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 Reference to this book is highly recommended for its historical content and descriptions of the discovery of the sites.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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Burpee and Arthur families at AJ-S memorial unveiling

Lewis Burpee Jr unveiling the memorial to the crew of AJ-S, killed on the Dams Raid, on 17 May 1943. 

A memorial to the Dams Raid crew piloted by the Canadian Lewis Burpee was unveiled on Friday near the site where they crashed at Gilze Rijen airfield in the Netherlands. It was attended by a number of local dignitaries and representatives of the RAF, as well as members of the families of Lewis Burpee himself and of his bomb aimer, James Arthur. The BBMF Lancaster PA474 flew over the memorial before landing at the airfield as part of its goodwill tour of the Netherlands.

Burpee was a Canadian, born in Ottawa on 5 March 1918. He had two other Canadians in his crew, rear gunner Gordon Brady from Ponoka, Alberta, and bomb aimer James Arthur from Toronto. Arthur had only joined Burpee’s crew in his previous squadron in March 1943, and had flown on just one operation with his skipper. He was one of the four children of the Rev Alfred and Dora Arthur. His father was an Anglican priest, with a parish in the Toronto suburbs.

The memorial is made up of a large piece of crankshaft from one of the crashed Lancaster’s engines. It has seven pistons, once for each of the AJ-S crew, and is faced with an engraved plaque. It was unveiled on Friday by Burpee’s son, also called Lewis Burpee, who was born on Christmas Eve 1943, seven months after his father’s death.

After the unveiling this group gathered near PA474, seen in the background. Above, left to right: Sander van der Hall, organiser of the memorial appeal; Maureen Burpee; Lewis Burpee Jr; Rev Dom Luke Bell, nephew of James Arthur; Sqn Ldr Andy Millikin, OC BBMF; Air Cdre Chris Lorraine, retired RAF officer; Jonathan Bell and Julian Bell, nephews of James Arthur.

More details on the memorial’s Facebook page.

Dutch group seeking funds for memorial at AJ-S crash site

The crew of AJ-S. Left to right: Lewis Burpee (pilot), Guy Pegler (flight engineer), Thomas Jaye (navigator), Leonard Weller (wireless operator), James Arthur (bomb aimer), William Long (front gunner), Gordon Brady (rear gunner). 

At 0011 on 17 May 1943, the night of the Dams Raid, Plt Off Lewis Burpee and his crew left RAF Scampton at 0011, but never made it as far as the German border. While still over Holland, and approaching the gap between the heavily defended airfields at Gilze Rijen and Eindhoven, the aircraft strayed off course. It climbed slightly, probably in an effort to determine its exact position, but was then caught in searchlights and hit by flak. At 0200, it crashed on the edge of Gilze Rijen airfield, six miles south west of Tilburg. Its mine exploded on impact, demolishing a large number of buildings and doing damage estimated at 1.5 million guilders.

The demise of the Burpee crew was seen by both Stefan Oancia, bomb aimer in AJ-F, a minute or so behind, and Douglas Webb, still further back in the front turret of AJ-O. Their last minutes were also seen by a German witness, a Luftwaffe airman based at Gilze Rijen called Herbert Scholl, interviewed after the war by the author Helmuth Euler. He was of the opinion that AJ-S was in fact not hit by flak at all, but was dazzled by a searchlight beam hitting it horizontally. The pilot tried to fly even lower, and then hit some trees.

The next morning, Scholl went to the crash site and saw that it was a total wreck. Only the rear turret and tail unit were intact, and he saw rear gunner Gordon Brady’s body, which didn’t appear to have any sign of injury. He noticed that Brady was scantily dressed, wearing thin uniform trousers and lace up shoes with holes in the soles. (Helmuth Euler, The Dams Raid through the Lens, After the Battle, 2001, p.106.)

After the crash, only the bodies of Burpee, Brady and Weller were positively identified. The other four were buried in a communal grave. They were interred by the Germans at Zuylen Cemetery, Prinsenhage. After the war, all seven bodies were transferred to the War Cemetery at Bergen-op-Zoom.

For many years, the crash site has been barred to the public, as Gilze Rijen airfield is still in active use by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. However, a local group, headed by local campaigner Sander van der Hall, has now secured permission to build a memorial, and are seeking crowd-funding to help with the project.

The memorial will be unveiled on 4 May, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster, PA474, will perform a flypast.

Please help the campaign group by making a donation at its crowd-funding page. (Please note that the organisers are changing the picture on this page, which shows another crew!) Further information on this page (mainly in Dutch).