Built from bricks: the Bombs Raid in Lego form

Lego4 IMG_6010 960px

All the way from Australia comes news of the work of a group of amateur Lego enthusiasts, Nathan Leech, Leigh McGowen, Robb McGowen and Mark Parker. With time on their hands, they took on the challenge of recreating the 1943 raid on the Möhne Dam through the medium of Lego with sensational results, as you can see above.

The picture below, showing an Upkeep “bouncing bomb” travelling across the surface of the lake, shows the level of detail the builders have achieved.

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Approximately 30,000 bricks went into its construction, with over 400 hours work in design and build. The wall is made up of eight sections, each on a 32×32 baseplate. The aircraft are 1:37th scale, and two are depicted.

“Due to the constraints of Lego,” says Nathan, “we could not build a wall with the proper curvature. Also as part of the homage, the planes do not carry the insignia of a specific aircraft.”

Minor quibbles to my mind. Congratulations on a terrific achievement.

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Genuine wartime bomber picture accused on Facebook of being fake

Pic: IWM CH10593

[Note: There’s nothing in this post about the Dams Raid or 617 Squadron.]

This picture has long been in the Imperial War Museum’s collection. It shows, according to its official caption and listing on the IWM website, a “Low-level ‘beat-up’: A Halifax II, JB911/KN-X of No 77 Squadron roars low over an audience of appreciative ‘erks’ during air tests at Elvington, Yorkshire, July 1943.” The listing goes on to record the name of the photographer, Plt Off N S Clark, and the fact that the Museum has the image on glass (presumably the original negative glass plate).

However, the recent publication of a slightly cropped version of the shot on a post on the Bomber Command History Forum’s Facebook page led some to question its authenticity. The page itself, and the Forum which spawned it, are administered by people who certainly know their stuff (my friends Dom Howard and Ian Collis among them) but unfortunately that can’t always be said of some of the readers who added comments.

So, within a few minutes of the photograph appearing, one person (who from now on I will call Mr A) wrote:

I hope no one thinks thats an actual photograph and not a montage. The writer of the caption obviosly does. If a Halifax pilot did fly that close to the ground and a parked aircraft, he would have been hauled before a courts marshal quicker than you can say bombs away, also, notice that a Halifax has almost taken their heads off, yet not a single one of those men is looking up at it or ducking. Hmm.
[All quoted posts have the spelling and punctuation as in original.]

Several people jumped in to point out his error, including one who sent a link to the image as it appears on the IWM’s own website. But this didn’t completely satisfy Mr A, who then posted:

Ok, the way the original is presented and cropped, and the men, raised suspicions. Looking at the other photos, and the not so tightly cropped/clearer IWM version, a picture emerges, the photo appears to be carefully stagemanaged. The men are not looking up but looking directly infront at a camera set up to the left, and posing to the camera as the Halifax zooms overhead. Under ‘normal’ circumstances that pilot would not be able to do that, and those men would be looking up and ducking.

Then in popped another sceptic, who I will call Mr B:

… the main aspect which points to it being a fake , for me anyway is that both aircraft are sharp images . One of them would be blurred depending on the technique used by the photographer.Still a nice image though .

Shortly afterwards, Mr B went on:

And I will say its highly unlikely that its a real undoctored photograph , based on my knowledge of photography .

A few more comments ensued, one of which noted that there were other pictures in the IWM collection taken on the same day by the same photographer (you can see one here)
and then Mr A arrived back on the scene:

Maybe you should do some homework before insinuating that others have not. If you bothered looking you would notice above that I say they appear to be looking towards another camera to the left of the photo, not much different from you say is another aircraft. As you have the advantage of knowledge of other photos in this series, why not show them to us instead of making further unflattering comments.

It was pointed out to him that other researchers had indeed done their homework and that the images in question were available to anyone in a simple Google search, but this was not enough. Mr A then appeared to complain that the pilots and crews involved must have been acting without authority, in which case:

Yes, under ‘normal’ circumstances unauthorised low flying pilots were hauled before courts marshal and i have courts marshal papers proving this. Even you should know this. Kings Regulations and Air Council Regulations paragraph 717, clause 7. This discussion is finished as far as I’m concerned.

With that Mr A appeared to have picked up his bat and left. However, Mr B was still around:

dont tell me that every caption on a wartime photograph is right . I am simply using my opinion to point out there are flaws or inconsistencies in what is displayed . Theres no doubt in my mind that they are Merlin engines and the equal sharpness of both aircraft point out to me that there is a high likelihood of a fake. You still didnt explain the technique you referred to Iain .I would like to hear it it just may change my mind .

Despite being informed again about the provenance of the photographs, Mr B then put up another post:

… There are lots of official war photographs that arent as they are described. There are things on the photograph that my 46yrs in the field of RAF historian , collector of Aviation memorabilia and honorary member of the Air Gunners association tell me are quite glaringly wrong . None detract from the photograph which certainly is an eye catcher. Neither you or anyone else for that matter will change my mind on how I view this photograph , that is my right to my opinion like every other person in the world . If youre still bothered ask a professional photographer and dont forget to mention that the flying aircraft will be doing somewhere in the region of 200MPH . And again if you are that bothered get hold of a model of both types of engined aircraft and view them from the flying angle as on the photograph On the radial engined aircraft there is some sort of a cooler which hangs down quite noticeably below the engine nacelle and I believe the large long porcupine exhaust would also be visible on the port outer engine . I am also a photographer of over 50 yrs experience which makes me say without any doubt that the photograph is a fake . As I say its only my opinion which means nothing to anyone else , well almost anyone else . Lets just agree to disagree. Cheers

Having decided earlier that the discussion was over, Mr A then turned up again. To be fair to him, he appeared to have changed his mind, but he now wanted everyone to go home:

I expressed an opinion initially on what appears to be an ‘unorthodox’ image, and amended that opinion when a wider angle and clearer shot was provided. Since then this discussion seems to have been affected by too much cross-wind, and drifted into a heavy flak zone. Words like, daft, sad, drivel, have crept in between members, and maybe its time to bring this discussion in to land.

But Mr B would not be dissuaded. Even though he still thought that the aircraft would have been flying too fast to be in focus, he concluded by saying he wanted the subject dropped. However he had just spotted something said by another commenter:

So youre telling me that there is a ” whole ” sequence of this particular fly past in the IWM . Can any member of the public view them .

To which the reply was:

For a historian/researcher of 46 years, you’re not that clued up are you? Its the IWM collection. Of course you can.

Mr B then made a final concession:

This photograph is more believable than the previous one , to me anyway . The flying aircraft is further away theres a shadow on the ground . Although I still find it hard to believe that the cameras of the day were capable of shutter speeds that can freeze an object travelling at , I assume 160 mph past a stationary object and capture both without any apparent blurring in either of them. That was my only concern regarding the previous photograph , well that and where all the guys were looking. The other thing was correctly identifying the aircraft as a merlin engined Mk 11 and being shot down by Jim. Of course If what I am being told by, it appears all and sundry for stating my opinion then I suppose I will have to change my stance in future when taking part in these forums .

I’ve quoted extensively from this sequence (as of today, 59 posts and counting) because I think it says something about using reliable sources in our discussions, whether online or not. The Imperial War Museum has an enviable collection of photographs, artifacts, manuscripts and other resources, some of which are available for all to browse through free of charge. There may be a few inaccuracies in the descriptions and captions but they have been compiled by professional curators, archivists and historians and so can be regarded as “reliable sources”.

In an era when the most powerful man in the world throws out accusations of fake news like confetti and commercial news sources often seem infected with clickbait pop ups (The price for xxxx may astound you! Remember yyyy? You won’t believe what she looks like now!) it’s important to support public institutions like our museums. By all means, let’s call out fake photography when it does occur, but let’s also salute the skills of Plt Off Clark and his colleagues who have left us with a wonderful legacy.

Why buy a fake?

This is very odd.

Back in 2015 I wrote about an item which was advertised for sale at a respectable Stourbridge auction house. This was said to be a telegram sent in 1944 to 617 Squadron by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris about the death on operations of Guy Gibson and his navigator Sqn Ldr James Warwick. Even without seeing the item, I listed five separate reasons why I considered that the telegram was a worthless modern fake and I’m glad to say that the auctioneers agreed and removed it from sale.

But now, a photograph of the same item has emerged for sale on eBay. Yours for the princely sum of £3.50. (Don’t all rush at once.)

It’s being sold by someone with the catchy vendor name of 4256970mnr, who seems to specialise in making photographs of other photographs, chiefly of Dams Raid artefacts. The most expensive item he has for sale is going for £9, so it’s not a highly lucrative business.

But what is most puzzling is Mr Mnr’s description of the Harris “telegram”:

“The original telegram is doubted to be genuine – but is of interest.” There’s no doubt about it. It’s a fake, pure and simple. I wouldn’t spend even £3.50 on it.

Salute to Mr Gardenshed

Somewhere out there in Cambridgeshire there is, presumably, a garden shed occupied by a man who sells items on eBay under the name of Gardenshed. (This may not be his real name.)

Sometime in the last two weeks Mr Gardenshed purchased a copy of my book The Complete Dambusters and then stood in a queue somewhere to get it signed by the ever-obliging Johnny Johnson. So far, not unusual behaviour. Then he travelled back to his humble abode (which I visualise as being more like a ‘man cave’ than a simple structure filled with potting plants and tools).

At this point, you or I might have sat down, glanced through the book, marvelled at the fact that it contains biographies and photographs of all the men who took part in the raid and perhaps sent a handwritten note or an email to the author congratulating him on the work. You or I might also be pleased that you had your copy signed by a man who appears in it, and then place it carefully on your bookshelf. But no, Mr Gardenshed had a better idea. He could make a quick profit of at least £19 (more if he had bought the book from a discount bookseller) if he flogged it on eBay! Even better he could assure potential purchasers that he hadn’t opened the copy because, as he puts it, its condition is “UNRERAD”.

What a clever fellow he is.

Fake “Gibson” telegram withdrawn from auction


A telegram confirming the 1944 death of Guy Gibson, described as being from Sir Arthur Harris, has now been withdrawn from auction after doubts about its authenticity. It was due to be sold by Fieldings Auctioneers in Stourbridge on Saturday 16 May, with an estimated price of £600.
The sale was trumpeted in articles in the Daily Express, the Daily Mirror and other newspapers, with typical over-excitement. None of these publications thought to contact any historian or serious collector who might be able to throw some light on the telegram. “Dambusters hero’s death kept secret for MONTHS to protect morale during WW2,” said the Express. The Mirror also went along with the morale idea, saying: “RAF hushed up death of Dambusters hero Guy Gibson to preserve morale, wartime telegram reveals”.
The telegram, we were told in both papers, had been found by a dealer inside a book during a house clearance sale, apparently being used as a bookmark.
Having seen the newspapers, I contacted the auctioneers. I pointed out some of the reasons I had to doubt the telegram’s authenticity, and they decided to seek the opinion of professional curators. I am glad to say that they agreed with me, and the item was then removed from the sale.

I am now quite convinced that the telegram is a fake. I have commented in this blog before how Fleet Street editorial standards have slipped over the years. In this case, the newspapers seem to have stoked up the hype and not questioned the item’s provenance. Anyone with any knowledge of the RAF’s wartime communication systems would surely have smelt a rat. And there are several other features, visible even in the small photograph on the auctioneers’ website, which were very suspicious indeed.

Use of a telegram
In November 1944, Sir Arthur Harris held the rank of Air Chief Marshal and the job title of Commander-in-Chief Bomber Command. The job was normally abbreviated to AOC-in-C HQBC in official communications. Messages, instructions and orders between him and other sections of the RAF were normally communicated via official message forms or by telex. On both of these, his official job title or its recognised abbreviation would be used. The use of a normal Post Office telegram for any important service purpose seems most unlikely, as would the signature being abbreviated to “Harris Air Marsh”. And finally, if by any chance a normal telegram form was used, the sender’s address would be shown as “HQ Bomber Command”, not “Air Ministry”.

Overall look
Many examples of wartime telegrams survive, and some general observations can be made when they are compared with the “Gibson” telegram. Here is a genuine wartime telegram, found on the 206 Squadron website:

Bendix - MIA TelegramLet us start with the form itself. Even though it is possible to get genuine blank wartime forms, the “Gibson” telegram would appear to be composed on a fake form. There are several different designs of wartime Post Office telegram forms, but they all have one thing in common – the font used is Gill Sans, as seen above. The form had been redesigned in Gill Sans by the famous typographer Stanley Morison in 1935. The “Gibson” telegram uses a different font, another sans serif, but not Gill Sans.
Furthermore, in “real” telegrams, the message itself was cut from the output of a telegraph machine and then pasted onto the form. The message would have been printed with a fabric ribbon, which led to a rather grey colour. The individual words themselves are usually spaced well apart, the gap between each word being almost two characters wide. And the individual characters which make up each word are themselves spaced quite widely.
In the “Gibson” telegram, the lettering looks as though it was produced by modern computerised typesetting. The letters and the words are more closely spaced than their wartime equivalent.

Wrong ranks
Harris had been promoted from Air Marshal to (Temporary) Air Chief Marshal [(T) ACM] on 16 August 1944. He would have signed any communication after this date as either (T) ACM or ACM.
Below the official print is a handwritten note: “Read out to the Mess but did not inform men. J B Tait GC”. However, in November 1944, the Officer Commanding 617 Squadron, J B (“Willie”) Tait was still a Wing Commander. He was not promoted to Group Captain until after he left 617 Squadron at the end of 1944. Any note written by him at this time would therefore would have been signed as “J B Tait WC”.

Address and rubber stamps
It seems most unlikely that a telegram would be sent to the Officers Mess of any squadron. In any case, in November 1944 the arrangements for officers stationed at Woodhall Spa was quite complicated and there was no single Officers Mess as such. 617 Squadron’s officers were billeted at the Petwood Hotel in the town of Woodhall Spa, as were some other officers serving on the station, such as some intelligence officers and the station commander, Gp Capt “Monty” Philpott. The actual RAF station was a few miles away in Tattersall Thorpe, and other officers on the station, such as those in 627 Squadron, were housed there in a series of temporary concrete or brick huts.
The correct mode of address for a communication to the squadron would be to its officer commanding. Any rubber stamp used would say “617 Squadron/RAF Station Woodhall Spa/Received/date”, without mention of the Officers Mess.

Unlikely wording
The wording of the text does not sound as though it was composed by a wartime writer, used to writing succinct messages where excess words and pronouns are removed. A genuine text would be more likely to read “Prime Minister and NOK informed”, not “I have informed the Prime Minister and NOK”.

Caveat Emptor
The estimated price of £600 for this item was very conservative, given the huge sums reached recently for genuine Dambuster memorabilia. According to the auctioneers there had already been “substantial interest” in it. My guess is that it would have reached at least £5000, and possibly nearer £10,000.
The amount of profit available means that there may well be other attempts to deceive the market with further fake material. One collector recently went public after a bad experience with a well-known unscrupulous trader. My advice to anyone who sees anything offered for sale is to get good advice from a reputable independent source.

Thanks to the various researchers who have helped with this article.

‘Gibson’s cap’ and other Dambuster fakes exposed

Gibson in cap

The case below was reported on various websites just before and after Christmas. I refrained from posting about it until now because I didn’t want its important story to get confused with the recent auction of some genuine memorabilia connected with my family, which included the Dams Raid wooden bomb sight.
This story concerns a collector based in Yorkshire who goes by the name of “AndyB”. He has recently been involved in litigation with a Lincolnshire company called Military Trader UK, which is run by Mr Tony Flitter and his son Mr Nigel Flitter. The company has a website called http://www.militarytrader.co.uk and is a regular seller on Ebay.
I should add here that I have no connection with AndyB.
Over the course of the last two years, AndyB purchased a number of items from Military Trader UK which purported to be objects owned or used by various members of 617 Squadron during the war. Sadly, it turned out that although these were genuine wartime items, they had been “enhanced” in various ways, with handwriting or typed labels which supposedly added provenance.
After being threatened with litigation, Military Trader UK eventually returned AndyB’s money to him, and paid his legal and professional fees. I understand that this came to a total of about £17,000.
I believe AndyB should be commended for bringing the story to public attention. Many people would be tempted to slink quietly away, satisfied that they had got their money back, and not wanting to invite people to think how gullible he might have been.
Please be careful if you are tempted to buy something that claims a connection to 617 Squadron or the Dambusters, and get independent advice. In particular, if you notice any of the items listed below back on sale anywhere, please let me know.
The words below were written by AndyB. You can see his original post at this forum.

Due to the final agreement made between myself and Military Trader UK, not including a confidentiality clause, I am now at liberty to make other collectors aware of my experience which I feel is important in order to prevent the same thing happening to them.

Military Trader UK is run by Mr Tony Flitter and Nigel Flitter trading from Unit 10 Tattershall Park, Tattershall Way, Fairfield Industrial Estate, Louth, Lincolnshire, LN11 0YZ with their website address of militarytrder.co.uk and Ebay user name of militarytrader-uk, amongst others. In summary in April 2014 I wrote to Military Trader as it had come to my attention that items purchased from them were not what they had made them out to be. Over the previous two years I had purchased from Military Trader (UK), various Dambuster related items which were as follows:

Guy Gibson’s Cap ​​​
Jack Buckley’s Cap ​​​
Guy Gibson’s Tankard ​​​
RAF Strata Scope ​​​
RAF Scampton Microphone ​​
Brian Goodale’s Cap ​​​
Guy Gibson’s Escape Axe​​
Guy Gibson’s Mag Glass​​​
RAF 617 Bomb Counter ​​
RAF 617 Signalling Lamp ​​
RAF Scampton Phone ​​
RAF 617 Headphones ​​
Flying Boots apparently belonging to Ivan Whittaker ​
RAF Veteran Tie ​​​
Jack Buckley’s Bible ​​​
RAF Visibility Meter ​​
RAF Playing Cards ​​​
Numerous pieces of wreckage & artifacts
AM Visibility Meter ​​​
RAF Flag ​​​​
Tunic apparently belonging to Sidney Hobday ​​
Guy Gibson’s Pilot Book ​​

These items were all attributed by Military Trader to 617 Squadron and their personnel and at a cost of over £13,000

Following the last item purchased I discovered that there was immense doubt that items in question are not what they were described to be.

The Sales of Goods Act 1979 makes it an implied term of the contract that the goods be as described. Items that required expert verification or authentication to determine whether they were authentic or not were dealt with in the appropriate manner and an expert witness was found whose extensive report, had this case gone to Court, would have confirmed that these items had been misdescribed and misrepresented. In relation to these aforementioned items false verbal reassurances were given directly to me by Military Trader, they described the items as something they were not, in many cases this was supported by written evidence in the form of labels, signatures and other writing.

The signatures, writing and labels had all been studied by an independent writing expert ( calligrapher ) whom I engaged to help me confirm that the handwriting and typed labels all came from the same source. It was confirmed that all of the writing is of the same hand. The consistency of this handwriting then led to the fact that the writing and signatures which Military Trader purported to be original were from one source only, that being Military Trader. Therefore these written pieces and signatures which they claim corroborated and verified their items were false and could not be attributed to the persons or establishment as Military Trader claimed. Furthermore the professional examination of handwriting also extended to the Gibson’s Pilots book which had also been confirmed as containing writing by the same hand and therefore could not possibly have belonged to Gibson.

Consequently, with reliance on written evidence, I was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that items sold by Military Trader to me were in fact not what they verbally reassured me they were, certainly did not match their written description and did not have authentic signatures.

I would have also had recourse under the Misrepresentation Act 1967 as Military Trader made false and fraudulent claims. I relied on these statements made by them in deciding whether or not to go ahead with my purchases; I had been persuaded to buy these items from them due to the representations which they made to me. Therefore pursuant to the Misrepresentation Act 1967 I would have had also had a potential claim due to Fraudulent Misrepresentation.

Under the Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 I would be described as a “Targeted Customer” by them. The false information which they gave me verbally and in writing was been deceptive. They had engaged in misleading action under Section 5 and through their deceptive descriptions and presentation of items I had been duped into entering into contracts to purchase the items in question from them.

In summary under the Sales of Goods Act 1979 due to the fact that the items have been “misdescribed” they were in breach of contract and I advised them that I was rejecting the items and requested that they refunded the total sum paid to them.

Prior to me writing to them in April 2014 I had already received a small sum from Military Trader for a refund for other items of forged provenance. During legal correspondence my solicitor pointed out that despite the basis of my claim being that Military Trader knowingly and deliberately faked the provenance of items and manufactured documentation to substantiate that false provenance, their solicitor’s letter was remarkably silent on this point, not even venturing a denial in without prejudice correspondence. This speaks for itself.

I would comment that it was not all of the items in the list above that I could prove had been fraudulently enhanced, it was in particular items supported by handwriting, labels and signatures. The enhancement of the higher priced items obviously in turn caused much doubt as to the authenticity of all of the other items. Tony and Nigel Flitter were aware of my passion in 617 Squadron and specifically the Dambusters and did target me as a customer.

In my opinion the amount of money that they charged me for these enhanced items was “ripping off” at its worst. It has taken me most of this year to be reimbursed for all of the items which I purchased from them, plus being reimbursed for all of my legal costs and the Professional Calligraphers report. This case did not go to court as Military Trader decided to settle and pay all of my costs in return for the items which I gladly returned. I had my evidence prepared and there was not even a murmur of any declaration from them as to the authenticity or genuineness of the items, the authenticity of which the Calligrapher’s report dismissed due to the fake handwriting and other significant issues.

It has been noticed that there have been items for sale on Ebay which are items not relating to 617 Squadron which have also been proven by the Professional Calligrapher to have the same handwriting on the items. This handwriting is done by Military Trader and is not the authentic handwriting which a genuine item would have on it.

Notwithstanding the hundreds of items, which are sold by Military Trader via their website and also via Ebay under militarytrader-uk and other associated accounts, which are genuine it is an utter shame that Tony and Nigel Flitter need to resort to enhancing items in order to purport them to be something that they are certainly not, thereby enabling them to command a much higher price for these said items.

The moral of this story is if you are in any doubt of the authenticity of an item purchased it would be advisable to consult an independent military specialist. If that item is then found to be not what it is purported to be please report it to Lincolnshire Trading Standards or Lincolnshire CID who will add it to their investigation. We have to keep items such as these out of the market place as it is harmful to genuine pieces and is just simply irritating for collectors, whether they be serious collectors, just starting out or have a slight interest.

Please be aware of these items coming back onto the market and if you come across them with the same description or anything which is similarly doubtful report it and help put a stop to fraudulent trading.

Buyer beware

I’ve never been happy with the idea of people digging up bits of crashed wartime aircraft, and then selling them for personal profit. How can you tell that a small piece of rusty metal came from a particular model, and that it was actually found in a specific location – a site that is actually the place where someone usually died? Even if the bodies of the men who perished were eventually recovered and buried, there is something ghoulish about trawling the ground in the hope that a personal artifact – maybe, a watch, a torch or an ID tag– will turn up.
But turn up they do, and then, inevitably, they emerge for sale on eBay or in the hands of specialist relics dealers. There’s obviously a good living to be made from this, as is proved by the emergence of large trading companies with substantial inventories and impressive websites.
One of these companies goes by the name of Historic Aviation, based in Minneapolis, in the state of Minnesota, USA. A reader of this blog, Steve Dulson, commenting on my recent article about the proposed memorial at the site where Flt Lt Norman Barlow and his crew crashed on the night of the Dams Raid, alerted me to an item for sale on this company’s website.
It is described as: ‘A rare opportunity to own a piece of World War II history! This display includes an authentic fragment from the Avro Lancaster bomber piloted by Robert Barlow of Squadron No. 617, the “Dambusters,” RAF, that was lost on May 17, 1943, during Operation Chastise, as well as a beautiful print depicting that fine machine soaring low in the night sky.’
At this point, the alarm on my Dambuster bullshit-meter began to sound. The picture quite clearly shows a Lancaster aircraft, coded AJ-E, flying over a dam but, as any Dambuster student knows, Barlow never reached the Ruhr area, colliding with a pylon shortly after crossing the Rhine. AJ-E, however, was the correct call sign for Barlow’s aircraft.
Kudos to another regular reader, Philip Knight, for pointing this out. He says that the picture shows Barlow at the Möhne Dam, but looking at it more carefully it seemed to me to be more like the Eder, which has arches in the dam wall and angled roofs on its towers.
The picture was painted by an artist called Ron Cole, so I went on a search for further information and found his website.
Well, what a surprise. The same picture, but with one important difference. The code painted on the aircraft side is AJ-N, which was borne on the Lancaster flown by Les Knight, the pilot whose weapon finally breached the Eder Dam.
It looks as though Ron Cole himself can tell his AJ-N from his AJ-E, but someone at Historic Aviation has decided that any old Lancaster picture will do as a mount for what looks like a small piece of metal plate. And it costs $24.95 more than you would pay for the print on its own on Mr Cole’s site, numbered and signed by the artist.
So what other treasures might be lurking in the Historic Aviation shop? A search through all the aviation art prints turned up another oddity. Here is a print of a picture by the British artist, Anthony Saunders, signed by the artist and Corporal Maureen Stevens, and retailing at $130.

The same image can be found on Mr Saunders’ own website, back in Blighty. So we can be fairly sure that he is responsible for this picture.
But on another page in the Historic Aviation shop, here is the same picture, but with a different title, scribed to a completely different artist, Richard Taylor, and allegedly signed by Les Munro and Johnny Johnson:


The text shown in the above screengrab seems to describe a completely different picture, which of course it is. The real “On Course for the Möhne Dam” by Richard Taylor can be found on the website of many art dealers:
So what do Messrs Cole, Saunders and Taylor make of the different ways in which their work has been misrepresented by the guys from Historic Aviation? And what does this say about the provenance of items which purport to be ‘authentic’ Dambuster relics.
I think we should be told. And, in the meantime, buyer beware.

POSTSCRIPT: Ron Cole has now contacted this blog, as can be seen in the comments below. He says that it was he himself who altered the original code on the side of the aircraft. He has also explained how it came about in an email to me:

I obtained a rather beat up panel from AJ-E about two years ago that hailed from the roof of a farm outbuilding, where it had been incorporated since the war. Since I make a business of combining such relics with my artwork, and had an earlier watercolor that portrayed a Lanc, I combined the two for a limited series of displays with the idea that one day I’d actually paint AJ-E and put together a more specific and historically accurate presentation. Then about six months ago I was commissioned to paint the cover for Guy Gibson’s ‘Enemy Coast Ahead’ on audio book, depicting AJ-N. Not long after, Historic Aviation contacted me about the possibility of carrying a ‘Dambuster’ relic display, and since I still hadn’t gotten around to painting AJ-E, I did the next best thing by altering the book cover painting. It was at least better than the old watercolor Lanc, and looked nice. So that’s the story behind the otherwise odd combination, such as it is; an imperfect compromise.

Well at least we have an explanation! And also we now know where the panel from AJ-E now resides. As Mr Cole says, it is quite well known that during the war a local farmer had used it in some building work. However, I can’t help feeling that it would be a better idea to use an accurate portrayal of AJ-E, and its brave crew who often only appear as a footnote in the Dambuster story. They were in fact the first crew to take off from Scampton on that night, and were killed some two and a half hours later.
This official RAF picture, taken on the night, is the only picture of a Dams Raid Lancaster in flight and is thought to be of AJ-E taking off from Scampton. [IWM CH18006]

Fleet St editorial standards slipping (part 109)

Mail Johnson

Another example, this time from the Daily Mail.

The last of the Dambusters has spoken for the first time how he celebrated the squadron’s heroic raid – with a nice cup of tea.

I’m happy to say that there are three Dambusters still with us: George ‘Johnny’ Johnson in England, Les Munro in New Zealand and Fred Sutherland in Canada. George Johnson has told his story a number of times.

Almost 70 years after the night-time bombing attacks, Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, 91, told of the daring raid over occupied territory that dealt a decisive blow that crippled the Nazi war effort.
George was festooned with a raft of medals including a Distinguished Flying Medal for his part in 617 Squadron’s daring 1943 blitz on the Nazi-controlled dams along the Ruhr Valley in Germany, destroying their hydro-electric source of power.

George’s ‘raft of medals’ are for his war service as a whole. He was awarded the DFM for his part in the attack on the Sorpe Dam. The concept of any one airman getting more than one decoration for a single operation is ridiculous. It did occasionally happen that an airman got more than one decoration for an operation, but it was very rare (see comment below).

Widower George, who lives in Bristol, was a sergeant at the time of the raids, conducted under the name Operation Chastise, which smashed the Mohne, Sorpe and Eder dams.
He said: ‘We were about half an hour late because our plane had a hydraulic leak and we had to swap.

The Sorpe Dam was attacked, but remained intact. It was not ‘smashed’.

‘We took off at 22.01, and flew in over Sorpe dam in brilliant moonlight. We had to get the aim right – we went in six or seven times and I’d shout ‘Dummy Run’.
‘It was a totally different dam from the other dams. It was impossible to fly low over, so it had to be a drop, not a spinning bomb.’
Piloted by Joe McCarthy, the plane nicknamed ‘T for Tommy’ was one of five planes that made it to the dam, which was the most difficult of the three targets to crack.

Three aircraft made it to the Sorpe Dam. Only two aircraft bombed the Sorpe Dam (see comment below). T for Tommy was not a nickname for the aircraft piloted by Joe McCarthy. It was its call sign.

It took bombardier George and his crew nine attempts to fly at a perilous 30ft, before the bomb, codenamed Upkeep, was finally loosed, seconds before they had to pull up to avoid smashing into the hillside behind the dam.

Bombardier is an American term for what the RAF called ‘air bombers’ early in the war. By 1943 they were usually referred to as ‘bomb aimers’.

He said: ‘I could see where to drop and shouted ‘Bomb Gone’ to cheers of ‘Thank Christ’ from the crew who were yelling for me to get the bomb out.
‘At 00.46 on May 17 we dropped our bomb with 8,500lb of explosives.’
George added: ‘There was a spout of water 1,000ft high. We circled and the dam crumbled about 10 yards wide.
‘But it didn’t seem as if the other five aircraft had been there. We needed six bombs to crack the dam and the water would do the rest.’
After smashing the dam, the heroic airmen flew their Lancaster bomber over the Mohne Dam, which had been blown by another plane in the same daring raid.
The Sorpe dam was badly damaged by the daring night-time raid, orchestrated by wing commander Guy Gibson and bouncing bomb inventor Barnes Wallace.

Some confusion in the last two paragraphs here. Was the dam ‘smashed’ or ‘badly damaged’? Oh, and it’s Barnes Wallis, not Wallace.

George said: ‘I will never forget the sight. It was like an inland sea with all that water overflowing.
‘It gave us a lot of satisfaction when we heard over the radio that the Eder had been breached as well.’
It was only when they flew back to RAF Scrapton in Lincolnshire that the brave crew realised they had been hit several times by an armoured train on their way to the dams, and the pilot’s chair was pockmarked with bullet holes.

It’s Scampton, not Scrapton.

He said: ‘I was tired and exhausted – I went to the mess and had bacon and powdered scrambled egg and a cup of tea. It tasted good.’
The five-hour raid came at a heavy price – 53 of the 133 brave airmen, hand-picked for the secret mission, did not come home.
George said: ‘The waitresses in the sergeants’ mess were all in tears as so many places were empty.’
The brave airman married sweetheart Gwyn, a phone operator in the Women’s Royal Air Force, days before the sortie, after being given special permission from chiefs despite all leave being cancelled.
After narrowly avoiding death on an eye-watering 50 missions during his 22 years’ service with the RAF, George became a teacher.

Did the Second World War really last 22 years? George’s ‘eye-watering 50 missions’ were of course confined to his war time service between 1940 and 1945. He stayed on in the RAF until 1962, and rose to the rank of Squadron Leader.

Great-grandfather George, who became a widower when Gwyn died of cancer in 2005, is helping Lord of the Rings filmmaker Peter Jackson with his scheduled remake of the classic 1955 Dam Busters film.
He said: ‘I feel honoured and proud to have been lucky enough to take part in that raid.
‘It proved to Hitler and the Germans what they thought was impregnable could be destroyed by the RAF.’

Amen to that.

Fleet St editorial standards slipping (part 94)

Telegraph screengrab

Retired RAF officers all over the country will have been harrumphing into their cornflakes this morning as yet more evidence of the decline of editorial standards in the national press is presented. This time it’s at the Daily Telegraph, a paper which once employed a real life Air Commodore as its Air Correspondent. To illustrate a story about the continued role of 617 Squadron , it chose a picture which purports to show three “Dambusters”. Unfortunately, only one of them actually served in 617 Squadron – Guy Gibson, in the centre of the trio above. On the right is Peter Ward-Hunt, who had a distinguished career as a bomber pilot in a number of squadrons, and whose obituary was in the Telegraph when he died in 2005. On the left is John Searby, who took over from Gibson as CO of 106 Squadron.
Memo to Telegraph subs: “There is the wonderful new invention called Google, you know. You can use it to check facts!”

The Telegraph view

Telegraph cartoon

Today’s Daily Telegraph cartoon would appear to be a comment on this story.

Amid accusations that defence policy is now a shambles, Downing Street attempted to “clarify” an apparent promise by David Cameron that overall spending on the military would rise in 2015-16.
On Wednesday Mr Cameron said that he would stand by a pledge he made in 2010 to provide “year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015.” The Prime Minister’s renewal of that promise raised the hopes of military insiders over the coming Spending Review. Commanders had feared the review would mean yet more cuts in 2015-16 as George Osborne, the Chancellor, squeezes the ministry’s budget again.
However, the Government’s position descended into confusion on Thursday as No  10 attempted to argue that Mr Cameron’s commitment to increase spending “beyond 2015” does not apply to the 2015-16 financial year.
The Prime Minister’s references to spending beyond 2015 “means starting in 2016”, Downing Street said on Thursday. “He was referring to the financial year starting in 2016,” a spokesman said.

Thanks to Dick Budgen, who also comments that “the drawing is more accurate than one would usually expect”.