Joe McCarthy and his wartime friends

Joe McCarthy’s son, Joe McCarthy Jr, has kindly sent me some more information about the well-known picture of members of his father’s crew fraternising with the crew of an American B-26, taken at the Earls Colne airfield in Essex in 1944. I have previously reproduced a similar picture in the Dambuster of the Day article on Ron Batson.

Joe’s picture is a better shot obviously taken at the same time, as it doesn’t cover Johnny Johnson’s face. He also sent me a clipping from a newspaper given to him by Dorothy Bailey (daughter of Bill Radcliffe, the flight engineer in the McCarthy crew) which reproduces the same picture and helpfully includes a caption listing all the personnel:

Two more interesting points from Joe. The return flight from Earls Colne to Woodhall Spa was probably the last time that Johnny Johnson flew with the crew, as he left the squadron shortly after. McCarthy’s new bomb aimer was ‘Danny’ Daniels who went on to fly with ‘Willie’ Tait, including on the Tirpitz raid.

Next to McCarthy is the American pilot Major John Bull Stirling, another US citizen who joined the RCAF before the USA entered the war. In fact Stirling had been in the same RCAF training class in Ontario as McCarthy but he chose to transfer into the US Army Air Corps after Pearl Harbor. According to this entry on the American Air Museum in Britain website, he had an eventful time during the war and died in 1988.

Dambuster of the Day No. 95: Leonard Eaton


Flt Sgt L Eaton
Wireless operator

Lancaster serial number: ED825/G

Call sign: AJ-T

Second wave. First aircraft to attack Sorpe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam. Returned to base.

Leonard Eaton, aged 37, was the oldest man to take part in the Dams Raid. He was born in Manchester on 16 March 1906, one of the seven children of Thomas and Edith Eaton. He followed his father’s trade as a bookbinder after leaving school. He enlisted in the RAF in 1940. He was eventually sent for training as a wireless operator/air gunner and was posted to a conversion unit in the late summer of 1942. There he became one of the first people to crew up with Joe McCarthy, flying for the first time with McCarthy, Bill Radcliffe and Ron Batson on 13 September 1942.

The crew joined 97 Squadron, and Eaton flew on 17 operations during their tour, missing two periods of about a month, presumably through illness. The crew then transferred to 617 Squadron.

When they eventually took off on the Dams Raid, Eaton had a problem with the radio equipment in the spare aircraft AJ-T, and lost communication with Group HQ. Aware that this should mean that he abort the trip, McCarthy told him he didn’t hear what he said, and ploughed on. Eaton must have got the set working again, as later on they were able to communicate their progress, and he was able to hear the code word for the breach of the Möhne Dam being transmitted as AJ-T lined up to attack the Sorpe.

Following the raid he completed a further 34 trips with McCarthy, until the whole crew were taken off operations in July 1944.  He was promoted to Warrant Officer in June 1944, and awarded the DFM.

In August 1944, he was posted to a training unit and commissioned. He left the RAF in 1945 and took up employment as an agent for a clothing firm. He carried on this work until his retirement.

Len Eaton died in Manchester on 22 March 1974 and was cremated at Manchester Crematorium.

Thanks to Roy Eaton for his help with this article.

Survived war. Died 22 March 1974.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Dave Birrell, Big Joe McCarthy, Wingleader Publishing, 2012
George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, The Last British Dambuster, Ebury Press, 2014

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 Len Eaton 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.