Pic: Rodger family
Flg Off D Rodger
Lancaster serial number: ED825/G
Call sign: AJ-T
Second wave. First aircraft to attack Sorpe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam. Returned to base.
David Rodger was born on 23 February 1918 in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada. He went to the local technical school and then worked for the Algoma Steel company. He joined the RCAF in October 1941, and trained as an air gunner before leaving for the UK. By then he had also been commissioned. In September 1942, he joined 97 Squadron at RAF Woodhall Spa and took part in one operation on a trip to Bremen in an aircraft piloted by squadron CO Wg Cdr G D Jones. He then suffered a broken kneecap in an accident, and had a spell in hospital.
In January 1943, rear gunner Sgt Ralph Muskett was forced to stand down from Joe McCarthy’s crew after prolonged bouts of air sickness, and Dave Rodger was selected in his place. He thus became the third member of the RCAF in this crew. He went on to take part in 15 operations with McCarthy in 97 Squadron before they were all transferred to 617 Squadron in March.
Before the Dams Raid, all the rear gunners had set up the turrets of their scheduled aircraft in the way that suited them. Most chose to have the Perspex windshields removed, believing that they had better visibility without them and each would have made further adjustments to their seats and gun positions. When the McCarthy crew had suddenly to switch from the allocated AJ-Q to the spare AJ-T, none of these refinements had been made. Fortunately, Rodger was given a few minutes extra while McCarthy himself went off in hunt of the missing compass deviation cards so he was able to remove the Perspex, with the help of ground staff.
When they reached the Sorpe Dam, Rodger’s droll wit was tested to its full by the repeated attempts by McCarthy and Johnson to get into the correct position to drop the Upkeep mine. As Johnson recalled later:
Sitting in the rear turret, Dave Rodger was getting the worst of all this. He could not see what was coming, but he could feel the aircraft diving, running level and then, without warning, pulling up sharp. Because he was furthest from the aircraft’s centre of gravity, every movement was exaggerated for the rear gunner. In a tight turn, a steep dive or a harsh climb, Dave had to put up with a G-force that made his life very uncomfortable. It was hardly surprising after the sixth or seventh dummy run that we heard Dave’s voice grumbling from the tail: “Will somebody please get that bomb out of here!”…
On our tenth run in, both Joe and I were satisfied that we were right on track. I pushed the button and called “Bomb gone!” And from the rear turret was heard, “Thank Christ for that!” As we pulled away, Dave Rodger now had the ringside seat. He said “God Almighty,” as the explosion threw a fountain of water up to about 1,000 feet. “Jesus, that spray has come right into the rear turret. Not only have I been knocked about all over the place by you buggers, now you’re trying to drown me!”
George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, The Last British Dambuster, pp 171-2
Rodger continued to fly with McCarthy throughout the rest of the crew’s tour. He became 617 Squadron’s Gunnery Leader on 11 September 1943, was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and received the DFC in 1944. The citation noted “his calm resolution in the face of the heaviest opposition, which has been an inspiration to his crew”.
When he was stood down from operational flying, Rodger was offered the chance to return to Canada and work as an instructor for the rest of the war. He decided to take the opportunity, and on his return he married his Canadian girlfriend Nell Barbet. Whilst in the UK he had secretly been taking dancing lessons in order to impress her.
After the war, he returned to work at Algoma Steel in his home town of Sault Ste Marie, and stayed there until retirement. He and Nell went on to have nine children. Dave Rodger took an active part in many Dambuster reunions in Canada and travelled to the UK on several occasions. Joe McCarthy and he last met up at Rodger’s 80th birthday party in 1998, shortly before McCarthy’s death later that year.
Dave Rodger died on 1 September 2004. He was cremated locally and his ashes scattered in his own garden, and at the family cabin on Lake Superior.
Thanks to Patti Rodger Kirkpatrick and the rest of the Rodger family for help with this article.
More about Rodger online:
Daily Telegraph obituary
Survived war. Died 01.09.2004
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Dave Birrell, Big Joe McCarthy, Wingleader Publishing, 2012
George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, The Last British Dambuster, Ebury Press, 2014
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.
Further information about Dave Rodger 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.