AJ-Z memorial to be unveiled in May

The crew of AJ-Z, killed returning from the attack on the Eder Dam, 17 May 1943. L-R: Henry Maudslay, Jack Marriott, Robert Urquhart, Alden Cottam, John Fuller, William Tytherleigh, Norman Burrows. [Collage of pics: © Dambusters Blog]

The memorial to the Dams Raid crew skippered by Henry Maudslay will be unveiled on 17 May 2019, near where they were shot down in the early morning of 17 May 1943, seventy-six years ago. The event has been organised by local researcher Marcel Hahn.

On the Dams Raid, Henry Maudslay and his crew in Lancaster AJ-Z, had been spectators at the Möhne Dam when it was breached. The three Lancasters still with bombs on board were directed to go to the Eder dam. The attacking force quickly realised that the dam presented a much more difficult target. The lake is smaller and set in a deep valley, meaning that there is a much shorter approach which starts with a very tricky steep dive from over the Waldeck Castle. This is followed by a sharp turn to port. Given the geography, the Germans had obviously discounted the idea of an aerial attack, since there were no gun batteries in the vicinity.

David Shannon in AJ-L was the first to try an attack, and made three or four passes without releasing his mine. It was very difficult to get down to the right height after the dive, and then turn. Then Gibson told Maudslay to try, and he found it just as hard, so Shannon had another go. Two more dummy runs followed until, at last, he got the angle and speed right and dropped his mine. It bounced twice, hit the dam wall and exploded sending up a huge waterspout. At the later debriefing his effort is reported as ‘no result was seen’ but Shannon in fact felt that he had made a small breach.

Maudslay had another attempt but then something went wrong. His mine was released too late, hit the parapet and exploded. Although his aircraft was beyond the dam by the time this occurred, it may have been damaged, since his later progress home was slower than would be expected. Some reports say that something was seen hanging down below the aircraft, perhaps caused by hitting trees on the run in.

Gibson saw that AJ-Z had fired a red Very light signal after passing over the dam wall and called Maudslay on the radio: ‘Henry – Henry. Z-Zebra – Z-Zebra. Are you OK?’ Nothing was heard, so he repeated the call. This time Maudslay’s voice could be heard, although the signal was faint: ‘I think so. Stand by …’ This signal – confirmed by members of Shannon’s and Knight’s crews – was the last voice contact anyone made with AJ-Z.

In fact they would stay airborne for a further fifty minutes. At 0157, some twenty minutes after they had dropped their mine, wireless operator Alden Cottam sent a ‘Goner 28B’ message back to base, which indicates that they were making progress. At about 0230, they had reached the Rhine. The turning point on the return route was supposed to be at the town of Rees, but Maudslay headed 20 miles north of this towards Emmerich, which was defended by several Heimat light flak anti-aircraft batteries, largely manned by non-military personnel. Some of the outbound force had in fact passed over the town a few hours earlier so the batteries were on alert for the opportunity to fire on any returning crews. When AJ-Z was heard approaching Emmerich it came within range of the batteries on the south and east edges. They fired on the aircraft, and although it turned to the right to try and avoid the flak, either an engine or a fuel tank was hit, as there was a burst of flame. The aircraft lost height and crashed in a field at 0236 close to the hamlet of Osterholt, between the German town of Klein Netterden and the Dutch town of ’s Heerenberg. The following morning, German officials recovered seven bodies from the wreckage. Two were identified as Alden Cottam and Jack Marriott, but the rest were recorded as unidentified. All seven were buried in the Northern Military Cemetery at Düsseldorf, and were reburied after the war in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Reichswald Forest.

Members of the Maudslay and Marriott families are expected to attend the unveiling of the memorial, which will take place at 1430 on Friday 17 May. Other families and distinguished guests will be confirmed nearer the time. Members of the public are welcome to attend. The location is shown in the map below. Refreshments will be served afterwards in the MU-Cafe, also shown on the map.

Marcel Hahn can be reached by email here and also on the event’s Facebook page.

Dambuster of the Day No. 46: Alden Cottam

cottam pa98-716_141

Pic: Alberta on Record

Wt Off A P Cottam
Wireless operator

Lancaster serial number: ED937/G
Call sign: AJ-Z

First wave. Second aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine overshot. Aircraft damaged, and shot down on return flight.

Alden Cottam was born in the small town of Jasper in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, on 29 August 1912. He joined the RCAF in February 1941 and qualified as a wireless operator/air gunner.
After arriving in England he was posted to a training unit, 1654 Conversion Unit. In October 1942, he was sent from there to 50 Squadron at RAF Swinderby. He flew on a number of operations with Sgt A L Kitching as pilot, and then joined Henry Maudslay’s crew for an operation to Essen on 21 January 1943. He was posted to 617 Squadron in 25 March as part of Maudslay’s crew.
He died along with the rest of this crew when they were shot down near Emmerich, limping back in an aircraft damaged during the attack on the Eder Dam.
Alden Cottam is now buried alongside his comrades in Reichswald Cemetery.

[Thanks to Alan Wells for particular help with this piece, and for all the Maudslay crew.]

 More about Cottam online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Listing at Alberta on Record
Listing at Canadian Virtual War memorial
Article in Canadian newspaper about visit to his grave

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002