Dambuster of the Day No. 94: Donald MacLean

Portrait,   F/Sgt. D.A. MacLean, D.F.M.

Don MacLean in an official photograph, probably taken soon after the Dams Raid, as he is still wearing his Flight Sergeant’s stripes and crown. [Pic: RCAF]

Flt Sgt D A MacLean

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.

Donald Arthur MacLean was born in Toronto, Canada, on 2 April 1916, one of the four children of James and Edith MacLean. His father worked as a foreman at Goodyear Tires in the city. He went to Bloor Collegiate school and the University of Toronto, and then qualified as a teacher. He was a good ice hockey player, and this helped him get teaching positions in the small towns of Head Lake and Powassan in Ontario.
MacLean volunteered for the RCAF shortly after the war started. After qualifying as a navigator, he set out for England. After further training and a short spell in 44 Squadron, he arrived at 97 Squadron at the end of 1942. His first operation was with Flt Lt K G Tew, when they took part in “gardening” on 31 December 1942. MacLean then flew on a further 17 operations over the next three months, all except one with Tew as his pilot. 
He then transferred to Joe McCarthy’s crew. He may have seen this as a temporary move, since McCarthy and the others were all at the end of their first tour, but when the chance came for a move to a new squadron he went along with it. The easy rapport between McCarthy and his crew would surely have swayed his decision, along with the fact that it already held two other Canadians. Whatever the reason, with MacLean’s arrival, McCarthy’s crew was complete and wouldn’t change again for another 13 months.
MacLean’s navigation log for the Dams Raid provides an account of AJ-T’s journey, along with some fascinating details. At 0020, before the aircraft reached the target, MacLean wrote: “W.Op fixing TR9 under my table”. He recorded the time of arrival at Target Z as 0030 and at 0046 wrote “Bombs Gone”. If there were nine or ten runs in all, as Johnny Johnson recalls, then this would mean that they took not much more than 90 seconds each time to get back to the starting point.

MacLean nav log Page 3MacLean’s log doesn’t seem to record the fact that AJ-T went off course on the way home, ending up over the heavily defended town of Hamm. Fortunately McCarthy managed to find a way through and the aircraft returned unscathed. The error might have been due to the earlier change in compass deviation cards.
MacLean and Johnson were both awarded DFMs for their work on the Dams Raid. It emerged a few days later that MacLean had in fact been commissioned shortly before the raid, but didn’t receive notification until afterwards. This meant that logically, he should have received the officers’ medal, the DFC, instead. Adjutant Harry Humphries offered to try and get the draft award changed, but MacLean declined, saying: “Hell, no!”
MacLean carried on flying with Joe McCarthy throughout the rest of their tour, ending with 57 operations under his belt. He married his wife Josie, who had worked as a wireless operator at Scampton, in Lincoln Cathedral in 1944. She went out to Canada and lived with her parents-in-law until MacLean himself was able to return there later that year.
Don MacLean stayed in the RCAF after the war, and eventually retired in 1967 as a Wing Commander. He was stationed in many locations across Canada and the USA but also had a four year stint from 1957 to 1961 on the Canadian Joint Staff in London. The family, which by then included four children, lived in Croydon at that time.
After leaving the RCAF, he worked as Director of the Ontario Health Insurance Program(OHIP) in Toronto.
 He finally retired in 1981 and died in Toronto in July 1992.

Survived war. Died July 1992.

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.


Five Fly to London

RCAF Premiere lores

Pic: Greg Pigeon

Greg Pigeon, son of Percy, has kindly sent me some material from his late father’s collection. It includes this interesting press cutting from an unnamed Canadian newspaper, undated but obviously published in May 1955.
The five Dams Raid participants still serving in the RCAF were all flown to London to attend the Royal Premiere of The Dam Busters. They were Ken Brown, Joe McCarthy, Donald MacLean, Percy Pigeon and Revie (Danny) Walker.
The text of the article contains a number of mistakes, perhaps reflecting the fact that the raid was not so well recalled by Canadians 12 years after it took place. It states that “13 Lancasters” were directed to attack the “Moehne, Eder and Serpex Dams” and implies that all were breached. It also underestimates the casualties – “five of the 13 Lancasters did not return to base”.

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