Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tribute to the "Dambusters" (617 Squadron)

1. WW2 "Dambusters" tribute 
(with photographs and autographs)
2. 50th anniversary tribute of the dams raid (1943 - 1993)

3. Exhibits telling the WW2 story of 617 Squadron
4. A Barnes Wallis "Bouncing Bomb" on display
 Photographs taken at: 
the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Museum
(Based at the wartime R.A.F. East Kirkby airfield)
For additional information click on 'Comments' below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

The creation of a legendary squadron: "The Dambusters"

At the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Museum, based at the wartime airfield of R.A.F. East Kirkby, there are a number of tributes to those who served in Bomber Command during WW2 and the squadrons to which they belonged. One of the most prominent tribute at this museum is one dedicated to 617 Squadron, otherwise known as "The Dambusters" (sometimes written as two words "Dam Busters") [Photograph No. 1]. This features the photographs and signatures of a number of those who served with the "Dambusters" squadron during and shortly after the war.

In another part of the museum is a 50th anniversary tribute of 617 Squadron featuring stained glass panes commemorating the first 50 years of the squadron's history - between 1943 and 1993 [Photograph No. 2]. The reason why 617 Squadron is one of the best known and most celebrated R.A.F. squadrons of the war can be found in yet a third exhibition, principally dedicated to the first successful mission of 617 Squadron, the one that led to it being known henceforth as "The Dambusters" [Photograph No. 3].

This first mission of 617 Squadron, the one which gave it its name and its motto, 'Operation Chastise', was the successful destruction of three major German dams on the Ruhr - the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe. These three dams were being used to supply water and power for German industry, which at that time was primarily given over to war production. The Commander of 617 Squadron for 'Operation Chastise' was Wing Commander Guy Gibson, V.C., D.S.O. and bar, D.F.C. and bar, Legion of Honour (1918 - 1944). It was after 'Operation Chastise' that Guy Gibson was awarded his Victoria Cross.

The successful bombing of the three German dams was achieved by the use of the legendary "Bouncing Bomb" designed by Barnes Wallis, one of which can also be seen at the Lincolnshire Aviation History Museum [Photograph No. 4]. The successful mission immediately became the stuff of legends. The 1955 film "The Dam Busters" tells the story of the formation and first mission of 617 Squadron based on the 1951 book of the same name by Paul Brickhill and the Guy Gibson V.C.'s autobiography, "Enemy Coast Ahead", first published in 1946. The film's release cemented the legendary status of 617 Squadron and those who had served in it during the war.

The squadron was formed at R.A.F. Scampton and its original members included aircrew from the R.A.F., R.C.A.F. and R.N.Z.A.F. For this first special mission 617 Squadron was commanded by Wing Commander Guy Gibson. Most, although not all, members of 617 Squadron for this first, special mission were volunteers. Although it was this first mission that led 617 Squadron to attain its legendary status, there have been exploits by later members of the squadron during the war and afterwards when they have been required to do so.

After the war many have questioned the role of Bomber Command in the war and in particular the bombing of the German dams, which were not specific military targets. Whatever the rights or wrongs of this kind of warfare is not the subject of this article. That is the luxury of being able to look back with hindsight on historical events. Rather, this article is about paying tribute to the courage and determination of those who served and fought as members of 617 Squadron during the war in almost impossible circumstances.

Sunday, 28 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The training for 'Operation Chastise'

Throughout April 1943 Lancaster bombers of the newly-formed 617 Squadron trained intensively in low-level night flying, navigation and bombing. In carrying out this training, the crews flew over 1,000 hours.

In early May 1943 617 Squadron carried out simulated attacks on reservoirs near Uppingham, Colchester and Sheffield which had a reasonably similar style to the three German dams. As the planned mission date drew closer, between 11 and 14 May the crews dropped practise bombs at a secluded beach at Reculver near Herne Bay, Kent.

During these critical weeks the supporting ground crew were continually engaged in maintenance and adapting both the bombs and the aircraft to meet the special needs of this mission. The bomb doors and mid-upper gun turrets were removed and VHF radios fitted to improve communication between the aircraft.

As the 'bouncing bomb' needed to be delivered at the specific height of 60 feet (just over 18 metres) above the water surface two spotlights were fitted on the aircraft, on the nose and the underbelly. The spotlights were set to intersect when the aircraft was flying at exactly 60 feet (18 metres). It was a problem solved by the simple application of mathematics and engineering.

Thus, by mid-May 1943 the squadron was as ready as it would ever be to carry out this most daring and dangerous mission.

Sunday, 28 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

'Operation Chastise' (16 - 17 May 1943)

On 13 May 1943 the 'bouncing bombs' to be used for 'Operation Chastise' were delivered. Two days later, on 15 May, Wing Commander Guy Gibson briefed four of the other key officers about the raid: Squadron Leader Henry Maudsley, Squadron Leader H. M. "Dinghy" Young, Flight Lieutenant John V. Hopgood and Flight Lieutenant Robert ('Bob') Hay. The first two of these four were 617 Squadron's flight commanders, "Dinghy" Young was Guy Gibson's deputy for the attack on the Möhne dam and Bob Hay was the squadron's bombing leader.

Briefing of the rest of the crew - the pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, gunners, took place the following day. The preparations were complete and the hour of destiny drew ever closer. The mission, with nineteen Lancaster bombers involved, took place on the night of 16 / 17 May 1943.

Below is a brief overview of the plan for 'Operation Chastise'.

Formation No. 1 - made up of nine aircraft in three groups.
Its principal mission was to attack the Möhne dam. If any aircraft had bombs remaining they would then attack the Eder dam.

Formation No. 2 - made up of five aircraft.
This formation would attack the Sorpe dam.

Formation No. 3 - made up of five aircraft.
This formation would act as a 'mobile reserve', taking off a little after the first two formations either to bomb the main three dams if they had not been breached by the other formations or attack three smaller secondary dams: the Lister, the Ennepe and the Diemel.
(N.B. Two crews were unable to take part in the mission due to illness).

The Operations Room - this was at No 5 Group H.Q. at St Vincent's Hall, Grantham, Lincolnshire.

Key code words for the mission, transmitted by Morse code, included the following:
"Goner" - meaning "bomb dropped";
"Nigger" - meaning the the Möhne had been breached, divert to the Eder ("Nigger" was the name of Guy Gibson's black labrador which was tragically run over and killed on the morning of the raid);
"Dinghy" - meaning the Eder had been breached, divert to the Sorpe ("Dinghy" was the nickname of Squadron Leader H.M. Young who had twice survived crash landings in the sea;
"Mason" - meaning all aircraft return to base.

Sunday, 28 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Outcome of the mission

Two of the dams were breached and the third one damaged. Of the 19 aircraft that took part in the mission, 8 were shot down, 53 aircrew were killed and 3 were taken prisoner. In Germany, casualties on the ground included German civilians Allied and Soviet P.O.W.s and forced labourers.

Of the surviving aircrew, in addition to Guy Gibson's Victoria Cross, a further 33 were decorated as follows:
5 Distinguished Service Orders (D.S.O);
10 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 4 bars (D.F.C.);
2 Conspicuous Gallantry Medals (C.G.M.);
11 Distinguished Flying Medals (D.F.M.) and one bar.

It had been a difficult mission and a costly one in the numbers of aircrew lost and those on the ground who were lost. Yet, the number of gallantry awards showed how the high esteem that the men who took part in the raid were held at the time.

Sunday, 28 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

617 Squadron after 'Operation Chastise'

On 27 May 1943, just 10 days after the raid on the German dams, King George VI and his consort Queen Elizabeth, visited 617 Squadron at R.A.F. Scampton. They met with members of the squadron and were shown models of the dams that had been attacked.

King George VI approved 617 Squadron's badge and motto: "Après moi le Deluge", a saying attributed by some to the French King Louis XV and by others to his principal 'confidante', Madame de Pompadour. Wing Commander Guy Gibson, V.C. was withdrawn from flying due to the high number of raids he had been on and relinquished command of 617 Squadron. He went on a goodwill tour of Canada and the United States, accompanying Prime Minister Winston Churchill's party across the Atlantic. The following year, on 19 September 1944, Guy Gibson, V.C., D.S.O. and bar, D.F.C. and bar was killed while flying on a mission to the Netherlands, aged 26.

Initially, Guy Gibson was replaced as C.O. of 617 Squadron by Wing Commander G.W. Holden (August 1943). He too, was killed on a mission, in September 1943. The squadron was then temporarily commanded by Squadron Leader H.B. ("Micky") Martin, who had taken part in Operation Chastise and awarded the D.S.O. for that mission.

From November 1943 until July 1944 the "Dambusters" Squadron was commanded by Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, Like Guy Gibson, Leonard Cheshire would go on to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Since March 1943 Leonard Cheshire had been Station Commander at RAF Marston Moor (hence the rank of Group Captain, the youngest in the R.A.F.). Disliking a ground based posting Leonard Cheshire pushed for a return to an operational posting - which led to his posting as C.O. of 617 Squadron.

During his time with 617 Squadron Leonard Cheshire pioneered a new method of marking enemy targets for No. 5 Group of Bomber Command. This involved flying in at a very low level despite strong defences. Initially this was done by a De Havilland Mosquito and later a North American Mustang. A Mustang was sent to Leonard Cheshire from the United States 8th Air Force, arriving on the morning of a planned raid. He had the Mustang assembled as soon as possible during the day and then flew it to test its usefulness as a marker aircraft. He was able to accurately mark that night's target, a V 1 storage depot, and then flew the Mustang back in the dark.

Between July and December 1944 the C.O. of 617 Squadron was Wing Commander J.B. ("Willie) Tait D.S.O. & three bars, D.F.Cc & bar. Under his command, 617 Squadron took part in bombing missions of a series of V 1 storage sites and V 2 launch sites using the Barnes Wallis "Tallboy" earthquake bomb. It was also under his command that 617 Squadron took part in the successful attack of the German battleship "Tirpitz" (November 1944). The C.O.s of 617 Squadron for the remainder of the war were Wing Commander J.E. ("Johnny") Fauquier (December 1944 - April 1945), Wing Commander J.E. Grindon (April 1945 - June 1945) and Wing Commander C. Fothergill (June 1945 - April 1946).

Between its formation in 1943 and the end of the war in 1945 the "Dambusters" Squadron carried out 1,599 sorties and 32 aircraft were lost. The Squadron was disbanded in December 1955. The Squadron was reformed on 1 May 1958 and disbanded for a second time on 1 April 2014 (although the M.O.D. suggested it would be reformed again within a few years).

In addition to the tributes at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Museum, the main "Dambusters" memorial and 617 Squadron memorial are at Woodhall Spa in the heart of the "Bomber county" of Lincolnshire. They are located in Royal Square, Woodhall Spa which was formerly the site of the Royal Hydro Hotel and Winter Gardens. The hotel and gardens were destroyed by a bomb in 1943.

Sunday, 28 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Battle Honours of 617 Squadron

These are the battle honours of 617 Squadron, the "Dambusters":

(a) Second World War
Fortress Europe (1943-1945), The Dams (1943), Biscay Ports (1944), France and Germany (1944 - 1945), Normandy (1944), Tirpitz (1944), Channel and North Sea (1944 - 1945), German Ports (1945).

(b) Post-war
Gulf War 1991, Iraq 2003.
(All but the Gulf War may be emblazoned on the Squadron's Standard)


Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Museum,
East Kirkby, Spilsby, Lincolnshire.

The Dambusters website

Sunday, 28 September, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Further reading and information

Click on the following link to the website of the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Museum:
Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Museum website

Click on the foillowing link to the R.A.F. (M.O.D.) website page about 617 Squadron:
R.A.F. website (617 Squadron)

Click on the following link to "The Dambusters" website:
The Dambusters (website)

Sunday, 28 September, 2014  

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