Dambuster Crash Sites: a driver’s guide

Pic: Malcolm Peel

Text and pictures by Malcolm Peel.

On the evening of 16th May 1943, 133 aircrew in 19 Lancasters took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to attack the dams east of the Ruhr. Eight aircraft and 53 men did not return. Three men survived their crashes and became Prisoners of War.

There are currently memorials at six of the crash sites with a seventh in the planning stage.

The following guide to these sites was compiled in July 2018 as an update to the excellent book written by Chris Ward and Andreas Wachtel, Dambuster Crash Sites, published in 2007 by Pen & Sword. Reference to this book is highly recommended for its historical content and descriptions of the discovery of the sites.

However, due to the ravages of time over 11 years, the construction or demolition of buildings, the changes in road layouts and other key landmarks, some of the Tour Guides in the book have become awkward to follow. Also, the book was published before the era of sat nav and Google Maps. For ease of navigation, the co-ordinates for all the sites (or the nearest vehicular access point) are given below.

If you are travelling from the UK, it is suggested that you travel to the dams first, joining the Corridor at the Möhne. To simplify its compilation, the following guide has been presented in that order. This route can also avoid using the very busy motorway network through the Ruhr around Essen, Duisburg and Dortmund.

Of the many books written about the raid, one of the best is James Holland’s Dambusters: The Race To Smash The Dams, Transworld Publishers 2012, which explains in a very readable format the reasons for the raid, the development of the bouncing bomb, the formation of 617 Squadron and the raid itself. There are also some excellent maps, diagrams and a complete Timeline of Operation Chastise.

Mention must also be made of Charles Foster’s very informative work, The Complete Dambusters: The 133 Men Who Flew on the Dams Raid, History Press 2018, which gives the story of each of the airmen who took part in the raid. A photo of each man is included as well as much information on the raid itself.

The Crash Corridor

Ward/Watchel describe in great detail how and why each aircraft crashed.

Hopgood at Soest was the only one to be shot down while attacking a dam – all the others were the victims of flak or a crash on the flight either to or from the dams. The only two not in the Corridor are shown with a cross on the above map – Byers in the sea off Texel, north of Den Helder and Burpee who crashed on the air base at Gilze-Reisen, between Breda and Tilburg.

The Dams
The co-ordinates for the three main dams are as follows:
Eder
51.184559
9.060715

Sorpe
51.353044
7.964041

Möhne
51.491659
8.061964

The Cemeteries
The casualties are buried in five cemeteries in Germany and Holland.

Rheinberg:
Hopgood and crew

Reichswald Forest:
Maudslay and crew
Astell and crew
Barlow and crew
Ottley and crew

Bergen-op-Zoom:
Burpee and crew

Bergen General Cemetery:
Young and crew

The grave of James McDowell, Byers’ rear gunner, is in Harlingen General Cemetery – the bodies of the rest of Byers’ crew were never recovered and they are remembered on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website gives full details of all those killed and includes maps and co-ordinates for the cemeteries.

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Flt Lt J.V. Hopgood DFC & Bar
ED925 AJ-M
Near Soest, NW of Möhnesee
Co-ordinates (nearest vehicular access):

51.535638
7.999639

The most logical route to this site is from the dam. Turn right out of the car park and proceed towards Möhnesee, passing the Hotel Haus Delecke on your right.

At the roundabout, turn left onto the 229 and after about 2.0 miles, left onto the 516 towards Ense … it’s one of those weird junctions that takes you under the 516, turns left then right.

After 3.5 miles, turn right onto the L745 An Der Lanner towards Volbringen.

After passing through the village, you will come to a crossroads with a stone tower on the right … go straight on.

In less than a mile and just before a bridge under the motorway, turn right onto the track on the right … initially tarmac but that soon becomes stony.

The track drops down with a wood coming up your left but before the road rises again, look left … about 100 yards across the field, you’ll see the wooden post with a brass plaque.

This is the closest accessible point to the crash site which is probably where the motorway runs now.

Should you be travelling to this site via the A44 motorway and you’re going west towards Dortmund, leave at Exit 56 (Möhnesee) and turn left onto the 229. Follow until you reach the 516, turn right and continue as above.

However, if you’re heading east towards Kassel, Exit 55 (Werl-Sud & Ense). Turn right onto the 516 which will take you (via Ense) to the left turn onto the L745 … then as above.

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Plt Off W Ottley DFC
ED910 AJ-C
North of Hamm
Co-ordinates (nearest vehicular access):
51.724373
7.792254

This is one where you’ll need hiking boots or wellies!

Take the B63 north out of Hamm towards Munster and after crossing over the river Lippe, look out for the R.E.A.L. superstore on your left.

Straight on at the next roundabout … the one with the pink elephant wearing headphones (I kid you not!)

Through the traffic lights with MansfelderStr and the SENIORENZENTRUM ST JOSEPH on your right.

After about one mile, a signpost for Geinegge comes up on your left … which is both a street name and a village.

On your right is a house with the sign ISENBECK PILS on the front wall. SLOW DOWN.

Immediately after the house is a field with an electricity pylon at the far end.

The track to the crash site is at the far end of this field just before a line of trees and runs at right-angles to the main road. There is just enough room to park off the road.

Walk down the track passing the pylon on your right … it has a black and yellow sign carrying the number 1614. If it doesn’t, you are in the wrong field!

Carry on to the corner of the wood in front of you.

The track bends left and right around the corner of the wood – amongst the trunks of two trees on the left, there are the remains of a wooden structure of some description. Follow the line of the wood on your right for about 200 yards and the wooden cross is on your right in front of the crater created when the Upkeep exploded on impact.

The original memorial was situated in the crater which frequently becomes water-logged and the cross became rotten.

The bronze plaque (now barely legible) which was attached to the first cross is now fixed to the rear.

When this site was visited in July 2018, the area around the cross was very overgrown so before this photo was taken, time was spent clearing away some of the nettles, weeds and undergrowth. Unlike some other memorials to downed Dambuster crews, this one does not seem to be cared for by locals.

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Flt Lt W Astell DFC
ED864 AJ-B
North of Raesfeld
Co-ordinates (memorial site):
51.808419
6.868116

From the Castle in Raesfeld, take the Sudring and the B70 through the town and keeping on the 70, turning left at the roundabout north towards Borken with the Ford dealer, Autohaus Jacobs, on the left.

Across a second roundabout and after about 1.5 miles, straight on at the lights. About 100 yards further on, look for SIEPENWEG, a narrow tarmac road on the right.

After 200 yards, fork left – following Siepenweg.
After about ½ mile, fork right onto HESSEBREE.
Straight on at a crossroads and over a small bridge with a 9 ton weight limit.

1.8 miles later, turn right onto HUNGERWEG and the memorial is on your left.

If you stand with your back to the memorial, at 2 o’clock, you will see the pylon which some say finally brought down the Lancaster.

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Flt Lt R N G Barlow DFC RAAF
ED927 AJ-E
Haldern, near Rees
Co-ordinates (larger parking area):
51.796722
6.448845
Co-ordinates (memorial site):
51.79662
6.442784

Leave the town of Haldern with the church on your left; drive down BAHNHOFF STR and turn right just before the level crossing onto L459 HALDERN STR towards MILLINGEN.

After 1.0 mile, go straight on at the crossroads with HERKENER WEG and HEERENER WEG, where you will see a small shrine on the right.

After ½ mile, look for a small green signpost to HALDERNER STR 59 on the left, and immediately after, take the narrow tarmac road to your right.

If you reach a large, low cattleshed-type building on your left, turn around – you’ve missed the turn!

About 500 yards along this road, you see a cycle path on the left with a barrier blocking vehicular access – this marks the start of the field in which Barlow’s Lancaster crashed.

The memorial is near the wind turbine to the right of the trees but for now, carry straight on to another turbine and park.

The plane crashed somewhere between the base of this turbine and the small, stagnant pond in the little field on the other side of the wire fence.

Walk or drive back to the cycle path.
Go down the path until you reach a rectangular field with the above turbine at 3 o’clock.
Either walk diagonally across or around the field to the memorial at the foot of a tree in the corner.

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Sqn Ldr H E Maudslay DFC
ED937 AJ-Z
North east of Emmerich
Co-ordinates (memorial site):
51.8565
6.276442

From the A3 motorway, take Exit 3 A220 south towards Emmerich and Kleve.

At traffic lights, with the KusterOil filling station at 2 o’clock, turn left onto L16 WESELER STR

After about a mile, look out for the big orange OBI superstore and turn left at the roundabout.

Follow this road until it narrows and turn left onto BUDBERGER STR

Fork left onto FLASSERTWEG and follow this road until you come to a left-and-right bend in the road with a red and white barrier ahead.

Standing with the barrier on your left, Maudslay crashed in the field to your front.

There are ongoing plans to put a permanent memorial to the crew next to the barrier.

However at the end of June 2018, a mystery tribute appeared near the site which turned out to have been placed there by a Dutch pilot based in Scotland who had done some research on the crash.

This “unofficial” memorial can be found on the right, about halfway to the barrier.

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Plt Off L J Burpee DFM RCAF
ED865 AJ-S
On the former Luftwaffe night fighter station at Gilze-Reisen
Co-ordinates (entrance to airbase):
51.577043
4.926065

This memorial was dedicated in early 2018 and is situated on an active airbase operated by the Royal Dutch Air Force.

There are, as one can imagine, security implications in gaining access to the base and the best way to arrange a tour is to contact Ton Van Den Hoof at the museum, giving at least 14 days notice of an intended visit. Email Traditiekamer.GilzeRijen@mindef.nl

He will then be able to give an update on the entry procedure as application has been made to the base commander in an effort to simplify access.

A tour will also include a visit to the museum which although concentrating on the very interesting history of the airbase, has an excellent section containing Dambusters memorabilia.

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Sqn Ldr H M “Dinghy” Young DFC & Bar
ED887 AJ-A
In the sea off Castricum-aan-Zee, Strand
Co-ordinates (nearest vehicular access):
52.5574
4.610735

Castricum-aan-Zee is on the coast approx. 25 miles north west of Amsterdam.

Take the A9 north from Haarlem and turn left onto N203.

After approx. 3.5 miles, turn left onto N513 SEEWEG

This road only goes to the Strand, a very popular beach with two huge car parks.

This was taken on a Friday afternoon in June 2018 and the other car park was almost full. GO EARLY OR OFF-SEASON. Parking cost €7.50 but there’s no alternative, unless you have a Disabled Badge.

Walk past the cafes; the memorial is on the left at the start of the slope down towards the beach.

 

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Plt Off V W Byers RCAF
ED934 AJ-K
In the sea, off Texel/Vlieland
Co-ordinates (car park at northern tip of Texel island):
53.174453
4.867218

Texel is an island about 40 miles north of Alkmaar and is only accessible by ferry.

From the northern tip of the island, one can only look out to sea and envisage where the Lancaster crashed.

There is no memorial on land for the crew. Only one body was recovered, that of JAMES McDOWELL, the rear gunner. He was presumably thrown clear and the strong current took his body north. It was found floating in the Vliestrom Channel on 22 June 1943. It was brought ashore and he was buried in Harlingen General Cemetery.

The above guides were compiled in July 2018 and while every care has been taken to provide accurate information, responsibility cannot be accepted for changes in buildings or other structures, road layouts and signage, natural and other landmarks, or any other factors used to describe routes.

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A quiet wood in Germany

IMG_6612Pic: Wim Govaerts

One year ago last weekend, a bronze plaque was unveiled on the edge of a quiet wood near the little town of Haldern in Germany. It is a memorial to the seven men in the crew of AJ-E, who took off from RAF Scampton on the Dams Raid on 16 May 1943, and who died at this spot when their aircraft collided with a power line and crashed.
The memorial was the initiative of Volker Schürmann and his colleagues in the Haldern local history society. Those of us who were present remember it with affection and gratitude, and look forward to continuing the friendships formed on that day for many more years to come.

May your bells ring out for Christmas Day

Lincoln_Cathedral_crop

Best wishes for the festive season to all the readers of this blog, wherever the boys in the NYPD Choir* are singing for you.
I have had a great year working on this blog, with two particular highlights. The first was travelling to Germany to take part in the unveiling of the memorial to the Dams Raid crew of AJ-E, in the company of relatives of six of the crew who died on that night. Thanks once again to Volker Schürmann and the rest of the local German community who instigated the memorial and made us so welcome. The second was the completion of the 133 Dambuster of the Day biographies in August, which I hope means that at last every single man who took part in the Dams Raid gets his own small place in history marked for ever.
I look forward to another year of providing a lot more Dambuster information. Have a very good Christmas and a happy New Year.
Charles

*And in memory of the late great Kirsty MacColl.

Memorial postcard has Möhne bonus

Einzm_MšhnetalsperreAnyone who donated to the successful appeal for a memorial to the Dams Raid crew of AJ-E should by now have received a souvenir postcard showing the plaque. These were dispatched over the last few weeks by our good friend Volker Schürmann, the appeal organiser. But if you look closely at the top right hand corner of the card, you will see a little bonus – a commemorative stamp produced by the German post office in 2013 to mark the centenary of the construction of the Möhne Dam. The eagle-eyed Volker purchased a stock of these at the time of their production and kept them aside specially for the cards, to add what he calls a little “British humour” to their publication. A nice gesture. Whether it adds any value to the card, we can’t say at present, but put yours away in your loft and let your grandchildren reap the benefit in 50 years time.

front kanndu entwurf lores

Dambuster Memorial unveiled as many pay tribute

IMG_6611Pic: Wim Govaerts

Several hundred people gathered on Sunday 17 May 2015 on the edge of a small wood in Haldern, north western Germany, to pay tribute to the crew of Dams Raid Lancaster AJ-E, piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC. This was the spot where the aircraft crashed shortly before midnight on the night of 16 May 1943, en route to attack the Sorpe Dam.
Some of Norman Barlow’s letters home to his mother in Australia were read out during the ceremony. In one, written on 3 May 1943, he told her about the new aircraft he had been assigned for the Dams Raid. “I have just got a brand new machine. “E” for Edward or Elsie or Elliott. I hope I am as lucky as I was with “G” for George”.
And then, just 12 days later and the night before died, he sent love to everyone back at home, including his daughter, then four years old: “I must close now and have a bath and get a little shut eye whilst I can.  So keep your chin up Mother dear it can’t last forever. Your loving son Norman xxxx.”
Sadly, E-Edward would not turn out to be not a lucky machine for Norman and his crew, and they were all killed instantly in the crash. For seventy years, the site was not marked in any way, but then in 2013 local historian Volker Schürmann began a campaign to have a permanent memorial established. He organised a public appeal which succeded in raising the funds, after many generous donations from supporters from around the world. There were further donations of materials from the local community, and the farmer on whose land the aircraft crashed was kind enough to make a space available.
Relatives and representatives of five of the crew travelled to Germany, and unveiled the memorial. Wreathes were also laid by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, by other organisations, and by the local community. A guard of honour was provided by the Haldern Fire Brigade, and musical tributes were played by the Haldern Brass Band.
Huge thanks go to all the people of Haldern who donated to and supported the memorial, and to all those who travelled to Germany to take part in the ceremony.

Pictures below by Wim Govaerts and Mitch Buiting.

IMG_6365 Banner depicting the crew of AJ-E. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6396Volker Schürmann being interviewed by British Forces Broadcasting Service reporter, Rob Olver.

IMG_6388Items from the wreckage of AJ-E, found locally by Marcel Hahn. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6462Welcome from Bernhard Uebbing, Chair of Heimatverein Haldern, the local history society. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6481Volker Schürmann outlined the background to the project. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6494Charles Foster gave a brief history of the Dams Raid and its historical significance. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6509Trish Murphy, a friend of Norman Barlow’s daughter Adrianne since their schooldays in Melbourne, read from Norman Barlow’s last letters home. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9274Rob Holliday, whose wife Sara is a cousin of bomb aimer Plt Off Alan Gillespie, gave an account of the lives of all the crew members of AJ-E. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6550The first wreath was laid by Group Captain Steve Richards of the RAF. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6553Lt Colonel David Sexstone and a colleague laid the second wreath on behalf of the Royal Canadian Air Force. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9289Wreath laid in memory of Norman Barlow by Trish Murphy, with assistance from Jacqui Kelly and Aisling Foster. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

Rework_9293Wreathes laid in memory of Philip Burgess by Carole Marner, followed by Jenny Rowland. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

Rework_9298Wreath laid in memory of Alan Gillespie by Sara and Rob Holliday (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6558Wreath laid in memory of Charlie Williams by Helen Brown. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9306Wreath laid in memory of Jack Liddell by Patricia and Mike Gawtrey. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6471Music for the occasion was provided by the Haldern Brass Band. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6685A guard of honour was provided by the Haldern Fire Brigade. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6665The five sets of relatives and representatives, joined by Volker Schürmann and Charles Foster. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6678The full RAF and RCAF delegations, photographed after the ceremony. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6583AJ-E, honoured and remembered, 17 May 2015. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)