Snow drops a clanger in hangar

Dan Snow, on the wrong spot. 

Last week’s three-part documentary series, broadcast on Channel 5, had a number of errors. A major one is discussed here.

This concerns the near catastrophe caused when the Upkeep mine was dropped accidentally onto the ground from Mick Martin’s aircraft AJ-P soon after it had been loaded by the squadron’s armourers. This did not take place inside a hangar, as so energetically described by Dan Snow in the programme, but several hundred yards away in the open air on each aircraft’s concrete hardstanding. Wartime bombing-up, as the process was called, never took place in the confined space of a hangar. It was simply too dangerous.

It is true that Martin and some of his crew, including bomb aimer Bob Hay, were inside AJ-P checking that things had been loaded correctly when the incident occurred. What followed was memorably described by Paul Brickhill in his 1951 book:

“… a fault developed in the bomb release circuit, the release snapped back and there was a crunch as the giant black thing fell and crashed through the concrete hardstanding, embedding itself 4 inches into the earth below. …
‘Release wiring must be faulty,’ Hay said professionally, and then it dawned on him and he said in a shocked voice, ‘it might have fused itself.’ He ran, yelling madly out of the nose, ‘Get out of here. She’ll go off in less than a minute.’ Bodies came tumbling out of the escape hatches, saw the tails of the armourers vanishing into the distance and set off after them. Martin jumped into the flight van near by and, with a grinding of gears, roared off to get Doc Watson. He had his foot hard down on the accelerator and swears that a terrified armourer passed him on a push-bike. He ran into Watson’s office and panted out the news and Watson said philosophically, ‘Well, if she was going off she’d have gone off by this.’ ”
Paul Brickhill, The Dam Busters, Evans 1951, pp71-72

It’s not mentioned by Brickhill, but it seems that WAAF officer Fay Gillon was also on board AJ-P at the time of the accident. She was a friend of Martin and his crew, and was being given a tour.

Plt Off Henry (“Doc”) Watson MBE was the squadron’s Armaments Officer.

For the record, two other smaller errors:
Episode 2: Only two models of the targets were shown to the crews at the briefing (and earlier to Gibson). These were of the Möhne and Sorpe Dams. The Eder Dam model wasn’t completed until after the raid.
Episode 3:
Martin was not the first to touch down at Scampton after dropping his mine. He arrived at 0319. Maltby arrived eight minutes earlier, at 0311.


8 thoughts on “Snow drops a clanger in hangar

  1. David Sulman December 10, 2020 / 8:39 pm

    Grateful to you for correcting these errors. Surely a researcher should have ensured accuracy? The true facts aren’t difficult to find.

    • Edmund Conybeare December 12, 2020 / 4:56 am

      I am writing about David Shannon and his Upkeep at the Eder was described as hitting the dam dead centre. It didn’t but veered off and struck the dam towards the East side. I was extremely unimpressed with the sensationalist tone of the programmes which lacked insight and cohesion.

  2. dickb4925 December 10, 2020 / 9:10 pm

    I spotted the first two errors. Shame he used the Eder model to illustrate his point. I missed the one about who returned first.

    Was he right that the first time Gibson spoke to the whole new squadron it was in the hangar not the briefing room ?

  3. Birchall December 11, 2020 / 1:50 am

    Showing the y type bomb sight the ply wood triangle was made on base the dann sight ref you tube j Johnston training for operation chastise RAF historical branch report operation chastise the ply wood triangle sight or string and pencil type developt on base

  4. Simon Rolt December 11, 2020 / 2:13 am

    Channel 5 should have got Chris Ward to do the programme

  5. Maureen Gray December 11, 2020 / 8:17 am

    Those of us who have read so much stuff & are real Dambusters fans already knew all of these errors but at least Dan Snow probably brought attention to a lot more people who knew nothing about 617 squadron & Bomber Command,

  6. Simon Rolt December 11, 2020 / 9:43 am

    The mistakes in the channel 5 dambuster program should have been researched better by Dan Snow. Chris Ward would have done a better job.

  7. Neil Jordan April 12, 2022 / 6:37 pm

    I lost all respect for Dan Snow back in 2017 when he only mentioned the 40,000 French soldiers were left behind but made no mention of the 10,000 men of 51st Highland Division who surrendered to Rommel on the 12th June after they had continued the fight with the French, apparently under the orders of Churchill. That isn’t also to mention the medics that chose to stay with their wounded men.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.