Update on “Gibson letter” to Liddell family

10.45pm UK time: Big result!

Blog reader Arthur Rayner has been in touch, informing me that the “letter from Guy Gibson” about which I blogged this afternoon has now been removed from eBay. Arthur has been in touch with the vendor, who told him that he had “no idea” that the letter might be a fake, and that he had purchased it earlier this year from Alexander Autographs in the USA. He sent the link to this company’s auction site, which you can see here. As you can see, the purchaser paid the sum of $2813 (£2259 according to today’s exchange rate) for the fake letter.

Alexander Auctions has been trading in Maryland, USA, since 1991 and prides itself on its reputation. According to its website it is “a leading auctioneer of fine historic autographs, documents, militaria from all conflicts, and relics.” It has “a renowned reputation as being one of the premier auctioneers of historic autographs and collectibles in Northeast [USA], with our customer base extending across the country and around the world. Our goal is to deliver history into the hands of collectors – it’s how we’ve built our reputation. Thorough research and careful cataloging of items by a professional staff, the utilization of the latest technologies and a priority on customer service, Alexander Historical Auctions can stand behind every piece we sell.”

A badly-executed fake letter concerning the RAF’s most famous Second World War bombing operation must somehow have got through Alexanders’ “thorough research”. I like to think that it wouldn’t have got into a sale from a similar UK-based operation, but past experience suggests that this confidence may be misplaced.

Alexander Auctions have actually had six other Dambusters-related items for sale in the last year, although only one has been sold. The items that came up are:

Correspondence (mainly collected by Alan Cooper)
Estimate $750. Did not sell.

Wooden Lancaster model made for Sgt Stephen Burns
Estimated $600-$700. Did not sell.

Various photographs and signed first day covers
Sold for $50

Letter from Sgt Stephen Burns to family
Estimate $300-$400. Did not sell.

Letter from Flg Off Geoff Rice from Stalag Luft III to family
Estimate $200-$300. Did not sell.

Gauntlets owned by Sgt Stephen Burns
Sold for $1169

Some of these items have been on sale at UK auction houses in the last couple of years. See these items (lot number 1021) sold by DNW for £7000 in May 2016.) It’s not clear whether they were all placed with Alexanders by one particular vendor. Whoever it was that sold the “Liddell” letter probably made a tidy profit. But this would have been eclipsed by the eBay vendor if he had achieved the asked-for price of £14,995 – a cool 575% on the price he paid!

 

“Gibson letter” to Liddell family is fake

A really poor item, purporting to be a letter from Guy Gibson to the family of Jack Liddell, has recently gone on sale on eBay at the preposterous price of £14,995.

It is being offered for sale by a dealer from Sudbury called rcmlez, who seems to have been a dealer only since July 2019, specialising mainly in football-related items.

Even though my observations are based solely on examining the photograph of the item, I have no hesitation in saying that it is a fake. There are a number of reasons behind my decision.

1. Stationery
There are a number of examples of the 56 letters sent from Guy Gibson to members of 617 Squadron who went missing on the Dams Raid still in existence. Four are shown above. In all cases, the letters were typed on a sheet of plain paper, approx 9 × 7 inches, with a royal crest blind-stamped at the top. The fake letter would seem to be on a smaller sheet, probably the traditional writing pad size of approx 5 12 × 7 inches, with an RAF crest printed in blue at the top. This stationery was widely available at RAF stations, particularly in officers’s messes, and was commonly used for personal letters.

2. Layout
The genuine letters were typed by several different typists on a number of machines. However, they all follow a standard layout: each paragraph is indented by the same number of tabs  and there is a line space between them. (The number of tabs seems to vary, which indicates that several different typists were responsible.) In the fake letter, the paragraphs are not separated and the indents differ throughout. This may well be because the paper is a smaller size and therefore the faker had to save space in order to get the text onto one page. This is further exemplified by the very small margins, with the typing extending to the very edge of the paper.

3. Text
In all the genuine letters to non-pilot aircrew there is a reference to the skills and ability of the pilot, with Gibson assuring the recipient that the pilot would have done everything possible to ensure the safety of his crew (the wording varies). This is missing in the fake letter, presumably because of the space issue mentioned above.

4. Closing salutation and signature
In the genuine letters, these all follow the same format. The word “Yours” is typed. Gibson has handwritten “Very Sincerely” and followed this with a signature. In some examples he has added a further message. Underneath the typing reads

Wing Commander
Commanding, 617 Squadron, RAF
_______________________

The fake has the typed words “Very Sincerely”. There follows a poorly-executed fake signature, the typed words “Wing Commander,” and the impression from a rubber stamp “O/C 617 Sqdn.” This rubber stamp has never been seen on any genuine wartime correspondence from any commanding officer of 617 Squadron.

5. Name and address of recipient
This is the clincher!  The fake letter has the wrong name and address for the recipient. Jack Liddell’s father had died in the 1920s, leaving his mother with two small children. By the time Jack joined the RAF she had remarried and used a different surname, and she was known by this surname in 1943 at the time of Jack’s death. Moreover, she and the rest of her family were living at a different address in Weston-super-Mare at this time. (The correct surname and address are known to me, but I have decided not to release them publicly. Similarly, I have chosen not to show large resolution versions of the genuine letters, in the hope that this will make it slightly harder for anyone wanting to produce a better-faked version in the future. It is sad that I have to do this, but such is the nature of the world.)

If this letter was genuine, it would be very valuable but I doubt that it would be worth as much as £14,950. In my view, the item now on sale is completely worthless and I would advise anyone thinking of buying it to back off.

[Thanks to Stephen Murray for the tip]

AJ-H “Damage Report Form” sold on eBay is not genuine

My attention was recently drawn to an item which came up for sale recently on eBay, shown above. This purports to be a wartime form recording the damage suffered by the Lancaster ED936 AJ-H flown by Plt Off Geoff Rice on the Dams Raid. As most regular readers of this blog will know, this aircraft made an early return to base after flying too low over the sea near the Dutch coast and colliding with the water. The impact was severe enough to damage the aircraft quite badly and tear off the bomb it was carrying.

This is the description which appeared on the eBay website. The item was offered for sale by a dealer called 230ocu, who lives in Kent and has been an eBay dealer since 2003. After five bids it was sold for £425.53.

The only other information on the eBay listing was a series of seven photographs of the item. I must emphasise that the commentary which follows is based on an examination of these photographs, and not of the item itself. Here are the two photographs which show the whole item, front and back.

The eBay item is said to be a form entitled “Report on Flying Accident or Forced Landing attributable to Enemy Action”, with the reference number 765(C). However this immediately flags up a problem since there is no evidence that any such form with this exact title and number existed in the second world war period.

As is well known, several of the aircraft used on the Dams Raid suffered damage before returning to base. However, there are no examples of a similar form being used for any of the other aircraft on this operation.

I posted a query about this form on the RAF Commands Forum and none of the experts who read the post could recall seeing a form of this name. There are samples of many of the RAF’s WW2 forms on this site, and those in the 765 series are as follows:

Form 765(A): “Operational Statistical Summary”
Form 765(B): “Operational Statistical Summary, (Non-Operational Flying Units)”
Form 765(C): “Report on Flying Accident or Forced Landing not attributable to Enemy Action”
Form 765(D): “Return of Ammunition Expended” (for fighter squadrons)
Form 765(E): “Weekly Summary of Squadron Expenditure”

It will be noted from the above that there is a genuine Form 765(C), which is the same number as displayed on the eBay item. However, there is absolutely no evidence that there was ever a variation of the genuine form, let alone one with the same reference number. Indeed, if there was such a thing, one would expect it to have been given a new number.

This is an example of the genuine Form 765(C), taken from RAF Commands:

Pics: RAF Commands

Close examination of the genuine form revealed some interesting similarities to the eBay version, and suggested how it might have been put together. The top one-third of the eBay form appears to be identical in typographical arrangement and spacing to the top half of page 1 of the genuine form, sections 1 and 2 (with two important differences which we will come to next). The middle third of the eBay form is identical to section 5 on page 2 of the genuine form. And the bottom third of the eBay form is identical to section 12 on page 4 of the genuine form.

The two important differences are: (1) In removing the word “NOT” from the second line of the heading the line has not been re-centred on the page. (2) All the lines of dots (known in the printing trade as ‘dot leaders’) which appeared in the original form to show the typist or writer which sections have to be filled in have been removed.

I can demonstrate the similarities between the two forms by using my own computer software to make up a replica of the eBay form using the four separate pages of the genuine form. I used Photoshop to erase the typing and dot leaders and InDesign to assemble the relevant sections into a single page. I’ve deliberately left the differences in colour in the erasures and background so that you can see how the different sections are slotted together.


It is noticeable that I was able to re-create the eBay form entirely from the genuine form, with no new typesetting required. I believe that this cannot be a coincidence, and therefore that the eBay form was created in a similar manner.

The fact that the dot leaders are missing in the eBay version suggests that the person who assembled its artwork had to delete them because they were typed over.

Now let us now look at the eBay form in more detail. The next illustration contains my comments both on the typographic anomalies of the form itself (which I have dealt with above) and the text which has been typed onto it, which I will discuss below.

In the section entitled “All Occupants of Aircraft”, which should be numbered as section 4 but is not numbered at all, the names and initials are correctly listed. However, the heading says “Nationality to be quoted if not British”, and there is no mention of the fact that two of the crew (Gowrie and Thrasher) were Canadian.

The fourth section, where service numbers should be listed, has been left blank. I cannot recall ever seeing a service document where a request for service numbers has not been completed.

Turning to the section where the damage is recorded, there are a number of things to note. First, this section has no heading, something which is very unusual for an official form. One would expect it to say something like “Summary of Damage”. The text itself begins with a description of the operation (information that would be recorded on other official documents, rather than here) but there is no mention of the actual damage incurred by the aircraft both at the time of impact with the water and subsequently when landing without a tailwheel. It is known that there was substantial damage to the bomb bay and fairings, but this is not mentioned, let alone recorded in detail.

There is also no reference to the official Category of Damage. This was the normal phrase used in assessing an aircraft which had been in an accident, and would have been self-evident from even a cursory inspection of the aircraft on 17 May. Since the aircraft was on an operational flight and the incident occurred over enemy occupied territory it can be certain that the damage would have been ascribed as F (B) (i.e. a Flying Incident/Battle Damage).

The errors and misspellings in the typing of the text are noted by the vendor, who says that this was common in documents from this era. However, there are many more in this item than one would expect in a document which is likely to have been typed by someone with proficiency as a typist.

As I said at the outset of this article, I have only been able to examine the photographs which appeared on the eBay auction site. If it were possible to look at the actual document, I would expect to see evidence that it was printed by letterpress on paper of a type that was manufactured in the 1940s. I suspect that there would be no such evidence. My research suggests that it has been printed by offset litho, or even by a digital method, by creating artwork from a genuine Form 765(C) constructed in a similar method to the one I have demonstrated above.

In conclusion, I will say that I am quite satisfied that the form which was sold on eBay on 27 September 2019 is not a genuine wartime artifact.

Thanks to Mark Peoples, Dennis Burke, Nigel Favill, Susan Paxton and Dr Robert Owen for help with this article.

Dambuster fakes back on the market

A recent post on the Historic Aviation forum alerted me to the fact that the trade in fake Dambuster material is still going on. The item was posted by someone called Whitley Project who was rightly sceptical:

A friend of mine says he has been offered Guy Gibson’s mess tankard/mug – apparently with his name on it. He then went on to tell me he has also been offered Guy Gibson’s dogs bowl, which apparently has the dogs name on it too. This made my antennae twitch somewhat, but he is adamant these are genuine items coming from a reputable source. He told me they originated from the defunct Dambuster’s Museum at RAF Scampton.

The first item sounds very like the tankard on this list which we published in 2015. These were the items sold to a collector by a company in Louth, Lincolnshire, called Military Trader UK which is run by Mr Tony Flitter and his son Mr Nigel Flitter. The company has a website called http://www.militarytrader.co.uk and is a regular seller on Ebay.

The collector purchased a number of items from Military Trader UK which purported to be objects owned or used by various members of 617 Squadron during the war. Sadly, it turned out that although these were genuine wartime items, they had been “enhanced” in various ways, with handwriting or typed labels which supposedly added provenance.

After being threatened with litigation, Military Trader UK eventually returned the collector’s money, and paid his legal and professional fees. This came to a total of about £17,000. The list of items included:

  • Guy Gibson’s Cap ​​​
  • Jack Buckley’s Cap ​​​
  • Guy Gibson’s Tankard ​​​
  • RAF Strata Scope ​​​
  • RAF Scampton Microphone ​​
  • Brian Goodale’s Cap ​​​
  • Guy Gibson’s Escape Axe​​
  • Guy Gibson’s Mag Glass​​​
  • RAF 617 Bomb Counter ​​
  • RAF 617 Signalling Lamp ​​
  • RAF Scampton Phone ​​
  • RAF 617 Headphones ​​
  • Flying Boots apparently belonging to Ivan Whittaker ​
  • RAF Veteran Tie ​​​
  • Jack Buckley’s Bible ​​​
  • RAF Visibility Meter ​​
  • RAF Playing Cards ​​​
  • Numerous pieces of wreckage & artifacts
  • AM Visibility Meter ​​​
  • RAF Flag ​​​​
  • Tunic apparently belonging to Sidney Hobday ​​
  • Guy Gibson’s Pilot Book ​​

The reappearance of a “Guy Gibson tankard” suggests that some of these items may be back on the market. Once more, we issue the warning for anyone considering purchasing an item which claims to have a connection to a man who was involved in the Dams Raid: “buyer beware”.

Möhne “intelligence” picture on sale is a fake

Mohne ebayThis photograph of the Möhne Dam is currently being offered for sale on Ebay by the Louth-based dealers Military Trader UK. The auction closes on 5 August. See here.
The dealers describe the photo as:

Genuine 617 SCAMPTON memorabilia. The other was sold on Ebay last week. This genuine photo was purchased from an Antique Dealer at Hemswell, which was near the base, although it originally came from RAF Scampton when the base closed together with many other items. The photo shows the Mohne Dam, pre War or early WW2, and certainly pre the Dams Raid of May 1943, (as it has no repair marks to the centre and no gun towers or nets)
It is an extremely rare photo used by RAF Intelligence when preparing the raid and was top secret. Not a reprint and the last…Own a genuine piece of 617 Sdn Scampton Dams Raid Memorabilia.

It is, however, a fake and therefore worth almost nothing.
Let’s start with the photograph itself. It is of the downstream side of the dam. However, it was definitely taken after the war. The biggest clue that this is so is that there is no power station below the dam wall. The power station was famously damaged on the night of the raid when John Hopgood’s mine bounced over the dam and hit it. It was then swept away by the later flood when the dam was breached.
Here is a genuine picture of the downstream side of the dam taken before the war, from a different angle but which still clearly shows the size and position of the power station.

Mohne pre-war ground

And, despite the vendor’s claim, close inspection shows that the repaired area can be seen on the fake print. It is marked in red in this picture.

Mohne repair patch

As for the “Intelligence Officer” stamp and number on the back, it is a clear case of a forger over-egging their work to try to create provenance. Any genuine official print would be likely to have an Air Ministry stamp and reference to the target’s name and location.
In addition, copies of the genuine intelligence target folder material (which was prepared as routine target information a long time before the raid) and used for briefing purposes for Operation Chastise are now in both the RAF Museum and the National Archives. They contain a number of photographs. Some were taken by reconnaissance aircraft in early 1943, but those taken at ground level showing the target in closer detail were copied from pre-war publications or tourist postcards. They include similar photos to the pre-war one above – although not this particular one and certainly not the one offered for sale.
This appears to be a deliberate attempt to deceive potential buyers, and should be condemned by anyone with a genuine interest in history or militaria.

Update 4 August 2016: The dealers have now changed the description of the picture. It now reads:

We’ve been informed that this photo shows the Mohne Dam ‘Post War’ (as it shows repair marks to the centre). However; despite close examination with a powerful magnifying loupe there are no repairs to the Dam in this photo and anything marked as such, is a total fabrication. This is the last of two original photos of the MOHNE DAM on the Ruhr.
Genuine 617 SCAMPTON memorabilia. The other was sold on Ebay last week.
This genuine photo was purchased from an Antique Dealer at Hemswell, which was near the base, although it originally came from RAF Scampton when the base closed together with many other items.
It is an extremely rare & original period photo & was Top Secret at the time.
This is not a reprint and is a 70+ year old photograph. It’s a photo; in which an image is focused on to light-sensitive material and then made visible and permanent by chemical treatment, ie ….. a photograph.
There were many WW2 photographs taken which were not developed on Air Ministry paper.

Please note that our original story above never asserts that this is a modern photograph. Rather it would seem to be a photograph taken sometime after 1944, when the repairs were completed. In their explanation, the dealers do not say why the power station does not appear in the shot.
We repeat our warning. This image is not a photograph used by the RAF in the planning of the Dams Raid.

Thanks to Dr Robert Owen for help with this, and to Nigel Favill for the tip.

617 Squadron uniform sold on Ebay ‘likely to be fake’

56_m 30_m 10_m

Several items of wartime RAF uniform, some supposedly once owned by 617 Squadron veteran Flt Lt (later Sqn Ldr) Lawrence ‘Benny’ Goodman, were recently sold on Ebay for a total of about £1065. These were the items listed:

The seller claimed that:

Back in 2009, I acquired a large military/aviation collection from a retired private collector. This Service Mess Dress was among the collection and originally belonged to one incredible man … The story goes that he bought these from a dealer that was specialist [sic] in abandoned / unclaimed storage units.

However, Benny Goodman, who is now 96 and who recently attended the 617 Squadron Association annual dinner, is adamant that this uniform never belonged to him. And he points out that he still has his medals (indeed he wore them at the dinner).
Another piece of clothing is this battledress uniform, which does not appear to have any nametags:

$_57-1$_57-2Although this may be a real Squadron Leader’s Second World War battledress, it would seem to be enhanced by the addition of a 617 Squadron badge on its sleeve. Most experts in RAF militaria would say that it was very unusual for a real pilot to have his squadron crest on his sleeve.
Although there is no claim that this belonged to Benny Goodman, it should be noted that when he finished his tour of operations in 617 Squadron, he was still a Flight Lieutenant. He did not achive the higher rank until his post-war service.
Two more items which did supposedly belong to Benny were these “service wallets”:

$_57First of all, there was no such thing in the wartime RAF as a “service wallet”, for officers or other ranks. Second, Benny also denies having ever owned these. Indeed it is not clear why he would even possess two identical, unused wallets. It should be noted that similar wallets conveniently marked with the initials of 617 Squadron officers have also occasionally surfaced on Ebay.
Apart from the wallets, all the items in the sale would seem to be genuine Second World War material. In some, the value has been enhanced by adding the name of a known veteran to the nametags. The seller may themself not have been involved in this process, but at the very least they should have tried to ascertain whether or not these items definitely belonged to Benny Goodman before making a tidy profit.
Once again, a strict warning should be given to anyone thinking of purchasing similar material on Ebay: be very careful what you buy, and look for direct provenance.

Dodgy “Guy Gibson” cup for sale

Ebay silver cup

UPDATE: 29 June 2015, 16.35
This item has now been withdrawn! The seller has informed me by email that they are now going to get the item “properly examined by an expert” and will “reoffer it for sale with his findings”.
I am leaving the posting below as it was published, as it contains important information about modern engraving techniques.

Another item which claims a wartime Dambuster connection has just turned up on eBay. This is a silver cup which is said to have been given to Guy Gibson in 1940 in order to mark the award of his first DFC. It is being sold by a Sawbridgeworth antique dealer who would seem to have some perfectly legitimate material on his website, which makes it all the more peculiar that he is apparently selling this item without checking its provenance.
What is even odder is the eBay heading for the item. As can be seen from the screenshot above, it reads: “Old Silver Plate Cup Inscribed To D.Bader”. The photograph, however, quite clearly shows that the inscription is dedicated to “G.Gibson”. The seller has added a later note: “It is actually to g.gibson not d.bader. Sorry.”
The lettering has obviously been generated by a modern computer-aided machine engraving program. The giveaway is the superscript “th” after the number 9 in the date. This happens by default in Microsoft Word, as can be seen below, but would have been very uncommon in any engraving done in wartime:

Guy Gibson lettering.docIn the 1940s all engraving was done by hand so each letter was slightly different. This is very obvious on genuine engravings of the period, for example on this silver tankard engraved during the war for Plt Off John Cockshott:

Cockshott IMG-20130509-00046Unfortunately, there is a market for Second World War artifacts given a fake Dambuster connection. In December 2014, a dealer paid £17,000 back to a collector when the collector produced evidence that more than 20 items he had purchased had been “enhanced” with fake names and provenances. Last month, a telegram supposedly sent by “Bomber” Harris about the death of Guy Gibson was withdrawn from auction after it was shown to be a fake.
Glassware and tankards with engravings which supposedly have 617 Squadron connections have also sometimes appeared, but they too have had modern computer-aided machine engraving.
At the time of publishing, someone (1***7 in eBay language) has bid £102 for this cup. More fool them. And there are just over five days to go before bidding closes. It will be interesting to see what transpires over that time.