Dambuster bomb sight sells for £41,000, and is going to ‘good home’

Auction screenshot

The wooden bomb sight used by Plt Off John Fort on the Dams Raid sold yesterday at auction for a staggering £33,500 hammer price (more than £41,000 with commission and taxes added). The bidding opened at £20,000 and it quickly became apparent that the only serious contenders were two people in the room who had very deep pockets.
The buyer is at present anonymous, but we have been assured by the auctioneer that the bomb sight, and the other artifacts sold to the same purchaser, have gone to a ‘good home’. We hope to bring you more details in due course.
The bomb sight and a navigator’s parallelogram and desklight were given to my grandfather, Ettrick Maltby, by his son David, the pilot of AJ-J on the Dams Raid. Following David’s death, they were placed in a display cabinet at Hydneye House School, the prep school in Hastings owned and run by the Maltby family. When the Maltbys retired they decided that they wanted them left at the school so that future generations of boys could see them.
Unfortunately the school was forced to close in the early 1970s following a Compulsory Purchase Order when the area became scheduled for redevelopment. By then Ettrick Maltby had died, and nobody from the family thought to retrieve the items from the school. So the Headmaster gave the items to an old boy of the school for his budding aerospace collection.

bomb sight

The bombsight is the only surviving example of those which were made for the Dams Raid. Not all the bomb aimers used the sight, which was devised by Wg Cdr C L Dann, supervisor of aeronautics at the Royal Aeronautics Establishment at Boscombe Down. Many used their own makeshift systems for working out the release points, with pieces of string and chinagraph marks on the perspex blister, but now it seems certain that John Fort preferred this sight.
It is not clear what all the numbers stamped on the handle refer to, although the figure 29.5 would seem to be the angle in degrees between the two arms. Although the two arms are adjustable by means of a wingnut, each arm is locked in position with a small panel pin which can be seen just to the left of the wingnut.
The metal plate was obviously added later when the sight went on display. The varnish was probably also applied at this time.

Dambuster of the Day No. 33: John Fort

IWM HU91948

In this picture taken on the morning after the raid, a group of tired looking officers gather outside their mess for an official photograph. Most had been drinking for a number of hours by this stage. John Fort is in the back row, sixth from the right hand side. [pic: IWM HU91948]

Plt Off J Fort
Bomb aimer

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.

John Fort was the oldest member of the crew of AJ-J. He was born in Colne, Lancashire, on 14 January 1912, one of the six sons of George and Martha Fort, and attended Colne Secondary School. He joined the RAF in 1929 as an apprentice at the No 1 School of Technical Training at RAF Halton. On qualification, he won first prize as a fitter. He then went to sea in the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious. (Between 1918 and 1937 the RAF operated the aircraft which flew on aircraft carriers, and supplied its own ground staff to service them.)

Back on dry land, he continued in groundcrew until the second year of the war, when he volunteered for aircrew training, and was selected as a specialist bomb aimer. At the end of his course he had done well enough to be offered a commission and so it was as a Pilot Officer he arrived at No.10 OTU in September 1942, at RAF St Eval at the same time as navigator Vivian Nicholson and wireless operator Antony Stone. It is likely that the trio teamed up there, along with gunner Austin Williams and pilot Flt Lt William Elder.
On 5 January 1943, the fledgling crew were transferred to RAF Swinderby, to join 1660 Conversion Unit, where William Hatton and Harold Simmonds were added. 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.

Fort was one of the most proficient bomb aimers in 617 Squadron, and was the A Flight Bombing Leader. Not all the bomb aimers used the wooden triangular sight devised by Wg Cdr Dann, but Fort did and his was given to David Maltby’s father Ettrick shortly after the raid. It is thought to be the only such sight still in existence. It was acquired by a collector in the 1970s and then sold by him in 2015. Fort’s accuracy paid dividends on Maltby’s run-in to the Möhne Dam, and the crew’s mine made the second larger breach which caused its final collapse.

Afterwards there was jubilation, and John Fort joined in the celebrations with much gusto. In the pictures which show the squadron personnel getting on the train to London for the investiture, he can be seen messing about on the footplate.

After the crash on 15 September 1943, in which he was killed along with all his other comrades, squadron adjutant Harry Humphries, who was a good friend, wrote a short pen portrait which is preserved in the archives at Grantham Museum.

A Lancastrian with an outlook on life difficult to beat. Good humoured, slow of speech, but quick in action. A small fairhaired chap, with broad shoulders, well able to carry their responsibilities. He had been in the Service for some years and often said it was a “piece of cake” compared with the competition & throat cutting of civilian business. A very popular member of the Squadron.

John Fort has no known grave, and he is remembered on the Runnymede memorial.

More about Fort 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 John Fort 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

Blida lo res CNV00005

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.

Great turnout for Kent Dambuster salute

Crowds at the graveside of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry

The country’s only flying Lancaster couldn’t make an appearance, but a couple of hundred people were not deterred, and made Saturday’s tribute to the crew of Dams Raid Lancaster AJ-J in Wickhambreaux, Kent, a very special occasion.

The village churchyard contains the grave of pilot David Maltby, whose body was the only one recovered from the North Sea when the aircraft he was flying crashed on 15 September 1943. Every year, local people gather to commemorate David and the rest of his crew, who have no known grave. This year, we were privileged to be joined by representatives of the families of three of other crew members, John Fort (bomb aimer), William Hatton (flight engineer) and Victor Hill (front gunner).

As well as the graveside tribute, a small exhibition took place in the Village Hall, which was opened by the Sheriff of Canterbury, Cllr Hazel McCabe.

Obviously, people were disappointed that the Lancaster was prevented from flying by high winds (foreshadowing Monday’s gales in the wake of Hurricane Katia) but that did not prevent a very impressive turnout, and a poignant and moving service, led by the Vicar, the Revd Chris Wilkinson.

Many thanks to all who came, and to Revd Chris Wilkinson, the Wickhambreaux Parish Council, the Village Hall Committee, the Sheriff of Canterbury and the Rose Inn for their help.

Peter Fort, great nephew of Flg Off John Fort, his two daughters, and Rene Hopkins, sister of Sgt William Hatton.

Valerie Ashton, daughter of Flt Sgt Victor Hill.

George Foster, nephew of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry

The Vicar of Littlebourne, Revd Chris Wilkinson, conducting the graveside tribute. Photo: Ady Kerry

Charles Foster, nephew of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry

Bomb aimers remembered

As a child, I was always told that my uncle, David Maltby, had dropped the bomb that caused the breach of the Möhne Dam. This impression is certainly given in the Gibson and Brickhill books and in the 1955 film. In his book, Enemy Coast Ahead, Gibson quotes Melvin Young as saying, ‘I think I’ve done it, I’ve broken it’, after he had dropped the fourth mine. Gibson’s then told him he hadn’t, but that it might go after the next attack. And so it proved. Maltby’s mine was dropped in exactly the right place, and caused the main breach.

Nowadays football statistics record both the goal scorer and the player who ‘assists’ by providing a cross, knock back or deflection. In this case, I don’t think it really matters whether history records the breach as Maltby assisted by Young, or Young assisted by Maltby.

Melvin Young’s aircraft was shot down over Holland on the return flight, and the whole crew were killed, so we don’t know what he would have said afterwards. To David Maltby’s credit, he never claimed the breaking of the dam as entirely his work – the answer he gave to the debriefing questionnaire, minutes after he landed, states quite clearly that, during his approach, he saw that Young’s mine had made a small breach, and made a split second decision to turn slightly to port. Whether Young’s small breach on its own would have resulted in a complete collapse of the dam is something that will never be known. The dam was obviously immensely strong and it may well have needed two explosions to break it. What is quite clear is that only two mines out of the five which were dropped at the Möhne were delivered correctly, and, between them, they broke the dam. Barnes Wallis’s calculations were proven to be good.

The two bomb aimers responsible for these pinpoint drops were John Fort in David Maltby’s aircraft and Vincent MacCausland in Young’s. On the 65th anniversary of the raid, and of her brother’s death a few hours later, MacCausland’s sister, Estelle Sewell, has given an interview to the MacCausland home town newspaper on Prince Edward Island, on the east coast of Canada. She still remembers when the news arrived that he was missing:

“I was out in the yard raking and one of the store people drove in and he had news that Vincent was missing,” she says emotionally of the arrival of that dreaded telegram. “And we didn’t hear anything again for about six months. At the end of six months we were told that he was missing and believed killed.”

The family would later learn that the bodies of MacCausland and four of the AJ-A crew had washed ashore in late May 1943. They were buried in a cemetery in Bergen, Holland, not far from where the plane crashed.

“He had no regrets at all (about signing up for the war effort),” Sewell says of her brother, who died in the line of duty 65 years ago today.

“He was such an organized person. When he made his decision to do something, he’d follow through and that’s the way he lived.”

Vincent MacCausland and Melvin Young died that night. John Fort and David Maltby lived, but their luck would run out too, just under four months later, on a wet and windy September night over the North Sea. It’s a sobering thought when you realise that of the 133 airmen who flew on the Dams Raid only 49 survived to the end of the war.