The boys who bombed Berlin: Shannon and Burpee together in Express

express-spread-lores

Pic: Chamberlain family

I wrote last year about the selection of David Shannon’s Dams Raid crew, and how four men who had previously flown with him in 106 Squadron were transferred to 617 Squadron at the end of March 1943. These were flight engineer Cyril Chamberlain (known as Joe to his friends and family), wireless operator Arnold Pemberton, and air gunners Douglas McCulloch and Bernard Holmes. In the event, none of them ended up in Shannon’s crew and by the end of April 1943, they had been assigned to other duties.
Cyril Chamberlain’s family have now contacted me and sent me pages from his logbook and some other interesting material. Included was the press cutting seen above, from the Daily Express of 19 January 1943. Bomber Command had mounted two raids against Berlin on 16 Januaryand again on 17 January – the first two attacks on the German capital for 14 months. Part of the force on both nights had come from 106 Squadron, and two of its crews were singled out for mention in the press. By coincidence, both pilots and some of their crews would take part in the Dams Raid four months later.
David Shannon was one of the 12 106 Squadron pilots who captained crews on the first trip, on 16 January, and his crew was later photographed. The press cutting shwn above was annotated by Chamberlain some time after the war. On the left hand side of the cutting you can see the men he identified: bomb aimer Wallace Herbert, flight engineer Joe Chamberlain, wireless operator Arnold Pemberton, skipper David Shannon, mid upper gunner Mac Maccoulh [sic – should be McCulloch], rear gunner Dave Lilley, navigator Dave Whalley [sic – should be Frank Whalley].
I have not seen this picture before, so it is helpful to have so many of Shannon’s then crew identified. However, there is a mystery about the man named as the rear gunner, Dave Lilley. The rear gunner on Shannon’s 16 January 1943 trip to Berlin is identified in the squadron operations record book as Bernard Holmes, and this is confirmed by Holmes’s own logbook, which is in the possession of his son, Robert. Robert also says that the man in the picture is not his father. Furthermore, there is no trace of anyone called Lilley in the squadron operations record book at that time.
A possible explanation is that the photograph would not seem to have been taken immediately after the raid but on the following day, as the men are wearing battledress tunics rather than flying jackets or suits. So Holmes might not have been present when the call came for the crew to reassemble, and another man from another crew was called in to make up the seven. His name, however, is unlikely to have been David Lilley.
This theory is supported by the fact that the crew on the right hand side of the cutting would appear to have been photographed while still in their flying kit.
This is the crew captained by the then Flt Sgt Lewis Burpee. Burpee flew as one of the nine 106 Squadron crews on the second sortie, on 17 January. Of the crew Chamberlain names only the pilot ‘P/O Burpee’ and the flight engineer ‘John Peglar’. These men have all been identified by Lewis Burpee himself on a print which is in the possession of his family. (See this post from June 2015.) They are, left to right: Gordon Brady (rear gunner), William (‘Ginger’) Long (mid upper gunner), Guy (‘Johnny’) Pegler (flight engineer), Lewis Burpee (pilot), Edward Leavesley (wireless operator), and George Goodings (bomb aimer). Leavesley and Goodings both left the Burpee crew before it moved to 617 Squadron.
There are only six men in this shot, which does not include Burpee’s navigator on the day. In fact, this was the squadron navigation leader, Flt Lt Norman Scrivener.
Thanks to the Chamberlain family for pictures.

David Shannon’s changing crew

Holmes1Plt Off Bernard Holmes, rear gunner in David Shannon’s crew in 106 Squadron. Holmes completed a full tour with Shannon, and was brought to 617 Squadron at Scampton in March 1943. Three weeks later, he was transferred out. Later in the war he joined 77 Squadron and flew on 13 further operations. [Pic: Robert Holmes]

At the end of February 1943, David Shannon finished his tour of operations in 106 Squadron with a trip to St Nazaire. This was the 36th sortie in a run which stretched back to June 1942, shortly after his 20th birthday. During his tour, he had generally flown with a core crew made up of Danny Walker, navigator, Wallace Herbert, bomb aimer, Arnold Pemberton, wireless operator, Douglas McCulloch, mid upper gunner and Bernard Holmes, rear gunner. Over the course of the tour Shannon flew with a number of different flight engineers and/or second pilots, but in the last few months Sgt Cyril Chamberlain became the regular flight engineer.
An enforced change happened in November 1942, when Danny Walker came to the end of his own tour. He was posted to No 22 OTU as an instructor and thereafter a number of different navigators filled in for him. These included the experienced Norman Scrivener and Winston Burnside, both of whom also navigated for Guy Gibson in this period.
Shannon’s last operation in 106 Squadron on 28 February appears to have coincided with the end of the tours of Herbert, Pemberton, McCulloch and Holmes. Under normal circumstances, the crew would have broken up and all would have been sent on instructional duties for a period of six months. Shannon, however, wanted to carry on flying and somehow arranged a transfer to 83 Squadron at RAF Wyton, a Pathfinder outfit. It was there that he got a telephone call from Gibson, asking him to join him at Scampton where he was forming a new squadron.
Chamberlain, Herbert, Pemberton, McCulloch and Holmes were apparently all still at Syerston, waiting for new postings. Consideration was obviously given to reconstituting Shannon’s 106 Squadron crew, since Chamberlain, Pemberton, McCulloch and Holmes were all transferred to the new 617 Squadron at Scampton on or about 25 March 1943. Herbert appears either not to have been asked or to have declined the offer. Also, Shannon’s old crew member Danny Walker was specifically sought out to fill the post of navigator, and was brought over to Scampton from No 22 OTU at Wellesbourne Mountford.
It is not clear exactly what happened next. Shannon undertook two testing flights on 28 and 31 March, but he only recorded the names of the other pilots with whom he flew (Flt Lt Dierkes on 28 March, Flt Lt John Hopgood on 31 March). His next flight wasn’t until 6 April, when he did a 5 hour cross country and bombing trip. This was repeated, over a different route, two days later on 8 April. On both of these flights, a five man crew is recorded. This consisted of Walker and McCulloch, both from his 106 Squadron days, two new names – bomb aimer Len Sumpter and flight engineer Robert Henderson, plus Larry Nichols, a wireless operator borrowed from Melvin Young’s crew.
After the war, Len Sumpter described how he and Henderson were recruited to the squadron. At that stage, he had completed 13 operations in 57 Squadron, based at Scampton. Then his pilot was grounded with ear trouble and the crew were broken up. He and his erstwhile crewmate Henderson knew that a new squadron was being formed in the next two hangars, and heard that Shannon was looking for a bomb aimer and a flight engineer, so they sought him out. “We looked him over and he looked us over – and that’s the way I got on to 617 Squadron.” (Max Arthur, Dambusters: A Landmark Oral History, Virgin 2008, p18.) No date is given for this “interview”, but it must have occurred sometime between 31 March and 6 April.
Sumpter goes on to say that the crew didn’t get their own wireless operator until the end of April. He didn’t know – or didn’t mention – that there were three members of Shannon’s old crew, including wireless operator Arnold Pemberton, kicking their heels on the ground.
On 11 April, Shannon’s logbook records the first flight of a new crew member, rear gunner Jack Buckley. He had been transferred from No 10 OTU, where he was working as an instructor. He was an experienced gunner and had been commissioned, having completed a full tour of operations with 75 (New Zealand) Squadron. Albert Garshowitz (misspelt as Gowshowitz) from Bill Astell’s crew was the borrowed wireless operator on this occasion.
Two days later, on 13 April, a complete squadron crew list was compiled, under the title “Order of Battle”. This is preserved in a file in the National Archives (AIR14/842). It shows Shannon’s crew as: Henderson, flight engineer, Walker, navigator, Sumpter, bomb aimer, McCulloch, mid upper gunner and Buckley, rear gunner. The position of wireless operator is left blank. Flg Off McCulloch is also listed as A Flight Gunnery Leader. Four names are listed as ‘spares’, amongst whom are the other three members of Shannon’s 106 Squadron crew: Pemberton, Holmes and Chamberlain.
Another two days later, on 15 April, Douglas McCulloch attended an Aircrew Selection Board. He must therefore have previously applied for remustering. However, he returned to the squadron and flew on more training flights with Shannon on 19 and 21 April. He was eventually posted to No 13 Initial Training Wing on 1 May.
On 17 April, Bernard Holmes and Arnold Pemberton’s time at 617 Squadron ended, with them both being recorded as being posted to No 19 OTU at Kinloss. There is no record of the destiny of Cyril Chamberlain. Holmes’s son Robert recalls that his father apparently told his wife at the time that he and Pemberton were bored and frustrated through not being kept busy, and asked for a transfer.
Eleven days later, on 24 April, another squadron crew list was published. The Shannon crew now shows two changes. The wireless operator position has been filled by Flg Off Goodale DFC and the mid upper gunner has the handwritten name of Sgt Jagger in a space which had been left blank by the typist. The A Flight gunnery leader is now shown as Flg Off Glinz (from Norman Barlow’s crew). There are no longer any names listed as spares (National Archives: AIR14/842). This date coincides with Goodale’s first appearance in Shannon’s logbook. It is notable that Brian Jagger’s name may appear here, but in fact he did not fly with Shannon until 4 May.
Both men came with a deal of experience. Brian Goodale had a completed full tour and was recruited from No 10 OTU, where Jack Buckley had also been an instructor. Brian Jagger came from 50 Squadron. He had previously flown with John Fraser and Ken Earnshaw, two Canadians in John Hopgood’s crew, and they may have been instrumental in getting him on board.
On this date, David Shannon’s Dams Raid crew was finally established, and they would fly together for the next few months. Quite why three members of his crew from 106 Squadron were earlier brought over to Scampton but never used remains a mystery.
Later in the war, after a spell as an instructor, Bernard Holmes returned to operations with 77 Squadron, and joined a crew skippered by Wg Cdr J D R Forbes, the squadron CO. He remained there until the end of hostilities. He had married his wife Margaret in 1940, and they had two sons, born after the war. The family emigrated to South Africa in 1952, and he died there in 1979.

Thanks to Robert Holmes, Clive Smith, Robert Owen and Nigel Favill for their help with this article.

Six Dambusters photographed for 1993 reunion

RH12 You mag spread lores

Pic: Ray Hepner

Among the many fascinating items in Ray Hepner’s collection of Dams Raid artifacts are a number of press cuttings from down the years. This great article from the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine is just one. It was taken sometime in early 1993, and appeared in the magazine on 9 May 1993, the week before the 50th anniversary of the Dams Raid.
The picture shows (left to right) Dudley Heal, Edward (“Johnny”) Johnson, Jimmy Clay, David Shannon, Basil Feneron and George Chalmers lined up in front of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster at RAF Coningsby.
The caption to the picture doesn’t say this but the article accompanying it does note the sad event which occurred between the photograph being taken and its publication a few weeks later: the death on 8 April 1993 of David Shannon, something which rather put a dampener on the anniversary events.
Time has marched on since then, and now all these gentlemen are no longer with us. But it is nice to see them all together in the autumn of their years, for one last time.

1942 picture shows Shannon and Walker in 106 Squadron

R5573 GroupPic: IWM

Blog reader Clive Smith has sent me this interesting picture, which he unearthed in the Imperial War Museum collection. It shows two crews from 106 Squadron, and was apparently taken at RAF Syerston on 23 October 1942, after a bombing operation to Genoa. Two men who went on to fly on the Dams Raid are easily recognisable – ninth from the left, Flg Off David Shannon and fourth from the left, his navigator, Plt Off Danny Walker.
UPDATE 14 APRIL 2016: Three more members of Shannon’s crew have now been identified. Sixth from the left is Flt Sgt Bernard Holmes, rear gunner; seventh from left, Flg Off Douglas McCulloch, mid upper gunner; tenth from left, Sgt Arnold Pemberton, wireless operator.
On that day Shannon flew Lancaster W4256, code ZN-V, and the complete crew were listed as:

  • Flg Off D J Shannon – pilot
  • Sgt F A Forster – 2nd pilot
  • Plt Off D R Walker – navigator
  • Sgt W Herbert – bomb aimer
  • Sgt A P Pemberton – wireless operator
  • Flg Off D K McCullock – mid upper gunner
  • Flt Sgt B E Holmes – rear gunner

The aircraft shown in the picture is coded ZN-B. This was Lancaster R5573, and its crew on this operation was listed as:

  • Plt Off R A Wellington – pilot
  • Sgt T G Goodwin – flight engineer
  • Plt Off D W Bone – navigator
  • Flg Off V H Harley – bomb aimer
  • Sgt C R Webster – wireless operator
  • Sgt R B Hicks – mid upper gunner
  • Sgt A Naylor – rear gunner

It can’t of course be confirmed that this crew is from this particular aircraft, but it seems highly probable. It is also noticeable that there are only 12 people in the picture, while each crew was of course made up of seven. So two were either cropped off the final picture, or were otherwise engaged when it was taken.
If any reader can identify any of the other people in the picture, please leave a comment below or get in touch.

Dambuster of the Day No. 36: David Shannon

AWM D&AShannon UK2644

David and Ann Shannon, outside Buckingham Palace, March 1945. [Pic: AWM UK2644]

Flt Lt D J Shannon DFC
Pilot

Lancaster serial number: ED929/G
Call sign: AJ-L
First wave. First aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately but no breach caused. Aircraft returned safely.

David Shannon was born on 27 May 1922 at Unley Park, South Australia. His father was a farmer and also an MP in the state parliament. Shannon worked briefly in insurance after leaving school but joined the RAAF shortly after his 18th birthday. He had toyed with the idea of joining the navy, but was put off by the longer queue at the recruiting office. He began training as a pilot in March 1941. A year later, he was in England and by July 1942 he had been posted to 106 Squadron at Coningsby.
Shannon arrived with an excellent training record – 0ne instructor thought him the best student he had ever had – but because his squadron CO, Guy Gibson, was on sick leave it took a few weeks for them to become acquainted. Many of the pilots who flew with Gibson were frightened of him but the boyish-looking Shannon was not, and the two flew together on several operations in that first month. Nominally Shannon was 2nd pilot, but on long flights they would sometimes swap seats.
By August, he was flying with a crew of his own and by February 1943 he had completed a tour of 36 operations. On one, to Turin, his load of incendiaries caught fire in the bomb bay and had to be rapidly jettisoned, resulting in the ‘largest forest fire ever seen in Italy’. He was awarded the DFC in January 1943 for ‘attacks on industrial targets in enemy territory’.
At the end of his tour, he had been posted to 83 Squadron in 8 Group to begin training as a Pathfinder. But Gibson had by then been asked to form a special new squadron and he was quick to track his old comrade down. Shannon agreed to join him, and consulted his crew, but only Danny Walker, his navigator, decided to come along.
It’s at this point in the story that Paul Brickhill brings Shannon into his narrative in the book, The Dam Busters. He tells us about the ‘baby faced’ Australian who was growing a moustache to make himself look older but who had a scorching tongue in the air when he felt like it. And he brings to the fore the romantic interlude in the intense training and drinking sessions of the next few weeks caused by Shannon falling for the ‘dark, slim’ WAAF officer, Ann Fowler. On the evening of 16 May 1943, it is she who notices, with a ‘woman’s wit’, that the aircrew are eating eggs for their evening meal, and therefore deduces that they are going on an operation, rather than yet another training flight.
Indeed they were. A few hours later that evening, at 2147, Shannon took off from Scampton bound for the Möhne Dam, flying alongside Melvin Young and David Maltby. When they arrived, he spent 30 minutes or more circling over the woods beyond the dam waiting his turn to make a bombing run. He was beginning to line up for an attack when it was realised that Maltby’s mine had caused the final breach. Elated by the sight, the three bombers which had yet to drop their mines set off for the nearby Eder Dam, accompanied by Gibson and Young.
When they arrived, they quickly realised that it was an even more difficult target than the Möhne. The lake is smaller and set in a deep valley, meaning that there is a much shorter approach which starts with a very tricky steep dive.
Shannon was the first to attack, and made three or four passes without releasing his mine. It was very difficult to get down to the right height after the dive and turn. Gibson told Maudslay to try, and he found it just as hard, so Shannon had another go. Two more dummy runs followed until, at last, he got the angle and speed right and dropped his mine.  It bounced twice, hit the dam wall and exploded sending up a huge waterspout. At the briefing afterwards his effort is reported as ‘no result was seen’  but Shannon in fact felt that he had made a small breach.
Maudslay followed but something went wrong. His mine was released too late, hit the parapet and exploded. Although his aircraft was beyond the dam by the time this occurred, it may have been damaged, since his progress home was slower than would be expected and he was shot down near Emmerich.
It was now down to Les Knight, with the last mine on board. Shannon advised him on the direction and speed and then, on the second attempt, with the radio switched off so that he could concentrate, Knight made a perfect run, the bomb bounced three times and caused a large breach in the dam.
Shannon sped back to Scampton, landing less than an hour after Maltby and Martin. The party that followed went on through the night and into the afternoon of the next day. According to Brickhill, it was then that Shannon asked Ann Fowler to marry him and she agreed – but only on the condition that he shaved off his moustache.
More parties followed, the biggest being Shannon’s 21st birthday, which was the day the King and Queen visited the station and the decorations were announced. Like all the successful officer pilots, Shannon was awarded the DSO. The King congratulated him on his coming of age, and told him he should celebrate.
A date was set for the wedding – Saturday 18 September. David Maltby was to be the best man, as the first choice, Gibson, was away in Canada. On the Monday before, Maltby and Shannon set off in a section of four aircraft bound for a raid on the Dortmund Ems canal. At about 0030 the raid was aborted because weather condidtions over the target were too poor. Somehow, turning, Maltby crashed into the sea. Perhaps he was flying too low, perhaps there was an explosion aboard, perhaps he collided with an errant Mosquito returning from a different raid. Whatever caused it, Shannon didn’t see but, hoping that there might be survivors, he stayed above the spot for three hours, sending radio fixes until an ASR launch arrived. Maltby’s body and some wreckage was all that was found. The next day the operation was attempted again and even more disasters occurred, with five pilots and four complete crews lost.
In the autumn, Leonard Cheshire took command of the squadron, and Shannon became one of the flight commanders. He took part in many operations in the next year, using Wallis’s giant Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs until in August 1944, with 69 operations under his belt, he was removed from active operations and transferred to a long range transport squadron. By then he had received a Bar to the DSO for ‘courage of high order on sumerous sorties.’
Shannon left the RAF after the war and got a job with Shell Oil. Although based in England, he travelled widely. He died in 1993, shortly before the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Dams Raid, an event which he had been actively involved in planning. Ann died three years previously and they are remembered by a pair of plaques in Clifton Hampden churchyard in Oxfordshire.

More about Shannon online:
Australian War Memorial : Fifty Australians
Obituary in The Times
Entry in Australian Dictionary of Biography

Survived war. Deceased.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Paul Brickhill, The Dam Busters, Evans 1951

Dams Raid: first hand accounts by David Shannon and Tony Burcher

These first hand accounts of the Dams Raid were posted on an Australian aviation art forum in 2008 by someone called Stephen Diver. They come from letters sent to the Diver family by David Shannon (pilot AJ-L) and Tony Burcher (rear gunner in AJ-M, piloted by John Hopgood). You will have to scroll down some way to read them all (and make sense of some pretty terrible typing and spelling!) but they make interesting reading.
Perhaps the most fascinating is Tony Burcher’s account of what his pilot John Hopgood said as he realised that his aircraft was badly damaged:

Then John said
“Right well what do you think?” Should we go on? I intend to go on because we have only got a few minutes left. We’ve come this far.
“There’s no good taking this thing back with us. The aircraft is completely manageable. I can handle it ok. Any objections?”
I remember hearing Charlie [Brennan] (who as F/E would have been standing right beside John at this time) interrupt him by saying
“Well what about your face? Its bleeding like..”
and John interrupting him mid word by saying
“just hold a handkerchief over it”.
So I imagine for the remainder of the raids time Charlie would have been standing next to John in an attempt to try and stem the bleeding and keep his eye sight clear.
I have no idea as to the nature of the wound and can only assume it to have been a head wound of some nature.
Based on Charlies reactions,and he was normally a calm chap, I can only assume Johns wounds to have been severe in nature. I think anyone else would have probably turned around at that point and headed for home but not John.
That was the type of man he was.

Sobering stuff.

[Hat tip Night Warrior on Lancaster Archive Forum]