Garshowitz and Garbas parents meet at Dam Busters screening

Pics: Garshowitz family

I’ve written before about the pre-war friendship of two young men from Hamilton, Ontario, Albert Garshowitz and Frank Garbas, who died together on the Dams Raid. They joined the RCAF separately, but met in England in the latter stages of training and were both in Bill Astell’s crew in AJ-B. On the flight to the Möhne Dam, the aircraft crashed near Marbeck after hitting a pylon, and all on board were killed.

Here is evidence of how their families bonded in the sad aftermath of the war, in two items kindly supplied by Hartley Garshowitz, Albert’s nephew. They show, as the newspaper caption says, both of Albert’s parents and Frank’s father at a cinema screening of the 1955 film.


More Canadian Dambusters families meet in Ontario

Left to right: Jim MacLean (MacLean family), Hartley Garshowitz (Garshowitz family), Cathie Somers (Glinz family), Milton Lewis (Garshowitz family), Bernie Wyatt (Oancia family), Marilyn McDowell (McDowell family), Paul Morley (Garbas family). [Pic: Hartley Garshowitz]

More Canadian Dambuster families gathered together in Ontario at the weekend, for a second event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid. This took place at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario, which is the home of Canada’s only flying Lancaster aircraft. Six families were represented, including those of Harvey Glinz, Stefan Oancia and Frank Garbas, who weren’t able to get to the gathering two weeks ago in Nanton, Alberta.

The picture above shows the attendees in front of the Lancaster, which is now carrying the code letters AJ-B, the same as that used on the Dams Raid by the crew captained by Flt Lt Bill Astell. This included two men from Hamilton, Ontario – Albert Garshowitz and Frank Garbas.

Historic Garbas-Garshowitz pose recreated for Dams Raid 75th anniversary

The nephews of Dams Raid veterans Frank Garbas and Albert Garshowitz recreated a historic wartime photograph in Canada shortly before leaving for England for the anniversary commemorations. Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, the two young men had been childhood friends playing football and rugby for the same team. Both separately joined the RCAF shortly after the outbreak of war and then, after completing training, their paths crossed later as crews were being finalised for heavy bomber operations. Keen to renew their friendship, they joined the same crew, piloted by an Englishman, Max Stephenson.

Sadly Stephenson was killed when flying on another operation, so the crew were posted to 57 Squadron, based at RAF Scampton, with a new pilot, Flt Lt Bill Astell. After flying on a number of operations together, the  whole crew were posted to a new squadron which was being formed at the same station. This was 617 Squadron.

Austell and his whole crew died when their aircraft, AJ-B, flying as part of the First Wave of the Dams Raid to attack the Mohne and Eder Dams, collied with a pylon near Marbeck in Germany.

After the war,  Paul Morley, nephew of Frank Garbas, and Hartley Garshowitz, nephew of Albert Garshowitx, each started their own independent research into their uncles’ roles in the Dams Raid. Realising the connection, they made contact with each other and have been friends since. They travelled together last week to attend the UK ceremonies, but before embarking they posed for a joint photograph in front of VERA, the only flying Canadian Lancaster, which is based in their home town of Hamilton.

Full story in Hamilton Spectator

[Thanks to Lisa Morley]

Dambuster of the Day No. 55: Francis Garbas


Frank Garbas (left) and Albert Garshowitz (right) photographed at Scampton while serving in 57 Squadron. [Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada]

Sgt F A Garbas
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED864/G

Call sign: AJ-B

First wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Francis Anthony (Frank) Garbas was born on 13 July 1922 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, one of the nine children of Stanley and Mary Garbas, both of whom had been born in Poland. Many of the families who had moved to Hamilton, attracted by the prospect of work in the steel mills, were also of Polish descent. He attended the town’s Cathedral High School and Technical Institute where he was good at sports, and went on to play rugby in the local Eastwood team with Albert Garshowitz. He also played in another team which became Canadian champions. After leaving school he worked for Otis Elevators, but joined the RCAF soon after the outbreak of war.

After training in Canada and qualifying as a wireless operator/air gunner he was shipped over to England in the summer of 1942, and went to the gunnery school at RAF Stormy Down, where one of his instructors was John (‘Tommy’) Thompson about whom I blogged last year.

He was then posted to a conversion unit at RAF Wigsley, and by coincidence there he met his old friend Albert Garshowitz, who was in a five man crew headed by pilot Max Stephenson. As they were training to fly on Lancasters they now needed an extra gunner. Garshowitz must have pushed successfully for Garbas to join them. He was pleased to tell his family in a letter dated 20 October 1942: ‘The [new] Gunner is from our fair city of Hamilton – I used to play football with him for Eastwood Park. He went to Wentworth Tech – He’s a swell fellow. His name is Frank Garbas.’

After completing training, the crew was posted to 9 Squadron at RAF Scampton just before Christmas. Sadly, early in the New Year, Max Stephenson flew as the flight engineer on an operation to Duisberg with another crew, and was shot down. So, without a pilot, the crew was posted to 57 Squadron, where they were allocated to Bill Astell.

In another letter home, dated 28 January 1943, Garshowitz described Astell as a ‘veteran at the trade’ and ‘an experienced and gen pilot’. He went on to describe how Garbas had only just had his first shave and ‘tore his whole side of the face – laughs galore’. It’s a sobering reminder that he would in fact die before his 21st birthday.

The new Astell crew flew on their first operation in 57 Squadron on 13 February 1943, and had completed a number more before being transferred to 617 Squadron on 25 March. Less than two months later they would die, damaged by flak and colliding with a pylon near Marbeck. They were buried in Borken.

After the war, Frank Garbas and his comrades were reinterred together in Reichswald Forest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

The friendship between Frank Garbas and Albert Garshowitz is mirrored in a later generation by that of their nephews, Paul Morley and Hartley Garshowitz. Together they have done much to keep the memory of their uncles alive, and I am privileged to know them both. Many thanks to them for help with these articles about the Astell crew.

More about Garbas online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Article by Paul Morley on Bomber Command Museum of Canada website
Article by Paul Morley on CBC Hamilton website
Aircrew Remembered web page about Astell crew

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High, 2013
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

Further information about Frank Garbas and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

Poignant last page in Garshowitz logbook

Garshowitz log last page

One of the saddest jobs on any Second World War bomber squadron must have been filling in the logbooks of those who didn’t return from operations. Here, courtesy of his nephew Hartley Garshowitz, is the last page of Wt Off Albert Garshowitz’s logbook from May 1943. Garshowitz was the wireless operator in Flt Lt Astell’s Lancaster AJ-B, which collided with a pylon on the outward flight to the Möhne Dam.
Some points to note:

  • Garshowitz appears to have done all the totalising of hours himself before he took off on the Dams Raid.
  • The entry in red, in someone else’s handwriting after the raid, says ‘”Ops” Eder missing’, when his aircraft was actually tasked with attacking the Möhne.
  • The spaces left for signature by the Flight Commander and the Squadron CO have both been completed by David Maltby, who became Commander of A Flight after the raid. Gibson was obviously not available when this book (one of 53 altogether) was presented for inspection.

There is more about Albert Garshowitz and his good friend Frank Garbas, front gunner in AJ-B, in this entry on the Canadian Bomber Command Museum website.