Dambuster of the Day No. 125: Douglas Webb

Dougles-Webb-Dambuster-617-Douglas Webb with his parents, Edward and Daisy Webb, and (left) his then fiancée, Anne Jones, photographed outside Buckingham Palace on 22 June 1943. [Pic: Yahya El Droubie]

Sgt D E Webb
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED886/G

Call sign: AJ-O

Third wave. Only aircraft to attack Ennepe Dam. Mine dropped successfully, but failed to breach dam.

Douglas Edward Webb was born in Leytonstone, London on 12 September 1922, one of the two children of Edward and Daisy Webb. After leaving school, he worked briefly for Ilford and then for the London News Agency in Fleet Street, as a photographic printer. He joined the RAF in 1940, as soon as he had turned 18, as he wanted to be an air gunner.
After a substantial delay, he began training in 1942 and qualified as a gunner later that year. He was posted to 49 Squadron where he became one of Bill Townsend’s core crew, along with Dennis Powell, Lance Howard and fellow gunner Ray Wilkinson. He flew on some 25 operations before the crew were transferred to the new 617 Squadron in March 1943.
As with all the front gunners on the Dams Raid, Webb was normally stationed in the mid-upper turret, but that had been removed in the modified Lancasters. He thought that he was going to be busy in this unaccustomed role, so he scrounged an extra 1000 rounds of ammunition for each gun from the squadron armoury.
The third wave was scheduled for take off more than two hours after the second, so Webb filled some of the time having a bath. He recalled later that he was convinced that he wasn’t going to come back, and that he wanted to “die clean”.
Fortunately, his premonition didn’t come true. From his seat in the front turret, he was able to see how dangerous the German defences were (he saw the shooting down of Burpee in “a bloody great ball of fire”), and also appreciate the airmanship of his skipper as Townsend flew as low as he dared. And his decision to bring extra ammunition proved vital, since without it he would have run out during the trip.
Webb was awarded the DFM for his role on the raid. He didn’t believe this at first, suspecting he was being set up as part of some elaborate joke. Having checked, he then found a shop where he could buy the appropriate medal ribbons. Due to an administrative error, his actual medal was engraved “E Webb”, missing out his first name.
In July 1943, he flew with Bill Townsend on two of the raids on Italian targets and was then loaned to George Holden’s crew for another. In another stroke of fortune, he did not remain on the Holden crew, as in September they were all killed on the disastrous attack on the Dortmund Ems canal.
Webb was now tour expired, and he was posted to a conversion unit for a spell as an instructor, along with his rear gunner colleague Ray Wilkinson. The pair moved on to other  training roles but in October 1944, they both came back on operations with 617 Squadron. He flew his first operation of this new tour in December, and went on to fly on about another ten before the end of the war. During this last phase of the war, Barnes Wallis’s “Tallboy” bomb came into production, but in order to carry this 12,000 lb monstrosity, the Lancasters had to be modified. The mid-upper gunner was often left behind, so Webb’s opportunities to fly were reduced. Later, when the 22,000 lb Grand Slam became available, the wireless operator was also dropped. There is some evidence that at that time some aircrew carried on flying, even though they were officially not required, so it is possible that Webb was actually present on 617 Squadron’s last wartime operation, an attack on Hitler’s mountain lair on 25 April 1943. His colleague Ray Wilkinson and Len Sumpter, another Dams Raid participant, both flew on this sortie, making them the only two people to take part in 617 Squadron’s first and last wartime operations.
After demobilisation in 1946, Webb rejoined the London News Agency as a staff photographer. He went on to work in the film industry as a stills photographer and then opened his own studio in Soho, where he specialised in theatrical and film portraits. In 1948, he took some of the first professional nude pictures of the model and actress Pamela Green, thereby beginning an association which would last almost 50 years.
Webb had a prolific life in stills photography, cinema and television. His television work included the title sequences for Special Branch and The Sweeney for Thames Television. In the latter, the famous enlarged fingerprints were those of Pamela Green.
Although they were never married, Webb and Pamela Green became life partners and in 1986 when Webb retired, they moved to the Isle of Wight together.
Douglas Webb died on 8 December 1996 in Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight. Pamela Green stayed in the area, appearing in various TV documentaries and giving talks to the local WI, in which she was an active member. She died on 7 May 2010.

More about Webb online:
Entry on Wikipedia
Article on Pamela Green tribute site (warning – contains nudity!)

Survived war. Died 8 December 1996.

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

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.

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New Doug Webb pictures of Pamela Green and Just Jane

01_Douglas_Webb lores
Yahya El-Droubie has kindly sent me some more pictures from the Douglas Webb collection. These were taken at Biggin Hill, probably in 1967, and show Lancaster NX611 sometime after it arrived back from Australia. This is the aircraft which is now known as Just Jane, the centrepiece of the Panton family collection at East Kirkby in Lincolnshire.
NX611 was built at the Longbridge works in Birmingham by Austin Motors in April 1945, and was scheduled to join the RAF Tiger Force in the Far East against the Japanese. However, these operations were cancelled and after several years in storage it was one of 54 Lancasters sold to the French government in 1952 for maritime reconnaissance. After ten years of flying over the Atlantic it was then flown out to the Far East and based in the French colony of New Caledonia.
In the mid 1960s, it was purchased by the UK Historic Aircraft Preservation Society (HAPS) and brought back to Britain, landing at Biggin Hill on 13 May 1965. Some of the stages on this 12,000 mile journey were painted onto its side, under the cockpit.
At this point it was repainted and rebadged, and given the code letters HA-P – an authentic Second World War code used by 218 Squadron, which also represented the owners, the Historic Aircraft Preservation Society. The Lancaster was subsequently named ‘Guy Gibson’ and after two years of hard work her first post re-certification flight took place on 6 May 1967.
It must have been some time shortly after this date that these photographs were taken because by the following March it was relocated to the former USAAF airfield at Lavenham in Suffolk.
Doug Webb was the front gunner in Bill Townsend’s AJ-O on the Dams Raid, and received the DFM for his part in the operation. He became a successful photographer after the war, working mainly in the film and glamour industries. One of his most famous models was Pamela Green. They later became partners, although they never married, and they retired together to the Isle of Wight in the 1990s.
These pictures are from a series of transparencies taken on a visit to Biggin Hill, probably in the summer of 1967. The brilliant colours are very typical of the Kodachrome process which was probably used to develop the slides. Some of the shots show Pamela Green as well as Douglas’s mother:
09_Douglas_Webb lores
The HA-P code can be seen on this side view. Note that the lettering is rather thinner than that used in wartime.
02_Douglas_Webb lores
These names are probably of organisations who helped in the aircraft’s restoration:
05_Douglas_Webb lores
This close up of the front shows quite clearly that the barrels of the guns have been removed, and possibly the whole guns. It is interesting that the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre say that the guns weren’t completely removed until NX611 was at Blackpool, in October 1971. This obviously needs to be checked.
08_Douglas_Webb lores
All in all, a fascinating set of photos. All pictures © Douglas Webb collection, about which there is more information on the Pamela Green tribute website. (Warning: contains nudity!). Many thanks to Yahya.
Information about NX611 from On Target Aviation. Thanks guys!

New photo of royal visit to Scampton, 27 May 1943

I’ve written before about the post-war career of Douglas Webb DFM, front gunner in Bill Townsend’s crew on the Dams Raid. He went back to work as a photographer in the film and ‘glamour’ industry, where one of his subjects was the well-known model and film actress, Pamela Green. They had a long term relationship and eventually retired together to the Isle of Wight. Doug died in 1996, but Pamela survived him until 2010.
Her friend Yahya El Droubie now runs a tribute blog about Pamela. (Please be warned, as they say in the best TV voiceovers, that this contains ‘scenes of nudity’.)
Amongst the tasteful poses, there are some hidden gems of great interest to the Dambuster obsessive. This includes a picture that I have never seen before, which must have been taken, presumably by Doug, on the day that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Scampton after the Dams Raid, on 27 May 1943. They are walking off the airfield, probably en route to lunch in the Officers’ Mess. In the front row is the Queen, alongside a senior RAF officer. Behind them are a group of three, which I think includes Guy Gibson on the left, and the King in the centre. The third group of five has the unmistakeable figure of Barnes Wallis on the far right. I would hazard a guess that Charles Whitworth is on the far left of this quintet. Note also, the official RAF photographer on the far right.
Any suggestions as to the rest would be very welcome.

Another post in Yahya’s blog contains this picture of Doug Webb, Bill Townsend and the four other members of their crew who were decorated after the Dams Raid. This was taken outside Buckingham Palace on the day they received their medals, Tuesday 22 June 1943.

Left to right: Ray Wilkinson, Rear Gunner; Douglas Webb, Front Gunner; Charles Franklin, Bomb Aimer; Bill Townsend, Pilot; Jack Grain, Wireless Operator; Lance Howard, Navigator. (Note that, for some reason, flight engineer Sgt D Powell was not decorated.)

Snippets of oral history

Browsing recently through the People’s War section of the BBC website I came across this brief reminiscence about a gunner who took part in the Dams Raid. The writer, a Mrs Libby, is describing her cousin, who isn’t named but from the description sounds very like Douglas Webb, who flew in Bill Townsend’s crew on the Dams Raid. Just to illustrate the point that researchers should not rely on second hand oral history sources, it’s important to point out that he was, in fact, the front gunner. I wrote more about Webb here.
Another snippet in the BBC’s extensive oral history is about John Pulford, flight engineer in Gibson’s crew, contributed by an unnamed writer whose wife’s sister is married to Pulford’s brother. More about Pulford here.

The glamour of the Dambusters

What is the connection between the Dambusters and the 1960 Michael Powell cult film, Peeping Tom (being shown in the UK on ITV in the early hours of Friday 27 February)? The answer is Pamela Green, the celebrated 1950s glamour model and actress, who made her ‘straight’ acting debut in this film. While Ms Green was still a student, her first nude photographs were taken by Dams Raid survivor Sgt Douglas Webb DFM, the front gunner in Bill Townsend’s aircraft, AJ-O.  After the war, Webb had returned to a job in Fleet Street as a photographer and then branched out into film stills and ‘glamour’ work. He is probably the only Dams Raid participant with an entry on IMDb. In the 1950s and 60s Ms Green made a career out of glamour work, culminating in the naturist picture Naked as Nature Intended. When Peeping Tom emerged, in those still-censorious times, the moderately explicit shots of her which were included got local watch committees in a fuss. Doug Webb and Pamela Green married in 1967, and later retired to the Isle of Wight. Sadly he died in 1996, but Ms Green is still flourishing, and can be seen from time to time on nostalgia TV shows.