Gibson and his crew take off on the Dams Raid. Hutchison has his foot on the lowest step of the ladder. [Pic: IWM CH18005]
Flt Lt R E G Hutchison
Lancaster serial number: ED932/G
Call sign: AJ-G
First wave: First aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine exploded short of the dam.
Flt Lt Robert Hutchison was the only person who had regularly been in Guy Gibson’s crew in his previous squadron to join the CO at 617 Squadron. Gibson’s crew chopped and changed during his time in charge at 106 Squadron, suggesting that a few people found him a hard taskmaster. A more generous interpretation would be that as commanding officer he did not fly as frequently as some of his men, so being part of his crew meant a longer time on active operational duty. In Enemy Coast Ahead, Gibson describes Hutchison as ‘one of those grand little Englishmen who have the guts of a horse’, and says that they had been on forty operations together. This is a gross exaggeration, since the real number was about eighteen. However, there is no doubt that Hutchison had been one of the small circle of brother officers in 106 Squadron with whom Gibson got on well, and this personal friendship may be what led him to accept the offer of ‘one more’ operation in a new squadron.
Robert Edward George Hutchison was born in Liverpool on 26 April 1918, the oldest of the four children of Robert and Ada Hutchison. His father worked for the Hall Line, a freight shipping line. Hutchison won a scholarship to the famous Liverpool Institute, whose later old boys would include both Paul McCartney and George Harrison. After leaving school he worked in the principal accountant’s department of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board before joining the RAF soon after the outbreak of war.
The final part of his training as a wireless operator/air gunner was at 25 OTU at RAF Finningley, where he crewed up with Plt Off Horner as his skipper. The crew was posted to 106 Squadron in Coningsby in December 1941, and undertook their first operation to Ostend on 15 December. Hutchison went on to fly on four more operations with Horner and six with Plt Off Worswick. Guy Gibson took over command of the squadron in April, and Hutchison was selected to fly with him as his wireless operator on his fourth operation in his new squadron, a trip to Warnemunde on 8 May 1942.
After five more operations with other pilots, Hutchison became Gibson’s regular wireless operator in July and they flew on 18 operations together between that date and February 1943. Hutchison was then recommended for the DFC, where the citation noted the ‘numerous operational sorties’ he had undertaken. It also specified an attack on Berlin in which Hutchison repaired defective electrical circuits in the mid-upper turret, despite the intense cold which almost rendered him unconscious during the work.
Having flown on thirty-three operations, Hutchison’s tour came to an end on 26 February. On 19 March 1943 he was posted to 1654 Conversion Unit, expecting to be given instructional duties. Within a few days, however, Gibson had been asked to set up the new squadron, and shortly afterwards must have contacted Hutchison, who recorded the transfer in his own logbook as taking place on 25 March.
Hutchison was a gregarious man – he enjoyed organising concert parties and other activities – and was quick to make friends in all his postings. He was engaged to Beryl Brudenell, who lived in nearby Boston, and was known by the nickname ‘Twink’. One of Hutchison’s particular friends in 106 Squadron was Canadian navigator Revie (Danny) Walker, who went to stay with the Hutchison family in Liverpool on some of his leave periods. Hutchison must have been pleased when their paths crossed again when Walker rejoined the Shannon crew in 617 Squadron. Another friend had been RAF Syerston’s Committee of Adjustment Officer Harry Humphries – another concert party aficianado – and their acquaintanceship continued when Humphries was hastily summoned by Gibson to be the adjutant of the new squadron.
As the senior wireless operator in 617 Squadron, Hutchison was the Signals Leader, responsible for co-ordinating the training of all his colleagues. Individual booths were set up in the crew room so that they could practise their drills. The wireless operators were also given a new responsibility when VHF radios were installed so that voice messages could be passed between aircraft when they were over the target. The Dams Raid would be the first time Bomber Command aircraft had the use of this equipment. In order to test out the radio sets, Hutchison went on a one hour flight with Henry Maudslay as pilot on 8 May.
Hutchison got a bar to the DFC he had received only a few weeks previously for his work on the Dams Raid. As a non-drinker, he might have found the round of parties a little too much, and he didn’t go to London on the special train for the investiture.
Hutchison could have gone off operations at any time, as he was well past the number required by then, but he was one of the four members of the Gibson crew who transferred to the new CO, George Holden. He was flying with him on 16 September 1943, the night he was shot down on the Dortmund Ems canal raid.
Revie Walker and Harry Humphries were both devastated when they got the news, and each wrote heartfelt letters to the Hutchison family. Walker said: ‘My two year friendship with Bob has convinced me that he was the finest lad I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.’ Humphries said that he was ‘badly cut up’ and anxiously awaiting further news.
Robert Hutchison is buried along with the rest of George Holden’s crew in Reichswald Forest Cemetery.
Decoration awarded for Operation Chastise: Bar to DFC
KIA 16 September 1943
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed 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 Robert Hutchison 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.