Taking off on the Dams Raid

IWM Collections CH18006

This is one of the pictures in my new book, The Complete Dambusters. It is a photograph taken by official Air Ministry photographer Flg Off W. Bellamy of a Lancaster taking off on the Dams Raid on the night of 16 May 1943. As it is a single aircraft, it is probably one from the Second Wave, possibly the first to leave the ground: Norman Barlow and his crew in AJ-E.

There has been some discussion on the veracity of this picture, since there is no sign of the Upkeep weapon underneath the Lancaster as it leaves the ground. However, it is likely that either the photographer or a darkroom operative was instructed to paint out the weapon for security reasons. At the angle from which this picture was taken, the weapon would have appeared between the struts of the undercarriage. The painting out has been done rather crudely – if there was nothing underneath the aircraft, daylight would be visible through the struts. (You can see an example of this in this picture of a parked Lancaster, left.)

Bellamy’s ‘dope sheet’ (his handwritten list of shots taken that day which was sent to his bosses at the Air Ministry) actually lists two pictures: ‘One of the “Lancs” taking off for the raid as night falls’ and ‘A “Lanc” takes off as night falls’. It’s not known which of these two shots this is. The dope sheet itself is in the Imperial War Museum’s photographic archive, and was reproduced in Herman Euler’s book The Dams Raid through the Lens, After the Battle 2001, p210.

7 thoughts on “Taking off on the Dams Raid

  1. Cass Cole May 6, 2018 / 12:54 pm

    Hi Charles. Have a question. Got an email that pictures of Dambusters in London showing til May 27, I thought. Then got a different date, finishing earlier. Unexpectedly could be I in London before flying back to Canada May 28. I am a Dambuster daughter. You told me a while back there were 20 or so of us. Would plan dates for travel to London based on closing date, as I will be in Europe before that. Could you please confirm? Thanks, Cassp.s, Mavis my given name, hence email address. Didn’t like it, so legally added Cassandra myself.

    • Laurie Edward. May 9, 2018 / 12:59 am

      Hi. I live in Melbourne, Australia. I have had intermittent connection with the daughter of unfortunate F/Off Norman Barlow. If you wanted contact with her I may be able to help. I have a feeling she and her mother attended the reburial occasion some years ago. I’m an ex-RAAF peacetime 10 (M R) Sqdn Lincoln Radar Tech. Regards. Laurie.

  2. Robin spicer May 6, 2018 / 7:56 pm

    I really can’t see what the problem is 617 Squadron did what was thought to be impossible. It was one of the greatest missions of the war, an incredible feat. They, like the rest of bomber command are hero’s.

  3. Mohne all the Time . May 7, 2018 / 6:17 pm

    On the 4 Apr 1943 – Daylight Saving Time Increased by 0ne hour (+2hr) As you can see in the photo the sun is just setting. Norman Barlow took off at 21:28 on the night of 16th May 43. In May the sun normally sets around 20:46 on May 16th. So the summer time would of been around 21:46 so I feel that this is not Barlow’s AJ-E … It could well be either Les Munro, Geoff Rice or Vernon Byers. If you also look at the famous photo of Gibsons Lancaster with an Upkeep on board it would not take much to hide the Upkeep the way the photo has been taken…. Welcome for anyone to help out on the timing.

    • charlesfoster May 9, 2018 / 10:21 pm

      Nigel — I’m only guessing that it is Barlow, as he was the first to take off at 2128. There was only one minute difference for Munro, Byers and Rice’s take off times at 2129, 2130 and 2131 respectively, so the sun wouldn’t have moved much, and as you say it could really have been any of the four. To me the angle looks about right for a view of the sun some 15-20 minutes before sunset, but checking this would mean finding the exact spot on the same day of the year. To my mind the clincher is the fact that the picture on Bellamy’s dope sheet is not only captioned correctly but that he also wrote the print number CH18006 in his own writing, the same number it has today. As to the painting-out of the Upkeep — the big black spludge under the aircraft is a pretty good clue that it was retouched somewhere along the line. At the angle the picture was taken, an unloaded aircraft with its wheels down would definitely be showing daylight through the struts. — Charles

      • Mohne all the time May 13, 2018 / 4:12 pm

        Point taken Charles.. I concur. 👍👍

  4. Sarah Chappell May 10, 2018 / 5:21 pm

    Hi charles

    Someone has recommended i email you regarding some Dambusters memorbilia if you could possibly email me to see if you can help me

    Many thanks sarah

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