Appeal launched to fund AJ-A memorial in Netherlands

The crew of AJ-A: (L-R) Sqn Ldr Melvin Young (pilot), Sgt David Horsfall (flight engineer), Flt Sgt Charles Roberts (navigator), Sgt Lawrence Nichols (wireless operator), Flg Off Vincent MacCausland (bomb aimer), Sgt Gordon Yeo (front gunner), Sgt Wilfred Ibbotson (rear gunner).

For many years a small group of Dutch citizens, headed by Jan van Dalen, have looked after the graves of the Dams Raid crew of Sqn Ldr Melvin Young in the General Cemetery of the small coastal town of Bergen. The crew were aboard Lancaster ED887, AJ-A, on the Dams Raid on 16-17 May 1943, and all seven members lost their lives when they were shot down on their return journey.

AJ-A had been the fourth aircraft to drop its Upkeep mine at the Mohne Dam and had caused a small breach. A few minutes later AJ-J dropped another mine, causing the final breach and the dam’s collapse. Young had flown on to the Eder Dam in order to take over command if anything should happen to Guy Gibson on the attack there, but in the event had nothing to do. He then set course to return home and reached the Dutch coast just before three in the morning. Then, out over the sea, he hit disaster when the gun battery at Wijk-aan-Zee fired at the rapidly disappearing Lancaster. At that stage, the aircraft was well past the last gun battery and only a few hundred yards from safety. The battery later reported shooting down an aircraft at 0258, which was almost certainly AJ-A.

The wreckage of AJ-A, photographed shortly after the Dams Raid in 1943.

Over the next few weeks, the sea yielded up the victims. Part of the wreckage was washed ashore and the first bodies – those of Melvin Young and David Horsfall – floated up on 29 May. They were buried in the General Cemetery at Bergen two days later, and were joined by the bodies of the other five which were washed up over the next thirteen days.

The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation has now been formally established to commemorate all members of 617 Squadron who lost their lives in the war. As part of this work, the Foundation plans to erect a memorial plaque to the crew of AJ-A on the seafront at Castricum-aan-Zee, which they are hoping to unveil at the time of the 75th anniversary of the crew’s burial in Bergen cemetery in late May 2018. Members of the families of the crew of AJ-A have already said that they hope to be present for this occasion.

The cost of this project is estimated to be in the region of €3500-4000. If you would like to make a donation to the Foundation to help pay for the memorial, you can do so using the PayPal link below. (You don’t need to have a PayPal account in order to make a payment – any credit card can be used.) Your donation will be gratefully received and will be acknowledged at the unveiling ceremony.



Dambuster of the Day No. 23: David Horsfall

Pic: Humphries Collection

Sgt D T Horsfall
Flight engineer
Lancaster serial number: ED887/G
Call sign: AJ-A
First wave. Fourth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing small breach. Aircraft shot down on return flight.

David Taylor Horsfall was born in Bramley, Yorkshire on 16 April 1920. The family moved to Barnsley, and both he and his brother Albert went to Barnsley Grammar School. David joined the RAF in 1936 as a boy entrant at the technical apprentice school at RAF Halton. He served in groundcrew until 1942.

He then took the opportunity to retrain as a flight engineer on heavy bombers, and met up with his future crew at 1660 Conversion Unit at RAF Swinderby in late 1942. Along with colleagues, Lawrence Nichols, Gordon Yeo and Wilfred Ibbotson, Horsfall’s first operation was to the difficult destination of Berlin on 16 January, in a Lancaster piloted by Plt Off V Duxbury. He flew on a second operation to Berlin the following day, with Flg Off H W Southgate as pilot, returning on three engines after one failed on the way home. Melvin Young joined the Conversion Unit later, in early March and took over this new crew there. The full crew were then transferred to 57 Squadron at Scampton on 13 March. On 25 March, they were all reposted to the new 617 Squadron.

The Dams Raid was therefore Horsfall’s third operation, and one that they would all have thought had gone well, until they were caught by a burst of flak at the very last moment of real danger.

David Horsfall had a brother, Albert, who had been killed in 1940 serving as a navigator in 50 Squadron. The Horsfall family therefore share an unwanted sad distinction amongst Dambuster families with the Taerums and the Minchins, in that they all had two sons killed on active air force service during the war.

AJ-A was shot down at the last moment of danger shortly after they had passed over the Dutch coast. David Horsfall’s body was washed ashore on 29 May, along with his skipper. They were buried together in Bergen General Cemetery.

More about Horsfall online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

KIA 17 May 1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Arthur Thorning, The Dambuster who Cracked the Dam, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002