Dambuster of the Day No. 16: Ivan Whittaker

Avro boardroom photo lores

Ivan Whittaker is fifth from the right in this picture taken in the Avro Boardroom near Manchester sometime in late 1943 or early 1944. The 617 Squadron party are all members of Joe McCarthy and Mick Martin’s crews. [Pic: Ken Hickson/Peter Cunliffe]

Plt Off I Whittaker
Flight engineer
Lancaster serial number: ED909/G
Call sign: AJ-P
First wave. Third aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine veered left after dropping and exploded at side of dam.

Ivan Whittaker was born in Newcastle on Tyne on 9 September 1921, the younger of the two sons of William and Jane Whittaker. His father was a seagoing marine engineer. Whittaker attended Wallsend Grammar School and then, in 1938, he joined the RAF as an apprentice at the No 1 School of Technical Training at RAF Halton. He spent the first three years of the war as ground crew. In 1942, he retrained as a flight engineer and was soon posted to 50 Squadron. There he met Mick Martin and flew with him on a number of operations. When he was called into 617 Squadron, Martin gathered together most of his old crew with the newly commissioned Whittaker sitting beside him in the flight engineer’s seat.

After the raid, he was promoted again and won his first DFC in September 1943, overdue recognition for a tour completed a year previously. The Martin crew carried on flying throughout the autumn and winter and on 12 February 1944 set off on an operation to attack the Antheor viaduct in Southern France. This was a disaster. Martin’s aircraft was hit by a shell which killed bomb aimer Bob Hay, wounded Whittaker and damaged the aircraft severely. Martin’s supreme skill as a pilot and Whittaker’s careful handling of the engines meant that they were able to make a dangerous landing at a tiny airport in Sardinia.

For his part in this, Whittaker received a Bar to his DFC, and is thought to be the only flight engineer with the double award. Part of the citation read:

‘Whilst over the target the aircraft was repeatedly hit and sustained much damage. Flight Lieutenant Whittaker was wounded in both legs but, in spite of this he coolly made a detailed examination of the aircraft and gave his Captain a full report of the damage sustained. He displayed great fortitude and devotion to duty and his efforts were of much assistance to his Captain who flew the damaged bomber to an airfield where a safe landing was effected.’

In March 1944, after forty-four operations, he was finally transferred into a training unit, where he served to the end of the war. He stayed on in the RAF after the war, eventually transferring to the Technical Branch and rising to the rank of Group Captain, finally retiring in 1974.

Whittaker was married with three sons. The family lived in Wendover, near the Halton base where he had first joined the RAF before the war, and he died in its hospital on 22 August 1979.

More about Whittaker online:
Listing at ww2awards.com

Survived war. Died 1979.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Chris Ward, Andy Lee, Andreas Wachtel, Dambusters: Definitive History, Red Kite 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Further information about Ivan Whittaker 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.