Appeal launched to fund AJ-A memorial in Netherlands

The crew of AJ-A: (L-R) Sqn Ldr Melvin Young (pilot), Sgt David Horsfall (flight engineer), Flt Sgt Charles Roberts (navigator), Sgt Lawrence Nichols (wireless operator), Flg Off Vincent MacCausland (bomb aimer), Sgt Gordon Yeo (front gunner), Sgt Wilfred Ibbotson (rear gunner).

For many years a small group of Dutch citizens, headed by Jan van Dalen, have looked after the graves of the Dams Raid crew of Sqn Ldr Melvin Young in the General Cemetery of the small coastal town of Bergen. The crew were aboard Lancaster ED887, AJ-A, on the Dams Raid on 16-17 May 1943, and all seven members lost their lives when they were shot down on their return journey.

AJ-A had been the fourth aircraft to drop its Upkeep mine at the Mohne Dam and had caused a small breach. A few minutes later AJ-J dropped another mine, causing the final breach and the dam’s collapse. Young had flown on to the Eder Dam in order to take over command if anything should happen to Guy Gibson on the attack there, but in the event had nothing to do. He then set course to return home and reached the Dutch coast just before three in the morning. Then, out over the sea, he hit disaster when the gun battery at Wijk-aan-Zee fired at the rapidly disappearing Lancaster. At that stage, the aircraft was well past the last gun battery and only a few hundred yards from safety. The battery later reported shooting down an aircraft at 0258, which was almost certainly AJ-A.

The wreckage of AJ-A, photographed shortly after the Dams Raid in 1943.

Over the next few weeks, the sea yielded up the victims. Part of the wreckage was washed ashore and the first bodies – those of Melvin Young and David Horsfall – floated up on 29 May. They were buried in the General Cemetery at Bergen two days later, and were joined by the bodies of the other five which were washed up over the next thirteen days.

The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation has now been formally established to commemorate all members of 617 Squadron who lost their lives in the war. As part of this work, the Foundation plans to erect a memorial plaque to the crew of AJ-A on the seafront at Castricum-aan-Zee, which they are hoping to unveil at the time of the 75th anniversary of the crew’s burial in Bergen cemetery in late May 2018. Members of the families of the crew of AJ-A have already said that they hope to be present for this occasion.

The cost of this project is estimated to be in the region of €3500-4000. If you would like to make a donation to the Foundation to help pay for the memorial, you can do so using the PayPal link below. (You don’t need to have a PayPal account in order to make a payment – any credit card can be used.) Your donation will be gratefully received and will be acknowledged at the unveiling ceremony.



 

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Dambuster of the Day No. 26: Vincent MacCausland

MacCausland_1

Flg Off V S MacCausland
Bomb aimer
Lancaster serial number: ED887/G
Call sign: AJ-A
First wave. Fourth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing small breach. Aircraft shot down on return flight.

Vincent MacCausland was born in Prince Edward Island, Canada in 1913. He joined the RCAF in 1940, and after training as an observer and then a bomb aimer completed a first tour in 57 Squadron in late 1941. He received a commission and spent more than a year in a training unit. Keen to get back to a second tour, which was well overdue, he returned to 57 Squadron, which had by then moved to RAF Scampton, in March 1943.
MacCausland was not in the inexperienced crew which had come together with Melvin Young in a Conversion Unit and had also arrived in 57 Squadron at about the same time. Young’s crew transferred en bloc into the new 617 Squadron, but it was decided that his bomb aimer was not suitable for the mission being planned.
MacCausland obviously fitted the bill. With a tour under his belt and further experience training other bomb aimers he could be expected to slot in easily, and he was therefore drafted into Young’s crew on 14 April 1943.
In a letter home just after he had been posted into 617 Squadron he told his mother what had happened:

You are perhaps wondering what I am doing here. There is really no need to feel over anxious to know that I am back again for my second tour. I really was due back six months after Sept of 41 and had the privilege of joining a well experienced crew and on aircraft that one dreams about. To tell you the honest truth I would not have taken this on had I believed it was a doubtful move. I came up here a couple of days ago (Apr 14th) and we are on revision and conversion for the next month before going over with a few bundles for the squareheads I know that you will be feeling most anxious during those few months ahead but the time will soon pass and I know that God will be especially with us as were blessed in that first tour. I hope that we shall be writing at least two to three times per week and if you do the same, it will be much happier for us all.

Sadly, the blessings that were bestowed on him in his first tour would not follow him to his second. MacCausland delivered a perfectly placed mine as Young’s aircraft flew at the Möhne Dam, and it bounced several times and exploded at the base. The small breach that it caused wasn’t visible until the next aircraft, piloted by David Maltby, made its own approach. Between the two, the dam was destroyed.
Having been so instrumental in the destruction of the Möhne Dam, Young was detailed to act as Gibson’s deputy at the Eder. After it too was blown by Knight’s successful mine drop, Gibson, Shannon, Knight, Maudslay and Young set off for home. Unfortunately the latter two – the squadron’s two flight commanders – didn’t get back. AJ-A was shot down crossing the Dutch coast near IJmuiden, and crashed into the sea. The bodies of all its crew were washed ashore during the following two weeks.
MacCausland is buried with all his comrades from AJ-A in Bergen General Cemetery.

More about MacCausland online:
His letters in the Canadian Letters and Images Project
Flickr collection by Joel Joy
Article in the PEI Guardian, including interview with his sister
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

KIA 17 May 1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Arthur Thorning, The Dambuster who Cracked the Dam, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

Vincent MacCausland – new pictures

I last wrote about Vincent MacCausland some eighteen months ago, and reported on some letters and pictures which had been found in Canada by Joel Joy. Joel has now pulled everything together in a Flickr page, and added some more pictures which he has come across.
Joel is doing a grand job researching the lives of the Canadian Dambusters, and we can expect more material as and when he unearths it.

Vincent MacCausland: letters and images

Nearly two years ago, I published a post about an interview with the sister of Vincent MacCausland which I had found online. This was printed in his hometown paper, the Prince Edward Island Guardian, on the 65th anniversary of the Dams Raid. Now a lot more material about him has come to light.
MacCausland was the bomb aimer in Dinghy Young’s crew in Lancaster ED887, AJ-A, and was therefore responsible for dropping the fourth mine of the night, the one which caused the initial small breach in the Möhne Dam, later broken completely by David Maltby and his crew.
Joel Joy has been collecting further information about MacCausland, and has come up with a number of new bits of information and photographs which he has kindly allowed me to publish here.
Vincent MacCausland joined the RCAF in 1940, and after training as an observer and then a bomb aimer completed a first tour in 57 Squadron. He received a commission and appears to have returned to 57 Squadron, which had by then moved to RAF Scampton, for a second tour in March 1943. He was then drafted into a crew of newly qualified personnel allocated to the experienced pilot Melvin Young, when their original bomb aimer was found to be unsuitable. Young was the commander of 57 Squadron’s C Flight, and when the call came out for experienced crews to join the new 617 Squadron to undertake a special secret operation, the entire flight was moved across the base. These were the crews captained by Melvin Young, Geoff Rice, Bill Astell and Sgt Lovell. (The last was only to stay a few days, and were transferred back to 57 Squadron.)
Intensive training followed. Young was put in charge of A Flight, which gave him a number of extra responsibilities, including organising much of the training schedules.
One of the remarkable discoveries made by Joel Joy is that some of Vincent MacCausland’s letters home are in a Canadian archive, the Canadian Letters and Images Project, based in Vancouver. They go back to 1940, when he first joined the RCAF.
Only one, written on 17 April 1943, survives from this period. In it he writes:
You are perhaps wondering what I am doing here. There is really no need to feel over anxious to know that I am back again for my second tour. I really was due back six months after Sept of 41 and had the privilege of joining a well experienced crew and on aircraft that one dreams about. To tell you the honest truth I would not have taken this on had I believed it was a doubtful move. I came up here a couple of days ago (Apr 14th) and we are on revision and conversion for the next month before going over with a few bundles for the squareheads I know that you will be feeling most anxious during those few months ahead but the time will soon pass and I know that God will be especially with us as were blessed in that first tour. I hope that we shall be writing at least two to three times per week and if you do the same, it will be much happier for us all.
Sadly, the blessings that were bestowed on him in his first tour would not follow him to his second. Having been so instrumental in the destruction of the Möhne Dam, Young was detailed to act as Gibson’s deputy at the Eder. After it too was blown by Knight’s successful mine drop, Gibson, Shannon, Knight, Maudslay and Young set off for home. Unfortunately the latter two – the squadron’s two flight commanders – didn’t get back. AJ-A was shot down crossing the Dutch coast near IJmuiden, and crashed into the sea. The bodies of all its crew were washed ashore during the following two weeks.
All seven are buried in the cemetery near Bergen.
Two more contemporary items are shown here. These are the missing and death notices published in the Toronto Globe and Mail. The first of these, from June 1943, gives the names of all the Canadians who went missing on Operation Chastise (including John Fraser, who was later discovered to have baled out and been sent to a PoW camp). The second, from December, gives the list of those confirmed dead.
Post edited, November 2010. The correct number for the aircraft AJ-A piloted by Sqn Ldr HM Young on the Dams Raid was ED887/G.

Bomb aimers remembered

As a child, I was always told that my uncle, David Maltby, had dropped the bomb that caused the breach of the Möhne Dam. This impression is certainly given in the Gibson and Brickhill books and in the 1955 film. In his book, Enemy Coast Ahead, Gibson quotes Melvin Young as saying, ‘I think I’ve done it, I’ve broken it’, after he had dropped the fourth mine. Gibson’s then told him he hadn’t, but that it might go after the next attack. And so it proved. Maltby’s mine was dropped in exactly the right place, and caused the main breach.

Nowadays football statistics record both the goal scorer and the player who ‘assists’ by providing a cross, knock back or deflection. In this case, I don’t think it really matters whether history records the breach as Maltby assisted by Young, or Young assisted by Maltby.

Melvin Young’s aircraft was shot down over Holland on the return flight, and the whole crew were killed, so we don’t know what he would have said afterwards. To David Maltby’s credit, he never claimed the breaking of the dam as entirely his work – the answer he gave to the debriefing questionnaire, minutes after he landed, states quite clearly that, during his approach, he saw that Young’s mine had made a small breach, and made a split second decision to turn slightly to port. Whether Young’s small breach on its own would have resulted in a complete collapse of the dam is something that will never be known. The dam was obviously immensely strong and it may well have needed two explosions to break it. What is quite clear is that only two mines out of the five which were dropped at the Möhne were delivered correctly, and, between them, they broke the dam. Barnes Wallis’s calculations were proven to be good.

The two bomb aimers responsible for these pinpoint drops were John Fort in David Maltby’s aircraft and Vincent MacCausland in Young’s. On the 65th anniversary of the raid, and of her brother’s death a few hours later, MacCausland’s sister, Estelle Sewell, has given an interview to the MacCausland home town newspaper on Prince Edward Island, on the east coast of Canada. She still remembers when the news arrived that he was missing:

“I was out in the yard raking and one of the store people drove in and he had news that Vincent was missing,” she says emotionally of the arrival of that dreaded telegram. “And we didn’t hear anything again for about six months. At the end of six months we were told that he was missing and believed killed.”

The family would later learn that the bodies of MacCausland and four of the AJ-A crew had washed ashore in late May 1943. They were buried in a cemetery in Bergen, Holland, not far from where the plane crashed.

“He had no regrets at all (about signing up for the war effort),” Sewell says of her brother, who died in the line of duty 65 years ago today.

“He was such an organized person. When he made his decision to do something, he’d follow through and that’s the way he lived.”

Vincent MacCausland and Melvin Young died that night. John Fort and David Maltby lived, but their luck would run out too, just under four months later, on a wet and windy September night over the North Sea. It’s a sobering thought when you realise that of the 133 airmen who flew on the Dams Raid only 49 survived to the end of the war.