AJ-J's part in The Dams Raid
2. The first four attacks on the Möhne
The Möhne Reservoir is the shape of a giant U on its side, the open end facing east, or right. The dam is on the top left part of the curve of the U. Some books say that the aircraft approached from the Körbecke bridge at the eastern end, but that is now thought to be wrong.
The aircraft attacked by ﬂying straight at the dam from a south-easterly direction, hopping over a small spit of land and quickly getting down to the right height for the last stretch of about 1,500m. In that last 1,500m the pilot would have to get down to exactly 60 ft and stay level, the ﬂight engineer would maintain the approach speed at 230 mph, and the wireless operator would ensure that the mine was spinning backwards at 500 rpm. Meanwhile the navigator would switch on the spotlights and check that the beams were touching. Flying at 230 mph, the aircraft would cover the 1,500m stretch in about 15 seconds.
By the time Young, Maltby and Shannon had got to the dam Gibson had ﬂown over it, without revealing the exact direction of attack, and came through the ﬂak unscathed. He told the others that he ‘liked the look of it’. So, just two minutes after this trio arrived, he began his run in. It seemed at ﬁrst that everything had gone to plan – the mine was spun correctly and was seen to bounce three times. But it did not reach the dam wall, exploding a few yards short. A great plume of water rose up into the air, but the dam held.
Back in Britain, in the operations room at 5 Group headquarters in Grantham, Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the 'bouncing bomb' (more accurately described as a revolving depth charge), Air Vice Marshal Sir Ralph Cochrane, CO of Bomber Command's 5 Group, and other assorted staff had been joined by the Head of Bomber Command, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris himself, who had driven the 120 miles from Bomber Command HQ in High Wycombe. When Gibson’s ‘Goner 58A’ signal was received, indicating an unsuccessful attack, with the mine exploding between 5 and 50 yards short, a sense of gloom descended.
Gibson then called Hopgood into attack. As Hopgood crossed the stretch of water towards the dam, the anti-aircraft gunners on it were now ready. His aircraft was hit on one side. The ﬂight engineer shouted a warning, the bomb aimer dropped the mine, knowing that he had done so too late and heard Hopgood screaming ‘For Christ’s sake get out of here!’ Hopgood struggled on, trying to lift the aircraft, and got it up to about 500 ft. The mine bounced over the dam and into the power station on the far side, causing a big explosion and a ﬁre. Three of the crew baled out but one did not survive the parachute drop.
Next to attack was Martin. Gibson ﬂew slightly ahead of him on his starboard side, in the hope that the gunners would be distracted. However, something went wrong with Martin’s mine: it veered off leftwards and exploded near the southern shore of the lake.
Sqn Ldr Melvin Young, whose rowing Blue from Oxford may have helped him survive the two ditchings at sea which earned him the nickname ‘Dinghy’, was next. This time, Gibson ﬂew across the defences on the far side of the dam wall, and Martin came in on the starboard side. Young was accurate in his approach, and his bomb aimer, Flg Off Vincent MacCausland, dropped the mine accurately. It bounced three times, hit the dam and seemed to explode while it was in contact with it, but, as the tumult subsided, there was no obvious breach. Next page