Taking off on the Dams Raid

IWM Collections CH18006

This is one of the pictures in my new book, The Complete Dambusters. It is a photograph taken by official Air Ministry photographer Flg Off W. Bellamy of a Lancaster taking off on the Dams Raid on the night of 16 May 1943. As it is a single aircraft, it is probably one from the Second Wave, possibly the first to leave the ground: Norman Barlow and his crew in AJ-E.

There has been some discussion on the veracity of this picture, since there is no sign of the Upkeep weapon underneath the Lancaster as it leaves the ground. However, it is likely that either the photographer or a darkroom operative was instructed to paint out the weapon for security reasons. At the angle from which this picture was taken, the weapon would have appeared between the struts of the undercarriage. The painting out has been done rather crudely – if there was nothing underneath the aircraft, daylight would be visible through the struts. (You can see an example of this in this picture of a parked Lancaster, left.)

Bellamy’s ‘dope sheet’ (his handwritten list of shots taken that day which was sent to his bosses at the Air Ministry) actually lists two pictures: ‘One of the “Lancs” taking off for the raid as night falls’ and ‘A “Lanc” takes off as night falls’. It’s not known which of these two shots this is. The dope sheet itself is in the Imperial War Museum’s photographic archive, and was reproduced in Herman Euler’s book The Dams Raid through the Lens, After the Battle 2001, p210.

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Starring Guy Gibson as himself: IWM releases wartime films

The Imperial War Museum has recently announced that it is converting more of its film collection into MP4 format, more suitable for viewing online across various platforms. One of the items which has recently been released is this eight minute compilation, which you can see in full here.

The sequence combines four short pieces of silent film:

  • Off-duty scenes of Gibson, his colleagues and his dog in 106 Squadron at RAF Syerston (probably shot in late 1942)
  • Film taken from Gibson’s aircraft on a 106 Squadron night bomber raid against Turin on 28 November 1942
  • Gibson addressing Boy Scouts at Maidstone about the Dams Raid, 19 June 1943
  • The pièce de résistance: A colour sequence with Gibson talking about the Dams Raid to a few teenage boys, showing them the silver model Lancaster he was given after the raid, close-ups of his gallantry awards and posing in a garden, with his wife Eve and three others. This sequence was probably shot in the house of Thomas Gladstone Bincham, head of a paper manufacturer in Maidstone, and an important figure in the scouting movement. It is likely that he is the other man in the film.

What is striking about the last sequence is how young the colour film makes Gibson look, when we are used to seeing him in black and white. He was in fact only about 24 years and 10 months when it was shot.

Hat tip: Bomber Command History Forum