Coming soon

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, The Complete Dambusters, will be published by History Press on 1 May. More details and some exclusive preview pages will follow, but for the moment, here is the link to the publishers website:
The Complete Dambusters: History Press

and the official blurb.

“On 16 May 1943, nineteen Lancaster aircraft from the RAF’s 617 Squadron set off to attack the great dams in the industrial heart of Germany. Flying at a height of 60ft, they dropped a series of bombs which bounced across the water and destroyed two of their targets, thereby creating a legend. The one-off operation combined an audacious method of attack, technically brilliant flying and visually spectacular results, but while the story of the raid is well known, most of the 133 men who took part in the raid are just names on a list. They came from all parts of the UK and the Commonwealth and beyond, and each of them was someone’s son or brother, husband or father. This is the first book to present their individual stories.”

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AJ-A memorial unveiling confirmed for Friday 18 May at 11am

News just in from the appeal for a memorial near the spot on the Dutch coast where Melvin Young’s AJ-A was shot down returning from the Dams Raid, early in the morning of Monday 17 May 1943.

Local organiser Jan van Dalen has announced that the appeal has now raised over €4600, and that a local stonemason has been commissioned. The unveiling of the memorial will take place at 11.00 am local time on Friday 18 May 2018, at Castricum aan Zee. The ceremony is near the beach entrance and relatives of the crew, donors, members of 617 Squadron Association and members of the public are all welcome at the unveiling.

The crew are buried in the nearby Bergen General Cemetery for any attendees who want to go on to the cemetery to pay their respects.

Pic: Wikimedia

 

Jackson’s new WW1 film means further delay for Dambusters remake

Peter Jackson was in London this week promoting his new cinema project, using all his studio’s technical skills to bring new life to jerky film footage shot during the First World War. The Imperial War Museum apparently holds many hours of this material: it is being enhanced by Jackson and his team, and combined with audio interviews recorded in later years to make a full length feature film.

Everyone would agree that this is a very worthy venture, and that it will also showcase the cinematic techniques for which the Jackson team is justifiably famous. However, anyone with an interest in a certain other project which is supposed to be in his studio’s pipeline will feel more than a little deflated that this would now appear to be his priority. We are, of course, talking about the remake of the 1955 film The Dam Busters, which has now been on the cards for almost 15 (yes 15!) years.

This thought occurred to Zoah Hedges-Stocks, a journalist on the Daily Telegraph, who has noted the box office success achieved by a couple of recent Second World War-themed films:

“With both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour nominated for Oscars and making millions at the box office, cinema-goers appear to have rediscovered the power of a good Second World War movie,” her article begins. “But another big-budget, awards-worthy tale of wartime bravery was supposed to have been released before them both – Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1955 classic The Dam Busters.”

Hedges-Stocks goes on to explore the twists and turns taken by the remake in a 3,ooo word article which is an excellent summary of the sad story. It contains copious quotations from your always-humble correspondent, but that is not the only reason why it should be commended. As well as pointing out the continued public appetite for Second World War stories, she has placed the original film in its historical context.

Predictably, Jackson’s studio did not reply to the Telegraph’s email queries. One day, perhaps, they will tell us all what the hell is going on.

[NB: You may have to register with the Telegraph to read Hedges-Stocks’s article in full. However, you get one free Premium article a week, so bookmark this one for the future, if you’ve already used up your quota. It will be worth it, honest!]

Guy Gibson’s Ghost and the Sunday Express

Sunday Express extracts from the Enemy Coast Ahead manuscript, published on 3 December, 10 December, 17 December, 24 December and 31 December 1944.

In the early spring of 1944 Wg Cdr Guy Gibson VC DSO & Bar DFC & Bar was working in an office at the Air Ministry in London, ostensibly in a job in the Directorate for the Prevention of Accidents. But his real work was to write a book about Bomber Command, told through his own experiences as a pilot who had been actively involved from the first day of the war up to the Dams Raid.

Gibson worked on the book, given the title Enemy Coast Ahead, for most of the next few months, finishing a draft some time in the summer of 1944. Some of the text was copied almost word for word from a couple of long articles published in December 1943 in the American magazine Atlantic Monthly and the Sunday Express. These were almost certainly written by ghost writers – the American text by a certain Flt Lt Roald Dahl, who was then based in the British Embassy in Washington DC, and the UK text by an unknown PR officer in the Air Ministry in London.

All the time he was writing, Gibson chafed at being confined to a ground job, and pushed his superiors to allow him back in the air. Eventually they relented and he flew his first operation for over a year on 19 July 1944, in a Lancaster from 630 Squadron, based at East Kirkby, on an operation attacking the V1 flying bomb site near Criel in France. Three more operations would follow in August and September, before he took off from Woodhall Spa on what would be his final trip on 19 September.

A few weeks previously, he had finished work on the final typescript of Enemy Coast Ahead going through the corrections and amendments proposed by various people in the Air Ministry and writing a series of handwritten notes which were pinned to the final version.

After his death, the manuscript was sent to the publishers, Michael Joseph, where it went through a further editorial process. But while this was going on, in December 1944, a series of six articles based on the draft appeared in the Sunday Express, all credited to Gibson. Even though many people now knew of his death, it had not been officially announced. Nowhere in the text is his status as ‘missing’ mentioned,  so the general public must have thought that there was nothing amiss.

Five of the six articles can be seen by anyone with a subscription to the UK Press Online site (also available in some libraries). They are shown above in thumbnail version. The final one – which appeared on Sunday 7 January 1944 – appears to be missing from the archive.

The following day, Monday 8 January, Gibson’s death was officially announced, and many tributes and obituaries would follow. But it is ironic that over the previous six weeks the Sunday Express articles had carried on being published, almost as though they were genuinely ghost-written.
[Source: Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin, 1995.]

Season’s greetings from Dambusters Blog

‘In the bleak midwinter, frosty winds made moan’ goes the old carol. However, here on the western coast of Europe, it looks as though we might have a mild and wet festive season. Never mind!
The month of May this year brought the millionth visitor to this blog, and as of today we’ve added nearly one hundred thousand since. So please keep checking us out for all the latest Dambuster news. And whatever the weather wherever you are, let me wish you all the best for Christmas and the New Year!

Seasonal picture above by Maria Mekht of Unsplash. A great site for royalty free pictures and images!

Dams Raid 75th anniversary: first events announced

A 617 Squadron Lancaster dropping a dummy ‘Upkeep’ bomb during testing of the weapon at Reculver in Kent, a few days before the Dams Raid on 16/17 May 1943. [Pics: stills from film in the IWM collection]

The information originally published in this entry is now out of date. For the updated list of events in May 2018 go to this post: Dams Raid 75th anniversary: updated calendar of events.

 

Filming the Dam Busters

Pic: Jan Kmiecik

Michael Anderson’s 1955 film The Dam Busters is being shown again on ITV4 this afternoon – the second screening on this channel in the last six days!

Experience shows that this will result in a number of first time visitors reading this blog, so if this is you, welcome aboard. This is the one-stop shop for all Dambuster-related news and information, coming to you regularly for almost ten years. I try to publish several items every month so please check back regularly. You can ensure you see every post by clicking the “Follow blog by email” button in the right hand column.

If you are searching today for information on when Peter Jackson’s much delayed remake of the 1955 film will appear, the news is simply that there is no news. Jackson bought the rights to remake the film back in 2006. Since then he has announced that a director has been appointed and a script commissioned and that a number of life size model Lancasters have been built. But since that time, he has been very busy making three Hobbit films and is now working on a number of other projects, including another series of fantasy films, these based on the Mortal Engines books. It is notable that the Dambusters remake no longer appears in Jackson’s IMDB listing.

The reshowing of the 1955 film does however give me a good excuse to show this picture again, kindly sent to me by Jan Kmiecik, whose father was Flt Sgt Joe Kmiecik, a Second World war veteran who took part in the filming of The Dam Busters in 1954.

The picture shows the three Lancasters used in the film flying together probably for the last time. This was taken at a Battle of Britain Day tribute at Silloth in Cumbria, probably in 1955. Note that only two of the aircraft have been modified to the “Dambuster” configuration, with a dummy “bouncing bomb” and no mid upper turret. The central Lancaster must be NX782, which was left as standard and used in an early sequence in the film where Gibson is completing his final flight as CO of 106 Squadron.

Note also how low the three Lancasters are flying, and how close they are to the members of the public wandering across the runway. Modern air displays have much stricter health and safety rules!