Dams Raid Lancaster crash site on TV

This is not the crash site of one of the eight Lancasters lost on Operation Chastise (those have all been excavated years ago) but is where Lancaster AJ-T (ED825/G) crashed on the night of 10 December 1943 near Doullens in France. It was still being used by 617 Squadron, and that night was being flown by a crew captained by Flt Lt Gordon Weeden. All seven of the crew were killed.

AJ-T had been designated the ‘spare’ aircraft for Operation Chastise, and was hurriedly pressed into service when Flt Lt Joe McCarthy found a fault in his favourite AJ-Q (Q for Queenie). There is a lot of detail about McCarthy’s habit of calling all his aircraft Queenie, and his predilection for ‘nose art’ here.

Channel Five is screening a documentary about the search for AJ-T next Tuesday, 17 June at 2000 BST. More than ten years after its launch, Channel Five is still not available to everyone in the UK, so I’m sure in due course that the film will be made available on DVD.

The documentary features one of Britain’s last ‘active’ Dambusters, George (Johnny) Johnson, who, of course, was the bomb aimer in McCarthy’s crew, and therefore dropped a bomb from the aircraft on the Sorpe Dam during the Dams Raid. The latter part of the film shows his trip back to the Dams, and his memories of that night.

Here’s what Channel Five say about the film:

Revealed (Documentary)

Last of The Dambusters.

Historical documentary focusing on the famous Second World War Dambusters raid. George Johnson – a bomb aimer in one of the raid’s Lancasters and one of only two British Dambusters alive today – sets off on a final mission to rediscover his past. He finds and digs up his old Dambuster bomber, before travelling back to the giant German dams that he once attacked.

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Dambuster survivors

Somebody has recently asked me privately how many of the original Dambusters are still alive. The answer to that is six. I am not going to name all of them here, as I think that one of them no longer does any public events. Of the five who still appear in public there are two in the UK. At the time of the dams raid, George (Johnny) Johnson was Sgt G L Johnson, the bomb aimer in the crew of AJ-T, piloted by Joe McCarthy. The crew dropped their bomb on the Sorpe Dam. 

Ray Grayston also lives in England. As Sgt R E Grayston, he was the flight engineer in Les Knight’s crew, AJ-N. They were the crew which dropped the mine which finally breached the Eder Dam.

The only pilot still surviving is Les Munro, one of two New Zealanders on the Dams Raid. Flt Lt J L Munro flew AJ-W on the raid, and was also supposed to attack the Sorpe Dam. Unfortunately, crossing the Dutch coast near Vlieland, they were hit by flak, which put the intercom and the VHF radio out of action, as well as damaging the compass and the tail turret pipes. With no way of speaking either to each other on board, or to other aircraft, they had no option but to return to Scampton with their mine still intact.

The final two Dambusters who are still active returned to their native Canada after the war. Both were gunners: Fred Sutherland and Grant MacDonald. Sgt F E Sutherland was the front gunner in Les Knight’s crew, AJ-N. Flt Sgt G S MacDonald was the rear gunner in Ken Brown’s crew, AJ-F. Like AJ-T, they attacked the Sorpe Dam, but failed to breach it. 

In my dealings with these gentlemen, I have to say that they were all models of courtesy. They have all told their stories hundreds of times and yet their patience and willingness to provide information is outstanding. We owe them all a huge debt as they keep the story of the Dams Raid alive.