Dambuster of the Day No. 35: Harold Simmonds

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Harold Simmonds in a photograph taken in 1942, with his girlfriend, Phyllis. Nothing more is known about her, other than the fact that this picture was taken in Warrington, Cheshire. [Pic: Grace Blackburn]

Sgt H T Simmonds
Rear gunner

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.

Harold Thomas Simmonds was born on Christmas Day 1921 in Brighton, Sussex, the older of the two children of Thomas and Elizabeth Simmonds. Thomas Simmonds was a gardener. The family lived in the small town of Burgess Hill, and Simmonds went to London Road School and later worked in a government job.

Soon after the war started, he volunteered for the RAF. He started his service in ground crew, serving at Kemble in Gloucestershire and Mount Batten near Plymouth. However, he had always wanted to fly, and eventually he was selected for aircrew training, going to the No 2 Air Gunners School in Dalcross, near Inverness.

At the end of his training he was transferred to 1660 Conversion Unit at Swinderby. There he was added to the crew of Vivian Nicholson, Antony Stone and John Fort, who had moved into the last phase of training with their pilot Flt Lt William Elder. On 23 February 1943, the new crew were posted to 207 Squadron to begin operations but after Elder was killed on a ‘second dickey’ trip the crew was transferred to 97 Squadron at Coningsby, and allocated to David Maltby. The whole crew was posted together to 617 Squadron on 25 March 1943.

Four months after the Dams Raid, on 14 September 1943, Simmonds took off from RAF Coningsby on 617 Squadron’s first major operation since the Dams Raid. When their aircraft suffered its final crash it sank with the bodies of all the crew except the pilot, so he has no known grave.

Harold Simmonds is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

More about Simmonds 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

Further information about Harold Simmonds 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.

David Maltby’s last flight: possible Mosquito collision

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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.