Dambuster of the Day No. 14: Anthony Burcher

Tony Burcher

Plt Off A F Burcher DFM
Rear gunner
Lancaster serial number: ED925/G
Call sign: AJ-M
First wave. Second aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Aircraft hit by flak. Mine dropped late and bounced over dam. Aircraft crashed on far side of dam

Tony Burcher was born in Vaucluse in Sydney, Australia in 1922, and volunteered for the RAAF soon after his 18th birthday. He arrived in England in September 1941, after training in both Australia and Canada. He was posted to 106 Squadron, and served a full tour there, flying regularly in John Hopgood’s crew, and receiving a DFM.
Although he was at one point put onto a ‘dry’ stint by his CO Guy Gibson for scrapping in the mess, Gibson obviously respected his gunnery skills as he was then transferred to a Gunnery Leaders Course at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire.
When he came to form the new 617 Squadron in March 1943, Gibson remembered him and selected him for the squadron, probably with Hopgood’s approval as he was again assigned to his crew.
On the Dams Raid itself, Burcher, in the rear turret, could only hear what was going on in the front of the aircraft via the intercom. It would seem that it was hit by flak some 20 minutes before the dam was reached. Burcher received superficial wounds to the leg and stomach but Hopgood himself received a head wound, and in the front turret below him, Gregory had probably been killed, as he wasn’t answering his intercom.
Burcher recalls Hopgood saying: ‘Right, well what do you think? Should we go on? I intend to go on because we have only got a few minutes left. We’ve come this far.There’s no good taking this thing back with us. The aircraft is completely manageable. I can handle it ok. Any objections?’ And on he pressed, with Brennan beside him holding a handkerchief on his head to stem the bleeding.
The already damaged Lancaster was hit again. An engine caught fire, Hopgood struggled to keep the aircraft level, and the mine was released too late, bouncing over the dam and into the power station below, where it exploded. Now he tried desperately to gain height, in an effort to give his crew a chance to bale out. He gained about 500 feet and, somehow, the wounded John Minchin managed to drag himself towards the rear escape hatch, with one leg almost severed. Burcher pushed his colleague out of the hatch first, pulling his parachute ripcord as he did so, and then followed him. Sadly, Minchin did not survive the drop, but Burcher did and he and Fraser, who had escaped from the front of the aircraft, were captured separately and taken prisoner.
After the war, Burcher returned to Australia and service with the RAAF. In 1952, he transferred to the RAF and served in Korea, Borneo and Malaya. He finally retired back to Australia, where he lived in Tasmania.

A new book about Tony Burcher, A Tail Gunner’s Tale by David Potter, with an introduction by his granddaughter, Claire Simons, will be published shortly. Details will be posted here when it becomes available.

More about Burcher online:
Burcher’s account of AJ-M’s final flight (scroll down)

Survived war. Died.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
David Potter, A Tail Gunner’s Tale, 2013

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.

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Dams Raid: first hand accounts by David Shannon and Tony Burcher

These first hand accounts of the Dams Raid were posted on an Australian aviation art forum in 2008 by someone called Stephen Diver. They come from letters sent to the Diver family by David Shannon (pilot AJ-L) and Tony Burcher (rear gunner in AJ-M, piloted by John Hopgood). You will have to scroll down some way to read them all (and make sense of some pretty terrible typing and spelling!) but they make interesting reading.
Perhaps the most fascinating is Tony Burcher’s account of what his pilot John Hopgood said as he realised that his aircraft was badly damaged:

Then John said
“Right well what do you think?” Should we go on? I intend to go on because we have only got a few minutes left. We’ve come this far.
“There’s no good taking this thing back with us. The aircraft is completely manageable. I can handle it ok. Any objections?”
I remember hearing Charlie [Brennan] (who as F/E would have been standing right beside John at this time) interrupt him by saying
“Well what about your face? Its bleeding like..”
and John interrupting him mid word by saying
“just hold a handkerchief over it”.
So I imagine for the remainder of the raids time Charlie would have been standing next to John in an attempt to try and stem the bleeding and keep his eye sight clear.
I have no idea as to the nature of the wound and can only assume it to have been a head wound of some nature.
Based on Charlies reactions,and he was normally a calm chap, I can only assume Johns wounds to have been severe in nature. I think anyone else would have probably turned around at that point and headed for home but not John.
That was the type of man he was.

Sobering stuff.

[Hat tip Night Warrior on Lancaster Archive Forum]