50 Squadron photograph shows 16 Dambusters together

Pic: Frank Pleszak

Of the 133 men who flew on the Dams Raid in May 1943, some 26 had previously flown in one of the RAF’s crack bomber squadrons, 50 Squadron based at RAF Skellingthorpe. Of these, Flt Lt Mick Martin DFC and his mainly Australian crew had finished a tour in October 1942, and had gone on to instructional duties. In February 1943 most of the rest were still based at Skellingthorpe, when the photograph seen above was taken. So this represents the largest single group of Dams Raid participants pictured together before the raid.

A recent post on a Friends of Skellingthorpe Facebook page led to the identification of a number of men in the group photograph. Thanks are due to the people who participated in this, and to Christina Spencer who originally posted the picture.

As of 7 October 2020, the following 16 men have been identified [Ranks and decorations as of 16 May 1943]:

Maudslay crew (AJ-Z on Dams Raid)
Sqn Ldr Henry Maudslay DFC (pilot)
Sgt Jack Marriott DFM (flight engineer)
Flg Off Robert Urquhart DFC (navigator)
Flg Off William Tytherleigh DFC (front gunner)

Knight crew (AJ-N)
Plt Off Les Knight (pilot)
Sgt Ray Grayston (flight engineer)
Flg Off Sydney Hobday (navigator)
Flt Sgt Robert Kellow (wireless operator)
Flg Off Edward Johnson (bomb aimer)
Sgt Fred Sutherland (front gunner)
Sgt Harry O’Brien (rear gunner)

Gibson crew (AJ-G)
Plt Off Harlo Taerum (navigator)
Flt Lt Richard Trevor-Roper DFM (rear gunner)

Hopgood crew (AJ-M)
Flg Off Kenneth Earnshaw (navigator)
Flt Sgt John Fraser (bomb aimer)

Shannon crew (AJ-L)
Sgt Brian Jagger (front gunner)

It is believed that the following were still at Skellingthorpe at the time, but they are yet to be identified in the picture:
Sgt Norman Burrows (rear gunner, AJ-Z)
Wrt Off Alden Cottam (wireless operator, AJ-Z)
Plt Off John Fuller (bomb aimer, AJ-Z)
Plt Off Frederick Spafford (bomb aimer, AJ-G)

Please get in touch if you can spot any of these.

[Thanks to Frank Pleszak, Shere Fraser McCarthy, Tamara Sutherland and Jim Heather for help with this.]

AJ-Z memorial to be unveiled in May

The crew of AJ-Z, killed returning from the attack on the Eder Dam, 17 May 1943. L-R: Henry Maudslay, Jack Marriott, Robert Urquhart, Alden Cottam, John Fuller, William Tytherleigh, Norman Burrows. [Collage of pics: © Dambusters Blog]

The memorial to the Dams Raid crew skippered by Henry Maudslay will be unveiled on 17 May 2019, near where they were shot down in the early morning of 17 May 1943, seventy-six years ago. The event has been organised by local researcher Marcel Hahn.

On the Dams Raid, Henry Maudslay and his crew in Lancaster AJ-Z, had been spectators at the Möhne Dam when it was breached. The three Lancasters still with bombs on board were directed to go to the Eder dam. The attacking force quickly realised that the dam presented a much more difficult target. The lake is smaller and set in a deep valley, meaning that there is a much shorter approach which starts with a very tricky steep dive from over the Waldeck Castle. This is followed by a sharp turn to port. Given the geography, the Germans had obviously discounted the idea of an aerial attack, since there were no gun batteries in the vicinity.

David Shannon in AJ-L was the first to try an attack, and made three or four passes without releasing his mine. It was very difficult to get down to the right height after the dive, and then turn. Then Gibson told Maudslay to try, and he found it just as hard, so Shannon had another go. Two more dummy runs followed until, at last, he got the angle and speed right and dropped his mine. It bounced twice, hit the dam wall and exploded sending up a huge waterspout. At the later debriefing his effort is reported as ‘no result was seen’ but Shannon in fact felt that he had made a small breach.

Maudslay had another attempt but then something went wrong. His mine was released too late, hit the parapet and exploded. Although his aircraft was beyond the dam by the time this occurred, it may have been damaged, since his later progress home was slower than would be expected. Some reports say that something was seen hanging down below the aircraft, perhaps caused by hitting trees on the run in.

Gibson saw that AJ-Z had fired a red Very light signal after passing over the dam wall and called Maudslay on the radio: ‘Henry – Henry. Z-Zebra – Z-Zebra. Are you OK?’ Nothing was heard, so he repeated the call. This time Maudslay’s voice could be heard, although the signal was faint: ‘I think so. Stand by …’ This signal – confirmed by members of Shannon’s and Knight’s crews – was the last voice contact anyone made with AJ-Z.

In fact they would stay airborne for a further fifty minutes. At 0157, some twenty minutes after they had dropped their mine, wireless operator Alden Cottam sent a ‘Goner 28B’ message back to base, which indicates that they were making progress. At about 0230, they had reached the Rhine. The turning point on the return route was supposed to be at the town of Rees, but Maudslay headed 20 miles north of this towards Emmerich, which was defended by several Heimat light flak anti-aircraft batteries, largely manned by non-military personnel. Some of the outbound force had in fact passed over the town a few hours earlier so the batteries were on alert for the opportunity to fire on any returning crews. When AJ-Z was heard approaching Emmerich it came within range of the batteries on the south and east edges. They fired on the aircraft, and although it turned to the right to try and avoid the flak, either an engine or a fuel tank was hit, as there was a burst of flame. The aircraft lost height and crashed in a field at 0236 close to the hamlet of Osterholt, between the German town of Klein Netterden and the Dutch town of ’s Heerenberg. The following morning, German officials recovered seven bodies from the wreckage. Two were identified as Alden Cottam and Jack Marriott, but the rest were recorded as unidentified. All seven were buried in the Northern Military Cemetery at Düsseldorf, and were reburied after the war in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Reichswald Forest.

Members of the Maudslay and Marriott families are expected to attend the unveiling of the memorial, which will take place at 1430 on Friday 17 May. Other families and distinguished guests will be confirmed nearer the time. Members of the public are welcome to attend. The location is shown in the map below. Refreshments will be served afterwards in the MU-Cafe, also shown on the map.

Marcel Hahn can be reached by email here and also on the event’s Facebook page.

In a pub garden: Johnnie Tytherleigh and friends


A group of four airmen visited the Parklands Hotel in Lincoln some time in the early summer of 1941, after completing their training and before joining 50 Squadron. This photograph of three of the group was probably taken by the fourth, Sgt Walter “Wally” Layne. L-R: The landlady’s daughter, Stuart Hobson, “Woof” Welford, Johnnie Tytherleigh (with pipe), Betty Cargill, the landlady of the “The Parklands”, and Wally Layne’s then fiancée Joan Maunders. Wally and Joan were later married, and their son David Layne provided the picture.

All four of the four airmen present on this day completed their tours with 50 Squadron. Layne moved on to 97 Squadron, where he was shot down on 23 September 1943, captured and taken prisoner. He survived the war.
Tytherleigh went to 617 Squadron and was lost on the Dams Raid. He was the front gunner in Henry Maudslay’s crew in AJ-Z.
Welford went to training units and then on to 57 Squadron. He later served in India before finishing the war working in air sea rescue on Walruses.
Hobson was killed on 5 April 1943 when serving with 9 Squadron. His aircraft was a Lancaster III, ED696 coded WS-T and took off from Waddington to bomb Kiel. It was shot down by a night fighter and crashed at 2350 at Grossenaspe, 10 km south of Neumunster where the crew were buried on 8 April.

David Layne has an excellent website with which covers his father’s service in the RAF, including his time as a prisoner of war. Well worth a visit.

Dambuster of the Day No. 48: William Tytherleigh


Four airmen in the garden of a pub, believed to be “The Parklands” in Lincoln, probably in June 1941. At the time, they were all serving in 50 Squadron, then flying Hampdens at RAF Swinderby. L-R: Sgt Walter “Wally” Layne, Sgt Albert “Woof” Welford, Sgt William “Johnnie” Tytherleigh (with pipe) and Sgt Stuart “Stew” Hobson. [Pic: David Layne]

Flg Off W J Tytherleigh DFC
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED937/G
Call sign: AJ-Z

First wave. Second aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine overshot. Aircraft damaged, and shot down on return flight.

William John Tytherleigh, always known as “Johnny”, was born in Cambridge on 8 November 1921, the son of Ernest and Julia Lilley (née Bennett). His birth name was William George Lilley. His parents’ marriage broke up when he was very young, and his mother moved to London to begin a new life with Albert Tytherleigh. At some point William George Lilley became William John Tytherleigh, and the family moved to Hove in Sussex.

He joined the RAF in 1940, and qualified as an observer/air gunner the following spring. He was posted to 50 Squadron in the crew of Sgt Douglas Atkinson (who was also known by the nickname of Johnny). This crew completed a full tour in Hampdens between November 1941 and June 1942. Tytherleigh was commissioned in April 1942. At the end of their tour, he gave his pilot Atkinson an engraved gold propelling pencil, along with a handwritten message ‘To help say thank you Douglas for seeing me through – Johnny’. This was found by Atkinson’s son after the war.

After a spell in a training unit Tytherleigh rejoined 50 Squadron in the autumn of 1942. By then, they were flying Lancasters, and Tytherleigh was stationed in the mid upper turret.

On 2 February 1943, he joined up with Henry Maudslay, Robert Urquhart and Norman Burrows for the first time, on an operation to Cologne, and he flew a further eight times with this crew, until they were all transferred to 617 Squadron.

On the Dams Raid, he was occupying the front gun turret of AJ-Z, which would have meant he was very close to the explosion when its Upkeep mine went off as it hit the parapet of the Eder Dam. As their damaged aircraft stuttered homewards, it flew too close to a flak battery on the outskirts of Emmerich, and they were shot down.

When they got to the crash site, the Germans could not identify the individual remains of William Tytherleigh, Michael Fuller and Robert Urquhart, and they were buried together in a single grave. After the war, they were all reinterred in Reichswald Forest war cemetery.

Like Urquhart, Tytherleigh had been recommended for a DFC at the time of his transfer from 50 Squadron. He had completed 42 operations. However, just as happened with his colleague, the recommendation got ‘lost’ for over two years, and it was not announced until June 1945.

More about Tytherleigh online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Titherly family name website
Articles in Brighton Argus and Daily Telegraph from 2000, about a failed attempt to auction a fake letter to the Tytherleigh family.
Tytherleigh’s first tour in Sgt Douglas Atkinson’s crew in 50 Squadron

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

Further information about William Tytherleigh 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.