The Story of Dambuster AJ-M



The Dambusters Raid is without doubt one of the most well known bombing raids of WWII. It was also very costly in loss of life, both for the aircrew taking part and those on the ground that were killed in the resulting floods. This page pays tribute to the crew of one of the Lancasters lost on the raid.

The official name of the raid was Operation Chastise. It was carried out by No. 617 Squadron RAF. Initially the squadron was simply called "X" Squadron. After the war it was more popularly known as the Dambusters Squadron.
 

Superb Dambuster painting by Mark Postlehwaite

The attack was carried out on the night of 16-17 May 1943 using a specially developed "bouncing bomb" that was invented by Barnes Wallis. By skipping the bomb across the surface of a lake and providing a back spin, it was able to cross anti-torpedo nets protecting the dams before coming to rest against the dam wall. As it then sank, a hydrostatic fuse detonated the device and breached the dam wall.
  A surviving example of the Barnes Wallis bouncing bomb

Two of the dams attacked were breached - the Mohne and Eder. This resulted in catastrophic flooding of the Ruhr valley. A third dam, the Sorpe, sustained only minor damage due to it being of a different design.

617 Squadron was led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, a veteran of over 170 bombing missions. A total of 21 bomber crews were selected for the raid and they trained by flying at very low level and at night.


Wing Commander Guy Gibson, leader of 617 Squadron

On the night before the raid, Gibson's black labrador dog "Nigger" was accidentally run over by a truck outside the entrance gate to RAF Scampton (just north of Lincoln). Gibson instructed that the dog be buried outside his office while the raid was carried out. His grave remains in the same place today.

Niggers grave outside Gibson's office at RAF Scampton

The Lancaster aircraft left in three waves. Of the 19 aircraft that took part, only 11 returned. Lancaster ED925 "M" for Mother, flown by Flight Lieutenant Hopgood, was one of the aircraft that did not make it home. The crew were:

Pilot - F/Lt J. V. Hopgood DFC & Bar RAF
Navigator - F/O K. Earnshaw RCAF
Flt Eng - Sgt C Brennen RAF
Wireless Op - Sgt J. W. Munchin RAF
Bomb Aimer - F/Sgt J. W. Fraser RCAF
Front Gunner - P/O G. H. F. G. Gregory DFM RAF
Rear Gunner - P/O A. F. Burcher IDFM RAAF



Pilot of AJ-M - F/Lt J. V. Hopgood

Taking part in the First Wave, ED925 was hit by anti-aircraft fire around Dulmen on the outbound flight. This left the wireless operator, Sgt John Minchin, with a severe leg wound and Hopgood with a facial injury. It is also thought that P/O Gregory was mortally wounded.

As Hopgood made the second run in to the target at 0030 hrs after Gibson, coloured tracer shells hit the aircraft, which was flying at just 60 feet above the water, and a ribbon of flame was observed to stretch back from an inboard engine. The bomb fell away too late and bounced over the parapet of the dam onto a powerhouse below, detonating on impact.


The Mohne Dam photographed after the raid by F/O Jerry Fray of No. 542 Squadron RAF from his Spitfire PR IX.

As Hopgood struggled for altitude, the crew desperately tried to vacate the aircraft. F/Sgt Jim Fraser unpacked his parachute within the confines of his cramped compartment, opened a hatch and let the material be caught by the slipstream. The canopy filled with air and, after a brief descent, he hit the ground without injury.

Painting by Len Krenzler depicting AJ-M after it had crossed the top of the dam

P/O Tony Burcher, the tail gunner, helped Sgt John Minchin (who had a serious leg wound) out of the aircraft before quickly following, Hopgood screaming at him over the intercom to get out quickly. Burcher landed heavily and was unable to walk but survived. The others, including Minchin, did not. The shattered aircraft, ripped apart by an exploding fuel tank, crashed into a field at Ostonnen at 0034 hrs, six kilometres beyond the dam. The bodies of the remaining crew (Hopgood, Brennan, Earnshaw and Gregory) were recovered by the Germans later in the day.

The wreckage of AJ-M after the raid

Plaque at the crash site of AJ-M

Part of ED925 AJ-M that was collected in the '60s and is now in the warbirdsite.com collection. From looking at the structure of Lancaster bombers, it is possible that this is part of the floor structure in the bomb bay area.

Credits:

Chris Ward & Andreas Wachtel, Dambuster Crash Sites
Dambustersblog.com
www.actionart.ca

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