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
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.
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
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
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
Plaque at the crash site of
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.
Chris Ward & Andreas Wachtel, Dambuster Crash Sites
to Museum Index here