Nine things you may not know about the Dams Raid

The only photograph taken of a Lancaster in the air on the day of the Dams Raid. [IWM CH18006]

Tomorrow, Saturday 16 May, will be the 77th anniversary of the day in 1943 when nineteen Lancasters of RAF 617 Squadron took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to attack the dams in the Ruhr and Eder valleys. Of the 133 aircrew who participated in what would come to be called the Dams Raid, just 80 survived. Thirty-two more died before the end of the war, leaving 48 men.

Here are nine things that you may not know about the men who took part.

1. Neither of the flight commanders (Melvin ‘Dinghy’ Young and Henry Maudslay) had met Guy Gibson before 617 Squadron was formed. Both were shot down on their return flights.

2. Of the 19 flight engineers who flew on the raid, four were Scottish.

3. Five of the six men who made up Guy Gibson’s Dams Raid crew flew on just one operation with him in their whole careers. These were John Pulford, Harlo Taerum, Fred Spafford, George Deering and Richard Trevor-Roper.

4. Ray Wilkinson, rear gunner in Bill Townsend’s crew, was the only man to take part in both the Dams Raid and the final successful attack on the Tirpitz on 12 November 1944.

5. The front gunner in David Shannon’s crew, Brian Jagger, was the son of the portrait painter David Jagger and the nephew of the sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger, designer of the Royal Artillery war memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London. A David Jagger self-portrait was recently sold for £221,000 at auction.

6. Four men who flew on the raid had pregnant wives waiting at home. Two were killed (Lewis Burpee and Charles Brennan). The two others, David Maltby and Richard Trevor-Roper would both die soon after their own sons were born (Maltby on 15 September 1943, Trevor-Roper on 31 March 1944).

7. Two members of the crew of Lancaster AJ-P were knighted later on in their lives: pilot Mick Martin and navigator Jack Leggo.

8. The pilot of AJ-C, Warner ‘Bill’ Ottley, and his wireless operator Jack Guterman were good friends from their time in 207 Squadron and both had extensive classical music record collections which they played in the room they shared. Both died when AJ-C was shot down, and Ottley’s record collection was donated to his school, Hurstpierpoint College.

9. Canadians Albert Garshowitz and Frank Garbas grew up in the same town of Hamilton, Ontario, and had played schoolboy rugby in the same league. They met by chance again in the UK while training and joined the same crew. They both died when AJ-B, piloted by Bill Astell, crashed into a pylon near Marbeck in Germany. [There is a theory that the game they played together was Canadian or American football, but both men put down ‘rugby’ as a sporting interest on their RCAF application forms.]

Further information about all the 133 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

7 thoughts on “Nine things you may not know about the Dams Raid

  1. mfazzman May 15, 2020 / 11:14 am

    Another gem of information Charles and very interesting. One can only imagine how the aircrews were feeling on this day back in 1943…. No doubt they were all straining at the leash to simply get on with the raid, though of course at the time I’m typing this, Guy Gibson probably hadn’t yet received the order to tell his flight commanders of the target, let alone the rest of the squadron. A poignant thought…

    • Denise Dawson née HAY May 16, 2020 / 3:25 am

      Mickey Martin Pilot on “P” for Popsy the crew were all Australians Bob Hay, Chief Bomb Aimer, Jack Leggo, Navigator, Tammy Simpson and Foxlee Front and rear Gunners.
      I believe Martin said if any of the crew were killed they would be disbanded I believe they did.

    • Denise Dawson (née Hay) May 16, 2020 / 8:56 am

      I believe that on the night before Gibson and the Chief Bomb Aimer, Bob Hay were told what there target was.

  2. Peter from Melbourne May 15, 2020 / 12:43 pm

    I’m fairly new to this blog but the fascinating thing about the Dambusters raid and their subsequent activities is the way it captures the imagination, I’d love to hear what other people feel and why 617 Squadron has the impact on them as it does on me

    • mfazzman May 18, 2020 / 1:19 am

      Well Peter, I find it kind of difficult to put it into words, as I’ve loved everything ‘Dambusters’ since going to see the film when I was around seven in the mid-sixties! I think the way that you can really get into looking up the individuals involved is a definite plus for me.
      Of course, nowadays we can find out pretty much everything on our phones or tablets! Back then, I had to check out the information on the details of the raid and personnel the hard way, ie, going to my local library here in Hertfordshire and troll through the couple of books that they held; not an easy task in those days before laptops etc.
      As an artist, I have depicted the Dambuster raid a number of times through the years. One painting I was doing at the time required even more detail of the dam than usual, so I ended up looking for any crew members that might’ve been involved and lived locally to me. My extremely long shot proved positive, and I found out that Len Sumpter, Bomb aimer in Dave Shannon’s Lancaster ED929/G
      Call sign: AJ-L ‘L for Leather’ lived pretty locally to me, so I gave the man a ring and was met by an extremely pleasant chap who answered all the questions that I could fire at him. He in fact was the first person to tell me that not all bomb aimer’s used the provided wooden ‘Dann’ bomb-aiming site but instead used a piece of string and some measurements marked on the inside of his plexiglass dome to enable him to measure the exact distance from the dam his aircraft was to release the mine/bomb.
      Armed with this information I was able to finish my artwork in an accurate way. Unfortunately, Len, like so very many of his crewmates, passed away a fair time ago now.

      I’m sorry that this post has meandered a bit Peter, but I hope it illustrates (no pun intended!) just how some of us feel about this vast group of men who were pretty much unknown to eachother, were brought together and trained for such a large task in such a short space of time with very little resources. I really hope that you too ‘get the bug ‘, like so many of us have. And this wonderful blog will tell you pretty much everything you’ll ever need to know on the subject. Charles Foster really has created a masterpiece here! You’ve also got the interest of having a large number of your fellow countrymen involved in the raid.

      I hope you too get keen on the subject. And remember, the major ‘raid’ scene at the end of the very first (I think) Star Wars film was based upon the Dambusters raid; fame indeed!

      Right, apologies for the length of this tome. I’d better say ‘bomb gone’ and get the heck out of here. Good luck!

      • Peter Angelico May 20, 2020 / 10:55 pm

        Thanks for the reply, and don’t apologise for the length of your missive! I’ve been absorbed by the Dambusters since primary school days and my interest has increased over the years, visited Scampton, the Eder dam as well as countless other museums, books, doco’s etc. and I’m still finding new stuff all the time, this blog is fascinating and I’m working my through the countless articles weekly!

  3. Rozann Sheila Reynolds May 15, 2020 / 5:39 pm

    Thanks all extra information. My dad was Len Chambers from N Z and it is always with pride I learn new information about all the crews? Sheila Reynolds (nee Chambers)

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