The other Dam Busters!

Did you know that there was another air force squadron nicknamed the ‘Dam Busters’. No, neither did I. But it would seem that US Air Force Squadron VA-195 became known as this in an operation during the Korean War. Navy pilot James Sanderson died recently in Virginia Beach and, according to his obituary:

Vice Admiral Sanderson served 39 years active duty in the U.S. Navy. He had destroyer duty with the USS Mansfield, and USS Bauswell as an ensign gunnery officer. He was an accomplished aviator, he received his wings in May of 1950. He flew over 100 combat missions on the USS Princeton over N. Korea from the Sea of Japan and the Gulf of Wonsan. His first Korean War combat sortie was Close Air Support of First Marine Division at Chosen Reservoir, North Korea. He was one of eight torpedo pilots that destroyed the flood gates of Hwachon Reservoir Dam, North Korea (Air Wing 19). Squadron VA-195 became known as the “Dam Busters.”

It doesn’t say whether the torpedoes bounced or not. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

Steady, steady – bomb gone! (part 2)

Hardcore Microsoft Flight Simulator enthusiasts may already know about this, but others might not: Ross McLennan has spent a number of years developing a highly realistic Lancaster cockpit in which you can take part in the whole Dams Raid experience. I’m not an expert in this (and don’t even have a Windows computer on which I could use it) so I can’t comment on its accuracy or degree of fun. I’d welcome your comments!
It’s interesting to note that Ross’s simulated attack on the Möhne Dam follows the path outlined in most of the earlier books, from the east with a sharp starboard turn after crossing the Hever promontory. According to 617 Squadron historian Robert Owen this is no longer thought to be correct. The actual route is now thought to be directly from over the forest area in the south east coming over the larger spit, as seen in the lower map. This is the one I drew for my book, Breaking the Dams.
Attack route in Flight Simulator
Map showing what is now thought to be the actual attack route

I bet he drinks…

The chief of the agency responsible for one of the most famous ever TV ads has revealed that its punchline started life as one for milk.
‘The “I bet he drinks a lot of milk” slogan we pitched to Milk morphed into the famous Carling line. “Dambusters” was the lucky bounce; the BACC objected to risking upsetting the pilots’ widows, it was saved by the 617 Squadron Society giving us their permission.’
The silly thing is, the ad would have worked just as well for milk, as it actually says nothing at all about lager, other than implying that you gain some sort of superhuman power as a result of consuming it. (Or, perhaps this is true? Thankyou squire, mine’s a pint.)

The chief of the agency responsible for one of the most famous ever TV ads has revealed that its punchline started life as one for milk.

‘The “I bet he drinks a lot of milk” slogan we pitched to Milk morphed into the famous Carling line. “Dambusters” was the lucky bounce; the BACC objected to risking upsetting the pilots’ widows, it was saved by the 617 Squadron Society giving us their permission.’

The silly thing is, the ad would have worked just as well for milk, as it actually says nothing at all about lager, other than implying that you gain some sort of superhuman power as a result of consuming it. (Or, perhaps this is true? Thankyou squire, mine’s a pint.)

Big Brother and the Bouncing Bomb

I don’t know who watches Channel 4’s Big Brother these days – I certainly don’t, and nor do my two teenage children and their friends – but people who do might be intrigued to know that underneath the house is the water tank used in the 1955 film, The Dam Busters. Although various locations around the UK were used in the making of the film, much of it was actually shot on three huge sound stages built at Elstree Studios. One of these was presumably constructed around the tank (although Jonathan Falconer’s useful book, Filming the Dam Busters, is not specific about this). Other important landmarks in cinema history shot here include The Young Ones (Cliff Richard! Robert Morley!!?) and Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (the one with Mr Creosote).

Steady, steady – bomb gone, skipper!

I’m told, because I’m not yet lucky or rich enough to have one, that one of the coolest things about the iPhone is the thousands of applications (apps) that you can download – often free and if not, costing just a few pence. If I had one, then what would be one of the first things I would download? Why, this game of course!
Afficianados amongst you will spot the game’s errors pretty quickly… A forward-spinning mine, a Lanc with a mid-upper turret. Tsk, tsk!

Scientifically speaking

Liz Kingsley is an Australian scientist and film critic who runs a lovely website And You Call Yourself a Scientist! This is mainly devoted to, in her words, “mad scientist’s views on other mad scientists. And mad doctors, monsters, murderers, psychopaths, ghosts, freaks, weirdos and things that go bump all hours of the night and day” and contains dozens of reviews, mainly of “B movies”. It also has no fewer than six pages of “immortal dialogue” culled from endless hours of movie-watching.  One topical example, given the current near-hysteria over so-called Swine Flu, from The Andromeda Strain:

First politician:  The decision on 712 isn’t final. It was just postponed for 48 hours.
Scientist:  By then the disease could spread into a world-wide epidemic!
Second politician:  It’s because of rash statements like that that the President doesn’t trust scientists!

However, the site also contains reviews of some more sensible films, such as The Dam Busters, and has some interesting perspectives on the science involved.

Plink, plink, plink, plink, plinka, plink, plink, plink…

I met the late Sir Bill Cotton of the BBC once, many years ago – he was a lovely, funny man, much loved by all. This was evidenced by the huge turnout at his memorial service earlier this week, where there apparently was much mirth amongst the tributes. The report in The Times that some of the music was provided by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain playing, amongst other ditties, a version of the Dambusters March arranged by Bill Cotton’s namesake and father, set me off on a search on Youtube. Unfortunately this performance doesn’t seem yet to have been videoed (although I did find both Shaft and Teenage Kicks) so I ended up at the orchestra’s own website, where I was able to purchase the Eric Coates tune for a meagre one pound. A bargain! Altogether now – plink, plink…
UPDATE: Here’s a sample, about 20 seconds long, of the Dambusters March.

The glamour of the Dambusters

What is the connection between the Dambusters and the 1960 Michael Powell cult film, Peeping Tom (being shown in the UK on ITV in the early hours of Friday 27 February)? The answer is Pamela Green, the celebrated 1950s glamour model and actress, who made her ‘straight’ acting debut in this film. While Ms Green was still a student, her first nude photographs were taken by Dams Raid survivor Sgt Douglas Webb DFM, the front gunner in Bill Townsend’s aircraft, AJ-O.  After the war, Webb had returned to a job in Fleet Street as a photographer and then branched out into film stills and ‘glamour’ work. He is probably the only Dams Raid participant with an entry on IMDb. In the 1950s and 60s Ms Green made a career out of glamour work, culminating in the naturist picture Naked as Nature Intended. When Peeping Tom emerged, in those still-censorious times, the moderately explicit shots of her which were included got local watch committees in a fuss. Doug Webb and Pamela Green married in 1967, and later retired to the Isle of Wight. Sadly he died in 1996, but Ms Green is still flourishing, and can be seen from time to time on nostalgia TV shows.

Last of the Dambusters, not

I managed to see a recording of the Channel Five documentary ‘Last of the Dambusters’ the other night. (As I live in Ireland, I can’t get Channel Five, even though we get all the other British channels on our cable service.) This has been quite extensively reviewed (see here and here) and discussed on various forums (see here and here) so I shan’t say too much more.

The programme featured George (Johnny) Johnson, who is fast becoming a national treasure. Although he is not the ‘last of the dambusters’ (I don’t know why the programme was given that confusing title when five or six men who took part in the Dams Raid are still alive) he is the only one based in the UK who regularly does media appearances. He treated the programme makers and everyone else in the film with his usual courtesy, and it was very interesting seeing his reactions to meeting people who lived near the Sorpe Dam which he had tried to destroy 65 years before.

The other inaccuracy in the programme concerned the Sorpe Dam itself. The impression was given that Joe McCarthy’s crew, in which Johnson was the bomb aimer, was the only crew to reach and attack the Sorpe. It is true to say that they were the only one of the five crews in the second wave to get that far (Munro and Rice had to turn back after their aircraft were damaged, Barlow and Byers crashed on the outward flight). But Ken Brown in AJ-F, from the reserve wave, made it all the way, dropped his mine successfully at 0314 and returned to Scampton safely.

Hindsight tells us that sufficient thought had not been given as to how to attack the Sorpe. With its earth core construction the dam could not be attacked head on like the concrete-built Möhne and Eder, so the ‘bouncing’ technique could not be used. Instead, both McCarthy and Brown flew along the length of the dam and dropped their mines in the centre, causing them to roll down into the water before the hydrostatic fuse exploded. Perhaps if five aircraft had got through the cumulative effect would have succeeded, but we will never know.

Looking over the interwebnet today for reviews of the programme, I came across this other oddity – a review by the romantic fiction writer Jessica Blair. It turns out that Ms Blair is not all she seems, being the nom de plume of a gentleman called Bill Spence, who flew 36 wartime operations as a Lancaster bomb aimer in 44 Squadron, and turned to writing in 1960. What an interesting life!

Two Peter Jacksons – there are only two Peter Jacksons…

Dambuster aficionados know full well that the scheduled remake of the 1955 film is in the (we hope safe) hands of Mr Peter Jackson, with the multi-talented Mr Stephen Fry providing the words. (Can he improve on the beautifully understated script of R C Sherriff?) But football fans know that there is another Peter Jackson closely associated with events in the so-called Bomber County. This is the bearded one’s namesake, the manager of Lincoln City FC, the mighty Imps, who have just finished a middling season by coming 15th in League Two (what in the old days we used to call the Fourth Division). And, it turns out, this Mr Jackson has recently returned to his post after a skirmish with throat cancer. We wish him well and hope the fans greet him with a blast of their favourite tune (you know – the Eric Coates one) on the first game of next season.