Wingleader Magazine - Issue 5

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1 The exciting new historic aviation magazine from Wingleader



IN THIS ISSUE Managing Director: Simon Parry (Co-Founder) Editor and Design Director: Mark Postlethwaite (Co-Founder) Technical Director: Wesley Cornell (Co-Founder) Contributors to this issue: Dave Birrell Joe McWilliams Piotr Forkasiewicz Andrew Panton Simon Parry

Editorial Submissions: If you have any editorial content (news, comment, articles etc.) that you would like us to consider for inclusion in the next edition of Wingleader Magazine, please email us at

Advertising: T: +44 (0)845 095 0346 E: W: All trademarks are the property of their respective owners. © Wingleader Magazine Ltd 2019. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used or reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. Wingleader Magazine is published by Wing Leader Ltd (08559824), registered in England and Wales. Registered office: 12 Jordan Street, Liverpool, L1 0BP, United Kingdom. All information contained in this magazine is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Wingleader Magazine cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. Any material you submit is sent at your risk and, although every care is taken, neither Wingleader Magazine nor its employees, agents or subcontractors shall be liable for loss or damage. The views expressed in Wingleader Magazine are not necessarily the views of Wing Leader Ltd, its editors or its contributors.


elcome to digital issue 5 of Wingleader Magazine. These first 12 months are an experimental period for us as we try different subjects and approaches to see what people warm to. In the past few issues we have covered a wide variety of subjects so we thought we’d now try a ‘special’ which concentrates on just one subject. The choice of the Dambusters as the subject might seem a bit predictable but it does give us the chance to show how we can bring our fresh approach to even the most popular subjects. Thanks to all the contributors who have helped create this issue, we hope you enjoy it. We now plan to feature a letters page every month so please email us using; with whatever you’d like to talk about, we’ll give a monthly prize for the letter of the month, more details soon.


Mark Postlethwaite. April 2019




he story of Operation Chastise, more commonly know as the Dambuster Raid, has been told and retold hundreds of times in books, magazines and TV documentaries over the years. It’s therefore safe to assume that everyone reading this has a working knowledge of what happened that night, so there is little need for us to re-tell the same story. Instead what we decided to do was to pull out certain features of the raid and explore the detail a little more. What does become clear when researching Operation Chastise is that it was an almost impossible combination of persistence, scientific genius, flying skills, leadership and courage that made it happen. The fact that two of the dams were successfully breached makes it even more remarkable. There is one other element missing from those above and that is sacrifice. All 19 crews knew that this special operation would be

dangerous but they all accepted the risk and faced it head on. 53 of the aircrew members lost their lives that night, a casualty rate of nearly 40%. Despite these terrible losses, ‘The Dambusters’ as they were soon known as, continued to train for and carry out special operations, losing more crews in the process including some of the highly experienced Operation Chastise survivors. Unfortunately, bomber crews knew that no matter how experienced they were, thier fate was never in their hands. A well aimed flak shell or even a badly aimed one could send them to a fiery, horrible death at any moment over enemy territory. The fact that the bomber crews faced this 30 times on a normal tour of ops makes them very special indeed and deserving of their stories being retold for future generations.

Above: The lucky ones. Surviving aircrew pictured at a party in London following their investiture at Buckingham Palace. Barnes Wallis, designer of the ‘bouncing bomb’ is bottom left. Below: The unlucky ones. The body of one of Bill Astell’s crew lies amongst the wreckage of ED864 AJ-B the morning after the raid.


On 18 February 1943, the head of RAF Bomber Command, Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, wrote the following letter to the Chief of Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal, about the ‘bouncing bomb’ project, referred to as ‘Highball’ in this letter. The Linnell he refers to is AVM Francis Linnell of the Ministry of Aircraft Production who wanted Barnes Wallis to be designing bombers for him rather than being sidetracked with Highball. The bluntness of the letter is typical Harris who was firmly against the idea from the outset.

Luckily for Barnes Wallis, Portal (right) had also been briefed, but by a supporter of the project and when he saw the successful test trial film, he allowed the development to continue. To be fair to Harris, he took a personal interest in the Operation from then on and was there to greet the crews in person on the night the Dambusters returned.






Although he proudly wore his ‘Canada’ shoulder title on his RAF uniform, Harlo ‘Terry’ Taerum was also aware of his Scandinavian roots through stories told by his Norwegian father. When Norway was occupied by the Germans in April 1940, Harlo decided to enlist in the RCAF in the hope of fighting to liberate his father’s homeland. It was the beginning of a journey that would see him do a tour of ops with RAF Bomber Command before becoming the lead navigator for the Dambuster Raid. He died on the disastrous Dortmund-Ems Raid just a few months later at the age of just 23. Dave Birrell of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada takes up the story of this quiet hero from Alberta.

Guy Gibson’s navigator, the lead navigator on the Dams Raid, was a farm boy from southern Alberta. Gibson described his ‘great pal’ as having a soft Canadian accent and as being ‘probably the most efficient navigator in the squadron’. Harlo Taerum’s mother, like millions of other wartime mothers, kept an album and it provides poignant insights into the connections between herself, her son, Guy Gibson, and the Dams Raid. The album is dark green, with an embossed pattern on the cover and ‘Scrap Book’ in large gold letters. The somewhat yellowed pages are held together with green cord. It’s an ordinary looking album until the first page is turned and one sees that it is signed, ‘Guy Gibson, September, 1943’. Harlo’s father, Guttorm Torger Taerum had emmigrated from Norway and established a farm near Milo, Alberta 90 km southeast of


Calgary. Tragically, he drowned in nearby Lake McGregor while attempting to save the lives of two boys who had fallen from their raft. Harlo was only ten years old at the time. Despite having to play a major role on the family farm and in the raising of his two younger brothers and sister, he excelled at school in Milo, the newspaper reporting that he obtained the highest number of passes during a single term since the school’s inception. After Harlo completed high school the family moved to Calgary where, according to the Calgary Herald, he was a, ‘track, baseball, and rugby football star.’ Harlo had never visited Norway but his father had often spoken to him about his beautiful homeland. His mother recalled that when Norway was invaded by the Germans and reports began to filter through of the manner in which his father’s people were being treated, Harlo enlisted in the RCAF.


Above: Harlo at home in Alberta when he was 18 years old.

After commencing training at No. 1 Air Observers Training School at Malton, Ontario during February 1941, Taerum went on to train at No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at Jarvis, Ontario, and completed the Advanced Air Navigation course at Rivers, Manitoba. Like many young aircrew, he was honoured to have his wing presented by Air Marshal Billy Bishop VC upon the conclusion of his training. Hilda Taerum’s album includes photos of Harlo as a baby, a child, and as a young man. His high school marks are carefully filed and various photos taken during his air force training are there as well. Mother’s day cards, telegrams with birthday greetings, and thank you cards for gifts are included and finally a telegram that reads,

Taerum commenced his operational training aboard Ansons and Hampdens at No. 16 OTU Upper Heyford, Oxon during August 1941 and flew his first operation against the enemy in a 50 Squadron Hampden on 2 January 1942. His brief logbook entries record being, ‘caught in searchlights’, ‘severely hit by flak’, and on March 25th, ‘crashing at Rose Vedne’.** During March the squadron began flying Manchesters. Taerum’s first flight in a Lancaster was on 14 May, an instructional sortie, but he continued his operations against the enemy in the Manchester until 25 June 1942.

“LEAVING MONDAY NO ADDRESS NOT PHONING LETTER FOLLOWING LOVE -HARLO.” Her son was on his way across the Atlantic and to war. The vast majority of novice aircrew crossed the Atlantic by sea but Harlo Taerum made the trip as the navigator of a Lockheed Hudson. Capt. H.C. Moody was the pilot and the nonstop flight was completed in a record-breaking time of 10 hours and 44 minutes from Gander, Newfoundland to Prestwick, Scotland.


Above: Harlo’s first operational posting was to 50 Squadron in the winter of 1941/42.

** On 26 March 1942, Harlo was aboard Hampden AT118 on an air-sea rescue mission looking for a missing squadron crew when it force landed in Cornwall at Rosevidney Farm, between Marazion and St Erth. The aircraft caught fire and was destroyed but all the crew escaped unharmed.


Background photo: Harlo’s second operational type was the Avro Manchester, the twin engined forerunner of the Avro Lancaster. This is an early type Manchester with the small fins and the third central fin. Later Manchesters had just two larger fins identical to the Lancaster.



Assigned to the squadron’s conversion unit, Taerum spent time as a navigation instructor and continued to fly operations but now in Lancasters, the last two to Berlin with F/Lt H.B. “Mick” Martin, an Australian who was said to be a magnificent pilot and who had gained a considerable reputation for his skill at low flying at night. Guy Gibson began selecting the members of his special squadron even though he had not been told the exact nature of the role that the newly formed 617 Squadron was to play. However he had been ordered to concentrate exclusively on low-level night flying training so Mick Martin was a natural choice. It was likely because of the impression he made on Martin that Taerum was also posted to 617 where he made his first flight as the C/O’s navigator on 4 April 1943. To have been hand-picked to be W/C Guy Gibson’s navigator is likely the greatest compliment that could have been paid to a Bomber Command navigator at that point in the war. The squadron flew intensive training sorties throughout the rest of April and into May. Hilda Taerum received a telegram from Harlo on 9 May, just one week before the raid. There was no indication of the impending action. Although he would not be told of the exact target until 15 May, there had been extensive low-level training at night and Harlo knew that he would soon be participating in a very dangerous operation. The message was simply, “BEST WISHES FROM YOUR LOVING SON EVERYTHING FINE -HARLO.” The telegram was carefully placed in the album.

lowest possible altitude in order to avoid detection by enemy radar and Taerum found himself off of the planned route when the coast was reached. Gibson wrote, We pulled up high to about 300 feet to have a look and find out where we were, then scrammed down on the deck again as Terry said ‘OK. -there’s the windmill and those wireless masts. We

As darkness approached on 16 May, Gibson prepared to lead the first group of three Lancasters to the Dams. Taerum recorded the take off at 21:40. Mick Martin, his former pilot, and F/L “Hoppy” Hopgood were the other pilots in the trio. The winds were stronger than anticipated as the Lancasters roared over the North Sea at the


Above: The famous photo of Guy Gibson and his crew boarding their Lancaster before heading to the dams on the evening of 16 May 1943. Harlo is standing on the right. Note that all crew members are wearing light clothing as it was a warm evening and the entire flight was to be conducted at low-level.

FLYING LEGENDS must have drifted to starboard. Steer new course -095 degrees magnetic, and be careful of a little town that is coming up straight ahead’. From this point the navigation was partly in the hands of P/O Spafford who was using a special roller to identify important features such as railway lines and canals and to avoid high-tension lines. Taerum and Spafford lost their way at one point and according to Martin’s rear gunner, F. Sgt. T.D. Simpson, his

aircraft arrived over the Möhne Reservoir first and then, “Hoppy and Wingco turned up.” When all was ready Gibson manoeuvred into position and announced, ‘I am going in to attack’. Taerum’s duty as the aircraft approached the dam was to make sure the aircraft was at the required sixty feet and he took his position at the perspex blister on the starboard side of the cockpit. As they approached the dam he switched on the

spotlights at 00:25 and began giving directions to Gibson, ‘down -down -down,’ and then after the lights converged on the water, ‘steady steady’. As the Lancaster hurtled towards the dam at 230 miles per hour, the lights made the huge aircraft an easy target and it came under fire from enemy guns on top of the sluice towers on the dam. Gibson’s bouncing bomb was delivered slightly short of the target, Hopgood’s Lancaster was shot down, and


Above: A painting by Mark Postlethwaite of Gibson’s bombing run. Harlo is standing in the cockpit looking out of the starboard blister and down towards the two spotlight beams. It was Harlo’s job to call the adjustment in height based upon the position of the two spotlight beams on the water’s surface.


Martin’s weapon veered off course. However the Lancasters piloted by S/L Henry Young and F/L David Maltby placed their bouncing bombs perfectly and the dam crumbled. Taerum then led the remaining aircraft to the Eder Dam that was breached as well before Gibson returned to Scampton. The daring gamble had been successful and the British made the most of it in the press. In a letter to his mother, Harlo said very little about the raid itself, ‘because you’ve probably heard more about it in the papers than I can say’. He did write that, ‘It was by far the most thrilling trip I have ever been on and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. We all got back in the mess about 5:30 in the morning and then we really did relax. . .’ Shocked by his sudden notoriety, Taerum wrote that, ‘A couple of days later five of us went to the factory where they made Lancasters and gave the workers a pep-talk. Can you imagine me giving a speech? We were just about mobbed for autographs afterwards. The next thing was five days of leave in London, and all the boys were down there so we really had a time. At the end of five days, we were ordered back to our station to meet the King and Queen. They had lunch with us in the Officers’ Mess and afterwards came out and inspected us. I was very lucky because I was introduced to both of them. The Queen is most charming and gracious. It really was quite a day.’ A telegram reading, “AWARDED DFC AS W/CDR GIBSON’S NAVIGATOR EVERYTHING FINE LOVE -HARLO” was placed in the album and Mrs. Taerum received a letter stating, ‘One morning, they

Air Chief Marshal Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris (top left), looks on as Gibson’s crew is debriefed in the early hours of 17 May 1943 after Operation Chastise. Harlo is sitting on the table, Gibson’s hat can be seen middle right, his face being hidden by his rear gunner Richard Trevor-Roper.



Harlo second left with ‘Mick’ Martin, Guy Gibson and Joe McCarthy leading a march towards the cameras at Buckingham Palace on 22 June 1943. Below: After the investiture, the airmen were invited to a dinner/party at the Hungaria Restaurant by the makers of the Lancaster, A V Roe and Co. A photo from this party appears on page three. Note the original spelling of Damn Busters!

woke me up and told me that I had been awarded the DFC. Later I had the ribbon sewn on my tunic. Can you imagine me strutting around town with it afterwards.’ On 22 June the Queen presented the Victoria Cross to Guy Gibson and numerous other medals to those who had distinguished themselves on the raid. She pinned the

Distinguished Flying Cross on Harlo Taerum’s tunic. At the dinner following the presentation, the words, ‘Damn Busters’ appeared on the menu and the term that would be forever associated with the attack was born. In a letter that described his visit to Buckingham Palace, Taerum wrote, ‘The next day Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State



for Air, came to see us. Wing Commander Gibson was away from the station so I had to reconstruct the details of the raid for him. I then got two weeks leave. When I told the C.O. I was going to South Wales, he hooked me for a Wings For Victory speech at Bridgend and I’m getting good at speeches now.’ By this time Hilda Taerum had added numerous photos and clippings related to the Dams Raid to her album. The attack, together with her son’s participation, had been frontpage news in the Calgary newspapers with headlines such as, ‘Alberta Fliers helped blast German Dams’. The album includes a front page photo from The Montreal Standard that features Harlo examining documents and photos related to the raid with Sir Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command and Air Vice-Marshal the Hon. R.A. Cochrane, and other high level officers. The medal presentations were big news in Calgary as well. The Calgary Herald’s front page article was headlined ‘Calgary Flier Receives DFC from the Queen - P/O H.T. Taerum Honoured for Raid on Dams’. The paper also reported that Mrs. Taerum was invited to watch her son being presented with his medal on the ‘moving picture screen’ in a newsreel and that, ‘Mrs. Taerum, accompanied by her younger son and daughter, was a guest of the Capitol Theatre’. Harlo’s invitation to the investiture had been sent home and this special letter was placed in the album. Photos taken following the presentation of the medals to the Dambusters, including one of Gibson with Taerum and the other six members of the RCAF who were on the raid, were carefully placed in the album.

As well there is an un-dated telegram,

Above: A page from Hilda Taerum’s album showing a photo of Harlo, (far right) with other Canadians and Guy Gibson at the Palace. Guy Gibson personally signed this page during his visit to the Taerum family home in September 1943.



FLYING LEGENDS Guy Gibson handed over command of 617 Squadron to George Holden in early August 1943. This photo taken just after Gibson’s last flight with the squadron shows Harlo third left with Gibson and Holden standing side by side in the right foreground both holding their flying helmets and oxygen masks.

W/C Guy Gibson, now VC DSO and Bar DFC and Bar had certainly earned his status as the Commonwealth’s premier war hero. But he continued to fly and resisted or avoided all efforts to rest. This concerned Arthur Harris who had to make a personal appeal to another warrior of similar character, Winston Churchill, who immediately ordered Gibson down to Chequers to take him with him on a highly publicised visit to North America. On his 25th birthday Guy Gibson arrived at Quebec City aboard the Queen Mary as

Training Plan facilities in the country, ‘so the men in the camps may be inspired to follow his example’. As he crossed Canada he very likely did inspire the young airmen with words such as, ‘We are all damn good. That’s why we’re winning this war.’ The headquarters of No. 4 Training Command in Calgary was a natural stop on Gibson’s tour, but of course he had a personal duty to fulfil there. Terry Taerum’s mother was looking forward to meeting her son’s pilot and getting some up-to-date information on how Harlo was doing.

a member of Churchill’s delegation to the Quebec Conference with U.S. President Roosevelt. Upon his arrival Gibson was asked by newsmen if the Prime Minister called him by his first name. With his reply, ‘He calls me Dambuster’, the term was introduced to Canadians and further entrenched in World War II lore. During the news conference, Air Minister Power said that Guy Gibson had been ‘loaned’ to the Royal Canadian Air Force for a time in order to visit British Commonwealth Air


The RCAF was planning to make as much as they could of Guy Gibson’s visit to Calgary and the public was very interested as well. By this time it was well known that his navigator was an Albertan and Hilda Taerum had been invited to be an important part of the visit. As the big day approached she was both excited and likely very nervous about meeting the great Wing Commander Gibson VC DSO and Bar DFC and Bar. Her album contains a paper with five type written lines on it. She was obviously rehearsing what she would say to Gibson,


“I am really very thrilled Wing Commander Gibson. I have been looking forward to meeting you.” “I feel as though I had known you for some time. Harlo has said so much about you in letters.” “How was Harlo when you last saw him?” “When you go back to England, Wing Commander Gibson, tell Harlo that we are all well at home.” “This has been a real privilege, and one I will never forget.” The plans for the day were front-page news in the 11 September Calgary Herald. The headline read, ‘V.C. Dam Buster Arrives Here Today.’ Gibson was to land in Calgary at 18:00 on 11 September. Calgarians were to be admitted to No. 3 SFTS, Currie, ‘So that the public can Hail the air hero’. Gibson was to be welcomed by AVM G.R. Howsam, Air Officer Commanding No. 4 Training Command, and Mayor Andrew Davison. The ceremony was to include a march past by station personnel to the band from No. 2 Wireless School. Then Gibson was to give a radio interview over CFAC. The route by which W/C Gibson would travel from Currie to the Palliser Hotel was outlined in great detail to provide the public another opportunity to see him. At 20:30 there was to be a second interview over CFAC, ‘during which he is expected to tell in detail how the famous raid was organized and carried out.’ Upon being introduced to Mrs. Taerum, Gibson was quoted as saying, ‘I’m awfully glad to meet you. You are the living image of him, you know - or should I say he is the living image of you? Terry is a great boy and a great navigator. He got the whole squadron to the dam.’

in W/C Gibson’s visit, for it was a young Calgarian who navigated his aircraft on the history-making raid’. Gibson’s modesty was noted as he ‘spoke little of the escapades which won for him the VC, DSO and Bar, and DFC and Bar. Rather, this young airman, probably the most famous hero yet to emerge

The Herald’s headline the following day was, ‘Terry Got Dam Busters to the Job W/C Gibson Tells His Mother Here’ and ‘Modest Dam Buster Hero Gets Enthusiastic Welcome.’ Much was made of the presence of Hilda Taerum at Gibson’s arrival, saying that, ‘Calgary has a special and hometown interest


Above: A proud moment, Hilda Taerum finally meets Guy Gibson in front of the press at 3 SFTS on 11 September 1943.

FLYING LEGENDS from the present war, led the conversation to the splendid job Canadian fliers are doing and to his, great pal, Flying Officer Harlo ‘Terry’ Taerum DFC, of Calgary.’ Gibson spent the next day in Banff and upon his return to Calgary spent several hours

saying that it was ‘one of the proudest and happiest times of her life’ and the numerous photos and newspaper clippings were placed in the album.

at the Taerum residence during the evening. It was likely at this time that Mrs. Taerum showed him her treasured album and had it autographed. As well, a newspaper photo of the two of them was signed by Gibson. The next morning he left for Vancouver by train. Hilda Taerum summed up her experience by

Four days later the telegram arrived.


Above: Four days after ‘one of the proudest and happiest times of her life’ Hilda received this telegram...


617 Squadron Lancaster EE144 KC-S had taken off from RAF Coningsby at 23:56 on 15 September to bomb the Dortmund-Ems Canal near Ladbergen. It was to be the first time that a 12,000 pound (high capacity) bomb was to be used against the enemy. KC-S had a most distinguished crew. Its pilot was the recently appointed commanding officer, S/L G.W. Holden and included four who had flown with W/C Gibson on the Dams Raid. The decorations of those aboard totalled a DSO, two DFMs, and six DFCs, including Harlo Taerum’s. The aircraft was shot down by light flak near Nordhorn as they headed towards the target at ultra low level. All aboard were killed. Terry Taerum was buried at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Kleve, Germany beside the other Canadian aboard, F/O George Deering DFC. Again, Harlo Taerum was front-page news in his hometown newspapers, the headlines reading, ‘Calgary’s Dam Buster is Reported Missing.’ Guy Gibson, who was in Montreal at the time, sent a message to Mrs. Taerum, referring to his navigator as, ‘a first class man’. Hilda Taerum dutifully placed the telegrams, clippings, and letters in the album. Harlo Taerum’s logbook, which opened with details of a map reading flight in an Anson on 10 February 1941 was closed by his friend Mick Martin who, upon the death of S/L Holden, became the Officer Commanding 617 Squadron. As one looks at the signature in the logbook, the emotion with which it was placed can only be imagined. A year later on 19 September 1944, Gibson himself was lost. He had become a staff officer but managed to fly on some operations. His

Above: Guy Gibson with the four crew members who were killed alongside George Holden on the Dortmund Ems raid. L-R Gibson, Spafford, Hutchison, Deering and Harlo Taerum. Right: Harlo’s log book showing his final entry.

last was aboard a Mosquito as Master Bomber on a raid to Rheydt and Munchen Gladbach. After completing his duties he was heard to say, ‘Okay, that’s fine, now home’. 45 minutes later his Mosquito crashed near Steenbergen. Gibson and his navigator were killed.



And then on 11 February 1945, another devastating telegram was delivered to the already battered Hilda Taerum. Terry’s younger brother Lorne, only eighteen years old, had been killed during his sixth operation when his Lancaster was shot down during an operation against the benzol fuel plant in Bottrop, Germany. After completing their bombing run, Lancaster PD221 was returning via now-liberated eastern Holland. Shortly after 20.00hrs, they were hit by gunfire from a German night-fighter and crashed near the village Westerbeek, Holland. All were killed and are buried in the cemetery of the local church. The telegrams, letters, and news clippings were placed in the album. The war, for Hilda Taerum, was over. The tragedy was complete.


Above: Lorne Taerum, Harlo’s younger brother who was killed in action on 3 February 1945 aged just 18. Left: The treasured scrap book kept by Hilda Taerum is now preserved in the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, a poignant reminder of all the young mothers who lost sons during World War II.

According to Harlo and Lorne’s nephew, “Lorne enlisted upon learning of his big brother’s death. Harlo meant so much to his younger siblings.” Now, over 70 years later, only the album remains, a silent tribute to two very brave young men and their equally brave young mother.




Of the 23 Lancasters converted to the Type 464 ‘Dambuster’ configuration eight were lost on the raid, two were lost in flying accidents and eleven were broken up for scrap after the war. The remaining two were lost on one night in December 1943 whilst flying secret operations to resupply the French Resistance. Nobody knew the exact location where these two aircraft came down until Simon Parry and his team set off to France to find ‘The last of the Dambusters’. This is the story that they unearthed.

Search for the lost Dambusters So much emphasis has been placed on the famous raid itself, that until recently little was known of the how the two ‘Dambusters’ lost on operations met their fates; ED825 and ED886. On 11/12 November 1943, both ED825 and ED886 went to war again, this time as part of a ten-strong force to the Antheor Viaduct in southern France. Their bomb load was a more conventional 12,000lb ‘Blockbuster’. The pilot of ED825 on this occasion was Flight Lieutenant O’Shaughnessy who bombed from 8,000 feet on his third run. The results were not as good as expected, with only one direct hit on the viaduct. After bombing, the squadron flew on to North Africa to refuel before making the return flight to England. In December 1943, 617 Squadron received a request for help in dropping supplies to the underground forces in France. The squadrons usually tasked with this sort of work were 138 and 161 based at RAF Tempsford, who flew a mixture of aircraft for dropping supplies and


agents into France and other places. On 8 December, four crews were detailed to fly to Tempsford, but this was postponed due to bad weather. The weather cleared the next day, so McCarthy, (who had flown ED825 on the Dams Raid), Flight Lieutenant Clayton, Flying Officer Weeden (in ED825) and Warrant Officer Bull (in ED886) took ten ground crew to Tempsford to prepare for the drop the following night. The four Lancasters took off from RAF Tempsford on 10 December 1943 bound for Doullens in France, on what would probably have seemed an ‘easy’ trip. Unlike a normal bombing raid to the heart of Germany, fighters and Flak were not predicted, especially flying at low level, and the trip was expected to be relatively short. As the aircraft approached the town of Doullens, ED825, flown by Flying Officer Weeden, was hit by anti-aircraft fire from a mobile Flak battery. A few minutes later Lancaster ED886 flown by Warrant Officer Bull was also hit by the anti-aircraft guns. Both ED825 and ED886 were immediately set afire.

Rumour of Betrayal


The two Lancasters had flown over the town of Doullens just before midnight and both were brought down by Flak coming from guns mounted on trains in the sidings. Was this a quirk of fate, or was there more to it? A rumour persists that far from it being a freak event, an informer within the Resistance network had informed the Germans that a supply drop was planned. For the supply drop to be effective the resistance workers had to set out a pattern of lights in a remote area where the signal would not be seen by the Germans at a time and location known by the SOE in London and briefed to the bomber crews. By late 1943 however, German intelligence had infiltrated the resistance network in the Amiens / Doullens area and was rapidly breaking down the organisation. Whether news of the supply drop was leaked to the Germans, or whether the Flak train pulled into Doullens by chance that night can never be proved one way or the other.

Above: A map showing the crsh sites of both Lancasters. For years, researchers thought that ED825 had crashed near Meharicourt due to the crew members being buried there. Below: ED825 was the third Type 464 to be built and was used in various trials before being sent to 617 Squadron as a spare aircraft on the day of Operation Chastise.



THE ED825 CREW 10 DECEMBER 1943 - ED825 Pilot F/O G H Weeden – Canadian buried at Meharicourt Flt Engineer Sgt A W Richardson - English buried at Meharicourt Navigator P/O R N Jones – English buried at Meharicourt Bomb Aimer W/O E J Walters – American buried at Meharicourt Wireless Op F/Sgt R G Howell – English buried at Meharicourt M/U Gunner Sgt B Robinson – English buried at Meharicourt Rear Gunner W/O R Cummings – American buried at Leubringhen, near Calais

Above, Main Photo: L-R Gordon Weeden, Edward Walters, Ralph Jones, Robert Howell, Robert Cummings. Inset top Brook Robinson, Inset bottom Arthur Richardson. Background photo: Gordon Weeden and his crew had been posted to 617 Squadron in October 1943 from 207 Squadron. They left behind their regular Lancaster LM326 EM-Z, seen here cruising over Nottinghamshire that same month. Below: Gordon Weeden’s log book from August 1943 showing his regular flights in LM326 including the Peenemünde Raid.


George ‘Chuffy’ Bull and his crew (left) had been with 49 Squadron when a signal was passed around 5 Group asking for volunteer crews with a minimum of 15 ops to apply to join 617 Squadron. Despite them not having completed 15 ops, a lack of other volunteers saw them interviewed and accepted. On 9 October 1943 they flew ED886 into the top of an oak tree, shattering the bomb-aimer’s blister. The aircraft was taken away for repairs and returned just in time for the crew to fly her on the Antheor Viaduct operation on 11 November. They then flew ED886 exclusively until that night over Doullens.

Background photo: ED886 AJ-O in formation with a standard Lancaster in the summer of 1943. The nose art, applied by Bill Townsend’s crew was of a ‘Squander Bug’ a wartime propaganda cartoon character.

10 DECEMBER 1943 - ED886 Pilot W/O G F Bull – PoW Flight Engineer Sgt C C Wiltshire - PoW Navigator Sgt C M Chamberlain - PoW Bomb Aimer Sgt J McL - Stewart buried at Terramesnil Wireless Operator F/Sgt N Batey - PoW M/U Gunner F/Sgt J H McWilliams - evaded Rear Gunner F/Sgt D M Thorpe - Canadian buried at Terramesnil





Finding the Lancasters - ED825 Unlike the other Lancasters that took part in the Dams Raid there was no accurate location given for the crash site of ED825 or ED886 in published works, or available official archives. The clues available as a starting point were, at the best, vague. The only concrete evidence lay in the burial sites of the airmen. It was common practice for Allied aircrew to be interred in a cemetery close to their place of death. It was therefore a reasonable assumption that ED886 had fallen within a few kilometres of Terramesnil - five kilometres south-east of Doullens. Six of ED825’s crew lay in the tiny village cemetery of Meharicourt, some 20 kilometres east of Amiens. Gordon Weeden Jnr, nephew of ED825’s pilot, had visited Meharicourt in the 1970s and made enquiries as to the location of his uncle’s Lancaster, but no one could help and the trail went cold.

Tempez had passed away, but Dr Ducellier had taken meticulous notes and even had a wartime RAF reconnaissance photograph of the farm showing a disturbed area of ground where the Lancaster had fallen. Monsieur Tempez had told of how the Germans ordered him to move the larger parts of the wreck down a hill to his farm, where they could be loaded onto lorries and taken away. The fields in December were so muddy that the German lorries could not get to the crash site, so he had dragged the parts away with a team of horses.

When the campaign to locate ED825 began in earnest there had been a major development; local historians had begun to take a serious interest in the events of World War Two. People were actively searching for and recording the crash sites of aircraft, like farmer Pierre Ben who was now seeking wrecks in the region of the Somme. Did Pierre know of any sites that could be the missing Dambuster? Pierre had indeed been told of a Lancaster crash that could well be ED825, but it was 30 kilometres north of Amiens and around 50 kilometres from where its crew lay in Meharicourt. The location had been pointed out to author and researcher Jean-Pierre Ducellier, a retired doctor, several years before by Monsieur Tempez who ran a farm with his two sons. By the time the first research visit to Doullens had been arranged, Monsieur

the cross’. The cross, it transpired, was the Calvaire Foch, high on the hill overlooking the town; several fields and nearly a kilometre away from the believed location. In a lastditch effort it was decided to walk from the farm, where the wreck had been dragged to, up the hill towards the cross; swinging metal detectors wearily to-and-fro in the desperate hope of picking up the trail of wreckage. As the sun set over Doullens, the first small piece of aluminium appeared from the earth. But was it ED825?

After several hours searching the area to which Dr Ducellier had been taken, not a fragment of aircraft could be found. Something was amiss, for 22 tons of Lancaster wreckage must have left some trace. The story was so convincing that it must have had a basis in fact. Only one final clue remained, a secondhand account that the aircraft had been, ‘near

Background photo: The cow field overlooking Doullens where ED825 crashed. The precise spot was located by following a trail of debris left by the wreckage being dragged down the hill for recovery after the crash. Inset: On top of the hill is the Calvaire Foch memorial which provided the breakthrough in locating the crash site



The Excavation The surface wreckage had been thoroughly cleared by the Germans with the assistance of Monsieur Tempez, and the site left to grassover of its own accord. On the strength of a few shreds of evidence and a handful of tiny fragments a dig was ‘on’. A UK TV channel was backing what was now a major event. Gordon Weeden Jnr and his wife were on their way from Canada. The Mayor and the townspeople of Doullens had prepared a reception, the Tempez brothers had moved the cows. George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, Bomb Aimer aboard ED825 on the Dams Raid, and his family were also travelling to a wind-swept French hillside for the weekend. It had better be ED825! The area where the metal detectors had indicated the concentration of pieces to lay was marked out and the team quickly began to find parts scattered far and wide. It became clear from the shallow depth of the finds that ED825 had not dived steeply into the ground, but had flown into the rising ground and burnt. Exploded rounds of machine-gun ammunition from the turrets showed how the fire had spread and small pools of once molten aluminium gave an indication of the fire’s ferocity. Tellingly, small components from the nose turret were confined to a small area where the nose of the bomber had come to rest on one edge of the debris field. The location of the nose in relation to the other parts indicated the likely flight-path of ED825 in its last moments. From the distance covered between the railway yard and the crash site it can be estimated that the aircraft only stayed in the air for around 35 seconds after it was hit. The

The first finds were mainly ammunition, a common thing with heavy bombers. However, also discovered were hand grenades (top) and 9mm pistol ammunition (above, seen alongside a standard .303 round). This showed that the supply cannisters had not been dropped before the crash.



In the north-east corner of the field there was a peculiar looking object buried amongst ammunition and pieces of wood. As the Lancaster had been on a supply drop mission, the team presumed it was some form of supply container. The team continued digging as darkness fell but eventually gave up for the night as the cold wind started to bite. The mystery would remain until the following day.

burning aircraft flew over the town from west to east, in the l’Authie valley, before it turned to starboard and flew into the rising ground east of the ruelle Merlin. In the seconds after the aircraft was hit, the rear gunner, Warrant Officer Robert Cummings, attempted to escape. He opened the doors of his turret into the fuselage where his parachute was stored and then made his way to the rear escape hatch. He pulled the emergency handle on the floor and jettisoned the hatch, but by that time the aircraft was too low for his parachute to open; he died the following day. The other six men were killed in the crash. By the end of the first day a small area to the north-east of the main site was producing some strange finds, pistol ammunition and pieces of wood. As darkness fell what was thought to be the remains of a container that once held the stores to be dropped to the Resistance appeared. The idea that we were excavating a container fitted what we were finding very nicely; circular, mostly made of wood and about the diameter of dustbin. Fired by the hope that something might be found to confirm that this was ED825 the activity on the second morning focused on the container and its stores. There was mounting evidence of the supplies that never reached the Resistance and the wooden framework of the container was carefully lifted from its hole. Heads were scratched to interpret what we had now that pieces of Perspex were found attached to it, an inspection port perhaps? Then it dawned on the team’s historian that maybe this wasn’t a supply cannister at all. A quick check of some wartime blueprints alongside the pieces of wood, Perspex and aluminium revealed that we had found something unique to the Type 464 Lancasters – the lower gun mounting.



The Lower Gun Position The Lancasters used on the Dambuster Raid differed in many ways from the standard bomber, but the most noticeable change was the removal of the mid-upper turret. To compensate for the loss of fire power it was proposed that a machine-gun be installed aft of the bomb-bay with a single Vickers Gas Operated (VGO) drum fed gun pointing below the tail. The first three modified Lancasters were fitted with the gunner’s position and ED825 was sent for firing trials at A&AEE Boscombe Down. The gun position also doubled as an escape hatch and the ‘lower gunner’ would crouch by the circular hatch, peering through the Perspex. It was soon decided to abandon the idea as it was ‘useless’. During ED825’s time at Boscombe Down a series of photographs were taken that became a standard reference for ‘Dambuster’ Lancasters, the lower gun can clearly be

Above: The mystery pieces were extracted the following morning and the puzzle was solved. What the team had actually found was the undergun position which was specifically designed for the Type 464. This position was also designed as an emergency escape hatch and it is believed the rear gunner jettisoned it just before the impact. Being separated from the crash site it was probably picked up and thrown into a big hole along with other debris and ammunition, hence the high concentration of finds in this small area. Above right: The editor describes the piece to camera for the TV documentary. Right: The original Avro blueprints for the escape hatch/under-gun position. This unique piece of aviation history was offered to the RAF Museum at Hendon who incredibly turned it down! It was subsequently donated to the Grantham Museum who had a better understanding of the significance of the piece.



seen on the photographs which led to the assumption that all the aircraft were thus modified – which is why thousands of plastic model Dambusters around the world sport a lower gun!

The under gun hatch was fitted to all Type 464s but the gun was soon removed as it served no real purpose. The rear section was clear perspex and the entire thing also served as an emergency escape hatch. There are very few photos that show it clearly, the best is probably this one (below) of Gibson’s ED932 where the perspex panel can clearly be seen under the ‘A’.

Although the gun was of no practical use the ‘escape hatch’ was left in place, probably with the empty magnesium alloy ball mount. Although no drawings survive to show the mounting for the rear downward facing spotlight it seems likely that this gun mount was altered on subsequent aircraft with either the aft facing hole for the gun covered and a new one cut which faced forward, or the mounting reworked on the line and fitted facing forward. ED825 did not have lights on the Dambuster Raid as it only arrived at Scampton on the afternoon of the raid. As no lights were fitted for the Sorpe attack or after, it remained with the gun mount in place until it was lost. We had just found the world’s only Dambuster hatch and gun mount – and discovered that it was constructed slightly differently to the Avro specification. As details of the finds were recorded it was clear that the hatch / gun position was unusually intact and undamaged in comparison with the rest of the items. It is therefore quite feasible that the hatch had been jettisoned by Warrant Officer Cummings when he baled out. It was then found some distance from the main wreck and was dumped into a convenient hole during the clean up operations, thus escaping the impact and fire that had so comprehensively destroyed the rest of the plane.


ARCHAEOLOGY Until the excavation of ED825, many historians believed that the Type 464s had remained in their ‘Dambuster’ fit whilst flying conventional operations with 617 Squadron. However, the discovery of the taboo track guide seen here (below left) proved that ED825 had a mid-upper turret when it crashed. This confirmed that those flying conventional ops had been returned to standard, including the removal of the calliper arms and re-installation of bomb bay doors. ED825 therefore probably looked like this when it was shot down.

The Taboo Follower Mystery The final area to be investigated was the steep embankment to the north-east of the main impact point. It was thought likely that some parts of the aircraft may have been unceremoniously dumped over the fence by the farmer as he tried to tidy up his field. Certainly there was all manner of modern rubbish, so a scramble down the bank was worth a try. A mixture of small parts proved the theory correct, but one small part held great significance. Ian Hodgkiss picked up a short length of ‘H’ section aluminium with a funny little rubber wheel on the end, ‘That’s from the Taboo Rail’ he declared. Heaven knows in what dark corner of his memory the information was stored, but the part was just visible on some photos of mid-upper turrets – the trouble was the Dambuster Lancasters did not have that turret! Two of the curious little wheels protruded from below the guns on the turret and ran on a curved rail on the fuselage that lifted the wheels up when the gunner was

Below: The taboo track guide can clearly be seen underneath the guns in this photo of a Lancaster’s mid upper turret.

in danger of shooting off the tail of his own aircraft. The only explanation for this find was that ED825 had been fitted with a mid-upper turret after the Dams Raid and this had gone unrecorded. The finding of this small component confirmed that some Type 464 Provisioning Lancasters had indeed been wholly converted back to a standard bomber configuration, a fact not previously known.



Left: Johnny at the Calvaire Foch memorial with the mayor of Doullens and Canadian Gordon Weeden Jr, the nephew of the pilot of ED825. Above: Johnny recording an interview with Simon Parry for the TV documentary at the crash site. Below: Johnny was also interviewed for French TV news that day.

Johnny’s Journey The TV producers had arranged for ‘Johnny’ Johnson who flew in ED825 on the Dams Raid to attend the dig in Doullens to provide a tangible link to the past. ‘Johnny’ who was in his late 80s was not well enough to fly and so had to make the long journey from Torquay by car, accompanied by his son and grandsons. With the people of Doullens wanting to honour Johnny with a special service of remembrance near the crash site followed by a civic ceremony and lunch, the veteran Dambuster was faced with a gruelling schedule apart from his filming commitments. A large group of French veterans and dignitaries assembled at the Calvare Foch for a wreath laying ceremony in which Johnny laid a wreath in memory of the crew of ED825 who died in

the crash. The entire group then drove down into the town for the civic reception where speeches were made and gifts were exchanged between the English, French and Canadian representatives. In the late afternoon, after the ceremonial dinner, Johnny was finally driven to the crash site itself. Despite the long tiring day he had endured, Johnny threw himself into the planned filming with the gusto of man half his age. After filming some scenes with the pieces found so far, Johnny was asked to talk through his attack on the Sorpe Dam with the aid of a model Lancaster and a very roughly constructed dam, built by the team earlier in the day. With night having fallen the filming lights were illuminated, the diggers stood back and Johnny ‘took to the stage’. What



followed was a unique retelling of the attack on the Sorpe Dam by a man who was there and remembered every last detail. It was a privilege for all the crew to witness it and a spontaneous round of applause echoed around that cold misty hillside that night when it was over. After a dinner in the evening with all the team, Johnny was led to bed much against his wishes but in anticipation of his early start the following morning. At first light, Johnny and Gordon Weeden were driven to Meharicourt to film at the graves of Gordon’s uncle and the crew of ED825. After this 100km round trip it was back to the crash site for more filming. The final scenes were for the team to show Johnny the most interesting finds and get his reaction to seeing them again after all those years. One of the digging team had found an exceptionally large piece of perspex which he had spent all night cleaning in the hope that

Above: Johnny was on top form during he interviews and came up with the classic line about how the last time he gazed through this bit of perspex was in 1943 looking at the Sorpe Dam! Right: For a final piece of filming, the producers took Johnny to East Kirkby to see a real Lancaster once again.

Johnny would sign it as a personal memento of the day. As the team handed these items to Johnny for his comments, he was captivated by this piece as it was most likely from the bomb-aimer’s blister which of course he last looked through on the night of the Dams raid. He immediately thanked the team for presenting him with such a lovely memento and as he walked back to the car the team cast worried glances at the unfortunate digger whose entire night’s work was now on it’s way back to Torquay!



Finding the Lancasters - ED886 The other Dambuster shot down on the supply dropping sortie was ED886, flown by W/O G F ‘Chuffy’ Bull. He had taken off 40 minutes after Gordon Weeden and had made up so much time that he was only a few minutes behind him when they reached Doullens. The crew saw something burning in the fields ahead, (ED825), but before they could react to the danger, the same light Flak set ED886’s port fuel tanks on fire. ‘Chuffy’ Bull had enough control to climb to around 800 feet and give his crew a chance of escape. Witnesses on the ground saw the burning Lancaster turn over the church, then plunge into a field.

Above: The field where ED886 came down yielded little, the most interesting find being this fuel gauge from the Flight Engineer’s panel (left) Right: Mid-upper gunner Joe McWilliams not only survived the crash but also successfully evaded capture and returned to England via Spain a couple of months later.

Remarkably, all but two of the crew escaped, baling out at extremely low level. All were captured the following morning apart from mid-upper gunner Joe McWilliams who, after wandering the snow covered fields for several hours, came across a friendly farmer who sheltered him for a few days. The farmer then passed him onto the French Underground who escorted him south to the Spanish border and freedom. He returned to the UK on 24 February 1944 in a Dakota.

Below: Joe’s log book showing his final operation and his return to England via Gibraltar.

Unlike the crash site of ED825 the crash site of ED886 has changed considerably over the years with some new houses built very nearby. All that could be found were a handful of small pieces lodged in the roots of old trees growing either side of a small lane and in the field beyond.




Operation Chastise is probably the most painted single event of WWII with hundreds of artists applying their version of the raid to canvas over the years. The problem with most of them is that the historical details are usually wrong, understandably in many cases as a lot of information was still unknown or secret until quite recently. Editor Mark Postlethwaite, who has probably painted the raid more than any other artist, has compiled this definitive reference guide for any artist wanting to tackle this most difficult of subjects. (All paintings used here are by the author)


irst of all, I should say that I’ve been researching the Dambusters for over 30 years now and it is only fair to point out that much of what is known now, was not necessarily in the public domain until quite recently. Secrecy was tight and most of the details regarding Upkeep and its fitting to the Lancaster were still classified in the 1950s! I therefore imply no criticism of works that have gone before, including some of mine (!) The second point concerns ‘artistic licence’. As artists we are free to use as much of this precious tool as we wish, so if you fancy painting little pink unicorns escorting Guy Gibson on his approach to the Möhne then ‘fill your boots’ there is no law against it. If however you set out to paint a faithful and accurate representation of what happened on the night of 16/17 May 1943 then read on...

DAMBUSTERS - DELAYED DEPARTURE Joe McCarthy gets away in the spare aircraft as darkness falls over Scampton.



THE WEATHER AND TAKE OFF Although clouds and light are usually the one area where aviation artists can use a bit of artistic licence, you still need to keep it within the realms of possibility, so for example don’t paint Battle of Britain Spitfires or Hurricanes in snow...(believe me, there are several examples of this!) With Operation Chastise, the weather was a fine warm evening at Scampton, Britain was on Double British Summer Time so the sun was just setting around 21.30 - 21.45hrs when the first two waves took off. There was a bit of patchy high cloud around so plenty of options to include a glorious sunset if you so wish. The sun officially set at 21.55hrs at 303 degrees and the Lancasters took off on a heading of approx 050 degrees so basically the sun was setting in the 8 o’clock position of the Lancs as they took off. Scampton had grass runways at the time so don’t paint concrete under them as they take off. The first wave took off in three vics of three and the second wave took of individually (in actual fact they took off before the first wave as they had further to fly). The third wave took off after midnight so pretty much in total moonlit darkness. The weather over continental Europe was pretty similar with minimal cloud and bright moonlight. Eventually a ground mist started to form and the last aircraft to attack around 03.00hrs had considerable problems in locating the targets because of this. The aircraft returned to Scampton at various times of the early morning. Dawn broke at 05.18hrs and the sun rose around 06.00hrs.

DAMBUSTERS - DUSK DEPARTURE ‘Dinghy’ Young leads the second vic of the First Wave on take off from Scampton.

Above: If you want to paint the Dambuster taking off then you have plenty of opportunity to introduce glorious sunset colours and long shadows as they took off in the last half an hour of sunlight. The photo (right) is usually printed with a bleached out sky, but this print shows the high cloud that was around at the time. The aircraft is believed to be the first Lancaster to take off that night, flown by Bob Barlow.




A diagram showing the position of the moon at various times on the night of 16/17 May 1943. NB, this shows the view looking south with the

If there is one aspect of the raid that artists consistently get wrong, it’s the position of the moon. Some artists go to extraordinary lengths to get the technical or topographical details correct and then just shove the moon in wherever suits them best.

edges of the graphic being due east and due west.

The diagram to the right shows exactly where the moon was both horizontally and vertically at various stages of the raid. In general terms, the moon was never very high, maximum of 31 degrees above the horizon and it wasn’t a totally full moon, although it probably looked it, being about 90% complete. The moon rose at 17.32hrs over Scampton and by the time the first aircraft took off it was already in the south-east and so in approximately the 3 o’clock position to the Lancasters. As the two waves headed over the sea towards the enemy coast the moon was between their 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions. So many paintings of the formations heading out over the sea paint the moon behind the aircraft, allowing the artist to paint a lovely sparkly sea behind the silhouetted aircraft. Well, as far as I’m concerned you might as well introduce the pink unicorns as well, because if the moon is behind the aircraft then the aircraft are flying in the totally opposite direction! By the time Gibson commenced the first attack against the Möhne, the moon was in the SSE and with the bombing run being made in a north westerly direction, the moon was in approximately the 8 o’clock position to the Lancasters as they attacked the dam. Around the same time, Joe McCarthy carried out his attack on the Sorpe Dam. The attack profile for this dam was different in that they flew along

the length of the dam in a south easterly direction to drop their Upkeep. The moon was therefore shining in the Lancaster’s 3 o’clock position, more or less straight down the Sorpe lake. An hour later, the attacks on the Eder Dam started and by this time the moon was already lower and in the south-western sky. This dam was much more difficult to attack with very little space to line up a good bombing run. Nevertheless, the ideal run would have been made on a south easterly heading so the moon would have been roughly in the Lancaster’s 3 o’clock position when releasing the Upkeep. When Bill Townsend dropped the final Upkeep of the night against the Eneppe Dam the moon was very low in the sky in approximately their 8 o’clock position.


DAMBUSTERS - COURAGE AND SACRIFICE John Hopgood’s Lancaster staggers over the Möhne Dam after being hit by anti-aircraft fire. It crashed soon after. Above: During the attack on the Möhne, the moon was in the 8 o’clock position to the attacking aircraft. If it had been in the 6 o’clock position directly behind the aircraft, as painted by so many artists, then the German gunners would have had a much easier target to aim at.

The attack on the Möhne Dam is by far the most painted aspect of the raid with every individual aircraft’s bombing run having been depicted over the years. There are a few common errors that are repeated in these paintings, the most noticeably being the position of the moon which we’ve already covered. The second biggest problem is the anti-aircraft fire. Nearly every artist paints big exploding Flak bursts peppering the sky around the Lancasters as they attack. In reality most historians believe that there was no ‘explosive’ Flak fired, simply 20mm tracer shells that only exploded upon impact with something, (similar to cannon shells fired by fighter aircraft). Some paintings even have huge shrapnel spraying flak bursts about 50ft above the flak towers, I’ll leave you to work out the problem with that one! The colour of the tracer rounds is reported as green, yellow and red and the return fire from the Lancasters’ turrets is described as being similar to a glowing hose of fire, due to them using 100% tracer. (Usually they were loaded with only every fifth bullet as a tracer round, leaving a distinct gap between the rounds). The scale of everything is important too. The diagram here shows the correct size of a Lancaster in relation to the dam and the green dot at the bottom of the picture shows the calculated release point of the Upkeep. It was designed to bounce three times before hitting the Dam wall. The power station seen at the top of the picture was badly damaged by Hopgood’s Upkeep during the second attack. This meant that following attacks had a considerable amount of smoke and flame in this position. As a final note, there were no searchlights on any of the dams attacked that night.

DAMBUSTERS - THE PERFECT APPROACH ‘Dinghy’ Young releases his Upkeep to score the first ‘direct hit’ on the Möhne Dam.






Above: A photo taken the following morning showing water still flooding out of the dam washing away everything in its path.

Above: A pre-war photo of the Möhne Dam showing the power station below the centre of the dam. note that during the war, the tops of the towers were removed on the dam and anti aircraft positions installed. Below: A photo taken from the water side after the raid showing the cropped towers and the false trees that were placed on the dam as camouflage. Many of these ‘trees’ hung over the wall as can be seen by the shadows cast underneath them.


Below: A view taken at around the same time from the ground, the false trees, (in fact, wire frames with camouflage netting) are visible on the left of the picture.

The attack on the Eder Dam was a totally different affair to that of the Möhne. Firstly there were no anti-aircraft defences so the Lancasters had time to stooge around and try several times to get the approach right, even to the point of dropping flares to find waypoints.



Above: The RAF’s briefing model of the Eder Dam showing Waldeck Castle (A) the Hammerberg spit of land which shields the dam from a long bombing run and the Eder Dam itself (C).

Above and below: Before and after shots of the Eder Dam taken by RAF reconnaissance aircraft. Note that the breach was off centre, close to the southern tower.

Below: An aerial photo of the same scene, the two islands in the distance only appear when the water is low. It is believed that Les Knight’s successful approach was made more of less head-on to this viewpoint as opposed to 90 degrees to the dam wall.


The biggest problem the crews faced was getting down to the correct height and speed in what was a very short approach. The plan had been to approach from the north-east past Waldeck Castle (A) heading for the spit of land (B) and then turning sharp left to attack the dam (C). Unfortunately this involved a reasonably steep descent past the castle which meant that getting the height steady using the spotlights was incredibly difficult in the short time available. All the crews struggled, with several attempts made including approaching from the west along the lake and then just skimming over the spit of land. Each approach was made even riskier by the fact that there was high ground beyond the dam which the Lancasters needed to clear after the bombing run. Little wonder the Germans didn’t think they needed Flak guns! In the end, the dam was breached but if you look at where the hole in the wall is, it suggests that the bombing run was made at an oblique angle to the dam giving the longest run up possible. For more details of the Sorpe Dam attack, see the article later in this magazine.



DAMBUSTERS APPROACHING THE EDER Henry Maudslay in AJ-Z makes the difficult approach to the Eder Dam past Waldeck Castle with the moon low in the south west.





THE SPOTLIGHTS When the aircraft was at 60ft, the spotlight beams would have looked like this.

One of the most well know facts about the Type 464 Lancasters is that they used two spotlight beams projected onto the water to determine the height of the bomb-run. Trials were begun at 150ft and even when the bomb-run height was lowered to 60ft, the spotlights were found to be remarkably effective. Unfortunately, the spotlights were not part of the original Type 464 modifications so detailed drawings for their installation do not exist. This has led to most books and artists guessing as to where they were fitted and how they looked. The first thing to emphasise is that they didn’t point directly down underneath the aircraft, as seen in several paintings. The beams needed to be seen from the cockpit and so were projected to hit the ground roughly just inboard of the starboard wing-tip.



The position of the rear spotlight in the Type 464 has never been conclusively proven. However, as 617 Squadron started their low flying training on some ‘borrowed’ Lancasters, the spotlights were initially fitted to standard Lancasters, (W4926 AJ-Z followed by W4940 AJ-B and a couple of others). As these aircraft were fitted with normal bomb-bay doors the rear spotlight had to be fitted further aft. The obvious place was in the blanking plate that covered the space designed for the midunder turret. Here it was mounted to shine 40° to starboard and 15.1° forwards. These measurements allowed the two beams to align horizontally on the ground at exactly 150ft, just inboard of the starboard wing-tip.

The under-gun hatch was the ideal place to fit the rear spotlight with minimal modification required.

Other authors state that the rear lamp was fitted into the rear bomb-bay fairing but this was a solid and enclosed piece of framework, so adjustment of the lamp would have been almost impossible in that position. Other sources say that the lamp was in the bombbay roof itself, but this would have involved When the Type 464s arrived on the cutting holes into the aircraft’s structure, (very squadron none of them had spotlights. After thick in this area), as opposed to modifying a some initial air tests, S/L Henry Maudslay flew removable panel at the rear. Further evidence ED909 to Farnborough on 30 April to be the to back up the argument for the rear spotlight first to have its lights fitted. Common sense being in the under gun position comes from suggests that they fitted the lamps to the the classic film which has the rear spotlights in same positions, especially as the Type 464s this position and was advised by people who already had a hole and mount fitted in what had been there at the time. Also confirming was the modified under gun position. The the position is Guy Gibson himself in a short angles, fittings and electrical feeds would film clip which shows him pointing out the two have all been easily copied from the standard spotlamp positions on a model Lancaster, with Lancaster fitting. finger decisively The principle of the spotlight altimeter was his very simple. Two pointing beams to of the lightundergun projected down from two position for the rear light! different parts of the aircraft at different angles will follow a different track on the ground as the aircraft gets lower or higher. By setting them to meet at a chosen height in a figure of eight the crew could easily see if they were too high or too low. Barnes Wallis soon realised that the optimum height for delivery of Upkeep had to be reduced significantly to just 60ft, so the squadron readjusted the spotlights and took the standard Lancasters even lower.

how it worked


A computer generated view of the rear spotlight installed in the under-gun position.




THE TYPE 464 LANCASTER The ‘Dambuster’ Lancasters looked generally identical to a standard early MkI or MkIII apart from the removal of the mid-upper turret and the extensively modified bomb-bay. Being from the ED series, they all had fuselage windows and were amongst the first to have the larger bomb-aimer’s blister. The bomb-bay doors were removed and replaced by two aerodynamic fairings fore and aft, with the central section left clear for Upkeep to be carried on two strong calliper arms which were hinged on the outside of the bomb-bay floor.

A mistake many artists make is to use a reference photo of the BBMF Lancaster PA474. This aircraft was built late in the war and has too many differences to go into detail here, larger radiators and Lincoln fins are the two most obvious things to point out. The simple rule when painting any aircraft is to do your research and get to know what you are painting. The easiest way to do this with the Type 464 is to buy our book ‘Dambuster Lancaster’ which uses Piotr Forkasiewicz’s incredible 3D model to show every aspect, both internal and external in crystal clear detail. I designed it specifically with the artist and modeller in mind so it should answer all your questions!

The author spent many years working with acclaimed CG artist Piotr Forkasiewicz to produce this definitive guide to the Type 464 Lancaster both inside and out. Packed with illustrations from every angle, this is the essential book for anybody painting or modelling a Type 464. Available to purchase, Click here.

Above: Photos of Type 464 Lancasters are very rare and this is the best known air to air shot there is. Taken after the Dams raid, this is ED817 which was the second prototype and didn’t fly on the Dams raid. Just visible is the modified bomb-bay with the fairings, the calliper arms and the drive belt. (See inset for enhancement of this area).









HOPGOOD’S LAST MOMENTS “Over the past 25 years I have spent a lot of time studying and researching Operation Chastise. I’ve also been privileged to have met several of the airmen who flew on the raid and to discuss their experiences in person with them.These paintings are all based upon those years of research and show various aspects of that remarkable night of 16/17 May 1943.” Mark Postlethwaite



Dambusters Art by Mark Postlethwaite GAvA




Red Kite are proud to present their stunning new book on the aircraft that made history. Now for the first time, readers can explore every aspect of the Type 464 ‘Dambuster’ Lancaster both inside and out using a specially commissioned 3D model that has taken over 10 years to complete. The model is the work of Polish artist Piotr Forkasiewicz who worked with historians, veterans and archives from around the world to construct the most accurate reproduction of a Type 464 ever seen. Fellow artist and Dambuster historian Mark Postlethwaite agreed to write the text and to delve into the individual histories of all 23 Type 464s, with both artists then working on the overall design of the book. The result is quite breathtaking. 128 pages full of close up views of the aircraft both in natural metal and camouflage, detailed studies inside the cockpit area, a full exploration of Upkeep and the fusing systems and finally detailed histories of all 23 Type 464s using every known photograph to illustrate each airframe.




The Dambusters were famous for dropping a ‘Bouncing Bomb’ against the German dams but actually it wasn’t a bomb at all, it was a depth charge, and if you want to be really pedantic, it didn’t bounce, it ricocheted. Here’s the full story of how to make a 9000lb dustbin go bang.


f you think about it, bombs carried by aircraft need to be the most stable and benign lumps of explosives you can find. With the constant jolts from take-off, turbulence and even combat, the explosives need to remain perfectly calm until you want them to explode. Upkeep was no exception. Filled with Torpex, the weapon was designed to be triggered by a hydrostatic fuse when it reached a certain depth in water, or failing that, it had a selfdestruct fuse if for some reason the hydrostatic fuse didn’t work. This 65 second delayed action selfdestruct fuse was initiated when the Upkeep fell away from the calliper arms by a rip-off bolt. It was always assumed that this self-destruct fuse was armed when loading the Upkeep, but this method would have resulted in the certain death of the crew in the event of an accident on take off. It would also have made loading the Upkeep quite a nervy affair too! Historian Alex Bateman was the first to put forward the theory that it was armed in the air, and after years of research it appears that he was right. The actual method is typical of the unconventional but ingenious approach to the whole ‘bouncing bomb’ project.



The Upkeep itself Two types of main filling were used for Upkeep, depending on whether the weapon was live or a practice example. The inert training weapons were filled with a mixture of concrete and cork to replicate the same density and weight of the live versions. The live weapons were completed at the Royal Ordnance factory at Chorley in Lancashire, and were filled with Torpex, an explosive specifically designed for use in torpedoes (the name coming from Torpedo Explosive). Although designed to be more powerful than TNT, Torpex was also very stable which was essential for this type of operation.



self-destruct fuse

hydrostatic fuse

The fuses Each live Upkeep was fitted with three hydrostatic fuses and one self-destruct fuse. The hydrostatic fuse was a standard MkXIV which was used in air delivered depth charges. Quite simply when immersed, the water would flood into internal chambers and trigger a firing pin which would then detonate a small charge. The self destruct fuse was cobbled together specifically for Upkeep and consisted of a break-off bolt which fired a pin at a small detonator which in turn lit a length of fuse wire which once burnt through, ignited an explosive charge. For a more detailed explanation see the next page.











4 The self destruct fuse - how it worked The self-destruct fuse was initiated by a rip off pin (A) being pulled out of the end of the fuse. This triggered a spring loaded firing pin (B) which would strike a percussion cap (C) and ignite a 620mm length of Bickford safety fuse (D). This fuse would take 65 seconds to burn through to the detonator (E) which would then explode and ignite the main charge.



Arming the self destruct fuse Over the years there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the self-destruct fuse. Most authors state that the rip-off pin was attached directly to the calliper arm so that when the Upkeep was dropped, the pin would detach and set the fuse off on its 65 second countdown to oblivion. However, this solution would mean that in the event of a take-off accident or of the Upkeep detaching by accident, (as Mick Martin’s did on 15 May at dispersal), then the crew would have a minute to evacuate the aircraft and run far enough to escape the blast of several thousand pounds of high explosive! Clearly this wasn’t a satisfactory solution so a method of arming the fuse in the air was devised. The principle was simple, the rip-off pin needed to be untethered whilst on the ground and during take off so that if the Upkeep fell off, the rip-off pin remained in place. Once over enemy territory, the pin needed to be grasped securely so that when the Upkeep fell, the pin would be ripped off.

A pull-handle was mounted just behind the navigator’s chair.


It was attached to a cable that ran down the side of the fuselage to the starboard calliper arm.


Arming the self destruct fuse The solution took the form of a moveable claw that was inserted into the starboard calliper arm hub. This claw was attached to a Bowden cable, (similar to a bike’s brake cable), which was routed up the forward arm, up the outside of the starboard fuselage and threaded through the fuselage skin via a small pulley wheel to a large handle. Once over enemy territory, the navigator would give the handle a firm pull which rotated the claw into the ‘gripped’ position, thus arming the self-destruct fuse. It was not possible to disarm the fuse in the air but if the aircraft landed back with the Upkeep, (as Les Munro did), then all the groundcrew needed to do was manually turn the claw to its ungripped position to make the Upkeep perfectly safe.

Calliper Arm (section)

Claw open

Rip-off pin

Self-destruct fuse

Cable leading to cockpit Cable is pulled

Calliper Arm hub

Plate and rod rotate

Claw engaged




Evidence of the camouflage paint being scraped off the fuselage of ED817 by the selfdestruct fusing cable.

Finding the evidence For a long time, the theory of the airborne arming of the self-destruct fuse was dismissed by other historians and some still to this day believe the old theory of it being armed on the ground. However, during the research for this magazine article, the author was browsing through the photographic archive and discovered this photo of Les Munro in the cockpit of a Lancaster. Usually it is cropped just to show the pilot, but this is the full frame shot and close examination of the bottom left of the photo shows a dark mark just under the cockpit frame. Get even closer and you’ll see that it is a pulley wheel set into a hole in the fuselage at an angle to line up with the forward calliper arm. This is exactly as described by Alex Bateman and visualised in Piotr Forkasiewicz’s 3D model, proving not only the theory but also that this is another rare photo of a Type 464 Lancaster.



The Attack on the Sorpe Dam 53


Whilst Sir Peter Jackson continues to wish Guy Gibson had owned a white dog, a small production team are working on a far more personal Dambuster film, telling the story of one crew’s experiences during Operation Chastise. Narrated by the crew’s bomb-aimer, George ‘Jonny’ Johnson, the film will cover Joe McCarthy’s crew and their eventful attack on the Sorpe Dam.


he Attack on the Sorpe Dam is a new film, currently in production, that covers the complete story of Lancaster ED825 AJ-T’s attack on the Sorpe Dam, during the night of May 17 1943. The film narrated by bomb aimer George “Johnny” Johnson tells his complete story of what happened that night from take-off at RAF Scampton, covering both the outward and homeward journeys, as well as the attack itself. The film’s producer, Andrew Panton, commented; “Whilst much has been said about the attacks on the Möhne and Eder dams, which were breached, there has been less said about the attack on the Sorpe dam. Whilst this dam was not breached, the story of how this dam was attacked is truly remarkable, and it is this part of the Dambusters story we focus on in our film”.

The film will be narrated by George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, seen here back in his ‘office’ a few years ago.

Andrew went on to say, “During the research for this film, Johnny and I spent many hours discussing what



happened. The highlight of our work was a visit to the Sorpe dam, where Johnny flew once again over the dam in a helicopter, following a similar route to the one he took 75 years ago, which certainly brought back a few memories.” “I really wanted the film to provide an accurate representation of what actually happened and to tell the story in a very visually stimulating way. With that in mind I enlisted the help of Piotr Forkasiewicz (CGI artist) who has been able to produce some amazingly accurate, animated views of Lancaster AJ-T. He has recreated sequences such as crossing the sand dunes at low level on the Dutch coast during the outward journey to the dam, as well as the exchange of fire between AJ-T and an armoured goods train near Hamm. He has been able to do this with a level of detail that has never been seen before. It took thousands of hours to create the 3D Dambuster Lancaster model as well as the ground sequences, but I think this all adds to a certain level of authenticity that this story deserves. It has also been invaluable to have Johnny there, constantly checking the details, to ensure total accuracy in all areas.” In addition to the external shots of the aircraft, Piotr Forkasiewicz has been able to take green screen sequences featuring re-enactors to recreate sequences of the crew, showing what was happening inside the aircraft at various stage of the story.

Right: Johnny’s crew, L-R ‘Johnny’ Johnson, Don MacLean, Ron Batson, Joe McCarthy, Bill Radcliffe and Len Eaton. Missing from the photo is rear gunner Dave Rodger (inset).



Three images that illustrate how the computer generated 3D model of the Lancaster is combined with footage of real actors against a green screen to create a very realistic effect.



Using his 3D Dambuster model, Piotr has also enabled the viewer to see previously unseen external and internal views of Lancaster AJ-T, especially during the attack, helping the viewer gain a better understanding of what actually happened. To make the attack sequences look as realistic as possible Piotr Forkasiewicz recreated the terrain and scenery around the Sorpe dam, as it would have appeared in May 1943. To do this he used old postcards from that era, as well as modern aerial pictures, to accurately show the layout of the land and buildings. In particular Piotr has re-created the church on the hill at Langscheid that pilot Flt Lt Joe McCarthy used as a marker to help align on the approach to the dam. This level of detail allows the viewer to see what happened from the ground and in the air, which adds a completely new and fresh visual perspective to this story. On the final attack run towards the dam, Lancaster AJ-T was estimated to have flown over the dam at just 30 feet. Piotr has cleverly been able to re-create this moment showing the bomb release and the subsequent explosion in a way not done before.

Right: Exterior scenes are also built up using several layers of images. The top picture shows the wireframe Lancaster positioned over a forest of computer generated trees. By the time the aircraft structure is added and light and haze introduced, the scene is transformed into something breathtakingly real.



CG artist Piotr Forkasiewicz used period photographs taken by both sides in an effort to render the surrounding countryside as accurately as possible. The prime consideration was to get the position of Langscheid’s church correct as this was used by the Lancaster crew to line up with as they approached from the far side of the hill. Left: A post raid RAF photo showing the dam with water streaks and a damaged roadway next to where the Upkeeps had exploded. Below: A pre-war view of the Sorpe Dam showing Langscheid church on the brow of the distant hill.

Piotr Forkasiewicz (CGI artist) commented “To tell the story in the most convincing way, Andrew and I needed to plan every scene and angle in great detail, long before the production quality frames needed to be ready. All the ideas we had for action sequences were turned into storyboards which showed the keyframes, and aspects of the animation I had to create. Once we were satisfied with the initial storyboard animations I would then combine all the necessary visual elements together to produce the final animation. Since I usually deal with still illustrations, the animation and film work was a new area I needed to learn and work with. The real challenge I faced was creating the environments that work either as a background seen from long distances and as detailed foreground. The area around the Sorpe dam is a complex one. It was very important to precisely recreate the terrain elevation as this is very important from the story point of view. Thousands of computer generated trees and a sea of grass, were “planted” in correct places, in addition to houses, the church of Langsheid village and the dam itself. The challenge I had was to recreate the look and feel of the landscape as it looked in May 1943. To do this I had to rely on a few photographs taken after the raid, as well as some old postcards, with pictures taken around the late 1930s. This level of detail was very helpful, as it allowed us to position the camera at any position we wanted, to show and use angles that have never been seen before in such a film project. These angles are still realistic in terms of what could be filmed in reality (so no aircraft flying into the camera), camera movement etc. Currently we



Another example of how the computer generated 3D model of the Lancaster is combined with footage of real actors against a green screen to create a very realistic effect. The panel in the top left of the picture is the bullet proof glass screen that was designed to protect the Flight Engineer from a stern attack.



have divided the film into seven storyboards, each representing a specific part of the story. Andrew has filmed hours of green screen footage with re-enactors wearing flight crew outfits from that time period and I have been able to use some of the green screen footage with the interior of my 3D Dambuster Lancaster to show the crew inside the aircraft. Using the animated 3D Dambuster Lancaster model, I have been able to add new details, to increase the level of realism, for example we see exterior shots of the aircraft with shaking antennas, digital people, splash simulations all adding to a new degree of authenticity. Still images are easy to create, but animation frames need to be planned and prepared with the smallest details from beginning to end, to avoid having to re-render entire sequences. This all makes the production process extremely long. Considering the typical film is made by dozens or even hundreds of CG artists in one year, a solo CG Artist needs a bit MORE time to complete such a project!” This film has been quite a journey for all involved but when completed, will tell a story that is worthy of telling, for many more years to come, so current and future generations can learn about how Johnny and his pals did their bit in one of the most outstanding operations of World War Two. ‘The Attack on the Sorpe Dam’ is due to be released later this year. Top left: A wireframe view of Langscheid church with the Sorpe Dam in the background. Left: A final render showing ED825 approaching the church with the Sorpe Dam just coming into view beyond the hill.


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