational squadron, 57 Squadron based at Scampton, on 9 December 1942. He arrived on the same day as most of those who would later fly with him on the Dams Raid, but not pilot Geoffrey Rice.
When Rice arrived in February, the crew was established and flew on nine operations, before being posted over to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission. 
On the Dams Raid, AJ-H took off from Scampton at 2131 but had to turn back after flying too low over the Waddensee and losing their mine. Smith played an important role in bringing the aircraft home safely to Scampton when hydraulic power for the undercarriage had been lost.
Smith flew with Rice and the rest of his crew on the handful of successful operations they completed in the period July to December 1943, but they were unlucky on 20 December when they were hit by flak 14,000 feet above Merbes-Le Chateau in Belgium. Although Rice gave the order to bale out, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded. Rice seems to have been thrown clear by the explosion, and somehow landed in a wood but the bodies of the remaining six crew members were found in the wreckage.
Edward Smith and his five colleagues were buried in Gosselies Communal Cemetery, near Hainaut, Belgium. More than 100 British and Commonwealth servicemen lie there, nearly all aircrew who died in the vicinity.
Edward Smith had married Evelyn Tyrell in Cambridge in 1942.

More about Smith online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Rice crew burial site, Gosselies cemetery

KIA 20.12.1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Good news for Dambuster memorial appeal

AJ-E crew lores
A piece of good news to cheer us all at this festive season. This blog’s good friend Volker Schürmann has recently informed us that the appeal for funds to erect a permanent memorial at the site where Norman Barlow and his crew crashed on the night of the Dams Raid has succeeded. The stone for the memorial is now being quarried and the plaque is being designed. The memorial will be officially unveiled at a ceremony at 11.00am on Sunday 17 May 2015, the 72nd anniversary of the Dams Raid, and the crash.
The crash occurred on farmland, a few kilometres from Haldern, a small community in Rees in the state of North Rhine Westphalia. Lancaster ED927, code name AJ-E, had been the first aircraft to take off on Operation Chastise, leaving RAF Scampton at 2128 on Sunday 16 May 1943. Just over two hours later, flying at about 100 feet, it struck a pylon. It may have been hit by flak a few moments before. The crew of seven were all killed, and are now interred in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. They were:
Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC (pilot)
Plt Off Leslie Whillis (flight engineer)
Flg Off Philip Burgess (navigator)
Flg Off Charles Williams DFC (wireless operator)
Plt Off Alan Gillespie DFM (bomb aimer)
Flg Off Harvey Glinz (front gunner)
Sgt Jack Liddell (rear gunner)
It is thought that members of the families of at least four of the crew will be attending the unveiling of the memorial.
More details will follow. Members of the public will be welcome to attend.
Many thanks are due to Volker Schürmann and his colleagues for organising the memorial.

Dambuster of the Day No. 85: Geoffrey Rice

Rice
Plt Off G Rice
Pilot

Lancaster serial number: ED936/G

Call sign: AJ-H

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.

Geoffrey Rice was born on 4 January 1917 in Hinckley, Leicestershire, the son of Frederick and Anne Rice. He went to Hinckley Grammar School and was then apprenticed in the hosiery trade.
Rice joined the RAF in 1941 and was selected for pilot training, which he undertook in Canada. He qualified as a pilot in February 1942 and was commissioned. On his return to the UK he underwent further training and was crewed up with the six other men who would eventually fly with him on the Dams Raid.
They were finally posted together to 57 Squadron at RAF Scampton in February 1943 to begin operations. By the middle of March, they had undertaken nine operations, at which point they were placed in the squadron’s new C Flight, under the command of Sqn Ldr Melvin Young, an experienced pilot about to embark on a first tour on Lancasters after winning a DFC and Bar for two tours on Wellingtons.
By 26 March 1943 the flight comprised four crews, captained by Melvin Young, Bill Astell, Geoff Rice and Sgt Ray Lovell. It was decided to post the whole flight over to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission. Rice protested at this, but to no avail.
However the crew had gelled as an effective unit and the training for the secret operation went well. They achieved impressive scores in bomb aiming exercises and were chosen to fly in the second wave, tasked with attacking the Sorpe Dam.
AJ-H took off from Scampton at 2131 and all went well for the first hour and a half of flying time. They crossed the narrow neck of Vlieland at 2259 flying very low and exactly on track. Past the danger point, Rice gained altitude briefly to check position and then went low again to turn south-eastwards towards the Ijsselmeer. The bright moon shining on the water made height difficult to judge and flight engineer Edward Smith was about to warn Rice that the altimeter was reading zero when there was a huge jolt. Instinctively Rice pulled upwards and felt another ‘violent jolt’.
AJ-H had hit the water twice. The first impact had torn the mine free and sprayed water up through the bomb bay. The second had forced the fixed tail wheel up through the fuselage and demolished the Elsan lavatory just in front of the rear turret. A revolting mixture of its contents, disinfectant and sea water had poured into the turret and immersed gunner Stephen Burns up to his waist. His shout of ‘Christ, it’s wet back here!’ was pretty understandable.
Everyone else was shaken up, but by some miracle the aircraft and crew had survived. Rice flew on for a minute or two while the damage was assessed and it was confirmed that the mine had been lost. Then he turned for home. The anti aircraft batteries on both Vlieland and Texel were waiting for him and sprayed flak across the gap between the two islands but he sped underneath the fire.
There was nearly another tragedy as they reached Scampton. The hydraulic fluid in the undercarriage had been depleted, so it had to be manually lowered with an air bottle. This took 20 minutes during which time Rice was circling the airfield at 1000 feet. Uncertain whether the flaps would then work, another warning message was sent to the control tower, and the crew prepared for an emergency landing. Rice and Smith remained in their seats while the rest sat with their backs to the main spar, facing aft. They were just about to make their approach when suddenly Les Munro’s AJ-W, which had lost its radio, flew in below them and landed on the main runway. Rice held off, and touched down a few minutes later.
The next day, Gibson quizzed him over the cause of the loss of his mine, but took no further action. He knew from his own experiences in training how difficult it could be to judge an aircraft’s height when flying low over water.
Rice flew on the operations to Italy in July and August, and was then selected for the very dangerous attack on the Dortmund-Ems canal with the new 10,000lb ‘thin case’ bomb in September 1943. Of the eight pilots who flew on that raid, only Geoff Rice, Mick Martin and David Shannon survived. In appalling weather conditions, Rice spent 70 minutes searching for the target but was eventually ordered home by Martin, who had taken over temporary command of the operation. He jettisoned his giant bomb over the Waddensee.
On 11 November he took part in an attack on the Antheor viaduct, and later that month was awarded the DFC. The citation singled out his work at the Dortmund-Ems canal, praising his ‘great determination and courage.’
On 20 December, eight 617 Squadron crews, led by the new CO Leonard Cheshire, were sent on an operation to attack an armaments factory in Liege in Belgium. Geoff Rice and his Dams Raid crew were amongst them. The target marking wasn’t visible so Cheshire ordered the crews to return with their bombs. However, Rice and his crew were unlucky and were hit by flak 14,000 feet above Merbes-Le Chateau. The last thing Rice remembered was giving the order to bale out. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded.
Rice appears to have been thrown clear, protected by the pilot’s armoured seat and with his parachute deployed, but all his colleagues died as it crashed. Their bodies were found near the crash site, but Rice regained consciousness in a wood, his parachute snagged in a tree, and with a broken wrist. The first people he met were three farm labourers, who took him to the Resistance. His wrist was set in plaster by a friendly doctor, and he spent the next five months on the run. Unfortunately, he was then betrayed to the secret police and became a prisoner of war, ending up at the notorious Stalag Luft III, scene of the Great Escape. As the Russian army approached, the prisoners were forcibly moved, but were eventually liberated by the Americans.
Rice was repatriated after the war, and left the RAF in 1947. He went on to work for Shell BP and was very active in setting up the 617 Squadron Association. He died in Taunton, Somerset on 24 November 1981 and was cremated at Taunton crematorium. His ashes were buried in the churchyard in the village of Aller, where he had lived for a number of years.

More about Rice online:
Report in Leicester Mercury about the awarding of a ‘green plaque’.

Survived war. Died 24.11.81

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003
Chris Ward, Andy Lee and Andreas Wachtel, Dambusters: The Definitive History, Red Kite 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Dambuster of the Day No. 84: James McDowell

p_dr_mcdowell

Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada

Flt Sgt James McDowell
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED934/G

Call sign: AJ-K

Second wave. Shot down on outward flight and crashed into sea.

James McDowell was the third Scottish-born member of the crew of AJ-K. He was born in Glasgow on 13 August 1910, the son of John and Agnes McDowell. His father was killed in the First World War, so in 1924 his mother, grandmother and the five McDowell children emigrated to Canada, and took up residence in Port Arthur, Ontario.
McDowell worked first for the Coca Cola company in Port Arthur and was also involved in a local pipe band. He married Dorothea Edna Craig in 1932, and they had two daughters, Darleen and Marilyn. They then moved north of Port Arthur where he found work as a gold miner, ending up at the MacLeod Cockshutt mine in Geraldton between 1935 and 1941.
Jimmy McDowell joined the RCAF in 1941 and moved back to Port Arthur. After training as an air gunner, he was sent to England and underwent further training before being crewing up with fellow Canadian Vernon Byers, and being posted to 467 Squadron in February 1943.
The crew’s first operation together was “Gardening” in the Silverthorne area on 9 March, and they would undertake just two further operations before transferring to 617 Squadron on 24 March.
When the crew was given some leave in early May 1943, McDowell and Byers, the two Canadians, travelled to Antrobus in Cheshire, to spend it with the family of their crewmate John Wilkinson. They were all there for Wilkinson’s 21st birthday on 2 May
Two weeks later, they had just flown over Texel island on the way to the Sorpe Dam when a shot from behind brought down their aircraft, and it crashed into the Waddenzee, 18 miles west of Harlingen. The wreckage has never been located but James McDowell’s body was eventually released by the elements from its rear turret and was found floating in the Vliestrom channel south of Terschelling near buoy No. 2 on 22 June 1943. He was buried the next day in Harlingen General Cemetery, and remains there today. His comrades are all commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

[Thanks to Darleen and Mike Taylor for their help with this article.]

More about McDowell online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Byers crew on Aircrew Remembered website

KIA 16.05.1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High 2013

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Dambuster of the Day No. 83: Charles Jarvie

Wilkinson+Jarvie lores
Charles Jarvie, on right, photographed with his crewmate John Wilkinson, wireless operator in AJ-K on the Dams Raid. Photograph probably taken between February and May 1943. [Pic: Wilkinson family]

Sgt C McA Jarvie
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED934/G

Call sign: AJ-K

Second wave. Shot down on outward flight and crashed into sea.

Charles McAllister Jarvie was born in Glasgow in 1922, one of the two children of Charles and Nellie Jarvie. He joined the RAF around the time of his 18th birthday in July 1940. After a long period awaiting training, he was finally selected for aircrew and underwent gunnery training in September 1942.
He was posted to the new 467 Squadron at RAF Bottesford about the time of its formation in early November 1942 and was crewed up with pilot Sgt Herbert Vine, along with bomb aimer Neville Whitaker.
The Vine crew’s first operation was the usual “gardening” (mine-laying) operation in the Deodars area on 12 January 1943. Jarvie flew with Vine that night and on four further missions, the last being the bombing of Lorient on 13 February. Whitaker flew on one further trip, also to Lorient, with Vine but then a straight swap of two crew members between Vine’s crew and the newly arrived crew of Vernon Byers took place. Bomb aimer Whitaker and mid upper gunner Jarvie were exchanged for Sgt John McKee and Sgt Robert Haslam respectively. Why this happened remains something of a mystery. It was a bad move for McKee and Haslam since on their very first operation with Vine, on 19 February, they fell victim to a German night fighter and crashed into the North Sea.
Jarvie however would survive another couple of months. He flew with the Byers crew on the three operations which they flew in 467 Squadron on 9, 11 and 22 March. Then, on 28 March, the whole crew was posted to 617 Squadron.
Charles Jarvie was in the front gun turret of AJ-K when it was hit by flak just after it had passed over Texel island on the Dutch coast. Like five of his colleagues, his body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

More about Jarvie online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Byers crew on Aircrew Remembered website

KIA 16.05.1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High 2013

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.