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A Tribute to the Dambusters in Artwork

Part 3 - The Strike on the Möhne

First Strike.

 
The first wave of Lancasters arrived at the Möhne Dam and prepared to make their attack runs.  Each bomber had just one chance at dropping its mine successfully - each would use angled spotlights beaming downwards from the belly of the bomber to monitor the height of the aircraft above the water, and the two towers of the dam would be used with simple equipment inside the aircraft to judge the distance to the wall.  Once lined up, the mine could be dropped and the engineering by Barnes Wallis would take it to its destination - against the wall of the dam and below the water line.  The first aircraft to drop its mine was ED932 AJ-G piloted by the leader of the raid Guy Gibson.  Although dropped successfully, the mine exploded short of the dam wall and did not cause any breach.
 
 
 
 
 
Figure 1 : The First Attack

Main Image : First Strike by Ivan Berryman
The Avro Lancaster B MkIII ED932(G), AJ-G, of Wing Commander Guy Gibson was the first aircraft to make an attempt at breaching the Möhne Dam on the night of 16/17th of May 1943 as Operation Chastise got underway. Having already made one 'sighting' run over the target, Gibson turned and began his second run, the flak and 20mm fire from the shore and from the towers of the dam now throwing up a hail of fire. Undeterred, the Upkeep mine was released, skipping across the water as planned, but striking the dam wall off centre with no visible effect. Gibson made several passes over the Möhne, each time escorting the attacking aircraft in an attempt to draw the enemy fire. With the Möhne finally breached, he led the remaining aircraft on to the Eder dam with similar success before returning safely to Manston.

Inset : Gibson by Robert Tomlin
Guy Gibson in his specially modified Avro Lancaster, makes his first run over the Mohne Dam to create a legend that will live forever.
 
 
 


 

Figure 2 : Dambusters Hero

Main Image : Tribute to the 617 Sqn Dambusters Crew of Lancaster AJ-G by David Pentland
The image shows Lancaster AJ-G attacking the Mohne dam. Alongside is the portrait of AJ-G pilot Wing Cdr G P Gibson. The very first aircraft to attack the dams, AJ-G dropped its bomb short of the Mohne, but drew anti-aircraft fire away from the following Lancasters, before returning home safely.

 

 

 

Figure 3 : Gibson's Run

Main Image : Moment of Truth by Ivan Berryman
Inset : The Hardest Task by Ivan Berryman

The 617 Sqn Lancaster of Guy Gibson (G for George) thunders over the Mohne Dam on the first attack run of the Dambusters raid, 16th - 17th May 1943. After several attacks on the dam, it was finally breached by the innovative bouncing bomb designed by Barnes Wallis.

 

 

Danger at the Dams.
 
 
After the bombing run of Gibson's AJ-G failed to breach the dam, the Lancaster ED925 AJ-M piloted by John Hopgood was sent in to make the second run.  Having sustained flak damage already, the aircraft was again hit by flak on its bombing run, igniting both port engines just before the Upkeep mine was released.  The bomb bounced but overshot the dam, exploding as it landed on the power station below.  Mortally wounded, the Lancaster reeled away from the scene allowing time for two of the crew to take to their parachutes before the port wing failed and the aircraft crashed into a field.  Five of the brave crew were killed in the action, although how many were already wounded or killed prior to the aircraft coming down is not known.  Bomb Aimer Flight Sergeant James W Fraser and Rear Gunner Pilot Officer Anthony Fisher Burcher managed to escape the doomed aircraft and parachuted into captivity.  The dam remained completely intact after this failed attack, while another Lancaster and valuable Upkeep mine had gone.
 
 
 
 
Figure 4 : The Price of Success

Main Image : Bravest of the Brave by Ivan Berryman
The Lancaster B MkIII of Flt Lt J V Hopgood was the second aircraft to make an attempt at breaching the Möhne Dam on the night of 16/17th of May 1943. Already damaged by flak en route to their target, the embattled Lancaster ED925(G) (AJ-M) encountered intense flak and 20mm fire from the shore and from the towers of the dam itself. Flying Officer Gregory's front gun turret had taken the full force of the flak burst during the journey, killing him instantly, and Hopgood himself was almost certainly wounded in the same explosion. Nevertheless, they pressed home their attack but, just moments from the release of the Upkeep bomb, both of Hopgood's port engines took direct hits and burst into flames, and other rounds ripped through the starboard wing. Perhaps distracted by the sudden conflagration, Hopgood's aircraft released its bomb just seconds too late to be effective. The bomb bounced over the dam wall, landing on the power station below where it exploded with devastating results. With blazing fuel now engulfing the wing of his crippled aircraft, Hopgood climbed to about 500ft where the wing failed, sending ED925 into a dive from which it would never recover. By jumping clear, clutching their parachutes just moments before impact, two of her crew survived to become prisoners of war.
 
 
 

 

Figure 5 : Grim Determination

Main Image : No Way Back by Ivan Berryman
Despite crippling damage to their Lancaster ED925 (G), the crew of AJ-M continued to press home their attack on the Mohne Dam on the night of 16th/17th May 1943. With both port engines ablaze, Flt Lt J V Hopgood forced his blazing aircraft on, releasing the Upkeep bomb just precious seconds too late to strike the dam, the mine instead bouncing over the wall and onto the power station below with devastating results. ED925 attempted to recover from the maelstrom, but the fuel fire was too intense and the aircraft was tragically lost, just two of her crew managing to escape the impact to spend the rest of the war as PoWs.

Inset : Determined to the Last by Ivan Berryman
The Lancaster B MkIII of Flt Lt J V Hopgood was the second aircraft to make an attempt at breaching the Mohne Dam on the night of 16/17th of May 1943, ED925(G) (AJ-M) encountering intense flak and 20mm fire from the shore and from the towers of the dam itself. Just moments from the release of the Upkeep bomb, both of Hopgood's port engines took direct hits and burst into flames as other rounds ripped through the starboard wing. Despite these fatal strikes, the brave crew pressed home their attack, but released their bomb just seconds too late to be effective. The bomb bounced over the dam wall, landing on the power station below where it exploded with devastating results. With blazing fuel now engulfing the wing of his crippled aircraft, Hopgood climbed to about 500ft where the wing failed, sending ED925 into a dive from which it would never recover. By jumping clear just moments before impact, two of her crew survived to become prisoners of war.

Crew of ED925 AJ-M 'M for Mother'

Flight Lieutenant John Vere Hopgood (Pilot)
Sergeant Charles Brennan (Flight Engineer)
Flying Officer Ken Earnshaw (Navigator)
Sergeant John W Minchin (Wireless Operator)
Flight Sergeant James W Fraser (Bomb Aimer)
Pilot Officer George Henry Ford Goodwin Gregory (Front Gunner)
Pilot Officer Anthony Fisher Burcher (Rear Gunner)

 

 

Third Time Unlucky.

The next aircraft to attack was ED909 AJ-P piloted by Mick Martin.  Following the loss to the flak batteries of AJ-M on the previous run, Guy Gibson in AJ-G having already dropped his mine flew with Mick Martin to draw at least some of the defensive fire away from the attacking aircraft.  This worked to protect AJ-P, and the mine was released successfully.  The aircraft survived the attack run with some flak damage but the mine veered off to the left at the last moment before exploding relatively harmlessly, sending a plume of water skyward.  The dam had seen off three attackers, destroying one of them, and stood defiant.
 
 
 
 
Figure 6 : Drawing Fire

Main Image : Into Attack by Gerald Coulson
Flight Lieutenant Mick Martin readies his crew to release their bouncing bomb as he makes his run into the Mohne Dam. Flanking him is the Lancaster of Wing Commander Guy Gibson, using his aircraft to draw flak from the gunners along the dam.

Inset : The Dambusters by Gerald Coulson
Mick Martin's Lancaster pulls away from the Möhne Dam, his Upkeep bomb exploding behind him sending a huge plume of water into the air. Guy Gibson flies to his right drawing flak from the anti-aircraft guns on the towers.

 

Figure 7 : Immovable Object

Main Image : The Dambusters by Simon Smith
On the night of 16/17th May 1943,under a full moon, 19 specially modified Lancaster bombers from 617 Squadron carried out one of the most daring and effective air raids of the Second World War. Led by wing commander Guy Gibson the 19 aircraft took off and headed for Germany at extreme low level.. Their mission, code named Operation Chastise, was to destroy the Ruhr dams which supplied water and electricity to the industrial heart of Reich. Each aircraft carried the ingenious Upkeep mine, developed by the engineer Barnes Wallis. Shaped like a large oil drum, the bomb was spun prior to release at exactly 60ft above the water and 150 yards from the dam wall. This caused the weapon to bounce across water and on impact would also make it stay close to the wall of the dam as it sank. The bomb, technically a mine, was fitted with a hydrostatic fuse similar to a depth charge causing detonation at the required depth.  The correct height above the water was achieved by aligning the beams of two spotlights to meet on the surface of the water. Delivering such a weapon on target at night at such low altitude and under enemy fire was thought by many to be impossible. The nineteen pilots, some as young as eighteen had been hand picked by Gibson only two months before and formed into 617 squadron whose first mission was to remain top secret and unknown to them up until the last moment. The Möhne Dam was attacked first and several attempts were made under heavy fire with one Lancaster being shot down as it flew over the target.  Guy Gibson then attempted to draw fire away from the attacking aircraft by switching on his navigation lights and flying to one side of Mick Martins aircraft, the scene depicted in Simon Smiths painting.

Inset : Tribute to the 617 Sqn Dabmusters Crew of Lancaster AJ-P by David Pentland
The image shows Lancaster AJ-P attacking the Mohne dam. Alongside is the portrait of AJ-P pilot Flt Lt H B Martin. This aircraft was the third to attack the Mohne dam, and although the bomb was dropped successfully, it veered to the side of the dam and exploded off target. The aircraft returned safely.

 

 

Unstoppable Force
 
 
With three mines now used against the first target, Lancaster ED887 AJ-A piloted by 'Dinghy' Young was next in line to attack the Möhne.  Flanked once again by the lit-up Lancaster of Guy Gibson drawing fire, the mine scored a direct hit and the dam began to fail.  The design of the Upkeep mine combined with the bravery, skill and determination of the Lancaster crews to deliver their payload would prove to be an unstoppable force, spelling doom for the Möhne.
 
 
 
Figure 8 : The Beginning of the End

Main Image : Operation Chastise - The Night They Broke the Dams by Ivan Berryman
Guy Gibson's Lancaster having unsuccessfully dropped its bomb, draws enemy fire from the aircraft of Sqn Ldr Young as his bomb explodes spectacularly on the Möhne Dam during the audacious Dams Raids of 16th/17th May 1943.

Inset : Dambusters - The Impossible Mission by Robert Taylor
Dinghy Young, flying Lancaster AJ-A, heading through flak and machine gun fire towards the Möhne Dam at precisely 60ft, has just released his cylindrical, hydrostatically-triggered bouncing bomb – clearly visible against the huge splash created as it hits the water. The mighty Möhne Dam has but moments to live.

 

Figure 9 : Striking the First Blow

Main Image : Tribute to the 617 Sqn Lancaster Crew of AJ-A by David Pentland
The image shows Lancaster AJ-A attacking the Mohne dam, successfully causing a small breach. Alongside is the portrait of AJ-A pilot Sqn Ldr H M Young.

Inset : Eye of the Storm - The Dambusters by Philip West
Wing Commander Gibsons aircraft in the foreground and Flt. Lt. Martins in the distance, both draw flak away from Sqn. Ldr. Youngs Lancaster after it has dropped its Bouncing Bomb and makes its escape over the Mohne Dam.
 
 

 

Figure 10 : The Breach Begins

Main Image : The Night They Broke the Dams - Operation Chastise by Ivan Berryman
Guy Gibson's Lancaster having unsuccessfully dropped its bomb, draws enemy fire from the aircraft of Sqn Ldr Young as his bomb explodes spectacularly on the Möhne Dam during the audacious Dams Raids of 16th/17th May 1943.

Inset : Goner 78A - The Dambusters Raid by Tim Fisher
The fourth attack on the Mohne Dam led by Sqd Ldr H M Young, piloting AJ-A (ED877/G) In the background to his starboard side is Flt Lt H B Martin, flying AJ-P (ED909/G) who was drawing fire away from the attacking aircraft by flashing his identification lights and turning on the spotlight altitude indicators. Wing Cdr G P Gibsons aircraft is out of sight, engaging enemy fire at the far side of the dam wall. The bomb was observed to make three good bounces and exploded on contact exactly as Barnes Wallis had planned, generating a vast column of water. Although it was not obvious at that instant, this was the attack which succeeded in breaching the dam. However, it was not until the next attack by Flt D J H Maltby that it was realised that the dam was crumbling. The code word sent out by Young signified; Goner (bomb released) 7 (exploded in contact with the dam) 8 (no apparent breach) A (Mohne dam).
 

 

The End of the Beginning.
 
 
Four aircraft had made their attack on the Möhne, and the dam was now breached, but not severely.  A fifth aircraft would make the attack on the target that would finally send the flood to the valley below.  David Maltby, pilot of ED906 AJ-J lined up his Lancaster and dropped his Upkeep mine into the dam, flanked once again by Gibson in AJ-G drawing flak - this time in company with Mick Martin in AJ-P.  The mine exploded and the dam crumbled.  The first target of the raid had been destroyed, vindicating the desperate losses already suffered by the Lancasters.

 

Figure 11 : The Final Attack

Main Image : Dambusters - The Moment of Truth by Ivan Berryman
This was the moment when the massive Möhne dam was finally breached on the night of 16th-17th May 1943 during the top secret Operation Chastise. The specially-converted Lancaster B MkIII of Fl/Lt David Maltby ED906(G) AJ-J roars between the towers of the dam, having released the Upkeep bouncing bomb that would ultimately cause a cascade of water to flood into the valley below. Fl/Lt Harold Martin's identical aircraft, ED909(G) AJ-P can be seen off Maltby's port wing with all of its light ablaze, drawing enemy fire from the attacking bomb.

Inset : Night of Heroes- The Dambusters by Philip West
17th May 1943. Lancasters from 617 Squadron deliver a surprise attack on the Ruhr dams with specially designed, unique bouncing bombs invented by Barnes Wallis. Wing Commander Guy Gibson is shown drawing defensive fire away from Flt Lt Maltbys aircraft as it passes over the Mohne, just as his mine explodes and breaches the dam.
 
 

 

Figure 12 : Last Moments of the Möhne

Main Image : The One That Broke The Dam by Ivan Berryman
Amid a hail of defensive fire, Flt Lt D J H Maltby holds Lancaster ED906/G AJ-J steady for his bomb aimer John Fort to perfectly choose his moment to release the Upkeep Bomb that would ultimately breach and destroy the Mohne Dam during the famous Dambuster raids on the Ruhr on the night of 16th / 17th May 1943.

 

 

Figure 13 : The End of the Möhne

Main Image : The Breach by Anthony Saunders
The Möhne Dam: 17 May 1943, 00.49 hrs. The journey had been eventful, flying low they had crossed the Dutch coast and headed inland, skimming along canals and the countryside at tree-top height and meeting heavy flak at various points along the route. Yet now the first two waves of Lancasters had reached the Möhne Dam and, as the enemy flak opened up, the six aircraft began to circle their target. First Gibson in AJ-G attacked, his bomb exploding successfully, 'Hoppy' Hopgood crashed after being hit by gunfire, and then 'Mick' Martin in Lancaster AJ-P made his bomb run, yet despite being hit twice, the dam still held. Next Gibson called in 'Dinghy' Young in AJ-A, he too scored a direct hit but it seemed the dam was still un-breached. Things were looking bad as David Maltby in AJ-J made his run into the target but the top of the wall was starting to crumble. Young's bouncing bomb had in fact cracked the dense granite wall and Maltby finished the job with a direct hit – the Möhne Dam was doomed. The second in Anthony Saunders' pair of Dambuster 70th Anniversary commemorative paintings, The Breach depicts the scene as Guy Gibson engages enemy flak positions whilst Lancaster AJ-J, with pilot David Maltby at the controls, banks steeply away after delivering the coup-de-grace. A huge explosion and towering pillar of water marks the breach where a vast torrent begins to flood the valley below.

Inset : Breaching the Dams by Nicolas Trudgian
The Möhne Dam gives way as David Maltby's Lancaster releases its bomb to deliver the coup de grace on the night of 16th / 17th May 1943. Guy Gibson, nearest, and Mick Martin, having already dropped their bombs, make dummy runs with lights on to draw enemy fire.

 

 

Figure 14 : The Final Defence

Main Image : Third Time Lucky by Ivan Berryman
Standing his aircraft at the height of just 60 feet above the waters of the Möhne, Flt Lt Maltby braves a hail of anti-aircraft fire just seconds before the release of the bouncing bomb that would at last breach the dam on that historic night of the 16th/17th May 1943.

Inset : Operation Chastise - The Dambusters by Philip West
During the night of May 16/17, 1943, 19 Lancasters of the newly formed 617 Squadron carried out daring raids against four dams in the Ruhr. The Primary target was the Möhne dam. Here we see Flt Lt Maltby and crew in AJ-J flying clear of the Möhne before their Upkeep mine exploded against and breached the dam. Operation Chastise became a legend in the annals of the RAF and military history.

 

Figure 15 : The Legend Begins

Main Image : Primary Target by Philip West
In 1943, the RAF's 617 Squadron set out to destroy three dams in Germany's Ruhr valley. They managed to breach two, giving a boost to Britain's war effort. On 16th May 1943, 19 aircraft set out to destroy the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany's industrial heartland. They used specially-designed drum-shaped bouncing bombs which skimmed across the water, rolled down the dam wall and exploded at depth. Only 11 of the aircraft returned from the perilous low-level mission in which they flew at just 150ft all the way from England before descending for the bombing run to defeat the German radar. It resulted in the largest awarding of medals at any one time during the war. The bouncing bombs were the brainchild of legendary aviation engineer Sir Barnes Wallis, who was knighted in 1968. Primary Target depicts the final seconds on 17th May 1943 as the bouncing bomb of Flight Lt. Maltby's Lancaster Squadron breached the giant Mohne dam.

Inset : Dam Defenders by David Pentland
Möhne Dam, Ruhr Valley, 16th-17th May 1943. On the fifth and final attempt to breach the Möhne dam, Flt. Lt Maltby was flanked by the aircraft of Gibson and Martin who attempted to suppress the German flak defences.

 

Crew of ED906 AJ-J 'J for Johnny'

Flight Lieutenant David John Maltby (Pilot)
Sergeant William Hatton (Flight Engineer)
Sergeant Vivian Nicholson (Navigator)
Sergeant Anthony Joseph Stone (Wireless Operator)
Pilot Officer John Fort (Bomb Aimer)
Sergeant Victor Hill (Front Gunner)
Sergeant Harold Thomas Simmonds (Rear Gunner)

 

 

 

The Legend Lives On.
 
 
The spectacle of the attack on the Möhne coupled with the ingenuity and audacity of the attack, the unwavering bravery and skill of the crews who carried it out, its success and the tragedy make the event an inspiration to aviation artists and the public in general.  In this article we have covered just a single target of the dams raid and yet we have shown more artwork than in any other part of the story.  Below we have included even more artwork from this event which has inspired so much artwork.
 
 

Figure 16 : Looking Back

Main Image : Dambusters Over the Möhne by Ivan Berryman
Tracer fire streaks past two Dambuster Lancasters of No.617 Sqn as the decisive Barnes Wallis bouncing bomb skips towards the dam in the moonlit background. Fire from the already burning buildings lights up the front face of the dam and reflects off the aircraft as they throttle up to make good their escape.
 
 
 
 
 
Figure 17 : The Dambusters Finest Moment

Main Image : The Dambusters by Graeme Lothian
The night of the 16th May 1943 saw 19 modified Lancasters of the specially formed 617 squadron set out to breach the Ennepe, Eder, Mohne and Sorpe dams in Westphalia, Germany. The mission was led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson.

Inset : Gibson Over the Möhne by Keith Aspinall
 
 
 
 
Figure 18 : Inspiration

Main Image : Now They Know We Are Here! by P E Holland
Guy Gibson's Lancaster over the breached Möhne Dam, 16/17th May 1943.

Inset : Dambusters by Robert Taylor

 

Figure 19 : The Flood

Main Image : Gibson VC by Graeme Lothian
The night of the 16th May 1943 saw 19 modified Lancasters of the specially formed 617 squadron set out to breach the Ennepe, Eder, Mohne and Sorpe dams in Westphalia, Germany. The mission was led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson DSO, DFC. Gibsons Lancaster can be seen in the foreground with lights full on to draw enemy fire, as is Mick Martins Lancaster on the far side protecting Dinghy Young, who has dropped his bouncing bomb and is flying through a hail of defensive gunfire. He scored a direct hit, and his was the decisive bomb that breached the Mohne Dam. Of the 19 Lancasters who set out, 5 received damage from enemy defences, 6 returned unscathed and 8 failed to return. Operation Chastise was a huge success especially for the countries morale. 58 decorations were awarded for the raid including a Victoria Cross for Gibson. The squadron were known thereafter as the Dambusters.

Inset : Low Pass Over the Möhne Dam by Anthony Saunders
Operation Chastise, the plan to destroy the mighty Ruhr dams, was bold, audacious and dangerous. It was also set to become one of the most legendary combat missions ever undertaken in the history of aviation warfare. In late February 1943 a unique decision was taken by the RAF to form the now legendary 617 Squadron, a highly specialised unit within Bomber Command. Its task was to be the destruction of the huge Möhne, Sorpe and Eder dams, which provided vital services to German industry. Tasked with providing the crews for this new squadron was the young, outstanding, bomber and night-fighter pilot Wing Commander Guy Gibson, already a veteran of 174 bomber operations. On 21st March 1943 the unit was formed at RAF Scampton under his command, and the chosen men had just eight weeks to prepare for the task in hand.

 

 

 

 

 

Part 1 - From Preparations to the Dutch Coast
Part 2 - From the Dutch Coast to the Dams
Part 4 - The Eder and Beyond.


More information :
Full list of No.617 Sqn Artwork
No.617 Sqn in our Aviation Directory - here you will find links to many prints signed by the men who flew on the Dambusters raid.

 

 

 

See our aviation history timeline for all today's historical aviation events - air victories, aircraft losses and pilot details.

RECENT UPDATES TO OUR AVIATION HISTORY DATABASES
Updates made to Aircrew database for : Garnett : Squadrons updated (added No.51 Sqn RAF), Squadron service dates updated
Updates made to Aircrew database for : E. S. C. Halsall : Squadrons updated (added No.51 Sqn RAF), Squadron service dates updated
Updates made to Aircrew database for : Aircraftsman 1 C Cooper : Squadron service dates updated
JGr Losigkeit added to the squadrons database.
Hurricane Mk.IIb Z5617 of No.229 Sqn RAF added to the airframes database.
Updates made to Aircrew database for : Flight Lieutenant Roger Calvert : Victories updated, Squadron service dates updated
Updates made to Aircrew database for : Sergeant John Henry Hanne : First name updated (now John Henry), Service number updated (now 564212), Squadron service dates updated
Wellington Mk.IC R1004 of No.99 Sqn RAF added to the airframes database.
Updates made to Airframes database for : Blenheim Z5877 : Airframe notes updated (added 10-02-1941 : Blenheim was shot down in the airfield circuit by a Ju88. )
Flight Lieutenant Roy Pengilley added to aircrew database :
A pilot with 625 Sqn before being chosen for Pathfinders on Lancasters, joining 582 Sqn and completing 59 operations. Roy was wounded on a daylight operation spending two months in hospital, finally completing his tour in March 1945.
SEARCH OUR AVIATION HISTORY DATABASES

 

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