AJ-Z memorial to be unveiled in May

The crew of AJ-Z, killed returning from the attack on the Eder Dam, 17 May 1943. L-R: Henry Maudslay, Jack Marriott, Robert Urquhart, Alden Cottam, John Fuller, William Tytherleigh, Norman Burrows. [Collage of pics: © Dambusters Blog]

The memorial to the Dams Raid crew skippered by Henry Maudslay will be unveiled on 17 May 2019, near where they were shot down in the early morning of 17 May 1943, seventy-six years ago. The event has been organised by local researcher Marcel Hahn.

On the Dams Raid, Henry Maudslay and his crew in Lancaster AJ-Z, had been spectators at the Möhne Dam when it was breached. The three Lancasters still with bombs on board were directed to go to the Eder dam. The attacking force quickly realised that the dam presented a much more difficult target. 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 from over the Waldeck Castle. This is followed by a sharp turn to port. Given the geography, the Germans had obviously discounted the idea of an aerial attack, since there were no gun batteries in the vicinity.

David Shannon in AJ-L was the first to try an 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 then turn. Then 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 later debriefing his effort is reported as ‘no result was seen’ but Shannon in fact felt that he had made a small breach.

Maudslay had another attempt but then 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 later progress home was slower than would be expected. Some reports say that something was seen hanging down below the aircraft, perhaps caused by hitting trees on the run in.

Gibson saw that AJ-Z had fired a red Very light signal after passing over the dam wall and called Maudslay on the radio: ‘Henry – Henry. Z-Zebra – Z-Zebra. Are you OK?’ Nothing was heard, so he repeated the call. This time Maudslay’s voice could be heard, although the signal was faint: ‘I think so. Stand by …’ This signal – confirmed by members of Shannon’s and Knight’s crews – was the last voice contact anyone made with AJ-Z.

In fact they would stay airborne for a further fifty minutes. At 0157, some twenty minutes after they had dropped their mine, wireless operator Alden Cottam sent a ‘Goner 28B’ message back to base, which indicates that they were making progress. At about 0230, they had reached the Rhine. The turning point on the return route was supposed to be at the town of Rees, but Maudslay headed 20 miles north of this towards Emmerich, which was defended by several Heimat light flak anti-aircraft batteries, largely manned by non-military personnel. Some of the outbound force had in fact passed over the town a few hours earlier so the batteries were on alert for the opportunity to fire on any returning crews. When AJ-Z was heard approaching Emmerich it came within range of the batteries on the south and east edges. They fired on the aircraft, and although it turned to the right to try and avoid the flak, either an engine or a fuel tank was hit, as there was a burst of flame. The aircraft lost height and crashed in a field at 0236 close to the hamlet of Osterholt, between the German town of Klein Netterden and the Dutch town of ’s Heerenberg. The following morning, German officials recovered seven bodies from the wreckage. Two were identified as Alden Cottam and Jack Marriott, but the rest were recorded as unidentified. All seven were buried in the Northern Military Cemetery at Düsseldorf, and were reburied after the war in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Reichswald Forest.

Members of the Maudslay and Marriott families are expected to attend the unveiling of the memorial, which will take place at 1430 on Friday 17 May. Other families and distinguished guests will be confirmed nearer the time. Members of the public are welcome to attend. The location is shown in the map below. Refreshments will be served afterwards in the MU-Cafe, also shown on the map.

Marcel Hahn can be reached by email here and also on the event’s Facebook page.

Mystery tribute at AJ-Z crash site

This tribute to the Dams Raid crew in Lancaster AJ-Z, piloted by Henry Maudslay, has recently been placed in a field near the German town of Emmerich, close to the site of the aircraft’s fatal crash after being shot down on the night of 17 May 1943.

Local people, including members of the local group who have recently come together to raise funds for a permanent memorial, would like to know who erected this cross. The local newspaper, NRZ Emmerich is also investigating the matter. There is no indication on the cross itself, and no clues other than the only word “May” is spelt in English rather than German.

If anyone has any information, they are asked to contact the organiser of the local group Marcel Hahn via his Facebook page or the NRZ journalist Christian Schmitt. The Dambusters blog would also like to know, so please add a comment below if you can shed any light on the matter!

Dambuster of the Day No. 43: Henry Maudslay

Maudslay crop

Sqn Ldr H E Maudslay DFC
Pilot

Lancaster serial number: ED937/G
Call sign: AJ-Z

First wave. Second aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine overshot. Aircraft damaged, and shot down on return flight.

Henry Eric Maudslay was born in Leamington Spa on 21 July 1921, the third child of Reginald and Gwendolen Maudslay. His family came from a background in industry: his great-great-grandfather, also Henry Maudslay, was a nineteenth-century inventor, important enough in the history of the British Industrial Revolution to be commemorated on a postage stamp in 2009. Following on the family tradition, his father had founded the Standard Motor Company in the early part of the twentieth century.

Henry-Maudslay-Machine-Making

Like many boys from his background, Maudslay was sent away to board at a preparatory school at a young age. He went to Beaudesert School in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire in 1930 and from there to Eton in 1935. His father died shortly before he left Beaudesert. Maudslay excelled at both athletics and rowing at Eton, winning both the mile race and steeplechase several years in succession and rowing in the college’s First VIII.

The war started as he entered his final year at school. Maudslay had been determined to join the RAF for a while, and had planned to sit the exam to enter RAF Cranwell as an officer cadet. However, the war put paid to that, and in May 1940 he volunteered directly. He was called up in July 1940, and sent to Canada for his pilot training. He returned to England in February 1941, and was given his first operational posting with 44 Squadron at RAF Waddington, flying Hampdens. There he flew on twenty-nine operations, and won the DFC for a single-handed attack on two enemy cargo vessels.

In December 1941 he was attached with other members of 44 Squadron to Boscombe Down to carry out service trials and work with the new Avro Lancaster. He carried on in various training roles until he returned to operations with 50 Squadron at Skellingthorpe on New Year’s Day 1943, flying Lancasters. All six of the crew he eventually brought with him to 617 Squadron flew with him at some time in the thirteen operations he undertook over the next three months, although they only appear to have all flown together as a complete crew four times.

Maudslay was promoted to Squadron Leader and became B Flight Commander of the new 617 Squadron. As Guy Gibson was often absent on important meetings, a lot of the organisation of training fell to him and Melvin Young, the other flight commander. Shortly before the Dams Raid Henry Maudslay witnessed his friend Bill Astell’s will. The Australian pilot Norman Barlow was the other witness. All three would be lost on the raid.

Maudslay made three attempts on the very difficult Eder Dam. The last was at 0145 when his Upkeep mine was dropped too late and exploded on hitting the parapet of the dam without bouncing. This may have damaged his aircraft. Gibson asked if he was OK, and Maudslay’s faint reply was ‘I think so, stand by’. Maudslay nursed his damaged aircraft slowly back towards the Dutch border, but his luck ran out near Emmerich at 0243, when he was shot down. AJ-Z crashed in a field in the Osterholt area.

Henry Maudslay and his crew were buried in the military cemetery in Düsseldorf North Cemetery and were reinterred in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery after the war.

One of the flak gunners who shot down the Maudslay crew was Johannes Doerwald, seen below meeting this blog’s author in June 2013.
CF+JDoernwald lores

More about Maudslay online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Detailed biography at Barford Community website

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Robert Owen, Henry Maudslay, Fighting High 2014
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

Further information about Henry Maudslay 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.