Dambuster of the Day No. 98: David Rodger

Rodger album pics lores

Pic: Rodger family

Flg Off D Rodger
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED825/G

Call sign: AJ-T

Second wave. First aircraft to attack Sorpe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam. Returned to base.

David Rodger was born on 23 February 1918 in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada. He went to the local technical school and then worked for the Algoma Steel company. He joined the RCAF in October 1941, and trained as an air gunner before leaving for the UK. By then he had also been commissioned. In September 1942, he joined 97 Squadron at RAF Woodhall Spa and took part in one operation on a trip to Bremen in an aircraft piloted by squadron CO Wg Cdr G D Jones. He then suffered a broken kneecap in an accident, and had a spell in hospital.

In January 1943, rear gunner Sgt Ralph Muskett was forced to stand down from Joe McCarthy’s crew after prolonged bouts of air sickness, and Dave Rodger was selected in his place. He thus became the third member of the RCAF in this crew. He went on to take part in 15 operations with McCarthy in 97 Squadron before they were all transferred to 617 Squadron in March.

Before the Dams Raid, all the rear gunners had set up the turrets of their scheduled aircraft in the way that suited them. Most chose to have the Perspex windshields removed, believing that they had better visibility without them and each would have made further adjustments to their seats and gun positions. When the McCarthy crew had suddenly to switch from the allocated AJ-Q to the spare AJ-T, none of these refinements had been made. Fortunately, Rodger was given a few minutes extra while McCarthy himself went off in hunt of the missing compass deviation cards so he was able to remove the Perspex, with the help of ground staff.

When they reached the Sorpe Dam, Rodger’s droll wit was tested to its full by the repeated attempts by McCarthy and Johnson to get into the correct position to drop the Upkeep mine. As Johnson recalled later:

Sitting in the rear turret, Dave Rodger was getting the worst of all this. He could not see what was coming, but he could feel the aircraft diving, running level and then, without warning, pulling up sharp. Because he was furthest from the aircraft’s centre of gravity, every movement was exaggerated for the rear gunner. In a tight turn, a steep dive or a harsh climb, Dave had to put up with a G-force that made his life very uncomfortable. It was hardly surprising after the sixth or seventh dummy run that we heard Dave’s voice grumbling from the tail: “Will somebody please get that bomb out of here!”…
On our tenth run in, both Joe and I were satisfied that we were right on track. I pushed the button and called “Bomb gone!” And from the rear turret was heard, “Thank Christ for that!” As we pulled away, Dave Rodger now had the ringside seat. He said “God Almighty,” as the explosion threw a fountain of water up to about 1,000 feet. “Jesus, that spray has come right into the rear turret. Not only have I been knocked about all over the place by you buggers, now you’re trying to drown me!”

George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, The Last British Dambuster, pp 171-2

Rodger continued to fly with McCarthy throughout the rest of the crew’s tour. He became 617 Squadron’s Gunnery Leader on 11 September 1943, was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and received the DFC in 1944. The citation noted “his calm resolution in the face of the heaviest opposition, which has been an inspiration to his crew”.

When he was stood down from operational flying, Rodger was offered the chance to return to Canada and work as an instructor for the rest of the war. He decided to take the opportunity, and on his return he married his Canadian girlfriend Nell Barbet. Whilst in the UK he had secretly been taking dancing lessons in order to impress her.

After the war, he returned to work at Algoma Steel in his home town of Sault Ste Marie, and stayed there until retirement. He and Nell went on to have nine children. Dave Rodger took an active part in many Dambuster reunions in Canada and travelled to the UK on several occasions. Joe McCarthy and he last met up at Rodger’s 80th birthday party in 1998, shortly before McCarthy’s death later that year.

Dave Rodger died on 1 September 2004. He was cremated locally and his ashes scattered in his own garden, and at the family cabin on Lake Superior.

Thanks to Patti Rodger Kirkpatrick and the rest of the Rodger family for help with this article.

More about Rodger online:
Daily Telegraph obituary

Survived war. Died 01.09.2004

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Dave Birrell, Big Joe McCarthy, Wingleader Publishing, 2012
George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, The Last British Dambuster, Ebury Press, 2014

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Further information about Dave Rodger and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

Dams Raid navigation log for AJ-T

This is part of the navigation log for Joe McCarthy’s aircraft AJ-T, filled in by Flt Sgt Don MacLean during the Dams Raid. It was kindly sent to me by his son, Bill.
Joe McCarthy was due to lead the second wave of five aircraft, tasked with attacking the Sorpe Dam, and should have taken off in Lancaster ED923 which had been given his favourite call sign Q for Queenie, from Scampton at 2127. However this developed a coolant leak, and the crew hurriedly transferred to the only spare available, ED825, call sign AJ-T. This turned out to be missing its all-important compass deviation card, which meant another dash for McCarthy, off to the flight offices. AJ-T finally left the ground at 2201, as you can see from the second picture above. Note in the first picture how MacLean has crossed out ‘Q’ and written ‘T’. He has also misspelt rear gunner Dave Rodger’s name as ‘Ridgers’.
Flying as fast as he could, McCarthy made up 13 or 14 minutes by the time he reached the Sorpe at 0015, to discover that he was the only one of the second wave to reach the target. Barlow and Byers had been shot down, Rice and Munro had returned to base.
The Sorpe Dam was a different construction from the Möhne and Eder Dams, which meant that bouncing the Upkeep mine towards it would not work. So the plan was to attack it by flying very low along its length and then release the mine in the middle. This would roll down the dam’s face and explode below the waterline. AJ-T’s bomb aimer George ‘Johnnie’ Johnson has told the story many times how his colleagues were less than impressed by the fact that it took no fewer than ten dives along the dam to get the line and height right. However, at 0046 he released the mine and it exploded perfectly, but it failed to destroy the dam, although the crew saw some crumbling at the top of the wall.
Their journey back to Scampton saw a certain amount of deviation from the designated route, so in the end they simply backtracked along their outbound course. They landed rather precariously at 0323, as a flat starboard tyre called for a deft bit of piloting by McCarthy.
The whole crew survived the war, and most were regular attenders of various reunions. Below, courtesy of Alex Bateman, is a picture of Don MacLean with two other Dambusters, Tammy Simpson and Danny Walker, taken at a Bomber Command dinner in London in 1987.

Pic: Alex Bateman

Dambuster obituaries

I have been scouring the interwebnet for online material about the aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid for a project I will be unveiling shortly, but in the meantime, I thought I would share the fruits of part of my research. So far, I have come across these online postwar obituaries:

Ken Brown
George Chalmers
Edward (Johnnie) Johnson
David Rodger
Danny Walker

Thanks to a helpful library subscription, I have also come across four other earlier obituaries which are not generally available in online sources, but can be turned up in newspaper archives. These are of:

Basil Feneron
Harold (Mick) Martin
David Shannon
Paul Brickhill

(I know the last of these did not take part in the Dams Raid himself, but I thought his obituary might be of interest.) I have posted these four obituaries on my other website, and you can see them here.

If you can add any further online or offline material to these links then I would be glad to hear from you.