Author on tour: another date added

If you are based in the Lincoln area, you may be interested in another event I am doing on the same day, Tuesday 10 July, as my appearance in Waterstone’s bookshop. This is a talk and book signing which will take place at the International Bomber Command Centre, Canwick Hill, at 3.00pm. My talk and slideshow presentation will be based on the research done for my new book, The Complete Dambusters. Copies will be on sale on the day.

Further details on the IBCC Facebook page.  Entrance is free, but places are limited. If you would like to book a ticket, contact

And if you are worried about whether either of these appearances will clash with certain football-related events in Russia, we now know that if Harry Kane, the other Spurs boys and the rest of the England team win their quarter-final on Saturday, they will play their semi-final on Wednesday 11 July. So come along!

AJ-Z crash site mystery solved: Dutch pilot comes forward

A Dutch pilot now based in Scotland has come forward to say that it was him and his family who placed a wooden cross in a field near Netterden to commemorate the spot where Henry Maudslay and the Dams Raid crew of AJ-Z were shot down early in the morning of 17 May 1943. According to the local newspaper NRZ Emmerich, it was erected by Jens van Gessel.

The article reads (translated from German):

Yesterday, Jens van Gessel contacted the RP editors by phone and said he had set up a memorial in Netterden with his father and son to commemorate the crash of ED937 in 1943.
As reported on Wednesday, the white cross, decorated with artificial poppies and an airplane, was erected recently on the edge of a field in Klein-Netterden. It was clear from the inscription that it was placed there to remember the crash of an airplane on May 17, 1943, but nobody knew who had been involved.
The aircraft with 15 men on board [sic] had flown from England on the night of 16-17 May 1943 to attack the power supply of Nazi Germany. The target of the 19 Lancaster bombers of the Royal Air Force were six dams in today’s North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse. The Möhne and Eder dams were breached. ED937 was damaged when attacking the Eder dam, which made it an easy target for German anti-aircraft positions on its return flight. It was shot down over Emmerich.
Another aircraft from the squadron flying on the same operation in May 1943 crashed nearby in Heeren-Herken. The Heimatverein Haldern has set up a memorial plaque at that position.

The article goes on to explain Jens van Gessel’s motivation. He is a pilot, originally from the Dutch town of ‘s-Heerenberg, but he has lived in Scotland for six years, flying helicopters in the oil industry. He used to be a member of the Emmerich Flugsportverein (Flying Club).

He had heard about the aircraft shot down over Emmerich and started to investigate it. He concluded that much of what is written on the internet about the crash is not true. After reading many books about the aerial war on the Lower Rhine he is convinced that: “If the plane had not come down here in Emmerich, it would have crashed over ‘s Heerenberg and possibly would have claimed more victims there, because the city is exactly on this route.”

So this was the reason why he set up the cross up in Klein-Netterden. Not for personal reasons, but to remember the crash and the larger catastrophe which was avoided that night. Whether the pilot of ED937 might have intentionally crashed his bomber into a field to avoid a crash over an inhabited area, Jens van Gessel cannot say. It would be possible. “But of course we cannot prove that,” explained the Dutchman.

Mystery tribute at AJ-Z crash site

This tribute to the Dams Raid crew in Lancaster AJ-Z, piloted by Henry Maudslay, has recently been placed in a field near the German town of Emmerich, close to the site of the aircraft’s fatal crash after being shot down on the night of 17 May 1943.

Local people, including members of the local group who have recently come together to raise funds for a permanent memorial, would like to know who erected this cross. The local newspaper, NRZ Emmerich is also investigating the matter. There is no indication on the cross itself, and no clues other than the only word “May” is spelt in English rather than German.

If anyone has any information, they are asked to contact the organiser of the local group Marcel Hahn via his Facebook page or the NRZ journalist Christian Schmitt. The Dambusters blog would also like to know, so please add a comment below if you can shed any light on the matter!

Les Knight tribute planned for September in Holland

On 16 September this year it will be 75 years since Dams Raid pilot Les Knight was killed after his aircraft was badly damaged on an operation to attack the Dortmund-Ems canal. He was flying with the same crew with which he had successfully attacked the Eder Dam, and was also carrying an extra gunner, Sgt L C Woollard.

Knight jettisoned his bomb and then stayed at the controls struggling to keep the aircraft airborne while his crew baled out. He nearly succeeded in a forced landing, but the aircraft hit a bank running across a field and exploded. All seven of the rest of the crew landed safely. Five evaded capture, while two became PoWs. There is no doubt that they all owed their lives to their young pilot, something that they never forgot.

Knight’s crash occurred just outside the village of Den Ham, and he is buried in its general cemetery. Because he managed to avoid the built-up area of Den Ham, Knight is still regarded as a hero in the village.

Local people are now organising a weekend commemoration of Les Knight and are bringing together members of his family, the families of all the men in his crew, and local people to honour his name. Also present will be members of the families of the local underground resistance movement which helped several members of the crew evade capture and return to England. The event has already been discussed in the Australian parliament and it is hoped that its government and service representatives will also attend.

The event will take place over the weekend of Friday 14 to Sunday 16 September 2018.

More information about the appeal on this website .

Les Knight and his crew, photographed at RAF Scampton in July 1943. Back row, left to right: Sydney Hobday, Edward Johnson, Fred Sutherland, Bob Kellow, Harry O’Brien. Front row: Les Knight, Ray Grayson. [Pic: IWM CH11049]

Above: Members of the family of Sgt L Woollard, one of the men who baled out safely, pictured on a recent visit to Den Ham. 

In Lincoln, for one night only

If you are based in or near the city of Lincoln, you are welcome to come along to a talk and signing session I am doing at the city’s Waterstone’s bookshop on Tuesday 10 July at 6.30pm. 

I will be telling some of the family stories I came across while researching my Complete Dambusters book as well as showing some pictures which weren’t used in the final publication. I will also be debunking some of the often-repeated mythical stories about how the men who took part in the Dams Raid were chosen.

Tickets cost £3, but you get the money back if you buy a book on the day! More details here on the Waterstones Lincoln Facebook page. Tickets from the shop or by email from

[This event prompts me to say that if readers know of any other outlet or society who would like me to do a talk and/or signing then I will be happy to oblige. Contact me by email here.]

At the Albert Hall, for one night only

Pic: Delfi/Wikimedia Commons

I have realised that I haven’t yet written about the gala showing of The Dam Busters at the Albert Hall on 17 May, even though it’s now more than three weeks after the event. I had a very small walk-on role in the preliminary festivities, and I hope the fact that the composite picture of all 133 men from 617 Squadron was projected onto the screen behind me while I spoke was enough of a tribute to all of the men who took part in the raid.

It was great pleasure to meet members of several Dambuster families for the first time, and I hope that this network will grow in strength. Many more families also made contact with me during the other events of that week. It was also a pleasure to meet Sally Scott, the granddaughter of Michael Anderson, who read an extract from his memoirs about the making of the 1955 film.

Revelation of the night for me was Elizabeth Gaunt, née Wallis, saying that she had actually played a small non-credited speaking part in the 1955 film, as a laboratory technician in the sequence at the giant water tanks in the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. Her appearance, when it came round 40 minutes or so into the film itself, drew a big cheer from the audience.

A bucket collection was taken for the RAF Benevolent Fund as the audience left the hall.

Salute to Mr Gardenshed

Somewhere out there in Cambridgeshire there is, presumably, a garden shed occupied by a man who sells items on eBay under the name of Gardenshed. (This may not be his real name.)

Sometime in the last two weeks Mr Gardenshed purchased a copy of my book The Complete Dambusters and then stood in a queue somewhere to get it signed by the ever-obliging Johnny Johnson. So far, not unusual behaviour. Then he travelled back to his humble abode (which I visualise as being more like a ‘man cave’ than a simple structure filled with potting plants and tools).

At this point, you or I might have sat down, glanced through the book, marvelled at the fact that it contains biographies and photographs of all the men who took part in the raid and perhaps sent a handwritten note or an email to the author congratulating him on the work. You or I might also be pleased that you had your copy signed by a man who appears in it, and then place it carefully on your bookshelf. But no, Mr Gardenshed had a better idea. He could make a quick profit of at least £19 (more if he had bought the book from a discount bookseller) if he flogged it on eBay! Even better he could assure potential purchasers that he hadn’t opened the copy because, as he puts it, its condition is “UNRERAD”.

What a clever fellow he is.