Dambusters Blog at the Dams

Five years after starting this blog, and a lifetime after first hearing about the Dams Raid, I’m excited to report that I’m writing this tonight in a hotel overlooking the Mohnesee. It’s a quiet and peaceful sight tonight, very different from what it must have looked like seventy years ago. Tomorrow morning we will walk the Dam, pay our respects at the memorials in the villages below it, and then go on to the Eder Dam and visit its museum.

UPDATE 22 May
More pictures will follow, but here are the first three.

Mohne 2967

The Möhne Dam

Eder 2969

The Eder Dam

Neheim 2979

The memorial in Neheim

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The Dams Raid: complete list of all participants

Grantham 0003 fly order small

During the next nineteen weeks I will be publishing an article about each one of the 133 aircrew from 617 Squadron who took part in the Dams Raid (Operation Chastise) on 16/17 May 1943, at the rate of one a day. These will be titled ‘Dambuster of the Day’.
Above is shown the order for the operation as it appeared on squadron noticeboards on the morning of the raid. For security reasons it was merely titled ‘Night Flying Programme’. The typed programme was kept by Squadron Adjutant Flt Lt Harry Humphries, and is now in the possession of Grantham Museum.
Each article will include links to other material online about each man, and I hope that readers will add further links in the comments on each piece. In that way, the blog entries will serve as a tribute to all the people who took part, in this the 70th anniversary year.
A complete list of the 133 also appears below.
The names appear in the order of the three designated ‘waves’: the first tasked to attack the Möhne and Eder dams, the second to attack the Sorpe, and the third the mobile reserve. Each aircraft in the wave is then listed in the order it finally took off, which differs slightly from the list in the programme above.
As each article appears, the list below will be edited to provide a link to the relevant blog entry.

AJ-G
First wave: First aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine exploded short of the dam.
Wg Cdr G P Gibson DSO & Bar DFC & Bar Pilot
Sgt J Pulford Flight engineer
Plt Off H T Taerum Navigator
Flt Lt R E G Hutchison DFC Wireless operator
Plt Off F M Spafford DFM Bomb aimer
Flt Sgt G A Deering Front gunner
Flt Lt R D Trevor-Roper DFM Rear gunner

AJ-M
First wave: Second aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Aircraft hit by flak. Mine dropped late, bounced over dam. Aircraft crashed on far side of dam.
Flt Lt J V Hopgood DFC & Bar Pilot
Sgt C Brennan Flight engineer
Flg Off K Earnshaw Navigator
Sgt J W Minchin Wireless operator
Flt Sgt J W Fraser Bomb aimer
Plt Off G H F G Gregory DFM Front gunner
Plt Off A F Burcher DFM Rear gunner

AJ-P
First wave: Third aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine veered left after dropping and exploded at side of dam.
Flt Lt H B Martin DFC Pilot
Plt Off I Whittaker Flight engineer
Flt Lt J F Leggo DFC Navigator
Flg Off L Chambers Wireless operator
Flt Lt R C Hay DFC Bomb aimer
Plt Off B T Foxlee DFM Front gunner
Flt Sgt T D Simpson Rear gunner

AJ-A
First wave: Fourth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing small breach. Aircraft crashed on return flight.
Sqn Ldr H M Young DFC & Bar Pilot
Sgt D T Horsfall Flight engineer
Flt Sgt C W Roberts Navigator
Sgt L W Nichols Wireless operator
Flg Off V S MacCausland Bomb aimer
Sgt G A Yeo Front gunner
Sgt W Ibbotson Rear gunner

AJ-J
First wave: Fifth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing larger breach, followed by dam collapse.
Flt Lt D J H Maltby DFC Pilot
Sgt W Hatton Flight engineer
Sgt V Nicholson Navigator
Sgt A J B Stone Wireless operator
Plt Off J Fort Bomb aimer
Sgt V Hill Front gunner
Sgt H T Simmonds Rear gunner

AJ-L
First wave: First aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately but no breach caused.
Flt Lt D J Shannon DFC Pilot
Sgt R J Henderson Flight engineer
Flg Off D R Walker DFC Navigator
Flg Off B Goodale DFC Wireless operator
Flt Sgt L J Sumpter Bomb aimer
Sgt B Jagger Front gunner
Flg Off J Buckley Rear gunner

AJ-Z
First wave. Second aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine overshot. Aircraft damaged, and shot down on return flight.
Sqn Ldr H E Maudslay DFC Pilot
Sgt J Marriott DFM Flight engineer
Flg Off R A Urquhart DFC Navigator
WO A P Cottam Wireless operator
Plt Off M J D Fuller Bomb aimer
Flg Off W J Tytherleigh DFC Front gunner
Sgt N R Burrows Rear gunner

AJ-B
First wave. Crashed on outward flight.
Flt Lt W Astell DFC Pilot
Sgt J Kinnear Flight engineer
Plt Off F A Wile Navigator
WO A A Garshowitz Wireless operator
Flg Off D Hopkinson Bomb aimer
Flt Sgt F A Garbas Front gunner
Sgt R Bolitho Rear gunner

AJ-N
First wave. Third aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately causing breach.
Plt Off L G Knight Pilot
Sgt R E Grayston Flight engineer
Flg Off H S Hobday Navigator
Flt Sgt R G T Kellow Wireless operator
Flg Off E C Johnson Bomb aimer
Sgt F E Sutherland Front gunner
Sgt H E O’Brien Rear gunner

AJ-E
Second wave. Crashed on outward flight.
Flt Lt R N G Barlow DFC Pilot
Plt Off S L Whillis Flight engineer
Flg Off P S Burgess Navigator
Flg Off C R Williams DFC Wireless operator
Plt Off A Gillespie Bomb aimer
Flg Off H S Glinz Front gunner
Sgt J R G Liddell Rear gunner

AJ-W
Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged by flak on outward flight. Returned to base with mine intact.
Flt Lt J L Munro Pilot
Sgt F E Appleby Flight engineer
Flg Off F G Rumbles Navigator
WO P E Pigeon Wireless operator
Sgt J H Clay Bomb aimer
Sgt W Howarth Front gunner
Flt Sgt H A Weeks Rear gunner

AJ-K
Second wave. Crashed on outward flight.
Plt Off V W Byers Pilot
Sgt A J Taylor Flight engineer
Flg Off J H Warner Navigator
Sgt J Wilkinson Wireless operator
Plt Off A N Whittaker Bomb aimer
Sgt C McA Jarvie Front gunner
Flt Sgt J McDowell Rear gunner

AJ-H
Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.
Plt Off G Rice Pilot
Sgt E C Smith Flight engineer
Flg Off R MacFarlane Navigator
WO C B Gowrie Wireless operator
WO J W Thrasher Bomb aimer
Sgt T W Maynard Front gunner
Sgt S Burns Rear gunner

AJ-T
Second wave. First aircraft to attack Sorpe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam.
Flt Lt J C McCarthy DFC Pilot
Sgt W G Radcliffe Flight engineer
Flt Sgt D A MacLean Navigator
Flt Sgt L Eaton Wireless operator
Sgt G L Johnson Bomb aimer
Sgt R Batson Front gunner
Flg Off D Rodger Rear gunner

AJ-C
Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.
Plt Off W H T Ottley DFC Pilot
Sgt R Marsden Flight engineer
Flg Off J K Barrett DFC Navigator
Sgt J Guterman DFM Wireless operator
Flt Sgt T B Johnston Bomb aimer
Sgt H J Strange Front gunner
Sgt F Tees Rear gunner

AJ-S
Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.
Plt Off L J Burpee DFM Pilot
Sgt G Pegler Flight engineer
Sgt T Jaye Navigator
Plt Off L G Weller Wireless operator
Flt Sgt J L Arthur Bomb aimer
Sgt W C A Long Front gunner
WO J G Brady Rear gunner

AJ-F
Third wave. Second aircraft to attack Sorpe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam.
Flt Sgt K W Brown Pilot
Sgt H B Feneron Flight engineer
Sgt D P Heal Navigator
Sgt H J Hewstone Wireless operator
Sgt S Oancia Bomb aimer
Sgt D Allatson Front gunner
Flt Sgt G S McDonald Rear gunner

AJ-O
Third wave. Only aircraft to attack Ennepe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam.
Flt W C Townsend DFM Pilot
Sgt D J D Powell Flight engineer
Plt Off C L Howard Navigator
Flt Sgt G A Chalmers Wireless operator
Sgt C E Franklin DFM Bomb aimer
Sgt D E Webb Front gunner
Sgt R Wilkinson Rear gunner

AJ-Y
Third wave. Did not reach Sorpe Dam because of navigation problems and weather conditions. Returned with mine intact.
Flt Sgt C T Anderson Pilot
Sgt R C Paterson Flight engineer
Sgt J P Nugent Navigator
Sgt W D Bickle Wireless operator
Sgt G J Green Bomb aimer
Sgt E Ewan Front gunner
Sgt A W Buck Rear gunner

The Dams Raid: a historical perspective

Digging about on the RAF Museum website, as one does, I came across what seems like a very interesting resource, the online version of the Journal of the RAF Historical Society. The society was established in 1986 and runs two or three seminars every year devoted to the whole range of RAF history. It also publishes a journal, and the first 36 numbers of these are all available online. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be either an index or a full list of contents, so I haven’t yet explored every single issue. However, I can say that issue no. 34 could be useful to anyone with an interest in the Dams Raid, as it contains a 26 page article by Wg Cdr T M Webster entitled ‘The Dam Busters Raid – Success or Sideshow?’
This is an interesting, factual account which starts well before the war, and the involvement of Barnes Wallis. Based largely on the book by John Sweetman, it deals with the identification of the Ruhr dams as important industrial targets and the various ideas which were developed for attacking them. Then it follows through the chronology of the planning, the raid itself and its aftermath.
The conclusion? Perhaps not surprisingly, it is that:

allying this precision [the accuracy of the bombing] to the dramatic post-raid reconnaissance photographs, the undoubted bravery of the crews involved and a pre-determination to use the raid for propaganda purposes it is hardly surprising that the Dams Raid remains the RAF’s most famous single operation and No 617 its most famous squadron.
All in all, the Dams Raid was an all-round success and not a slideshow.

You can download the whole (8MB) PDF here.

67 years on

This year, 2010, 16 May will fall on a Sunday. On another Sunday 16 May, in 1943, 133 aircrew in 19 Lancaster aircraft took off from RAF Scampton on what would prove to be the RAF’s most famous bombing operation of the Second World War, the attack on the dams of the Ruhr. Two of the targets were breached and many millions of gallons of water were discharged, causing mayhem in the area and disrupting the German war machine for many months.
However, the cost in lives was very high. On the ground, 1,341 people died – troops defending the dams, civilians living nearby, prisoners working in forced labour camps. Of the aircraft that took part, eight did not return and 53 of their crews died. The other three were captured.
On this 67th anniversary of the raid, we show pictures of the gravestones of six of the pilots and links to pictures of their crews.
Thanks to Lyndon Harper for the use of his pictures.
Flt Lt Bill Astell, buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
Flt Lt Norm Barlow, buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
Plt Off Lewis Burpee, buried Bergen op Zoom War Cemetery
Flt Lt John Hopgood, buried Rheinberg War Cemetery
Sqn Ldr Henry Maudslay, buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
Plt Off Warner Ottley, buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
The other members of these crews can be seen in a post on the WW2Talk Forum, as below:
I do not, at present, have access to any pictures of the graves of Sqn Ldr Melvin Young and his crew, who are all buried together in Bergen General Cemetery in Holland. Anyone who can help me with pictures is asked to contact me.
Plt Off Vernon Byers’s aircraft was shot down in the Waddenzee area off the coast of Holland. Of this crew, the only body recovered was that of the rear gunner, Sgt James McDowell, and he is buried in Harlingen General Cemetery in Holland. I would also welcome any pictures of his grave.

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

Flg Off Ray Grayston, RIP

Pic: Lincolnshire Aviation History Centre

I’m sorry to have to report that Ray Grayston died on Thursday 15 April.
Grayston was the flight engineer in Les Knight’s Lancaster, AJ-N, the ninth and final aircraft of the first wave of Operation Chastise, tasked with attacking the Möhne and Eder Dams. Five mines had been used at the Möhne before it had been breached, which left only three for the Eder, as Bill Astell had crashed en route. David Shannon and Henry Maudslay dropped their mines but did not break the dam, so Knight’s weapon presented the last chance for success.

As the engineer, Grayston sat on Knight’s right hand side as the pilot brought the Lancaster down to the required height of 60ft, using the throttles to keep the speed at 220mph. After a dummy run, which was dangerous enough for rear gunner Harry O’Brien to record afterwards that he ‘never thought they would get over the mountain’ on the other side of the dam, Knight brought AJ-N into attack. With a bright moon on the starboard beam, the mine was released, bounced three times and hit the dam wall. Knight climbed steeply and, as the aircraft reached a safe height, saw an explosion which caused a ‘large breach in wall of dam almost 30ft below top of dam, leaving top of dam intact.’
Wireless operator Bob Kellow had his head up in the astrodome, looking backwards. It seemed, he said ‘as if some huge fist had been jabbed at the wall, a large almost round black hole appeared and water gushed as from a large hose.’
The climb after the attack had been hair raising. Bomb aimer Edward Johnson said later that it ‘required the full attention of the pilot and engineer to lay on emergency power from the engines and a climbing attitude not approved in any flying manuals and a period of nail biting from the rest of us not least me who was getting too close a view of the approaching terra firma from my position in the bomb-aimer’s compartment.’
Like many young men of his generation, Ray Grayston was fascinated by flying and volunteered for the RAF at the beginning of the war. In a TV documentary to mark the 60th anniversary of the Dams Raid he described how he loved riding a motorbike at speed, and that this was one of the things which encouraged him into the air force. Initially he served as ground crew but then, along with many others who were mechanically minded, he was selected to train as a flight engineer on the new generation of heavy bombers which needed more personnel.
In late 1942, Grayston teamed up with Knight and the rest of the crew in their final stages of training, and they were part way through a tour of operations in 5o Squadron, stationed at RAF Swinderby, when they were offered the chance to transfer into a new squadron being formed at nearby Scampton for a secret special mission. They went as a group, as Kellow later explained: ‘The offer presented to us sounded interesting and with our faith in each member’s ability we made up our minds there and then that we would accept the offer and move over as a crew to this new squadron.’
Like many Lancaster crews of the time, they were from different countries and walks of life. Knight and Kellow were Australians, the gunners were both Canadian and the rest were British. Knight was an exceptional pilot even though, as Grayston later recalled, he couldn’t ride a bicycle or drive a car.
They didn’t fly over Germany again until September 1943, four months after the Dams Raid when they were sent out with another new weapon, a 12,000lb ‘thin case’ bomb, to attack the Dortmund Ems canal. It was a terrible night, with heavy fog blanketing the heavily guarded canal. Four of the eight crews who took part had already been shot down when Knight, flying at about 100ft in fog, hit some trees and badly damaged both his port engines.
This is one of the stories which Paul Brickhill tells beautifully in his 1951 book,
The Dam Busters. With his tailplane and a starboard engine also damaged Knight managed to pull the Lancaster up to about 1,000ft and called his fellow Aussie Mick Martin, who had assumed command after the CO and deputy force head had both come to grief.

‘Two port engines gone. May I have permission to jettison bomb, sir?’ It was the ‘sir’ that got Martin. Quiet little Knight was following the copybook procedure, asking respectful permission to do the only thing that might get him home.
Martin said, ‘For God’s sake, Les, yes,’ and as the bomb was not fused Knight told Johnson to let it go. Relieved of the weight they started to climb very slowly…
The controls were getting worse all the time until, though he had full opposite rudder and aileron on, Knight could not stop her turning to port and it was obvious that he could never fly her home. He ordered his crew to bale out and held the plane steady while they did. When the last man [who was Grayston] had gone he must have tried to do the same himself,and must have known what would happen when he slipped out of his seat. There was perhaps a slight chance of getting clear in time, but as soon as he took pressure off stick and rudder the aircraft flicked on her back and plunged to the ground. Knight did not get to the hatch in time.
Grayston told the story again in a History Channel documentary, which you can still see online. He and the other five all landed safely. Three evaded capture but Grayston and O’Brien were captured and spent the rest of the war as PoWs. When the crew survivors met in later life they would toast the memory of the young pilot who had saved their lives.
Of the 133 men who took part in the Dams Raid only 48 survived the war. Over the last few years, this has dwindled to a handful and sadly now only Les Munro, George (Johnny) Johnson, Fred Sutherland and Grant MacDonald are still with us. Like them, Grayston had become something of a celebrity in his later years, and was regularly to be found taking part in documentaries, commemorations and signings. On all these occasions he was a model of courtesy, even when he was being asked to sign memorabilia by people only interested in making a profit from it on Ebay.
It’s something of a cliché to say that we won’t see the like of his generation again – but in Ray Grayston’s case it is certainly true. He was looking forward to seeing the remake of the 1955 film, and had been photographed at East Kirkby sitting with writer Stephen Fry in the cockpit of the Lancaster belonging to the Lincolnshire Aviation History Centre.
UPDATE: Daily Telegraph news article about Ray Grayston here and a formal obituary here.

Vincent MacCausland: letters and images

Nearly two years ago, I published a post about an interview with the sister of Vincent MacCausland which I had found online. This was printed in his hometown paper, the Prince Edward Island Guardian, on the 65th anniversary of the Dams Raid. Now a lot more material about him has come to light.
MacCausland was the bomb aimer in Dinghy Young’s crew in Lancaster ED887, AJ-A, and was therefore responsible for dropping the fourth mine of the night, the one which caused the initial small breach in the Möhne Dam, later broken completely by David Maltby and his crew.
Joel Joy has been collecting further information about MacCausland, and has come up with a number of new bits of information and photographs which he has kindly allowed me to publish here.
Vincent MacCausland joined the RCAF in 1940, and after training as an observer and then a bomb aimer completed a first tour in 57 Squadron. He received a commission and appears to have returned to 57 Squadron, which had by then moved to RAF Scampton, for a second tour in March 1943. He was then drafted into a crew of newly qualified personnel allocated to the experienced pilot Melvin Young, when their original bomb aimer was found to be unsuitable. Young was the commander of 57 Squadron’s C Flight, and when the call came out for experienced crews to join the new 617 Squadron to undertake a special secret operation, the entire flight was moved across the base. These were the crews captained by Melvin Young, Geoff Rice, Bill Astell and Sgt Lovell. (The last was only to stay a few days, and were transferred back to 57 Squadron.)
Intensive training followed. Young was put in charge of A Flight, which gave him a number of extra responsibilities, including organising much of the training schedules.
One of the remarkable discoveries made by Joel Joy is that some of Vincent MacCausland’s letters home are in a Canadian archive, the Canadian Letters and Images Project, based in Vancouver. They go back to 1940, when he first joined the RCAF.
Only one, written on 17 April 1943, survives from this period. In it he writes:
You are perhaps wondering what I am doing here. There is really no need to feel over anxious to know that I am back again for my second tour. I really was due back six months after Sept of 41 and had the privilege of joining a well experienced crew and on aircraft that one dreams about. To tell you the honest truth I would not have taken this on had I believed it was a doubtful move. I came up here a couple of days ago (Apr 14th) and we are on revision and conversion for the next month before going over with a few bundles for the squareheads I know that you will be feeling most anxious during those few months ahead but the time will soon pass and I know that God will be especially with us as were blessed in that first tour. I hope that we shall be writing at least two to three times per week and if you do the same, it will be much happier for us all.
Sadly, the blessings that were bestowed on him in his first tour would not follow him to his second. Having been so instrumental in the destruction of the Möhne Dam, Young was detailed to act as Gibson’s deputy at the Eder. After it too was blown by Knight’s successful mine drop, Gibson, Shannon, Knight, Maudslay and Young set off for home. Unfortunately the latter two – the squadron’s two flight commanders – didn’t get back. AJ-A was shot down crossing the Dutch coast near IJmuiden, and crashed into the sea. The bodies of all its crew were washed ashore during the following two weeks.
All seven are buried in the cemetery near Bergen.
Two more contemporary items are shown here. These are the missing and death notices published in the Toronto Globe and Mail. The first of these, from June 1943, gives the names of all the Canadians who went missing on Operation Chastise (including John Fraser, who was later discovered to have baled out and been sent to a PoW camp). The second, from December, gives the list of those confirmed dead.
Post edited, November 2010. The correct number for the aircraft AJ-A piloted by Sqn Ldr HM Young on the Dams Raid was ED887/G.