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A Tribute to the Dambusters in Artwork
Part 4 - The Eder and Beyond
To the Next Target.
With the primary target of the Möhne dam now breached successfully, five Lancasters departed for the next target the Eder dam. Having dropped their Upkeep mines, Gibson and Young in AJ-G and AJ-A respectively led Lancasters of Shannon (AJ-L), Maudslay (AJ-Z) and Knight (AJ-N) to the Eder to make their attacks. It had taken five mines to tackle the Möhne - would three mines be enough to conquer the Eder? Although undefended, the topography of the landscape around the Eder made the task of lining up for an attack extremely difficult. Shannon in AJ-L made several attempts to make a successful bombing run, but could not. Maudslay in AJ-Z then also made a number of failed attempts to manoeuvre into a position to release the mine, before allowing Shannon in AJ-L to try again - this time releasing his bomb. A hit was scored, but the dam did not break.
Figure 1 : If At First You Don't Succeed........
Main Image : Not This Time by Ivan Berryman
Having arrived at the Eder dam, following the successful breaching of the Mohne on the night of 16th/17th May 1943, Wing Commander Guy Gibson put Flight Lieutenant D J Shannon, flying ED929G, to the task of making the first attack, but he had great difficulty achieving the correct height and approach and had to make a number of abortive runs before finally releasing his Upkeep bomb. AJ-L is shown here making his penultimate pass over the Eder wall, his mine still attached.
Inset : Tribute to the 617 Sqn Crew of Lancaster AJ-L by David Pentland
The image shows Lancaster AJ-L lining up for the attack on the Eder dam. Alongside is the portrait of AJ-L pilot Flt Lt D J Shannon. The first aircraft to attempt an attack the Eder dam, AJ-L made several unsuccessful attempts at lining up to drop the bomb, hampered by the difficult approach to the dam. After allowing AJ-Z to drop its bomb, AJ-L made a final successful attack on the dam, its bomb exploding accurately, but failing to cause a breach. The aircraft returned to base safely.
Crew of ED929 AJ-L 'L for Leather' :
Flight Lieutenant David John Shannon (Pilot)
Sergeant Robert Jack Henderson (Flight Engineer)
Flying Officer Daniel Revie Walker (Navigator)
Flying Officer Brian Goodale (Wireless Operator)
Flight Sergeant Leonard Joseph Sumpter (Bomb Aimer)
Sergeant Brian Jagger (Front Gunner)
Flying Officer Jack Buckley (Rear Gunner)
Having made several aborted runs at the Eder already, David Maudslay in Lancaster AJ-Z finally managed to make a successful release of his Upkeep mine. With timing critical, the bomb was released marginally too late, striking the top of the dam and ricocheting into the air behind his aircraft. Here it exploded causing significant damage to the Lancaster, and leaving the dam intact. Of the five attackers at the Eder, two had arrived with no mine after the attack on the Möhne, two more had now struggled to even release theirs, and had caused no significant damage to the dam. There remained only one more chance.
Figure 2 : The Eder Defiant
Main Image : Tragedy at the Eder by Ivan Berryman
Following the successful attack on the Mohne dam on the night of 16th/17th May 1943, three Lancasters of 617 Sqn turned their attention to the Eder, some twelve minutes flying time away, accompanied by Wing Commander Guy Gibson to oversee the next attack. After several aborted attempts to obtain the correct height and direction for their bomb run by Flight Lieutenant Shannon (AJ-L) and Squadron Leader H E Maudslay (AJ-Z), Gibson called in Maudslay to try again. During his second approach, he released his Upkeep bomb too late. It struck the top of the dam wall and bounced back into the air where it exploded right behind Maudslay's aircraft, lighting up the entire valley and causing considerable damage to the aircraft that had dropped it. Despite what must have been crippling damage, AJ-Z did manage to limp away from the scene and begin the return journey.
Crew of ED937 AJ-Z 'Z for Zebra' :
Leader Henry Eric Maudslay (Pilot)
The last mine available was on Lancaster ED912 AJ-N 'N for Nut', piloted by Les Knight. Having witnessed both Shannon and Maudslay struggle with the tricky approach, Knight took just two bombing runs to release his mine. It made perfect contact and exploded, sending floodwaters into the valley below. With the last roll of the dice at the Eder, the first wave of Lancasters had emerged victorious and could begin the perilous journey home.
Figure 3 : The End of the Eder
Main Image : Breaching the Eder by Simon Smith
On the night of 16th / 17th May 1943, Lancasters of 617 Squadron under the command of Wing Commander Guy Gibson attacked the hydroelectric dams of the Ruhr. Five of the aircraft that successfully attacked and breached the Mohne flew onto the Eder, only three with the Upkeep bombs still on board. Whilst there was no flak, the approach, over difficult terrain, was hazardous and a tremendous test of skills of the crews involved. Pilot Officer Les Knights aircraft, AFN, can be seen having just dropped the last of the groups bombs, which actually breached the dam, and is climbing steeply to avoid the hill behind the dam.
Inset : Dambusters - Breaching the Eder Dam by Robert Taylor
Mist and fog swirled eerily over the Eder Lake on the night of 16/17 May 1943 as four specially modified Lancasters of 617 Squadron, under the leadership of Wing Commander Guy Gibson, circled overhead. Their target, the mighty Eder Dam, was barely visible in the valley below. Immediately following the successful breach of the Mohne Dam, Gibson had led his remaining aircraft 50 miles to the south-east to hit their second target, the Eder Dam. Surrounded by high ground with thousand feet ridges, the Eder was altogether a more testing target. The Lancaster pilots would need to dive steeply into the gorge that formed the Eder lake before undertaking a steep turn towards the Dam itself. As if this were not demanding enough in the darkness of night, they then had to fly towards the target at precisely 60ft above the lake at the exact speed of 230mph, before releasing their Barnes Wallace designed hydrostatic bouncing bombs. Pilots Shannon and Maudsley tried time and again to position their laden bombers correctly before managing to release their weapons – but the dam still held. Now success depended solely on Knight carrying the last bomb! With time and fuel now a concern, Knights first effort to position, like Shannon and Maudsley before him, failed, but his second run favoured the brave. Knight released his bomb with absolute precision, striking the wall at precisely the crucial point. With a tremendous explosion the Eder Dam collapsed before their eyes. Robert Taylors sensational new painting vividly shows the dramatic moment of impact. In the cockpit Knight and flight engineer Ray Grayston fight the controls to clear the dam, combining their physical strength to haul the lumbering Lancaster up and over the dam and to clear the high ground that lies ahead. Below and behind them, the second of Germanys mighty western dams lies finally breached.
Figure 4 : Final Strike
Main Image : The Eder Breaks by Ivan Berryman
The success of the attack on the Möhne dam on the night of 16th/17th May 1943 meant that the remaining three 617 Sqn Lancasters of the First Wave could turn their attention to the Eder, some twelve minutes flying time away. Wing Commander Guy Gibson first called in Flight Lieutenant D J Shannon, flying AJ-L (ED929G) to make the initial run, but he had great difficulty achieving the correct height and approach, so Gibson now ordered Squadron Leader H E Maudslay in AJ-Z (ED937G) to make his run. Again, the aircraft struggled to find the correct height and direction, so Shannon was again brought in, AJ-L finally releasing its Upkeep on the third attempt. The bomb bounced twice before exploding with no visible effect on the dam. Now Maudslay made another attempt, but released his bomb too late. The mine bounced off of the dam wall and exploded in mid air right behind AJ-Z, the Lancaster limping away, damaged, from the scene. Finally, Pilot Officer Les Knight was called in for one final attempt. AJ-N (ED912G) released its Upkeep perfectly, the mine bouncing three times before striking the dam slightly to the south. In the ensuing explosion, the dam was seen to shake visibly before the masonry began to crumble and a massive breach appeared. With the Möhne and Eder dams both destroyed and the Sorpe demonstrated to be equally vulnerable, Operation Chastise had been a remarkable success and will stand forever as one of the most heroic and audacious attacks in the history of aerial warfare.
Inset : Tribute to the 617 Sqn Crew of Lancaster AJ-N by David Pentland
The image shows Lancaster AJ-N pulling away after its successful breach of the Eder dam. Alongside is the portrait of AJ-N pilot Plt Off L J Knight. This aircraft was the third aircraft to make the tricky attack on the Eder dam. Despite the approach being made difficult by the terrain, AJ-N successfully breached the Eder dam with its bomb, and returned home safely
Figure 5 : Mission Accomplished
Main Image : Dambusters by Anthony Saunders
Immediately following their devastating attack on the Mohne Dam, the specially modified Lancasters of 617 Squadron successfully breach the second of Germanys mighty western dams - the Eder, on the night of 16th / 17th May 1943. After hitting the target with pinpoint precision, pilot Les Knight and Flight Engineer Ray Grayston battle with the controls of Lancaster AJ-N in order to clear the high ground beyond the dam as a torrent of water erupts into the valley below them; the wall of the Eder Dam is rent apart and collapses.
Inset : Target Y, The Eder Dam Raid by David Pentland
At 0154am, Pilot officer Les Knight in Avro Lancaster AJ-N transmitted the codeword Dinghy, the signal that the Eder Dam had been successfully breached. Although the target was undefended by flak, its location made it extremely difficult to hit. In fact, four of the five aircraft involved in the attack failed in their attempts and Knights was the last available aircraft carrying the last available bomb!
Crew of ED912 AJ-N 'N for Nut' :
Officer Leslie Gordon Knight (Pilot)
First Attack on the Sorpe.
With the Möhne and Eder destroyed, tertiary targets remained for the remaining bombers to strike. ED825 AJ-T was the only remaining aircraft of the second wave, and having taken off around half an hour later than the other four aircraft, was directed to the Sorpe dam. This aircraft was the first to arrive at the Sorpe dam, and found the approach to the bombing run very difficult, with a church spire and the mountainous terrain provides real hazards. In addition, this dam was of an earthen construction. Different from the Möhne and Eder, this was essentially a shaped mound of earth holding the water back, and was therefore a much more solid target. To add further difficulty, the bombs used would not be bounced across the water at the face of the dam, but instead would be dropped along the length of the dam wall, due to the nature of the terrain. Despite this, Lancaster AJ-T took nine runs at the undefended dam before releasing the mine successfully onto the dam. The resulting explosion caused only superficial damage to the dam.
Figure 6 : Hard Target
Main Image : Attack on the Sorpe by Ivan Berryman
Of the five Lancasters that formed the Second Wave of Operation Chastise, just one aircraft made it to the target, the Sorpe Dam, on the night of 16th/17th May 1943. American pilot Joe McCarthy had been forced to switch to the reserve aircraft due to technical difficulties and subsequently took off slightly later than his less fortunate comrades, all of whom fell either to German flak or to mishaps on their perilous journey. Upon arrival, McCarthy found the view of the dam itself to be unobscured, although mist in the surrounding valleys made it difficult to gauge his approach. As this was not a masonry dam, a different tactic was employed to the Möhne and Eder which involved flying along the length of the dam and dropping the Upkeep bomb, unspun, directly onto it. Their task was made all the more difficult by the fact that their approach necessitated McCarthy bringing AJ-T low over the hilltop village of Langsheid whose Church spire occupied the very point at which the aircraft had to pass to get a good run upon the dam. Undaunted and with great skill, ED825(G) made its run and released the bomb onto the dam, unassisted by the spotlight altimeter device that had proved so useful at the Möhne and Eder as AJ-T had not been fitted with this aid. Nevertheless, the Upkeep struck the dam and exploded as planned, sadly with little effect. McCarthy and his brave crew returned safely to Scampton, their landing made slightly difficult by a tyre that had been damaged by light flak on the return journey. The Sorpe was attacked again in the small hours of the morning when Flight Sergeant Ken Brown's aircraft, AJ-F of the Third Wave arrived, once more striking the dam successfully, but again without breaching it.
Inset : Attack on the Sorpe (preliminary sketch) by Ivan Berryman
McCarthy's aircraft, ED825(G) AJ-T attacking the undefended Sorpe Dam with the village in the background and the church with the steeple that they had to avoid on the hilltop. Such was the difficulty of the approach to this dam - attacked along its length in contrast to the other dams which were attacked perpendicular to the dam - McCarthy needed to make a total of ten runs before the bomb was dropped accurately. Despite such determination, the bomb failed to cause any significant damage to the massive earth dam.
Crew of ED825 AJ-T 'T for Tommy' :
Flight Lieutenant Joseph Charles McCarthy (Pilot)
Sergeant William Radcliffe (Flight Engineer)
Flying Officer Donald Arthur MacLean (Navigator)
Flight Sergeant Leonard Eaton (Wireless Operator)
Sergeant George Leonard Johnson (Bomb Aimer)
Sergeant Ronald Batson (Front Gunner)
Flying Officer David Rodger (Rear Gunner)
Second Attack on the Sorpe.
Nearly three hours later, Lancaster ED918 AJ-F of the third wave would arrive over the Sorpe with fog beginning to form over the target. Hurriedly releasing their bomb in the thickening fog, the managed to hit the dam, but once again only superficial damage would be caused. ED924 AJ-Y also reached the area of the Sorpe dam but was unable to attack due to weather and navigational difficulties and began the return flight with its mine still unreleased.
Crew of ED918 AJ-F 'F for Freddie' :
Flight Sergeant Kenneth William Brown (Pilot)
Sergeant Harry Basil Feneron (Flight Engineer)
Sergeant Dudley Percy Heal (Navigator)
Sergeant Harry J Hewstone (Wireless Operator)
Sergeant Stefan Oancia (Bomb Aimer)
Sergeant Daniel Allatson (Front Gunner)
Flight Sergeant Grant S MacDonald (Rear Gunner)
Crew of ED924 AJ-Y 'Y for York' :
Flight Sergeant Cyril Thorpe Anderson (Pilot)
Sergeant Robert Campbell Patterson (Flight Engineer)
Sergeant John Percival Nugent (Navigator)
Sergeant William Douglas Bickle (Wireless Operator)
Sergeant John Gilbert Green (Bomb Aimer)
Sergeant Eric Ewan (Front Gunner)
Sergeant Arthur William Buck (Rear Gunner)
The Attack on the Ennepe
The last remaining Lancaster ED886 AJ-O was to attack the Ennepe dam. The crew certainly attacked a dam, once again with no breach, but whether his was the Ennepe or Bever dam is disputed due to conflicting information. This concerns minutiae such as compass bearing, moon position and location of certain features on the bombing run. What is certain is that the crew of AJ-O played their part in the Dambusters story. After dropping their mine, they also began the difficult journey home.
The Journey Home
The targets had now been visited, all (bar one) mines dropped and the remaining Lancasters were battered but on the way home. Once over the English Channel again, they would almost be home free. Sadly, not all would even make it this far, as returning through flak-filled enemy territory would take its toll on the raiders. First, ED937 AJ-Z piloted by Henry Maudslay would succumb to the damage sustained at the Eder dam and from additional flak, crashing with no survivors over Emmerich. Then, ED887 AJ-A, so crucial in the destruction of the Möhne, would become the last casualty of the raid, making it as far as the Dutch coast before being shot down by flak. Once again, there were no survivors.
Crew of ED887 AJ-A 'A for Apple' :
Squadron Leader Henry Melvin Young (Pilot)
Sergeant David Taylor Horsfall (Flight Engineer)
Flight Sergeant Charles Walpole Roberts (Navigator)
Sergeant Lawrence William Nichols (Wireless Operator)
Flying Officer Vincent Sandford MacCausland (Bomb Aimer)
Sergeant Gordon Arthur Yeo (Front Gunner)
Sergeant Wilfred Ibbotson (Rear Gunner)
Figure 7 : Safe Return
Main Image : 'O' Safe Home by Ivan Berryman
Bill Townsends Lancaster O for Orange, returns safely on the morning of 17th May 1943 after the success of the daring raids on the dams of the Ruhr Valley.
Figure 8 : At Ease
Main Image : Dambusters - The Morning After by Gerald Coulson
Just after midnight, on the night of 16/17 May 1943, Lancaster crews of 617 Squadron undertook what was to become the most remarkable and probably best remembered air raid of the Second World War. Flying all the way from their base in England in darkness at tree-top height, with just the light of the moon to guide them, the specially selected crews made a surprise attack on the mighty hydro-electric dams in the Ruhr. Flying specially modified aircraft, each Lancaster was equipped with the unique cylindrical hydro-statically detonated bomb as conceived by Barnes Wallis. This huge device when released from the aircraft flying at exactly 230mph and at the precise height of 60 ft spun onto the surface of the water. To achieve the critical height above the water at moment of release, two beams of light, from front and aft, were projected from the aircraft on to the surface of the water, creating a neat figure-of-eight on the surface below. As each bomb bounced across the water towards its target, it struck the dam wall, sank to the pre-set depth, and exploded. The results were devastating. Led by the mercurial Squadron Leader Guy Gibson, ignoring furious defensive gunfire while flying perilously close to the water, each crew made their precision run at the target, released their deadly bomb, and those lucky enough to survive the barrage of tracer shells and anti-aircraft fire, escaped into the darkness. Not all of them did. In the space of those few, highly charged minutes, the Lancaster crews of 617 Squadron wrote their names into history. Sixty-four years on, the memory of their exploits and the courage displayed by the crews on that historic raid, together with the genius of Bames Wallis, remain undimmed. Gerald Coulsons painting shows a single Lancaster of 617 Squadron, one of the lucky ones having made it safely back to base, proudly standing alone as if in tribute to those that didnt return.
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.
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