It may well vanish behind a paywall again shortly, but at the moment you can read The Times’s contemporary accounts of the Dams Raid. The page available is from 19 May 1943, two days after the raid. The previous day’s papers had carried the first reports, but the story was to dominate the news agenda for several more days to come – fed by the Air Ministry’s public relations officers, who had become highly skilled at releasing information in several stages.
My second skipper S/Ldr. Johnny Meagher became an instructor pilot attached to 106 squadron Metheringham for his 6 months rest period after his first tour with 61 squadron. AJ-G was parked there as tour expired in its dambuster configuration. Johnny used it regularly for pilot training, familiarisation flights & as a general hack for shuttling the CO & others around & picking up off base crews etc.
Guy Gibson’s relationship with the crew who flew with him on the Dams Raid is one of the interesting sub-plots of the whole Dambusters story. In contrast to the scene in the 1955 film where his old crew discuss his posting to a new squadron on his own and then unanimously decide to go with him, only one, wireless operator Robert Hutchison, had actually flown with Gibson in 106 Squadron. Hutchison is thought to have recommended navigator Harlo Taerum, who in turn recommended bomb aimer Fred (Spam) Spafford. Both of these had been in 50 Squadron, as had rear gunner Richard Trevor-Roper. These four were all officers, which meant that Gibson would see something of them socially at Scampton, but the final pair, front gunner George Deering and flight engineer John Pulford were both NCOs.
This may be why Gibson had a rather low opinion of both. In his biography of Gibson, Richard Morris writes how in the first draft of Enemy Coast Ahead he described Deering as:
‘pretty dumb’ (tactfully changed to ‘pretty green’ in the published version) ‘and not too good at his guns and it was a bit of a risk taking him’. This was rubbish, as Deering had flown thirty-five operations.
Morris goes on to cite Gibson’s opinion of Pulford, who he described as a ‘sincere and plodding’ Londoner:
Gibson had a low opinion of Pulford, thinking him dull and incapable of independent thought. This may say more about Gibson than Pulford, for Gibson never listened to him long enough to notice that he came from Yorkshire rather than London. In the cockpit of Gibson’s Lancaster there was a distinct air of master and servant. In the fuselage as a whole his crew represented Britain’s class structure in microcosm and the pattern of the Empire beyond. (Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin, 1995, p.152.)
Whatever their relationship, the crew were not together for very long, flying just the one operation as a complete crew, the Dams Raid itself. Hutchison, Taerum, Spafford and Deering transferred to George Holden’s crew when he took over command of 617 Squadron, and died with him on the Dortmund Ems Raid on 16 September 1943.
None of the other three survived the war. Trevor-Roper and Gibson died later in 1944, both on operations with other squadrons, but Pulford was still in 617 Squadron when he flew on the operation to bomb the Antheor viaduct in southern France in February 1944. His pilot, Bill Suggitt, landed the aircraft successfully at Ford in Sussex, which they had used as a staging post, but in the short hop home from Ford to Woodhall Spa, they crashed into a hill on the Sussex Downs, near the village of Upwaltham.
For some years local people have been collecting for a proper memorial to Suggitt’s crew, and it was unveiled on 22 August:
Today, 65 years on, the crew of DV382 KC J-Jug will be honoured in a tiny parish church just below the crash site at Upwaltham, West Sussex, after the hamlet of 25 inhabitants raised £10,500 for a memorial.
Relatives of the British, Canadian and Australian victims will attend, along with air attaches from all three nations and 617 Squadron’s current commanding officer.
The white Italian stone ‘Four Nations Memorial’ also remembers seven Americans whose Dakota aircraft crashed across the valley a year later in February 1945.
A Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will complete three circuits overhead at the ceremony, which will also be attended by relatives of the farm workers who were honoured by King George VI for braving flames and exploding ammunition to try to rescue the Lancaster crew.
Thomas Schindler, a correspondent from a German TV station, has sent me this link to the recent broadcast of some hitherto unseen film of the aftermath of the destruction of the Eder Dam on 17 May 1943. During the war, secret filming by German citizens was forbidden, with the threat of the death penalty for anyone caught. However a soldier naval officer on leave shot this film, and it has recently been given to the TV station.
My German isn’t up to much, so if anyone can translate what the interviewees say and the voiceover material I’d be very grateful. Please leave a comment below or send me an email.
UPDATE: Dave, a poster on the Lancaster-Archive Forum, has kindly provided the gist of a translation:
Hermann Hauschild was a naval officer from Bergheim home on leave when he secretly filmed the aftermath of the attack on the Eder dam on May 17th 1943. Secretly, because if caught, the death penalty would apply. He specified that the film may only be made public after his death. The ruins shown are of Affolden, where both the church and the school were destroyed and 10 people died.The RAF asked for a copy after the war, but otherwise the film was almost forgotten. Karl Schaefer was asked to repair the camera and was given the film as payment. The camera still works well after 80 years, and the film is regarded by the family as an heirloom. Hermann Hauschild died twenty years ago.
The youngest airman to take part in the Dams Raid was Sgt Jack Liddell, rear gunner in the crew of AJ-E, piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow. He was 18 when he took part in the raid, and lost his life along with the rest of the crew when their aircraft crashed on the outward flight near Haldern in Holland. His remains were reburied after the war in Reichswald War Cemetery.
Not a lot is known about Liddell other than the material on the Bombercrew.com website (from which I have taken this photo, credited to Eric Rundle). His parents lived in the well-known holiday resort of Weston-super-Mare in Somerset.
Jack Liddell is thought to have joined the RAF when he was only 16 (he must have lied about his age) and had undertaken a number of operations with Barlow in 61 Squadron.
BBC South West are now looking to put together a short film about Jack Liddell, and hoping to find some connections with his pre-war life in Somerset. If you can help, please contact the researcher, Charlotte Lewis.
On this day 66 years ago nineteen Lancasters of 617 Squadron took off from a grass aerodrome in Lincolnshire on an operation which would change the lives of everyone who took part. Fifty-three of the aircrew died that night, and the destruction of the Möhne and Eder Dams led to the loss of 1341 other lives, many of them civilians or forced labourers.
In contrast to last year, when various flypasts and other events marked the 65th anniversary, there will be no official ceremonies marking today’s date.
Let’s just remember all those who died that night, and the millions more who died during the Second World War, and hope that we never see destruction on this scale again.
In commemoration of those who died, here are some pictures of the plaques marking the crash site of the aircraft AJ-M, piloted by Flt Lt John Hopgood. His efforts to keep his plane aloft let three of his crew bale out. Two, John Fraser and Anthony Burcher survived. Those who died at the site were Charles Brennan, Kenneth Earnshaw, John Minchin, George Gregory and Hopgood himself. The site is about 6km from the Möhne Dam.
The pictures were taken last month by a reader of this blog, Steve Gough, who has kindly let me use them.
The Herne Bay Cultural Trail got off to a rocky start last autumn with controversy about a poorly-worded plaque describing the Dams Raid as ‘infamous’. The plaque had been placed on a new statue of Barnes Wallis, erected overlooking the Reculver area, where trials of the ‘Upkeep’ weapon were carried out in May 1943. The wording has now been amended, and the rest of the Cultural Trail is nearly complete. One of the items will be a large mural depicting the trials. This can’t yet be seen on the Trail’s own website, but the work in progress is shown on that of the artist, Penny Bearman.
I mentioned this BBC Radio Kent programme back in May last year, but it seems a good place to link to it again. It’s a first hand account of the Reculver trials, as witnessed by two boys who sneaked up onto the sand dunes.