The man who, unwittingly, set me off on the track of writing a book about the Dambusters was the actor George Baker, whose birthday is today. In an interview on the BBC Radio Today programme in December 2005 he told the story of how he had been cast to play the part of my uncle, David Maltby, in the 1955 film The Dam Busters. During the making of the film Gp Capt Charles Whitworth, the technical adviser, relayed to him the information that David was sometimes so wound up after operations that he released the tension by shooting china plates with his service revolver. This was a story that no one in my family had ever heard before, and it therefore seemed to me to be important to tell more of the family history before time took its inevitable toll on us all.
In an email to me a few months later he told me how hard casting director Robert Leonard and film director Michael Anderson had worked to ensure the actors looked like their real-life characters. This was sometimes a bit confusing for poor old Charles Whitworth:
On the desk in front of them [Leonard and Anderson] they had a photo of [David Maltby] and one of me and I must admit that there was a considerable similarity. Then when I met Group Captain Whitworth he fell into the habit of calling me Dave, which was really quite disconcerting.
[Whitworth] would often refer to an incident thinking that I had been there. This is how the story of the plate shooting came to be told, quite obviously the men of the squadron became extremely tense before and after an operational ﬂight but other indications from the Group Captain told me that [David Maltby] was a very funny man and a delightful companion. I feel very honoured to have had the chance to portray him in the ﬁlm.
Happy birthday, Mr Baker!
For some time Ron Lapp from Winnipeg has been trying to find out the answer to a question of detail about the Dams Raid:
When the Lancaster nose turret guns were fired, as they certainly were on the Dams raid, were the empty cases and links collected somehow, or did they just fall to the floor of the nose and get collected later? I have seen a picture showing the expended cases and links on the bottom of the nose, but I am not sure if this was common practice. I have also read that canvas bags or a flexible sleeve may have been used, but have not seen pictures of either of these possible collection methods. In the case of the Dams raid, with a gunner in the nose turret and the bomb aimer at his position, I would not think that the bomb aimer would want to be distracted by having spent cases and links falling over him during the bomb run.
Fortunately, I knew someone who would have the answer: Fred Sutherland, the front gunner in Les Knight’s aircraft, AJ-N – the aircraft which dropped the mine which broke the Eder Dam. Fred obliged with an almost immediate definitive response:
There were bags under each gun to catch the spent cases. There were several reasons for this. First, each gun fired 20 rounds a second and even with a short burst the empty cases soon built up a great pile.
Then there was at times, the violent evasive action where the empties could get air borne and foul up the works.
In the front turret which was designed for one person they would have showered down on the B/A. After a long burst [of fire] the cases became very hot.
So, there we have it. Another small mystery resolved!
… summer holiday. Well, at least I am – so there will be little or no posting between now and 15 August. I hope to have some interesting material lined up by the time I get back!
I’ve recently been contacted by New Zealander John Saunders, the great-nephew of a 617 Squadron airman from later in the war, Flg Off Bruce Hosie RNZAF.
Just to say how much I’ve enjoyed your recent book – ‘Breaking the Dams’ – just neat neat stuff. I have read a few of the 617 & Dambusters books but this one has something special – the personal touch I think. Congratulations !
I’m trying to track down a photo of my great-uncle, Bruce Hosie. Bruce was a young Wireless Operator/Gunner on 617 Sqn in 1944 but was killed on the Oct 44 raid on the Kembs Dam down near Basel. He was my grandmother’s younger brother … and is still remembered back home in NZ. He had done a previous tour on 75 Sqn (NZ) and was posted to 617 in Jan 44 – and did most of his time on Jimmy Cooper & then Bob Knight’s crews…he did the first of the Tirpitz raids…then came back from leave to end up on a scratch crew for the Kembs deal. He was shot by the local Nazi Chief after their aircraft crashed in Rheinwheiler and is buried near Metz.
The Kembs Dam was on the Rhine in the very south of Germany, near a threeway border with both France and Switzerland. The plan was to attack it with the giant Tallboy bombs from both low and high level. Bruce Hosie’s aircraft, which was piloted by Sqn Ldr Wyness, was badly damaged and he ditched in the Rhine, hoping to reach the safety of the Swiss bank. They did not make it, however, and four of the crew were captured. In what was a clear abuse of the Geneva convention all of them were shot by local Nazi chiefs, and their bodies dumped in or near the river.
Sorry to anyone who travelled all the way to Manston in Kent for Sunday’s event – it was cancelled at short notice due to adverse weather conditions. (Of course, by Sunday afternoon, the skies were blue, and the air was full of the songs of the lark. But that’s Sod’s Law for you.)
There was a good piece about David Maltby in Kent on Sunday, which might have whetted the appetite of anyone coming along. There are a few minor typing errors, but otherwise it tells the all too familiar wartime story of a life cut shot and a widow and infant child left behind. You can still read it in an archived online edition here (scroll through the paper to pages 24 and 25).
If you didn’t get to see the Lancaster/Spitfire/Hurricane flypast in Derbyshire last week, you have another chance to see at least one of these this coming Sunday, when the Kent Spitfire takes part in the Manston fly-in, at Manston airfield near Ramsgate in Kent. This is an area ripe with Dambuster connections, as many of the test drops were carried out at nearby Reculver. There’s lots to see and do, and one of the bookstalls is being run by Your Humble Scribe, who will be happy to add a message to any of his books sold on the day.
I’ve set this blog up as a service to anyone interested in the exploits of the RAF’s famous Dambusters, 617 Squadron, during the Second World War.
The reason for my personal interest is because my uncle was David Maltby, the pilot of aircraft AJ-J, J for Johnny, on the Dams Raid on 16-17 May 1943. His was the fifth aircraft to attack the Möhne Dam and the mine it dropped was the one which caused the final breach, and its destruction.
I have written about David and his crew in my newly published book, Breaking the Dams, which is described on the related website here.