Allsebrook 1943 bomb crater near Dortmund Ems canal revealed

The Am Flueddert housing estate and a local map, with the site of the bomb crater highlighted. Pics: Chris Ward

When Flt Lt Ralph Allsebrook DSO DFC and his crew were posted to 617 Squadron immediately after the Dams Raid he was a pilot with an impressive operational record. Allsebrook had been a close friend of Henry Maudslay, who had met when they were both pilots in training at RAF Tern Hill in September 1940. Allsebrook was a little older, and had just completed a degree at Trinity College, Oxford. He then put off his plans to study law (his father was a judge) to join the RAF.

After qualifying as pilots, Allsebrook and Maudslay went their separate ways, to 49 Squadron and 44 Squadron respectively, but remained in close touch, so it must have been with a heavy heart that Allsebrook arrived at Scampton on 20 May 1943, the first new pilot and crew to join the squadron after the Dams Raid. It was just three days after Maudslay and his crew had been shot down on the way back from attacking the Eder Dam. By then, Allsebrook had clocked up 50 operations, mostly with the crew who transferred along with him, seen below in this photograph.

Pic: 49 Squadron Association. 

Allsebrook and his crew flew on the attacks on Italian targets in July and August 1943, before being selected to be one of the section of eight aircraft tasked to attack the Dortmund-Ems canal with a new light-case 12,000lb bomb on 15/16 September. This turned out to be a disaster, with five of the eight failing to return.

Chris Ward has now been in touch to say that he has identified the site where Allsebrook dropped his bomb, before his aircraft was hit by flak and crashed into the canal itself at the junction of the Mittelland and Dortmund-Ems canals in the Wet Triangle at Bergeshoevede. He can also say for certain that the bomb exploded.

The bomb crater is about six kilometres away from the crash site, at what is now a housing estate called Am Flueddert. It was within one hundred metres of concrete dispersals on the nearby Hopsten fighter aerodrome and about 800 metres from the western bank of the Mittelland Canal. At the time, the area was a wasteland covered in heather. Local people described a crater twenty metres across and very deep, which soon filled with water and was used as a swimming hole, until it was fenced off with barbed wire as a safety measure. It was eventually filled in, and gradually built on from the 1950s onwards, so that no trace now remains.

Chris Ward suspects that Allsebrook’s Lancaster was already damaged, and that he jettisoned the already fused bomb in an attempt to maintain what little height he had. The detonation would almost certainly have severely rocked the aircraft, and may have added to the damage that caused it to crash a few seconds later. This confirms that the only bomb recovered intact was that dropped “safe” by Knight after he clipped trees on the way to the target.

A few weeks before this fateful operation, in August 1943 when Henry Maudslay’s loss was finally confirmed, Allsebrook had written a moving letter of consolation to Maudslay’s mother, expressing sentiments that were widely held amongst his RAF comrades and confirming that he was indeed a very mature young man:

“I know that nothing can be said that is of any use, but perhaps I may tell you that often I feel – and I think Henry felt – a fear of death only so far as it will bring such sadness and despair to one’s parents. Against it we can do nothing, but one fears for those you love more than for oneself.
You can perhaps help yourself a little for the time in the immediate empty future by knowing how he or I or anyone hopes and prays that you will find strength to bear the sorrow.”

Letter from Ralph Allsebrook to Gwen Maudslay, 21 August 1943.
[Robert Owen, Henry Maudslay: Dam Buster, Fighting High, 2014 , pp.296-7.]

The crew of Lancaster EE130 on the night of the Dortmund-Ems operation was made up of the six men who had flown with Allsebrook in 49 Squadron and who had transferred to 617 Squadron along with him, plus an extra gunner. The crew list reads Flt Lt RAP Allsebrook DSO DFC (pilot), Flt Sgt P Moore (flight engineer), Plt Off NA Botting (navigator), Flg Off JM Grant DFC (wireless operator), Flt Sgt RBS Lulham (bomb aimer), Sgt IG Jones (mid-upper gunner), Flt Sgt S Hitchen (rear gunner) plus Flt Sgt WE Walker (extra air gunner).

[Thanks to Chris Ward.]

Allsebrook crew page on 49 Squadron Association website.