Today is the anniversary of the Dams Raid, the most famous Bomber Command raid of the war. Guy Gibson received the Victoria Cross for his leadership and the account in the London Gazette is still thrilling today, 77 years later.
Although the Pathfinders had no part in the Dams Raid, several of our aircrew had flown with Gibson earlier in the war. Amongst these was Donald Margach, a bomb aimer, who was to lose his life flying with 582 Squadron in July 1944. See: Donald Margach and Guy Gibson
Some Pathfinder aircrew worked with Gibson after the Dams Raid. This was at 54 Base, centred at Coningsby, which provided target-marking and illumination for 5 Group operations. It was ‘a place of tactical innovation’ (Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995, p.252), and the place for the cream of RAF pilots. John Simpson had moved there from 97 Squadron (by then, of course, in 5 Group), as had Charles Owen, another 97 Squadron superstar.
By 29 April 1945 the end of the war was in sight. Lancaster bombers were diverted from their accustomed bombing operations to humanitarian missions. One of these was Operation Manna, which began today 75 years ago. See our new page: Operation Manna
Two items from the IWM this morning, both from Richard Maddox who is a volunteer at the museum. The first concerns Bomber Command generally. It is a link to Richard’s post on the IWM Volunteer website about the man who is thought to be the oldest flyer in Bomber Command. This was Viscount Stansgate, who trained as a rear gunner and flew operationally in the last year of the war – at the astonishing age of 67.
A Facebook post by David Layne today reminded me of this page: Valentine Card It has been on our website a long time, having first been posted in 2009 and then updated in 2011. It relates to Robert Crowe, a 15 Squadron gunner, who died in July 1944.
From an unknown official to Jespersen’s father: The Air Force refers to your visit some time back and it is with sorrow that we have to confirm that your son, Lt. Finn Varde Jespersen, was shot down during the night of 5th and 6th June 1944. When the accident occurred, your son was serving as leader and captain (Pilot) of a Lancaster four-engined night-bomber that belonged to No. 97 (Straits Settlements) Squadron. See the rest of the letter …
John’s funeral took place yesterday, on 29 April 2019, and we have asked permission from the family to publish this very touching, and sometimes very funny, EULOGY of John, written by his son Paul. It tells a great deal about this extraordinary man who flew for the Pathfinders in 1943.
Further to the previous post and the Bryan de Grineau drawings in The Illustrated London News, 26 February 1944, it has suddenly become clear that the drawings are closely related to the Press photograph of Harris using a stereopticon which was on the link included in the post. See this further link Harris’s Office, Bomber Command HQ, which quite apart from the fascination of looking at Harris’s office shows once again how adroit the RAF were at PR.
In February we featured Captain Bryan de Grineau’s drawing of Lancaster gunners ‘Hotting-up‘ which was published in The Illustrated London News in December 1943. Now here is another fascinating Bryan de Grineau drawing, also from The Illustrated London News, of the underground room at Bomber Command which housed the Photographic Interpretation Section of the Intelligence Department. This drawing was published on 26 February 1944.
Sir Arthur Harris, the C-in-C, is shown examining a mosaic of the latest reconnaissance photographs taken over Berlin. In the bottom right of the drawing is an officer using a stereopticon. More about Harris and stereopticons.
The text tells us that ‘The Chief’ was on one of his visits from his office. Deputy C-in-C, Sir Robert Saundby, is the figure standing with his back to the artist, just to the right of Harris.
The WAAF officer in the foreground of the left side of the picture (below) is working on an enlarged photograph, outlining a forthcoming target for the Operations Room. It is perhaps her artistry which leads to The Illustrated London News to comment that the Photographic Interpretation Section ‘has more of the atmosphere of a studio than is usual in a command headquarters’.
We have recently been sent a number of very interesting photographs of the Montgomery crew (97 Squadron) which we will display on the website shortly. However, one particular detail on one of the photographs immediately jumped out in view of our recent posts on carrier pigeons. This photograph was taken at Woodhall Spa prior to the La Spezia operation on 13 April 1943. The crew are waiting to board the aircraft and with them are two boxes for carrier pigeons. This answers some of the questions posed on our page A Lancaster is Going to Germany.
The last post on carrier pigeons and Bomber Command has proved highly popular. That gives the perfect excuse to share a favourite magazine cover from November 1942, entitled ‘A Lancaster is Going to Germany’.
The text in the centre of the magazine has a paragraph which covers the use of carrier pigeons in Bomber Command. It reads: ‘These little winged friends are carried “in case anything happens”. They bring back the news. And they also call up rescue if the disabled bomber comes down in the sea.’ For more on this subject, see our new page: A Lancaster is Going to Germany