Dambuster bomb sight sells for £41,000, and is going to ‘good home’

Auction screenshot

The wooden bomb sight used by Plt Off John Fort on the Dams Raid sold yesterday at auction for a staggering £33,500 hammer price (more than £41,000 with commission and taxes added). The bidding opened at £20,000 and it quickly became apparent that the only serious contenders were two people in the room who had very deep pockets.
The buyer is at present anonymous, but we have been assured by the auctioneer that the bomb sight, and the other artifacts sold to the same purchaser, have gone to a ‘good home’. We hope to bring you more details in due course.
The bomb sight and a navigator’s parallelogram and desklight were given to my grandfather, Ettrick Maltby, by his son David, the pilot of AJ-J on the Dams Raid. Following David’s death, they were placed in a display cabinet at Hydneye House School, the prep school in Hastings owned and run by the Maltby family. When the Maltbys retired they decided that they wanted them left at the school so that future generations of boys could see them.
Unfortunately the school was forced to close in the early 1970s following a Compulsory Purchase Order when the area became scheduled for redevelopment. By then Ettrick Maltby had died, and nobody from the family thought to retrieve the items from the school. So the Headmaster gave the items to an old boy of the school for his budding aerospace collection.

bomb sight

The bombsight is the only surviving example of those which were made for the Dams Raid. Not all the bomb aimers used the sight, which was devised by Wg Cdr C L Dann, supervisor of aeronautics at the Royal Aeronautics Establishment at Boscombe Down. Many used their own makeshift systems for working out the release points, with pieces of string and chinagraph marks on the perspex blister, but now it seems certain that John Fort preferred this sight.
It is not clear what all the numbers stamped on the handle refer to, although the figure 29.5 would seem to be the angle in degrees between the two arms. Although the two arms are adjustable by means of a wingnut, each arm is locked in position with a small panel pin which can be seen just to the left of the wingnut.
The metal plate was obviously added later when the sight went on display. The varnish was probably also applied at this time.

Advertisements

“Though swirling floods are raging”

Last Saturday, I went to a reunion at my old school, St Edward’s in Oxford. It was a very pleasant occasion, helped along by the warm June weather traditional at such events. However, I was somewhat surprised during the chapel service when the chaplain announced that the tune to the next hymn might be a familiar one. The organ then sounded with a well known refrain, while I leafed hurriedly through the hymnal to the relevant page, and found this:
SES1
SES2

The words are new to me, perhaps, as I’m not a regular churchgoer, but they have apparently been around for some time. In fact they were written by the Rev Richard Bewes, sometime Rector of All Souls, Langham Place, and are based on Psalm 46.
I spent five years at St Edward’s in the 1960s, and spent many hours in services in this chapel, which is lined with hundreds of individual hand-painted plaques commemorating boys who died in the Great War. I whiled away endless dull sermons reading their details – a Lieutenant in the Staffordshires, a Captain in the Ox and Bucks, a Private in the 1st Canadian Battalion – without really contemplating what the stories behind these names might reveal. And I would also flick through the hymnal, noting the great names – Wesley, Vaughan Williams, Milton, Alexander – whose fine music was thundered out each week by 500 adolescent voices. “Lift up your hearts”, “Jerusalem the Golden”, “Guide me O thou great Jehovah”. Even today, as I type out the titles, the words and tunes still ring through my brain. Will “God our strength and refuge” ever be added to the list? I’m not certain it will. It is such a famous piece of orchestral music in its own right that I have to say I wonder if it really needs a vocal line. Does Beethoven’s 5th? Or the Blue Danube?
The awful toll from the First World War meant that there was no room in the nave of St Edward’s chapel for individual plaques for those who fell two decades later in its successor conflict. So it is in a side ‘Memorial Chapel’ that we find the only reference to one of the school’s most famous Second World War casualties. Their names are listed undifferentiated by service or rank, so G P Gibson appears here between R George and H T Gilbert.
SES5
After this war, the school’s particular contribution to the RAF was noted with a special memorial window, depicting a flier:
SES4
A series of portraits were later commissioned, noting also the service of several RAF war heroes such as Arthur Banks, Adrian Warburton and Douglas Bader (who of course survived the war, and in my time was frequently to be seen making his jerky way around the school as one of its Governors). I am not sure that the Gibson portrait is an exact likeness, but the subject’s maroon VC ribbon makes it recognisable as him, since he received the only one ever awarded to a St Edward’s old boy:
SES6
St Edward’s has one further connection to the Dams Raid. Between 1899 and 1901, my grandfather Ettrick Maltby was a pupil at the school. He went on to own and run a prep school outside Hastings called Hydneye House. Many Hydneye boys went on to St Edward’s to complete their education but, curiously, they did not include Ettrick’s only son, David Maltby, who went instead to Marlborough.
However, in 1943, Ettrick was delighted to read that his own Alma Mater had produced 617 Squadron’s commanding officer, and wrote to his old friend, its Warden [Headmaster] Henry Kendall.
maltbycardfront lores
maltbycardreverse lores
Pic: St Edward’s School archive
Floreat St Edward’s, indeed. It can’t have been that unusual that two young men with connections to the same institution would end up serving together in the same Second World War RAF squadron. For example, John Hopgood, another Marlborough old boy, was also a pilot on the Dams Raid and had been a close friend of Gibson’s in 106 Squadron. The fact that both Guy Gibson and David Maltby took part in the RAF’s most famous bombing operation, and are together immortalised in a famous photograph taken in July 1943 doesn’t, as I’m sure they would both have said, make them any different from the 55,000 of their colleagues from Bomber Command who paid the ultimate sacrifice. May they all rest in peace.
IWM TR1122

Dambuster of the Day No. 29: David Maltby

IWM CH9929

David Maltby is presented to the King, Scampton, 27 May 1943. Note how his pocket bulges with smoking equipment. [Pic: IWM CH9929]

Flt Lt D J H Maltby DFC
Pilot
Lancaster serial number: ED906/G
Call sign: AJ-J
First wave. Fifth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing large breach. Aircraft returned safely.

David Maltby was born on 10 May 1920 in Baldslow near Hastings, Sussex. His parents, Ettrick and Aileen Maltby had three children: Audrey, born in June 1915; David; and Jean, my mother, born in December 1924. He went to Marlborough College, leaving in 1936. In 1938, he decided that he wanted to train as a mining engineer, and went to work at Treeton colliery in South Yorkshire, boarding with a local family in the neighbouring village of Aughton.
When the war started he tried to sign up for the RAF on 6 September 1939. At the same time so did tens of thousands of other young men. Most of them were told to go away and wait, and that they would be invited for assessment as soon as possible. Maltby was accepted for aircrew training in March 1940 and finally got his call up papers in June of that year.
He qualified as a pilot on 18 January 1941 and in June was posted to RAF Coningsby, which was then the home of two squadrons, Nos 106 and 97. He flew his first six operations in 106 Squadron’s Hampdens, but was soon transferred to the new Avro Manchester aircraft, operated by 97 Squadron. This was the two-engined precursor of the formidable Lancaster, but it was notoriously underpowered and unreliable. However by January 1942, the new Lancasters were available (97 Squadron was only the second squadron in the whole RAF to get them) and he made his first trip as first pilot with a crew of his own. He took part in a number of famous operations, including two unsuccessful attempts to destroy the German battleship Tirpitz, which was concealed in a Norwegian fjord.
He finished his first tour of operations in June 1942, and was awarded the DFC. He then spent a few months commanding a specialist Air Bomber Training Section in 1485 Target Towing and Gunnery Flight before returning to active operations with 97 Squadron, on 17 March 1943.
He was given a new crew, all recently qualified from training: William Hatton, flight engineer, Vivian Nicholson, navigator, Antony Stone, wireless operator, John Fort, bomb aimer , and Austin Williams and Harold Simmonds, gunner. On 25 March, as a group, they were transferred to a new squadron, set up under the command of Guy Gibson, to prepare for a highly secret mission. Les Munro, Joe McCarthy and their crews were also transferred out of 97 Squadron the same day.
Maltby’s crew flew on some 23 training flights over the next six weeks, with the only hiccough being in early May when front gunner Austin Williams was deemed unsuitable – the reason why is not known – and was replaced by a new gunner, hurriedly imported from 9 Squadron, Victor Hill.
At 2147 on 16 May 1943, a group of three Lancasters, piloted by Melvin Young, David Maltby and David Shannon took off from Scampton. Maltby’s own flight is recorded in detail, thanks to the logsheet meticulously kept by his navigator, Vivian Nicholson, which notes that they arrived at the Möhne at 0026, having taken 2 hours 32 minutes.
The first three attacks were not successful. To the onlookers circling the wood beyond the lake, the fourth, Melvin Young, seemed to have delivered his mine in textbook fashion, but still the dam wall held.
Gibson told Maltby to go ahead at 0048. This time, three Lancasters flew towards the target. Gibson on David’s starboard side, Martin over to port.
Antony Stone checked the spinning mine, John Fort lay flat on his stomach in the front fuselage, waiting, with Vic Hill’s feet planted in their stirrups over his head. As they came over the spit of land, Vivian Nicholson turned on the spotlights and peered out of the starboard blister at the beams, calling, ‘Down, down’ as their lights came closer and closer. Up in the cockpit, in the left-hand seat, David Maltby adjusted the height and kept the aircraft level while, next to him, Bill Hatton watched the speed and moved the throttles. As they approached the dam wall, Maltby suddenly realised that from this close he could see a small breach had occurred in the centre and that there was crumbling along the crown. Young’s mine had been successful after all! In a last second change of plan he veered slightly to port but stayed dead level as John Fort steadied himself to press the release. The mine bounced four times and struck the wall. Over the dam they flew, now turning hard left, Harold Simmonds in the rear turret firing on the gun emplacements that were still active.
It wasn’t yet obvious whether the attack had been successful so at 0050 Antony Stone, doing his job correctly, radioed ‘Goner 78A’ back to Grantham. (‘Goner’ meant a successful attack, ‘7’ an explosion in contact with the dam, ‘8’ no apparent breach, ‘A’ the target was the Möhne.)
Maltby said afterwards: ‘our load sent up water and mud to a height of a 1,000 ft. The spout of water was silhouetted against the moon. It rose with tremendous speed and then gently fell back. You could see the shock wave at the base of the jet.’
‘Bomb dropped. Wizard.’ was what Vivian noted immediately in his log.
The lake began to calm down again, and Shannon was called into the attack. As he readied himself, the circling crews realised, to great excitement, that the dam had been breached, and a torrent of water was pouring through.
After the Dams Raid, for which he received the DSO, Maltby became commander of A Flight and often acted as CO in Gibson’s frequent absences on official duties. He took a full and active part in the many festivities that took place, often in conjunction with the squadron’s other party animals, such as Richard Trevor-Roper. As both of them had pregnant wives at home, perhaps this gave them a special bond.
Party hard they might, but by September the squadron was back in training for another special mission, an attack on the Dortmund Ems canal, using a special thin case bomb three times the size of a normal 4000lb ‘cookie’. Eight aircraft were assigned – Maltby would lead the second group of four, himself, Dave Shannon, Geoff Rice and Bill Divall. Less than an hour into the flight, word was received at base that the weather conditions at the target had deteriorated. The aircraft were recalled.
Then came disaster. As it turned, Maltby’s Lancaster suddenly exploded. Shannon stayed with the wreckage, sending fixes and circling above until launches arrived. It’s not clear what caused the explosion. It may have been pilot error. Something may have gone wwrong with the bomb. Or it may have been a collision with a 139 Squadron Mosquito, returning from a raid on Berlin but out of radio contact.
The only body recovered was that of David Maltby. It was brought ashore, and he was buried the following Saturday in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent – the same church in which he had been married just sixteen months before.

More about Maltby online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Breaking the Dams website

KIA 15 September 1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Charles Foster, Breaking the Dams, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

David Maltby’s last flight: possible Mosquito collision

Blida lo res CNV00005

Sqn Ldr David Maltby and his Dams Raid crew, pictured in August 1943, at RAF Blida North Africa. Sadly, they were all killed over the North Sea a month later. Standing L-R: Victor Hill, Antony Stone, John Fort, David Maltby, William Hatton, Harold Simmonds. In front: Vivian Nicholson. [Pic: Grace Blackburn]

Today’s Sunday Express contains a two page feature about the last flight of Sqn Ldr David Maltby and his crew, on 14/15 September 1943, almost exactly four months after the Dams Raid. This was an attack on the Dortmund Ems canal, which was called off when weather conditions over the target were found to have deterioriated. As Maltby turned the aircraft back towards base, some sort of explosion occurred and it crashed into the sea with the loss of everyone on board.
What caused the explosion has been the subject of some speculation over many years. When researching my book, Breaking the Dams, I came across some documents in the National Archives which indicate that the crash may have occurred because of a collision with a Mosquito on another raid, out of radio contact and also returning to base. The Mosquito was from 139 Squadron, and was piloted by Flt Lt Maule Colledge. he full story is told in my book, and in abbreviated form on my other website, breakingthedams.com.

Inside Gibson’s office at Scampton

Guy-Gibson-Office-3

History buff Ross Corbett has set up an fascinating new website called World War II Discovery, and has written several posts of interest to Dambuster enthusiasts. He recently visited RAF Scampton, and had a tour of the some of the areas which are open as a Heritage Centre. Tours are available. but only by appointment as Scampton is a working RAF base and the home of the Red Arrows.
The first floor room which was once Guy Gibson’s office is now restored, and looks much as it did on the day in July 1943 when the photograph shown below, of Gibson and his new Flight Commander Sqn Ldr David Maltby, was taken.

IWM TR1122

IWM TR1122


Ross has also been to the Derwent Dam and the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby where he saw original Lancaster ‘Just Jane’.

No memorial at Wickhambreaux in 2012

I am sorry to have to report that there will not be a graveside tribute to Sqn Ldr David Maltby and his crew this year. David Maltby is buried in St Andrew’s church in Wickhambreaux, Kent (pictured above). His body was the only one recovered after their aircraft crashed into the North Sea on 15 September 1943, after an operation to bomb the Dortmund Ems canal was called off.

For many years the tribute was organised by the East Kent branch of the RAF Aircrew Association, with the support of local members of the Maltby family. However, this branch has now been disbanded, with their standard being laid up at the Spitfire and Hurricane Museum in Manston (see newspaper cutting below). The Maltby family is very grateful to them for leading the tribute over the last many years, and sends every best wish to the individual members.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that last year’s tribute by the RAF’s last flying Lancaster to David Maltby and his crew had to be called off because of adverse weather conditions. We very much hope that the Lancaster will fly over Wickhambreaux in September 2013, the 70th anniversary of their final flight.

 

Help for Heroes ride to follow Dams Raid route

On the night of 16/17 May 2012 the 69th anniversary of the Dams Raid will be marked by a fundraising motorcycle ride for the Help for Heroes charity. The four riders will follow as closely as possible the route flown by 617 Squadron Lancaster AJ- J on the raid, from RAF Scampton to the Möhne Dam. They will then return to the UK via the John Frost Bridge, so famously held by the Paras at Arnhem, the ‘Bridge too Far’, arriving back in Scampton before midnight the same day.

The riders plan to lay a wreath at the Möhne Dam at 0019 on 17 May, the exact time and day of the bombing run of  the Lancaster piloted by David Maltby. As this blog has a personal connection to David Maltby and his crew, we are happy to support their efforts.

The riders are a group of four, led by Simon Dufton. If you would like to support this cause, you can go to the donations page set up by Simon and his colleagues.