Posts Tagged ‘Dambusters’

Dambuster’s medal to be sold to fund Africa dam

December 16th, 2015

The young airman never returned, although the story of valour and heroism behind the medal should help raise a huge sum for WaterAid when it is auctioned next week.

David Kirk, of auctioneers Morton & Eden said the lot, which includes a letter from Hopgood’s commander informing his mother of his death, was “undoubtedly” one of the most iconic Distinguished Flying Cross medals to be auctioned in years.

Flight Lieutenant John Vere ‘Hoppy’ Hopgood

He said: “Flight Lieutenant Hopgood’s family has agonized over the decision to part with the medal but feel that John Hopgood himself would approve.

“He was evidently a very thoughtful and idealistic young man who, we believe, would be glad to know that the proceeds from the sale of his medal will go towards the building of a much-needed sand dam to benefit thousands of people in Uganda.

“The new dam will form a fitting memorial to Hopgood’s heroism and self-sacrifice on the Dambusters’ mission, of which his family can be duly proud”.

Thomas Benn, of WaterAid, said: “WaterAid is delighted that the family of Flt Lt John Hopgood will pay tribute to him through supporting our lifesaving work. “

“The new dam will form a fitting memorial to Hopgood’s heroism and self-sacrifice on the Dambusters’ mission, of which his family can be duly proud”

David Kirk, of auctioneers Morton & Eden

Born in the village of Hurst, Berkshire, the pilot was educated at the prestigious Marlborough College, known today as the secondary school of the Duchess of Cambridge and Samantha Cameron.

As war broke out he was due to go to Corpus Christi College Cambridge to read law, but instead joined the Royal Air Force.

Despite his age he became a respected airman for his “considerable courage and cool nerve” while flying perilous sorties behind enemy lines.

He received the Distinguished Flying Cross in October 1942 and a few months later, in January 1943, he received his second award Bar.

Hopgood was selected to fly with 617 Squadron, who on the night of May 16-17 1943, executed Operation Chastise.

As part of Formation No 1 he followed Wing Commander Guy Gibson in a swoop on the Mohne Dam in West Germany.

Despite receiving serious wounds on the approach, the young airman flew low enough over the dam for the “bouncing bomb” to strike and destroy a hydroelectric power station.

Then, in a final act of selfless valour, he manoeuvred his Lancaster to gain enough height for his crewmen to bail out.

Those who survived were decorated and Gibson received the Victoria Cross.

The medal is being sold by his family in an auction on Tuesday December 15 at Morton & Eden Ltd, Nash House, St George Street, London.


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Last surviving Dambusters pilot sells gallantry medals for upkeep of Bomber Command Memorial

March 2nd, 2015

The 95-year-old visited the monument in London’s Green Park in 2013 and said he was inspired to make the sacrifice “out of comradeship” to his fellow servicemen who did not made it back.

Sq Ldr Munro said it was important for the memorial to maintain its condition for the relatives of the thousands of men listed on it and future generations.

The monument was built 67 years after the end of the war to commemorate the RAF aircrew and groundstaff from Britain and Commonwealth countries who died on bombing operations in the war.

The charity, the RAF Benevolent Fund, has the duty to pay for its maintenance and upkeep at a cost of £50,000 a year.

Out of the 19 commanding officers who flew on the famous 1943 raid to destroy three dams in Germany’s industrial heartland, Sq Ldr Munro is the last one alive today.

Eight them were killed during the mission, making up the total of 53 out of 133 crew killed.

Despite the losses, the raid – codenamed Operation Chastise – was a success with two dams breached by Dr Barnes Wallis’ ingenious bouncing bombs, wiping out scores of armament factories in the Ruhr Valley.

Sq Ldr Munro’s Lancaster bomber was struck by an anti-aircraft flak shell on the raid over Holland, knocking a gaping hole in the fuselage and putting all communications out of use, forcing the crew to turn back still carrying its mine.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for the raid. Sq Ldr Guy Gibson, who led the mission, received the Victoria Cross.

Sq Ldr Munro was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery shown during 58 sorties over Europe.

Squadron Leader Les Munro in the cockpit of a Lancaster (BNPS)

Serving with 97 and then 617 Squadron, he bombed German aircraft and armament factories, V1, V2 and V3 rocket sites, E and U-Boats pens and tunnels all over Europe.

On the eve of D Day in 1944, he dropped aluminium strips in the English Channel to trick German radar operators into thinking the invasion was taking place at Calais rather than Normandy to the south.

The £50,000 expected from the sale of his medals and log books will be enough to pay for the maintenance of the memorial for a whole year.

Sq Ldr Munro, from New Zealand, said: “The memorial is a magnificent tribute to Bomber Command’s fallen. It was a travesty it took 67 years before the loss of 55,573 lives was finally recognised.

“My reasons for donating my medals and flying log books to the fund were prompted by my visit. I could not help but think of the cost of its ongoing maintenance and with the feelings of the descendants of those 55,573 in mind believe that every effort be made to maintain the memorial in the best possible condition.

Squadron Leader Munro’s medals (BNPS)

He added: “My war service moulded me as a man; it gave me the confidence in my own ability and taught me to get on with my fellow men and value comradeship.

“It is because of that sense of comradeship and the equal importance of the act of remembrance that I now part company with my medals for the benefit of the Bomber Command Memorial.”

Mike Neville, director of strategy and fundraising at the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: “We are enormously grateful to Les for his donation. It was very much his decision and he approached us with it.

“Les will consider it a small sacrifice compared to the sacrifice made by thousands of his comrades in the war but to us it really is a big one because the proceeds of the sale should pay for a whole year’s maintenance.”

The medals, which also include the New Zealand Order of Merit, are to be sold by London auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb.

Christopher Hill, a director at the auction house, said: “Les Munro is a remarkable man whose spirit of adventure has never left him.

“It is entirely typical of him that he is selling his medals, log books and other memorabilia to help ensure that the memory of his dead comrades will never fade.”

Les Munro (centre front) with crew before flying on Dambusters raid (Dix Noonan Webb/BNPS)

Sq Ldr Munro’s father was Scottish and emigrated to New Zealand in 1903 and became a shepherd. He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1941 and arrived in Britain the following year, flying with the 97 Squadron.

He was the captain for bombing raids on aircraft and armament factories in Berlin, Essen, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Milan and Turin.

In 1943, he volunteered for the 617 “Dambusters” Squadron and was reportedly chosen by Guy Gibson to take part in the dams raid.

Sq Ldr Munro learned to fly Lancaster bombers at below tree-top height at 200mph in preparation for the raid.

On one such flight over Lincolnshire, he was nearly killed when a seagull hit his cockpit windscreen “like a cannonball” and landed between him and his co-pilot.

He went on to practice for the mission over Derwent Water in the Lake District and the Fleet at Chesil Beach.

Two days after the Allied invasion of Europe, Sq Ldr Munro dropped the first “Tallboy” 12,000lbs bomb on a tunnel in southern France that enemy Panzer tanks were using to reinforce Germany army in Normandy.

The RAF’s Dambusters squadron in action during the Second World War

He then led successful raids to wipe out E-boat and U-boat pens in Le Havre and Boulogne, successful missions that helped the Allied take control of Normandy and France.

After the war he returned to New Zealand, studied agriculture and worked for the State Advances Corporation which managed state-owned farms.

He got into local politics and served as mayor of Waitomo, a town on the northern island of New Zealand. He was appointed to the Queen’s Service Order (Q.S.O.) in 1991.

The men of Bomber Command suffered huge losses in the Second World War, with 45 out of every 100 airmen killed.

A permanent memorial for Bomber Command was not built for 67 years due to the controversy of thousands of German civilians who died during the bombings of its cities.

Painting of Lancaster bombers from the RAF’s No 617 Squadron attacking Moehne dam, Germany (PA)

In 2010, German politicians called for plans for the memorial to be abandoned out of respect for the civilian casualties.

Sq Ldr Munro said: “I consider myself a fortunate survivor, ‘Lady Luck’ having sat on my shoulder on several occasions. Yet I think that I left New Zealand on the basic premise that if I was going to cop it, so be it. What will be, will be.

“When fellow officers that I knew relatively well were lost on operations I would feel a brief period of sadness but that had to be quickly relegated to the background of my thoughts.

“There was a job to do and the loss of a colleague could not be allowed to influence how I carried out that job. My duty was to carry out the next operation without emotional distraction. Grief could not be allowed to distract from duty.”

Sq Ldr Munro’s medals are being sold in London on March 25.

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Dambusters’ bouncing bomb sight and marbles to be auctioned

January 10th, 2015

The sight was designed by Wing Cdr C L Dann and was used by bomb aimer Pilot Officer John Fort on board the AJ-J, the fifth aircraft to attack the dam, piloted by Flt Lt David Maltby.

It was the “bouncing bomb” guided by this sight which breached the Mohne dam and flooded the western Ruhr region.

It was passed to David Maltby’s father, Ettrick, after the raid and placed in the museum of prep school Hydneye House, East Sussex, which he owned and ran.

When the school was sold in the mid-1950s it was passed on to the new headmaster and eventually to the current owner, a former pupil.

Humberts is also offering the map light and parallelogram used by Sgt Vivian Nicholson, Matlby’s navigator on the same aircraft, as well as four of the marbles used by Sir Barnes Wallis to design the bouncing bomb.

A leather collar box which belonged to Wing Cdr Guy Gibson, the commanding officer for the mission, is the fifth item on offer.

Auctioneer Jonathan Humbert said the items were the “most spine-tingling and historical” he has offered for sale.

He said they were “synonymous with heroism of the highest order”.

The International Militaria Auction will take place on 20 January.

The raid came at a tragically high price – eight of the 19 Lancasters were shot down or damaged, and of the 133 air crew, 53 were killed and three were captured.


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Two Lancaster bombers fly over Dambusters practise site in Derbyshire

September 22nd, 2014

They have been united for a series of events in the UK this year with one, Thumper, based in Lincolnshire, while the other, Vera, has been shipped over from Canada.

Retired Sqn Ldr Stuart Reid, who has flown the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Lancaster, said: “It was very much a British and Foreign and Commonwealth attack against the dams, as was much of the bombing campaign fought against Germany during the Second World War.”


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George ‘Johnny’ Johnson remembers the Dambusters mission, 1943

May 9th, 2014

My crew and I were with the 97 Squadron before we moved over to the new 617 Squadron for a special mission in March 1943. In the front row are me, the bomb aimer; Len Eaton, wireless operator; Joe McCarthy, pilot; Ron Batson, front gunner; and behind us are Dave Rodger, rear gunner; Don MacLean, navigator; and Bill Ratcliffe, flight engineer. Joe was the big man and I thought of him as an older brother. We had a friendship that was beyond that of pilot and bomb aimer, and when we first met we just seemed to gel.

We had no idea what we were training for until the day of the briefing. I was young enough and stupid enough to not think too much about it. The general conjecture had been that it would be against the German battleship Tirpitz, but the next day, May 16 1943, we discovered how wrong we were when we went to the briefing with Wg Cdr Guy Gibson and the inventor of the bouncing bomb, Barnes Wallis. That was the first indication we had of what the target was going to be – three dams within Germany’s Ruhr Valley.

It is difficult to say what the mood was when we found out. At that stage, most people were concerned with their own crew, because the crew were a family, always. But I do know there were one or two who had a nasty feeling they weren’t going to come back.

Gibson was a strict disciplinarian and his big problem was that he could not bring himself down to lower ranks. He had no verbal connection with the air crew except to tell them off when something went wrong. But the true essence of the man as a leader was portrayed in the actual raid, where he made the first attack on the Möhne. We knew it was the only dam that was defended. As he called each aircraft in, he flew alongside them to attract some of the defence. He said, ‘You’re doing this, I’m doing this, we’re doing this together.’ That to me is the essence of good leadership.

The scale of the raid didn’t hit most of us until we saw the outcome and the number of crews we’d lost – we lost eight of our 16 attacking planes that night and only three of the aircrew from the downed Lancasters survived. We lost 53 crew in total. It was pretty devastating.

I’ve talked to school children about the raid and I can see the interest in their eyes. That makes it for me. It’s a relief to know that they’re teaching Second World War history in junior schools. There’s been an increase in the interest over the last three or four years, and I enjoy it.

The Last British Dambuster by George ‘Johnny’ Johnson (Ebury Press, £17.99) is out now


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Dambusters deserve proper medals not a brass clasp, says wartime bomber hero

April 20th, 2014

There is even a specially commissioned Bomber Command Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, opened by the Queen, to commemorate the 55,573 Allied air men who died during WW2.

Arctic convoy veterans have recently been awarded the Arctic Star medal after a 70 year fight in recognition of what Churchill called the worst journey in the world. Nearly 3,000 perished in the freezing waters supplying the troops on the front.

“A medal was produced for the Arctic survivors. If a medal is good enough for them it’s good enough for us,” said Mr Johnson from Bristol.

“We deserve a medal not a clasp. The 55,000 doesn’t include the injured or those taken prisoner and the sacrifices they made.

“If that’s the last thing I do it will be to get a medal for us.”

Mr Johnson, who flew 50 missions during his 22 years service was the bomb aimer on the night of May 17, 1943, as part of Operation Chastise to cripple the Nazi war effort.

He dropped the bomb on Sorpe dam and was awarded a raft of medals including the Distinguished Flying Medal for his part in the daring 617 Squadron raid.

He is still considering whether to wear his clasp he describes as an “insult.”

“I have got, much to my disgust, one of the clasps but still not made up my mind whether to wear it,” he said.

“All those people died and we get that. To get that little copper job instead of a medal, no, I’m sorry I am not sure I’ll bother to wear it.

“Although I am Conservative through and through I am not quite happy with our present Prime Minister. He should have done more for this medal business. It is the politicians who make the final decision.

“There was all the hassle with politicians to get the Memorial then they had front row seats. It’s hypocrisy.”

Next week, Mr Johnson will be at the London unveiling of his portrait by artist Richard Stone dedicated to the whole squadron and will make a speech about their huge sacrifice.

“I didn’t want to do it but my family told me to!” he added.

“It is amazing to think there is still all this interest in the Dambusters. I have insisted on a dedication to the whole squadron. It will go on the portrait as it is for everyone who took part, not just me.”

In May he will again renew the call for a medal with the release of his life story The Last British Dambuster released to mark the 71st anniversary of the raid on May 16, 1943. He worked on the book published by Ebury Press with a ghost writer.

“I am pleased people still want to know what we did,” said Mr Johnson.

“I go to schools and talk to children about the raid, they are fascinated. It is a part of our history and they really listen to my stories that are real, not like something off the television.

“I can still remember it all quite clearly after all these years. That raid was a turning point in the war.”

Mr Johnson is also an adviser to Hobbit director Peter Jackson who is working on a remake of the classic black and white Dambuster movie that starred Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave.

The widower has gone deaf because of his valiant service in the RAF from the noise of the planes. For his sacrifice he gets a £140 a month war pension in recognition of his service.

“I call it Lancaster Ear, I’m deaf in both ears and have got hearing aids,” he said.

“The noise from all those aircraft didn’t help. They didn’t give us any warnings just blow your nose as you come in so your ears don’t pop.”


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