Captured in paint: portraits of all 133 Dambusters to be unveiled

Six of Dan Llywelyn Hall’s portraits of the men who flew on the Dams Raid. Top row, left to right: George Deering, Kenneth Earnshaw, Charles Brennan. Bottom row, left to right: Tony Burcher, Alden Cottam, Floyd Wile

Artist Dan Llywelyn Hall has taken on an ambitious project to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid. He is painting a full size portrait of the last British man to take part in the raid, George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, and this will be accompanied by smaller pictures of all the other 132 Dambusters. Six of these are shown above.

The complete set of 133 pictures will be on show to the public between 14 and 27 May 2018, at the 4 Farm Street gallery in Mayfair in London (4 Farm Street, London W1J 5RD). Opening hours, Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm. Funds raised during the exhibition will be donated to three charities nominated by Johnny Johnson: The RAF Benevolent Fund, Group 617 in Penarth and the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln.

Dan has a Crowdfunder appeal to raise funds for the exhibition, and anyone who sponsors him can qualify for a range of benefits including etchings and limited edition catalogues.

Dan was born in Cardiff in 1980 and is one of Britain’s most prominent young portrait artists, having been commissioned to paint portraits of both the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge. His work has been exhibited extensively throughout the UK in both solo and group exhibitions in venues such as the Saatchi Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of Wales, Windsor Castle, MoMA Wales and others.


Coming soon

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, The Complete Dambusters, will be published by History Press on 1 May. More details and some exclusive preview pages will follow, but for the moment, here is the link to the publishers website:
The Complete Dambusters: History Press

and the official blurb.

“On 16 May 1943, nineteen Lancaster aircraft from the RAF’s 617 Squadron set off to attack the great dams in the industrial heart of Germany. Flying at a height of 60ft, they dropped a series of bombs which bounced across the water and destroyed two of their targets, thereby creating a legend. The one-off operation combined an audacious method of attack, technically brilliant flying and visually spectacular results, but while the story of the raid is well known, most of the 133 men who took part in the raid are just names on a list. They came from all parts of the UK and the Commonwealth and beyond, and each of them was someone’s son or brother, husband or father. This is the first book to present their individual stories.”

AJ-A memorial unveiling confirmed for Friday 18 May at 11am

News just in from the appeal for a memorial near the spot on the Dutch coast where Melvin Young’s AJ-A was shot down returning from the Dams Raid, early in the morning of Monday 17 May 1943.

Local organiser Jan van Dalen has announced that the appeal has now raised over €4600, and that a local stonemason has been commissioned. The unveiling of the memorial will take place at 11.00 am local time on Friday 18 May 2018, at Castricum aan Zee. The ceremony is near the beach entrance and relatives of the crew, donors, members of 617 Squadron Association and members of the public are all welcome at the unveiling.

The crew are buried in the nearby Bergen General Cemetery for any attendees who want to go on to the cemetery to pay their respects.

Pic: Wikimedia


Jackson’s new WW1 film means further delay for Dambusters remake

Peter Jackson was in London this week promoting his new cinema project, using all his studio’s technical skills to bring new life to jerky film footage shot during the First World War. The Imperial War Museum apparently holds many hours of this material: it is being enhanced by Jackson and his team, and combined with audio interviews recorded in later years to make a full length feature film.

Everyone would agree that this is a very worthy venture, and that it will also showcase the cinematic techniques for which the Jackson team is justifiably famous. However, anyone with an interest in a certain other project which is supposed to be in his studio’s pipeline will feel more than a little deflated that this would now appear to be his priority. We are, of course, talking about the remake of the 1955 film The Dam Busters, which has now been on the cards for almost 15 (yes 15!) years.

This thought occurred to Zoah Hedges-Stocks, a journalist on the Daily Telegraph, who has noted the box office success achieved by a couple of recent Second World War-themed films:

“With both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour nominated for Oscars and making millions at the box office, cinema-goers appear to have rediscovered the power of a good Second World War movie,” her article begins. “But another big-budget, awards-worthy tale of wartime bravery was supposed to have been released before them both – Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1955 classic The Dam Busters.”

Hedges-Stocks goes on to explore the twists and turns taken by the remake in a 3,ooo word article which is an excellent summary of the sad story. It contains copious quotations from your always-humble correspondent, but that is not the only reason why it should be commended. As well as pointing out the continued public appetite for Second World War stories, she has placed the original film in its historical context.

Predictably, Jackson’s studio did not reply to the Telegraph’s email queries. One day, perhaps, they will tell us all what the hell is going on.

[NB: You may have to register with the Telegraph to read Hedges-Stocks’s article in full. However, you get one free Premium article a week, so bookmark this one for the future, if you’ve already used up your quota. It will be worth it, honest!]

Guy Gibson’s Ghost and the Sunday Express

Sunday Express extracts from the Enemy Coast Ahead manuscript, published on 3 December, 10 December, 17 December, 24 December and 31 December 1944.

In the early spring of 1944 Wg Cdr Guy Gibson VC DSO & Bar DFC & Bar was working in an office at the Air Ministry in London, ostensibly in a job in the Directorate for the Prevention of Accidents. But his real work was to write a book about Bomber Command, told through his own experiences as a pilot who had been actively involved from the first day of the war up to the Dams Raid.

Gibson worked on the book, given the title Enemy Coast Ahead, for most of the next few months, finishing a draft some time in the summer of 1944. Some of the text was copied almost word for word from a couple of long articles published in December 1943 in the American magazine Atlantic Monthly and the Sunday Express. These were almost certainly written by ghost writers – the American text by a certain Flt Lt Roald Dahl, who was then based in the British Embassy in Washington DC, and the UK text by an unknown PR officer in the Air Ministry in London.

All the time he was writing, Gibson chafed at being confined to a ground job, and pushed his superiors to allow him back in the air. Eventually they relented and he flew his first operation for over a year on 19 July 1944, in a Lancaster from 630 Squadron, based at East Kirkby, on an operation attacking the V1 flying bomb site near Criel in France. Three more operations would follow in August and September, before he took off from Woodhall Spa on what would be his final trip on 19 September.

A few weeks previously, he had finished work on the final typescript of Enemy Coast Ahead going through the corrections and amendments proposed by various people in the Air Ministry and writing a series of handwritten notes which were pinned to the final version.

After his death, the manuscript was sent to the publishers, Michael Joseph, where it went through a further editorial process. But while this was going on, in December 1944, a series of six articles based on the draft appeared in the Sunday Express, all credited to Gibson. Even though many people now knew of his death, it had not been officially announced. Nowhere in the text is his status as ‘missing’ mentioned,  so the general public must have thought that there was nothing amiss.

Five of the six articles can be seen by anyone with a subscription to the UK Press Online site (also available in some libraries). They are shown above in thumbnail version. The final one – which appeared on Sunday 7 January 1944 – appears to be missing from the archive.

The following day, Monday 8 January, Gibson’s death was officially announced, and many tributes and obituaries would follow. But it is ironic that over the previous six weeks the Sunday Express articles had carried on being published, almost as though they were genuinely ghost-written.
[Source: Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin, 1995.]

Season’s greetings from Dambusters Blog

‘In the bleak midwinter, frosty winds made moan’ goes the old carol. However, here on the western coast of Europe, it looks as though we might have a mild and wet festive season. Never mind!
The month of May this year brought the millionth visitor to this blog, and as of today we’ve added nearly one hundred thousand since. So please keep checking us out for all the latest Dambuster news. And whatever the weather wherever you are, let me wish you all the best for Christmas and the New Year!

Seasonal picture above by Maria Mekht of Unsplash. A great site for royalty free pictures and images!

Dams Raid 75th anniversary: first events announced

A 617 Squadron Lancaster dropping a dummy ‘Upkeep’ bomb during testing of the weapon at Reculver in Kent, a few days before the Dams Raid on 16/17 May 1943. [Pics: stills from film in the IWM collection]

Preparations are now in hand for events next summer to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid. The first dates have now been announced.

Saturday 12 May 2018. The 617 Squadron Association Annual Dams Dinner will be held at the Petwood Hotel, Woodhall Spa, for members of the Association and invited guests.

Sunday 13 May 2018, 10.00am. 617 Squadron Association Annual Wreath-laying Ceremony and Service, 617 Squadron War Memorial, Woodhall Spa. Members of the public welcome.

Thursday 17 May 2018. The Royal Aeronautical Society, 4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ. Time to be confirmed. A symposium to review the origin, preparation, execution and achievements of Operation Chastise. The 617 Squadron Association Official Historian, Dr Robert Owen, will be one of the presenters. Booking is not yet open, but further details are available here.

Thursday 17 May 2018, 7.15pm. Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 2AP. Commemorative evening paying tribute to 617 Squadron. Introduced by Dan Snow. Guests will include family members of Dams Raid crew members, former members of 617 Squadron, historian Paul Beaver, plus a ‘bouncing bomb’ experiment and music from the Glenn Miller Orchestra. This event will culminate with a screening of the 1955 film The Dam Busters, directed by Michael Anderson and starring Sir Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd, on a 40ft screen in 4K definition. This event is in support of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. More details here.

Friday 18 May. Castricum-aan-Zee, Netherlands. Time to be confirmed. Unveiling of the memorial to the crew of AJ-A, the Dams Raid aircraft piloted by Sqn Ldr Melvin Young, which was shot down just off the Dutch coast on its return journey from the Eder Dam. The crew are buried in the nearby Bergen cemetery. Details to follow.

Further events are expected to be announced between now and May 2018. This list will be updated when these occur. For the latest version of this list click on this link on the blog.