RAF News 17 June, Edition 1538

Page 24

Royal Air Force News Friday, June 17, 2022 P24

Obituary

Flt Lt Sydney Grimes

Syd helped sink Tirpitz

‘THE BEAST’: But the pride of the Nazi fleet was sunk by 617 Sqn and men like Flt Lt Sydney Grimes, pictured

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LIGHT LIEUTENANT Sydney Grimes, who has died aged 100, flew with 617 Squadron on the raid that finally sank the German battleship Tirpitz. Born near Southend-on-Sea he worked for the EKCO radio company before joining the RAF to train as a WOP/AG. After completing his training and converting to the Lancaster in April 1943, he joined 106 Squadron at Syerston as a wireless operator. His arrival in April 1943 coincided with the Battle of the Ruhr. On the 4th he flew his first operation when he attacked Kiel. A week later the target was Frankfurt. On April 13 he attacked the docks at La Spezia in Italy, a sortie in excess of 10 hours. Over the next few nights he went on three more very long-range operations, to Stettin, Pilsen and a return to La Spezia. Returning from Stettin, his Lancaster was badly damaged by flak. The ground crew counted more than 100 holes in the aircraft when they landed and it had to be written off. Duisburg was the target on May 12 and over the next three months he attacked targets in Germany, the majority in the Ruhr. By this stage, the Pathfinder Force had become well established and the raids were increasingly accurate, but losses were heavy. On July 24 Bomber Command turned its attention to Germany’s second city and major port, Hamburg. Grimes and his crew were amongst the 791 aircraft that

attacked the city. Three nights later the city was the target again, a devastating raid that caused a firestorm. Grimes returned for the third time on July 29. His final operation was on August 23, when Berlin was the target. This proved to be Bomber Command’s greatest loss of aircraft in one night so far in the war. Grimes and his crew returned safely. In a post-war interview he commented: “My crew was only the second one to finish a tour whilst I was there.” He was mentioned-indespatches.

On March 14 the important viaduct at Bielfeld was finally destroyed.

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fter serving as an instructor, Grimes and his New Zealand pilot, Flt Lt Barney Gumbley DFM, joined 617 Squadron at the end of September 1944. Their first operation on October 29 was to attack the Tirpitz, described by Prime Minister Winston Churchill as ‘The Beast’. The battleship was moored in a fjord near Tromso in Northern Norway. At the extreme range of the Lancaster carrying a Barnes Wallis 12,000lb ‘Tallboy’ bomb, the bombers mounted the raid from airfields in North Scotland. Thirty-seven Lancasters of IX and 617 Squadrons took off from Lossiemouth, Milltown and Kinloss. As they approached the battleship, the clouds rolled in to obscure it and bombs were dropped on the estimated position but no hits were registered. On November 12 another raid was mounted. This time the weather was clear and two direct hits and several near misses

resulted in the Tirpitz capsizing with great loss of life. Over the next few weeks Grimes attacked dams in south Germany and E-boat pens in the Netherlands using Tallboys. His crew bombed the synthetic oil plant at Politz

and on December 31 attacked German cruisers in Oslo Fjord. During an attack on U-boat pens near Rotterdam, his Lancaster was damaged by flak. This was followed by a series of attacks against key railway viaducts using the Tallboy.

n March 21, his crew were allocated a Lancaster B.I (Special) aircraft. This carried a crew of five and Grimes was stood down. His crew took off to attack a railway bridge near Bremen. They failed to return. Waiting for his friends back at Woodhall Spa, Sydney Grimes watched the other Lancasters return from the raid, and his anxiety turned to dread as the minutes, lengthening into hours, dragged by with no sign of them. The agonising suspense finally ended when one of the returning crewmen broke the news to him. His crew had perished. “These were my friends who I’d fought alongside,” Grimes said, “and been through so much with. If I’d had my way, I’d have been on that aircraft too.” After the loss of his crew Grimes left 617 Squadron having completed 41 operations. He joined IX Squadron briefly before finishing his flying career in September 1945 after three months with 50 Squadron. He served with the RAF in Germany before being released in the summer of 1946. He returned to work at EKCO and became an accountant rising to be a finance director. To celebrate his 100th birthday, members of the current 617 Squadron visited him in his care home. Grimes commented: “I felt honoured – it definitely made it extra special.” He died three weeks later.