Lance Howard, left, photographed in November 1943 with his brother, Sgt Godfrey Howard, who also served in the RAAF. Sadly, Godfrey was lost on operations over Italy on 25 February 1944, while serving in 104 Squadron. [Pic: Australian War Memorial UK0734]
Plt Off C L Howard
Lancaster serial number: ED886/G
Call sign: AJ-O
Third wave. Only aircraft to attack Ennepe Dam. Mine dropped successfully, but failed to breach dam.
Cecil Lancelot Howard, known to his friends and family as Lance, was born in Fremantle, Western Australia, on 12 January 1913, the son of Henry and Helen Howard. He worked as a commercial traveller before the war.
He joined the RAAF in 1940 and was initially selected for pilot training. Eventually he was remustered as a navigator. He arrived in the UK in late 1941 and was posted to 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore. He was posted to 49 Squadron in May 1942, where he spent some time in further training in the Conversion Unit. By late 1942, he was flying as the regular navigator in Bill Townsend’s crew and went on to complete 25 operations by March 1943.
By then he had been recommended for a commission, although it was not confirmed until after he had joined 617 Squadron.
On the night of the Dams Raid, Howard was apprehensive as Townsend coaxed AJ-O into the air. “I had visions of the bumpy (grass) take-causing the lights under the fuselage to be shaken off so that instead of being 60ft above the ground we would finish up 60ft below it,’ he later remembered. They made it into the air, however, and set course for Germany.
In his account in Colin Burgess’s book, Australia’s Dambusters, Howard later recalled:
It was a clear night with a full moon and we flew at 60 to 100 feet to keep under German radar. On the way in we received a radio message to attack the Ennepe dam, which indicated that the main target, the Möhne, had been breached. This we saw for ourselves shortly afterwards as we used this for a turning point on the way to the Ennepe. It was an horrific picture with a great stream of water bursting down the valley from the breach in the dam wall.
We attacked the Ennepe at sixty feet height and a speed of 240 miles per hour. There were no defences and the bomb was accurate. But no breach was observed and it was obvious that two or more bombs would be needed. Unfortunately there were no other aircraft … So back we screamed flat out to the Möhne with the engines at maximum revs and thence up to the north Dutch coast where we were sent on our way by a large flak gun, and then over the North Sea to Scampton.
We had another encounter with flak and searchlights on the way in, and all in all one wonders how we survived flying low-level and dodging high tension cables and trees. We were the last crew back.
For his part in the Dams Raid, and as the only officer in the crew of AJ-O, Howard was awarded the DFC. He participated fully in the investiture ceremony on the morning of 22 June and the dinner at the Hungaria restaurant in the evening. (He can be seen in the famous photograph of the event with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigar in the other.)
Howard’s last two operations in the whole war were the squadron’s attacks on Italian targets in July. In September, three days after he had represented the squadron at David Maltby’s funeral in Kent, he was listed as “tour expired” and was later posted to a conversion unit as an instructor.
Howard was released from active service in March 1945 and returned to Australia to be with his wife Marjorie, who he had married in 1941 shortly before embarking for the war.
After the war he worked in the Repatriation Department and then at the West Australian newspaper. He remained there until ill-health forced his early retirement in 1972. He was active in the RAAF Association but refused an MBE, stating he believed it was awarded to him on behalf of the RAAFA and he considered it insufficient recognition of the work of the Association. He was also involved in the Karrakatta Cemetery association, where he is now memorialised.
Lance Howard founded the Air Force Memorial Estate in Bull Creek, near Perth. The estate provides comfortable housing for ex-servicemen, next to the largest aviation museum in Australia. He and his wife lived there until his death on 26 December 1989.
Thanks to Colin Burgess for help with this article.
More about Howard online:
RAAF personnel file in National Archives of Australia
History of Karrakata Cemetery (where Howard is buried) Scroll down to No 39
Survived war. Died 26 December 1989.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, 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 Lance Howard 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.