AJ-J's part in The Dams Raid
1. Flight out
The Dams Raid took place on 16-17 May 1943, using nineteen specially modified Lancasters of 617 Squadron, in three waves, under the command of Wing Cdr Guy Gibson. The targets were the great dams of the Ruhr and Eder valleys: principally the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe.
As the second wave had further to fly, they took off from RAF Scampton's grass runway first.
Then it was the turn of the first wave. It wasn’t common for Lancasters to take off in formation but on this occasion they did, Gibson leading Flt Lt John Hopgood and Flt Lt 'Mick' Martin down the grass runway into the bright May evening sky. Eight minutes later, at 2147, Sqn Ldr Melvin Young led out the V-Vic with the two Davids just behind, Flt Lt David Maltby on the right, Flt Lt David Shannon on the left.
Sitting at his desk inside the fuselage, below the Perspex astrodome, with his maps, an air position indicator and the apparatus for the Gee system at hand, navigator Sgt Vivian Nicholson sat ready for his ﬁrst ever operation. The navigator would spend the whole ﬂight making detailed calculations and advising small changes in course.
Vivian’s log records the details of the ﬂight. At 2210, over the Wash, they tested the spotlights set to keep the aircraft at exactly 60 ft during the bombing run. They made landfall accurately over the Scheldt estuary on the Dutch coast at 2312, and the mine was then fused. David had to take ‘evasive action’ to avoid ﬂak at Rosendaal. At the canal intersection at Beck, Vivian wrote ‘Leader turns soon’. He probably meant ‘too soon’, as Young’s aircraft went slightly off course. At 2342, about 15 miles from the Rhine, he noted that his Gee system was now ‘jammed something chronic’. They turned again at Dülmen, avoided more ﬂak, ‘direct at a/c’ at Ludinghausen, and also at Ahlen, and arrived at Target X, the Möhne at 0026. The outward ﬂight had taken 2 hours 32 minutes.
David and the other ﬁve crews circled the area above the Möhne, to be joined shortly by Sqn Ldr Henry Maudslay and Plt Off Les Knight. Flt Lt Bill Astell had crashed. He seems to have hesitated at a turning point, then ﬂew into ﬂak and collided with a high tension pylon. His crew included two Canadians, Albert Garshowitz and Frank Garbas*, who had grown up together as friends in Hamilton, Ontario and are now buried together in Reichswald Forest Cemetery. Next page
(*You can read more about Albert Garshowitz and Frank Garbas here.)